The word Nahanni means "people of the west". The Nahanni National Park Reserve was established in 1972 and designated the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A key feature of the park is Naha Dehé (South Nahanni River). Home to Nailicho (Virginia Falls), twice the height of Niagara Falls, the park also boasts natural hot springs, varied wildlife, and challenging rafting and canoeing for the bold.

Legends of gold hidden in the mountains attracted prospectors to the beautiful Nahanni region throughout the 20th century. Many adventurers never returned home.

Mysterious deaths

Dead bodies, many without heads, have helped create the legend of the Nahanni. Deadmen Valley is named for the headless remains of the two McLeod brothers found near a creek (named Headless Creek after the brothers’ deadly fate) in 1908. A few years earlier, the Métis brothers had accompanied a prospector, Robert Weir, in search of gold said to lie in the Nahanni. Another skeleton, possibly Weir’s, was found upriver. At least three other bodies of prospectors were found with decapitated or nearly decapitated bodies over the next few decades.

Additionally, over the years there have been several bush plane crashes in the region. Most infamously, well-known Yellowknife photographer Henry Busse died in a plane crash near the Nahanni in 1962.

Perhaps the most macabre story is that of prospector Alex Mieskonen , who was part of a group of five to enter the Nahanni in September 1959. After a long winter and low on supplies, it is thought that he was despondent over the non-arrival of expected bush plane charter out of the Nahanni. On March 17, 1960, he walked into the bush, and committed suicide by strapping dynamite to himself and blowing himself up.