Alaska and Bears!


We got on the road in the morning and started west on Hwy 37A. This 40-mile drive crosses the Coastal Mountains and it stunned us with its beauty. The road leads to Stewart, British Columbia and then you cross the border into the USA and Hyder, Alaska. Hyder is basically a ghost town and the road dead ends there so the US doesn't even bother with a border crossing. The main attraction in Hyder is Fish Creek Observation area - a boardwalk built and maintained by the US Forest Service (thank you and I pray you continue to get the funding you need to do stuff like this!) to be able to observe bears catching salmon in the creek from mid-July to early September. We were early in the season and had heard that the salmon were not running well yet so we weren't sure what to expect. We had decided that no matter what, the beauty of the area already made it worth the trip.

To give us the best chance of seeing bears, I had planned 2 nights here and, as it turned out, we could have been happy staying more. The first morning we arrived we checked out the boardwalk and saw a few salmon (which was cool in its own right) and heard that they had just started running a few days ago. The best time to see bears is early in the morning or in the evening so we took the opportunity to drive up to see Salmon Glacier. We had heard about a man who has spent the last 37 summers camping in his car at the summit by the glacier and thought it would be interesting to meet him. His name is Keith Scott but he is also known as the Bear Man. He sells postcards and books of his bear photographs to help support himself during the summer. Though he sounds quite eccentric, he was actually a very normal guy who decided to follow his passion of photographing this beautiful land and its animals. The drive up to the summit was a real adventure but my trusty Roadtrek (possibly to be named the Chicken Bus... I'm against the idea of naming an inanimate object but Jeff suggested this name and I kind of like it) handled it like a champ. Keith told us to continue on past the summit for another 7 miles to see another glacier and an old abandoned mine. It was pretty scary at times (driving through clouds making it impossible to see, falling rocks on one side and a sheer drop off on the other, etc,) but I'm glad we did it. It took us almost an hour to go that 7 miles. 

This first batch of pictures is of the drive into Stewart and the Stewart and Hyder areas.


By the time we got back to the boardwalk it was evening and we started the bear watch. Because it was early in the season, there were only about a dozen other people there. We heard that at the peak of the season there can be 200. We had only been waiting about an hour when the first bear made the scene. This is an experience that is difficult to describe so I will post a video and pics instead.

Here are some pictures of the bears - plus other wildlife we saw in the area. Wherever there are bears fishing for salmon, you will always find eagles because the bears just eat the eggs out of the fish and the eagles swoop in to finish it off. We also saw merganser ducks, a marmot and belted kingfisher.

A couple of other interesting things - at the end of day 2 in Hyder, the salmon appeared to be getting fewer instead of more. We talked with the supervisor for the Forestry Department there and he suspected that a beaver dam downstream may be stopping up the fish. He was going to walk the creek the next morning to see if that was the case and break it up if so. It turned out that was the case and when he found the dam, he said that close to 100 salmon were pooled up waiting to get through. Also, on day 3 while we were waiting for the dammed up fish to make the scene, we met a couple from California who were traveling in a Roadtrek similar to mine. They were very interested in seeing the mods I have made (new curtains, recovered cushions, etc.) so we toured each other's vans. It's fun to meet other people who love their Roadtreks as much as I do.

There is so much I could say about Stewart and Hyder but I don't want this post to get too long. We ended up seeing bears each day we were there. We found a great place to bookdock for free only a mile from the boardwalk There are a lot of pictures that can tell the story but suffice it to say that this is going to go down as one of the highlights of the trip.