Ketchikan of Salmon – The Traveler in Alaska

In Ketchikan – August 24th and 25th

Ketchikan of Salmon –

Indeed, Ketchikan owes its very existence to Salmon, and I am in culinary heaven at the prospect of never being very far from a salmon dinner or lunch – or breakfast for that matter.

But I digress.

Here’s some of the basics on Ketchikan, at least as I have been able to find out through my tireless pursuit of Ketchikan over the past five or six hours (minus the time spent enjoying my salmon lunch).

Ketchikan was established in the mid 1880’s when a salmon saltery was built on the western coast of Revillagigedo Island (the island to which Ketchikan now clings). “Ketchikan”, some say, is derived from the native phrase “Katch Kanna” roughly translating to “spread wings of thundering eagle”.  I’ll buy that.

It didn’t become long for Ketchikan to become the “Salmon Capital of the World”. For those that know how much I love Salmon, is it any wonder that one day I’d visit here?

In the 1950’s logging also became a major industry, but by the 70’s forestry policy began to shift and it was apparently decided not raze the Tongass National Forest to the ground.

So now tourism plays an important part of Ketchikan’s economy. The town, more or less, is divided between parts for the fish and parts for the tourist (at the Super 8 Motel it doesn’t much matter which category you find yourself, you’re treated pretty much the same). In one part of town we find shops selling survival suits (something I’m actually in the market for – and a whole other story), in the other part are stores with softly-lit windows full of diamond jewelry.

As it is with many ports of call along the Inside Passage, of which Ketchikan prides itself in being the first one encounters when coming up from the south, the population of the town swells with each docking of a cruise liner. Many of those that disembark from their Hilton-on-the-Sea never make it past the part with the jewelry stores. It’s the part that’s most enchanting and evocative of a northern seaside town (with the addition of jewelry stores), even if the fishy part is more the reality.

Thus is the unintended advantage of an immediate desire to leave our room at the Super 8 motel only seconds after first entering:

“Okay, it’s a room. Let’s get out of here”

Not knowing where we are in relation to anything else in Ketchikan requires us to walk a mile or so through the fishy part of town, not yet realizing there’s a diamond-studded (and otherwise quaint) part of town a mile or two down the road.

We walk amongst the fish processing plants, refrigerated trailers ready to haul away the day’s catch, dingy office buildings, and dimly-lit warehouses, hoping to find a nice little restaurant for dinner (salmon).

In this part of town, it looks as if every building is in need of a coat of paint, which is no surprise. With only fifteen sunny days a year (according to the Good Samaritan that gave us a ride from the ferry dock to the Super 8 motel), exterior painting projects probably seem like a cruel joke.

The evening sun shines on the Tongass Narrows But we persevere, despite the increasing demands of my stomach for dinner (yes, of course, salmon). At the edge of the fishy part of town we come to a short tunnel that bores through a hillside. Venturing forth, we emerge on the other side into the world of a picturesque seaside town currently dominated by the looming presence of an ocean cruise liner – actually the largest structure in town, with the only possible exception being the multi-storied government building colored in a mildly disgusting pink, now faded and chipped, giving it an even more semi-revolting hue. The consequence, apparently, of paint color chosen by committee.

Other than this, the town suddenly takes on a much more appealing, if not downright touristy, air. The fish processing plants and shops selling survival suits have morphed into art galleries, diamond jewelry shops, museums, and restaurants.

Ah, restaurants – food – dinner – Salmon!!

Totems tell stories We duck into the first decent looking restaurant for what will be the first of undoubtedly many salmon dinners in Alaska (for the meat-eater among us, or course).

After dinner we amble down to the dock near the cruise ship. The overcast that greeted us upon our arrival to Ketchikan begins to part and the sun glances through the billowing clouds, silhouetting the peaks of Gravina Island and casting an ethereal evening glow on the Tongass Narrows.

We wander through the town for an hour or so, discover the historic Creek Street part of town, and make notes for further exploration on the morrow.

But now it is time to walk back to the fishy side of town and our little hole in the wall room for a night’s rest on a lumpy mattress with ill-fitting sheets, while the thin walls act as a relatively decent transducer vibrating the bottom end of the never-changing bass line from the room next door: boom, ba-boom, ba-ba boom… boom, ba-boom, ba-ba boom… boom, ba-boom, ba-ba boom…

After a night of (un)rest, we spend the bright, sunny day (one of fifteen) exploring the Totem Heritage Center and Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center, Creek Street, and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Not thoroughly exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but a nice taste of the history and heritage of the area.

An eagle at Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center Presently we sit in our motel room, eagerly awaiting our departure aboard the M/V Matanuska just after midnight, and ever grateful that the boom, ba-boom, ba-ba boom that has just started once again from the neighboring room will soon be replaced by the gentle hum of old Mat’s engines.

Despite the best efforts of the Super 8 motel to sour our stay here, Ketchikan has lived up to it’s motto as “Alaska’s first city”.

I’m primed and ready for more of what Alaska has to offer.

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