Perhaps the most dramatic scenery of all comes at us through Highway 37A, a side trip to Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska. Approaching Bear Glacier, waterfalls gush down from the tops of fjords, where avalanches rumble in the winter. A fjord cuts the border between Canada and the U.S., where the small town of Hyder hides. Cut-off from the rest of Alaska, the 100 people that make up the town of Hyder sit as Yankees who are accessible to the motherland only by sea or air.
Crossing into the U.S., the prices and taxes drop significantly. Maybe socialized medicine is not all it’s cracked-up to be. We stop at the Sealaska Inn to inquire about camping.
“We have tent sites for $12 nightly, with free firewood,” the barmaid says. “I wouldn’t recommend camping though. I lost my son-in-law to a rouge Grizzly Bear several years ago down there.”
“Do you have rooms available?” Mare asks. “We have a dog.”
“Yes, and we take dogs for $75 a night.”
We decide to check-out the only other motel in town, “The Grandview Inn.”
“I have a room with a kitchenette for $70,” the lady tells us.
“We’re thinking about pitching a tent for $12,” Mare says.
“I wouldn’t advise it,” she says. “We have black bears and grizzlies.” She points to a cut out newspaper article pinned to a bulletin board. “”George went down there after his wife kicked him out of the house. They had a fight. People say that George threw-up all over himself, and a grizzly bear tore him up.”
“How long ago?” I ask.
“About 5 years ago. There is a dump down by that campsite that attracts bears, and so does the smell from the food in the restaurant.”
Mare and I look at each other. I know that look. We don’t have to speak a word. We cannot resist.
Back at the Sealaska Inn, the barmaid writes our ticket to tent camp for two days for a total of $24.
“Don’t leave any type of food out. Be careful. If you get near a Grizzly, play dead. Black bears usually don’t attack, but if one does, fight back. At least act big by waving your arms and yelling at him.”
Our campsite sits in a paradise setting snug in the woods, surrounded by mountains on two sides, and bordered by an estuary for Canadian Geese on the Portland Inlet. We learn that the town of Hyder was originally named “Portland City.” However, the US Post Office decides that there are already enough “Portlands” in the U.S. So, rumor has it, that Mr. Hyder, who made a habit of buying rounds for the locals in the bar, was nominated as the town’s namesake. Anyway, at our little camp, the beers pour especially easy. The fire roars, as we dip chips into Habanera salsa.
Oh no! Just my luck. It happens to be Karaoke night at the Sealaska Inn. Off we go, on a short walk past the washroom and Laundromat. Two women from Holland end up singing a song by “Meatloaf,” and Mare dances solo on the barren floor. She tries to entice the bearded, burley men and women (some without beards) out onto the floor, but they won’t budge. Mare hops around, having the time of her life, while I film the surreal scene with the Dutch ladies’ video camera.
After an eternity, the song ends. The Dutch women are pissed because I did not catch the episode on film. I held that dang camera up forever, but obviously hit the wrong button. Maybe I drink too many beers. Nah….
The following day we drive 23 miles on a primitive road to Salmon Glacier. We pass by 20 some glacier formations. We sit on the edge of civilization and lunch from our cooler.
Back in Hyder we try to dine at the Seafood Express, a school bus converted into an outdoor eatery. The proprietor, we find out, is out prancing around town, as her husband is gone for several days on a fishing excursion. (I doubt he will ever read this!) We end up dining on fresh halibut sandwiches at the Glacier Inn instead, where Karen, the bartender, tells us that we’re crazy for camping. She has her own version of George’s grizzly death which she is only too happy to share.
The sun around here shines until at least eleven o’clock in the evening and the end of the world atmosphere is beyond description. No wonder Hollywood filmed such movies here as Insomnia, The Thing, and Leaving Normal.
Back at camp, we tend to “normal” things like laundry, and then walk down to the estuary. Along the way, a junkyard surprises us. It looks like a cross between a Mad Max movie and Into the Wild.
We leave the next morning, having seen no bears. I suppose that that is a good thing. And I must confess, we slept in the truck, safe and sound under the cap, not in the tent.