Day 107 - Tuesday, July 16 - Milepost 8120 - Birdcount 276 - Hyder, Alaska
(BF's Journal). Light rain and overcast skies make this mornings scenery along the Cassiar Highway more dreary than it deserves; its supposed to be beautiful but all we see is an increasingly muddy road and wet trees at our sides. After a particularly muddy section of construction, we pull off at a wayside just when the rain stops and the sky begins to clear. We had been playing follow and lead tag with two Texas vehicles: a Pace Arrow like ours and a Avion trailer. We meet them at the wayside and discover they are from Houston and one of them is an Aggie. They have CBs so we communicate with them on our way toward Stewart and Hyder.
We turn off Hwy 37 onto 37A and enter awesome Bear Creek Canyon. The operative word for this canyon is "massive." Everything is done on a massive scale: the mountains are massive rock rocketing up the sides of the canyon; dozens, maybe even hundreds, of waterfalls plunge a couple thousand feet from glaciers perched atop the mountains; the trees are gigantic with a circumference not closed by three people linking hands and a height doubling that of the utility poles. We stop at Bear Glacier, perhaps the only small geological feature in route, a mere mile in length, exiting in a frigid gray pool. Bear Creek surges down the canyon as we descend from 3000 ft to sea level. At one point the canyon narrows so tightly that only the road and the equally wide creek squeeze between the rock walls. If the rapids we rafted in Juneau were level 0, 1 and 2, then the levels today must be a zillion - its continuous white water. The canyon begins to level out in a rock strewn section with boulders the size of Volkswagen beetles. The electric utility poles here look like massive crosses propped up in 20 ft high piles of rocks. Saturated with glacial silt, the creek has turned lime gold, the color of Key lime pie.
Twenty miles from the top of the canyon we reach bottom: the sea marsh with lime gold grass waving beside patches of lime gold water. Stewart, British Columbia, is a small town with one of every essential store: one bank, one gas station, one grocery store, one liquor store, one hotel, etc. The road past Stewart skirts around the mile wide sea marsh and follows a narrow ledge below one side of the rock canyon. Rounding the corner we see a banner stretching across the road announcing Hyder, Alaska. The scene brings a smile to my face. Its like stepping into the Twilight Zone. Exactly at the Canada - U.S. border, the smooth pavement abruptly transforms to a potholed muddy street flanked by ramshackle wooden buildings with galvanized metal roofs, both lacking in fresh paint. A few pickups and RVs are parked haphazardly along the street and three untied horses wander around town without evidence of an owner. At the end of the main street, the road forks four ways. Since it isnt clear if I will be able to turn around on any of them, I park in the middle of the street and hop out to see about a car wash and RV site. The first store front turns out to be a smoky saloon with a rough hewn wood floor and a very long bar stretching in front of the back wall. The lady bartender directs me to the gift shop next door where I meet a fellow Texan from McKinney who operates the store, the RV park and a car wash here during the summer and heads back to Texas in the winter. While her husband washes our Pace Arrow and Pathfinder, in rolls the two Houston couples (Clyde & Carol, Don & Betty, Dons the Aggie) that we met on the road. They decide to get their vehicles washed too and park next to us at the RV park. All our vehicles were so covered with road mud that we can no longer tell the type, color, license plate or Aggie bumper sticker on anyones.
After settling in at the campsite (a barren gravel lot), we all head to Fish Creek where we have been told we will see bears fishing for salmon. And bears we see! Fish Creek is only 15-20 ft across, flows swiftly and is loaded with spawning Chum Salmon, 20-40" weighing 30-40 lbs. The bear know the fish are there and, for the most part, ignore the human gawkers on the shore and on Hyders specially built viewing stage. By 8 PM the action is in full swing. We watch the incredible performance as Mama Bear lumbers in the rocky stream, jumping and bouncing on salmon. Most attempts are futile, but after many tries she finally grabs a big fish in her mouth and carries it off to the bushes to eat in peace and away from our peering eyes. Meanwhile two cubs appear further upstream. They romp in the stream and try to catch fish also, but show less experience. Surprisingly, one of them catches a salmon and struggles to bring the heavy fish to shore. As the young bear hides in the bushes with its catch, the twin decides its easier to steal some than catch it, so rushes off to fight for a piece of the catch. I capture all the action with my telephoto lens while Shari uses the video camera. What a show!
(SF's Journal). We are told over and over again not to travel the Cassiar Highway in the rain. But what do you do when your refrigerator will not work on gas and you are bored and others in the camp are leaving and it is raining? We had intended to leave very early, but at 5 AM it is raining and as my human alarm clock next to me starts to stir, I tell him I do not want to go, due to the rain. So after two hours he rattles the door and mentions all the others are leaving. I am ready in minutes and after raising our jacks we are off. The rain has stopped and it looks like it might be nice after all. However as the day progresses the road and the weather deteriorate. This is suppose to be the most spectacular scenery of the trip but our view is blocked by clouds and for all we know we are driving in a forest on a very bad gravel road. Where are those spectacular mountains loaded with glaciers reflected in calm crystal blue lakes? The going is tedious but not horrendous until about noon. We started into the wilderness in May and end it much the same way. Potholes accompanied by wash board and ending in road construction. Bumpity Bump. Bumpity Bump. Bumpity Bump on the Cassiar Highway. After reaching the end of the construction we pull into a rest area along with a line-up of seven or so other rigs. It is rather funny each of us taking pictures of each others filthy vehicles and asking if this was the line to the car wash. We meet a Aggie with an A&M bumper sticker all covered with mud. We are headed to the same destination for tonight and promise to keep in touch on CB channel 13. Soon after that we start to smell something burnt. It stays with us until our destination in Hyder, Alaska. I think it is coming from the front right tire but it looks OK and does not feel overly hot. If I remember right the last time we got so dirty I also smelled something burning. As we drive down to the booming town of Hyder, Alaska, its dirt streets look not much different than the gravel we just came from. The town has a population of 85 and it is rather a dump. Its twin city of Stewart, British Columbia is a little better; at least the streets are paved. The only car wash is one that must make a fortune for its owner. It cost us $45 to get ourselves clean but at least we did not have to do it ourselves. An enterprising former Texan set up a high pressure wash with warm water and brush and works on R TENT and car for over 30 minutes. We leave clean, our vehicle and our wallet, to search for Run-a-Muck North RV park, basically a gravel lot for 20 rigs parked neck and neck facing a dirty uneven gravel road and some not so neat houses. After dinner we drive to the bear watch area and are not disappointed. Right in the stream in front of the path leading to a viewing platform feeds a grizzly and her two cubs on Chum Salmon coming home to spawn. This Fish Creek as it is called has the biggest Chums on record and average 20-40 pounds. There are hundreds of them stationary in the shallow stream except when the bear lumbers at them. We see the bear each catch two salmon before they are full and waddle away for awhile. Apparently there are 14 or more bear regularly feeding in this stream. I am totally amazed that in other places just the smell of a bear or possible chance that a bear would come to the area, forces rangers to block off the area or at least post signs warning of Bear Alert. Nothing but two rangers separated by a city block, communicating with each other by radio, keeps the 30 or so people "safe". I listen to the ranger tell others about his life, the salmon, the bears, the area. He is asked hundreds of questions and answers them all politely but he must be tired of the same old questions each and ever day. So many of the tourists that we have encountered thus far are from Germany and Hyder is no exception. They must have some special rate to Alaska and now I understand why so many of the accommodations have listed "Wir sprechen Deutsch". Anyway the ranger answers all questions patiently and we learn he is pastor of the Baptist church and runs a flying service for the mail in the winter (In the summer it arrives by ferry two times a week.). His son is also a ranger and he just loves it in Hyder, originally from San Diego I believe. Oh well, to each his own. He tells us where to fish and that bears are everywhere so we are to watch out.
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