Current Trip: George Archibald's Adventures - August 2006
Entry October 3
Wood Buffalo Park Adventure continued...
August 11 - 18, 2006.
The first rock to cover the earth was formed from liquids that cooled to form hard granite, materials which in most regions of the continents were subsequently buried deep under more recent layers created through volcanic activity and erosion. The Canadian Shield is an exception. In a million square mile region of the arctic, repeated glaciations cut off ancient mountains leaving thousands of lakes surrounded by granite polished and scratched by the gargantuan movements of ice. Across this table of bare rock are eskers -- the bottoms of rivers that ran through glaciers remaining as narrow hills of sand and rocks stretching into the horizon after the glacier melted. The deep sands of the eskers are home to spruce trees, berries and hundreds of ponds created by buried blocks of ice that melted later. In contrast, the neighboring expanses of rock are partly carpeted by gardens of likens, moss and low shrubs. Walking is easy on the rocks through the gardens and along sandy paths on the eskers etched by millions of caribou footprints.
Known as the Barren Lands, the landscape was inhabited for thousands of years by caribou hunters of several tribes. The caribou provided food, clothing, tools and homes. European explorers and then fur trappers penetrated this arctic wilderness in the 1700s. Foreign diseases such as smallpox decimated native communities. Eventually, the survivors left their traditional ways in the Barren Lands and gathered in villages. The Barren Lands were left to the caribou, muskoxen, grizzlies, wolves and a plethora of birds and fish. Other humans on the Barren Lands these days are engaged in the exploration for and extraction of diamonds and uranium. In summer limited eco-tourism is available for canoeists, fishermen and other lovers of the wilderness.
In 2004, I led an expedition of ICF members to the heart of the Barren Lands through collaboration with a Yellowknife-based company, Great Canadian Ecoventures. This August, after visiting the breeding grounds of Whooping Cranes in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), I returned to the Barren Lands with 12 terrific people. Daily from the base camp beside Whitefish Lake -- one of the sources of the Thelon River that runs east to Hudson's Bay -- we ventured into the wilderness to explore and to drink in its vastness, silence and clear light. Once during the brief arctic night we were treated to a mesmerizing display of the Northern Lights and on the final day we encountered a herd of 55 magnificent muskoxen.
The Barren Lands have a unique beauty and for me a special attraction. There are few places one can visit in the today's world where the presence of modern man is not felt. On the Barren Lands one feels very much like a visitor peeking into a world where nature rules.
I wish to express a special thank you to Tom Faess, the owner and director of Great Canadian Wildlife Adventures, and to his staff at what I call Tranquility Base, Earth.