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Tue Aug 21 2012: Fake Alaska!

The Stewart Highway (aka Highway 37A) runs east/west off the Cassiar Highway. The scenery along the way is a mix of dense alpine forest and mountainous terrain. It's only a 65 km detour to visit the town of Stewart, BC, at the end of the 37A, and we are rewarded with amazing views of glaciers, terminating just a few hundred meters from the highway.

Bear Glacier, on the way to Stewart, BC

A snow cave on the side of the mountain

Bridge crossing on Stewart Highway

Gorgeous motorcycle scenery on the way to Stewart

Weather is cold and wet, rainsuits on for most of the day

Stewart, BC is a working town, home for plenty of miners and the BC Hydro workers who are working on the nearby dam. The US border is just 2 kms away and when we told the owner of the Cassiar Campsite last night that we were going to visit Hyder, Alaska, just across the border, he questioned our sanity, "Why on earth would you want to do that? It's a dump! Nothing there but a bunch of draft-dodgers!"

Well, he was right. The town was a dump. I don't know why anyone would want to visit Hyder, yet it's one of the most popular motorcycle destinations amongst the Iron Butt Association and long-distance riding clubs. But looking at a map, it's obvious why. Hyder is the southern-most city in Alaska accessible by road. There's way more bragging rights in saying, "I rode all the way to Alaska!" than, "I rode all the way to the middle of British Columbia!"

But now you know: Hyder, Alaska = Fake Alaska...

What the..? We're in Alaska? When did that happen?!

The town is such a dump that even the US government has forgotten about its existence. Our ride over the "US/Canada border" was heralded by nothing but a sign proclaiming, "Entering Alaska". No passport control, no customs, no immigration. Just a sign. Oh, but there was a Canadian border patrol on the way back to Stewart, BC. No doubt to stop those draft dodgers from sneaking into Canada. We talked to a guy whose sister forgot her Canadian passport when entering Hyder. Canadian customs wouldn't let her back into the country and she had to have her passport couriered to Hyder to get back in!

One of the more prominent buildings in Hyder is the US Postal Office, and there is a large sign on the side of the building, "Apply for your US Passport here". Presumably if the draft dodgers ever wanted to rejoin mainstream America, they could do so with an explanation at the US Postal Office.

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum at the Hyder General Store

We heard a funny anecdote about the stateless nature of Hyder. Supposedly, once a month, a state trooper from Ketchikan, AK flies into Hyder, and during the week that he's there, nobody drives their car - all their licenses and registrations have long since expired! Dodging the draft, dodging the DMV, same thing, I guess!

With nothing much to see in Hyder, we tried to find the bear viewing area at Fish Creek. The Hyder General Store is run by a huge mountain man, 8 feet tall, 360lbs, with a grizzled, grey Alaskan beard straight out of Grizzly Adams. We were scared to ask for directions, for fear that he would pop us in his mouth and swallow us whole, but he turned out to be really nice and pointed us a few miles down the (very gravelly) road.

Getting educated on the difference between black bears and grizzly bears. Did you know
you're not supposed to run from bears? Given my natural flight-or-flight instinct, I'm really screwed...

You can see down the length of Fish Creek from the bear viewing area
Lots of naturists set up telephoto cameras and video equipment at the far end

The US Forestry Service built this special viewing area to keep tourists safe from the bears that wander the shallow stream at feeding time. From this sheltered vantage point, we were supposed to see them swatting at salmon as they swam tiredly upstream to spawn and die. All we saw was a bunch of dead salmon, seagulls picking at their corpses; no bears, though. I think we came too early in the afternoon. We must have stayed for over 3 hours just sitting, staring at dead salmon and gluttonous seagulls.

Pretty much all we saw the whole day

Of course, the minute Neda leaves to go to the washroom, a baby black bear saunters into the parking lot, sniffs around and leaves!

Not wanting to ride back in the dark, we left for Canada empty-handed just as the sun was setting, and at our campsite in Stewart, our next-door neighbour who was also at the viewing area told us that a couple of bears came out to dine after sunset. Grrrr!!!!

Log teepees on the Cassiar

A warning sign of some sorts...?

Gravel section of the Cassiar

You can see in the picture above newer trees growing in the sections where previous forest fires have cleared the area. This is part of the natural cycle for forests, and small signs are erected on the side of the highway displaying the year of the forest fire in that section.

We traveled north on the rest of the Cassiar Highway in cold, foggy and overcast conditions - very different from the desert-like interior of BC that we left just a couple of days ago. Most of the length of the 874 km highway was paved, with the exception of a couple of long stretches of gravel. We shared the road with logging trucks and the odd RV and it really felt like we were riding in the deep forest of the province as the Yukon Territory loomed ahead of us.

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