Thursday, September 13, 2007

West To Alaska?

This post is created in Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada. It is our last night in Canada, eh, before re-entering the lower 48 tomorrow sometime if all goes according to plan. It's 4 PM here, and instead of trying to stay warm, we are trying to stay cool. Cache Creek is a dessert, more or less. Everything here that isn't irrigated is brown, except for the evergreens which are green of course, but everything around them and under them is brown. It is hot. It is dry. And that is a major change from the almost rain forest conditions of BC just a bit further north of here. The transition has been wonderful to see...and very unexpected.

Only a couple posts ago I was lamenting the fact of having to depart Alaska. It's exciting to move on to new things from time to time, but leaving Alaska made us feel like we were being pulled away kicking and screaming. At the time of that post, I mentioned that I was feeling like I was ready to go back again. And actually, that was the plan all along!!! We detoured off the Cassiar Highway 37 miles to Stewart, BC, CA. From there it was only a couple miles over the border crossing to the coastal village of Hyder, Alaska, known far and wide as one of the premier spots to watch bears catch and eat salmon in the fall of the year. On the way into Hyder we passed and were again awestruck by yet another glacier, appropriately enough, Bear Glacier. This glacier actually calves into a fresh water lake, both unusual and very cool!

Made camp just on the Canadian side of the border and in the morning tripped into Alaska one more time. It felt good and we had high hopes of seeing the bears- thinking maybe this once we had the schedule nailed! Not too early; not too late- as we had only one full day here. No problem. Plenty of salmon in Fish Creek and Salmon River doing their thing. Plenty of bears- Grizzles, also doing their thing. It was a marvelous site for sore eyes and for hours we just observed from the elevated platform provided for observers by the park service. But when you arrive, you first have to make it from your car to the observation post. A handful of rangers are on hand to help do that safely. That was a good thing, as one old Griz came in our direction almost immediately. "Don't let her get too close," he said. "You don't need to worry about that," answered Marilyn right back.
The setting was pristine. A blue lagoon, still, and almost primeval looking. A crystal clear stream where you could see the salmon, the spawning process, the Dolly Varden and the Gulls eating the eggs that drifted down stream. The bears caught what they wanted when they wanted it, and promptly and efficiently dispatched it into their system. Nearby a milky colored glacial stream ran cold and cloudy down from the mountain above. Eagles watched for opportunity. Ravens offered their commentary. But the humans were mostly silent, content to observe this rare glimpse into a natural scene that few will ever get to see. It was, it seemed to me, a sign of reverence for the natural world which, without distraction, went about its business in natural fashion without regards for the only slightly noticeable intruders.

As always, the best way to see what's going on in the pics is to click on them to enlarge. Here, a cub swims in my direction across the lagoon while mama and siblings munch salmon in the distance.

I took lots and lots of pictures of bears. Bears running. Bears jousting. Bears pouncing and catching salmon. Bears eating salmon. I would dearly love to tell you that I took lots and lots of really GOOD pictures, but unfortunately in my excitement I left the auto focus switch in the wrong position so most of the photos are proof of what we got to see, but almost all in soft focus. The digital management program could not correct the focus well enough to use most of the pictures on the blog, much to my disappointment. But that just means I'll have to come back here and try again some time. No problem with that!

That little guy above keeps coming right for me...
Meanwhile behind me in the stream, there is the constant splashing of the salmon and the salmon being chased and caught by the grizzles. (That big hump between the fore legs is the key to telling grizzles from blacks when they happen to be colored this closely- as they are when their diets are similar.)
Finally, that little guy makes it to shore for a visit??? (Hold That Thought)

From the bear viewing station, we proceeded UP to the summit of the Salmon Glacier. The road was something else. This picture may give you some idea, but when it was really bad, narrow, dangerous, and downright scary, there was no stopping for a documentary shot or two- trust me on this one.
The Salmon River runs a mile or more below us as we continue the climb. Not since the first time I saw Sound of Music did I have the feeling of flying over the mountain this high and this close.
We will never be able to describe the size and scale of this landscape. It simply must be seen to be believed and it simply must be experienced to be appreciated. I will tell you that, without any hesitation, I can say this is the scariest drive I have ever taken in my life. I'm sure I mentioined that a number of times on the way up. I know I mentioned it because each time I did, Marilyn told me it was OK to turn around and head back down- after all we had seen the mountain and we had seen the glacier in all its glory. "No, we'll keep going," I replied each time the topic came up. Now I did not say that because I was calm and collected. I was neither. Mountain climbing does not fit into my definition of a safe sport whether one is hiking and climbing or driving a two wheel drive vehicle up a four wheel drive road/trail/path. If I'm being truthful, I did not turn around for three reasons: One- I really did want to get to the summit. Two- the road/trail/path was too narrow to turn around safely. And three- I might easily have soiled my shorts had I attempted to turn around.

This little ground critter evidently thought I was driving safely enough that he could check us out as long as he stayed really near the edge. He was correct.

At the summit, the world seemed to be revealed before us. It was a most moving experience. The climb is scary, treacherous, but attaining the summit took care of all that and made the day just about perfect....
On the way back down and toward the bear observation station, Marilyn was moved to leave a snow angel on the edge of the glacier- so she did!

And remember that cute little grizzly cub that was swimming in my direction for a visit. Well, it wasn't exactly for a visit. Seems it was for something else- which answers the age old question; "Does a Bear ____ in the Woods?"

Apparently he does...and also by the side of the stream....

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