Roughly a day and a half after departing Vancouver, our ship arrived in Ketchikan.
Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s 1st city because it is the first one reached when heading north from the lower 48. It also claims to be the salmon capital of the world. Both nicknames are proudly featured on the welcome sign in town.
The city is popular with cruise ships. The day we arrived, our ship was just one of five in port. Despite the forecast of a little rain, the weather was great. The morning began with some cloud cover, but by mid-afternoon it was hard to reconcile the fact that Ketchikan is ‘Rain Capital of Alaska’ with an average of about 13 feet (over 150 inches) of rain each year.
There’s plenty to see in town. If you stick near the cruise ship docks, the city looks like nothing more than a collection of souvenir and gift shops. Venture a couple blocks beyond that to Creek Street. The ‘street’ is actually a boardwalk above Ketchikan Creek and during the first half of the 20th century, served as the city’s red light district. Today all the old brothels are shops or museums. At the far end of the street is Married Man’s Trail, a narrow path leading up into the hills above town. It reportedly served as an escape route when police raided the area.
Ketchikan is also a jumping off point for visitors to Misty Fjords National Monument, part of the Tongass National Forest. The easiest ways to access the area is by boat or floatplane. We chose the latter. Our flight was on a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver built in 1955.
We took off from the Tongass Narrows and flew over Ketchikan and into the wilderness east of town, reaching a maximum altitude of about 3,000 feet. With only six passengers, everyone had a window seat. What a view!
About half an hour into the flight, the pilot brought us down for a perfect water landing in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We climbed out of the plane onto the pontoons for a few photographs. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later, we climbed back into the plane and took off again to head back to Ketchikan.
As the day turned to evening all the other cruise ships departed. The city which had been almost overrun with tourists turned into a virtual ghost town. Other than a couple shops and a handful of pubs and restaurants, everything shut down even before the last tourist climbed the gangway, however, our time in Ketchikan was not done. One feature of Azamara is that every cruise offers a bonus shore excursion. Unlike most shore excursions, this one doesn’t cost anything extra. All passengers are invited to enjoy the Azamazing Evening. On this voyage, the ‘event’ was The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
During the summer, the show runs three to five times a day and is popular with folks arriving on the various cruise ships. This extra show was held solely for the benefit of our cruise. The show pits two lumberjacks from Alaska against a pair from Canada, and it’s about as real as professional wrestling. Depending on the day, the ‘performers’ might represent either the US or Canada (in red and black plaid). Regardless of the authenticity of the competition, the chopping, sawing, and log rolling takes real skill. At the end of eight events with just one to go, the score was tied 4 to 4. How much do you want to bet that happens at every show? On this particular evening, the Canadian team won the final event to take championship eliciting cheers from half the audience who had been named ‘honorary Canadians’ for the duration of the show. Even those of us assigned to root for Team USA had a good time.
A couple final notes about this stop.
The city is the borough seat for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough (in Alaska counties are called boroughs), and so was an important destination as part of my goal to visit every county seat in the USA. One more done.
Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles. It’s almost impossible to walk through town without seeing one. Roughly in the middle of town (in Whale Park) is the Chief Kyan totem pole. What makes this totem pole particularly interesting is that there is a drawing of it in every US passport (check out page 25). For those who do not have a US passport, here’s a picture.
Well, that’s probably enough about Ketchikan. Hopefully this info will encourage you to visit. Up next is Wrangell, and while not as big as Ketchikan, there are a couple noteworthy places which I’ll cover in the next post.