Friday, September 23, 2016

Experiencing the Yellowhead ~ Prince George to Prince Rupert

It's been a few weeks since we were it is high time I documented the rest of our journey in northern BC.  The east-west corridor of the region is Highway 16...also known as the Yellowhead Highway.

You can join me on this route today...passing through friendly communities and incredible scenery.  We connect up with the Yellowhead Highway at Prince George (B.C.'s northern capital) and travel westward.

After about an hour's drive we arrive in the forestry and farming community of Vanderhoof...the geographical centre of our province.

It's BC's oldest European-settled farming community.

From Vanderhoof we decided to take a side-trip to Fort St. James...and immerse ourselves in a little British Columbia history.  We had no idea how beautiful it would be there!

 From the banks of the Stuart River... the shores of Stewart Lake

...we could see why Simon Fraser chose this site for a trading post when he first arrived here.

We visited the completed restored Hudson's Bay Company a National Historic Site.

We had a nice chat with the 'hostess' in one of the buildings.  She encouraged us to sit in the 'recliner' that sat in one corner...once used by the officials at this trading post.  We had a good laugh at the story she shared with us.  On a recent morning...while the sun streamed in through the windows and the tourists were no where to be seen...she had settled into the recliner and fallen asleep.  Meanwhile a party of tourists arrived and thought she was part of the decor.  A prop.  She awoke with a start as one of them poked her in the stomach.  She screamed as she ran from the building...and has been banned from sitting in that reclining chair ever since.

We learned a lot from her.  She told us how the men who came to work and stay at this remote post were offered their choice of young brides from among the local tribes.  These marriage contracts were only good for five years.  At that time the employees of Hudson's Bay Company could return to their homeland...and the local bride went back to live with her family.  Sad.

We camped at a municipal campsite on the shores of Stewart Lake...

...and watched the sunset in the evening.  Far from the crowds!  

We made our back to the Yellowhead Highway and carried on our westward journey...through what is known as 'the lakes district'.

We passed through Fort Fraser...established by Simon Fraser in 1806. It was in Fort Fraser that the last spike on the Grand Trunk Railway was driven.

We visited Beaumont Provincial Park and had a picnic lunch at Fraser Lake.

Smithers lies about halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert and has a population of 5500.

We made a little detour off the highway at Smithers and visited Twin Falls...some fifteen minutes drive from downtown.

The weather had changed and we were now sight-seeing in the rain.  We couldn't see far...

...but  the foliage along the path painted a pretty picture!

The viewing platform for the Twin Falls was a short walk from the parking area. The glacier which lay just above was shrouded in mist.

About twenty miles further along the Yellowhead highway is Moricetown...a Wet'sueten First Nation village of 800.  Late summer is the perfect time to stop and watch the locals fishing in the crashing whitewater of the Bulkly River at Moricetown Canyon.

They fish with a dip net as the salmon make their way through the gorge...

...just as they have always done.

And it didn't take many dips to catch two large salmon in this net!

There were a lot of helpers (and their dogs) waiting for the snagged salmon.

From Moricetown it is another 200 miles to Prince Rupert (passing through Terrace en route)....

...with amazing scenery long this stretch of highway.

We kept pace with the trains running alongside the highway...

...and on occasion we  yielded to them!

And then...Prince Rupert.  It seems like the end (or beginning) of the Yellowhead Highway.  But in reality, the highway actually starts on Graham Island of the Haida Gwaii, with Mile 0 being at Massett.

Prince Rupert is a city of some 13,000 people...nestled on a small, mountainous island at the mouth of the Skeena River.  It is a center for commerce and transportation...and boasts a very busy cargo port.  Everything at the port seems to be about fishing or logging.  Unless here happens to be a large cruiseship in port...on its way to Alaska.

We had a sunny day to spend in Prince Rupert before setting sail for Haida we did what the cruise ship tourists do.  We strolled about the harbour and the shopping district of Cow Bay.  We visited the Museum of Northern BC. 

And in the afternoon  we hiked out to Butze Rapids...a short thirty minute hike to the viewing platform. The rapids are caused by the ebb and flow of the tides and can apparently be quite spectacular.  Things were fairly calm when we were there...since we hadn't checked the tide schedule at all.  But the trail itself was great for a cool walk on a hot day...through old growth forests.

It was a lovely day and ended with dinner at the Crest Hotel with my cousin Sandy and her husband (who have lived in Prince Rupert for thirty years) and a friend from Switzerland.  The food and was was the fellowship around the table. 

I'll end with a photo of the sun setting over the harbour of Prince Rupert that day.

And that was a little of what we experienced on our travels along the Yellowhead Highway in northwest British Columbia this summer.  It's a great road-trip.  Especially when the sun is shining!

Friday, September 9, 2016

haida gwaii ~ islands of the people

If Haida Gwaii means nothing to you...maybe Queen Charlotte Islands rings a bell. 

The name of this group of some 150 islands off the north coast of British Columbia was officially changed in 2010...and literally means 'islands of the people'.

Those 'people' would be the Haida...who claim these islands as their ancestral home.  Today they make up almost half of the population of 4500 who call these islands home.

We decided to go and see for ourselves why Haida Gwaii was chosen last year as one of National Geographic's Top 20 places to see in the world.

On a beautiful and hot sunny day we set sail from the port of Prince Rupert.  Did you know that Prince Rupert has North America's deepest ice-free natural harbour?

It was rather like a summer cruise.  We could have stayed out on the deck for the entire six or seven hour crossing of the Hecate Straight.

We had been warned that this would be a 'trip to remember'.  

It was...but in a pleasant way!

Before we knew it, we were passing by islands of the Haida Gwaii archipelago...

...with the occasional cabin or dock along the shore.

Our destination was the dock at Skidegate.  We had arrived on Graham Island...where we would be spending the next four days.  

Restaurants are few and far between over there...and we knew we should have a bite to eat before checking into our 'bed and breakfast' accommodation.   The Crows Nest Cafe was the only eating place in the area...and it didn't look all that promising.  But it was perfect!  Great coffee, fresh baked goods and delicious sandwiches; we went back several times.

We stayed at the Haida House near the village of  Tlell.

It's a beautiful lodge that faces the Tlell River.

...a river with a large Coho salmon run.

It also backs onto the rugged ocean shores of the Hecate Strait. We checked in to our room...and then walked along the shore.

We were all alone out there.  Just the wind and the waves and the blowing sand.

The Haida House is right next to Naikoon Provincial Park...and a hike that leads to the Pesuta Shipwreck.

It was somewhat drizzly when we set out one morning on our four hour hike....along a lush forest trail.

The trail led upward and along a windswept ridge before dropping back down to he beach...and the shipwreck we had heard so much about.  The Pesuta was a 264 foot log barge that washed ashore in 1928 during a wicked storm. For almost a century hikers have been visiting what remains of the ship...and carving their initials into timbers of the bow.

It seemed we were the only ones on the trail that day...but when we arrived at the shipwreck we met two gals who had camped there overnight.

They were hiking the East Coast Trail...all 89 kms. of it!  The trail to the shipwreck and back was long enough for us! 

Graham Island has only one main road running the length of the island along the east coast.  It was a much better road than we expected!

We saw many of these tiny deer beside the road.

Old Massett...a Haida community on the north coast of the island...has the largest collection of totem poles.  We thought we might have lunch in Old Massett...but the gal at the 'cafe' said she did not know how to make soup and the owner was away that day.  She could make coffee though.

So we drove a few kilometers to Massett...Mile 0 of the Yellowhead Highway...and had lunch at the Mile 0 Dining Room.  It hit the spot.

Canadian Forces Station in Massett.  Here on the northern tip of Haida Gwai...Canada has a security and intelligence station.  Apparently the waters just off the shore (Dixon Entrance) are still disputed territory.  We'll let the powers that be decide that one...but it seems Telus thinks that they belong to the USA.  In fact...Telus thinks all of northern Haida Gwaii belongs to the USA...according to the messages I was getting on my iphone! 

From Massett...we carried on down gravel/dirt roads to Tow Hill.

Tow Hill is a hill of lava rock rising up from the low land all around. 

The trailhead was well marked...with steps on all the steep sections. 

Part of the way up...we had a great view of North Beach, where a few 4x4's were joy-riding.

The view from the top was great....for the first 30 seconds. We arrived at the top as the fog rolled in...and within one minute our view of the beach below was gone!

One day we did a 'circle tour of Graham Island.  Our first stop was Port Clements...on Massett Inlet.

What would one expect to see at the port but logs?

Logging trucks...coming, going and parked.  It seems there is still logging happening over there.

From Port Clements we took the gravel road south...and stopped  to visit 'The Golden Spruce'.  For years people traveled from far and wide to see this giant tree...a mutation of the sitka spruce which was totally gold in colour.  In 1997 a disgruntled ex-forestry worker chopped down the tree to make a political statement.

Though the tree is no longer's still a great hike! 

There are plenty of other trees!  And lots of amazing moss.

There it is...the tip of the downed golden spruce lying on the other side of the pond.

The pond is actually...the Yakoun River.  We left the golden spruce behind and carried on south on a forestry road.  For forty kilometers we drove through thick forests...

...past logged tracts and reforestation projects, and we never met another vehicle.  By this time we wished we had a decent map, since there were lots of side roads that looked like the main road!

Finally we met a forestry worker beside the road...who told us we must visit Yakoun Lake nearby.  It seemed like the perfect place to have our picnic lunch.

Thankfully...our rental truck was made for these roads!  We were glad we had left the motorhome behind in Prince Rupert.

After another hike through thick old growth forest...

...we arrived at Yakoun Lake.  Bliss.  When is one ever alone at a beautiful spot like that?  We sat on a log and enjoyed our lunch.  There were just a few anxious moments when we realized that most of the 'footprints' around us were 'bear prints'.  And we were there without bear spray...or a whistle.  It was lovely though...and a highlight of our time at Haida Gwaii. As we hiked back from the lake...we actually met two more hikers. And on the drive from Yakoun Lake south to Queen Charlotte village...we passed the occasional vehicle.  We were back in civilization!

Skidegate is a Haida village...home to some 720 people.

The Haida Heritage Center has a great collection of totem poles...five long houses...and a carving shed.  And lots of Haida hats...on display or for sale.

Haida hats were the head gear of choice on the islands...woven by the Haida women from strips of red cedar.

Also in Skidegate...the famous 'balance rock'.  It is both a mystery...and a 'silent dare'.  The Global BC News crew was in Haida Gwaii earlier this year...and tried unsuccessfully to topple it!

We left our calling card as well...though that would likely topple with the first wind!

We watched a BC ferry coming into the dock at Skidegate as we built our inukshuk.

This post is plenty long let me end with a Haida quote. 

Everyone I know that has been to Haida Gwaii was there for fishing or for work.  We just went 'to see'.  We saw a lot in four days and know why it was chosen as one of the 'top 20 places to visit'.
Thanks for joining me on this Haida Gwaii tour!