Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Alaska and Back in One Morning

Get out a map of Canada that includes Alaska. Look at the southernmost tip of Alaska. If your map is detailed enough, you should see, just a little northeast of Ketchikan, the towns of Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska. That's where we went this morning, and made it back in time for lunch here at Lake Meziadin.

After a breakfast of stuffed French Toast (spread cream cheese on one slice of bread and a little marmalade on the other and then make a sandwich that you dip in the egg batter and fry), we hopped in the truck and headed down Highway 37A. It's a 40-mile spur of the 37 that goes to the coast and the towns of Stewart and Hyder.

Along the way you go through some fabulous scenery, and see several glaciers and lots of waterfalls.

This is the first glacier you get to. It may not look like one, but most of it is covered by debris. The top is partially obscured by clouds.

I really thought this would turn out better, since you could see the twin hanging glaciers clearly in person. Take my word for it, then, that on either side of the vertical snow line, there are two hanging glaciers.

This is Bear Glacier, only 18 miles from our campground. It used to come all the way to the highway, but now ends in this lake.

This is the toe of Bear Glacier, where the water coming out of it forms the Bear River. The highway now follows the Bear River all the way down to the Portland Canal.

This is an unnamed fan glacier. A large portion of the left side has recently calved (broken off).

There are waterfalls everywhere, and you can hear the roaring of them because there are so many.

After the highway goes through a narrow canyon, the valley and the river open up.

You first come to the town of Stewart, British Columbia. It sits at the head of the Portland Canal, which is actually a long fjord or inlet from the Pacific Ocean. Stewart has approximately 700 people, and has a school, a health facility, a gas station ($1.33/liter), and numerous stores and services. We stopped at the little visitor center to pick up a pamphlet.

Next to the Visitor Center is this monument to the American and Canadian men from the Portland Canal who sacrificed their lives for their country in World War I and World War II.

I hope you can click on these to make them larger so you can read them.

About 2 miles from Stewart you cross the international border into Hyder, Alaska. Hyder has about 100 people, and unlike Stewart, the roads are all gravel or dirt.

Fish Creek runs down from Salmon Glacier into the Portland Canal. Every summer the salmon come up the creek to spawn, and out come the bears. Both grizzlies and black bears come by the dozens to feed on the salmon, so the U. S. Forest Service has built a long raised viewing platform so humans can watch the bears. Unfortunately for us, we're about 2-3 weeks early, so no salmon, and no bears.

When you cross the border into Alaska from Stewart, there is no checkpoint. However, when you cross back into Canada, there's an agent who asks you for your identification and asks all the same questions you're asked when you cross anywhere else (where are you coming from, where are you going, how long will you be in Canada, do you have any firearms or anything else to declare).

Looking south down the Portland Canal. We're not sure what kind of operation this is, but my guess is that it's for loading logs onto boats. The brochure we picked up says forestry is one of the main reasons Stewart and Hyder exist. If you know something else, let me know.

Looking north up the Portland Canal. We saw 4 fishing boats. When we first passed by it was low tide, but now the tide is gradually rising.

There are 5 of these tie-down cleats on the platform where we parked. Obviously bigger ships used to dock here.

More waterfalls on the way back.

We were back to the trailer by noon, so after a lunch of quesadillas, and with the rain finally stopped, you wanna guess what Don's doing?

You guessed it!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jasper to Vanderhoot to Meziadin Lake

It was overcast when we left Jasper yesterday morning, and by the time we got over Yellowhead Pass it was raining. We stopped anyway at the Mt. Robson Visitor Center to take a picture of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. They say that a majority of the time you can't see the top due to the weather, so I don't feel bad.

When we turned north on the Yellowhead Highway at Tete Jaune, we saw a flashing sign that said "Highway 97 closed at Pine Pass. Take alternate routes." That was our intended route. We briefly thought that we would spend the night in Prince George, and that the closure would be brief enough to get going the next day. we turned on the radio and soon found out that the closure was expected to be at least 2 weeks. No traffic could go from Prince George to Chetwynd--there were multiple washouts including the major one below Pine Pass. In addition, the Hudson's Hope Highway was damaged too. The suggested detour was through Jasper and northern Alberta. We didn't want to double back, so we decided to take the Cassiar Highway. Our original plan was to come back from Alaska down the Cassiar, so we'll just go up it instead.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside turnout, and passed through Prince George around 1:30. For a few brief stretches we had some nice views, but most of the day was spent driving through lots of rain.

We decided to stop for the night in a small town called Vanderhoof. It advertises itself as "the geographical center of British Columbia." The RV park, Dave's, was beautiful and affordable. We met several different couple who were returning from Alaska, and one couple, Bill and Sharon from Kelowna, BC, gave us some tips on places to stay once we leave Meziadin Lake.

This morning we were up at 6, and on the road by 7:30.

This is the world's largest fly-fishing rod, on display in Houston, British Columbia. The fly is 22" long.

We stopped for lunch just outside of Smithers, with this view of Hudson Bay Mountain. See the small glacier in the center?

This was a pretty sight in Moricetown.

Our intended stop was 'Ksan Campground in New Hazelton, but we got there before 1:00 and decided to keep going. Once Don had heard about Meziadin Lake from our neighbors in Vanderhoof, he wanted to go there. It was only another 105 miles.

We stopped for gas at the turnoff for Highway 37, and filled up the gas cans so we'd have plenty for the generator if we needed it. This sign just cried out to have its photo taken.

It was raining intermittently, and occasionally we'd have views of some of the local mountains.

This is the single-lane bridge over the Nass River. The gorge is 400 feet wide, and the bridge is 130 feet above the river.

We arrived at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park at 4 pm, and were lucky enough to get a site right on the lake! This place is gorgeous! It has no hookups, but there's a water pump, and a small store run by the camp hosts with a few essentials like bug spray and drinking water. At $16 a night, we decided to stay for 4 nights. And, even though we're hundreds of miles from the nearest decent-sized town, we have WiFi! Unbelievable.

Here's our view:

And here's one of the biggest reasons we're staying 4 nights:

Tomorrow: Stewart and Hyder, two side-by-side towns separated by an international border. Check it out on your map.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Best laid plans...

I posted last night that we were heading to Dawson Creek and Mile Zero today. So why are we 60 miles west of Prince George?

There are several places on the highway between Prince George and Chetwynd that have been washed out. The BC authorities give a rough estimate of 2 weeks before the road reopens. We didn't learn this until we were halfway to Prince George, and didn't want to go back to Jasper to take the detour through northern Alberta. We'd been planning to return from Alaska on the Cassiar Highway, so we just switched and will go up the Cassiar to Alaska and come back the Alaska Highway to Dawson Creek.

We grabbed our maps and books and decided to stop for the night at Dave's Campground in Vanderhoof. It's a pretty nice place--long, level pull-through sites with cable TV. I'm paying $3 extra for the WiFi, but we needed to pay bills and I wanted to do my blog posts, so we paid it.

Tomorrow we'll go to Hazelton or New Hazelton--I'm going to go research campgrounds. The next couple of days will be spent in Hyder or Stewart.

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Just call us Mr. and Mrs. Grump

Monday, June 27

We just cancelled the next 6 of our 7 days we'd reserved at Jasper. There are quite a few reasons, including our desire to actually get going on the Alaska Highway, but the biggest reason is the $&@! kids. We were assigned a site here at Whistlers Campground that is next to 3 different families with a total of 12 kids. The 2 boys in the site right next to us can't throw a frisbee very well, and have hit our truck twice. Don nicely told them to stop. Their mother took offense to that, and chewed him out--he shouldn't have said anything to the kids, but to her. Right. Everyone has their own rules. Then the 10 kids in the two sites on the other side (they're together) are just ...10 kids. 10 kids. 5 of them have bicycles that are equipped with noisemakers of some kind--they sound like our bikes did when we were kids and had playing cars attached to the spokes with clothespins, but on steroids. There's an infant, who has made its presence known numerous times, and several toddlers, who keep running away and have to be yelled at to return (they don't listen well). I really am done with kids.

Knowing that it's only going to get worse with Canada Day on Friday, and knowing that there are still no rivers to fish around here, we've decided to leave in the morning. We might stop somewhere between Prince George and Dawson Creek, or we might make it all the way to Dawson Creek. We just don't know. What will happen will happen.

The adventure begins!

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Columbia Icefields Parkway

Monday, June 26

We were up at 6:30, and had a quick breakfast of bagels and hard-boiled eggs. I decided on those two items since they required no kitchen cleanup.

By 8 we were on Highway 1 heading north.

These were the first nice peaks we saw north of Lake Louise.

The scenery started getting a little more dramatic.

33 kilometers north of Lake Louise we stopped to see the first glacier of the day. This is Crowfoot Glacier, so named because nearly 100 years ago, there was a bottom talon, as in the photo below.

A little further on we stopped at Bow Lake.

That's Bow Glacier off in the distance. Bow Lake is the source of the Bow River.

Looking the other direction across Bow Lake.

From here we went over Bow Pass and into the upper Mistaya River basin.

Yours truly at one of the Waterfowl Lakes.

Mt. Chephren above Waterfowl Lake.

The Mistaya River flow north into the Saskatchewan River. At the crossing we stopped for gas and a break, and then got back on the road going up the Saskatchewan River.

In the first picture I took of Don, he was so serious. For this one I made him laugh.

The Saskatchewan River.

Getting closer to Sunwapta Pass.

Once you get to the top of the pass, you get to the Columbia Icefield. The Icefield is a giant dome of ice, from which about a dozen large glaciers flow. The Icefields Center is located at the base of Athabaska Glacier and Dome Glacier, with a view of another unnamed one nearby.

Athabaska Glacier. This is the one which has tours. For $50, you can take a bus to a point along the side of the glacier about a third of the way up, and then transfer to a bus-like vehicle with giant wheels. This second vehicle takes you out on the glacier and lets you do a little exploring on the ice. We chose not to do this.

Less than 70 years ago the glacier was much larger than it is now.

This is Dome Glacier, so named because it comes right out of the giant ice dome at the top of the Icefield. This glacier actually is as long as Athqbaska, but the bottom 1/3 is covered by rocks and dirt.

Unnamed glacier to the south of Athabaska Glacier.

Another shot of Athabaska Glacier.

Lunch break!

This is Mount Edith Cavell. It's made almost entirely of quartzite. I'd learned that at Fort McLeod when we saw the Rock That Ran. It, too, was made of quartzite, and geologists suspect it originally came from the area near Mount Edith Cavell.

We finally saw Mountain Goats! First we spotted a group of 5 grazing on the side of the road, right next to a turnout. Don swung into the turnout, and I got out to try to get some photos.

This guy is clearly shedding his winter coat. He looks pretty ragged.

The cars spooked them, so they ran towards the river.

I thought they were gone, so Don and I walked out to the viewpoint over the Athabaska River. The goats were grazing on the cliffs above the river.

Here the goats are about 50 feet below me, but still hundreds of feet above the river.

We saw some bears about 5 miles down the road--a mother and her cub--but we were going too fast to stop. I'm sure we'll see more as the days go by.