Visitors Losing Their Heads Over Nahanni National Park

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Visitors Losing Their Heads Over Nahanni National Park

Nahanni National Park

Deep in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territory in Canada lies Nahanni National Park.  Nahanni got its name by the indigenous Dene people.  In their language, Nahanni means “river of the land of the people”.  The Dene people were ancestors of the Navajo people and populated the area about nine to ten thousand years ago.

(images:craigdh/flickr) Nahanni National Park

(images:craigdh/flickr)
Nahanni National Park

The Nahanni National Park is a sight to see with over five hundred grizzly bears, herds of caribou, alpine sheep and goats.  It boasts the highest mountains and largest ice fields in the Northwest Territories.  It is also mostly unexplored as it is only available by air, which is heavily restricted in the park.  Those lucky enough to enter the park are awestruck by the geysers, sinkholes, canyons, gorges, forests, the Virginia Falls waterfall, and Hell’s Gate- boiling whirlpools.  The four large canyons, named canyons One, Two, Three, and Four, reach over a thousand meters, or over three thousand feet in depth.

Early native tribes were afraid of the area.  They believed the Nahanni National Park area was an evil, haunted place and inhabited by spirits, demons, specters, and devils.  Perhaps it was their fear, or the dark history that played out over the years, but the Nahanni National Park boasts names like Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range, Funeral Range, and the Valley of the Headless Men.

Their fears stemmed from the stories of the Naha Mountain Tribe.  The Naha men were fierce warriors who wore masks and armor with frightening images painted on them.  They were known for brutally decapitating their victims.  They were depicted as larger than normal men who wielded strange and powerful weapons.  Though their history was a long and gory one, they suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from the earth without a trace or explanation.

European travelers working as fur traders infiltrated the area in the 18th century.  They explored the area and built trading posts.  The Gold Rush brought explorers trying to use Nahanni as a path to gold fields.  Legends of haunted valleys and lost gold emerged when headless corpses began turning up in 1908.  The mysterious deaths of others prospectors only added to the stories.  People continued to disappear, only to turn up… without their heads.

The first deaths were of Metis Prospectors, Willie and Frank McLeod in 1908.  The two brothers were prospecting in the valley.  They packed up their gear and headed into the wilderness, only to never return.  After a year, speculation ran through the camps that the two had found peril at the hand of an animal or land trap.  Others suggested that they had hit it big and disappeared with their gold.  They were all but forgotten when their bodies were found dead along the river.  Their decapitated heads were no where to be found.

(images:9265547@N05/flickr) Headless Creek

(images:[email protected]/flickr)
Headless Creek

Shortly after the McLeod brothers disappeared, a Swiss prospector, Martin Jorgenson, made his own history in 1917.  Jorgenson was well settled in the area and was considered a successful prospector.  He had a little cabin and a profitable small mining operation.  One day, his cabin mysteriously burned down.  His skeleton was found inside amongst the ashes… without a head.

Similarly, in 1945, an Ontario miner was found dead inside his sleeping bag, missing his head.  Shortly after, John O’Brien was found frozen to death with his hands clutching a pack of matches.  His body was found next to a camp fire pit that bore no evidence of a fire, but the man was frozen to death, almost appearing to have been flash frozen.  Forty-four people are estimated to have gone missing in 1969 alone.  There have even been rumors of weird lights and UFOs being spotted in the area, along with cryptids like Bigfoot and the Bear Dog.

Whether it’s the lovely views or the untouched beauty, something has got Nahanni National Park visitors losing their heads.

Megan Borchert
Megan Borchert
Lover of all things unusual, Megan is a staff attorney for the state of South Dakota. When she's not stuffed in an office writing case synopses, you can find her at home with her army of Schnauzers, snuggled up with some strong wine and a good book.

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