Wrangell to Ketchikan, AK
Friday, August 30, 2013
Rainy, heavy overcast and chilly
Another ferry day, we boarded it around 8:30 am. On walking in we were amazed at the number of sleeping bags and teenagers sprawled throughout the ship. There were at least 100 of them. We quickly found out that they were all high school athletes and their coaches, heading to invitational football and long distance running tournaments in Ketchikan. They’d all spent the night on the ferry. Since there are no roads connecting the towns in Alaska’s Southeast, the only way interscholastic sports can happen is for athletes to be taken to events on planes or ferries. And so were blessed with a very crowded ferry. The good news was that, to an individual, they were all quiet, polite and happy to talk about things.
As for us, we spent much of the day talking to two Australian couples we’d met on our Anan tour the previous day. Jenny & Errol and Robyn & David were a lot of fun and we seem to have plenty of interests in common. Who knows? On our next Australian trip they may get some new visitors!
We arrived in Ketchikan around 4:00 pm. It was getting late and it was rainy and overcast. So, instead of simply choosing a campground at random, we set up our camper in the local Walmart parking lot and headed out to check out our choices. We settled on a place about 12 mile north of town but wouldn’t move there until the next afternoon.
Returning to the camper, we ate the fish chowder Sandy got from the chef at the Channel Club and a fresh salad. Delicious!
We had steady rain overnight. “Hey, it’s a rainforest, after all!”
NOTE: I should explain about the rainforest thing. At 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States. It covers pretty much all of southeastern Alaska and, for the most part, is a temperate rain forest. Pretty much, that means that it gets at least 55 in of rain annually and has a mean temperature between 39°F and 54°F. Many sections get much more rain than that.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Overcast, rain early, mid 60s, clearing mid pm
Leaving our Camp Wally, we sought breakfast downtown. We found a good one at the Pioneer Café. It was crowded with locals so we figured it couldn’t be too bad! Given that their standard omelet was made with four eggs, we opted to share one. They were so nice that they actually served us two completely separate two-egg omelets; no extra charge.
We spent a good part of the day downtown. Our tour started with the shops of the Creek Street district. Colorful Creek Street is one the oldest parts of Ketchikan, built along a creek choked with spawning salmon. Most of the buildings and walks are built on pilings and extend out over the creek. During the time that Ketchikan was becoming “civilized”, all the houses of ill repute were banished to buildings along the creek. So the creek became, in effect, the town’s official red-light district. There was even a hidden path through the woods to the district. It was known as the Married Man’s Path. Today the buildings are carefully restored and house a selection of gift shops and galleries. Near the docks, it’s a favorite of the cruise ship crowd.
While in town, we’d planned on a float plane excursion through Misty Fjords National Monument. We’d been using a book of BOGO excursion coupons and planned on booking a flight for the next day. However, a tour broker approached us at a popcorn shop and said he had a flight that was leaving in a couple of minutes. We explained about our coupon and that it was with another outfit. He made a call and told us his well-known outfit would honor the coupon. Two minutes later we were in a van on our way to the plane and in another three minutes we were boarding a de Havilland Otter, along with our pilot and another family of four.
The timing was great because it was a gorgeous day! The takeoff from the harbor was infinitely smooth and we were soon climbing over Revillagigedo Island on our way to the fjords. Soon we were there. The steep, glacier-polished walls of the fjords reminded us of Yosemite. There were waterfalls galore as well as large and small lakes nestled among the peaks and fjords.
Part of the tour is a fjord or a lake landing. Ours was on a lake, and I confess to forgetting its name. The landing was as smooth as the takeoff and we were soon off the plane, wandering around on a rock island near the end of the lake. Afterwards we flew all over the place, between fjord walls, over the edge of a cliff following a waterfall and even spotted a small brown bear munching on salmon beside a small stream entering a lake. The place and the flight were both magical!
Back to the mundane, we stopped at the local Safeway for some groceries, filled the camper’s water tank, filled the car’s fuel tank and topped off the air pressure in our tires. Then we drove the 14 miles to Clover Pass Resort and RV Park where we’d chosen to spend the next couple of nights. To say that the place was a resort might be a bit misleading. It’s a fish camp with nice rental boats, motel rooms, a bar and restaurant for guests and, yes, a campground with showers and even fast WiFi!
The place is not pretty, except to fishermen, and there were lots of them. They all seemed nice and friendly and none of them could understand why we were there if we didn’t fish! We had a drink at bar and fun conversations with a few of the guests. Then we repaired to the Tin Tent for our own dinner of sautéed veggies with chicken sausage.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Overcast am, clear and sunny by noon, mid 60s
Ketchikan is famous for the collections of totem poles on display around town and at several local parks. After breakfast at camper we headed out to see a few. Our first stop was at Totem Bight State Historical Park. Expressions of Tlingit and Haida Native Alaskan culture had been outlawed for many years.
In 1938, the Forest Service used Civilian Conservation Corps funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Native Alaskans to repair or duplicate totem poles that had been abandoned. The CCC project put a community house replica and 15 totem poles in place. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. A path through beautiful rain forest leads to a clearing where the poles and house can be viewed. We’d read about the various types of poles in museums and it was neat to be able to distinguish what at least some of the probably signified.
Like most other Southeast communities, Ketchikan is situated between a mountain and the sea. In this case, the most of the land is so narrow that there are only two streets that run its length, 1st and 2nd Avenues. At that, much of 2nd Avenue is cantilevred off the side of the mountain, a concrete road supported by wooden pilings. We had to drive it, of course, and look at how people arranged to build and live in such a steep environment.
While driving the area we saw two eagles, side-by-side in tree. We also met a couple of guys gathering rose hips. They use them to make jelly. OK!
Then it was on the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center/Museum downtown to learn more about the history of man and his impact on environment in the Ketchikan area. Following that, we drove part way up the side of the mountain to have lunch at the Cape Fox Lodge. This is an upscale lodge overlooking harbor. The building is a massive post-and-beam structure that should withstand the most severe earthquake. Lunch was delicious and reasonably priced, uh, for Alaska. Back down the hill, Sandy bargained masterfully for a new pair of earrings. After getting a bug reduction from a clerk who then had to leave, she asked for and got an even bigger reduction from the follow-up clerk who’d just closed a big sale. Good for Sandy!
Back at the “resort”, it was a beautiful afternoon and evening. Sandy spent time on dock watching guys cleaning the day’s catch which was mostly pink salmon as well as some halibut. We had a couple of drinks at the bar and then went back to the camper for a dinner of grilled salmon served over salad greens. Nice sunset!
Ketchikan to Prince Rupert, BC, CA
Monday, September 2, 2013
Overcast, then clearing and beautiful, mid 60s
One of the other campers at Clover Pass had moved to another campground, Settler’s Cove State Park, which they said was beautiful. We thought we’d see for ourselves so we drove another few miles away from town to do so. It was a small but beautiful place with several stellar, lakeside campsites. We found the couple from Clover Pass getting ready to launch their kayaks to do some fishing. Great place to camp, it’s got our recommendation!
Returning to our camper, we packed up and headed to town, dropping the camper back at Walmart. Then we drove south to Saxman Totem Park. Like Totem Bight, many of these totems were restored in the late 1930s. Saxman claims the largest collection. They also have a workshop where new works are created and old ones repaired.
Continuing south, we stumbled onto Rotary Beach Recreation Area. This is a lovely, rocky beach with pebbles instead of sand. It was littered with large driftwood logs. This was a beautiful Labor Day holiday and the place was jumping with lots of families on the beach, swimming and having picnics. We thought the water would be too cold to swim but it sure didn’t seem to deter the kids nor a few adults.
Nearing end of the, now gravel, road we came to George Inlet Lodge. There was no sign at the road but it was clearly some kind of public facility. We walked down the several flights of stairs to the dock and what turned out to be an inn that specialized in an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Most of their business was from tours that arrived by water or by bus with prior reservations. It was a neat setting.
Returning to town, we sought a good place for dinner. We started at Annabelle’s. It seemed like a nice place but they didn’t have good, gluten free options. We had a round of drinks, anyway, and then returned to Cape Fox Lodge where we knew the food was very good, they could handle the GF deal with ease and the view was great.
Finishing a delicious dinner, we picked up the camper at Walmart and headed to the ferry dock by 9:30. Here we boarded for our last Southeast ferry ride and were underway 11:30. With this ride we would complete the Alaskan portion of our adventure and return to Canada. It was foggy and misty as we departed.
It was a long night. We slept for a couple of hours and then spent the rest of the night in the cafeteria where it was warm.