Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is our fourth and last port stop on this Alaska voyage. It is the southernmost town in Alaska, and its fifth largest city. We were told that Ketchikan is the wettest city in North America, and that our overcast day was way better than the drenching rain our crew had here last week.

The pic above is a pano of Ketchikan’s Port, taken from our balcony on the ship.

Ketchikan was initially settled as a fish camp. It’s salmon runs later led to the building of a salmon canning factory. This history and the building of other fish processing plants led Ketchikan to be called ” The Salmon Capital of the World.”

Ketchikan was also The southernmost settlement of the Russians when they sold Alaska to America. Hence it became Alaska’s southern boundary. An interesting note about the purchase… Secretary Seward actually wanted to purchase present day British Columbia as well as Alaska. He envisioned a USA with a Pacific Coast from Mexico to the Arctic Circle. But the British needed a base of operations for their naval fleet on the Pacific, and established the official dominion of Canada in circa 1870… Back then, it included Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and British Columbia.  The name British Columbia came about because, prior to the establishment of Canada as a sovereign country, BC was actually included with the now states of Washington and Oregon, known as Columbia. So our neighbors to the North started calling it British Columbia.

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Ketchikan is on an island with a road system that goes about 40 miles. Past that, there are sometimes a pile of rocks or a trench to mark the boundary with Canada.  It really doesn’t matter much because the mountain ranges on the Canadian side are largely uninhabited by people.

Another interesting tidbit about Ketchikan… While the town is on an island, their airport, one of two ways into town, is across the main channel on another island. After landing, passengers must take a ferry across the channel to reach town. A few years ago, there was a legislative movement to build a bridge, connecting the airport to the town island. The funds were tied into a larger Washington spending bill where  it was pointed out with huge pomp to the public by the party not in office…They called it “The Bridge To Nowhere.” The funds were shot down as a huge pork project.

Mrs Bear is settled, and able to get around the ship via a combination of wheelchair and crutches. And I was able to get out for three hours and see the island. I chose to go on a nature hike in the Tongass National Forest. I don’t think I referenced it, but this is the same National Forest that I hiked in Sitka, a couple hundred miles and multiple islands to the north. Our guide told us that Tongass is the largest, virgin, temperate rain forest in the world. It stretches from just north of Vancouver to Southern Alaska. Tongass was in the news this week, as on the heels of the Amazon fires, our President announced plans to open it up to logging and mining. The movement was then blocked by a local federal judge. Listening to our guide talk about the forest, I got the feeling that Alaskans would like more logging, but would also be selective and careful to preserve what they know is special. And this forest, on both of my walks is special. We traipsed  down a neatly constructed trail through muskeg (Alaskan for bog),  stream-side, and forest. We saw salmon spawning and eagles planning attacks. We saw locals out walking with their kids and dogs. I didn’t see the bears, who could hear and smell us a couple miles away.

All too soon, it was time to head back to town. I am relieved these days when, getting back to the cabin, I find Mrs Bear on the couch after navigating her way to the bathroom and back without me.

A couple photos to end. The brighter one is the coastline coming into Ketchikan from the north in the morning…The darker one is looking back at the town in shallow light from the south as we left.

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