Norman Wells was predominately an Esso town
until social services made a challenge to that in the 70s.
Government and other oil companies help keep the town vibrant
now. Esso built an oil pipeline to the south in the 80s and
some time later shut down the refinery there. There is a plant
to separate the gas from the oil and inject the gas back into
the ground. Diesel and gasoline are now hauled to Hay River on
trucks or rail and barged to communities north. Some barges
bring fuel from Vancouver each year by way of the Bearing
Straight. There is a turnaround on the plant now to make
changes and do maintenance and the town was short of natural gas
for some things.
Recently some beluga whales were recorded
coming up the Mackenzie River to as far as Norman Wells and a
number of Musk Ox have been sighted on the mountains east of
The Ramparts is an infamous piece of river
that follows the Sans Sault rapids. It has a tight section with
several rocks and also a ledge/waterfall on low water levels,
immediately after that the river narrows dramatically. We
investigated a waterfall in the canyon after climbing up 200
feet. It was a lot of fun and we stood under it.
Fort Good Hope has a famous church. A
catholic priest had done some beautiful paintings on the walls
and ceilings of the church
On July 7th we passed into the Arctic
Circle. We toasted Neptune with Isle of Jura Superstition
scotch. It is at latitude 66º 33’ N, this is the line at which
the sun does not set on the longest day of the year June 21. We
will not see a sunset for the foreseeable future.
We talked to the ferry operator at Arctic
Red River, where the Dempster Highway crosses on the way to
Inuvik. 15 miles later is Point Separation where 100 miles of
river delta starts. We wound our way to Inuvik seeing river
depths up to 152 feet.
Inuvik is a busy town and a major
transportation hub for the area. Population of 3500 with 56
days a year of constant daylight. We were met by lovely people
and our last real warm weather. We arrived at 11:15 PM to the
welcome of a house boat party tied next to us, named “The
Barge”. They invited us up and said there was no laundry in
town so they would do it for us the next day at their homes. In
no particular order we would like to thank Frank Hanson, Joanne
McNiel, Larry McNiel, Val Gordon, Marjory Hanson, Don Craik and
Elizabeth Hanson. Elizabeth offered her vehicle as well so
thanks again. An excellent town to visit with a surprising
number of tourists including Chuck Cummings from Illinois. He
is a ‘marine no longer in active duty’ that had just ridden a
motorcycle from Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of South
America to Inuvik with a plane ride this day to see a bit
further than the end of the road.
Tuktoyaktuk is a hamlet of about 800 people
in the “Land of the Pingos”. It is at the end of the Mackenzie
River on the Beufort Sea. We arrived here July 10 at 22:15.
Kids here are bold and we were warned by a native that we would
be at risk if they came on the boat and got injured. They were
friendly and nice kids so it was difficult to be stern with
them. We gave them a tour of the boat and became good friends,
especially Sharise, who spent a lot of time playing with Ryan,
Mikayla, Scott, and Trenton. There were more bicycles and fewer
quads than we expected, and there is a softball game almost
Carvings and local artifacts are promoted
more than anywhere we’ve been. It’s great stuff and required
some purchases. We also bought a hind quarter of caribou, whale
meat and muktuk (skin and blubber). Will have to keep looking
for some beluga whale oil.
Beluga whales are a popular source of food
here. To hunt them the whales are harpooned and then shot
immediately by rifle then towed for butchering. The thick slabs
are smoked and then boiled to eat. The fat is sometimes used
for dipping or even salad oil. The native people here hunt
50-60 per year. There are 29,000 that migrate through the
area. Right now the males are coming through, later the females
will make their way through to give birth nearby.
The DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line was
built in the artic in the 50s with stations every 50 miles to
provide early notice of a missile attack from the Soviet Union
across the Pole. There is a DEW line station in Tuktoyaktuk
that is no longer manned but still works remotely.
Once again we have met some interesting
people. Gruben is a well known family in Tuk, their father came
her from Texas, a stowaway on a whaling ship in the 30’s to
Tuktoyaktuk and married and Inuit/Inuvialuit woman. We met
Boogie Pokiak as he was fishing the Fresh Water Creek, he also
does some guiding. Joe Blow invited us and we tried raw and
cooked muktuk at his home, although we didn’t try the aged
muktuk, apparently is has a sort of blue cheese effect and
tastes strong. Ronald Felix is a well known artist who makes
beautiful carvings sold in many places including Yellowknife.
We also met up with Steven Wright, skipper on the NTCL tug
Nunakput. He was very helpful with advice about traveling out
in the ice. We loaded the Vidar jet boat on a NTCL barge for
shipping back to Hay River, then a truck with MacKenzie Valley
Logistics will take it to Grande Prairie.
There are a lot of dogs in northern
communities but they have strict laws now every community we
have been in, that they have to be tied up. There is a guy here
with the job to shoot any loose dogs, cheaper than having a dog
pound I suppose.
Our 8 family members headed back on the
afternoon of Friday July 15th with Brad, Kevin & Ben
to be heading west. We took on supplies and will leave on the
morning of July 16. It has been cold here so we are
anticipating problems with ice before long, although there are
no good recent reports.
"Discover how a Pingo is formed."
(click for larger image)