Chapter 19. Far Southeastern Alaska
(Bert) A black Grizzly snatches a Chum Salmon from Fish Creek and then with the fish in its jaws the bear gallops upstream, splashing water with each bounce.
Bald Eagles, especially juveniles, are perched in many of the surrounding trees, probably waiting for the leftovers of a bear’s meal. An American Dipper feeds in the shallow edges of the clear stream, walking on the rock bottom and three-fourths submerged.
We drive slowly up the potholed gravel road beside Salmon River, climbing in elevation through the hemlock forested edge. Marked by a simple sign, at the unmanned U.S. - British Columbia border, we ponder the who-how-why the tall trees are cleared up the very steep mountain sides for a 50-ft. swath marking the border. Especially on the opposite side of the river, a nearly inaccessible mountainside, what does the border marking protect?
We stop again at a pond where Shari and I found blueberries previous years. This time the berries are only high up on the steep sides, most too far to reach. We find Shaggy Mane mushrooms and pick those that haven’t yet turned inky. Shari will make them into an appetizer to share tonight when we gather around a campfire.
We continue to climb higher and rounding a curve I look out at a dead tree trunk and see an accipiter perched at the top. I announce juvenile Northern Goshawk and start taking a series of photos. The other vehicles line up behind ours and John thinks it is too small for a goshawk and must be a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. I guess it was the habitat and my wishful thinking, for an examination of the photos seems to fit Sharp-shinned better than goshawk, especially when we add the photo Curt took of the hawk in flight.
Now we are at the toe of Salmon Glacier and, looking down, we have a clear view of the appealing racetrack curves of this river of ice, the dark lines on the blue-white glacier resulting from the debris of lateral and medial moraines. We follow the glacier uphill for another 5 mi. When we reach the summit, clouds block our view of the glacier. Eerily the clouds part and reveal the glacier still higher and directly in front of us its forking left and right as it flows downhill. While it looks so cold and forbidding on the glacier side of the road, opposite is an alpine garden of small pools and waterfalls and diverse flowers such as red Leatherleaf Saxifrage, pink Subalpine Daisy and yellow Alpine Arnica.
The road gets narrower, with more dramatic drop offs, as we continue to the abandoned silver mine. We pick through the mine tailings, finding rocks that show grains of gold and copper. Whether the gold is Fool’s or real, no one is sure. We reach the end of the road, about 30 mi. from our start, in a valley surrounded by three hanging glaciers and two piedmont glaciers. With all of our stops, it took us most of the day to drive this far. We drive back nonstop in about an hour and a half.
(Shari) I have to force myself to go on the outing this morning. It is drizzly AGAIN. We first stop at the bear viewing area and are treated to two bears catching salmon. We head out on the gravel road towards its end. As we go up, the weather gets worse. I pick some berries in the drizzle and I get some nice shaggy mane mushrooms. Up we go and the fog lifts a bit enabling us to see Salmon Glacier from the top. To repeat its performance of 2006, the curtain of fog lifts to an orchestra of ice below. I feel like applauding. It opens again for a curtain call and continues its closing and reopening as long as we stay. After eating our lunch, we continue on towards the mine at road’s end stopping to get a picture in front of Mirror Lake for a geocache. The lake is empty and only a few melting icebergs remain. At the mine I notice some pink rock and someone says it is rhyolite – like the stuff we bought at the jade factory. Others notice sparkles in many of the rocks and collect them as gold. It has been a spectacular day after all and we don’t get back until 5:30. Donna and Jim start a fire and we enjoy more fellowship as we reminisce of our times during the past four months. It is hard to believe it is coming to a close.
(Bert) This being the last day of the caravan, I prepare and print compilation lists of the birds and mammals we have seen since our start May 15. Others visit the shops in Stewart or go to the bear watching site – John M and Betty report seeing six Grizzlies - and birding sites in Hyder and along Portland Canal, the fjord that eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean. I drive to Stewart to get Canadian change but find out the town does not have a bank and neither the grocery store nor hardware store will give me change because they have to send to some distant city to get it. In the silver mining era Stewart had a population of 3000. Now it is just a remnant, catering mostly to tourism. Surprisingly, six major motion pictures were filmed here, including Insomnia in 2002, staring Robin Williams, Al Pacino and Hilary Swank. I drive to Hyder to get the box of mail we requested forwarded to the tiny post office that receives mail only twice per week by float plane. Then I spend an hour or so birding and find Red-necked Phalaropes in Portland Canal next to the dilapidated pier and I photograph Cackling Geese at a pond beside the Stewart road. At “The Bus”, a favorite place for lunch, I add the final bird to our trip list, a MacGillivray’s Warbler, and later find out that Bill saw the same bird there an hour later.
Tonight is our farewell dinner at Bitter Creek Café, a jewel of a restaurant that is a surprise in this small town. After we order our meals, Shari reads her poem about the people on this caravan. After 111 days, we certainly have gotten to know each other well and Shari has pinpointed amusing personality traits of each individual and then set her thoughts to rhyme. After each set of verses she hands out a “gift” to each. We roar with laughter at each verse and accompanying gag gift, quickly identifying the inside jokes of the boa scarf to Betty, the deck of cards missing the 4 of spades to Steve, the dirty baseball cap to Bent, the rotten lime to Carol, and all the others. Our meals arrive and an hour later when desserts are finished we head back to camp and meet under a tent for more conversation. At my request, Bill brings his ukulele and sings a song he wrote about the bird we did not find. We may have found an impressive list of birds, but there is always one that got away, an excuse to return another year.
(Shari) I spend my day preparing for the caravan close. I put some finishing touches on my poem, bake muffins for tomorrow, attempt to print group pictures, and finalize the individual accounting. I get it all finished with 15 min. to spare. We head to the restaurant as a group and arrive promptly at 5. Because of the difficulty of getting group reservations at this small and excellent restaurant, we have to eat early and are only allowed 90 min. for our food and fun. The day has been drizzly so I decide to have the final program while we wait for our food. I read a few verses about each couple and give each person a gag gift that I have noticed they needed during the past few months. After eating our delicious meals we gather under the long narrow tent protected from the drizzle to listen to Bill’s rendition of finding that bird. Donna starts us out reminiscing again about our favorite things. Chris made us some cranberry marmalade with scones and we eat some more. We give and accept hugs as some are leaving early in the morning. I know I will miss the caravan and will go into a funk. But for now I will enjoy the moment.
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