Been there, done that
Stewart, British Columbia, Canada, Hwy 37A
Our wonderful neighbors at Smithers, J and J (who we would not have met had we not spent a second night there) tell us about a tiny piece of Alaska accesible only by seaplane or through British Columbia. We take a detour (only about 40 miles one way) down the most beautiful road we have been on since this trip started. Really. We swear.
Glaciers race towards the road; if we had a kayak, we could paddle to them, if we had arms any longer than normal, we feel we could reach out and touch them. The usual ubiquitous stream turns river, roars along side us as we hurtle down the road at a brave 45 mph. We use each and every scenic pull-out on this road. The mountains tower above us, steep slopes wearing an absolutely obnoxious amount of green trees. Furry mountains. The glacier melt runs in vertical streams; a mile of mountain has more waterfalls than we've seen in all our lives. We gawk and take pictures and gawk some more. We say a continual thank-you to the Goddess Serendipity, the best tour book a guy and grrlwander could have.
And this is just the road to Hyder.
There is no American customs in Hyder, so we pass the border heralded only by a sign that welcomes us. We've come here to visit Fish Creek, deep in the National Forest down the worst road we've faced yet. That's sayin' a lot, ya'll. The road overlooks wetlands and a rushing grey river; we see two bald eagles in as many miles. Gawking. We are spending our lives and our vacation gawking at the sights, holding hands, thanking each other for making it this far. And then the wheels of the van sink into four potholes simultaneously, potholes large enough to swallow up a medium sized dog. The potholes have potholes, and the areas without potholes are white, washboarded giganta-gravel. Dervish, already filthy from the trip, will be covered in grey-white mud well past his eyes.
The awful road is worth it, though, when we finally get to Fish Creek. The national forest has built a giant wooden walkway over the creek. We spend hours watching Chum salmon spawn, waiting for bears to come and eat them. Chum salmon males get up to 40 lbs. HUGE beasts. We watch one pair tease and flirt, then dance together, the female digging and wiggling to make a nest in the rocks, the males auditioning for fertilizers. She chose while she was digging, and hours later, after swimming, then floating around and around each other, the giant male shivered again and again over her eggs. They were still dancing and shivering when we finally left.
We end up seeing one black bear as she disappeared into the woods, and a teenage grizzly ambling up the road in front of us. We get pretty good pics of the grizz, especially when a German woman in a Japanese rental car drove around the corner to give the bear's size some perspective...
We end up STARVING for salmon, absolutely mad with hunger (and a little guilt, too, although we wouldn't actually be eating any of the salmon we watched spawn, because you can't eat salmon once they've undergone spawning morphological changes). We eat a fabulous silver salmon dinner at The Bus, talk with several locals, and even feed a few bites of leftover salmon to the dogs with their dinner.
We pass back into Stewart, BC for the night, then awaken REALLY early to try and see more bears. We see another teenage grizzly (a new one, we think, not the same one as last night) on the way in, just amblin' across the road, huge and gangly, not full and heavy like an adult griz, but with truly amazing grace and strength. He leaps up an eight-foot bank like he was hopping on a step-stool, flashes his brown butt at us, and is gone, magically, instantly. Way too fast for an animal that big.
We're at the walkway before seven am and spend several hours in the misty, gentle rain watching for bears. Rumor has it that the survey crew working on road improvements has disturbed the bears. Days before, before us, before the survey crew, the bears were frolicing, fishing, rolling around on the banks of the creek. We leave at noon, decide to push on, determined to see more bears somewhere else...maybe Denali?