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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Far Northern Exposure

The rugged mountains, sweeping vistas and sublime auroras are among the subjects waiting for your lens in Canada

Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta/NWT BorderWood Buffalo National Park, Alberta/NWT Border
A 200-mile drive east from Enterprise and Twin Falls Gorge takes you to Fort Smith on the northern edge of this park. Wood Buffalo is Canada’s largest park at 17,300 square miles (a bit larger than Switzerland). A must-see spot here is the Salt Plains—remnants of the ocean that once covered the area.

The Grosbeak Lake salt flats are my favorite landscape location in the park. They’re 15 miles south of Fort Smith off the Pine Lake Road and are part of the Salt River Loop Trail. It’s a short two-mile hike from the trailhead and opens up onto a large dried and cracked salt flat dotted with hundreds of small "erratics" boulders deposited by an ancient glacier.

The best time to go is in August to the end of September, when there’s a good chance for fall colors, less biting insects and great weather.

Travel Alberta: www.explorealberta.com.
Northwest Territories: www.spectacularnwt.com.

Clyde River, Baffin Island, Nunavut
This is the most northerly location covered here and the most difficult to reach. But depending on what you’re looking for, that could be part of its appeal. It would be best to first fly to Ottawa, then to Iqaluit (three hours), then to the tiny community of Clyde River (two hours).

Clyde River, Baffin Island, NunavutThe photographic highlights of this region are the dramatic inlets, fjords and sheer cliffs that tower all along the eastern coast of Baffin Island. The most accessible is Clyde Inlet. The scenic star of this region is Sam Ford Fjord (the name alone should make you want to go there). Its entrance is a full day’s boat ride from Clyde River—only doable in good weather, as you have to cross open ocean to get there. The convergence of mountains and the immensity of the sheer rock faces in the middle of this fjord can rival any CG-3D virtual landscape out there!

The best time to visit is in July and August. Weather is better in July, but you won’t get much low light in the 24-hour daylight. Another option is to go in mid-spring by dog team or snowmobile. I’d recommend the dog team because it’s more photogenic. This trip has been popular with couples who then get engaged under the Northern Lights—very romantic, but it’ll cost you. The best time to go dogsledding, photographically, is April, when there are better odds for clear skies.

Baffin Island: www.baffinisland.ca
Nunavut Tourism: www.gov.nu.ca; www.nunavuttourism.com/site/index.asp

Athabasca Sand Dunes Wilderness Provincial Park, Northern SaskatchewanAthabasca Sand Dunes Wilderness Provincial Park, Northern Saskatchewan
This spot is on the south shore of Lake Athabasca in the remote northwestern corner of Saskatchewan. It can’t be reached by vehicle, but that’s probably a good thing, because one of the photographic highlights of this area is seeing the sand-chocked William River from the air. The chaotic flow of this river mixed with one massive, slightly submerged sandbar creates a small delta of magical, Mandelbrot-looking, fractal patterns.

This one dune field (remnants of an ancient glacial lake bed) is more than 37 square miles in size and is right in the middle of boreal forest country. Wind is an almost constant here, and you know how unpleasant the combination of wind, sand and camera gear can be.

The only access is either by floatplane (Fort Smith, NWT, or Saskatoon and Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan) or by canoe through an adventure charter company. There are no facilities in this remote park.

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.sasktourism.com; www.saskparks.net

Power Power Power
Electricity is the Achilles heel to almost all of the technology we use today. I’m good for one week with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, two fully charged spare batteries, an Epson P-4000 (80 GB) storage viewer and one extra fully charged battery for it. I also take a Canon 580EX flash, a headlamp and an iPod with a Belkin backup battery pack. I use the iPod to listen to music and audio books while burning downtime or waiting out bad weather.

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