The largest natural Habitat group of the Winter season journeyed from Winnipeg to Churchill via VIA Rail, Canada’s Amtrak, with hopes of gazing skyward to view the Aurora Borealis. Guide Karen and her 15 hearty travelers from Texas, Florida, Maine, New York, Idaho, Mexico and even France found the gold they had hoped for at the end of the train line. This gold was in the form of green arcing bands.
Traveling by train to Churchill is always magical. Moving from prairie through woodland and boreal forest to taiga and tundra is enough to stimulate any keen adventurer’s eye and imagination. A dome car on this trip added the extra dimension of viewing the night sky. Although no Northern lights appeared, the clear, crisp sky provided a moving planetarium-like atmosphere. Constellations in the dark Northern sky look bold and bright for sure.
This particular trip was blessed with abundant wildlife sightings from the train. White-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, red fox and even a cross fox were all spotted as the locomotive rumbled North.
Following a day of exploring around town..checking out the Eskimo museum and Parcs Canada and hearing a spirited, informative description of the port and its’ capabilities the group listened to Bill Calnan’s historical talk inside the warm, cozy Anglican church. Guide Karen was outside the Anglican Church searching for the luminescence in the sky. It appeared toward the tail end of the presentation and fortunately prevailed for the group to get a first glimpse of the phenomena. They boarded their small shuttle bus driven by Bill and headed up the road toward Cape Merry. Stopping just past the old pastors house just beyond the church, they disembarked and gazed upwards in awe as the the hazy, greenish bands arced and morphed over the Hudson Bay. A trip out East to the Aurora Domes produced much of the same glowing, arcing bands. Some good photographs were taken by some avid photographers in the group as they now were in possession of their tripods and other essential gear. The domes also are a good base from which to go in and out of to keep gear and bodies warm. The temperature on this night was comparatively mild so access to the sky with tripods was fairly painless.
The following day brought clear skies and after a morning presentation by Dene elder Caroline Bjorklund on Dene culture, the group headed out to Dave Daley’s Wapusk Adventures and all had the chance to take a sled on his infamous “ididamile” trail up on Joe Buck’s ridge. A mile in these frigid conditions is enough to get the blood going and face chilled. Back in the warming hut the group listens to Dave talk about his upcoming Yukon Quest race on March 18th. I hope he controls the Irish in him the night before. On the way the group stopped at the old Dene Village and Caroline, who had joined the group for dog-sledding spoke at the memorial stone marker there.
That night brought the best aurora viewing of the trip as the group settled in for a prolonged tri-band display in the Northern sky over the bay. They appeared like three banana shapes arcing to the horizon in a swirl. They then split and the group jokingly referred to them as the ‘banana split” lights. The domes again provided a safe, warm place to take in the action.
The last day in Churchill the group awoke to blustery conditions limiting visibility considerably. Some souvenir shopping and an extensive tour of the multi-functional town complex took up the morning. In the afternoon, the group headed out to Bill Calnan’s on Goose Creek Rd. for a surprise adventure. Bill and assistant Chris rigged up a passenger sleigh type box with a hay bail and took people for a 20 minute snow mobile excursion through the quiet boreal forest and back to his bed and breakfast. Some faces were frozen but all enjoyed the solace of the forest.
A moderate night of aurora display with a glowing bowl-like feature in the sky gave all a thrill. Some blueish hues mixed with the green on this night. A nice change from the previous two nights. All in all the aurora was quite visible for this group.
On the final day, the group stopped by the the Polar Bear holding facility adjacent to the airport. As Bill attempted top exit a different road other than the one he entered by, the bus got stuck in a drift. As the travelers assisted in shoveling and pushing the bus out of the snow in the cold, they reminisced about their years in the colder regions and all had a good laugh as a send off. Of course after then rushing to the airport, they arrived to find the flight an hour delayed. That’s Churchill for you!