Ketchikan and our final day at sea

Welcome back to the lucky thirteenth installment of the Bucket List: Alaska series. If you are just joining us, you can go back to read the start of our Alaska adventure in Anchorage at this link. There will be links at the bottom of each post to take you to the next one.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast with Pam and Eric, then the four of us disembarked to look for a Ketchikan area tour. Ketchikan is the southernmost port in Alaska, and it was our last cruise stop prior to Vancouver. This seventh most populated city in Alaska dates back to 1883 when a salmon saltery was built there. 8000 or so souls call the city home, with a total of about 14,000 in the surrounding area. It averages 152 inches of rainfall, primarily in the fall and winter, so we were fortunate to have a sunny day for our visit.

We didn’t really know what to expect but a tour including a salmon-run natural area where bears are often sighted, and a visit to Totem Bight State Historical Park where totem art is showcased, sounded good to us!

We met our guide, Kathy, and her trolley not far from the ship. Kathy has lived in Ketchikan for 40+ years, and certainly knows her way around, as well as, much of the history of the area.

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Gorgeous water views along the tour route

Our first stop was just outside the Saxman Native Village, which was an option to add on to our tour, but seemed a little touristy so we declined. We stopped so guests could see the complex and decide if we wanted to go back later.

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The entrance to Saxman Native Village

Our next stop was south of Saxman on the Tongass Highway, in a scenic area known for wildlife sightings, including bears & eagles. Our tour stopped across the inlet from a private nature reserve that had built a walkway into the inlet. I guess our tour did the budget version. Hehe. There was a salmon hatchery further up the inlet and the birds were going crazy fishing for whatever they could get their beaks on. We did see a few bald eagles enter the fishing fray, but no bear sightings, unfortunately.

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The private reserve had a better view 😉

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Zoomed in to see the swarming seabirds

Next, our tour went back the way we came, through downtown Ketchikan, and then 10 miles further north to Totem Bight State Historical Park which was begun by the US Forest Service in the 1930s to salvage the art and history of the native peoples as they abandoned their villages and moved to more populated areas in search of work.

The park’s history according to Travel Alaska:

When Alaska’s indigenous people migrated to non-Native communities to seek work in the early 1900s, the villages and totem poles they left behind were soon overgrown by forests and eroded by weather. In 1938, the U.S. Forest Service began a program designed to salvage and restore these large cedar monuments by hiring skilled carvers from among elder Tlingit and Haida Indians who in turn passed on the art of carving totems to younger artisans.

The project grew into the construction of a model Native village, and by World War II the community house was complete and 15 poles were erected. The name of the site was then changed to Totem Bight. When Alaska received statehood in 1959, the title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska. In 1970 the state park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The park had an amazing display of totems, as well as, a large and ornate clan house, and a carving house, with historically accurate tools on display, and several totem projects in progress. The old ways are followed here, including using native plants to source and produce the paints used on the totems and other artwork on the buildings. We were interested to learn that totems were not worshipped, but were created to tell a story; of a clan, a family, or simply to honor nature.

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A very unique totem, with tiled scales decorated by visiting children

The clan house was designed to reflect the heart of a native village, the meeting place, and community center, and was spectacularly decorated and impressive.

And some additional artwork outside the buildings and on the grounds.

Lastly, we visited the Carving Room, which had artwork, tools, and carvings in process. Unfortunately, there were no carvers on site on the day of our visit, as I would have loved to see them in action. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and we learned a lot about the native culture and their dedication to their art.

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The scale of the totems is just amazing!

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Painted and unfinished totems in progress

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Jerry, Pam, and Eric with a spectacular example of native art at Totem Bight

Our tour was concluded by a ride back along the water into Ketchikan. Our gorgeous day was turning into a beautiful afternoon so we strolled the famous Creek Street, a historic boardwalk depicting the Red Light district from the Gold Rush era, prior to returning to the ship. Creek Street is now filled with shops and restaurants, offering souvenirs, native art, and great people watching.

Upon return to the ship, we dressed up a little from our touring clothes for the last “formal night” dinner and enjoyed a feast of lobster and prawns before enjoying a nightcap in one of the lounges. The formal night is one of the things that this very casual group could have done without. 😉

Our last day at sea was very lazy…we woke late, and spent most of the day on deck or on our balcony just admiring the scenery. We saw whales and tons of porpoise, but only took a few photos!

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An isolated lighthouse in the distance

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Click to enlarge, porpoise overload!

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Click to enlarge, porpoise overload!

Our final dinner of the cruise featured salmon, with which I was disappointed, and my first time trying Baked Alaska, which was amazing! One of the things that annoyed us about the tour and cruise occurred again when we had to pack and have our luggage outside our cabin by 10 PM. Though we did not attend any of the auditions or interim performances during the cruise, we did attend Princess’ version of the popular singing competition “Voice of the Ocean” finale in the main theater that night. It was entertaining, and we were quite surprised by the quality of some of the guest talent.

All in all, we loved the visit to Alaska, despite chafing against the strict timelines and abbreviated visits to each area. We tried to make the most of each stop, but not cram too much into each day. Cruising really is the best way to see the Inside Passage, but I don’t know if we will cruise again, especially on such a large ship. Just too many humans crowded into too a confined space for our liking. Now a European river cruise on a much smaller ship may be in our distant future, but nothing is on the books as of now.

I know this has been a lengthy wrap-up of our Alaskan adventure, and I thank you for sticking with me. I hope you will join me for one more bonus entry of our two days in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia next time. 🙂

You can go directly to the final post at this link.

18 thoughts on “Ketchikan and our final day at sea

  1. We so wanted to buy a totem pole when we were in Alaska. We would have had to ship it home, but most of the stores did that. But we talked ourselves out of it. “Where would we put it?” we said. Seeing your pictures again kind of makes me wish we would have bought one after all, though. Next time, I guess…

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    • Wow Carrie, I didn’t think about buying a totem pole while we were there! They all seemed so massive I guess it never crossed my mind. You’ll have to go back and get one then. 😀

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      • I totally understand. The hub and I were in North Carolina and fell in love with a 5 foot carved bear that now lives on our front porch…and we were on a motorcycle trip! They would ship, but it was freight and would take 2 weeks and cost more than the bear, so I took the next Monday off work and did the only reasonable thing…drove from Atlanta back to pick up our bear in the SUV.

        It would take more than a day to drive back to Alaska, lol!

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    • Thanks, Lynn! You are right, it was an epic trip and will be hard to beat. This year we are taking a totally different approach and staying put in one place, Colorado, for 5 months as campground hosts. It will give us a chance to really explore Estes Park and Rocky Mntn National park and not feel rushed.

      I can’t wait to see your Alaska posts!

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  2. You mention a European river cruise… A few years ago my parents took a Viking cruise down the Danube–they’ve taken a few ocean cruises as well, but it’s the one down the Danube that they remember most fondly, that left the greatest impression on them. 😉

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    • Ry, we have heard that from many people and I really think we would enjoy it too. The smaller ship, close proximity to the scenery, and both of our experiences as kids in Germany would make it really special. 😀

      I hope you see my comment above…we will be spending the summer in Colorado so hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with you on one of your rideabouts!

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      • I haven’t solidly planned any of my big rides, yet somehow–year after year–I keep returning to Colorful Colorado. It just has so much to offer; there’s a ton of the state I still have to see; and I’ve never been to Estes Park, so… Drop me a line when you know where home is for the summer–it would be mighty easy to squeeze in another meet-up with you cool cats. 🙂

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  3. I enjoyed following along on your adventure.

    Totem are such a beautiful way to share a story aren’t they?

    My boss has done two European river cruises through Viking River Cruises and highly recommends them. Last September was one through France and he really liked that one. Such a small craft compared to a cruise ship and land was always in sight.

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      • Thank you for following along and your kind comments Brandy! The totems were really a highlight of the trip in Alaska and Vancouver. So much talent there!

        Yes, we have heard so many good things about the river cruises that we will definitely do one, one day. After the mass of humanity on the big ship, I think a small ship and small number of guests will be just the ticket! 😀

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