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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

Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, Nunavut

Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, Nunavut
This location is on the southwestern tip of Baffin Island and is an 80-minute flight from Iqaluit. The town of Cape Dorset is considered the Inuit art capital of Canada and is famous for carvings and Inuit prints.

You’re well above tree line here; the landscape is slightly mountainous and wide open. There are several ancient Inuit and Thule sites within a day’s boat ride of Cape Dorset. To the west is Inukshuk Point, a spectacular spot with one of the largest concentrations of inukshuit (plural of inukshuk, a stone structure, often in the shape of a human) in the Arctic. A short distance to the east of Cape Dorset is Andrew Gordon Bay with areas of beautifully marbled, glacially polished, continental shield. There are also two unique historical sites that are photogenic. One site has dozens of tiny inukshuit, called ulagutit, which were used to herd wild caribou toward waiting hunters. The other is the site of an old burial ground with a hauntingly beautiful tupqujaq—a large inukshuk-like structure in the shape of a doorway.

Almost all travel here is done by powerboat, and the best time to travel is in July and August.

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

The Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory The Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory
This gravel highway runs 460 miles from just before Dawson City, Yukon, to the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories. It’s the only highway in Canada to cross the Arctic Circle (at mile 252). Early autumn is the prime time photographically (mid-August to early September). Willow, bearberry and blueberry bushes pour autumn colors like spilled cans of paint down the almost treeless mountain slopes and open tundra. Grizzly bears are also attracted to the berry bushes this time of year—that’s a photo tip and a warning. My favorite location is Tombstone Valley, between miles 44 and 47, where the valley frames Tombstone Mountain to the west.

There are only two spots for gas and repairs, the Eagle Plains Hotel, mile 229, and Fort McPherson, mile 342. Take a good spare tire (or two) and an extra gas can. And be prepared when you travel this road—it could be many, many long hours before you see another vehicle or the long, lonely face of the weary grader operator.

Tourism Yukon: http://travelyukon.com/en

Alexandra Falls, NWTAlexandra Falls, NWT
This is the most accessible of the locations covered here—a major highway cruises by these falls less than a half mile away. Alexandra Falls are part of the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park, which is 665 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta. If you want to see the north of Canada and can’t afford the more remote locations and enjoy driving, this trip is for you. You can tie it into a much grander trip that gains you access to Wood Buffalo National Park or Athabasca Sand Dunes to the east, Nahanni National Park to the west or as far north as the Dempster Highway in the Yukon.

The park’s highlight is the peat-colored Hay River, which plunges dramatically over Alexandra Falls, then Louise Falls farther downstream. This accessible spot includes camping, picnicking, a wheelchair outlook and the nearby little settlement of Enterprise, where you can get gas and diesel.

Photographically, the best time to travel is from late August to late September—great fall color, less biting insects and the Hay River is lower, allowing closer access to the falls.

Northwest Territories: www.spectacularnwt.com.

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