Chapter 9.  Cassiar Highway

Bert & Shari Frenz, 1998 All rights reserved.

Day 107 - August 26, 1998 - Milepost 7786 (155 today) - Teslin Lake, YT

(Bert) After almost three weeks at Milepost 7631 - RV miles, not toad or boat miles - we are ready to move on. We keep the toad unhitched and Shari and I drive separately up White Pass. The climb is 11 miles from sea level to 3,292 ft., but it is an easy pull without dragging the toad. Half way up we encounter thick fog that thins slightly when we reach the summit and the Canadian border. Beside a pair of Grayline buses, we pull off on a wayside to hitch the toad. After I’m hitched, the bus drivers come up to our side window. We recognize Matt, who helped us one day at VBS. His coworker hears we are from College Station and can’t resist telling us an Aggie joke. "Did you hear that ice water will no longer be served at the sidelines of Texas A&M football games?", he asks. We groan, but he continues anyway, "The Aggie with the recipe graduated." Back on the road, the thin fog gives the tortured land an unworldly feeling, like traveling through a Jonathan Swift fairyland. The image is enhanced by the Liliputian landscape of miniature trees, pond-sized lakes and hill-sized rocky mountains. Even though we passed through this area only three weeks ago, it now looks completely different. Fall is in full color: yellow and orange aspen leaves, red stalks of flowerless fireweed, golden brown grasses, burnt red Prickly Rose with jelly bean rose hips, a few tardy pink fireweed blooms. The colors add spice to the salad greens of Sitka Spruce. We stop for lunch overlooking Bove Island centered at the intersection of three lakes: Tushshi, Tagish and Nares. A chain of lakes connects through short rivers and this is the area where the gold miners boated from Chilkoot Pass to the Yukon River. Shari and I try to imagine what it looked like to see 7,000 boats cross these lakes the day after the ice broke during the spring of the ‘98 Gold Rush. At Carcross we cross between Lake Nares and Lake Bennett, the latter being the first lake in the chain starting from Chilkoot Pass. We spur northeast, clip a corner of the Carcross desert and enter aspen-covered mountains dotted by big splashes of yellow. High atop the mountain, the yellow spreads like mustard on whole wheat. I expected yellow leaves, but am surprised at the reds and oranges mixed in the autumn paint. After passing the Tagish community, the road turns to gravel, but the going is easy. At Jake’s Corner we intersect the Alaska Highway and head east on a section of road we have now seen in four seasons: late Winter 1996, Summer 1996, Spring 1998 and, today, Fall 1998. Each season puts its own twist on the landscape. Today it is without a hint of snow, but liberally sprinkled with yellow aspen. We stop at Mukluk Annie’s beside Teslin Lake. A cold breeze rolls off the large lake, signaling an early winter. Water, colored like old Buffalo Nickels, laps gently on a pebble beach. Young cottonwoods show leaves converting from pale green to golden yellow and High-bush Cranberries glow with tart red berries. Such is Fall in the Yukon.

(Shari) The climb up White Pass is a piece of cake. If I did not remember how scary it was coming down, I would hardly recognize the drive as a climb. Three weeks ago we traveled this road and the vegetation was summer green. What a difference three weeks make in the scenery! Today the hills are clothed in Fall colors. The aspens cover the hillsides with yellows and oranges. Spent fireweed pokes out with burnt red spikes. Three weeks ago the hills were shades of green like fuzz on a peach. Today the mountains are marbled with green spikes of spruce protruding above the yellows of the aspen. We take the cutoff from Carcross to Jake’s Landing. About twelve miles of the road is gravel, but mostly smooth and the scenery is spectacular. Very few cars pass us in either direction and I wonder if we are the last motorhomes to leave before the snow flies. Mukluk Annie’s is our destination. We like their free camping, free water, free RV wash, free dump.

 

Day 108 - August 27, 1998 - Milepost 7999 (213 today) - Boya Lake, BC

(Shari) Faster than a speeding bullet, Don and Jean make it to the restaurant. They had forgotten to set their watches ahead from Alaskan time to Canadian time and our knock at 7 a.m. wakes them up. They are in the restaurant just as we are getting in line for the all-you-can-eat breakfast at Mukluk Annie’s. We reminisce about the last time we were sitting around these tables in early June. Ermine had written a song about us called The RV’ers go Marching Along. The feeling is different today. In June we were full of excitement at the adventure ahead of us. Today we have memories of the adventure behind us. We retrace our path in June and note how different it is. God spilled his can of yellow paint on the hillsides and then dabbed at it with orange. When the sun peaks out from the clouds and shines on the yellow trees, they just shimmer and glow. I guess that is why they call them Trembling Aspen. We see a moose crossing the road ahead. We stop at Walker’s Continental Divide for gas and note he is no longer lower in price than other gas stations in Teslin and points west. At least at 62.9 cents per liter ($1.81) it is not higher. At the Cassiar Highway we turn right and the road immediately narrows to rolling blacktop without shoulders. We stop for the night at Boya Lake Provincial Park, a place I learned about on the Internet last winter. Jim also enjoyed it here when he came through in July. He aptly described the area in glorious detail in his journal. He illustrated it as a British Columbia cocktail, aquamarine waters surrounded by spruce forests and chocolate mountains complete with a glacier. We have the added serendipity of seeing the scene in dazzling Fall attire, yellow aspen, orange High-bush Cranberries and rose hips as big as cherries. Drinking in the scene is too fast-we want to sip and savor it, so we schedule an extra day to explore the area. I cannot think of a better place to celebrate our 32nd anniversary.

(Bert) Following a hearty all-you-can-eat breakfast at Mukluk Annie’s, we continue east on the Alaskan Highway. The road steadily climbs toward the Continental Divide - 86 miles uphill at 55 m.p.h. - but usually dropping to 3rd gear to keep enough power for the incline. Midway, we watch a moose lumber across the pavement a mile distant. Moving casually through the grassy shoulder, the moose is hidden in trees by the time we cross its path. At the top I stop for a good look at a Harlan’s Hawk, then gas up at Walker’s Continental Divide, population 6. The young lady pumping gas tells me she leaves for London, Ontario this afternoon and is looking forward to being around more people. After her family leaves, two people will remain until October when the store and gas station close for the winter. The ALCAN continues to be smooth traveling except for an 8-mi. section of road construction. A sign announces the construction cost is $2.1 million. Even allowing for the currency conversion, it gives me an appreciation for the staggering cost of ALCAN improvements along its 1488 miles. We turn south off the ALCAN and onto the Cassiar Highway which will lead us into southern British Columbia and a side trip to Hyder, the southernmost point of Alaska reachable by car. Don stops for gas and pays approximately $1.79/gal (after U.S. conversions). That’s more than I paid at Walker’s ($1.61) and the $1.63/gal I paid when I shelled out $102 for fuel in remote Skagway, AK. The first leg of our Cassiar journey is a pleasure to drive, as long as I drive less than 40 m.p.h. A narrow twisting road is lined with the waving yellow flags of Trembling Aspen leaves. Later, the curves become fewer, but the hills multiply, and RTENT rocks gently on its springs as it sways down the paved road. Between forest belts, small, flat muskeg meadows are resplendent paint pots of reds, oranges and yellows. Far on the horizon ahead of us, I see the Cassiar Mountains: bald with red and green peach fuzz crowns lightly flaked with fresh snow. A single Barn Swallow swoops over the road and it reminds me I haven’t seen swallows for weeks and none remained of the thousands that I saw at Mukluk Annie’s in the spring. One mile short of the 8,000 mark, we stop to camp at Boya Lake, a Provincial Park. Jim Hailey stopped here on his trek south and I concur with his report of the beauty of this lake area. We camp on the shore of a turquoise lake, silky smooth, with little islands that seem to float above narrow gravel shores edged in an even brighter shade of turquoise. The four of us start an afternoon hike following a lakeside trail. Beneath sky blue skies and powder puff clouds, the Indian summer breeze produces idyllic conditions for our walk. In a twinkling of an eye, the conditions change. Skies darken, winds pick up a cold chill, temperature drops 5 degrees, ripples color the water an icy steel blue and an aerosol mist drifts downward. We about face and double time back the way we came. Particles coalesce into droplets and the dusty footpath sucks up moisture. Then just as quickly as the weather changed, it changes yet again. The sun pokes through a few rays and the wind slackens. I climb back into RTENT and, moments later as I write these words, the rain stops, the sun shines brightly and the only residual is my view of rain falling from dark clouds under the shadow of mountains beyond the opposite shore.

 

Day 109 - August 28, 1998 - Milepost 7999 - Boya Lake, BC

(Bert) I’ve been reading the past three hours and now it’s 1 a.m.: time to check for Northern Lights. Outside I can see just enough of the sky to know the show has begun. I climb back in RTENT, awaken Shari and put on lots of clothes to shield me from the 41-degree night. We douse our lights and walk to Don and Jean’s campsite where we have a clearer view of the western sky. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, a narrow beam of white light shoots from the west and over our heads, looking every bit like the search lights auto dealers use to attract customers to their lot. The beam widens, shifts, dims, brightens, disappears. Fainter beams imitate the first, aimed down other paths. An interlude of dark sky has us searching for more lights. We look toward the lake and notice the bright stars reflected in its mirror surface. A shooting star surprises us, then another, later a third. Aurora Borealis resumes. In the northwest, showers of green light pulsate, shimmer and ripple at the speed of chimney smoke in a light breeze. Pale green flickers brighter like a neon bulb trying to turn on. As if on cue, a pair of loons add eerie music to the fantasy night. Almost coyote-like, the loons howl a single note, then add their characteristic, spine-tingling quiver. Intermission. In the stark stillness of the night, Shari rustles her jacket, twists her shoes in the gravel and groans from craning her neck. I ask for quiet. Twenty seconds later her fidgeting resumes. I ask for quiet. She rustles. I ask for quiet. She decides to return. I stay to wait for Act 2 of the show. More lights appear, but I decide to find a better viewpoint and walk to a spot a few inches from the lakeshore. The lights migrate north and now appear as a backdrop behind the low mountain range, highlighting a few small black clouds. I have a front row seat to the play enacted across the lake. The light takes new forms: light clouds, undulating beams, glowing embers. I startle when an unseen fish breaks dark water a dozen feet from me. Juncos chip atop spruce behind me. A concealed moose plods heavily in timber on the opposite shore. More complex patterns illuminate the sky. "And he [Jacob] took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it." [Genesis 28, 11:12]. The ladder looks strong and steady, the rungs wide, white shadows move up and down the rungs. My imagination conjures other images. I see a white map of North America extending to the Panama Canal, backgrounded by dark oceans. Grecian gods do battle. Angels wing heavenward. Loons trumpet glorious songs. Did God speak to Greeks and Hebrews through Aurora Borealis?

(Shari) It is 1 a.m. and Bert opens the bedroom door and whispers, "Do you still want to see it?" I pull on some socks and sweat pants under my flannel nightie and retrieve my winter coat with the fur hood from its hanger. It is 41 degrees out there. The sky is loaded with stars. A few brighter ones reflect in the calm black water. It is so quiet that I can hear myself breathing. Our footsteps crunch over the gravel as we tread to an open area with a view of the north unimpeded by trees. Loons cry out their eerie sound almost coyote like. I see only a veil of white as I glance upward. Big deal. Then I notice that it appears and disappears in varying intensity. I follow the white path northward and see a whole section of greenish sky. The green gets brighter, changes shape and disappears. Over to the north, high above the horizon, I see whitish light dropping vertically like sparkling dust dropped by nighttime aliens to keep humanoids sleeping. The north west sky has a dim greenish cast that slowly brightens as I watch it change shape before my eyes. A shooting star darts across the sky only to be swallowed by the darkness beyond. Bert tells me my whispering is too loud. Later my feet make too much noise as I change positions to get a clearer view. Finally when my breathing is too loud, I retire to RTENT to continue the show from the window. Two green balls above bounce in and out of sight. Another white veil appears and undulates over the sky, its reflection on the water as bright as a dim moon. Nothing happens for a good five minutes and at 1:45 I assume the show is over. I crawl under the warmth of the covers marveling at the wonders of God’s creation. I awake at 8:30, put on the heater and prepare the ingredients for our breakfast of Egg McPudgies. It is our moniker for a breakfast egg/ham/cheese sandwich cooked in iron rounds over an open fire. One is never enough to fill our tummies so we eat two or more, therefore the name McPudgie. We are resting at Boya Lake an extra day before tackling more of the Cassiar Highway. The peace and beauty here are intoxicating and invite us to stay even longer. In late afternoon we take a walk along the path to the beaver dam. The soft earth muffles our footsteps and the only sounds come from a family of Spruce Grouse cooing along the side the trail. We stop to watch them as they waddle alongside our path, the male displays his feathers like a peacock. The aspen arch overhead and drop their yellow leaves on the path. On top a hill we can see for miles and take a picture trying to capture the beauty of the Fall landscape. We close the day around a campfire sipping in the scenery.

 

Day 110 - August 29, 1998 - Milepost 8173 (174 today) - Kinashan Lake, BC

(Shari) d’Bus and RTENT start their engines on schedule and both are out of the campsite at 6 a.m. Daylight is just awakening and we are the only vehicles on the road. We want to beat the traffic on this next section of reported gravel road. The curves and hills slow our speed more than gravel and/or potholes. Only a few small sections are rough but we have the unfortunate luck to meet an oncoming car at one of them and get a ding in our windshield. Darn! And we were doing so well! I will say it again, the scenery is glorious. By 11 a.m. we reach our destination, Kinashan Lake Provincial Park. The lake is quite large and its crystal clear waters ripple with the wind. We have lost the yellow aspen farther north and the hillsides are shades of green again. People are fishing on the lake not too far from our campsite. The camp host tells us that with a boat you can catch a daily limit (5) of rainbow trout. I said this before, next time I need to find a way to bring some kind of boat up here.

(Bert) Leaving at 6 a.m., our intention is to discover wildlife at dawn. But a couple of hours into the morning only gives us a pair of Snowshoe Hare along side the road and a beaver paddling in a small lake. However, at Gnat Pass (elev. 4072) an agile Peregrine Falcon is an unexpected treat when it goes through aerial maneuvers in front of us. The Cassiar is easy driving today and even the 17-mi. gravel section around Dease Lake and the 14-mi. gravel patch at Stikine River are smooth. The 8% decline and concomitant incline at the river is easier than the sign warns. Notwithstanding, the real disappointment happens near Iskut when a speeding pickup truck fires a stone bullet at our windshield and leaves a star with rays extending the diameter of a Washington quarter. We camp at Kinashan Lake Provincial Park on the shores of the large calm lake. After lunch I hike a lakeside trail that offers a verdant forest on my left and a gravel shore on my right. A quarter mile along the path, I stop to watch a Townsend’s Warbler and Hammond’s Flycatcher. I notice a Spruce Grouse resting 75 ft. ahead on the path. I stand still and identify a half-dozen other species flying through the trees, but the grouse doesn’t move its ground. A juvenile grouse joins the hen. When I hear Don and Jean coming up behind me I motion to them to stay quiet and I point toward the grouse. Don sees them before they move into the underbrush toward the lake. I tell Jean where to look and let her walk quietly ahead of us. When we get to the spot, we watch the hen step lightly through a High-bush Cranberry and pick the ripe red berries from the bush. Jean remarks how large the grouse is and notes its resemblance to a chicken. Later around tonight’s campfire, Don says he never gets that close to a pheasant when he hunts. I tell him I have and that it’s just a matter of being quiet and walking gently when you are looking for wildlife. In fact, yesterday Shari and I watched a dozen grouse and got as close as 6 ft. to several of them.

 

Day 111 - August 30, 1998 - Milepost 8346 (173 today) - Stewart, BC / Hyder, AK

(Shari) Early to bed and early to rise keeps Shari healthy, wealthy and crabby. It is another 5:30 a.m. morning today. I am freezing as I grope in the darkness for the lights. The thermometer reads 31 degrees outside and 45 degrees inside. I snap on the heater and hop into my clothes faster than you can say "It is cold." Frost covers the windshield of the car and I put on the defroster before I can move the car so RTENT can back out of its parking space. We connect car and motorhome in the dim light of dawn and start our trek to Stewart/Hyder. This section of the Cassiar Highway is the worst, but still much better than it was in 1996 and better than the road from Chicken to the border. At least the gravel is ground into fine stones, almost sand like, and not those big boulders up north. Pot holes abound and we have to keep a steady eye on the road to avoid them. The bad sections have pot holes lined up like lily pads on a stagnant lake: hard to miss. At those times, we slow to a crawl. New sections of the road allow RTENT to cruise along at 45 m.p.h. without a bump. The really bad part of the drive involves the steady beep, beep, beep of our jack warning system. The hydraulic fluid must be low again. The noise drives us nuts for 90 minutes before it finally stops. Bert’s favorite scenery in the whole wide world is the section from Mezidian Junction to Stewart. The bright sunshine today only heightens his appreciation of the mountains, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls that neighbor the road. I can tell he is enjoying the ride because he has his little pad and pencil out writing notes galore for today’s journal. When we enter town, we fill with gas. We stay at Rainey’s Municipal campground in Stewart and are surprised to find out that only two spots remain at 2 p.m. Of course we immediately secure them for ourselves and then reconnoiter the layout. The campground does not have a dump so out Bert goes to the city dump to empty five days worth of tanks and fill with fresh water. Parking requires both RTENT and d’Bus to back 150 ft. down a gravel driveway into side by side spaces. Bert is so good at backing and he trusts me to direct him in. Lickety split, we are set up. The setting is wooded with red picnic tables and fire rings at each site plus 30-amp electricity. After lunch, Bert dons his oily changing clothes. As I write my journal, I hear grunts and groans coming from under the front right tire. I hear him talking to Don. He comes into RTENT and tells me he cannot find the location to put hydraulic fluid into the reservoir. I tell him to put it into the place where the dipstick comes out using the water bottle with the curved spout. A little while later, he tries out the jacks and bingo there is no beep, beep, beep. Oh my mechanical Bert strikes again.

(Bert) I’ve never seen a black Grizzly Bear before. I’ve watched brown ones and red ones and blond ones, but not black. The massive body, the pronounced hump over his shoulders, the flatter and rounder face with ears pushed forward: features that tell me the bear I’m watching is a grizzly, not another Black Bear like the ones we spotted earlier today on the Cassiar. He plays with a Chum Salmon he’s caught in the shallow rushing stream, but refrains from eating it. Losing interest, he crosses the stream and starts up the embankment. "Back! Back off!," commands the Forest Service Ranger. I back away from atop the embankment; so do dozens of others, many carrying their tripods and professional cameras with them. The bear easily climbs the steep terrace and in a few seconds he stands where we once stood, sniffs at a forgotten jacket lying on the grass, then ambles across our path and down the drop off on the opposite side. There in the still pond he digs his snout into a dead fish, left to rot after spawning. Hyder, Alaska is one of the best spots to see grizzlies up close and today is no exception. I’m standing so close to this giant that my camera lens only encloses his head. So I remove my teleconverter and use the straight 300-mm lens. Even then I have to wait until he moves further into the pond before I can get a full length view. Click! Click! He disappears into the alder grove in pursuit of berries and whatever else suits his fancy. It’s amazing that an 800-lb. mammal, 6 ft. long and 3 ft. high, can be invisible to us just 75 ft. away. Twenty minutes later we hear a low guttural growl and the sound of two large bodies thrashing in the underbrush. Through binoculars I can see black fur behind snarled branches, but can’t make out features. The ranger warns us to clear a path in case the bear decides to charge between feeding areas. Instead, the bears part ways and one moves into the pond and swims a dozen feet to the opposite side. Click! Then he sits in the water as if it were his private bathtub. Click! Click! He lumbers onto shore, walks on its edge and ducks around a tree. Then with his rear to us, he pees into the pond. Fifteen tourists stare, 20 nature lovers watch through binoculars, 25 photographers aim telephoto lenses: all watch the private life of a grizzly. Click!

 

Day 112 - August 31, 1998 - Milepost 8346 - Hyder, AK

(Shari) Bears, blueberries and glaciers! Those three words describe our day: one that started with the luxury of sleeping in. Bert goes birding and I turn over and fall back to sleep. I leisurely get up, have tea, make bread, start soup for supper in the slow cooker and make sandwiches for our picnic lunch. At 10:30, Don, Jean, Bert and I pile into our car for the 29.9-mi. drive to Happy Valley at the literal end of the road. Now, on normal roads, that does not seem like such a big deal. However this road is gravel with boulders and potholes, is narrow, winding and goes up at least 8% for most of the trip. Yet the trip is worth it. We see both abandoned and new mines, railroad tunnels cut through the mountain, glaciers and waterfalls too numerous to count and blueberries too numerous to pick. At noon, "Blueberry Eyes" Don spots our first berry patch and we pick it clean in an hour. We stop at a turnout, in view of the mammoth Salmon Glacier, for our tailgate lunch. We drive more slow miles to reach the summit. At this point a sign proclaims, "Road not maintained. Proceed at your own risk." We puzzle over that one since all travel is at your own risk. Onward and upward we go. Another stop in front of a railroad tunnel is blocked with boulders to prevent entry. We look inside and feel the cold air softly blowing out of the dark opening. We hear our shouts echoed back. At yet another stop, Bert throws a rock and it takes a good long time before we hear it drop far into the canyon below. Salmon Glacier is by far the most spectacular glacier I have ever seen. I think it is 11 miles long and is noteworthy because we see it from above. At its top, it splits into two, like the tail of a fish. Immediately beyond Salmon Glacier is Summit Lake. In August, the ice dam holding the lake back breaks and all the water under the glacier flows down into the valley. Remaining icebergs from the glacier sit on seemingly dry ground looking like stumps in a chopped forest. We see more glaciers farther up the road. Hundreds of waterfalls cascade down the mountainside above us as pretty as the ones I have seen in Hawaii. At another mining operation, signs warn of daily blasting operations and "Inform the mining manager if you trespass." That is a placard for Jay Leno to use on his Monday night, oxymoron-sign segment. Finally we reach the end of the road and an abandoned mining operation. We walk around the empty area and stare up into the Roman Coliseum remains of the mine and look below at another glacier. The return trip is faster, with another stop for blueberries and bear viewing. We return at 7:30 p.m., surprised at how fast the time past. Another spectacular day in Alaska!

(Bert) Aptly named, the Salmon River is birthplace and graveyard to countless Chum Salmon, a fish also known by its more derogatory name, Dog Salmon, probably because Alaskans relegate the meat as fit only for dogs. Birds and bears aren’t choosy though, they’re lined up for the banquet spread along the river. Today we follow its course from sea to source and along the way we see the raw beauty of the glaciers that feed it. The Portland Canal defines the southern boundary of Alaska, starting in the west at the Pacific Ocean and moving inland until Hyder where it is fed by the Bear River and Bear Glacier to the northeast and by the Salmon River and Salmon Glacier to the north. A gravelly delta spreads where the Salmon River meets the canal. I drive the Pathfinder on a makeshift path through the gravel bed and park next to the narrow river, humbled by the minimal water flow since winter snow has long since disappeared and only melting glacial ice contributes in late August. I stand in a forest ossuary: massive tree stumps, trunks and branches lie wedged in the gravel after completing a tortuous float downstream. Bald Eagles perch on toppled stumps. I count 16 adult and immature eagles spread along the beach, mostly resting, but some tearing at dead Chum. Raucous calls of five gull species sound from the river as they plumage the shoreline. At 11 a.m. I join Shari, Don and Jean for a trip along the gravel road that follows the river upstream. Bypassing the ramshackle buildings of rustic Hyder, the river remains wide, shallow and rocky. The scene is reminiscent of the Chilkat River at Haines, site for the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. In fact, I count 13 eagles posted on debris like sentinels along a one-mile stretch of river. About five miles upstream we pass the Fish Creek fork where I watched two adult and one cub Grizzly feeding on salmon earlier this morning. Another five miles of level road and we begin our ascent into the mountains. We cross the U.S.-Canada border, but no marker identifies the transition. Only a forest clearing along the boundary gives us a clue. The road now is almost all course rock, devoid of gravel, yet manageable by Pathfinder. Our climb is steep, varying between 5% and 12% by my estimate. We cling to the side of Mt. Dilsworth. The more we climb, the more the drop to the Salmon River increases. Jean sits behind me and the steep descent as she looks left, prompts her to lean right, shifting ballast in Pathfinder’s cargo. A Rain Forest abuts our right: tall moss-laden Sitka Spruce, lush ferns, sphagnum carpeted floors - impenetrable and dark as night. We pass a modern mining operation with blue-green, copper laden settling ponds. Rounding a forest-enclosed bend, a small pond separates the road from the trees. The water is almost black, yet transparent. Its still dark luster makes a perfect mirror. A Stellar’s Jay alights on a moss-covered log lying half submerged. The upright jay pecks at the dead wood and, concomitantly, its perfect mirror image pecks from below. While I pause to take in the pond’s tranquil beauty, Don notices blueberries on the other side of the road. We park, find unused plastic bags and start picking. The berries are larger and riper than the ones we picked in Juneau. They’re also harder to reach and I have to grab on to berry bushes to pull myself up the embankment. With a bagful each, we continue driving uphill. Well below us, we see the Salmon River meet the forward edge of Salmon Glacier. For several miles we watch the glacier grow wider and deeper. At higher elevations, orange-berried Mountain Ash ornament the sparser terrain. Giant spruce have shrunk to dwarfs: elegant Christmas trees fit for resting on a dining room table. High over the glacier, a flock of Canada Geese flies in V-formation. Alpine flowers still bloom at 5,000 ft. We’ve climbed one mile vertically in about 14 miles horizontally and stop at Summit View Point, 21 miles from Hyder. Facing at right angles to the road, our view is humbling. Miles ahead of us, a bit above eye level, lies the Salmon Glacier. The glacier spills off the top of Mt. White-Fraser. Three or four peaks contribute to the flow, like tributaries to a mighty snow river, frozen in blue ice. The U-shaped path - perhaps miles wide - comes toward us and then splits at right angles into two paths. One flows left and moves along the road we climbed. The other flows right, in the direction we still will travel. Abruptly, the flow stops at an imaginary lake. Summit Lake exists in spring and summer, but now is desert dry. The unique oddity is the icebergs distributed randomly over the dry lake bottom, marooned wherever they had floated before the lake spilled out and evaporated. We descend the opposite side of Mt. Dilsworth, into Happy Valley and continue to Grandue Mine. All that remains of the mine is a cold, damp and dark tunnel and concrete ramparts of a processing plant imbedded into the rock side of the mountain. At the end of the 30-mile road, we park on mine tailings and look up at Beredon Glacier and, behind it, Mt. Beredon. Two paths merge into one, leaving a dark medial stripe down the center of the combination. Beyond the road and on the opposite side of Happy Valley we see Frankmackie Glacier. In all, we’ve viewed a dozen glaciers on this jaunt - glaciers in all stages of development: mountain crowns, spilling edges, flowing ice fields, intersecting others, turning down valleys, calving into lakes, melting into rivers, dumping icebergs, stranding icebergs, filling ragging glacial rivers. This place is heaven to a glacial geologist. Picking through the mine tailings, I find a few dark rocks sporting speckles of gold dust. Or is it Fool’s Gold? I decide to save the souvenir anyway. Our return trip is seeing everything with new eyes: different light, different perspective. We stop once more for blueberry picking and awe-inspiring scenery. In twilight we return, having traveled 60 miles round trip in more than eight hours, delayed partly because of road conditions, but mostly because the landscape demanded a closer look.

 

Day 113 - September 1, 1998 - Milepost 8346 - Hyder, AK

(Shari) Bert would like to stay a week in this area. I give in and agree to stay another day. He gets another day of birding and I get to sleep in. I fail to understand why Bert likes Hyder so much. It is a dumpy dumpy town with dirt streets and cluttered lots, one church and no police protection. After I see the bear at the bear viewing area and see Salmon Glacier, I am ready to head on. Stewart, on the Canadian side, looks like a dying town, but has paved streets and a border guard. That is a recent development since too many American cigarettes were appearing in Vancouver. It seems a little silly for the customs officer to ask, "How long do you plan to stay in Canada? How long have you been in the U.S.? And are you carrying any weapons?" What can you do for the five minutes you spend in Hyder? There must be more than 200 cars that just go over to see the bears and 30 minutes later come back, yet everyone is asked the same questions. The bear viewing area smells like dead fish from the spawning salmon that litter the shores, belly up. The salmon that remain are nearly dead as well, but the bears are still after them. What do bears do all day? Whatever they want to do, I guess. Fifty to 60 people line the raised embankment between the two streams watching the bear eat, scratch, swim, sit, go potty, catch fish, etc. When the bear wants to get to the other stream, he just climbs the embankment, the people separate, making a path for him, and he crosses the walk and slides down the other side. A ranger is present to protect the people from themselves. I use this leisurely day to take care of housework. This is our last night with Don and Jean and we elect to have a cookout. They are anxious to get to Seattle to visit Don’s sister and we want to visit Prince Rupert. With the recipe Jean gives me for a mix in the plate pie crust and a crust she already made for me, I make a double crust blueberry pie. At 5 p.m. we meet at our campfire and, commemorating our last night together, Bert sets the camera on a tripod and takes a picture of the four of us having Happy Hour. We grill hamburgers and share my beans and Jean’s macaroni salad. We end the evening in d’Bus playing Whist and eating blueberry pie. Our goodbyes are said tonight and tears are close to the surface. Jean has become my soul mate and I truly will miss her. She does not know it, but she has a calming influence on me and has one of the sweetest dispositions I have ever met. Don, on the other hand, cheers me up and, believe it or not, I will miss his banter. We have become very close over the 113 days and have traveled well together. Goodbye dear friends, for now. Until we meet back in Texas.

(Bert) On our first trip to Alaska I voted Hyder and its surrounding area as the best place to visit. Our second trip has not changed my vote. I searched my computer files for my 1996 journal entries and resurrected my summary of Hyder, dated July 18, 1996, milepost 8,293 (remarkably close to today’s total). I’ve brought it up to date with the events of the past days and include the revised version here.

If I had only one week to spend in Alaska, I’d spend the whole week in the revived ghost town of Hyder and I’d explore the magnificent terrain within 50 miles of its heart. In that week I would see more of Alaska than most tourists see aboard cruise ships, tour buses and RV’s trekking thousands of miles past ports of call and highway mileposts. I’d see mountains - dramatic, uplifting mountains - snow-capped, glacier-filled, rugged rocky reddened formations, greened by rain forests, immense and humbling. I’d be surprised by avalanches piled high in crusty snow-ice even in September. I’d view blue glaciers - at a distance perched high above me or at water’s edge calving its aged foot into an icy bath and leaving translucent blue icebergs floating on a gray pool or abandoning marooned icebergs at the bottom of an evaporated lake or from atop, viewing the snail-paced river of compressed snow crawling down the carved mountain pass like a curving speedway with shavings of brown rocks delineating its passage. I’d gaze at waterfalls - narrow spindly veils growing from the tips of glaciers 2,000 ft. above me or wide turbulent waters gushing over rocky cliffs or miniature fountains sprouting from forest-hidden wells and spilling pleasingly before me at roadside’s edge. And I’d follow rivers and streams and creeks - tranquil green pools with yellow lily pads barely trembling from the still water’s movement, or salmon creeks, crystal clear, shallow but swiftly flowing and challenging to the spawning reddening fish, or surging boiling rivers, turbulently raging through giant boulders, scary up close but exciting from a distance. I’d saturate my eyes with the colors of summer flowers - purple fireweed, white yarrow, blue lupine, yellow daisies and dandelions, and pink wild roses - or the changing colors of fall - yellow and orange aspen, golden cottonwood, red fireweed, blue-green Sitka Spruce. I’d fish the streams for mighty Chum Salmon or Dolly Varden named after a Charles Dicken’s character. I’d search for mammals from ground hugging Hoary Marmots to sky dwelling Mountain Goats to berry-picking Black Bears and I’d never tire of capturing on film the antics of grizzlies, adults and cubs, playfully trying to catch salmon a stone throw’s distance from my lens. I’d bird the marsh for red-headed yellow tanagers, geese swimming with trailing summer goslings or fall yearlings anxious to wing south, Yellow Warblers singing territorial songs and Bald Eagles screeching from lofty perches or scavenging spawned salmon. I’d investigate the swallow harbor - lime green sedge and identically colored waters in high tide, muddy flats and dry-docked logs in low tide, a ferry connecting me to the outside through a long narrow Portland Canal or a float plane bringing in U.S. mail Mondays and Thursdays only. And I’d amuse myself exploring the rustic Twilight Zone ex-ghost town of Hyder - its muddy streets, ramshackle buildings, primitive facilities and homespun good nature. I’d delight in sharing this frontier setting with wholesome people that love their Spartan trappings as much as the raw environment they call home. And I’d feel at peace with the world, comfortable in its naturalness, separated from unneeded conveniences, slowed to the pace of a Stellar’s Jay digging for an insect in a rotting tree or a salmon laying eggs in cool waters or a grizzly lumbering through a stream missing most of the passing world swimming by.

 

Day 114 - September 2, 1998 - Milepost 8634 (288 today) - Prince Rupert, BC

(Shari) "You got me babe," Bert sings as he tries to cheer me up. I miss Don and Jean. Amazingly, they left 30 minutes before we did this morning on their way to Prince George and the Lower 48. As I sit in the copilot seat feeling sorry for myself, I start to wonder about Ketchikan. I look at the back pages of The Milepost for the ferry schedule and notice that we can visit Ketchikan and still make Washington by next Saturday. I look at the fare rate and recognize that taking our motorhome would be about the same cost as spending the money at a motel and restaurants. Bert and I discuss the pros and cons. Finally we say, "Why not? Who knows when we will be back here again?" Now I am anxious to get to Prince Rupert and the scenery out my window is secondary. When we arrive, Prince Rupert looks like New York City to me. It is only a town of about 18,000 souls, but I have not seen that many people in one spot since Juneau. Our campground, Park Avenue Campground, even has real grass. It has been even longer since I have seen that. As soon as we settle in, we head to the ferry terminal and see if vacancies exist on the boat to Ketchikan. We are in luck. The fare is more than we anticipated but still less than motels and restaurant meals. We leave tomorrow morning, Thursday, and return Tuesday morning. After we purchase the tickets, we have our car serviced. Ever since our flat tire near Chicken, I have worried about the wheel balancing. We request the wheel balance, oil change and alignment at Fountain Tire. The mechanic finds the tie bars on the Pathfinder have rusted and need to be replaced but the alignment is not bad. Bert elects not to do it until we get home. Meanwhile, I grocery shop at Safeway. It has been a month since I have done a major grocery trip and my list is long.

(Bert) I feel something missing when we leave Hyder this morning, about a half hour after d’Bus. Last night we said goodbye to Don and Jean: our travel companions for 113 days. Sharing adventures with close friends - even closer now after four months - added immensely to our enjoyment. They’ve charted their own course for the return trip through the Lower 48. Shari and I head today for a side trip to Prince Rupert, the jump off port for many Alaskan ferry travelers. On our climb up Bear Valley we encounter a dozen logging trucks, fully loaded, and after we turn southeast we meet still more. Yesterday, back in the harbor at Hyder, I watched a ship being loaded with floating logs. A large crane mounted on the ship’s stern hoisted the wet tree trunks from the bay and laid them crosswise on the open deck. Today’s progression of trucks must be adding more to the sea-bound haul. After the impressive scenery surrounding Hyder and Stewart, this morning’s pales by comparison. The most striking difference is the tree species. Succeeding thousands of miles of spruce or aspen monocultures, we now find forest farms where native spruce have been replaced with planted pine. Papery white birch stand in dense groves: rigid tall poles with drooping feather duster tops. Looking through the tree trunk maze reminds me of the contemporary artist who hides pinto mounted Indians behind pinto patterned birch. Near Seven Sisters - a string of cone-shaped peaks - we encounter Western Hemlock forests with a soft, droopy appearance, but symmetrically grooved, red-brown trunks. We stop for an early lunch, since we skipped breakfast. The wayside is blanketed in a downy green lawn, like the type we had in Wisconsin. We comment that we’ve hardly seen a lawn all summer. Lawns are an urbanized concept, unnatural in the wilderness. The Cassiar Highway terminates at the Skeena River, just south of Kitwanga. Here we turn southwest on the Yellowhead Highway and follow the Skeena to Prince Rupert. Although the area population is 25,000, the town feels quadruply larger. We head to the ferry dock to buy tickets to Ketchikan, a spur-of-the-moment decision we made after lunch. We’re booked for tomorrow.

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