There is no doubt that catching Ketchikan is a great idea, even if there are only two ways to do it. Visitors have no choice but to arrive by either boat or plane.
By far most arrive by ship, as we did, and when we stepped off on to the shore we were greeted by a group telling the history of the town.
These figures from the past could not speak, yet did a fine job of representing the story of Ketchikan featuring Chief Johnson, standing with his arms outstretched and gazing over the water, led many native settlers here from British Columbia back in in the 1887and became chief in 1902.
He is joined by a logger, a fisherman, a miner, an aviator, a Tlingit woman drumming, and a lady in her finest Gay 90’s garb. The scene, named The Rock, was sculpted by Dave Rubin and unveiled on the forth of July in 2010.
Still, as enjoyable as this artwork was, we were on a mission to find something even more iconic, totem poles. This is the totem pole capital of Alaska, no, the world, with more standing poles than anywhere else on the planet.
You can’t miss them, they are everywhere, including right in the middle of town, but the best collections are outside the city a bit. Needless to say that is where we headed first.
There is only one main road, and going in either direction will lead to outstanding examples of these classic pieces of native art. Even better, both directions are easily accessible by public buses.
A few miles to the south we found Saxman Totem Park. This is a public park in the tiny town of Saxman, but it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
That’s because their collection of totem poles rates as good as any in the world, with many found in abandoned Tlingit villages in the region and reconstructed by skilled Tlingit carvers. In fact, the carving room is right in the park so we got a good look at the tools and the process.
Hopping on the bus to the north of town and a bit farther out, we rode to Totem Bight State Historical Park. This Alaska state park covers thirty three acres and has over a dozen poles along with a fantastic replica of a traditional Tlingit clan house.
There is a very nice path, about a mile loop, that we followed through the woods leading to the house. As we walked farther, the trail led to the shore where we were lucky enough to catch three whales making their way south through the Inside Passage. From our vantage point, granted several hundred yards away, it looked to be a mother with two calves.
Continuing around the loop took us back to the main entrance and the bus stop for our ride back into town.
Back in the big city we had one main goal in mind, to check out the famed old red light district known as Creek Street. No, no, it’s not like that anymore, but it is as picturesque an area as any we’ve seen with such a dubious past, other than perhaps Amsterdam.
Back in the gold rush times, over one hundred years ago, this was the sauciest, rootin’-tootin’est, raunchiest stretch of street just about anywhere in the Wild, Wild West. Actually, it’s not really even a road, it is a boardwalk along Ketchikan Creek.
These days it is a downright peaceful, other than a little crowded, family friendly walkway along the stream. The old brothels and barrooms are now eateries and curio shops, and nary a single husband was spotted trying to escape by running up Married Man’s Trail.
That path heading up the hills and out of town got its name from wayward spouses running away from the law to the avoid sizable fines that came with getting caught at one of the houses of ill repute. But the only slippery characters we saw heading for the hills on our visit were the thousands of salmon making their run upstream.
As we made our way back down to docks on the waterfront a very common occurrence for Ketchikan commenced, a light rain began to fall.
This is one of the wettest places in America, with precipitation about two hundred and thirty days a year. And not only does it rain often, it rains a bunch, normally over 150 inches a year. Holy cow, a little ciphering tells us that’s over twelve feet!
On the other hand, the drizzle gave us a good excuse to pop in to one of the waterfront’s favorite watering holes, The Arctic Bar. It claims to be the oldest bar in town, and who are we to doubt it? What we know for sure is that the beer is cold and the bears out front have become a local landmark.
We couldn’t think of a better place to wait out the weather before climbing back aboard our ship.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com