A Travellerspoint blog

Ketchikan, Alaska

August 1, 2007

sunny 0 °F

We are in Ketchikan, the rainiest town in Alaska, and we have blue skies! This is the one town we expected rain. Please don't think that I'm complaining--this weather is great!

We eat breakfast and walk down to the dock at the campground.
The tide is really low this morning. We can even see starfish from the dock.
We walk around the dock and look at all the small fish. The fishermen threw some of their waste into the water and the small fish are gorging themselves with food.

Our first stop today is at Saxmon Totem Park, on the other side of Ketchikan (our campground is about 14 miles north of town). The weather is great and we enjoy the scenery on the way to Totem Park, including a dock full of floatplanes:

Saxmon Totem Park is just what the name says: a park full of totem poles. There is also a clan house that is very nicely done, inside and out, and a shop where two men are carving a totem pole.




Then we drive south of town along South Tongass Highway. This again, is not a highway, but it’s name says ‘highway’. It’s a 2 lane rural road. We pull off at a beach and make some sandwiches for lunch. There’s a group of tourists snorkeling along the shore, so we watch them and the fisherman and the jumping salmon while we eat.

The road continues for a few more miles past an old logging camp and several waterfalls. We stop at one of the waterfalls and find some ripe salmon berries to try.


Then we’re off to yet another totem pole exhibit, Ketchikan’s Totem Heritage Center. This is a museum that tries to preserve old totem poles of the Tlingit and Haidi tribes. We learn even more about totem poles and then walk around the area.

Then it’s off to downtown Ketchikan for some shopping and dinner. After buying a few trinkets, we have dinner at Annabelle’s. This restaurant is in the Gilmore Hotel, where we stayed in Ketchikan 13 years ago when we visited. Good salmon chowder and Alaska Dungeness crab cakes.

We visit a few more gift shops and then head back to the trailer to do laundry. The washers are really cheap here, $1/load. However, the water in the campground is brown—tannic brown—pretty gross looking to me, even though I know it won’t hurt me. But I do the wash in it anyway and the clothes look fine when they’re done. Just as my body was clean after this morning's shower in the brown water, but no way will I use the brown water to brush my teeth!

I take a break in the middle of laundry to go down to the dock to look at the sunset—it is gorgeous!!! Several of us are down on the docks taking pictures. Definitely not the sunset I expected in Ketchikan, the rainiest town in Alaska.

Posted by jengelman 15:06 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Ferry to Ketchikan

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

The alarm goes off at 3:45am :-( We need to be at the ferry dock by 4:30 for our 5:30am ferry to Ketchikan. And we actually do arrive on time. We check in and have some muffins while waiting for the ferry.

The engineer tells us that we need to back on. We were hoping for an easy drive onto the ferry this morning, but I guess that’s not going to happen. So we back up the rig and turn around in the intersection next to the parking lot (very early, so no traffic). We have a little turn before we get to the ramp and Jere is frustrated with my instructions on which way to turn the rig. Luckily one of the attendants comes up to us and asks if we want help. Jere immediately says ‘Yes’ and I’m relegated to my normal duties of making sure he doesn’t run into anything.


We finally get down the ramp and the ferry is almost empty, so we just keep it parked by the door so we can pull right out at Ketchikan (that is the only good thing about backing onto the ferry).


It’s drizzling this morning, so we find a seat in the front lounge and relax. The scenery is foggy and we’re tired so we spend most of the ferry ride inside looking at the scenery or reading.



While we’re back in the cafeteria having breakfast (the Matanuska has good food; unlike the Taku), someone yells ‘whale’ and we all race to the window. There’s a small humpback whale fairly close to the ferry.

As we get close to Ketchikan, it’s getting brighter. We expected rain today, so this is a nice surprise.

We arrive at Ketchikan by Noon and are the first ones off the ferry. Our first stop is at the tire dealer. We had a blow out on one of our trailer tires near Destruction Bay and none of the tire dealers in Haines or Juneau had the size tire we needed. So we had a tire shipped from Oregon to Ketchikan about a week ago and it arrived in the container yesterday. There are 4 customers ahead of us, so we make some sandwiches and wait for our turn. It is actually sunny out, thankfully we don’t have too long a wait before we are on our way again.

We set up camp and cannot get our hitch undone. After about 30 minutes or so, we finally manage to get unhitched and set up. We walk down to the dock at the RV park and look around at the SUNSHINE AND BLUE SKIES!!!

We’re tired so we take a break, have a snack and then head out to explore Ketchikan. It normally is cloudy/rainy in Ketchikan (they average 155 inches/year of rain and it’s not unusual for Ketchikan to get 200+ inches) and the tire clerk said this is the first day it hasn’t been rainy since she’s been here this summer. SO….even though we’re very tired, we figure we better take advantage of the sunshine and do some sightseeing.

Our first stop is the Bight Totem State Park to see totem poles. Ketchikan has more totem poles than any other city in North America.



Then off to downtown Ketchikan to check out the town
and the Southeast Discovery Center. All of the state and national forest & park services went together to build one visitors’ center in town. It’s free with our national park pass and is very nicely done.

We also walk to Creek Street: Their picturesque and historic ‘red light’ district. The cruise ships have all left town, so the street is deserted.

We’re very tired, so we head back to the trailer for dinner and some TV. We haven’t had TV for the last week, so this is a nice change.

Posted by jengelman 11:12 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

A Rainy Day in Wrangell, Alaska

Monday, July 30, 2007

rain 0 °F

We wake up to rain. Unfortunately, it will rain all day. A steady, constant, sometimes heavy rain.

Our first stop is the post office and the campground office downtown to pay for our campsite. The campground is only 8 sites and there is no office at the campground itself. Then we visit Petersburg’s museum.
It was built 5 years ago and is surprisingly very well done. Surprising, because this is not a tourist town. No cruise ships stop here, not even small ones. We end up spending close to two hours there – yes, it’s that’s good (plus it’s raining). They have two well done movies and excellent exhibits.

We pick up a few groceries and then head back to the trailer for a late lunch. We’re hoping that the rain will slow down and we can go for a hike, but that is not to be. It continues to rain hard, so around 3:30 we decide to take off and drive south to the Tongass National Forest anyway. This would be a beautiful drive if it would clear up.

The road is gravel, but fairly well maintained. The views are great. We try to do what the area residents do and just ignore the rain and continue on with whatever is planned,

but after awhile we say ‘enough’ and return to the trailer.

On the way back we stop by the road and watch a small troller bring in his catch. We’ve seen several of the small boats today trolling for salmon. The fisherman lets out a line (maybe 100 feet) with floats on. Attached to the line are lots of individual fish lines with lures on the end. At the end of the day, they bring the line in and detach each salmon individually (after bopping it with a stick to knock it out). They use this technique to catch their premium salmon. So they throw back the fish they don't want (the fish are still alive and will be fine when they're thrown back, in case you were concerned about throwing 'dead' fish back into the water):


We also stop to take a picture of an eagle sitting on a pile of rocks that someone must have built. It’s still raining so the pic is not great.

It rains the rest of the evening so we spend the evening inside packing for tomorrow’s ferry ride and watching a DVD. There's a nice view of the harbor and some crabbing pots on one side of our RV, but here is the view we get from our dining room table. Not very picturesque, but very representative of many parts of small fishing towns in Alaska.

Posted by jengelman 09:05 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Short Ferry Ride from Petersburg to Wrangell

Through the Wrangell Narrows, Alaska Sunday, July 29, 2007

rain 0 °F

We don’t need to be to the ferry til 10am. So we take our time getting ready, including having my coffee outside looking at the fishing boats on the Wrangell Narrows. Then we drive to the ferry where we spend time talking to some other RVers who rode with us on the ferry to Petersburg. I also take a few pictures of the area, including a picture of a tugboat pulling a barge full of containers. Very picturesque morning.


The Taku engineer says we need to back on the ferry again. Only this time we need to back onto a long curved ramp (with a very low flimsy guardrail, in my opinion). It takes awhile with at least 4 attempts before we can get around the curve in the ramp.





This is by the far the longest ferry ramp in Alaska. The ferry is almost empty so we can leave the rig parked at the door and then drive right off when we get to Wrangell.

We walk up to the top of the ferry and discuss the ferry ramp – we wonder why they couldn’t have made this ramp differently. And I thought the steep ramp at Haines was challenging :-)


We have a short 3 hour ferry ride to Wrangell today, so we find a seat and enjoy the ride. I take one last picture of Petersburg.

Several miles from the dock we pass the Matanuska ferry:
Shortly after passing the ferry we pass a fishing lodge, where they have several halibut hanging. The one is over 200 pounds!

The Wrangell Narrows is the most dangerous part of the Alaska Marine Highway. The have a watchman posted at the front of the ferry to watch for other boats and any other hazards.


Views of Wrangell from the ferry:



We get to Wrangell and the attendant there looks at our rig and says "I bet that was fun getting on at Petersburg". We just smile. The drive off the ferry is an easy drive off.

We check out a campground near the small boat harbor that is supposed to have a nice view. Well, there are lots of trees, so no view for the campsites we can fit in. Plus the campsites are not very level and it’s $25/night for electric only. We head back to town for the ‘parking lot’ RV park with the level sites, full hookups, and free wifi for $32/night. After setting up we head to check out downtown Wrangell. It’s Sunday, so everything’s closed.
We look at the dock area and inquire about a tour to go see the nearby Anon Bear sanctuary. It’s $207/person! Times 3 is $621, so that’s not going to happen. On the ferry ride to Sitka we met a family of 3 from Homer, Alaska who were planning to do this; but too $$$ for us.

So we drive over to Petroglyph Beach and look for the petroglyphs. There are quite a few and a lot easier to find than at Sandy Beach near Petersburg.

Then we drive to the end of the good road, where we see a No Trespassing sign that is quite detailed.

Our planned last stop today is at Shaker Island to view Tlingit totems and a clan house.


As we’re driving back to the 5ver we notice a ferry in port. So we go look to see what ferry is in port (the Columbia) and check out the gift shop that is open for the ferry. There are also several kids at the dock selling garnets. They get around $20 and up for the garnets that are imbedded in some sort of rock. We later find out that the garnets are found on land owned by a local Boy Scout troop. Only kids are allowed to dig for the garnets.

We go back to the trailer for dinner. After dinner Jere and I take a walk to the new wharf area. Our walk is cut short when it starts to rain. So we head back to trailer and call it a day.

Posted by jengelman 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Petersburg, Alaska

Saturday, July 28, 2007

rain 0 °F

We wake to rain again, but it stops by the time we're ready to drive into Petersburg. Our first stop is the museum.
We watch their interesting 30-minute movie on the history of Petersburg and look around their small museum.
The 3rd grade teacher in town had her students write a journal about themselves and their heritage, so I read a few of them and leave a note for one of the little girls saying how much I enjoyed her journal. They are really well done for 3rd graders.

Then we park by the dock area and walk around downtown Petersburg.
We first stop at the Sons of Norway area and read about their Norwegian founder/heritage.


There are lots of fishing boats in this town.

Then we walk along the main street and do some window-shopping. Petersburg was founded by a Norwegian, so several of the stores are decorated with Norwegian artwork. Even some of the sidewalks have the Norwegian inspired designs.



All of the windows have quilts displayed, so I am thrilled to look at quilts. They apparently have quilting camp here each summer. I joke with Jere that we need to come back next summer so I can attend quilting camp. The town has dozens of quilts displayed from “Quilt Camp 2007”.

We look for a place for lunch, but the only restaurant we find in town that meets Jere & Joe’s approval is filled with cruise passengers. Petersburg gets 2-3 small cruises in here each week. The cruise boats are small, with less than a 100 tourists/boat.

So we return to the trailer for lunch and it is pouring rain. After lunch we head south for a drive. We pass several sitka pygmy black-tailed deer along the road.
They’re not bothered by our loud diesel and keep on eating when we pass. It stops raining so we get out to take a walk on a nature trail. It's through a muskeg meadow to a salmon creek. While we’re watching the salmon and fishermen at the creek, a black bear comes out to the riverbank about 50 yards downstream, so we watch the bear for awhile.

The one section of road has graffiti painted on it. The graffiti continues for around 1000 feet. I'm not sure if I've ever seen graffiti painted on blacktop.

We stop by the trailer for a snack and then drive to the other side of town and do some beach-combing at low tide.
There’s a lot of sea glass on the beach, so we gather some sea glass as a souvenir.

After walking on the beach for awhile we head down the road to Sandy Beach Park. They have very unusual picnic tables:
It’s not very sandy at Sandy Beach, but we walk out through the mud and mussels to look at some petroglyphs that are supposed to be out on the rocks. We find a few and then head back to the truck – it’s raining again.

We make one more stop (in the rain), where there's a covered viewpoint, Whale Point.
There are icebergs in the strait from the LeConte glacier, so we look at them through the binoculars for awhile. They're really pretty. Then head back to the trailer for dinner (and lots more rain!).

Posted by jengelman 13:13 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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