Leaving Dawson City it was time to start heading south towards Vancouver Island. Breaking the journey into reasonable distances meant staying at places well off the beaten track. Firstly, Mayo is situated on the Stewart River and has a motel but no restaurant. We had come prepared with another delightful microwave meal but this time, no plates and limited cutlery, so we ate in sittings. The town grew through silver mining and the view over the river from the viewpoint in town is stunning. On our way out the next day we encountered the Vancouver Mini Club, participating in the Alcan 5000.
The weather over the mountains surrounding Fox Lake was ominous and dramatic.
Our next stop was at Spirit Lake Motel just north of Carcross. Like many establishments across Canada this was run by a Chinese family. Spirit Lake exists on the map but cannot be accessed from the motel as someone bought the land between the lakeshore and motel, blocking access. Looking out from our room we could see the mountains between us and Alaska.
Carcross is famous for it’s desert, although it’s not really a desert but an area of sand dunes created by a geographical anomaly. Carcross is also one station on the railway which links Whitehorse to Skagway in Alaska. This follows one of the prospectors routes over the mountains into British Columbia and was one of the trips we wanted to do. Access from the Canadian side is closed until 2023 but we may be able to travel on the train when we visit Skagway later this month.
Continuing through Tagish we rejoined the Alaska Highway, bracing ourselves for our second, and last ever stay in Watson Lake. Thinking we were clever we’d secured a reservation at the “A Nicer Motel”. It wasn’t, it really wasn’t.
We wouldn’t recommend ever staying in Watson Lake. Not only are the hotels dire, there are no places to eat except a run down chinese. Luckily there was a microwave in our room and it gave us a delicious (surprisingly) meal, or were we just very hungry?
Just north of Watson Lake the famous Stewart-Cassiar Highway heads south towards Prince George and Prince Rupert. The road is narrower and slower than the Alaska Highway but cuts through fantastic scenery, including areas of forest fires and regeneration and pristine lakes.
At Jade City, named after the jade mines in the area, is one of 3 recommended supplementary routes worth exploring. This goes to Cassiar, a ghost town which was dominated by asbestos quarrying. The town is inaccessible to visitors but the guidebook claims it is still worth the diversion. However, we couldn’t find the turn-off and headed straight into Jade City in search of a hot drink. The township is effectively run by the mining family who have a few cabins to let and a jade shop containing every variation on the jade theme you could ever imagine. They even have their own reality tv show, albeit on DVD but available, apparently, on the Discovery Channel and a new series might be available next year. There was no coffee so we bought nothing and headed on..
The nicest stop-off was located next to the river and we spent some time looking for bears and fish
An interestingly named stop-off although the rabies might be the least of our problems..
And a final stop-off before reaching our overnight destination, Dease Lake.
It’s only claim to fame is being the site of the 2nd side-trip off the main highway, a 112 km dirt road to Telegraph Creek, a community named after a failed attempt to build a telegraph line across to Alaska. Telegraph Creek also had a mini goldrush, was on one of the main routes taken by prospectors heading for the Klondike and, in the Stikine Valley, one of the most difficult and dangerous river sections in Canada.
The weather had turned very wet and the road to Telegraph Creek was a toxic mix of sticky mud and potholes, combined with steep inclines and treacherous corners. We turned round at the bridge over the Tuya River. On our return, however, we encountered some fantastic wildlife, starting with a most unexpected bird, a Ruffed Grouse.
But quickly outshone by this most incredible Lynx
Food was an issue at Dease Lake as there was no restaurant. Instead we dined out the first night on take-away chili from a nearby takeaway and on the second night splashed out on a frozen dinner sold by the motel manager, an English ex-nurse. The next day we set-off in heavy rain and misty conditions for the long haul to Stewart, the 3rd recommended diversion off the highway. Turning off at Meziadin Junction the road passes through the most incredible mountain scenery, followed by a viewpoint for the Bear Glacier.
Approaching Stewart alongside the Bear River, the sun came out at last, creating a stunning effect.
Stewart is an interesting place, located on the estuary of the Bear River, adjacent to the village of Hyder, located in Alaska. It’s claim to fame is that it has the most snowfall per year in BC maybe Canada and averages 15-20 foot per year. The history of the town is very well documented in the local museum. Although tourism contributes to the economy, it is mining (gold, copper) and lumber which have created the community and the associated booms and busts over the past century or so. There is a boardwalk out into the saltmarsh of the estuary from where the incredible mountains can be better viewed
Many of the buildings have been looked after, preserving their historical appearance
Our hotel, the Ripley Creek Inn, is housed in a number of old buildings. These are bought up by the inn as they become available and used to create quirky but very nice rooms
The main reason for visiting Stewart was to cross the US border into Hyder and visit Fish Creek bear viewing platform, the only such viewing area accessible by road. Crossing into Alaska was problem-free as there is no border post. The only road into Alaska from Stewart crosses back into Canada further north so Hyder is effectively sealed off from the rest of the US. Returning, however, we needed to be prepared with passports and updated “ArriveCan” apps containing information on our vaccination status.
Reviews of the viewing platform had indicated that bear sightings were few and far between so we were prepared for a long wait. However, this was to be one of those days where everything went right, the sun came out and the young male grizzly performed to perfection.
Continuing upriver, on yet another potholed and tortuous gravel road, we finally reached Salmon Glacier, a huge area of ice dominating the local scenery.
We popped into Fish Creek on the way back to Stewart and were rewarded with another grizzly, slightly older, 3-4 yrs old and we were able to notice the different behaviours. The morning bear had been jumping and running and seemed to be playing more with the salmon whereas the afternoon bear was slower and got frustrated when he missed a salmon and sat down in the water. The literature said best viewing times were 6-10 am and 6-10 pm. We saw them at 11 am and 3 pm, sometimes you have to ignore the tourist advice and you shall be rewarded!
Seeing 100’s of pink salmon and chinook salmon in the creek was amazing but also a little sad on 2 counts. Firstly, they were effectively waiting to get eaten by a grizzly and, secondly, they were already decomposing from the inside, as they die after spawning, having just swam for 1,000 miles or more to get back to the river/ creek they had been born in.
One morning we visited the local bakery which has been decorated by the thousands of tourists who’ve dropped in over the years. Every bare space has a message. And we left ours
The end of our stay in Stewart effectively ended our adventure on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
Next stop, the pacific coast at Prince Rupert.