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Thursday, September 02, 2010

OUR LAST STOP IN ALASKA--KETCHIKAN

totem pole
Just when I think I’ve been wowed enough in Alaska, we sail into our last port, Ketchikan, located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest at 17 million acres. I’ve been writing about ice and snow. Ketchikan sits in the middle of a temperate rain forest. The yearly rainfall is 162 inches! It rains almost 240 days a year. In the higher altitudes there is ice, but it leads to grassy wetlands, rivers, and lush forests that are homes to a myriad of animals, fish, and birds. So abundant and fertile is this land that the original people, the Tlingit tribe, had no word for starvation. WOW!

We enter downtown Ketchikan passing under the arch proclaiming it the Salmon Capital of the World, and it is home of all five species of salmon who depend on the streams and waters of the Tongass for spawning, leaving their roe on the gravel.
Ketchikan
With a Walking Tour Map obtained at the Visitor Center, we walk this town which essentially climbs up the mountain. The original streets were either wooden planks or steps. This is a town of people working hard as fisherman or guides catering to the tourist trade.
Ketchikan house

Ketchikan Houses

Married Man's Way
THIS STREET IS MARRIED MAN'S TRAIL. LOVED THE NAME.
Ketchikan house

The most amazing point on our tour is the fish ladder in Ketchikan creek. As we climb so do the salmon, and there are fish ladders to help them in their struggle to get to the top to spawn. Yes, the gravel beds of Ketchikan are the end of the salmon struggle, and incredibly they are so thick in numbers that the shallow streams are black with them. Rob and I stay at the ladders a long time, mesmerized watching those who did not enter the ladders try to jump to the next level.
Salmon swimming upstream
In this video, you can see how turbulent the water is moving down the mountain while those black blips are salmon trying to go against the forces to climb up to the spawning grounds. It’s an awesome sight—very sad, I think.
video
At the top where the fish are thick, young boys, today’s Huckleberry Finns, are barefoot in the water with fish nets or quick hands, some even shedding their jeans to wade in their underwear trying to catch the salmon. As with all of Alaska, we’re in another world, and it’s beautiful to watch.
21st century Huck Finns
The boy in the striped shirt actually DID catch one with his hands!

We take a tour of the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center where we see how the fish are studied, bred, and released. They release more than 300,000 fish annually.
fish hatchery
This also is an eagle rescue center, and there are several magnificent and regal birds in residence.
 Eagle
Alaskan  Eagle

Across from the hatchery is the Totem Heritage Center, totem polea museum dedicated to the preservation of the totem poles including original unrestored examples. Many were carved by native artists in the heyday of totem pole carving in the middle of the 19th century. This center, too, is fascinating, and the self-guided tour allows us to really get a good look at the carvings and learn some of the symbols native carvers used.
totem pole

Walking back downtown, we come to Creek Street
Creek Street
which became the red light district in 1903 when the City Council ordered the bordellos to relocate across the creek from the town. At one time there were thirty-eight bordellos here. When the city outlawed prostitution in 1953, Creek Street became a mixed residential and commercial area. It was here I finally succumbed to an urge and bought a piece of the Orocal jewelry I’d seen in Anchorage but resisted. Beautiful! But I saw another example of Alaskan humor.
sign

It was a little sad walking back to the Coral Princess knowing we were leaving for Vancouver. We’d been told that our next trip to Alaska should begin at Kodiak or Sitka where we’d see a totally different Alaska. I’d like to do that. I’d also like to come back and spend a few winter weeks in Anchorage. Just to see what it's like. You never know.

This is an awesome place. Spend as much time here as you possibly can to experience as much of the diversity as you can. America is beautiful, and you really don’t want to miss this!



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