Saturday, August 6, 2011

Last Day in Alaska

We bid Alaska goodbye this evening, after first entering the state on May 23, Day 7 of our trip (that began in Dawson Creek, BC on May 16 at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway). We went to Skagway for a couple of days, then returned to Canada before entering Alaska again on Top of the World Highway. Today is Day 83, and we’ve covered over 4600 miles since leaving Dawson Creek. We’ve moved in and out of the state during the intervening 76 days, as we traveled between Alaska and the northwest Canadian Provinces bordering it (British Columbia and Yukon Territory). Yes, it’s goodbye until the next time, but not before spending a wonderful day seeing new sights.

We drove from Stewart, B.C. to Hyder, Alaska, past the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, and back into B.C., with the border marked only by a small sign. Our destination was the Salmon Glacier, but we saw some wonderful scenery on the way there.


We saw ruins of the Riverside Mine, established in 1922 with 4,000 feet of tunnels built during the next two years. It was operated until 1961 and was at one time the most productive property in Alaska for silver and copper.


The road passed beside the Premier Mine, but we got a better view of it after following the road to the other side of the Salmon River Valley.


Everywhere there were wonderful views of mountains, snow, ice, trees, fireweed and clouds.





The Salmon Glacier is the fifth largest glacier in North America. It borders on Alaska, but it’s in British Columbia. The toe of the glacier shows ridges that makes it look like someone has driven on it with a very large vehicle. These ridges are made of Till, composed of rock debris carried by the slow moving river of ice.


Below the toe of the glacier are small ponds known as Kettles. They are formed by melting of buried ice blocks that are stranded on the terminal moraine after the glacier recedes.


This is near the top of the glacier.


This side view gives an idea of how deep the ice is.


When we reached the top, we discovered that the glacier took a 90 degree turn and goes uphill quite a bit farther.


That’s one huge glacier!




Author and photographer Keith Scott was at the summit selling DVDs and postcards.


On the way back, we stopped at Fish Creek again to see if any bears were present. Serious and patient photographers seemed to have become tired of waiting for bears. Or maybe they saw the bear we missed about 45 minutes earlier and decided to take a break.


I found another variety of fungus growing on the decking structure.


Chum Salmon are still spawning in the clear water.


Since it didn’t seem likely that we’d see a bear, we decided it was time to return to our RV park and enjoy happy hour in the sunshine.


Shadow got a few treats, and enjoyed rolling on his back in the lush grass.


We returned to Hyder and took a look at the Glacier Inn, recommended for dinner by our RV park host.



It looked too much like a beer hangout, so we went to check out another place in town, a hotel with a restaurant. I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of it because Don went in the door and back out so fast! Yes, another beer hangout. So we left Hyder, “the friendliest Ghost Town in Alaska,” for the last time.


Back in Stewart, Don stopped at the Bitter Creek Café that looked interesting.



Entering through what looked like an antique store/museum, we were impressed.



Service was prompt and helpful. The walls in the dining room were lined with relics from years past. Did you know there were snowshoes for horses? Horses had to be trained from a young age to use them. Here are two styles.



An interesting collection of coffee/food grinders graced another wall.


The food couldn’t have been better – fresh and full of flavor!


It was a generous serving of Red Snapper for the fish tacos! And it was delicious, along with the avocado, cole slaw, rice pilaf and spicy beans. The Lighthouse in Haines should take note.


Marilyn had the same fish tacos, and Larry had fajitas. We all enjoyed our meals – I’m so glad Don found this place! What a great way to end our day. And I’m so happy we visited Stewart and Hyder!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Exploring Hyder and Stewart

We started our day at the Visitor Center in Stewart where we picked up brochures to learn more about this area and others we have yet to visit.



Across the street is a small grocery store with unique decorations on its roofline.


We crossed the unmanned (in this direction) border to Hyder and stopped at the Post Office. It’s housed in a mobile home underneath a large free-standing roof.


Both Stewart and Hyder observe Pacific Time to simplify life, but the P.O. is a U.S. Federal institution, so it has to operate on Alaska Time, one hour earlier than Pacific. We arrived a few minutes before 11 am Alaska Time. However, we learned that the staff observe Pacific Time for a lunch break, and that they left early today. So we had to return later.

Lunch was at Seafood Express, aka the famous “Bus.” In 1998 Jim and Diana Simpson created a fish and chips restaurant in a school bus, with covered outdoor seating.


Later they added indoor seating in a building behind it.


The seafood is fresh and prepared to order. It was yummy! They also sell fresh seafood out of another building next door. Don bought some smoked salmon, but they didn’t have enough fresh salmon to sell, other than as meals in the restaurant.

We then drove beyond Hyder to Fish Creek, following a self-guided driving tour.


They protect a section of road where bears come out of the mountains to catch fish. No walking or parking is allowed.


Fish Creek offers visitors a view of spawning salmon and both Grizzly and Black bears.


Several very serious photographers were toward the far end of the deck. It takes a lot of patience to photograph wildlife.


We saw a lot of fish, and an eagle, but no bears. Marilyn and Larry went back this evening to see if they can spot a bear. Here are a few of the many pictures I took.


The water was clear, but the fish moved fast, so a lot of my pictures turned out blurry.



There are at least 19 salmon in the picture below.


I caught the eagle in a distant tree initially, before he flew down to the river. It’s an immature Bald Eagle (it hasn’t yet developed the distinguished white head).


The eagle found a fish carcass to munch on, but this picture makes him look more dignified.


It was an amazing place and a peaceful treat to see these wonderful fish return to spawn in the same creek where they were born.

There was also a wide variety of trees, with berries and moss adding color.





We returned to the U.S.-Canada border, where this 1896 storehouse stands on the U.S. side. It’s the only one of 4 similar buildings that has been restored, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The international boundary marker, resembling a miniature Washington Monument, sits about 10 feet away.


Each storehouse bore a dressed stone with the following message cut into it: “U.S. Property, Do Not Injure.”


It’s easy to cross this border; there’s rarely any waiting time, and the border agents are friendly. Their main concern is whether we’re carrying any guns, but we didn’t even get that question today.


The two towns sit beneath tall mountains, with several hanging glaciers. Although we still had some clouds today, we were able to see a little more clearly.



We almost decided to skip this side trip and save the 80 miles roundtrip from the Cassiar Highway. But several people wrote emails and blog comments, saying “Don’t miss Hyder.” Thanks for the recommendations; I’m so glad we came to see these unique sights!