The BC Ferry MV Northern Adventure which travels up the Inside Passage along the coast of BC is the poor man’s Alaskan Cruise, although it’s still not cheap. The two of us and the Boogie Bus cost almost $900 one way, but it was soooo worth it. You never saw such coastal scenes! There’s a couple of open Sounds that need to be crossed where the water’s a bit choppy, but mostly the passage is calm and protected, and in some spots it’s 70 metres narrow, so you get really close up to the waterfalls and mountain glaciers, nautically speaking. We even saw a couple of whales but only sort of because it was really just some whale tails flailing around. The passage stretches from the north end of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, and as you get further north the mountains get bigger and snowier and the valleys more sweeping. We traveled through various types of weather and even though we had books and games and they show movies on the ship the scenery is so entertaining we didn’t use them much. (Step and I did have an in depth conversation about the proper use of semi-colons, so I bought him a copy of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” which was offered at the gift shop. I haven’t read it yet, however; the punctuationophile might note my grasp on the semi-colon concept is a little unclear).
They really try to make your trip on MV Northern Adventure an “experience”. The workers were all really happy and helpful and the facilities are very clean. The bathrooms even had giant porthole windows so you don’t have to miss a minute of amazing view. The cafeteria serves beer and wine and there was a barbecue and bar on the outside deck that had a real espresso machine rather than an automatic one like below deck. At dinner time they put cloths on the tables and offered up Prime Rib with a guy in white who carved slices to order. The whole ride takes 15 hours and you pull into Prince Rupert late in the night.
We decided we were pretty worn out from the weeks of prep and could use a few days off so the next morning we made the easy drive to Terrace and set up camp at Ferry Island. Ferry island is a little wooded island on the Skeena River which is a well maintained Municipal run camp ground and within walking distance of downtown terrace. 20 bucks buys a site with electricity and 5 more dollars gets you a big rack of campfire wood. We freed our bikes from the prison of their rack and Saturday morning toodled into town. Terrace has the third largest farmers’ market in BC and we were eager to stock up on some of that farm direct food.
It was too early in the year for produce except for some old beets and mealy eyed potatoes from last year, (and fresh rhubarb—lots and lots of fresh rhubarb), but there were plenty of crafts and lunch stands and we did buy some canned Tuna Antipasto, Berry Jam, and fresh farm made Multigrain Bread from a nice woman with a colorful stand. Some of her jars were traditional canning jars but a lot were in recycled peanut butter or salsa jars. Each one had a label with what it was and “M. Burr” with her phone number written in pen. She grows all her own berries. M. Burr told us “they” had been making it harder on the farmer stalls, and last year they actually tested some of her foodstuffs, to her mild outrage. We were also able to get some “not certified but organic anyway” eggs and we met a parrot in a yellow truck.
The only places in town with WiFi were Cyberscream Café for $4/hour or McDonald’s or the Starbucks at Safeway, so we hung out at the Safeway parking lot table for a few hours catching up on email and stuff. That’s what travel will quickly do to you: one week you’d laugh at the idea of hanging out at Safeway and 1000 kilometers and one week later it is the epitome of modern techno-luxury.
That afternoon we rode our bikes around Ferry Island which is really very softly beautiful in that fully forested kind of way. The lady at the visitor information centre told us an artist had carved faces in some of the trees but I couldn’t find any until I asked some German tourists if they had seen any and they laughed because I was standing right beside one. Every now and then we would come across some peops cooking hotdogs over a fire or just hanging out. We met a guy named Merv with his friend Cindy and her son, Rhythm, sitting in the grass by the river. Merv runs www.terracedaily.ca, and when he found out we were planning on taking highway 37 to the Cassiar highway he successfully convinced us to go up via the Nisga’a territory instead. He said he had been that way during the flooding last year and had discovered there’s a huge lava flow up there that is a national park. The road to the park had been paved by the Nisga’a and there was a logging road called the Cranberry Connector which would then get us on to the Cassiar Highway. This sounded pretty good to us, so the next day after a failed attempt at an early start we headed in that direction.
The Nisga’a were one of the first native tribes to settle their treaty negotiations in BC, if we’re remembering the ‘80’s right, and they’ve done quite a bit to improve their territory and to promote industry, some of that being tourism, of course. It was a pretty good road to the park and we saw a lot of people picking up litter and doing general maintenance on it. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the entrance of the park where there were picnic tables and a couple of guys hanging out in a portable building that was a temporary visitor’s centre. They sold us a driving tour map of the lava flow for 3 dollars, and we quickly put lunch together and sat at one of the scenic pinic tables to eat it. One of the guys was cleaning the picnic tables with spray cleaner (I mean, they keep that park clean) and he sat with us while we ate lunch and told us the story of the park.
The park is called Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park and it commemorates the erupting of the volcano Wil Ksi Baxhl Mihl in the mid 1700’s which wiped out about 40% of the Nisga’a tribe. The lava flowed down the River Nass’ bed and the people didn’t expect it or know what was happening. First came a wave of noxious gasses which some of the people tried to protect themselves from by wrapping up in elk blankets, but then they couldn’t see the wall of lava coming (which they wouldn’t have been able to escape anyway) and they got buried in it. The Nisga’a territory is a very abundant place (Nisga’a means to do with eating, for the tribe was considered rich in food resources). The Nisga’a belief is that the vocano eruption was punishment for taking the land for granted and not showing it enough respect.
The lunch visiting man was from Canyon City, one of the two settlements in the park. Canyon City has a suspension bridge we walked over and the Nass was high and raging because of the spring run off. The other settlement is the main one called New Aiyansh. Old Aiyansh was wiped out by the volcano.
The Lava Beds are kind of narrow at first but then comes an area that’s like a vast black moonscape with lichen on it and a few scraggly trees trying to grow out of it. Because the lava flowed on the river bed some of the river still flows below it and escapes into some very picturesque waterfalls and things. Apparently lava beds are quite dangerous to walk on because of cave-ins so you have to stay on the trails, but there is a variety of them so you don’t feel deprived of lava walking opportunity. It was a hot day and wandering around was a little like being in the dessert.
The Nisga’a have also been working on a newer, better visitor centre which we also visited. It’s more traditionally native than the portable with paintings all over the front and it’s powered by solar energy. Inside there were lots of displays and 3 guys who were all very friendly (all the Nisga’a we met were very respectful and proud and had good posture). We talked mostly to Leonard or Vincent—we got introduced all at once and we might have their names mixed up. I’ll just say he was Leonard. Leonard has a Nisga’a name; Wolf on Ice. I can’t remember how you say it in Nisga’a, though. He taught us a lot about Nisga’a culture. Leonard’s been learning all sorts of traditional skills and he worked on one of the 4 totem poles recently erected in new Aiyansh. He worked on the wolf one because he’s in the wolf clan. Those were the first totem poles they’ve erected in 100 years so it was a pretty big deal.
By the time we had seen the Lava Beds it was late afternoon and we had to get a boot on. The road we took, the Cranberry Connector, was little more than a 50 kilometre long super dusty gravel logging road, although because during the flood last year it was the only usable road it got fixed up a bit. We had to drive it slowly and we never saw anyone else the whole time we were on it. What we did see was a BC Lynx! We had already seen several black bears on the side of the road but this was a rare wildlife sighting. We thought it was a Bobcat which is also exciting but later Step looked in a book and decided it was a Lynx. For something so deadly dangerous it sure looked cutely cuddly. It took a long time to navigate the road and when we finally came out on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Even though we had kept our windows shut the inside of the Boogie Bus was all dusty and our bikes were so caked they were monochrome dust colour and an overall chalky texture. We got out to pee on the side of the road. The asphalt was hot and smooth and we didn’t see another vehicle the whole time we were stopped. We got back in the van and headed to the land of the midnight sun.