The Bus in Hyder: The Best Fish & Chips Anywhere

Barbra and Maia waiting for orders of fried halibut and fried shrimp at The Bus in Hyder, Alaska

We blogged about Hyder before (A Ghost Town and a Grizzly, February 5, 2011). It’s an interesting  town of 87 inhabitants, definitely worth the side trip if you find yourself traveling the Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia. Go there when the chum salmon are running in late July and August, and you’ll have an excellent opportunity to view grizzlies up close from a deck overlooking Fish Creek.

A hip little shop on main street, Boundary Gallery and Gifts run by Caroline Steward, features dulcimers beautifully crafted from Sitka Spruce as well as some of the best fudge we’ve ever had. There’s a hotel, a post office, a small, sparsely-stocked grocery store, a couple of RV parks and a boat launch on Portland Canal, which isn’t a canal at all but is a narrow, 71-mile long fjord separating Southeastern Alaska from British Columbia. It’s the kind of place that takes you back in time. None of the streets are paved. The residents are friendly and the ones we’ve met have been happy to while a way a piece of the day talking. Maybe the quiet, natural beauty of the place brings out easy-going attitudes. Part of the movie Insomnia (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank) was filmed here in 2001.

If you do go to Hyder, the one place you shouldn’t miss is The Bus. Diana and Jim Simpson came up with the idea to permanently park a school bus on one of the side streets in town and convert it into a kitchen. Jim’s the fisherman. Diana’s the cook. The catch of the day generally features fresh halibut and Alaska’s incredibly delicious shrimp along with salmon and other shellfish. Traveling from place to place, we’ve come across really good deep fried fish from time to time. Heck, I make pretty good deep fry myself. I don’t know exactly what Diana does, but the fare at The Bus is in a class by itself. It’s been our good fortune to dine there on two separate occasions, two different summers. Both times, our plates of fried halibut, shrimp and French fries disappeared fast and left us talking with amazement for some time afterwards. Diana also keeps icy cold Alaska Amber Ale and Alaska Summer Ale on hand – the perfect compliments to enjoying the food while Rufus Hummingbirds call back and forth from the tops of spruce trees.

The Bones of a Village

New enough to reveal steel and aluminum nails, old enough to be well-weathered by the Arctic climate, the bones of this seal-skin whaling boat were left behind when Point Hope (Tikigaq) relocated two-and-a-half miles inland in the 1970s. Point Hope is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America.

The Inupiaq name for Point Hope Village, Tikigaq (tick-ee-yahk) means index finger and described the way the gravel point once hooked into the Chukchi Sea. Time and tide long ago washed away the crook of the finger, leaving behind a triangular point near enough to deep water that the whales that first drew the Inupiat people here thousands of years ago still swim close to shore. The 2.3 mile hike from the current town out to the point gets a little tough once the road ends and the pea-to-chunk-size gravel begins, but it is well worth the effort. In addition to bowhead and other whales, which are frequently sighted, the collision of currents at the point holds large schools of finger-sized baitfish, which in turn draw flocks of Arctic terns, gulls, murres, puffins, jaegers, guillemots and ducks while various sandpipers patrol the shore. At times, the sea and sky are filled with hundreds–if not thousands–of birds. The small fish also attract roving schools of pink, silver and Chinook salmon and sea-run Dolly Varden which in turn are followed by spotted, common and bearded seals. Walruses show up from time to time as well.

The walk to the point passes through the Old Village, a ghost town of semi-subetranean homes made from sod, whale bone and driftwood as well as more modern, wood and metal houses. It’s fascinating to walk through the Old Village and contemplate what life would have been like up here before electricity, running water, guns and gasoline engines–when the only “grocery stores” were the great herds of caribou 25 or more miles to the east, bowhead whales swimming in the freezing Arctic Ocean, and the various fish, seals, berries and plants gathered in their seasons.