Another long day of driving, but an exciting one! We got an early start and arrived at the Alberta/Northwest Territories border a little after 8:30. The Visitor’s Centre is staffed by a genial man named Roy Fabian, who gave us lots of useful information. After celebrating our entry into the Northwest Territories (NT) and taking pictures around the Visitor’s Centre, we continued up NT Route 1 to the Twin Falls Territorial Park, where a gorgeous interpretive trail led along the banks of the Hay River to two waterfalls, Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls.
In earlier days, when the rivers of the north were the only transportation routes, the Dene people had to portage here around the falls, as they made their way up and down what we now call the Hay River. The sign boards along the trail described what it was like for the men, women, children and elders who made this 6-mile portage.
The walk along the river was exhilarating, and it gave us the energy to put more miles on Rosie’s odometer. We continued on to the town of Hay River, where we again stopped at the Visitor’s Centre for guidance. (One of the things we learned is that a local delicacy is something called “poutine”(sp?), which is french fries covered with nacho cheese and brown gravy. We later found it on the menu at the little KFC in the Northern Foods supermarket in Fort Smith, but we haven’t had the stomach for it yet.)
Hay River marks the point where the Slave River enters Great Slave Lake, one of the largest lakes in North America. Unfortunately for the residents of Hay River, the ice breakup on the Slave River was very disorderly this year, and the town sustained some serious damage. We visited the beach where we could see heavy machinery removing dead trees that had been piled up on shore by the waters; we also saw one of several barges that had been washed out into the lake and then grounded on sand bars.
At Hay River, we turned east toward Wood Buffalo NP, the second largest national park in the world. In 1983, Wood Buffalo was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it's home to the planet's largest free-roaming bison herd, as well as being the primary nesting grounds of the Whooping Crane. While the bison can be seen throughout the park, Whooping Cranes are seldom seen, and their habitat is protected from visitors. They are on the edge of recovery, though. In 1941, there were only 16 Whooping Cranes left in the world; today over 180 wild migratory Whoopers live in Wood Buffalo NP (the only place in the world where they have continually nested in the wild).
As expected, once in the park we began to see buffalo grazing along the roadsides: first lone bull buffaloes, then family groups, with little calves.
A few km into the park, we spotted an animal crossing the road ahead of us. At first I thought it was a coyote, but when it stopped in the grass along the highway to get a better look at us, we in turn got a better look at it. It turned out to be a Canadian Lynx, a large cat. It was a thrilling experience!
Fifteen minutes later, as we drove down a 12-km dirt road to get a look at the park’s salt plains, a mother black bear and her cub crossed the road ahead of us. As we stopped to look, the mother took up a position beside the road, and her cub climbed a nearby tree.
The road through Wood Buffalo NP leads eventually to the town of Ft. Smith, at the foot of a long series of rapids on the Slave River. Ft. Smith was the center of Roman Catholic missions in the Northwest, and it continues to be populated mostly by First Nations people.
We drove around the town of Ft. Smith before settling into the campground just outside of town. It was prom night in Ft. Smith, and it was fun to see the students in their finery entering the Community Hall for the prom. We hope everyone has a safe night!