If you ask most people to imagine the Arctic they would generally think of frozen tundra, perhaps some icebergs. Some would think of mountains and fiords (and according to a recent survey by Up Here! magazine some 28% of southern Canadians would think that landscape included penquins). Very few people's mental image of the Arctic summon up hoodoos and badlands, the sort of landscape we associate with the old west. But that landscape is plentiful up here, you just need to know where to look.
We like to get to a place called, locally, Cowboy Canyon or Cowboy Land, at least once a Spring. This last weekend saw us hop on the machines with a friend and head up. Snow conditions were different this year than past visits, and our skis chattered over rock as we made our way up along a small canyon. It is our normal route, but there was no trail this year, and from above we could see that most people had followed the stream at the bottom instead. We manouvered our way around frequent rocks and drifts and eventually over the broad snowy slope to the lip of Cowboy Canyon.
From up there, as the route drops away below you, you can look out over the rest of Uluksa penisula, across Admiralty Inlet to the cliffs of the Brodeur Penisula. It is a spectacular place. Those cliffs are about 35 kilometres away from where I'm standing.
As you make your way down, the land starts to give away to the rock formations. Someone like me, that was fed a steady diet of cowboy shows growing up, can easily envision a stetsoned sentry standing on the rock, shouting to his compadres that riders were coming. Of course those riders would be on horses, not on skidoos, but still.
A tricky snow drift, coupled with exposed ice from the stream got us thinking that we'd have trouble coming back out of the canyon if we went farther, so we left the machines and continued down on foot.
Leah took the high route, and ended up having to slide down to join us.
The sandstone that was shaped by wind and water to make these formations is quite soft in spots, you can scratch it with a fingernail. There are spots filled with incredible colours and magical forms. Spires, holes, columns, a weirdly fantastic tableau. One day I'll walk the length of it.