Our visit to the small Inuvialuit hamlet of Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island in the Canadian High Arctic in the Northwest Territories was our last shore landing in our Northwest Passage expedition. (From Ulukhaktok we sailed four days to the west through the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and the Bering Strait into the Pacific Ocean and on to Nome Alaska.)
We had such an enjoyable time in Ulukhaktok and with the 30 Inuit drummers and dancers (out of a town population of only 450!) who performed on board our ship just before we sailed out of the bay that we thought we should share some of the great smiles and warm personalities of the Inuit townspeople, hosts and performers.
From Ulukhaktok our ship passed through a sometimes narrow band of open water between the coast and the pack ice to the north. Here, the coastline has no offshore islands protecting it from the Arctic elements. Some years, this area can be ice-free; other years it is choked with pack ice. These shallow waters off the North Slope have abundant food that attract sea birds and marine mammals.
We sailed past Point Barrow, Alaska, the northern-most city (and geographic point) of the United States. This community is primarily composed of Inupiat Inuit who call this area Ukpeagvik (place where snowy owls are hunted). Unsheltered and battered by the cold winds and sea ice flowing directly from the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Basin, Barrow is one of the coldest places on earth with over 325 days per year below freezing. A place of extremes, Barrow is situated in a desert with less than 5 inches / 13 cm of precipitation per year.
Our ship then passed through the Bering Strait which separates the mighty continents of North America and Asia. With Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska to the east and Cape Dezhnev, Siberia (Russia) 51 miles / 82 km away to the west, it marks the geographical end of the Northwest Passage. Originally above sea level, the strait was once a dry-land bridge connecting the two continental landmasses and allowing prehistoric animals to migrate freely. The migration of man to North America via this bridge forever changed the landscape of the Americas. Located in the middle of the Bering Strait, the Diomede Islands fall on either side of the border between Russia and the United States. Big Diomede Island (Russia) lies just 2.5 miles / 4 km from Little Diomede Island (U.S.). These islands are often referred to as Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Island because they also fall on either side of the International Date Line, giving them a 20-hour time difference.
Our 2019 Northwest Passage Expedition concludes tomorrow at Nome, Alaska. With the discovery of gold in 1898, this boomtown’s population swelled to nearly 20,000 miners, furiously panning along the beaches that fringe Norton Sound. Today’s town of under 4,000 offers a peaceful contrast to the lively legacy reflected in the colorful local saloons and museum displays. Nome hosts the finish of the Iditarod dog sled race each March, and the tundra outside the town provides good opportunities to spot musk ox. From Nome, our ship will continue to Petropavlovsk, Russia and onward to Japan.
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