Before this trip I had never heard of Ketchikan AK – pop 14500; the fourth largest city in Alaska; Salmon capital of the state.
I was sadly ignorant. During the course of our day in the city we spoke to a number of locals but two in particular gave me really good personal insights. The first was a gentleman from Great Neck, NY who moved here and opened a fine art business. We bought a lovely painted butterfly from him. He didn’t miss New York and in fact continues to consult there on restaurant concept and design and has opened one recently in Westchester Cty. The second was also from New York, had worked at St Vincents Hospital and moved here 35 years ago. He was running a curio store.
Both talked about shutting up shop on Friday for the winter. Both enjoyed the wonderful way of life. The one man loves fishing and hunting – he says he can go out and catch his quota of salmon or halibut simply with a rod and reel every day and has a boat and pots for Dungeness Crab. The hunting is for deer and again there is a quota for the season.
The town is small; its impact on the wilderness and ocean slight and the forest is pristine and the water crystal clear. For someone who loves nature and the wild this is really lovely. I was also mistaken in my notion of the weather – it is Pacific Maritime in climate – like Seattle except even more rain – they measure it in feet here.
Ketchikan was originally settled by the Tingit people as a summer fishing camp. The plentiful salmon attracted a white man named Snow who set up and operated a salmon saltery here in 1883. Not long after in 1885 salmon cannery interests from Oregon sent a man here to buy up land and set up canneries around which the town developed. The usual sequence of events followed – discovery of minerals inland – gold and copper - required a mining supply center; then need for timber – particularly spruce – led to a logging and pulp industry. Again, following the cycle elsewhere, all these industries gradually failed or were regulated out of existence and Ketchikan today depends on the tourist trade (picture a town of 14500 people that, for example today – a quiet day – receives three cruise ships ie 7500 tourists!!).
We spent the day walking about town and picked on some of the cute and quirky things we saw.
Beautiful mosaic art on the lampposts
A working boat that is a modified, old and rusty converted landing craft – a la Saving Private Ryan.
Pedestrian crossing guards at all the intersections to prevent the (many) tourists being injured by the (occasional) traffic.
Fur stores that sold the wild – shown here and wonderful – a fur covered Jock Strap
Creek street – across the Ketchikan Creek. The street actually an elevated walkway lined by houses some of which were taverns, others brothels in the old days – now all shops. A funicular railway up the mountain. The creek itself filled with salmon, seals dining on them, seagulls dining on the bits and rapids that the salmon must ascend to spawn.
A politically incorrect Native Alaskan fraternity / lodge on Main street
A shuttle bus to the global nemesis – WalMart for which the locals lined up!
As we sailed away towards Juneau we pass island after island, green forested and empty of development that remind me that we really must be at the last American frontier. Those of you out there that would enjoy this kind of rough innocence and beauty – this might be the time to take the opportunity – we have a horrible way of spoiling such a place.