We began the day by touring Ft. Smith. We walked the grounds of the old Mission School, where Oblate priests and brothers and Sisters of Mercy taught Dene students and raised vegetables to be distributed among the outlying villages. We also stopped along the Slave River, to see the white pelican rookery that has existed there for centuries in the midst of the rapids. It’s the northern-most nesting area for white pelicans, and the only one established in the middle of a rapids. But the fishing is good, and the birds seem to be thriving.
After our tour of Ft. Smith, we had lunch at the local Northern Foods store, which has its own in-store KFC/Pizza Hut outlet. We’ve learned to accept the slower pace of things here in the Northwest (“fast food” is anything but!), and it was an interesting experience. Groceries are just the beginning at Northern Foods - the store also sells appliances, clothing, ATVs . . . .
After lunch, we headed west, back through Wood Buffalo NP to Hay River (past more bison and another black bear along the highway. We gassed up again in Hay River, then rejoined NT Route 1 for 100 km, before striking off on NT Route 3 toward Yellowknife. The road passes the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, which runs between the highway and Great Slave Lake, and we saw dozens of bison along (and on!) the road, even after we left the boundaries of the sanctuary (apparently the buffaloes don’t read the signs very well).
As a little side trip, we visited Lady Evelyn Falls, on the Kakisa River, then drove into the town of Kakisa, a Dene village with some basic accommodations. It was a beautiful evening along Kakisa Lake.
We had planned to stay in Ft. Providence, just beyond the 10-minute ferry ride across the MacKenzie River, but we found the campground there to be full. We could have spent the night in a parking area at the campground, but we decided to press ahead and drive the last 300 km into Yellowknife.
The road to Yellowknife is ostensibly paved, but the 80 km stretch of “gravel patches” made us long for the relatively smooth unpaved roads of Wood Buffalo NP. This highway is in rough shape! One consolation was seeing several Sandhill Cranes along the way.
We finally arrived in Yellowknife and checked into the Fred Henne Territorial Park. This park is the least attractive campground we’ve encountered thus far, with a scary security gate (why do they need it?) and campsites consisting mostly of gravel. Most disheartening, we found that the showers haven’t been hooked up yet!
By this time, though, we were too tired to be bothered by our accommodations; we had driven over 500 miles since noon, over some amazing roads. Even though the sun was still shining at 11:00 P.M., we were fast asleep.