Monday, 7 November 2016


Welcome to Ketchikan
I would never have thought in a million years that my 300th post for this blog would come from a place thousands of miles away from Worthing.  Indeed this is from one of the furthest places away I have ever been, the small city of Ketchikan, billed as being the salmon capital of the World.  I was here because I was lucky enough to have come on a cruise from Washington and the first port of call in Alaska was this fishing port.  The cruise terminal is right in the heart of the city and is clearly a place geared up for cruise passengers.  Once away from the strip of shops designed to help cruise passengers part with their holiday money, Ketchikan is a rather agreeable little town and a fascinating one to wander around.  I was pleased to find a self guided walk that took us around the main highlights of the place.
Salmon Capital
We started our walk inevitably at the Visitor Centre, which has a very interesting looking bronze statue outside commemorating the first people and the first settlers to the area.  The most amazing thing about the settlement of this area is how recent it all was and how rapid the change must have been.  Across the road was the Welcome Arch.  The first arch was put in place as long ago as the 1920s when visitors started to arrive by steamship, but this version is the third and dates from the 1960s.
American Legion
We continued down Mission Street and soon got past the majority of the shops.  Many of the buildings along this street were quite old, built at the turn of the 20th Century and dominated by St John's Episcopal Church built in 1902.  Originally this was built on pilings at the water's edge but such is the change in the coastline that it is now some distance away (2-3 blocks).  This suggests that the waterfront has had a lot of infilling over the years in order to maximise the mount of usable space for the Downtown area.
Salmon Spawning
Before leaving Mission Street we walked through Whale Park.  Calling it a park is little of a misnomer for I would be surprised if it were the life size of a real whale.  I might call it a village green if it were in England.  The totem pole in the park was a sign of things to come and the clock next door was eye-catching too.  It is the oldest time-piece in the city although I'm not sure how old it actually is.
At the end of Mission Street the most obvious thing to do would have been to cross the Ketchikan Creek and into the old historical centre of Ketchikan built around Creek Street.  However we were to save that for later.  We turned left instead and passed by the library and museum to take Bawden Street, the closest route to the Creek following upstream.  The route allows a view of the Grant Street trestle higher up on the hillside, showing how the terrain has been conquered by the settlers.  We also passed by a look out over the creek and could see the remains of some of the salmon that hadn't made it upstream to spawn.  The smell hit us too - not pleasant!
Totem Pole Museum
As we got to the bridge across the creek we could see some of the leaping salmon trying their luck.  Despite the relative short distance that they had to travel (the spawning grounds were only 1/2 mile or so from the sea), many of the fish were struggling to make it up the rapids and small waterfalls to get to where they needed to be.  The ones that didn't make it were in various stages of decay and it was surprising that there were no carrion eaters around to vacuum up the meat available.  We didn't hang around too long at the bridge as a crowd had formed courtesy of a tour bus that had just stopped.
We pushed on along Park Avenue to the next bridge and just beyond here it was possible to go down to the riverside itself on a small beach area.  This shallow stretch of river was being used by salmon to spawn and we were here right in the middle of spawning season.  Those brave and determined fish that had made it here were readying the riverbed for their eggs and the shallow water was a hive of activity.  In some cases the fish were in parts of the river that were barely deep enough to allow for proper swimming.  The number of salmon carcasses here was enormous as the fish die here as soon as they have completed the spawning process.
With the pungent smell of rotting salmon up our noses (not actually as bad as it sounds) we continued along Park Avenue to the next bridge, which we crossed.  We caught up with a Duck Tour Bus here - it looked like a fun trip although I have heard some stories of these vehicles sinking.  We turned right on the other side of the bridge and continued along the other shore of the creek.  We passed by a hatchery and eagle centre (didn't look like there was much doing there) and entered a delightful park at the back.  The water feature through the park was quite fascinating with sections of path intertwined between man-made channels of the stream.  If you were feeling very energetic it is possible to continue along the street at the far end of the park and head up into the hills beyond for (I imagine - we didn't try it) magnificent views across the harbour and the islands offshore.  Sadly it was a bit misty and the cloud layer was quite low so we didn't think it was worth expending the energy.
We crossed back over the creek for the last time and found the Totem Pole Centre.  We thought this was worth a visit so we paid the small entrance fee and went inside.  What we found was an interesting collection of totem poles from many different eras and a full history of how they came into being.  The museum took nearly an hour of our time and really should not be missed if you decide to do this hike.
Creek Street
Having digested all there was to know about totem poles and admired the artwork and its distinctive style we were ready to head off once again.  At the end of the street was an attractive looking church like building.  This was once St Elizabeth's Church, originally built for the Ketchikan Native people when segregation was the order of the day.  Now it has a rather unusual use - it serves as the city's mortuary.  As we passed the church we also saw another of Ketchikan's natives - a bald eagle sitting in the tree above us.  I did wonder whether the eagle population here had something to do with the lack of seagulls I saw?
Creek Street
The walk continued down the hill past the cultural centre for Ketchikan Indian Communities.  A number of peoples organised themselves into a community, including Tinglit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes.  It is fair to say that this community still has a big influence over the culture of the city if the totem poles and other art installations are anything to go by.  At the bottom of the hill we passed by the Sun Raven totem pole.  This is a replica of one that stood on nearby Tongass Island and was raised here in 2003.
We walked back down towards the main centre of Ketchikan but before we got there we took a left turn and headed along the breakwater of the present harbour.  Amazingly this area once housed a baseball field (until the 1920s) and in 1922 became the destination of the first plane to reach here from Seattle, some 900 miles away.  The harbour was created in the 1930s and is used mainly for small craft.  The huge cruise ship docked outside dominated the scene.  This was not our ship but the Crystal Serenity, built in 2003 and christened by none other than Dame Julie Andrews.  In front was the Noordam, a Holland America Line ship that tracked us for much of our cruise.

Nob Hill View
We walked to the end of the breakwater and turned back having satisfied ourselves that the view wasn't a lot different.  We found our way back initially to the main street and then entered the Creek Street historic centre of Ketchikan.  It wasn't always so clean though - it was the red light district in days gone by, with over 30 bawdy houses lining the creek here.  During Prohibition this also became the main area to get a drink, with supplies being sent up through trapdoors from boats that made it up the creek.

Cruise Ship
Nowadays Creek Street is a thriving street of trinket shops, although the fare is mostly higher quality than along the dock side.  Some of the buildings had interesting histories though - we passed by June's Cafe which reputedly had the best chili in town.  Not much is known about June, but the cafe was run by Vivian Inman for more than 50 years.  As a black woman she must have stood out in the community but she was well known as being a flamboyant character apparently, which probably helped no end.  We also passed the preacher's house, a well known prostitute den until a preacher moved in and tried to clean things up.  When he realised he was fighting a losing battle he changed his address even if he did not move house!  Dolly's House is the most famous though - she was the most famous madam in town.  The sign on the side of the building says "Dolly's House - where both men and salmon come upstream to spawn".  It offered tours but I think I got the basic idea about the place.

At the end of Creek Street we crossed the creek and retraced our route from earlier in the day past the city museum.  Sadly we didn't have time to go and look but I am sure there are some interesting tales of how the first settlers came to live here as well as a history of the native peoples.  Instead we continued down Dock Street and then Main Street.  As we did so we passed by the old fire station, founded in 1900.  Inside is an old 1927 pumper - the department obviously didn't want to part with it!

Eagle Park
Our route eventually took us up to the Nob Hill overlook where we got a good view of our own cruise ship, the harbour and the islands beyond.  It was very tempting to go higher in town to take a wider look but sadly there just wasn't time.  This walk did provide an excellent overview of the town though - there were some interesting buildings to look at along the way and the stories were surprisingly short time ago.  Our walk was almost over but we retraced our steps back down to the harbourside and our path came out at the mouth of the tunnel underneath Nob Hill.  This is said to be the only one in the world that can be driven through, around and over.  On the face of it that sounds rather pointless but it did help ease some traffic problems when completed in 1954.  That pretty much ended our walk - we then headed off for some much needed lunch!

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