In May of 2016 my wife and I took an Inside Passage cruise of Alaska. An Alaska cruise has long been on our “to do” list and we were fortunate enough to be able to do it. The first port we visited on our cruise was Ketchikan. The city of just over eight thousand residents is the fifth largest city in Alaska.
Ketchikan calls itself “Alaska’s First City”, not because it was the first permanent settlement in the state but because it’s the first port on the cruise route. The city is also known as “the Salmon Capital of the World”.
It was raining when we debarked because, well, it rains in Ketchikan. A lot. Ketchikan is in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, a moderate rain forest that keeps the weather fairly mild by Alaska standards. It also makes Ketchikan one of the rainiest places on earth. The average annual rainfall is 153 inches (over 12 feet) per year with the record year of 1949 seeing 202 inches of rain. Ketchikan celebrates its rain with a “liquid sunshine gauge” located at the welcome center.
We had booked an excursion to the Misty Fjords National Monument but the trip was cancelled due to the weather. We decided to make our time in Ketchikan nice and leisurely with a self-guided walk through the town.
Next to the rain gauge on the cruise ship dock is a relatively new attraction. The Rock is a beautiful sculpture by Ketchikan artist Dave Rubin. Unveiled in 2010, the massive sculpture celebrates Ketchikan history with seven life size figures- Chief Johnson, a logger, a fisherman, a bush pilot, a Tlingit drummer, a miner, and an elegant lady.
Just up the hill from the cruise ship dock is Whale Park, a beautiful little green space. One of Ketchikan’s many totem poles is located in Whale Park, The Chief Kyan totem, a lineage pole. with three figures celebrating the history and social standing of Chief Kyan’s family.
One of the things that surprised me about Ketchikan was how many flowers were blooming in and around the city. May is the beginning of the tourist season and I expected it to be cold and gray.
Just a few yards from Whale Park is the Chief Johnson totem, a very tall story pole which depicts the legend of fog woman and the creation of Salmon. It’s 55 feet tall and carved from a single western red cedar log.
Just past the Chief Johnson totem is the entrance to one of the most photographed streets in the world, Creek Street. Creek Street was the red light district for the first 50 years of the 20th century. It’s actually not a street, but a boardwalk running along the east side of Ketchikan Creek. During the summer the creek is full of bears who come to feed on the salmon. We were there too early for the bears but it was still an interesting place.
Originally the red light district in Ketchikan, Creek Street is now the location of shops and the occasional museum. Dolly’s House is a museum that was once the bordello of Ketchikan’s most famous madam, Dolly Arthur. The museum is full of photos and memorabilia belonging to Dolly and the rooms have been left much the same as when Dolly lived there.
The last place we visited was the Raven Stealing the Sun totem, located at the Tongass Historical Museum and near the Ketchikan Creek Waterfall. On the east side of the creek is the Yeltatzie Salmon, a sculpture by local artist Terry Pyles. The mosaic sculpture was commissioned to replace the original cedar sculpture which had been removed due to extreme deterioration. The original sculpture had been created by Haida carver Jones Yeltatzie. Pyles named the replacement after the the creator of the original salmon sculpture.
While it rained the entire time we were in Ketchikan we didn’t let it stop us from enjoying our time in the town and from learning a little about Alaska.