Sunday, 18 October 2015

Down the Cassiar Highway

The Cassiar Highway, sometimes called the Stewart-Cassiar Highway runs south from the Alaska Highway, just west of Watson Lake, to the Yellowhead Highway from the BC coast to Edmonton Alberta. The highway begins in the Yukon,

Our last look at the Yukon

but in 5km you enter British Columbia.

Entering BC

The road initially runs through the Yukon Plateau -flat , forested country-, and through areas of a 2010 forest fire,

Devastating, only underbrush has regrown, and a few small trees in the 5 years
since the fire

Burn Lake

started by lightning, that burned more than 30,000 hectares and closed the Cassiar for several days. The highway at the north end is quite narrow, without centre lines or shoulders. The Cassiar Mountains are soon seen in the distance.

No shoulders, no centre line, flat plateau, but Cassiar Mountains in the distance

We didn’t drive far, just a short 109km, but stopped for the first night at Boya Lake Provincial Park.

The Km and miles are measured from the junction with the Yellowhead Highway

Boya Lake

The sites were beautiful, many right on the lake. Ours backed onto the lake,

A really large site on the lake, wood ready to be chopped

and had our own little launching or swimming area.

Our own little cove

We again wished we had brought our kayaks. Since we were no longer in the Yukon, there was no free firewood. However, in BC, you can take firewood from one park to another. So we bought a large bin of firewood for $10. John had a grand time splitting it so we could have our campfire. The campground was run by a Park Operator who had been there for 10+ years. She considered this HER campground, and was really proud of it. Sites were raked, washrooms (i.e. pit toilets) were spotless, and NO bears were allowed. She had a “bear dog” from that chased any who came near. We walked around the lake to the day area.

Standing on the dock...

The children's play area, but I took a turn on this unique swing 

It was beautifully calm on the water, and the sun was setting as we sat at our fire.

Across the lake from the campsite

The next day, we continued down through the Cassiar Mountains.

The road we travelled

Travelling through a valley between more beautiful mountains...

We passed the site of an active placer mining operation 90m [295ft] below the road.

Tailings from the mining

The mine in action. The curved pilings are from the dredger.

The gold rush town of Centreville, where a miner found the biggest all gold [no quartz] nugget found in a BC, weighing 72 oz. was located here.

Down the road is Jade City,

View as you drive South

population 50 and Cassiar Mountain’s Jade Store.

These are chunks of jade from the mine

and the fascinating store...

It is not really a city, but a community made up of one jade business that specializes in jade products, and free jade-cutting demonstrations. It has the largest selection of Canadian jade. The family has mined and designed jade since 1972. [It is designed here then sent to China mainly to be cut and finished, before being sent back here to be sold!] About a million pounds of jade are mined per year from the Cassiar Mountains, and about half is exported.

This jade chair sits in front of the store- beautiful, but not very comfortable...

Travelling south we had an excellent view of Needlepoint Mountain,

Needlepoint Mountain

The last of the Cassiar Mountains
and south to Dease Lake,

Dease Lake

the site of an HBC post in 1838, and a boat-building centre during the gold rush. We had run out of propane in one tank, so needed to refill it. We were told that there was propane available at Dease Lake. We drove around and finally found the right place, a house with a large yard and several outbuildings behind it, several kilometres from the highway out by the airport. John got out, looked around and finally knocked on the door of the house, but no one answered. We knew we had one tank of propane left, but with no electrical hookups in any of the local or Provincial Parks, we were going to have to be careful. We decided to stay at the Lions’ Club Tanzilla River Campground, in Dease Lake.

Tanzilla River

This is a modest campground with sites cut into trees with some along the river. We almost took a river site until we realized the door would open into a muddy puddle, so we chose a site in the trees.

Beautiful sites cut into the trees

There was lots of beautiful wood cut, ready for fires, at a cost of $3, so another campfire. When we were driving out we noticed lots of mushrooms growing in the campgrounds.

We didn't know whether they were edible, so we left them!

We had seen them beside the road, but not in the numbers we saw here. 

On the highway, we crossed Gnat Pass at 4072 ft [1241m]

Gnat Pass

and came to a marshy area at Gnat Lake, on a wide plain. We got out to take pictures, but lucky for us, didn’t see any gnats.

Gnat Lake

Gnat Marsh

Crossing the Stikine River,

Stikine River Bridge

Stikine River

we drove down through the mountains,

A Cirque with traces of snow

with views of the Cassiar and Skeena Mountains. As we drove further south we could see the snow-capped mountains ahead.

Snow-capped mountains ahead

They were stunning. Some of the closer mountains just had traces of snow left. It was a beautiful drive, past lakes and mountains of all sizes.

We stopped for the night at Kinaskan Provincial Park on Lake Kinaskan.

Lake Kinaskin

This is another campground run by a Park Operator (all B.C. provincial parks are run by independent park operators), who takes personal pride in her park. Sites are raked, and spotless. Again we backed right onto the lake.

Our view

Our home was set up, with split wood ready for the fire

The site was huge.

The people next to us were from Fort St John and had the most interesting inflatable double kayak that we have seen.

It collapses into a small package, easy to carry. They caught a lake trout earlier, and shared it with us.

It was delicious! They had also been given a salmon from another camper the day before, which they also shared with us. We had another beautiful campfire with interesting friends.

I let John burn one of my big pine cones


The next day we were off again! The day dawned clear and sunny,

a beautiful day

low clouds, still patches of snow on higher mountains

but with low clouds, We now drove on roads with a clear centre line and shoulders!

much wider road
We drove through a wide valley,
A wide valley over treetops to mountains
looking over tree tops to rocky mountains. We seemed to constantly going up,

down or around mountains.

It was a really pretty drive. Often the mountains were right in front of us,

mountains in front of us
or sweeping to the road

 and sometimes we drove along beside a river.

beside laughing rivers
Down to the Iskut River

A glacier

Avalanche area

A sense of size; the same avalanche area in summer

We turned off at Meziadin Junction and stopped at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. We planned to use this as a base for a few days to see the attractions in the area. It was really busy, with none of the sites on the river available for more than a day, so we chose a private site on the second level.

A pretty and private site
We later learned that the area behind our site was where the local grizzly had been sleeping.

The crushed bushes should have been a clue, but I thought it was a shortcut to the water!

However, he was nowhere to be seen while we were there.

We unhitched and decided to explore. First we decided to find the Meziadin Fish Ladder.


It wasn’t well marked, but we found it, after driving off the highway, down a narrow road. We walked down the path and found the top of the fishway above the falls. Taking another dirt road down and around a hill, we discovered the camp, and the rest of the ladder.

Man-made falls

We watched fish trying to jump the falls. You watch, and want to point them to the easy way, using the fish ladder!

Jumping the falls... none made the jump in the time we watched

Although the weather was deteriorating, we decided to drive part way on the Stewart Highway to see what it was like. It is incredible.

Clouds sat on the mountain tops

There are mountains on both sides, right down to the road. They are so high, we saw glaciers nestled near the tops. 

Glaciers [seen the second day more clearly when it was sunny]
To the north, the mountains were rugged and rocky. To the south they were higher with waterfalls tumbling down from high glaciers.

Beautiful waterfalls 

It was an incredible sight. We came around a turn and a stunning sight greeted us- Bear Glacier. The Glacier swept down the mountain from the ice fields right into the river at its foot.

Our first glimpse of Bear Glacier through the fog

The next day and a little further along the road, a clearer view

We parked at a pull out and stared in awe. We knew we were into a special part of the area. Since it was becoming dusk we did not go any farther, but turned around to have a campfire after dinner. The next day was clear and sunny, so we again drove down the Stewart highway. It is a spectacular drive.

Good road, good day, beautiful drive on Stewart Highway

A clearer view of one of the glaciers high in the mountains
Just past Bear Glacier, [we could actually see it this time], you enter the steep-walled Bear River Canyon, snaking between two mountains,

Entering Bear Canyon
following the path of the rushing river.

View of the river as we exited the canyon
As you exit the canyon, you come up to Avalanche gates.

and the second set of Avalanche gates
This is not a road I'd want to be travelling in winter. 

Stewart is a small town of 699 on the border with Alaska. The Visitors Info Centre is right at the beginning of an estuary boardwalk at the head of the Portland Canal, a narrow saltwater fiord,

Portland Canal

forming the Alaska-BC border. Stewart has a deep water harbour and is Canada's most northern ice free port.

Gold and silver mining dominated the early economy. Rich silver veins were found in the Upper Salmon River Basin in 1917-18. There are the remains of the pilings of the building of original town on the tidal flats.

All that is left of parts of the original town

From there, we drove into Hyder, U.S.A.

Entering Hyder in U.S.

There is no U.S. Customs, but there is a Canadian Customs when you return. Hyder is a tiny forgotten town with a population of 100. There is one store and scattered houses. We had been told, the place to have the best fish and chips ever, was "the bus", so we found it on a little back road.

The recommendation was right- excellent lunch!
The "Rules of The Bus"

We drove along the Salmon Glacier Road past Fish Creek, through the U.S.

Along the Stewart river- note the road!

and back into Canada

Who knew? back into BC!

on our way to the Salmon Glacier. The road started out paved, but very soon became a winding, narrow, gravel and dirt road. It climbs and winds around the mountain, past mining shacks.

A mining shack

Interesting road! narrow, dirt, winding...
Looking back and down at the road we drove and a mining operation

The views of the Salmon Glacier are spectacular from the summit viewpoint.
The story

John shooting Salmon Glacier

The Toe of the Glacier story...

The Toe of Salmon Glacier
A "kettle" at the Toe, coloured green by the minerals

The week before this was a huge lake, to the right of the glacier

You could carry on to the active Granduc Mine

View towards the mine- look at the road here!

or climb down to the toe of the glacier, but we chose to view it from the summit as it swept down from the Icefield.

Salmon Glacier
The road to the mine gets even worse, more narrow and rocky. You are looking down on the glacier rather than across or up as with most of the glaciers we saw. From here there is also an incredible view back down the valley.
View back the way we had come, back down the valley

On the way back, we stopped at Fish Creek at the salmon viewing platform.
The viewing platform along Fish Creek

Fish Creek
This is where everyone comes to see the bears, as the salmon are plentiful in this narrow section of the creek.

Lots of salmon

The ecosystem of the creek
One motel in the area, guarantees seeing bears from its cabins. But of course, because we were there there were no bears. They had not seen any for a couple of days, which was unusual. We watched the salmon for a while, then left, stopped at the one store/Gift shop in Hyder,

Interesting gifts and great fudge

Main street of Hyder

then walked around Stewart, 

Empress Hotel built in 1908 as a base for the
Canadian Northeastern Railroad
and found a little restaurant on the main street, 

Main Street of Stewart, BC

to have pizza before heading back to Meziadin. 

This was a lucky stop for us, as on the way back we saw 8 black bears enjoying the salad along beside the road.

At one point, all I had to do was put my arm out the window and I could have patted a mother and her cub (but I didn't). Just as we got back to the turn-off to the campground, we saw a wolf and a small black bear about 25 ft apart across the road. Unfortunately, they moved before we could get a good picture!

The next morning we were up before 6, to see if we could see the bear that we were told had been wandering around the camp each morning. But, guess what, no sign of it that morning. However, I did get pictures of the calm morning lake.

Lake Meziadin

View from the dock at the Park looking across the bay  

Then it was time to leave and head south. 

1 comment:

  1. I follow your blog with great interest in preparation of our trip. Tank you.