Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska: Twin Towns at a Highway's End
✍️ • 🕑 • Series: Towards the Beautiful Islands • Tags: dead ends • glaciers • bears • lakes • museums • State/Provincial Parks • National Historic Parks • & 5 More Tags • Places: Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic Site • Bear Glacier Provincial Park • Stewart, B.C. • Hyder, A.K. • Mezadin Lake Provincial Park
I awoke earlier than I planned, to a pitter patter of raindrops hitting the outside of my tent.
Sleepless and under-caffienated, I loaded local weather radar on my phone. The rain wouldn't stop for hours. The nearest town was surrounded by a large, green blob.
After much deliberation, I pulled myself out of my orange sleeping bag, and made myself coffee in the steady, but not too heavy, rain. I packed up my tent and left the campground.
The Babine Mountains were even more shrouded in clouds and rain than they were the day before. It was a tad dreary. It would have been nice to see them more clearly. But, there were plenty of other mountains for me to see that day.
The day's journey would take me all the way to Alaska and back.
(...and by Alaska, I mean one of the southernmost, most easily accessed parts of the U.S. state. The section that is popular with tourists who want to say they drove to Alaska, without having to actually drive to Anchorage or something.)
Gitwangak Battle Hill
My first stop of the day was Gitwangak Battle Hill, a National Historic Site. It's an impressive mound, that once housed a heavily fortified Gitwangak village. I was reminded a little of the ʻĪao Needle on Maui, the difference being that there was a village here rather than a burial ground, and also that this area is substantially lower in elevation.
But, man is it a cool place.
The story goes something like this:
In the 1700s, a warrior chief named 'Nekt fortified Battle Hill and the nearby village, and used them as a base for raids against costal peoples.
Nekt wore armor made from grizzly hide and slate, carried a magical club, and built elaborate traps, like spikey rolling logs to forestall invaders.
One day, he was finally killed when an arrow hit him in the back of his leg, and he was beheaded by a Nisga'a warrior.
The modern Gitanyow settlement up the road is home to many very impressive totem poles. The people moved to this village from Battle Hill in 1835 and carved their house poles, continuing to carve and erect them despite anti-potlach laws. These are in fact, the oldest totem poles in their original village in British Columbia.
A sign near the enterance said that it was currently accepting visitors due to COVID, but I suspect it was out of date. Another billboard gave me an excuse to stop: a gas station, which turned out to be closed. I meant to stop for a top off, but the gas station was closed.
For more information, checkout the BC Provincial Parks page.
Bear Glacier Provincial Park
Turn onto Highway 37A, and it really feels like you're hitting big boy mountains. This section of the Costal Mountain range is impressive!
Highway 37A runs past the Bear Glacier, to the town of Stewart. From there, across the border into the town of Hyder, Alaska, the head of the Portland canal a 130-mile long fjord that forms part of the Alaska panhandle. At Hyder, the highway terminates, but the last road out of town crosses back into British Columbia, serving the Granduc copper mine, and ending at the Salmon Glacier, another tourist stop.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves -- I just got on 37A, so my first big stop was the Bear Glacier Provincial Park. There's absolutely no signage. But it's hard to miss a flipping glacier when you drive past, particularly one flanked by a lake.
An older couple were gazing upon the glacier when I got there. Our conversation went something like this:
"Impressive, isn't it?"
"It is, but I heard it used to be a lot larger"
"Oh yeah it definitely did."
"Though I guess melting glaciers are very in this season"
Shortly after leaving the glacier, I drove past a black bear only a few feet away from the road, looking out still and clearly I kicked myself for not seeing the bear earlier.
But what was I going to do? The bear was so close to the road that it was an unsafe distance, and if I passed by again with a camera, it would be disrespectful.
From there, it was onwards, until I hit Stewart B.C.
I stopped at the Visitor Center there,
I crossed into the United States through a border crossing that was completely unmanned. There were controls to re-enter Canada, but there was absolutely no CBP presence on the American side.
For me, the highlights of Hyder were the small, but beautiful marina, and a souvenir shop. I had hoped the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site would be good for birds if not bears, but saw neither.
Various blogs that good fish & chips were available at a place called The Bus, outside of a fish shop. I hadn't realized that the clock turned back an hour when I crossed the border, so I visited the marina and took some pictures while I was killing time.
(Note: Wikipedia says that Hyder doesn't bother using Alaska time, the establishment I planned to visit was closed anyway, and I never once asked anyone what time it was, so who knows what my clocks were supposed to say, anyway. All I know is my almighty cellphone updated for me.)
Souviner shop lady had the most beautiful Appalachian Dulcimer I've ever heard. The wood was collected from deadfall by her late husband, who used to source wood for Martin. The luthier who built it made the unusual decision to extend the soundboard up through the neck, leading to a bigger body and a fuller sound. It sang!
We also talked a bit about pandemic era restrictions, which hit Hyder hard. The children normally went to school in Stewart, but since the border was closed they were taught reading and arithmetic by various parents. The shop proprietor taught music. The girls built their own dulcimers and learned to play them.
Still, things weren't as bad as they could have been. They were allowed to send one member of the household across the border one day per week to run errands. And, if the border was closed, neighbors from Stewart would have offered to meet them there and hand off supplies.
"It's strange that I could go into town to buy groceries, but not to receive communion," she said.
Crossing Back Into Canada
It's strange too that this border is so porous on the American side, yet so stringent on the Canadian.
Speaking of which, I pulled up to the border checkpoint, handed over my passport, and answered the two border patrol agents' questions. I had crossed over for less than two hours and purchased one postcard and one baseball cap .
They decided to flag me for "secondary screening" and search the contents of my vehicle to verify that my declarations were correct. (They are, of course, well within their rights to do so.)
I believe that the declaration they were verifying was that I possessed no firearms, alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis.
It took them a while to work their way through my piles of disorganized junk, from the extra skinny spare tire, to my still-wet tent from the rainy morning.
Eventually, they were satisfied, and I was free to re-enter Canada, my belongings somewhat reorganized.
Back in Stewart, I checked out the wetlands near the visitor's center.
I stopped by the Stewart Museum, which covers a few local topics, like mining and avalanches.
I was hoping for an ice cream, but the ice cream shop wasn't open yet. 🙁
Rather zonked and hungry, I made my way to the Mezadin lake campground.
Mezadin Lake Campground
I cooked myself a hearty meal, and strolled around the lake. The sites here were smaller and tighter together, yet also still beautiful and very close to the lakeshore.
When I retired in the evening, I pulled out a hard copy of a lengthy research paper. I had promised to present it in reading group, and it was nice to sit down on a comfy mattress surrounded by bugproof netting, and go through a few sections, taking notes.
(Being unambitious and reasonable, I merely picked a 77-page paper where the authors claimed they scaled processes to 1,000+ languages. Here's the full paper or cliff notes version.)
Eventually, my attention and connection to conscious thought waned, and I sunk into a deep sleep.
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