Yellowknife – That’s in…Wait! Don’t tell me!

Yellowknife – That’s in…Wait! Don’t tell me!

Yellowknife. That’s in Washington, right? No, wait! Don’t tell me! It’s that national park over in, is it Wyoming? No, that’s Yellowstone. Well, where the hell is Yellowknife, anyway? And why would you want to go there? Isn’t everybody in Seattle supposed to be in Hawaii right now, waiting for summer to come around? (It’s not in Hawaii, is it?)

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know where Yellowknife is. Most people I talk to can’t place it on a map. I love looking at maps, and I’ve also been chasing the aurora borealis for some time now, so I couldn’t help but notice the city of Yellowknife sitting right under the auroral oval way up north in Canada. (The auroral oval is a ring around each geomagnetic pole where aurora are most likely to occur.) After a couple of disappointments in my hunt for the aurora, I was looking for a “sure thing”.

Yellowknife, it turns out, is in the Canadian Northwest Territories at just over 62°N, about 600 miles almost straight north of Edmonton, Alberta. Here it is on a map if you want to play around with it.

I’m going to be honest with you – I was a bit nervous about going up there. I knew I had a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, but that’s all I knew about it. Look at it on the map – it’s sooooo far up there, just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle! And it’s cold! Sure, I was further north on my trip to Iceland last October, but Iceland is warm compared to north Canada. What happens if I get up there, take a rental car out on a remote highway at night, and can’t get the thing started? Would this be my last adventure? Ever?

So I came up with a plan. First I’d buy some really warm Canadian insulated boots, the same kind the local tour guides up there would love to rent to me for lots of cash. Then I’d pack up all of my winter ski clothes, fly to Yellowknife, get acclimated for a couple of days, take one of those expensive aurora watching tours, and see how it’s done. I’d figure out where to go, what precautions were necessary, and how to stay safe. Then, and only then, would I pick up my rental car and go out on my own.

When the time came, I flew from Seattle to Vancouver, then to Calgary, and finally on to Yellowknife, two of the three legs involving a turboprop. We landed in Yellowknife after dark, and although the weather was clear, I saw lights from only one community within an hour or so of our destination. Wow, it truly is remote up here!

Then we landed and I grabbed a taxi to my B&B, and guess what? We passed through subdivisions and neighborhoods and a downtown with office towers and hotels and all sorts of things. This remote place way up north was actually a real city! Who knew?

The Explorer Hotel, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

The Explorer Hotel is a world class hotel, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

Yellowknife is the capital city and largest community of the Northwest Territories, so I guess I should have expected sizable government buildings and the like. What I could never have predicted was the Wal-Mart. Yep, they have a Wal-Mart. And a Pizza Hut and Subway and a KFC and a McDonalds, etc., etc., etc.

Wal-Mart, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

Yep, Yellowknife has a Wal-Mart, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

I won’t go into the entire history of the area, but it was named after a local Dene tribe once known as the Yellowknife Indians after the tools they made from copper deposits near the Arctic Coast. Gold was discovered in the 1930s, and while a little too remote to spark the kind of gold rush that occurred one territory over in the Yukon, it was enough to kick-start the city. As gold mining subsided toward the end of the century, government services grew to fill the void, and now diamond mining is driving the economy. Yellowknife is also the starting point of the original Ice Road Truckers television series.

While the newer subdivisions don’t look too much different from those you’d find anywhere else, it was the houses in the older sections of town that caught my eye. Some of them looked like they started out as trailers and just got added on and added on until the trailer was almost buried by the additions.

Take this home for example. The trailer is the light brown component on the lower left. Everything else has been bolted on. I wish I could have had a tour of the inside!

Complex House, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

What began as a trailer has become much more than that, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

I love some of the signs I found in Yellowknife. Take this one for instance. I’ve certainly been canoeing before, and all this time I had no idea you were supposed to give them a rest!

Canoe Rest Area, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

Apparently canoes have a rest area, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

Or this one. While we hikers are not happy about it, we sometimes have to share our trails with horses, or God forbid, mountain bikes, but I’ve never had to worry about getting mowed down by a snowmobile! Yikes!

Multi Use Trail, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

Trail sign indicates both human and snowmobile traffic is allowed, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

But it’s not all snowmobiles. Lots of folks still have dog sled teams, and I saw several of these out on the frozen lakes getting exercise. This sign was a couple of houses over from my B&B.

Dog Team Crossing, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

Sign on driveway indicates a dog team crossing, in Yellowknife, NT, Canada.

So I know what you’re thinking. “Ed, this is all very fascinating, but where are the aurora images? Did you go on that aurora tour? Did you go out on your own aurora hunt? And did you just come back empty handed again?”.

Well, there certainly is more to the story, but I thought I’d give you an introduction to Yellowknife first. Maybe next week we’ll talk about the auroras. Or snow castles. Or lunar eclipses. Or something else. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see!

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4 Responses to “Yellowknife – That’s in…Wait! Don’t tell me!”

  1. Catherine says:

    Such a tease!

  2. Lorraine says:

    Aaarrgghhhh! You’re killing me!

  3. Sue-Z says:

    Wow, keep me in suspense. As you would expect, I am looking forward to hearing about the ice castles!

  4. Joan says:

    you write well…excellent voice, but I don’t like to be left hanging. Well done. 🙂

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