Ketchikan was our 3rd port of call on my media trip through Alaska, hosted by Princess Cruises.
Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “First City” because it’s the first major community you encounter when traveling south to north through the state. Since we were journeying from north to south, Ketchikan was the last port we visited before sailing on to Vancouver, where we’d disembark the ship.
Ketchikan’s first residents were the Tlingit (pronounced kling-it) people, who were drawn here by the abundance of salmon. The city’s name is said to come from the Tlingit word “Kitschk-Hin,” meaning thundering wings of an eagle. You’ll see many eagles, in the sky, in the trees, and depicted in totem poles throughout the city. Ketchikan has the largest collection of totem poles in the world, and the best place to learn about them is at Totem Bight State Park, Saxman Native Village, and Potlach Totem Park.
Ketchikan is also known for its salmon. Five different species of wild Pacific salmon are found in the surrounding waters. Want to know what they are? Make a fist. No really. Make a fist. In Alaska, there’s a hand game to help you identify the 5 kinds, and everyone you meet will tell you about it. So I’m going to teach it to you now, so when you go to Alaska you’ll be one step ahead! So….Make a fist, and hold it up. Now, open your fingers and start with your thumb. The first kind of salmon is Chum, which rhymes with thumb. Next is your pointer or index finger, which could (OK, this one’s a bit of a stretch) poke your eye out…for Sockeye. The third is your middle finger, the tallest one, symbolizing King Salmon. Next comes your ring finger, and you might slip a band of silver on it…so that should remind you of Silver Salmon. And last is your pinkie, for Pink Salmon. Now, don’t you feel better knowing that?
When walking around Ketchikan, you can stroll over to the salmon ladder on Park Avenue and see the fish swimming upstream to their spawning grounds. But bring a rain poncho! Ketchikan is located in a rain forest and it is pretty wet. It was pouring the day we were there, but luckily most of the stores have awnings that overhang the streets so you can keep fairly dry as you walk along. There are lots of fun shops.
Fortified with fudge, and protected by our waterproof jackets, we were ready for our next adventure: Snorkeling! Believe it or not, you can snorkel in Alaska! The water was nippy (about 60°), and it was still raining when we waded in, but it didn’t matter. You gear up in a thick, skintight wet suit, with a hood, gloves and booties, which kept us quite warm and comfortable. (The trickiest part was getting it zipped! And then wearing it on the bus as we shuttled the ½-mile from the dive shop to the shore!) But once in the water, you’re not really thinking about the temperature. You’re following the guides as they lead you through the inlet, pausing every few minutes to show you stuff they’ve scooped off the ocean floor. We got to hold all kinds of marine life–crabs, sea stars of various sizes (one was huge and shaped like a sunflower) and thorny sea urchins (so glad we were wearing gloves). We floated over kelp beds, which looked like oversized, swirling flowers in an enchanted underwater garden. Our guides at Mountain Point Snorkeling Adventure (Kristi, Tad, Kurt and Billy) were super enthusiastic and helpful, giving everyone individual attention. (Kristi knew my mask needed adjusting before I even had a chance to tell her.) Since my digital camera isn’t waterproof, I have no underwater pictures to show you. But my travel buddy, Christine, did kindly agree to pose in her wetsuit!
And you can check out the Mountain Point Snorkeling Adventure website for more photos and videos. Also stay tuned for more stories from me on this one-of-a-kind adventure in some of my magazine outlets.
After the snorkeling, we did one more quick walk through Ketchikan, before setting sail for Vancouver. I spotted some forget-me-nots, Alaska’s state flower, along the side of the road. And it reminded me of how many people I’d talked to during my trip who told me they came to Alaska for a visit but wound up staying long-term. There’s something about Alaska that just grabs you and won’t let go. I had to leave, but I will never ever forget my visit to the land of the midnight sun.
Read more about my Alaskan adventures.