I’ve got to get something off my chest: although Ketchikan, Alaska is small, (less than 6 square miles) Ketchikan is amazing! And I’m truly disappointed that we didn’t have very much time there. So far this is the only thing I can complain about when it comes to Princess Cruise’s iternary, but I am inclined to forgive them as I am writing this in probably the most perfect setting. I am in a lounge, playing 1920’s jazz, that is empty since they aren’t actually open yet. When I’m searching for the perfect way to describe what I’ve seen today, all I have to do is look up, and watch the mountains, greenery, and ocean drift by. And that wouldn’t be happening if we hadn’t left Ketchikan so early. But I might have a whole lot more to write if he had been able to linger…
The ship docked at 6:30, and I was roaming the streets by 6:31. It was fun looking at all the buildings, capturing photos of the infamous Creek Street, (home to the red light district until the 1950’s when the practice was shut down) and just genuinely enjoying my time here. One thing I did get to see was one of Ketchikan’s many totem poles. Ketchikan is home to the largest collection of standing totem poles, although most are recarvings commissioned through the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression Era. The one I got to enjoy tells the Tlingit tale of Raven and Fog Woman‘, or the story of how salmon were created. Sadly I had to be back to the ship for our excursion with Ketchikan Shore Tours by 8:00, and so I didn’t get to see any other totems, and the residents were just barely propping open their doors as I was walking away.
Surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest National Forest, that stretches from Ketchikan to Juneau, and situated in a rainforest, you can’t help but to be drawn into the misty, dark, interesting woods all around you. We were taken just outside of the town, and once we got there it felt like something out of a fairy tale, but the Brothers Grimm type, not the Disney type. While I was being instructed on PFD (“personal floatations devices” for those of you not up on their cool canoeing lingo) I found myself drifting closer and closer to the forest’s edge, anxious to see what wonders were in store for me there. And wonders there were!
The path we took led us down to Harriet Hunt Lake, named after the woman who was instrumental in shutting down the bordellos and also started the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. Lakes back home are always lined with lake houses, docks, and filled with boats, but this one was nearly untouched. This lake had three structures, (two docks on either end of the lake, and one semipermenant shelter used as a place to get us out of the rain, and to heat up coffee and hot chocolate over a campfire) and four canoes, each filled only with people traveling in our group. We could see a white capped peak of Diana Mountain off in the distance, and the lake water was crystal clear. We didn’t see a lot of animal life, but we were well educated about both the animals we didn’t see, and the flora that surrounded us.
My favorite fun (well, really it’s pretty morbid) fact of the day is that the number one cause of death for eagles is when they catch a fish that’s too big for them. Once their talons are locked, these majestic birds can’t release them unless they have something like the ground to use as leverage. So if they’re a little too ambitious, and they try to catch the biggest fish of the day, it could lead to their death. Carrying a load that’s too heavy will inhibit their ability to fly, and they’ll go crashing down into the water, where they drown. The follow up fun fact, regarding the runner up cause of death for eagles, is that eagles only mate during free falls. And I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the blanks as to how these cavalier eagles meet their deaths.
After a short canoe paddle we docked, got some treats, and proceeed into the rainforest for a short walk. What I found extremely interesting is that they don’t have enough soil in the area, so most of the tree roots are exposed. Soil commonly comes from forest fires, and because it’s so wet, but also there are not a lot of thunder storms, soil doesn’t accumulate very quickly. As a result, animals who typically live in dens, will make their homes under the tree roots, but above the ground.
We then hopped back into our canoe, paddled back to the launch site, and traded our PTD and oars for seat belts and steering wheels. It was time to hit the road. The jeeps we drove were well equipped for the trails ahead, in fact we were specifically instructed to drive through potholes, instead of trying to avoid them. We were treated to two different off-road trails, with two opportunities to switch drivers. I do recommend that the most experienced off-roader, or at least the one most comfortable with the idea of off-roading, should drive the second leg. The first and third parts are bookended by regular road driving. We were able to enjoy one overlook, and the rest of the trip just brought us deep into the woods that I had been longing for all day.
After having our adventure, it was time to head back to our home for the week. We grabbed some lunch on the ship, although in retrospect we should have spent some money and enjoyed a local eatery. By the time we had finished eating, it was time for the “all aboard!”