As the boat neared the town of Ketchikan, “Salmon Capital of the world,” we were still at a loss as to what we should do there once the boat docked. Normally, we have our activities scheduled out for our trips, but on this one, we just could not decide. The shore excursions offered through the cruise were pricey and did not sound too exciting, so we broke out our trusty guidebook. There were a lot of totem poles in the area and that was something we had never seen much of, so totem poles it was. The two options for totem poles was Totem Bight State Historic Park, which was free and a short and inexpensive ride from downtown aboard the city bus, or Saxman Village which sounded interesting, but also a place overrun with tourists since it was offered by the cruise as an excursion. So we opted for the least traveled path and decided on Totem Bight State Park.
Once docked along Ketchikan’s wharf, we made our way down the gangplank and were handed guides to all the best jewelry stores in Ketchikan, which were the same stores found in every Alaskan port we had stopped at, and of course the coupons to get Sydney more free jewelry and charms (bling). Once on the wharf our first mission was to find a post office to mail off our post cards. The next day would have us back in Canada, so it only seemed fitting to mail Alaskan post cards from Alaska. We asked for directions and made our way to the post office and stood in line with everyone else wanting to mail post cards and souvenirs.
We had noticed the Tongass Historical Museum across the street and thought a little history lesson on the area would be a good thing before heading out to see the totem poles. We paid our admission and Sydney was given a scavenger hunt game to help her learn about the area in a fun way. If she found all of the items in the booklet, she would get a prize. So we made our way through the museum finding all of the items in the booklet and enjoying all the museum had to offer and learning about the history of the area. The museum didn’t take too long and was very educational, and was even fun for a 5 year old. Sydney is now at an age that we need to try harder at making everything a learning experience for her, but in a fun way. When we pull her out of school for our round the world trip, books will provide the basics, but the experience of traveling will offer more than can be found in any book. We just need to be more vigilant at pointing out and steering her to the educational aspects of travel, even if it is just having her play with local kids at the park or finding all of the gargoyles on an old church.
Once out of the museum we made our way to the bus stop to catch the bus to Totem Bight State Park. Riding the bus is a great way to mingle with the locals and gets you away from the canned tours where you are surrounded by other tourists. Once on the bus, we made our 10 mile journey north stopping from time to time to let the locals on and off the bus and getting a nice tour of the area. We hopped off at the parking lot for Totem Bight and were surprised at how much it felt like the coastal forests of Oregon and Washington. The trees, plants, and smells were pretty much the same. We walked down the trails through the forest and soon came to the Clan House, a replica of a traditional 19th century community house that was commonly built in the Indian villages of the area. We toured the Clan House and admired the skillfully carved totem poles outside. Totem Bight is a quiet and peaceful place and we were glad we made the trip.
We caught the next bus back to Ketchikan and got off in downtown. After passing a lot of tourist shops we came to a bridge with a few people fishing and a lot of people gawking. The bridge went over Ketchikan Creek where it flows into the harbor; a harbor jam packed full of salmon waiting their turn to swim upstream to spawn. The fish were jumping out of the water and the fishermen were catching them way too easily. They call Ketchikan the “Salmon Capital of the World” and now we saw why. Sydney got really excited and wanted to go fishing, which I felt the same way, but did not feel like trying to tote around dead salmon in our luggage. I am not sure why people would actually pay to go out with a guide looking for salmon when they were all right here.
Across the street was Dolly’s, a former whore house now museum and gift shop. Not much has changed as they still offer services for a fee, just different services. We walked along the Creek Street boardwalk and browsed the tourist shops. We soon came to an odd looking tram called a funicular, which would take you to the top for $2. So, we went to the top. At the top was nothing, other than a nice view and a totem pole. These things were everywhere! We came to a sign that pointed the way to “Married Man’s Trail” which was the old back way into Dolly’s, and it also pointed towards the fish hatchery. Since we did not feel like trying to explain what a whore house was to Sydney, we took the stairs towards the fish hatchery. When we reached the bottom we saw the salmon packed creek and the falls. The fish were literally flying through the air in an attempt to get upstream. I had only seen this kind of thing on those old nature movies they showed in school back when they had projectors. Those were great movies!
After spending our last day in Alaska, we headed back to the Volendam, but not before quickly stopping by each of the jewelry stores along the wharf for some free stuff for Sydney. Each of the Alaskan towns we had visited had been very unique and interesting in their own way. They were all very touristy, but not overly so. The most amazing part of our Alaskan cruise was not the towns, but seeing the glaciers, especially Glacier Bay. We had never considered taking an Alaskan Cruise, but we are glad that we did.