Fort Selkirk, found just north of the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly
rivers, is a land of very cold, dry winters and mild, temperate summers. The
coldest recorded temperature at the townsite is 64º Celsius below zero, while
in summer the mercury rarely rises much above 20º.
Extremes of temperature have played a major role in the geologic development
of the area. Covered in glaciers during three ice periods, volcanic centres
around Fort Selkirk erupted. A synthesis of molten rock and ice produced the
distinctive basalt rock cliffs found on the north shore of the Yukon River,
opposite Fort Selkirk. Geologists have dated the most recent eruption, that of
Volcano Mountain (Nelruna in Northern Tutchone), to be at least 4,200
years old. The ancient blast is still related in the oral tradition of the
Northern Tutchone people.
The ice that raked the earth during the glacial periods left vast layers of
gravel and boulders in its wake, forming what is now the riverbed of the Yukon
River. The jagged bottom and the swift current (approximately 7 km/h) produce
the boiling effect seen on the surface of the river. Hidden beneath the
turbulent water is the abundant river life that originally attracted First
Nation people to the site.
Just as plentiful are the wildlife species found at the town, they include:
moose, black bear, coyote, red fox, arctic ground squirrel, rabbit and muskrat.
The presence of wildlife through vast expanses of time has been dramatically
demonstrated by the recent discovery of the remains of the world’s oldest
caribou. 1.6 million year old caribou bones have been discovered at the base of
the basalt cliffs opposite Fort Selkirk, and examination of these bones has
shown a remarkable similarity between the ancient and modern animals. Further
paleontological research has delineated the remains of many species of small
mammals from the same time period.