Photo: Cruise Ships tied up in Ketchikan Harbor
The first time we sailed to Ketchikan the size and number of the cruise ships made me want to run and hide. But then I discovered if I took the time to look beyond the cruise ships, Ketchikan is a great town. Here is why:
The merchants might be busy with cruise ship passengers but there are some who always take time to talk to us. They own and operate local stores that are also worth visiting (compared to the stores that cater to cruise ship passengers). These include:
Ken and Monica Decker of the Crazy Wolf Studio http://www.crazywolfstudio.com/. Their shop is stuffed with authentic affordable Native art, including some done by Ken. Ken and Monica always welcome us as long lost friends, even this year when it had been four years since we'd been to Alaska. They're fonts of information about what's going on in Ketchikan. Steve went to buy a replacement for his worn out Crazy Wolf denim shirt and they just gave it to him. And then they decided I needed something too, so they gave me a beautiful hummingbird T-shirt.
Norman Jackson, Tlingit carver https://normanjackson.com/. Among the Crazy Wolf Studio's art is jewelry done by Jackson, who also sells beautiful authentic wood carvings through his own website. We met Norman when we parked Osprey
next to his salmon troller, Indian Summer
one summer. ("I'm a better carver than a fisherman," he once told us.) This year, like everyone from Alaska, he was concerned about the low salmon runs. He is convinced it's due to global warming. "People talk a lot about the changes in the last three years," he told us. "But I look what's happened since I was growing up here in the '60s and '70s. We used to go sledding every year, but now there's so little snow, you can't even buy a sled here."
Linda Meuter, owner of Chinook and Company seafood store https://chinookandcompany.com/. Hearing Linda talk about the benefits of eating sustainably fished canned salmon can convert the most anti-can chef. Linda also introduced us to the idea that the best stores are always five blocks away from the cruise ship docks. Only serious shoppers, those who understand the benefits of sustainable canned salmon and original art will make the trip.
Charlotte Glover, owner of the Parnassus Book Store https://www.alaska.org/detail/parnassus-books. The store has changed locations and owners since we first visited but it's still going strong. The fact that Ketchikan supports an independent bookstore so far from an urban center is a recommendation on its own. And they carry Glaciers, Bears and Totems
Needless to say, talking to all these people takes time away from writing a blog!
make Ketchikan a great place to prepare for the rest of an Alaska trip. We like to go late in the day and avoid the crowds of cruise ship passengers.
The Totem Heritage Center displays original totems from old villages. We've visited at least five times and I still learned things on this year's visit. Our first visit there in 2006 gave us the idea of visiting Kasaan.
The Discovery Center celebrates the Tongass National Forest.
The Ketchikan City Museum provides insight into the culture of SE Alaska.
The Blueberry Arts Festival
, the first weekend of August. In addition to slug races, hand-made boat races, and mustache and beard contests the Arts Fesitival includes a special art exhibit; the Richard Brautigan, Dick Whittier, Lillian Ference Memorial Trout Fishing in America Poetry Slam; and the Giggle Feet Dance Festival. Ketchikan has a population of only 12,000 people so volunteers have to organize events. They do a great job.
The Poetry Slam is in the New York Café, a gem in itself with an old wooden bar, varnished wooden wainscotting, wonderful plate glass windows and a Ray Troll mural occupying a whole wall.
Photo: the New York Café with the Ray Troll Mural.
This year we came out of the high school auditorium located high up on a hill where the Giggle Feet show takes place to a view that took my breath away. Far below in the twilight, wisps of fog crept up Tongass Narrows under a crescent moon. We would never have climbed that hill if it hadn't been for the show.
Other fun things:
Colorful renovated old buildings
. The old stores located downtown, on Stedman Street and in a section called Newtown get more colorful every year.
Photo: Renovated Buildings on Stedman Street
They're built for the fishermen but yachties like us get to stay there when the fishermen are fishing (which is all summer). All those marinas mean lots of boaters go through there. Some of them we know, others we get to know. There's always somebody to talk to. We especially like Thomas Basin. It's right downtown but far enough away from seaplanes and highways to be (relatively) quiet. Yes, you have to take a bus to laundry and grocery but it's worth it.
tied up at Thomas Basin next to a fiberglass copy of a dugout canoe belonged to Marvin Oliver, recently deceased Native artist and UW professor.
The pink-painted customs house
. You can't miss it. It's on the right in the photo above.
The view from the restaurant at the Cape Fox Lodge
(the food isn't bad either.)
The Ray Troll store
and its humorous T-shirts next to the Marvin Oliver store
with some serious Native art T-shirts.
Stores like the Tongass Trading Center and Pacific Pride
where you can buy boat parts, foul weather gear and XtraTuf boots.
The cruise ship passengers
(!?). Urban planners will tell you pedestrians make for a vibrant city and the cruise ships bring pedestrians. And let's face it, we wouldn't have those renovated buildings or the businesses in them without the cruise ships and the business they bring. Ketchikan residents have Walmart. Tourists have renovated stores.