If you look at a map of Alaska, it has a long panhandle hanging down along the coast of British Columbia. It looks like it really should belong to Canada. But a huge mountain range separates it from the rest of North America and southeastern Alaska is only accessible by boat or plane. Juneau the capital, is in this area and only has 36 miles of road. This summer we have traveled to almost every town in Alaska you can drive to. To visit the panhandle, you need to take a cruise or board the ferry. But there is one town in Alaska in the panhandle that you can drive to - Hyder.
An ocean inlet called the Portland Canal, is part of the US - Canada border and separates Hyder from nearby Stewart, B.C. It’s possible to drive around the inlet from Stewart to Hyder, but being in two different countries causes problems. B.C. is on Pacific Time and the Hyder post office is on Alaska time, but the rest of the town is not. American Hyder uses the Canadian dollar. Together they only have 800 residents and the 100 folks in Hyder send their kids to school in Stewart. We had to bring our passports to visit Hyder even though there was nowhere else to go and nothing to buy or report to customs. The Canadian immigration authorities here have an easy job.
After driving hundreds of miles through the Yukon and BC, it was fun to be back in Alaska one more time. There are two things to do in Hyder: look at the glaciers and watch the bears eat salmon. A fitting conclusion to all the glaciers and bears we’ve enjoyed all summer. But you can probably guess what got in the way - the weather. Drizzle and low hanging clouds blocked our view of the mountains on the drive to Hyder and almost made Bear Glacier disappear. We didn't even bother to drive on to Salmon Glacier. This area is known as a temperate rain forest and that's exactly how it looked.
The bear viewing area is a well organized, boardwalk system built by the National Forest Service, which provides great views of the river full of salmon and protects bear watchers from the bears. As we approached the boardwalk, the stench of dead fish, told us we were in the right spot. There were salmon corpses on the bank; some looked half eaten and some had died a natural death. A number of live ones frolicked in the stream, perhaps still working on producing their progeny. A number of people sat quietly on the viewing platform under umbrellas with cameras at the ready. But where were the bears?
The four of us sat on a dry bench and waited for them to appear. We looked like “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” as we sat there in a row with our Ipods, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks, entertaining ourselves while we waited. Suddenly the bushes looked like a whirlwind was going through them. A little black bear cavorted through the underbrush, eating berries. He had absolutely no interest in the fish nearby. If he had, we could have taken nice photos of him. Instead we got a glimpse of a snout, an ear, a hindquarter, as he worked his way through the berry bushes. Then he went under the viewing platform and scratched his back on the supports. It felt like he was laughing at all the folks above trying to take his picture. This isn't Disneyland; we felt lucky to see a bear at all.
We are camped in a beautiful spot right on a lake. It would be fun to kayak here and spend another day if only the sun would come out. We're not optimistic...