Hyder, Alaska: Visiting An American Enclave
Traveling the Alaska Highway through British Columbia in the summer affords one the opportunity to meet a stupendously varied array of American tourists. A well-known pilgrimage for people from the lower 48, the highway attracts sightseers from most parts of the continent and a wayward glance at the license plates of RV's lined up in any gas station assures a collection from Illinois to Idaho. But, at a point on the highway not too far north of Kitwanga, where signs at an intersection point travellers north toward Whitehorse, most of these travellers miss out on a brilliant sojourn to the towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska. And all they needed to do was turn left.
To some extent, it's Hyder's isolation that gives the town its character but also the proliferation of a certain large, omnivorous mammal species in the area attracts those often strange nomadic wildlife photographer types. Grizzly bears (Ursus Arctos) can be viewed with relative ease (given a degree of patience) from the viewing platform at Fish Creek – a wildlife observation centre that is managed by the USDA and Tongass Naional Forest. During my first few hours staking out at the platform, a noticeably gnarly and intimidating bear nicknamed “Jaws” visited the creek and the reason for his moniker becomes immediately evident: the lower part of his jaw hangs loosely from his snout after the bone was removed by an equally large specimen during an altercation.
Jaws' rugged exterior and obvious experience with the harsh landscape around him seem almost reminiscent of the qualities of Hyder itself. Formed ostensibly as a community of draft dodgers, a legacy of reticence and waywardness are still very much present in the community with most residences maintaining a kind of "I think we took a wrong turn" chic complete with dilapidated exteriors and rusty cars. Nonetheless, Hyderites are very proud of their corner of the world and even go so far as to initiate first-timers with a process known as “Hyderizing” - an obligatory glass of locally made moonshine that may or may not have been responsible for turning several people permanently blind.
For the less foolhardy and more nature-bound of travellers to this area, the surrounding fjords and mountains offer plenty in the way of organic aesthetics. Further past Fish Creek, up a winding dirt road you will eventually find yourself back in British Columbia and overlooking Salmon Glacier – an incredible vantage point of one of the largest glaciers on the west coast. And for hikers, back on the Stewart side of Hyder there is the American Creek trail and Ore Mountain trail. The latter of which will switchback you steeply to an alpine lake while the trail is adorned with berry bushes most of the way.
If you do find yourself on the Alaska Highway near Meziadin Junction, BC, before pointing your nose north toward the last frontier, point it temporarily south-west to Stewart and Hyder. Even if an equal mix of grizzlies, glaciers and moonshine doesn't float your boat, you might just find semblance of a more authentic northern experience in a town that seems to have been swept under the rug. Just bring plenty of bear spray.
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About The Author
Sam Edmonds is an award-winning documentary/conservation photographer and writer born in Newcastle, Australia. He graduated with a degree in photojournalism from the Queensland College of Art before beginning his career working with NGOs in South-East Asia, Antarctica and Northern Europe. Sam now lives and works in Northern British Columbia attempting to maintain a safe distance between his camera lens and grizzly bears. To see more of Sam’s work you can visit his website and Instagram.