Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island Alaska, is known as both the salmon capital of the world and the rain capital of Alaska. The salmon industry gives the first title away and the average rainfall of 160 inches, a whopping 406cm, (often reaching 200 inches/ 508cm!!!) gives away the second. This may not be a surprise for you but, from a South Australian’s perspective, that’s a lot of rain. It’s not uncommon for their “liquid sunshine” to last 30 days so there’s nothing for it than to get out in it.
The Norwegian Jewel docks in Ketchikan for 7.5 hours from 07:00 to 14:30. The Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer tour takes 4.5 hours allowing time to check out the town after. The Misty Fjords are the attraction for wildlife, waterfalls, and to experience Southeast Alaska’s distinctive ecosystem. Guess what? It’s not raining! That doesn’t mean it won’t though so layer up, it’s time to move from one boat to another.
Allen Marine Tours is a local, family run business who design and build their vessels at their own shipyard. They have been taking visitors on sightseeing tours of the Alaskan waters for more than 40 years and their experience is evident. Knowledgeable commentary by the crew on the landscape, wildlife, and history of the area keep the guests’ attention. Snacks of pastries, clam chowder, and smoked sockeye salmon keep the wolf from the door and the bar is open for the duration. Local produce is available to take home, or they’ll ship it to you, and a special presentation by a Tlingit native lends insight to customs, beliefs and traditions of their society.
There are no promises when it comes to spotting wildlife but binoculars are provided for every guest in order not to miss a thing. Seals relaxing on rocks are ready to dive deep at the mere suggestion of fish below. Bald eagle’s nests are common along the shoreline but are not easy to spot. The adult white heads against lush green trees are markers. Bald eagles mate for life and return to the same nesting area each year so the crew will point them out.
Over 700 humpback whales inhabit the southeastern Alaskan waters. It’s more likely you’ll see them in summer after having spent the winter in Mexico or Hawaii to mate and calve. They return to the nutrient rich Alaskan waters to feed consuming over a ton of food a day. Keep your binoculars handy to spot a passing pod of orcas. One such character with a dorsal fin of over 1.5 metres (suggesting nearly 10 metres in length) may lead his pod in play very near your boat if you’re lucky.
Jimmy Carter decreed over 2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest as the Misty Fjords National Monument in 1978 protecting and preserving the region for generations to come. The landscape is defined by glaciers, compacted granular snow that recrystalises into ice. Glaciers shift constantly and in Rudyerd Bay, your destination, the steep cliffs have been scarred by previous glacier movement.
Low-level cloud covers the cliff tops, waterfalls gush or trickle depending on the weather, and vegetation changes from the waters edge into the clouds. Lichen and moss precede shrubs and aspen followed by forests of western hemlock, spruce, western red cedar and Alaska cedar at the top. There is no doubt the Misty Fjords will leave you in awe.
To wander around and shop Ketchikan pales against the beauty of the Misty Fjords but don’t waste Paul’s inside knowledge from his seminar if you can help it. Alternatively, visit the Tongass Historical Museum where Ketchikan’s history as a native fishing camp, gold and copper mining centre, salmon cannery and transport hub is told through a series of photographs. Also, view a permanent exhibition of First People’s artefacts including stone tools, ceremonial garments, and traditional items made by contemporary native artists.
Sadly, it’s the Norwegian Jewel‘s boarding time, but Ketchikan will be there on your next visit. Ketchikan Alaska: it’s a place we love….