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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Nahanni National Park, Canada

I was talking with a young man recently about how few remote, unpopulated places there are left in the world, and he told me about a place in Canada's Northwest Territories, Deadman's Valley, which was about as remote as anywhere in the world:

He said it was called that because of its macabre history. The local Indians, the Dene, had always avoided it, since they regarded it as very dangerous place. Later on when the white man explored the area, many of them ended up dead as well.

From Mysterious Universe:

The Nahanni Valley has been steeped in folklore and mystery since it was first inhabited around 9 to 10 thousand years ago. Many tribes were afraid to settle within the region as they believed it to be an evil, haunted place inhabited by various spirits, specters, and devils. Those who did come here, such as the native Dene people, told of mysterious creatures lurking in the vast forests, and were plagued by the enigmatic, aggressive, and violent Naha tribe of the mountains. This tribe was said to consist of fierce warriors who wore masks and armor adorned with frightening imagery and were known to brutally decapitate their victims. Warriors of the Naha tribe were said to be larger than normal men and to wield strange and powerful weapons that no one had ever seen before. The fearsome Naha tribe itself has become one of the area’s many mysteries, as the whole tribe is said to have suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from the face of the earth, and it has never been ascertained just what happened to them. They have seemingly just vanished without a trace.

When European fur traders first came to the valley in the 18th century, they were impressed by the legends and beauty of the valley, and word quickly spread about this far flung wilderness...[M]any explorers believed it to possess vast reserves of untapped gold. It was during this era of miners seeking their fortunes among the rugged terrain of Nahanni that the valley’s more insidious and macabre legend began to emerge, particularly in a part of the park called the 200 Mile Gorge. In 1908, brothers Willie and Frank McLeod came prospecting in the valley just as many others had done before them. The two packed up their gear, headed out into the wilderness, and never returned. After a year had passed, it was presumed that the brothers must have succumbed to the elements or any of the countless perils the area had to offer, such as sinkholes, jagged gorges, and wild animals... Then, as suddenly as they had vanished, the two men were found dead along the river. Their bodies had been decapitated and the heads were nowhere to be found.

A spooky story to be sure, but it would not be an isolated case, nor the last victims the valley would claim. In 1917, a Swiss prospector by the name of Martin Jorgenson made his way to Nahanni to try his hand at finding gold. At first, Jorgenson seemed to have settled well in the valley. He built a cabin, ran a small mining operation, and was generally well-known by settlers in the area. When Jorgenson’s cabin mysteriously burned down to the ground, the prospector’s skeleton was found among the ashes without its head, and a search of the charred remains of the cabin found no trace of the skull. In 1945, a miner from Ontario was found dead in his sleeping bag without his head.... 

These mysterious deaths are not the only oddities the valley holds. In addition to the mysterious beheadings, a good many others simply went missing without a trace. It is thought that around 44 people had vanished under mysterious circumstances in the valley by 1969...The area is also known for its cryptids, as it is a hotspot for Bigfoot activity and is believed by some to hold a remnant population of a type of bear-like carnivore called the bear dog, or Amphicyonidae, which was thought to have gone extinct in the Pleistocene epoch. In addition to this strangeness, a bizarre find was made in an ice cave called Grotte Valerie, where the ancient skeletons of over 100 sheep were found, apparently having starved to death in around 2,500 BC. The grim find has earned the cave the nickname of “The Gallery of Lost Sheep.”

To this day, it is not known who or what is responsible for the beheadings and disappearances in the Nahanni Valley, but their legacy certainly remains in the menacing place names throughout the valley, such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range and the Funeral Range. Theories abound on what could be the culprit behind the killings, encompassing everything from the rational to the outlandish.... The disappearances could be the result of any number of perils to be found in the wilderness here. After all, this is an inhospitable place of extreme cold, filled with unexplored caves, gullies, jagged rocks, and ravenous beasts such as grizzly bears. For all of the ideas offered, in the end no one really knows what decapitated these bodies or why, and it is still unknown as to what happened to the people who disappeared.

It is hard to say what lies behind these mysteries. The area is so forbidding and remote that very few people other than adventurous rafters ever set foot here. Despite its status as a National Park, Nahanni Valley remains for the most part unexplored, and there are very large portions that have never been properly surveyed. The only geological surveys ever done here were done from the air, and the vast majority of the wilderness here remains an enigma. The few efforts to explore the area in any kind of depth have turned up vast, unknown cavern systems, caves, and huge warrens of underground hot springs and vents previously not known to exist. Some believe that a lost world full of new species lies here. What other mysteries and oddities does the Nahanni Valley hold? Is there something malevolent hiding out there in this rugged wilderness that could have something to do with its violent and sinister past? Until more investigation is done, it will continue to remain a perplexing and very creepy mystery.

The area surrounding Deadman's Valley was turned into Nahanni National Park in 1972. More territory was added to the park until it eventually totaled 12,805 square miles of protected land. But to this day there are absolutely no roads leading to the park. It is accessible only by plane or boat, so very few people go there.

Geographically, Nahanni has an amazing variety of different features. It has thermal springs:

It has Rabbitkettle, one of the world's largest tufa mounds (composed of calcium carbonate leeching out of a hot spring):

One group of mountains are called the Cirque of the Unclimbables:

Virginia Falls, at 95 meters high, is twice as tall as Niagara:

I've been to Yosemite in the summertime, and the Yosemite Valley parking lot is as crowded as the one at Disney World. At Yellowstone, I actually experienced a traffic jam.

With no roads leading to Nahanni, it is as desolate as anyone could wish.

That said, it seems to have lost some of its forbidding aspect. The decapitating Naha have disappeared, there have been no recent sightings of the bear dog/dire wolf, and the humanoid creatures have not been seen recently either. You can even take a whitewater rafting trip there.

But, there are still places there which are described as "unexplored," such as the 20 kilometer long Scimitar Canyon, cut by the Ram River:

(Can you imagine? A canyon that dramatic, 20 kilometers long, which no one has explored yet because it's too dangerous?)

And there are mountains there which no one has even bothered to name yet.

While reading about the Northwest Territories, I also stumbled across this picture of the world's largest beaver dam, in Wood Buffalo National Park:

It measures 2800 feet across. It wasn't even discovered until 2007, via a satellite image (it can be seen from outer space). This place, too, is inaccessible by car, in fact no roads go anywhere near it. The first man to visit it had to trek through 200 miles of unforgiving wilderness in 2014 to lay eyes on it.

It's nice to know such remote places still exist.


Not Dave said...

Interesting place. A little over a year ago a man fell into a hot spring in Yellowstone and dissolved in the acidic water. It could be assumed some of the missing in Nahanni could have faced the same fate, attempting to bathe in warm water during cold months. Who knows.

There are dangerous places on earth, this sounds like one of them. The beauty draws people in and of course there's unsubstantiated legends to go along with the mystery of the place. I'm not brave enough to go, will settle on great photography of the place.


Anonymous said...

Since Indian tribes avoided settling this land (according to your post), I would follow their lead and not set foot there.

- Susan

Runner Katy said...

Thank you for sharing about this National Park. I'd never heard of this one. The photos are breathtakingly beautiful! As much as they pull me in and make me wish to visit, the lack of roadways is slightly scary, as a tourist. I do love to visit these types of parks with my friends and explore their trails, by run or hike.

John Craig said...

Dave --
Just knowing it's there is good enough for me. I doubt I'll ever make it there, either, though the idea of taking a drive through northern Canada appeals to me.

John Craig said...

Susan --
If you are to go with one of those whitewater rafting groups, or take a day tour via a plane, it would probably be okay. There don't seem to have been many recent fatalities there.

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
When I was browsing the internet looking at ways to get there, I saw ads for a hiking tour as well as a whitewater rafting tour. I guess that means you have to fly in by seaplane or helicopter.....The mere fact that neither of us had ever heard of this place before, even though it's a 12,800 square mile national park on our own continent, in a way proves how remote it is.

europeasant said...

Thanks for that information. It sounds like you are planning another road trip, somewhere. My last road trip a year and a half ago was to Glacier National park.We stayed in a town called Columbia Falls just outside the west park entrance.I took me four days to get there. I'm a slow driver,old and getting senile, but I can still see well enough as today on the rifle range got some good hits at three feet with iron scope.
I'm always planning that great road trip.A lot of planning but little doing.What, we have google maps street view so why bother driving. But the real thing is still more exciting than looking at pictures. It reminds me of that movie "Soylent Green" where the old man getz to look at nature before expiring. Itz getting to sound depressing. Time for some more Opiods. Just kidding. I need to go on some more road trips.
Happy trails to you.

John Craig said...

Europeasant --
You know what they say, the anticipation is the best part. I'm sort of torn on that score. I like the idea of driving through northern Canada, just to see the isolation of it all and the vast expanses with no people. But every time I actually go somewhere, I usually end up thinking, well, even scenery this beautiful can only really thrill you for a couple minutes, tops. How long can you look at the same vista? This past April I really enjoyed driving through southern Utah, that was really spectacular. But was it worth the entire drive, and all the attendant hassles? I don't know.

Glacier IS beautiful, though, maybe my favorite place in the 48 states. I had a summer job there in 1974 washing dishes; the job sucked, but the park was incredible.

Anonymous said...

I'm frequently amazed, in a good way, when I talk to Americans about their landscape. In the UK, we don't really have vast plains of uninhabited land. England is population-dense and, although Wales and the Scottish Highlands are known for the countryside, you'll still see plenty of people there and buildings scattered around. This makes stargazing difficult due to all the light pollution (I was paralysed with awe the first time I stargazed in the Austrian Alps; I'd never seen the stars like that before). Lots of animals are at risk of extinction here due to the dense human population: only Scotland still has wild deers. Sadly, there's no way we'd have space for wild bisons like in the US or bears like in Canada.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I'm always amazed when I go to Europe at how economical they are with space. Houses are placed right next to each other, and even the hotel rooms are smaller. Entire cities resemble the non-skyscraper parts of NYC, although they're generally better kept. I've never been to the Austrian Alps, but when I was in Switzerland I was struck by how many houses there were in the Alps. I remember thinking, these are like the Rocky Mountains, except there are people living on every available livable plot of land. We actually have a lot of black bears in the US, too, and even a remnant population of grizzlies in the Pacific Northwest. And the deer are everywhere, I live in a suburb, and I see them in my backyard.

That said, we have nothing in the US to compare to Nahanni, the idea of a National Park without a single road leading to it would be incomprehensible in this country.

Anonymous said...

I feel awful that I've hardly visited most of the US's scenic wonders. I've seen Death Valley though. That was awesome.

John Craig said...

Anon --
The older I get, the more I realize that scenery doesn't sustain me for all that long (as I said to Europeasant, above, three days ago). It's a thrill when you first see a spectacular vista; but to spend an entire week in some place where you're supposed to be appreciating the scenery the entire time gets boring. The idea of taking one of those rafting trips to Nahanni is appealing, but I know exactly how I'd feel after two days, which is, ugh, Im stuck here, and have to wait five days to get home.

I guess that's pretty much the definition of a stick in the mud.

Confession: I drove up 395 one time, but didn't feel like taking the detour to get to Death Valley.