Ketchikan

[excerpt from Alluring Alaska]

Whereas Seattle, considered to be rainy and overcast, receives slightly more than three feet of rain annually, Ketchikan is doused with more than 15 feet of the wet stuff each year.

Alaska’s “Rain Capital” was also known through its history as “Alaska’s First City,” for being the first Alaskan port of call for those traveling north on the Inside Passage, and “Salmon Capital of the World,” for its abundant salmon runs. The town had changed much since our last trip here. Shops selling gold, art and souvenirs lined the waterfront on land reclaimed from the harbor.

We disembarked and walked through town to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. We toured four informative exhibits highlighting the region’s rainforests, native traditions, ecosystems and natural resources.

We planned to walk to Deer Mountain and hike up through the verdant forest we walked through seven years ago, but on the way, we passed the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. What stopped us was not the “90 minutes of excitement” promised in the brochure: “Rugged Woodsmen featured in chopping, sawing, climbing, log rolling, music and more!”

What stopped us were the rental bicycles parked out front. We paid $15 each for a half-day rental, donned a couple of helmets that were included in the rate and began pedaling to Totem Bight State Park, 10 miles away.

At Totem Bight, we followed a path by foot through ancient, green forests to a promontory of beachfront featuring an Alaskan Indian communal house and a collection of totem poles. The setting was beautiful, and the totem poles were engaging. After half an hour there, we straddled our bikes and headed back into town.

The trip left us not only invigorated but also in need of nourishment. After returning the bikes, we stumbled upon the Ketchikan Brewing Company. The bartender looked surprised to see a couple of tourists pass through the threshold of his bar, and he was: Although the brewery had been around for a few years, the pub had been open only for a few days. We were among the first customers.

We sampled Spruce Tip Ale, flavored with hand-picked, locally grown spruce tips; Black Bear Porter, a smoky, chocolate-flavored beer that gets its taste from roasted malts and barley; and Gateway Golden Ale, named for another Ketchikan moniker, “The Gateway City.” And even though we did not hike Deer Mountain, we had a glass of Deer Mountain Amber.

The next morning, we cruised Frederick Sound, where we stopped for more than an hour to watch humpback whales surface and dive, fluking their massive tails. We continued to Stephen’s Passage and up into Tracy Arm, a steep-walled fjord more than 25 miles long that is regarded by some travelers as the most beautiful place in Alaska.

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