So we had gotten to the point where we pretty much ran out of anything to do in Yellowknife. The downside to Yellowknife is that unless you have a lot of money to throw around for entertainment, it can be hard to find any. So we just drove around some more on the frozen Great Slave Lake, which to this day I find very neat, and the Ingraham trail where we could just nap in the back of the wagon. Like, there’s literally a day where I have zero pictures from it, because we simply didn’t do anything. Literally. Though there was one time where there was a path with tracks on it leading to deeper into the forest and I thought “Ooo! That could be fun, let’s go there” only realize it’s snowmobile tracks and that my tires were a) not listening to my steering at all, and b) sinking in very deep snow. That’s when I learned not to drive on paths with tracks all over them ever again. We had hit up every kind of touristy attraction / point of interest that was recommended to us by the Information center. We even tried to find the frozen waterfalls, but gave up after trekking in deep snow that would be knee high when we fell through it.
I personally was also slightly annoyed because the day before we left Edmonton, there was the largest geomagnetic storm of 2015 (at that point) and even though it was visible in Edmonton, I’ve lost interest in driving out of the city to photograph them, so instead we tried to view them in city, which only provided a light show. Of course we were able to catch Part 2 of that giant storm in High Level the next day. Anyway, so there was that, but then we heard on the radio (multiple times, I might add) that there was going to be a big Jamboree festival on the weekend after we were planning to leave. Darnit all! We even saw them preparing things for it, like giant clear blocks of ice, which were pretty neat, and this wooden arch that I decided would make a good foreground to photograph the Aurora’s with. However, while standing on that ice which had been cleared of snow, waiting for my camera to finish it’s exposure. The ice creaked. …Twice. I knew that scientifically speaking, there was no way the ice was going to actually crack open and eat me. It was supposedly 4-6 feet deep in ice, and even if the ice did crack, it can’t physically slide itself under another piece of itself easily.
But I got out of there pretty quickly none the less. Cracking ice isn’t very fun.
Having visited the Bush Pilots monument earlier in the day time, I figured that even though it was already heavily overdone, it would make a nice spot to take photos of the Northern lights over the city. I had the shot imagined in my head already… multiple long exposure car trails, and the lights of the house boats frozen in place would twinkle, and there would be the northern lights dancing gently above the city. Boy, was I ever wrong. The lights from the houseboats were minimal and pretty much non-existent. There were very few cars by this time as Yellowknife is a small city, and small cities tend to get quiet early on. And the Northern Lights above the city..? Unfortunately they did not dance gently over the city in the night sky. They actually exploded over the city, putting on a spectacular show in every direction imaginable in a spectacular spot that overlooked it’s 360 degree surroundings. Their energetic display was also pretty appropriate as the Ice Castle was having some kind of electronic dance party that night, and we could faintly hear the music in the distance. It doesn’t happen often, but for once, I was in the right place at the right time.
The next day, I ate my first Northern White Fish, and then we did a whole lot of waiting yet again. We did however buy Hubba Bubba in A&W Root Beer flavour, and Dr Pepper flavour. The A&W one is good, but the Dr Pepper one, like most Dr Pepper candies, was lacking. We still had two days and nights left in Yellowknife, but were seriously bored during the day. So we made a decision to go home one day early, and that this would be our last night there. It was a sad and tough decision to make, because I knew that I would miss these lights, and looking back on it now, I kind of do…
Once night hit, we once again went out to the Great Slave Lake to catch our last showing of the Northern Lights in Yellowknife. Truth be told, I consider our trip there to be kind of lucky in timing. I mean sure, we missed the big storm that hit just days before we arrived, and were going to miss the this very exciting sounding Long John Jamboree event, but we got to see very visible Aurora’s every single night. Which doesn’t always happen. Anyway, I took advantage of this last night to do two things. Get a shot that I had before I even left Edmonton, and to just watch them for the last time before we left. No thinking about photos, just watching.
That shot above was a true test of our -20C sleeping bags. With the back hatch open, and all windows down, my girlfriend Ellie said she was perfectly fine inside the sleeping bag. How many other people get to enjoy the Northern Lights in such comfort? Luckily, our last night was also the warmest night, I think the radio said it was only -20C (-4F) that night. The Auroras were getting stronger and stronger as I kept shooting, but eventually I told myself “I had the shot” and didn’t want to freeze up the car anymore than it had already been doing. But once I packed had taken down the camera for that shot to sit back and watch, the Auroras really turned on.
180 Degree view, looking directly up
It was like… The Northern Lights were giving us one last big show on our last night in Yellowknife before we left… It was a nice farewell.
The next morning, we charged up all our electronic devices, went to eat some Vietnamese Pho, and then promptly walked out because we found out it’s $14 a bowl, and settled on Tim Hortons instead. …..For the 12th time in less than a week. Then we were back on the open road! The long… straight… endlessly open road…
On our way back to High Level, AB, I was racing against time to try to catch the sunset. The only problem is, I don’t know of any good spots around here to see the sunset. But then of course I remembered that when we passed High Level the first time, we drove into a lake area just half an hour out called Hutch Lake. The idea of a sunset over a snowed over lake seemed like a good idea. However, once I turned in, I realized that the first time we were here, it was at midnight, and completely pitch dark as there was no moon that night. Not only that, but the roads were all covered in snow, so I had no idea of where I was actually going at the time, and now the roads had turned into Dirt and everything looked different. I couldn’t actually find the lake itself, but since the sun was going down really quick, I decided to snap a quick shot of it on the road out.
On the way from Edmonton to Yellowknife, our overnight stop was only an hour or two outside of High Level, but for some reason, I decided to keep driving until I was tired, because – why not? This was when traffic started to actually pick up again and I finally had other human life around me. I was thankfuly because the drive from Yellowknife to High Level was completely dead, not a car in sight for miles. …Or kilometers. As we approached the town of Manning, and as time approached 1am, I noticed some faint green flares outside of my window. So the next road-side rest stop I found, I pulled over to take one last photo of the Northern Lights. In my eyes, it was their final goodbye to us. Just a light green band, low in the horizon, dancing lightly. I tried to imagine what they looked like back at Yellowknife, where we had just left. The thought of it made me a little bit sad, but truth be told, I was so sick of sleeping in the car at this point that I really really REALLY wanted my own bed back.
We ended up spending the night in Manning in the parking lot of some hardware shop. It was “warm” now, being only -3C when we got into Manning, so we cracked the window open just a bit during our sleep, hoping that it would help regulate some of the air and not completely frost the car windows. But alas, it was no use. I had gotten up early because A) I did not want to get in seen for sleeping in a parking lot of a hardware shop in what looked like a normally busy-ish area, and because B) I really had to pee. So I remote started the engine to life, where it whined and made horrible sounding noises that cars should never make, once again, like I had done so many times before. I climbed my way to the front of the car, with a very full bladder, put my boots on, and without caring because of how badly I needed to go, I just pissed behind a dumpster in the parking lot. You probably didn’t need to know that last bit, but whatever.
On our way back home, it was back to normal highway driving, where endless semi-trucks and other slow vehicles are in the way of the 1-lane highway, and then we hit a patch of fog that was thicker than snickers (Wtf does that even mean?). Essentially I had zero visibility, but it was cool as hell. …Maybe literally. I loved how the fog looked with the flat plains we were in, so I had to pullover for a couple of photos, obviously…
After a lot more hours of driving, we got back to Edmonton around 2pm, much sooner than the 7-8pm I was predicting. I blame the fact that I only slept 5 hours and drove the rest of the time. Honestly, sleeping in the car wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that it wasn’t comfortable, it was that uncomfortableness paired with how cold it was. Even if the sleeping bags were on properly, they were super tight and restrictive, which I don’t like. But they did do the job and keep the warmth in very well. The only downside was that my face would still get nice and cold, and my breathe would freeze the face hole of my sleeping bag… So I couldn’t be happier to be back home in my bed.
Normally after trips, I get very sad. Because with each trip, you do have to change your lifestyle a bit, and your person gets used to this new lifestyle you’ve adopted, and it’s had fun, and you like it. Once you’re back home though, you have to change lifestyle yet again, only this time, it changes to a dull, boring, regular working class lifestyle and everything just feels ‘meh’. But weirdly, I didn’t feel sad after this trip. I liked Yellowknife, a lot. The people were very friendly, the food was good (though expensive!), the scenery was gorgeous and seeing the Northern lights in their full brightness, in all directions is a memory that I’ll cherish forever. They’re simply amazing, and I feel like everyone needs to see them in person, at least once. I’ve taken so many photographs of them, and still, I cannot say that any one photograph does justice to how spectacular they look in person. But weirdly, I don’t find myself missing Yellowknife very much… though I am considering going back in September right now, when it’s not as cold, and now as frozen, but the Northern Lights are just as strong as March.
The only thing holding me back is… well honestly, it’s the thought of having to drive 1600km of really straight road again…