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The trip began in early August, 2010 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, up here:
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I rented a car and drove about 12 hours, half on paved road, and half on gravel road. The trip took me down the Western shore of Great Slave Lake, into the lands of the last remaining wild herd of buffalo in North America. It turns out that the beasts like grazing on the meadows next to the road.
I was surprised by how close the buffalo would let me get to them.
The road came to an abrupt end at the spot where Great Slave Lake drains into the Mackenzie River (this is the top of the second biggest river in North America--from the start, it's a big river!) They were building a bridge, which has apparently been taking years, but for now, my only option to get across the river was a ferry.
The road also went by a rather impressive waterfall in the middle of nowhere. (If you like to see waterfalls in their natural state, then driving on the rather primitive roads in the Northwest Territories is a good way to see a whole bunch of them.)
The final destination of the drive was Fort Simpson, NWT, a town of about 1200 people where the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers join. It is a rather picturesque little town. However, the weather was very bad and the morning was spent sitting around the floatplane base, waiting for the weather to clear.
Eventually the weather seemed to have cleared enough to let us take off. What followed was the only time I have been kind of scared in a floatplane: for about 10 minutes we were flying through mountainous country in dense fog with no sight of the ground--definitely not a recommended practice in visual flight navigation. However, the pilot knew the area and soon we got out of the fog.
In about an hour the strange notched mountain that is the striking feature of Little Doctor Lake came into view:
From the cabin I was renting, the view across Little Doctor Lake was quite stunning. The notch is one of the weirdest landforms I have ever seen. I swam every day, but not for long, because the water was very chilly.
There was also a tiny but beautiful little river which led into the lake, and I was able to take the boat up there about a mile or two. There was a very nice beaver lodge, and the beaver was swimming in the vicinity (first I've seen).
One afternoon, I took the boat out to the notch in the mountain, taking the picture below. It was fun on the way out, but soon the winds came up (from the West--the direction that the camera is pointed toward), and because the notch is a great wind-funnel, the waves started to grow. Then I remembered that the pilot had warned me that waves in this lake can reach six or more feet in height and consequently have drowned a few people over the years, so I beat it back to the cabin in a hurry. The waves were manageable while I was out there--but by the time I was back at the cabin they had picked up a lot further and there was a strange and loud whooshing/humming sound coming from the notch. What was unearthly about the sound was how clearly localized it was in the notch itself--as if there were a gigantic blower machine out there.
Several curious and friendly squirrels lived and worked frenetically (storing nuts) near the cabin. Several times when I was cooking meat in the cabin, an adolescent black bear showed up right outside the window, jumping around and looking in eagerly--I banged on the window and he ran off. I don't think he was a bad bear at all.
After about five days at the cabin, the floatplane returned and took me to Ft. Simpson, whereupon I drove back to Yellowknife. The drive felt long on the return trip, and I was kind of wishing I had taken one of the scheduled planes that Buffalo Airways flies a couple of times per week in the summer between Ft. Simpson and Yellowknife. But I always like being exposed to so much wild country, so it was fine. From Yellowknife, I took another floatplane to Yellow Dog Lodge in the Boreal forest north of Yellowknife. This is very different than the country around Ft. Simpson--it is classic Canadian shield country, with a lot of exposed Precambrian granite outcroppings and super-clear water. Not everyone likes this kind of land but I am crazy about it.
Yellow Dog lodge turned out to be a small picturesque and comfortable fishing lodge where I was the only guest (August is late in the season for hard-core fisherman although, as it turned out, the fishing was more than good enough for me.) The manager and the cook were both extremely amiable.
I spent the next couple of days fishing (with a really good young guide from Yellowknife), reading, and hiking around. It took no particular skill or dedication to catch as many lake trout, arctic grayling, and pike as I would have wanted to catch (this is a grayling). We had lake trout for lunch each day.
I climbed up a nearby hill with the lodge's (appropriately yellow) dog.
A few days later, the floatplane returned and took me back to civilization. Though it is the capital of the NWT and a town of about 30,000 people, Yellowknife feels like a fairly gritty gold mining town. However, it has a bit of charm here and there, and a couple of excellent little restaurants, including the Wildcat Cafe in the "old town" area where mining first began up here in the 1930s:
The next day I flew back to San Diego via Calgary and San Francisco.
T H E E N D
[panoramic pictures assembled using Autostitch]