Saturday, December 3, 2011

Part V. Tundra, tundra, tundra!

(Please start with Part I and work your way up, if you haven't already!)
"Alpine" tundra territory along the Beartooth Highway, Montana, in 2007
So what exactly is the tundra? (Doesn't the word itself have an appealing ring to it? "TUNDRA!") Having spent a week there makes me no expert, but according to Wikipedia (which knows everything, right?), tundra is an ecological region characterized by permafrost, vegetation (little of it in the form of trees) adapted to harsh conditions and a very short growing season, but lush with bird life, a variety of mammals, and even insects. As mentioned previously, the boreal tundra where Churchill is located reminds me very much of the alpine tundra along the Beartooth Highway (Montana), which is far lower in latitude (about 49N compared to Churchill at 58N) and far higher in elevation. The photo above was taken at about 8,500 or 9,000 feet, compared to Churchill, at 94 feet above sea level at its maximum. 
In mid-October, the tundra along the western shores of Hudson's Bay can be a dreary, windy, rainy place, but even the low visibility and wind-driven precipitation can't hide its unique beauty.  
Inukshuk in the tundra, taken in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area; click to enlarge.
Dotted with big, sheeting snowflakes, this scene reveals an inukshuk at the left--this one smaller and certainly more traditionally constructed than the two large, "official" ones in town--and stunted trees, probably black spruce, known as krumholtz. Some are flag trees, with branches growing mostly leeward.
The tundra is full of shallow depressions where water collects, and tundra rovers are fully equipped to ignore such impediments.

"Carry on!"

Tundra along Hudson's Bay
Soon to be frozen over, featureless, and bearless until spring thaw--the tundra is nonetheless not colorless.

Google satellite image, Churchill River and estuary (center), city of Churchill, edge of Hudson's Bay, and surrounding tundra; note the pock-mark like lakes, especially to the west.


  1. Really wonderful travelogue series and great photographs. Surely a life-altering experience. Thanks.

  2. I am following your story with fascination. I want to go there!

  3. Interesting. I always loved going to Montana flyfishing. Either coming or going we always made time for a few days fishing at Slough creek and took the Beartooth Highway. Charles Kuralt was correct... Americas most scenic road. :)