We disembarked from our Wilderness Discoverer cruise in Ketchikan. While some people on the ship were flying back home that day, we decided to stay an extra night to check out the city.
Ketchikan is a mega ship Mecca. We witnessed four huge cruise ships go in and out of port in a single day. But when we arrived, only the smaller upscale ships such as Regent and Silversea were in port. So the totem pole park at Saxman Native Village was practically deserted.
I loved the intricate totem pole carvings, even if the carving shop wasn’t open when we were there.
But it was nice being there without the crowds – or a cheesy show. We could walk around the park at our own pace.
Besides tourism, Ketchikan’s main industry is fishing. It’s known as the Salmon Capital of the world and while we had received our fishing fix in Wrangell, we saw plenty of charters going out for coho.
Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s rainiest city, with an average rainfall of 137 inches per year. In contrast, Seattle receives around 52 inches per year. We had breakfast with a local who told us that the winters seem beyond dreary.
With that much water around, you need good footwear. I loved how these Xtratufs – Alaska’s official boots – had been remade into a planter.
After walking the mile back to town from Saxman Totem Park, we wandered around Creek Street where we learned an essential lesson about Alaska port towns: When the ships are gone, don’t expect much to be open.
Creek Street had once housed the city’s brothels, which weren’t shut down until the 1950s. Now the wooden buildings hold galleries, restaurants and souvenir shops. We bought a Tlinget print to hang in our home.
Creek Street’s most famous resident, Dolly Arthur, reigned as the queen of Ketchikan’s rough and tumble party scene for years. She entertained legions of men in her brothel, charging about $2 for a three-minute session (she required patrons to be ready to go when they came inside – and yes, I mean that double entendre). Considering that she intended on making about $100 a day, you can see how her numbers added up.
You can tour her house for $5. It’s a worthwhile tour, if only to contemplate how Dolly possibly made it through that many men without getting a life-threatening STD.
All in all, we found Ketchikan to be charming – when the big ships weren’t there. On our second day, ship after ship poured into the harbor, forcing us to retreat from Creek Street to our hotel up the hill.
Overall, I loved the Inside Passage and can’t wait to return to Alaska. The state is like the Pacific Northwest on steroids – the mountains are larger, the water is clearer, the people are weirder and the wildlife is right up in your face. Never have I felt the wilderness so close – and yet so unknowable.