Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Google Street View Journey to Inuvik

Dawson City General StoreDawson City was at one time the heart of the Klondike. When they found gold in them thar hills in 1896, this sleepy First Nations outpost swelled to a population of 40,000 men who moil for gold.
Dawson City York StreetIt may have lost some of its charm by now, though. There's only 1300 people left. 1300 people who surely realise how very remote they are, some 532 miles north of Whitehorse. It's the northernmost community of any real size in the Yukon. But surely with its historical merit, no one can blame Google for sending a driver all the way up to shoot some film, right?
Dawson City York StreetAll the way up the Klondike Highway... which is pretty barren, as it slowly makes its way out of town.
Dawson City AirportIf you can't bear the barrenness of the Klondike Highway, this is your only other way in: the Dawson City Airport. It's no JFK.
Dempster Highway and Klondike HighwayAnd then, suddenly, 39 km out of town, a fork in the road...
Dempster Highway and Klondike HighwayThis guy is one of the last you and I are going to see for a long, long time. This is where the Klondike Highway meets the Dempster Highway: an amazingly long, completely empty highway cut in the virgin land of Canada's north stretching 727 km, 16 hours by car, to Inuvik, NWT. 3500 people live in Inuvik, twice the population of Dawson City but none of the renown. To get some views of Inuvik, Google sent our trusted Mr. Street View the whole way. 727 km, 16 hours.
Dempster HighwayThe open, arctic road. Miles and miles of this.
Dempster HighwayIt's all completely gorgeous, and also very yellow. I hope Mr. Street View brought some good tapes for his car stereo.
Painter on Dempster HighwayA lookout, with seemingly a painter, crouched all alone. There's not a car in sight. How did this person even get here? Is it Mr. Street View himself, stopped to take in the view? Or is it the elusive second driver, the person who's been ghosting Mr. Street View this whole way, presumably so that if either run out of gas they won't die of starvation on these barren roads. This second figure, who I'll call Ghosty, is a spectral presence throughout this journey.
Two RVs on Dempster HighwayKilometres later, and we pass two RVs... It's a strangely romantic sight. It's a lookout, and something about the land here is just especially gorgeous. The RV drivers can see it. Mr. Street View can see it.
Ghosty on Dempster HighwayEven Ghosty can see it, as he stops to take in the view. This is our first view of him, with his camera-fitted automobile. Shadows in the road show that Mr. Street View's camera looks roughly the same (and for kilometres has a fuzzy spot on its front right side). Ghosty disappears for kilometres at a time, though, so maybe there's only one car, a car that has learned astral projection.
Yukon - NWT BorderThere's something else, too... Just a little past the lookout, somewhere along this endless stretch of highway, Mr. Street View crosses the border between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The sign is humble.
Fort McPhersonA pleasant diversion. We've reached Fort McPherson, population 776. A Gwich'in town, it's a great chance for Mr. Street View and Ghosty to stretch their feet.
Tepees in Fort McPhersonSomeone's been building actual tepees... with tarpaulin, but it's the thought that counts.
Dempster HighwayBut there's work to be done, so Mr. Street View sets back out on the open road.
Dempster Highway Fork in the RoadA fork in the road... but it's the road not taken, as Mr. Street View keeps to the left, avoiding those alluring signposts up that sideroad in the middle of nowhere.
Dempster HighwayThat Yukon yellow is changing to a Northwest lush green... many of these trees have perhaps never been touched by human hands.
McKenzie River Ferry TerminalAnd then suddenly... end of the road. We're at Tsiigehtchic, population 175. Or rather, across the river from it. Mr. Street View never made it there, but he did get to the terminal of the MV Louis Cardinal, the ferry across the Mackenzie River. As Mr. Street View approaches, the ferry is clearly at dock.
Ghosty at McKenzie River Ferry TerminalBut inch forward, and suddenly it's gone. We wait, leaving Ghosty ample time to adjust his cameras.
Northwest Territories 8Sadly, though, the cameras were off for the ferry journey. Mr. Street View having presumably paid the ferryman only after he got him to the other side, we're back on the open road. Yellow again.
Northwest Territories 8After countless miles of the same thing again and again, meticulously filmed and uploaded by Google, the landscape starts to look a bit foreboding...
Outpost on Northwest Territories 8A sign of life... a mysterious little outpost that tells us we're nearing civilisation. Or Inuvik, which will pass for civilisation by now.
Inuvik Mike Zubko AirportAnd then suddenly here we are... at the Inuvik Mike Zubko airport. Which looks positively metropolitan: we haven't seen a parking lot for hundreds of kilometres now.
Inuvik Mike Zubko AirportAnd actual planes... how longingly Mr. Street View and Ghosty must have gazed at this superior form of transport.
Inuvik Solid Waste Storage SiteBut Inuvik is still a few kilometres away. In the meantime, we've got the local dump.
Jak ParkA park.
Inuvik Carn StreetAnd now we're quite properly in Inuvik.
Inuvik Picnic AreaNo doubt out of curiosity, Mr. Street View turns down a dirt path and scopes out a local picnic area. No picnic table, but ample recycling bins.
InuvikAfter all that yellow and green, splashes of colour are likes splashes of beautiful perfume.
Inuvik Cafe GalleryInuvik is big enough to have a cafe.
Inuvik Geodesic DomeAnd a geodesic dome!
Inuvik North MartThere is even a proper box store, huge and with a KFC and a Taco Bell in it. The north has been conquered... in the name of fried chicken and Mexican food. By now, Mr. Street View and Ghosty must have felt they'd entered paradise, with so much to see and do.
Navy Road InuvikBut our intrepid drivers must carry on... mapping the outskirts of the town, Navy Road, which continues to snake north.
Navy RoadUntil it completely leaves town, and we're back in the countryside (with power cables). And yet Mr. Street View presses on! There there are roads, there will be Street View.
Navy RoadFor kilometres they carry on... going further north than the northmost point of a community 700 kilometres north of anything else... on a dirt road dug into the empty ground.
Navy RoadTo where the power cables... just suddenly end...
Navy RoadThe road is just a stretch of mud... yet they carry on, surely out of some stubborn determination by now. A resilience that must have made them heroes back in Palo Alto.
Ghosty on Navy RoadEven Ghosty is ready to give up by now... but wait! What's that behind him?
Navy RoadThis journey suddenly reaches its climax with... a busted-up antique truck and a ramshackle shed. In a place that redefines 'the middle of nowhere'.
Navy RoadThe road ends. Mr. Street View and Ghosty have taken it as far as it can take them. But is it the destination that matters? Or the journey?


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