Great Canadian Parks / Yukon Territory

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The Parks / Yukon Territory / Vuntut National Park


 

While most of Canada lay under vast glaciers some 30 000 years ago, the Vuntut area, because of its arid climate, remained ice free, a refuge for Pleistocene species, such as the American mastodon, the woolly mammoth, the monstrous ground sloth and the giant horse, all now extinct. Also present were the largest predators: the giant short-faced bear, the American lion and the scimitar cat. Discoveries of more than 20 000 fossils, cultural artifacts, and even šmummified– carcasses of ice age animals in over 56 sites in the permafrost and along the eroding banks of the Old Crow and Porcupine rivers, within the boundaries of the park, are helping to piece together the story of a time when the flats were part of the Beringia Region. Across the vast landscape of grassy steppe tundra, North America’s earliest inhabitants pursued the giant western camel, long-haired bison and giant beaver as well as many species that continue to find their home in the park today - the barren ground caribou, moose, muskrat, fox, wolf and wolverine.


The Dezadeash / Sakwak valley and the Alsek Pass owe their U-shape to vast glaciers that flowed outward from the Kluane Icefield during the recurrent ice ages of the last 3 million years. Valley-bound in the Alsek River gorge, the massive Lowell Glacier, 65 kilometres in length has, over centuries, moved up and down the river basin causing flood conditions that have had far-reaching effects on vegetation, animal populations, terrain and lifestyle of the native people. In the past, surges of the Lowell have actually dammed the Alsek River to create lakes. In 1850, Recent Alsek Lake drained in two days when the ice dam broke, sending 40 cubic kilometres of water in a raging torrent to the sea. Should Lowell surge again, it could pose a potential flood risk to the Alaska Highway.

 

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