Miracle. All of it.

It had snowed overnight, but there were already tracks on the ground. The fine powder had covered the perimeter of spruce and willow and was already starting to melt on the topmost branches when I set out on my expedition. Ahead was a denuded and frozen basin of snowy ridges and gently rising slopes.

The noise of the village had faded, and as I took my first steps onto the plateau, following the contour of the land, an intense squeak escaped from under my boots. It was all I could hear for the next 10 minutes. A muffled, metronomic marriage of snow groaning on sand. After that, I had reached my destination. I had crossed what many believe is the world’s smallest desert.

This was my introduction to one of North America’s most bizarre geological phenomena, the Carcross Desert in Canada’s Yukon. At first glance, it admittedly didn’t look like much. Hardly recognisable as a desert and only 600m wide, best measured end to end by bootprints, it was blanketed in snow, the sand only apparent between cracks in the melted crust. But the details sharpened over time. Closer inspection revealed a miniature kingdom of fine-grain sands, a rare habitat for plants, ungulates and insect species that may be new to science…

The Carcross Desert’s unique genesis is the result of 10,000 years of natural labour. The Yukon was last glaciated during the Wisconsinan McConnell glaciation, she explained, some 11,000 to 24,000 years ago. “Carcross would have had 1km of ice sitting on top of it,” she told me, while hunched over research papers and geological fieldwork studies. “You just can’t picture it.”

As the ice started to melt, lobes of ice began to retreat south, leaving the southern Yukon with heavily scarred valleys. Lipovsky likens this to a vast construction site, as “the ice bulldozed everything”. Over time, massive lakes formed at the snout of the lobes, then when the ice retreated, water levels dropped, leaving beaches and strand lines socked in between the valleys. To finish, sand was hoovered up by fierce winds and blown north-west, giving birth to one of the world’s most unlikely deserts…

To be categorised as an arid desert for scientific purposes, one needs to receive less than 250mm of annual precipitation, while semi-arid deserts receive between 250mm and 500mm. This is the category that Carcross falls into, despite sitting in the rain shadow of the surrounding mountains…

Despite such contradictions, what’s not debated is the sense of awe and sheer amazement the desert inspires. As you enter, its mystery deepens, the tall willow and spruce appearing in ghostly silhouette. Beyond this, surprises wait. Yukon lupine and Baikal sedge flower in summer. Rarely seen coast dart moths and dune tachinidae hover in the skies. Five new species of gnorimoschema, a genus of the moth family, have been discovered. The likelihood is there are more.

All this beauty in one of the Earth’s most unforgiving and complex environments is hard to fathom. This isn’t the Sahara, the Gobi or the Kalahari. But each step across its diminutive dunes makes you realise: this desert is a whole world of wonder unto itself.

Mike MacEacheran, from “The Unlikely Home of the Smallest Desert” (BBC.com Travel, June 22, 2018)


Notes:

  • Thank you Christie!
  • Photo: Dave Brosha with Carcross Desert. “The Carcross Desert, famous for being one the of the smallest “deserts” in North America. Located in Carcross, Yukon, Canada. I really don’t think there’s too many places in the world that combine such a strangely beautiful mix of snow and sand.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

Comments

  1. Amazing! 👏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. where natural worlds collide –

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Coffee is brewing. And this is making my head spin.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    Simply amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I looked it up on Wikipedia and found this sad statement: The Yukon Territorial government made efforts to protect Carcross Desert in 1992, but failed due to opposition from locals who use the dunes for recreational purposes.
    I found that rather disgusting. It ranks right up there with the car ads that show people driving recklessly through natural terrain tearing up the ground and disturbing plants and wildlife.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. So many magical, mystical places on our planet, and it appears that we’re doing our level best to destroy every last damn one of them. Heard this report late last week. https://n.pr/2thfg0R

    Liked by 2 people

  7. No wonder you put this in the “Miracle. All of It.” file… it is miraculous indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is. And then to meet the rainfall requirement to be categorized as a desert. Wow. That’s something being in Yukon.

      Like

      • No kidding! Sure makes me want to add it to the ridonkulously long list…

        Liked by 1 person

        • That has to be French for ridiculous…

          Like

          • LOL.. it’s ridiculous squared…😉

            Liked by 1 person

          • It’s poetry Dale. Poetry. You are just playing at a higher level than the rest of us.
            ——-
            Initially, Gregory’s poems have a slow, strained quality, as though she were communicating across great distances in a nonnative language:

            Though here must be a bad vortexx
            said everyone of where they find themselves
            since everything

            Since every known thing
            only occurs to me each thing occurs
            not to overcome what is else but

            Hey Everything
            takes great effort.

            The text stutters, doubles back and corrects itself — and seems to include afterthoughts, alternate lines. In many of the poems, annotations appear along the right margin, in brackets and a paler typeface, commenting on and complicating the “real” poem…

            Or this phrase from the same page: “Fluid d fluid d fluid dt” — there’s a pleasing tension in the gap between the letters on the page, which look like nonsense, and the sound of the letters as you read them, out loud or in your head, and they become words or near-words: fluidy, fluidy, fluidity. This pleasure is both tactile and aural, like popping your knuckles.

            Like Language poetry, Gregory’s poems are difficult in the sense that they resist sense, at least common sense. But, like all good poetry, “Yeah No” invites you in by slowly teaching you its codes, and by reminding you that sense is not always the point: “You are reading this if you don’t understand.”

            ~ Elisa Gabbert, from “Making the Language Strange, as Only Poetry Can Do” – a book review of YEAH NO by Jane Gregory. (The New York Times, June 21, 2018)

            Liked by 1 person

          • Wow… Thanks for that, David!

            Liked by 1 person

  8. …well, it’s all your doing, David, but my thoughts went to, I wonder if Caleb would like it here…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Christie says:

    Dave, You are most welcome 🙂 Such a pretty photo of an amazingly special, sensitive and fragile small ecosystem…

    Liked by 1 person

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