Cruising through the Dehcho

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dene basketsDene First Nation Baskets

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It’s a good thing that it’s nearly lunchtime, or that trip to the Acho Dene Native Crafts store in Fort Liard could be an expensive affair. There’s nothing like an impending deadline to curtail your spending. The shelves inside the shop are lined with beautiful, intricately decorated birchbark baskets the local women make in this tiny Dehcho community. The Dene First Nation traditionally used these baskets for storing berries and other items.

As you leave the pretty community, keep an eye out for wildlife along the road. Perhaps mama moose and her young ones will make an appearance. Drive onto the free ferry to Fort Simpson, a village at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers.

Go for an early morning walk or jog along the mighty Mackenzie River, that the Dene call Dehcho or “big river.” Cruise the Mackenzie or North Nahanni rivers on a jet boat ride. Take a self-guided historic walking tour through the community and learn about its history. See the humble home of the late American gold prospector Albert Faille, who spent much of his life looking for legendary gold in the Mackenzie Mountains.

Wander over to the Papal Flats. This is where the Dene traditionally gathered each summer, and the late Pope John Paul II celebrated mass during his 1987 visit to the village. At the visitor centre, admire the chair that northern carver Sonny MacDonald made for His Holiness and the footstool that was quickly created so the Pope’s feet wouldn’t dangle.

Drive over to Blackstone Territorial Park to take in the stunning views of the Liard, Blackstone and Nahanni rivers and the majestic mountains. Displays inside the visitor centre share stories about the region and its people. At the end of the road, a four-person water taxi can take you on a 20-minute ride to Nahanni Butte. Walk along the shore until you reach a giant chair. Dwarfed by your surroundings, take a selfie against the stunning mountain backdrop.

Nahanni Butte is the end point for many multi-day paddling and rafting trips along the South Nahanni River in Nahanni National Park Reserve. Another option is to take a flightseeing tour from Fort Simpson, which lands at Virginia Falls for a two-hour stopover.

Stop in at Sambaa Deh Territorial Park. Take a short walk to the pounding Sambaa Deh Falls as they squeeze through the steep, narrow sides of the canyon. Follow the trails that trappers once used as portage routes. This region is brimming with history and tradition.

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