Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.






North to Alaska - Live!

by Kathy 5. August 2011 07:52

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Hyder, Alaska

Although every place has reasons to claim this it is unique, the tiny town of Hyder, Alaska (population 100), really was in a class of its own. Located on a very long, dead-end road near the tip of the Alaskan panhandle, it can only be accessed by crossing the border from western Canada. There isn’t even a U.S. customs station there, as if the government has conceded its insignificance. In fact, when crossing the border, there isn’t even a “Welcome to the U.S.” sign—instead, it reads, “Welcome to Hyder, Alaska.”

Yes, indeed. A world of its own.

Although Hyder was a special place in and of itself, the road getting there made the journey even sweeter.

A black bear was grazing within a few feet of the road, lifting his head to glance our way while continuing to chew::

As we twisted through a canyon, Bear Glacier appeared on our left. We all piled out of the RV and stood across the small lake, gawking at the glacier’s magnificence:


Less than 100 years ago, the glacier’s ice had extended across the lake to where we stood.  It was currently receding at a rapid rate.

Continuing onward, we couldn’t even begin to count the number of waterfalls that cascaded down both sides of the canyon.

The paved road ended at Hyder.  Main street:

The first stretch of buildings did not reflect a spirit of prosperity. Most of them appeared to be abandoned:




Even the church was boarded shut:

One open business was in the process of closing for good, with a sign announcing a “Closing Out Sale”:

At the end of the block, we turned the corner and found the heart of town, still beating:

There was a small motel, nicely painted:

Dollie’s photo shop offered books, T-shirts, knives and other gifts:

The post office was a modular unit under a sturdy roof, with flower baskets hanging from the edges:

There were two general stores:


The second one also offered lodging, and had a sign that reflected a quirky sense of humor:

Some homes were mixed in with the businesses:



Other buildings along this street:



Hyder seemed to be the kind of place that you could settle into and just be whatever you wanted. I called this vibe “Free to Be.” Very refreshing.

We chose to stay at a campground called “Run-a-Muck,” which was staffed by a young couple with bright smiles. The woman immediately showed Sebastian and Genevieve where they could pick blueberries:


In addition to its unconventional personality, Hyder had something else that drew tourists by the hundreds every summer. Lots of bears. Grizzlies and black bears. Yep, we came to see the bears.

Every summer, between mid-July and the end of August, thousands of salmon return to the streams around Hyder to spawn, attracting hoards of hungry grizzly bears who feast for days. Just two miles north of Hyder, the U.S. Forestry Service had built a lengthy viewing platform, called the “Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site,” where visitors could watch the bears from a relatively safe distance.

Here is a map of Alaska showing the location of Fish Creek:

Our bubble of anticipation was quickly popped, however, when we discovered that the salmon hadn’t yet arrived. It was almost August, and yet the salmon had only trickled in—yesterday’s count had been eight. One official said that the salmon were still far down the river and weren’t expected for a few more weeks.

We were disappointed, but remained optimistic about seeing something here. And we did!

The viewing deck area:


Down in the shallow waters, we spied about six different salmon going about their spawning ritual. Here is one of the colorful fish:

A pair:

First, the female salmon would dig a nest (called a redd) in the gravel, creating such a hullabaloo of splashing that we thought surely a grizzly would rush out of the shrubbery and snatch her up for dinner. But that didn’t happen.

The splashing:


After the digging was completed, the female was supposed to lay eggs in the nest, and a male salmon would swim over and fertilize the eggs. We didn’t actually see either of those events take place under the water, but there was a lot of back and forth among the fish, with pairs staying close together, and fish chasing other fish away from certain spots. It was fascinating to watch.

Still, we kept a hopeful eye out for bears. We waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Here are Genevieve and I together:

Ben and Sebastian hung out together near the entrance to the platform, which had a beautiful turquoise pond:

They passed the time by photographing each other. First, Sebastian:

Then Ben:

The second day was rainy, but it started on a promising note when we spied a black bear sauntering across the road in front of us on the drive to the viewing platform.

With umbrellas to keep us dry, we patiently began our wait. The clear water did not contain any salmon this morning. However, within twenty minutes, a black bear emerged near the river:

He walked slowly along the edge, took a drink of water, and then disappeared back into the bushes.






He was not after salmon. Instead, he preferred the bright red berries on some of the bushes below the viewing platform:

Several seconds later, a tall bush shook violently, and then one of the branches was pulled down in an arch as the bear consumed the clumps of sweetness. Several more shakes of the bush, and then all was still.

We were elated! He had been so beautiful!

Given the lack of any visible salmon today, we gave up hope of seeing any grizzlies munching on fish. But we still left the viewing platform happy with what we had seen and experienced.

Crossing back into Canada, we had to stop at the small Canadian customs station at the border:

Despite the fact that our RV could only have come from Hyder on the one road in and out, we were still subjected to the standard list of questions, including “Where did you visit?” “How long will you be in Canada?” “Do you have any weapons?”, and “Where did you initially cross into Canada?” Our border agent was firm but friendly, and we were soon on our way.

On our drive away from Hyder, we saw five more bears, including two sets of mothers with their cubs.

One mama bear was on the side of the road, grazing (and wet from the rain):

And the small baby bear was looking forlornly from the opposite side of the road—trying to figure out a way across, no doubt:

Another mama bear popped her head up from a bunch of flowers where her cub was hidden:

And so it was with content hearts that we left the town of Hyder far behind us. Although we hadn’t seen the grizzlies that we had expected, we had still seen plenty of bears during our two days there. Indeed, bears extraordinaire!

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Comments (4) -

8/5/2011 5:22:53 PM #

becky

finally.  plenty of bears.  i love the last picture with the mama bear popping out of the wild flowers.

becky United States | Reply

8/5/2011 5:46:48 PM #

Kathy

Thanks, Becky! Ben took the last photo of the mama bear--I loved the expression on her face. Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

7/23/2014 3:14:49 PM #

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7/23/2014 3:21:15 PM #

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For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.


Words for the Heart

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