Last Update: 10-JAN-2017
Mary found the polar bear trip doing a google search. The Churchill Northern Studies Center offered a learning vacation week to learn about and see polar bears on the tundra buggy. You stay at the center which is used for research And sleep in dorm rooms, eat meals there and listen to presentations. The cost was $2000 a person.
We flew to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on 3 Nov 2005. Then we got the train that afternoon to Churchill. Because no roads go that far north, you can only get to Churchill via plane or train. We wanted to sleep on the train (in a sleeping compartment) so We booked it well ahead because they have very few sleeper cars. I think I booked in January as soon as they had on the Viarail website. The rooms are tiny and you have 2 bunkbeds which fold up during the day so you can sit In your own room. It was about $2000 per person for the train which included 2 nights each way and we were able to use frequent flier miles for the flights to and from Winnipeg.
We loved looking out the window and being rocked to sleep. The scenery was mostly woods and tundra and it looked more frozen as we headed north. We found out later that the train had to go slower because the tundra was not frozen yet. The 1,000-mile route winds around the Manitoba Lowlands goes in the prairie province of Saskatchewan then up to The Pas and then proceeds north-eastwards through increasingly remote boreal forest and barren subarctic tundra. We watched the beautiful Manitoba landscape transition from majestic prairie to towering boreal forest, from the cold lakes of the taiga to the barren beauty of the tundra. The train trip can be an adventure in itself, but it's only an option if time is not an issue, since the Churchill train is probably the slowest in Canada due to the permafrost. It sometimes slows down so much you could likely walk faster!
UPDATE 09/2016 - Looking back on this trip now eleven years ago it was fun but very cold. As I get older I really don't want to go to places like this in the colder times of year as I'm more into the Caribbean / Arizona type environment so I'm happy that we punched his ticket back when we did it. Also it was quite expensive at the time as it cost close to $10,000 for both of us to go up here for less than two weeks. Another thing I did not like was all of talk about how the polar bears and everything else in the Artic was doomed because of global warming. Well, its been 11 years and its all the same.. The bears are fine, life goes on. We will probably go on an Alaskan cruise in a few years but will definitely do that in the summer.
UPDATE 01/2017 - Recently the Smithsonian Channel had a short series called Polar Bear Town and its showed many of the places that we visited in the Churchill area. One of the bears that Dennis Compayre featured in the series was Dancer, who we were told back in 2005 was the biggest bear on the coast. I took many photos of Dancer (below on this page) and Dennis Compayre said that the fall of 2016 was the first year that he did not show up and that he was probably over 20 years old now. We did not realize that they lived so long in such a harsh environment.
All photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 5400 5.1meg pixl camera. All video was taken with a Sony DCR-HC32 Handycam and converted / processed with Microsoft Movie Maker software
The flight was easy. (unlike coming home) The weather was good and we arrived around noon.
We made sure that we had some extra time between the flight and the train departure time at 8:30PM so we had some time to kill.
So, we walked around the Forks. It was like Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Nice but small
Looking back at the train station. This is the main line across Canada (East<->West) so we had trains running through every few minutes
Looking at the River Rouge and the (smaller) Assiniboine River (I did not make that up !!)
Walt and Mary debating the dinner choices
Winnipeg was bigger than I figured. Looked like a clean city
Train trip north
The train left on time. We had the deluxe sleeper and except for some confusion over who was in what room it went very well. Very small but better than sitting in a chair for 38 hours during the 1,200 mile trip north to Churhill.
Stopping in The Pas to get fuel and pick up more people
It was snowing during the night and some snow was left on the train
Due to the tundra (ice underground) and widespread wetlands the poles have to be placed in a tripod shape
Views from the train as we continued north
Thompson, which is the end of the roads. Many more people got on here for the 14hr ride overnight into Churchill. Because of the time of the year and the ground is not frozen, the train was 3hrs late at this point. The train is usually 2 hrs+ late this time of year.
Our first look at Churchill
SNOW !!! and in the 20's Not bad considering it could be below zero at this time of the year. Also, no trees. Tundra and permafrost. We have arrived in the Artic !
Out to the Center
The Churchill Northern Studies Center is located 20 miles East of Churchill. This was a 5 day learning vacation, which included 2 days on the tundra buggy, helicopter ride, dogsledding and all meals/lodging and great lectures from the 2 bear specialists.
The Churchill Rocket Research Range was established in 1957 to launch sounding rockets carrying experimental payloads into the upper atmosphere. Chosen in part for its auroral activity levels , the Research Range was the base for scientific research into the upper atmosphere for almost 30 years.
Operated by various agencies over the years (including the Canadian Space Agency for a series of NASA launches), over 3,500 sounding rockets were launched from the range before it closed in 1985. Akjuit Aerospace temporarily reinvigorated the range from 1994 to 1998 and renamed it Space Port Canada. The site's overall significance led to a National Historic Site of Canada designation.
Along the twisty ice covered road we see the Hudson Bay for the first time.
At the center which is in the middle of Bear country (everywhere around here is) Nobody goes out without a guard
Out for an afternoon walk around the missle site.
The Hudson Bay to the north
Sunset at 3:30 in the afternoon !!
Hard to believe its 75 back at home
Getting ready to head out on the tundra
High footprints on that door
The Hudson Bay in the background
Laying in the kelp
Mary on the back porch of the buggy
The Polar Bear Cam. The bear is acting like it's fed from time to time
The tundra motel
Three in one place
Dancer with a extension cord. Nobody wanted to take it from him
Another hard day for Walt
A very cold morning with some new snow overnight
Waiting for our helicopter ride. Bars on the windows to keep out the bears
Views from the copter. Very flat and many lakes
The ice is starting to form on the Hudson Bay
Momma Polar Bear and 3 cubs. Very rare
Returning to the center. Looking at the missile site buildings
Dogsled adventure. Very cold for us, but too warm for the dogs !!!
Very friendly gray jays
Taking a break
Snowy Owl - Snowy owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northernmost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like coastal dunes and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. They have been reported as far south as the American states of Texas, Georgia, the American Gulf states.
Unexploded mortar in the stream
Momma nursing 2 cubs. Very rare to see
Low sun angle for 11 in the morning
Ptarmigan - Lagopus - Lagopus is a small genus of birds in the grouse subfamily, commonly known as ptarmigans. The genus contains three living species with numerous described subspecies, all living in tundra or cold upland areas.
May have been a Rock ptarmigan which is the official game bird for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and colloquially as the snow chicken in the United States.
Chewing on the buggy
Don't worry, I won't hurt you !!
Dancer relaxing on the beach
Dancer.... The biggest bear on the beach
Looks like this bear found a good spot to wait for the ice
Walt and I slept on the right. My home for a week - Not fun as it was snore city ! (looking back I was nuts) It was cold, had group showers and we had to cook in & clean the kitchen. It was research center life.
Along the road heading back towards town
Polar bear jail next to the Churchill Airport. ( we were not allowed to go inside teh facility)
Miss Piggy crash in 1979 - Miss Piggy is a Curtiss C-46 freight plane owned by Lamb Air. On a 1979 flight, the plane developed engine trouble during its approach to the runway and managed to land among the rocks without a fatality. Called "Miss Piggy" for her cargo capacity (and for once carrying a load of pigs), the downed plane can be reached by venturing down a scenic back road skirting the shore of Hudson Bay.
A quick walk down to the Hudson Bay - Hudson Bay is part of the North Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes the Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait basins are considered part of the Arctic Ocean even though their waters flow predominantly to the Atlantic. Some sources describe Hudson Bay as a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, or the Arctic Ocean. In any sase it was cool literally.
Churchill (Inuit: Kuugjuaq) is a town in northern Manitoba, Canada on the west shore of Hudson Bay, roughly 110 kilometres from the Manitoba/Nunavut border. It is most famous for the many polar bears that move toward the shore from inland in the autumn, leading to the nickname "Polar Bear Capital of the World" that has helped its growing tourism industry.
Churchill is located along the Hudson Bay at the 58th parallel north far above where most Canadian populated areas are located. Churchill is located far from any other towns or cities, with Thompson, approximately 400 km (250 mi) to the south, being the closest larger settlement. Manitoba's provincial capital, Winnipeg, is approximately 1000km south of Churchill.
In the 1950s, the British government considered establishing a site near Churchill for testing their early nuclear weapons, before choosing Australia instead.
Churchill has a borderline subarctic climate (Koppen climate classification:Dfc) with long very cold winters, and short, cool to mild summers. Churchill's winters are colder than a location at a latitude of 58 degrees north should warrant, given its coastal location. The shallow Hudson Bay freezes, eliminating any maritime moderation. Prevailing northerly winds from the North Pole jet across the frozen bay and chill it to a -26.0C (-14.8F) January average. Churchill lies just south of the parallel of Swedish capital Stockholm, which has a significantly milder climate, with all months being significantly warmer than that of coastal Northern Manitoba. This is in part due to the lack of influence of the Gulf Stream on the Hudson Bay climate.
Horizontal look angle on the dish antennas
The grain storage facility on the Churchill River
Prince of Wales Fort and the views from it
Looking back at the grain facility
Looking across at the larger fort that is under repair
Back in town
Mary trying to win $25 (They never printed it because your average merchandiser reader would not know where Churchill, Canada was. They go for local places)
Research center (where we stayed) information in the railroad station
The research stations nuclear warhead. Looking back I wonder about this. They said they just found it in a warehouse.
Our last day. Out for a walk
It's a long way back to the research center (the building between the two taller pines)
Various missile parts litter the ground around the center
We made it back to the truck !! VERY COLD !!
A fun trip