In fairness, I left out how awful the campground I picked out in Terrace was. It was pretty awful, so we were happy to get out in the morning. We were greeted by a misty overcast day as we headed out of Terrace. The route we took ended up being my second gaff in trip planning so far. It actually started really well - the Nisga'a Highway heading north from Terrace, to our first stop at Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a (a.k.a. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park) was really nice. Good pavement, nice views and a few more deer.
The park is about an hour and a half north of Terrace, and was the sight of a major lava flow in the 1700s that killed over 2,000 people locally. The lava covers an incredible area, and is such a unique thing to see in this part of the world.
The lava fields were pretty incredible, stretching for KMs at a time. We made a short stop at a pull out that had a really nice, short walk to a waterfall, Vetter Falls. That also gave us a chance to see the lava close up. Given that it had been 300-odd years, there was a lot of really cool lichen and moss and succulents growing. It is very other worldly.
After a short stop we continued on to the Visitor Centre in the park. The Visitor Centre is a cool longhouse, but sadly it was closed. Still, there were enough displays posted outside that we had an idea of what else we could do in the park. We scouted out a couple of ideas, and not wanting to spend too much time as we had a long drive ahead of us (if only we had really known...) selected a short walk nearby.
A short drive away there was another short walk to see a tree mould. It was pretty interesting - lava surrounds a tree, then cools fast enough before the tree burns to leave a tube through the lava. The area around the trail was beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way.
After our visit to the park, we headed north and soon discovered that our nice paved highway turned to an unmaintained dirt road. Seriously unmaintained - the potholes were killer. This dropped our average speed to about 20 km/hour, turning the 51 km stretch into a two hour, spine crushing ordeal. And not good for the trailer. The good news was that we saw our first black bear - a short glimpse as he headed back into the bush
We survived the rattling, and made our way back to the main road, Highway 37. After a long morning we needed to stop for lunch, so we used one of the many pull-offs. As we were getting setup we saw another bear, a big male, cross the highway just a few yards ahead of us. This was looking promising for us.
During lunch we agreed to a slight change in plans. We were originally planning to go all the way to Kinaskin Lake today, after our side trip to Stewart and Hyder Alaska. But given how long the day was turning out, we decided to stop at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, drop the trailer and then make the side trip with just the truck. That would allow us to enjoy the day, not rush and not need to push on late into the night. It ended up being a really good change in plans.
It was early afternoon when we pulled into Meziadin Lake and found a great site right on the lake. We got the trailer set, then packed up and headed west in the 37A towards Stewart. This area is famous for bears and glaciers, and we saw lots of both.
The drive was spectacular, with the road weaving between two sets of mountains crowned in deep blue glacial ice. To give Dad a break, I took the wheel for the rest for the day, letting Mom and Dad just be passengers on this amazing little side trip. It felt like we were stopping every five minutes to take pictures. It's hard to pick, but this stretch of the trip might have been one of the most beautiful stretch of scenery we saw the whole trip. There were three or four areas that we ended up seeing that would vie for the title, each with their own unique characteristics, and this was definitely one of them.
About halfway down the road we saw a mother black bear and her cub on the side of the road, grazing in an open area. We were past them before we really noticed them, and there wasn't a good option for turning back.
Then we got to the Bear Glacier viewpoint, which was amazing. The glacier comes all the way down to the roadside lake, and was the biggest of the more than 20 glaciers you can see from the road on this stretch. We stopped for a while to take some pictures and enjoy the view. It would be interesting to go back in a few years and see how much it has retreated.
The rest of the drive into Stewart was equally spectacular. Rushing rivers, massive waterfalls that fell from the glaciers all the way to the valley floor, and of course majestic views of the mountains and glaciers. We didn;t see any more wildlife on this stretch on the way in, but it was mid-afternoon, so that wasn't really much of a surprise.
Stewart BC is a bit of an odd town. 500 people tucked away at the edge of the country, with not a lot there. There were a couple of "old" buildings in the downtown area, and a small tourist center that knew exactly where we were trying to get to. We popped into the Visitor Centre and picked up a great map that showed us the couple of places we wanted to check out. The girl in the Visitor Center was a bit grumpy, but I guess when you answer the same questions all day, you might get that way.
But first we had to cross the border into Alaska. It was the strangest boarder crossing ever - no check going into the U.S., but a checkpoint coming back into Canada. I guess they know that there really is nowhere to go. There were two things we wanted to see - the Fish Creek bear viewing site and the Salmon Glacier.
Once in Hyder Alaska we drive through the "Friendliest Ghost Town in the United States". Not quite a ghost town as there are still people living in the town, but pretty close. Lots of abandoned buildings. The Fish Creek bear viewing site was a few miles up the road, and is situated on a salmon stream that spawns pink and chum salmon. The bears, both black and grizzly, feed at the site regularly this time of year.
The government has built an elevated viewing platform along the river to keep the bears and the people safely apart. There was even a sign on the road near the parking lot telling you it wasn't safe to walk on the road, as the bears cross frequently.
We stopped briefly to check the place our. There were no bears but there were lots of huge salmon breeding in the river. And lots of gulls, most of which I had never seen before. It seems like we were about two weeks late to see the bulk of the bears. One of the guys at the site mentioned that most of the bears seemed to have had their fill of salmon, and were not really eating much any more. That's too bad - this was one of the things I really wanted to see.
We decided to come back on our way home as it would be closer to dusk when the bears are normally more active. We then drove the 30 km to the Salmon Glacier. The Salmon Glacier is the 5th largest glacier in Canada (we had come back to the Canadian side of the boarder) and the largest car-accessible glacier in the country.
The road up was crazy, full of potholes but spectacular. The views of the glacier were jaw-dropping, as you see this massive river of ice coming down between the mountains.
The road was a bit scary, with massive drop-offs plunging 100s of meters into the ravine. There were a number of great viewpoints along the way and frequent stops to take pictures. At the top there was a view that seemed to go on forever, taking in the glacier and the surrounding mountain peaks.
It started to rain on us at the top, so it was time to leave. It was pretty cold up there even this time of year, and the rain didn't make you want to stay. It really was too bad about the weather - the view would have been spectacular in the sunshine. The trip back down was pretty easy, and we also saw a marmot and a porcupine along the way. Once at the bottom of the hill, the road mirrored a big river, and we saw a golden eagle eating a fish along the bank.
We got back to the Fish Creek Bear Viewing platform about 6:00, and hung out for a while. The whole area around the viewing platform is just beautiful, and there was one area off the back that was just crying out for some critter - a bear, a moose, whatever - to come wandering into the scene. Sadly, there were no bears to be seen. There were however, lots of gulls and lots of dead fish. We should have been a couple of weeks earlier.
We waited for a while before heading back across the boarder and back into Stewart. We had dinner in town, before making the drive back to Meziadin Lake. And what a drive. While the views continued to around, it was also bear-central. We saw another six bears, including another mother and cub that stayed on the side the road and let me take pictures. That was pretty amazing.
We got back to Meziadin Lake about 9:30, made a fire and poured some drinks and enjoyed an amazing evening. There was a half moon over the lake and lots of stars. A perfect end to a perfect day.