The Smoking Hills are located on the cliffs of Cape Bathurst. They were discovered by our favourite Arctic adventurer, Franklin when he encountered huge clouds of acrid white smoke while exploring in the area. The rock and soil in the region were on fire, and the surrounding waters poisoned with a sulfurous residue. Amazingly, the sparse vegetation in the area did not burn, and no evidence of volcanic activity existed.
Franklin named the place the Smoking Hills, and vanished there after a second expedition. The next people to visit were members of Captain Robert McClure’s party, who were sent to find Franklin in 1852. Sailors brought some of the smoking rock to the ship, where they watched it burn a hole in the captain’s mahogany desk.
The land had long been known to Inuit, who called it “land of the sour water” for the acidic ponds. The smoke limits plant growth, and animals generally stay away from the region, except for caribou herds who enter for relief from summer insects.
The Smoking Cliffs have probably been burning for several hundred to several thousand years. An exothermic reaction producing great heat occurs between the iron pyrite, sulfur, and bituminous shale that exist in the earth. The created fumes are noxious because they contain sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, and steam.