alder. The saplings tore at our bare arms, and snapped up as we passed, smacking our faces and chest. Often we were unable to see more than a few feet ahead. Sweating, dusty, and tired, we pressed through, hoping not to bump into a bear coming down this graded path in the other direction. Eventually the bush thinned, and rounding the final high ridge crest, we stumbled upon a staggering view. Before us stretched the eastern peaks and canyon lands of the Mackenzie Mountains, and in the distance, we caught our first glimpse of the interminable Mackenzie River Flats. Somewhere out there lay the great river, and our destination, Norman Wells. Fields of ripe blueberries surrounded the trail, and a handful of caribou grazed nearby in the tundra uplands. There was even a trickle of spring water seeping from the rocks. The spot was idyllic. Without a second’s hesitation, we dropped our packs and set camp.
The rivers and creeks that drain the eastern fringes of the Mackenzie Mountains have cut a maze of deep and rugged canyons, and there is no easy way through. Planners for the Canol road faced a serious problem when trying to establish a passage through these badlands. Winding Dodo Canyon4 was eventually chosen as the conduit, but engineers were forced to accept that miles of road and pipeline would be submerged, and likely torn out, during the annual spring floods.
Fifteen days after setting out from our car, Ferg and I crossed our final pass, and began the long descent into Dodo Canyon. In a narrow creek bed leading down, we passed the remains of a caboose, buried to its roof in rubble, a testament to the powerful floods that continue to shape the land. As we dropped into the confined canyon, the world around us disappeared from view. Cliffs of grey and black rose sheer from a flat bed of gravel, hardly a hundred feet (30m) wide. The air was cool, every footstep echoed. After several kilometers the walls began to squeeze in tighter and tighter. A billowing waterfall thundered in from above, and joined the creek at our feet. Rounding a tight, water-smoothed corner, the canyon abruptly opened up majestically.
4 Dodo, or more accurately T’dot-o, is a Slavey word which means ‘Sheep’s Nest.’ The canyon was named for a tall pillar that had been cleaved from walls and stands alone. First nation hunters are rumoured to have seen sheep leaping to sanctuary on the top of this pillar when pursued by wolves.