The town of Hyder, Alaska, which had its heyday in the early 20th century when it was an important mining town, borders British Columbia on one side and the vast expanse of Misty Fiords National Monument on all others. In other words, Hyder is literally the end of the road. You cannot get anywhere else in Alaska by road from there, so it really is its own little outpost. According to several residents, the town has a year-round population of about 90-100 people. It expands somewhat during the summer months when tourists come out to look at the Salmon Glacier and look for bears. Hyder may be one of the tiniest towns that we have stopped in, but it has more character than most of the cities we’ve visited so far.
After driving through the town (which takes about a minute), we pulled up to the RV park called Camp Run Amok. At first glance it looked pretty uninspiring—one of those places that is basically a parking lot where all of the RV’s line up, packed right next to each other. However, we found a more secluded and shady spot in the trees and decided to set up shop for the night.
Ever since I watched the entire Northern Exposure TV series I’ve been hoping to come across a town like the fictional Cicely, Alaska. I’ve never really wanted to live in a town that was so isolated, but I thought that it wouldn’t be so bad if it was charming and had colorful residents. Well, Hyder just might fit the bill in both of those categories. The town itself is fairly unremarkable, but there is something about it that seems to hint that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
We stopped in at the general store, a lovely log building in the “middle” of town. We had a chat with the proprietor, an older gentleman who had made his way from Santa Cruz and San Francisco in the 60’s to an unspecified island, to Hyder. He professed that his bi-yearly trips to Washington to stock up at Costco drove him crazy because of all of the people. Adam remarked that there was no border crossing when you come over from Canada into the town. “That’s the way we like it,” he barked. “Look around. You see any law around here?” I suddenly felt as if we had been transported to an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. “If there’s a problem, we take care of it.”
Indeed. We stopped in at a local bar and I wished more than anything that we had been there the night before when they had karaoke. I can’t imagine a better place to do karaoke. We inquired what it meant, as the sign outside urged us to do, to get “hyderized.” Apparently it’s a very potent shot that we decided not to partake in at the time.
The next morning we wanted to head out to the river where the salmon were spawning to hopefully catch a glimpse of some grizzlies having breakfast. But as I was walking back from the bathroom, excited to see a little bear action, I encountered a man who would proceed to creep me out for the rest of the day. He was likely in his 60’s, white hair, on the short side—nothing unusual. But as we passed each other and I said my obligatory good morning, he said, quite uncharacteristically for someone fitting such a description, “Get it girl, get it girl, you go.”
What. The. Hell. I sprinted back to the RV where Adam and I puzzled over what seemed to me the ramblings of a person who may have lost his mind that morning. Deciding that there was no way we would be able to figure out why this remarkable event occurred, I put it out of my mind and we drove off to the river where the grizzlies would hopefully be having a bountiful breakfast. As we pulled up to the river, a mama grizzly and her cub were standing in the middle of the road staring at us. I was glad that we hadn’t caught these two while we were on foot and I snapped a picture from the relative safety of the truck. We thought we may have missed breakfast, but soon another grizzly, this time a young male, sauntered down for some easy fishing. It only took a minute for him to grab hold of one of the struggling, exhausted fish, tear the skin off, and munch a good portion of it. He then threw what he didn’t want on the bank and went for the next one which he caught just as easily. Being that close to a grizzly who is ripping fish apart is an awesome experience. The sheer power of these animals is something that you really can’t understand until you see it in action in the wild.
I was so absorbed in watching the grizzly that I didn’t notice right away that Creepy McWeirdo had joined the crowd along the river. I avoided him as much as possible, but in order to get back to the truck we had to pass him. I walked by with my head turned, not acknowledging that we had met before. After we passed him Adam hissed in my ear, “I think he just smelled your hair.”
“Why would you tell me that?”
“Well, I’m not sure, it just looked like he did.”
Then on my way to the bathroom, there he was again. I walked by as briskly as possible, but he still had time to ask me in a slow drawl reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, “Do you always walk like that?”
I wasn’t even sure what the hell that question meant, but I wasn’t going to ask. “Yes,” I replied gruffly, and continued on. When I came out of the bathroom, I saw that he was getting into a car with Arkansas plates. So that explained it. It actually made me feel better to think that this guy wasn’t a dangerous stalker, rather, he was merely using what are probably incredibly sophisticated pick-up mechanisms in Arkansas.
The last time I saw him we were at the Salmon Glacier. We were able to avoid him that time since Adam, not being satisfied with seeing the glacier from the viewpoint, decided that we should scramble up to the peak just behind us to get a better view. And, bloodthirsty hordes of mosquitoes aside, it was pretty spectacular. Standing in a field of wildflowers we could see the enormous icefield stretched out in front of us, the bright blue light glinting through the cracks. Hulking mountains covered in ice stood all around us. Verdant valleys complete with winding rivers graced the landscape to the right and left. It was enough to make one forget about doddering lurkers from the Bible Belt.
As we left Hyder and crossed back into the Canadian town of Stewart, I felt a little pang. After only 24 hours I had developed quite an affection for this little anarchist enclave. I don’t think that I’ll be moving to Hyder anytime soon as I imagine that I couldn’t stand the long, dark, isolating winters for long. However, Hyder is one of those towns that just makes you feel good knowing that it’s there.