If you ever watched “Northern Exposure” on the television, you will have a good idea what Stewart, BC (poputation: 699) and Hyder, AK (population: 100) are like. Located at the head of the Portland Canal on the Alaska-British Columbia border, this twin town offers views of Bear Glacier, Salmon Glacier and the best bear viewing ever at the Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area operated by the U.S. Forest Service . We were able to get a fantastic view of Bear Glacier along Highway 37A; however, due to the dense cloud cover we were not able to see Salmon Glacier from its summit- which, along with the warm welcome by the residents of both towns, gives us added incentive to return!Camp Run-A Muck RV Park was the Silver Manatee’s base camp while staying in Stewart-Hyder and was located only 3 miles from the Wildlife Viewing Area. Each morning we would get up at 5 a.m. so we would be there for the 6 a.m. opening of the viewing platform. Along with about 20 other inveterate animal lovers, we stood single file on the platform patiently waiting for the bears. We were not disappointed. There in the early morning mist, the Grizzly bears would take their turns feasting on the salmon. One morning we were even treated to viewing two wolves taking their turn fishing. And, as if to say farewell, a wonderful black bear was on the side of Highway 37-A as we were leaving Stewart-Hyder for Jasper & Banff.
travel in the Northwest
“Beautiful British Columbia”
We crossed the border into British Columbia at Sumas, Washington. Having heard many stories that it could take up to an hour to get through Customs, we were pleasantly surprised that we went through in 15 minutes! (Note all the cameras in the photo of the US Customs.)
Emory Provincial Park was our first stop and turned out to be our favorite Provincial Park on this leg of our journey. The park was just so welcoming with its lush vegetation and meandering location on the Fraser River. It was also the beginning of what is known as the Gold Rush Trail in Canada and the site of a major Chinese community during the building of the railroad through British Columbia.
Heading north from Emory Provincial Park on Highways 97 & 29 towards the Alaskan Highway, proved to be a feast for our eyes as the road traversed through some bustling towns, mountains, farmlands and lakes as well as rivers around every bend. A major attraction was Hells Gate, an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River, located immediately downstream from the southern Fraser Canyon. The towering rock walls of the Fraser River plunge toward each other forcing the waters through a passage only 115 ft. wide. One of the last rivers we crossed before reaching Fort St. John and the Alaskan Highway was the Peace River!
Once again, we were amazed by the generosity of the people we have been meeting on our trip. On one stop near Williams Lake, a fellow RV’er from an island off of Vancouver, BC, knocked on our door and his opening words were, “Welcome to Canada! He presented us with a plate of smoked salmon, lemon slices, cream cheese and crackers! It was salmon that he had just caught and smoked on his fishing trip further up in Northern BC.
Northern British Columbia & The Yukon: Larger than Life!
Once we began traveling on the Alaskan Highway, an engineering feat of World War II, this sign was our constant companion!
The closer we got to Alaska, the rougher the road and small red flags were also added as a caution to stay alert. The towns with services, supplies and gas stations became further apart, but the wildlife began appearing along the roadside. We also became aware of a special type of graffiti- rock art. Travelers stop along the highway and leave messages created out of river rock! We could not resist and left a message of our own.
The 250 miles from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson were mostly moderate in grade and passed through the heart of oil country. The road climbed to the community of Pink Mountain, the highest point on this stretch and then descended to the lowest point- Ft. Nelson, one of the historic Hudson Bay Trading Posts.
The next stretch to the Alaskan border traveled through river valleys and low mountain passes and was the most scenic part of the highway with Summit Lake, the highest point and Muncho Lake, the most beautiful with its blue green waters. Along this portion of the Alcan we saw Black bears, Stone sheep, moose, bison, deer, cariboo and Trumpeter swans. And, not to be overlooked, are the chain saw carvings in Chetwynd and the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake started in 1942 by a homesick GI while working on the Alaskan Highway.
With a commitment to ourselves to return to Ketchum & Sun Valley, Idaho, we broke camp and set our sights on Farewell Bend State Park, Oregon. Leaving Ketchum, we traveled westward through a National Forest until just outside Idaho’s capitol, Boise. Taking a rest stop, we encountered a local Marine organization that offered free refreshments as a fundraiser for returning Marines. As it turned out, it was a man and wife manning the mobile coffee shop- he was a retired Marine and she had retired from the Navy. Drinking our tea and chatting with them just underscored to us how rewarding our journey has been with our encounters with fellow Americans across the country. From the beginning with the volunteers at the Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, the Go Texans raising money for education, the many volunteers at the state and national parks to this down to earth couple in Idaho, we have repeatedly met people engaged in making a difference.
Saying our good-byes and taking their good wishes with us, we continued on to Farewell Bend State Park. Upon our arrival at the Park, we found that we had arrived at the very spot the pioneers heading to the West would turn their wagons from traveling along the banks of the Snake River to cross the plain to the Columbia River following the Oregon Trail. Greeting us at the park’s entrance were replica conestoga wagons and a plaque commemorating those early pioneers.
When we finished backing into our site, we heard, “Good job!” shouted out. John acknowledged the fellow camper’s comment and after they were settled into their site, walked over to say hello. It turned out that our neighbors were at the Park for a carp fishing tournament; only, instead of using the traditional fishing poles and tackle, they were using bow and arrows! Also, all the fish from the three day tournament was collected and picked up by a local plant which would then turn it into material for dog and cat food- a creative way to deal with a man made problem of introducing non-native fish.
As we took a bike ride around the park, the other contestants in the tournament displayed their creativity with the variety of campers- one in particular caught our eye. It was entirely made by hand out of wood.
Pulling out of Farewell Bend put us on the road to the Columbia River Gorge. First, however, we were to experience the arid part of Oregon. Sagebrush and miles and miles of dry land. We elected to stay the night on the eastern edge of the Gorge in Maryhill, Washington at the state park there. Shortly after we got the Silver Manatee settled for the night, a steady drizzle started and it rained on and off not only during our stay in Maryhill but during our travels along the Gorge to Vancouver, WA and on to Tacoma, Wa. Serendipity played a role in our decision to stay at Maryhill State Park as it turned out that there was an Art Museum 3 miles from the park! The Maryhill Museum of Art was like a fairytale come to life with its location in a chateau on the Columbia River Gorge. We spent several hours that morning exploring Maryhill Museum’s world-class collection of art ranging from early 20th century European works to an extensive Native American collection. This has to be one of the most fascinating cultural destinations in the Northwest.
As we left the extraordinary Museum behind us, we followed the Scenic route on the Washington side along the Columbia River Gorge all the way to Vancouver, WA to visit our nephew Kevin and his family. Although the pace was slower than if we had traveled on the interstate, it was well worth the extra time. The Gorge was shrouded with mist from the rain and around every bend another amazing mysterious vista came into view. Far below, we could see barges and fishermen traveling the waters of the Columbia. The lushness of the landscape lived up to all we have ever heard or seen in pictures.