ALASKA: LEG 1 – KETCHIKAN LAY DAY | NW Explorations
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ALASKA: LEG 1 – KETCHIKAN LAY DAY

Another beautiful day exploring Ketchikan today. The sun shone down warmly on our heads as we explored the historic town center and quiet neighborhoods built into the sides of hill so steep that the wooden streets jut out of the slopes on stout timber buttresses.The crews of Ajax and Koa Lanai signed up for a seaplane tour of Misty Fjords National Monument and had an absolutely incredible time soaring over the snowcapped maintains, silent forests, and sheer-sided fjords. To cap off the experience their pilot set the classic airplane down on a high mountain lake surrounded by peaks and they got out to take in the splendor of the scenery.In the afternoon we all went out to the various grocery stores to restock the boats for the next leg of our trip to Sitka. Although the food on the shelves is brought up by barge from the lower 48, there is a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables available nearly all the time.

By far the highlight of the trip however was the wonderful experience we all shared at the Salmon Falls Lodge. The lodge is a gorgeous compound of buildings built from full timbers situated ten miles north of town on a high bluff overlooking its namesake falls and the waters of Behm Canal and Clarence Strait. The food, wine, and service were absolutely incredible, and we all agreed it was the best dining experience we’ve had on the trip. A great way to finish off our stay in Ketchikan and reinvigorate us for our travels ahead!

Christina Hornett, Administrative Assistant at NW Explorations, arrives to join the crew of Deception.

The day had arrived…albeit several hours earlier than I normally like my days to start. My alarm went off at 2:30am…and as I went to curse and slap the thing off I realized why I was getting up at this ungodly hour…I was headed to Alaska! I had spent my 4 years at NWE learning about our Alaska Flotilla from conversations with our staff who had been crew, clients, and by preparing flyers and photos. I had memorized certain details over the years to places I had yet to experience. This was about to change as I met my fellow co-worker Jon at the Bellingham Airport at the sprightly hour of 4am. We were both sleepy but pretty excited for what was to come. Landing in Seattle at 530am our excitement turned into constant chatter about all things work, life, and travel as the lattes kicked in and began their caffeine magic. Our flight from Seattle to Ketchikan was a quick one, roughly an hour and a half. As we began our descent into Ketchikan, several tree-covered islands dotted one side, while forest and cruise ships lined the other side. A smooth touch down and hazzah…we were in Alaska! While the airport TV screen boasted such facts as the amount of rainfall in Ketchikan reaching up to 13 feet a year…you would not know it on this day. The sun was shining and the weather was warmer than back home. A short walk down some stairs from the airport doors was the ferry serving both wheels and feet – the airport is actually across the Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan and a whopping 2 minutes ride. Interestingly, the first plane to touch down in this area was in 1938 at Bostwick Inlet just south of the current day airport on Gravina Island.

After greeting up with the Deception crew, the men all went to tinker with mechanical things while I was dropped off in town to do some stretching of the ol’ legs and see what Ketchikan was all about. My first stop was the historic Creek Street. I had seen photos from previous trips and heard about how unique it was, and it was such a thrill to finally be here in person. Creek Street is a raised boardwalk that runs along and in-between some older buildings that previously housed some of the more unique characters in town (and a bordello or two), but now houses gift shops and art stores. Each building has a plaque that gives you a glimpse of some of the naughty and colorful history of the area which became a red-light district in the 1920’s. During Prohibition, some of the nearly 30 bawdy houses became speakeasies with trap doors so that boats could row underneath and distribute their spirits. This small walking area is a great photo-op and I gladly whip out my camera. Off of the boardwalk I take the wooden steps that guide me along “Married Men’s Trail” (just one guess why this trail is so aptly named…). This is a wooded area that overlooks and snakes alongside the Ketchikan Creek – ending up at the fish ladder which is a nice spot to sit and take in your surroundings.

From the fish ladder I took a turn to the right and thought I would walk around some of the neighborhoods and get a feel for the Ketchikan way of life – away from the “bustling downtown”. As I walked in the sunshine with the creek to my left and clapboard houses to my right with precariously steep steps going one way than another before ending up to the front doors…I couldn’t help but smile. I had barely been in Ketchikan for two hours and I already felt all the stress of “the real world” leave my shoulders. I didn’t have a care left…I couldn’t believe this was part of my job, I wasn’t worried about the emails or texts that may be caught in my phone (no cell service) …I was just walking a side street in a small, picturesque town of Alaska. This really wasn’t too shabby!

I saw a sign for the Totem Heritage Center and made my way there with a few turns. A gravel road led me to a very unassuming brown building. Once inside, my jaw dropped. This little brown building houses a world-renowned collection of unrestored totem poles from Tlingit and Haida villages. Five large totem poles grace the entrance which evokes an emotion of wonder. Larry, the kind man who was watching over the place this day, informed me that these five totem poles ranged from 130-200 years old and hail from Tongass Island and Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island nearby. While some believe the poles to be of religious importance, this is an error. Totem poles are tangible references to people, stories, and legends that figure into the oral history of these native peoples. One pole in particular that caught my eye is called a mortuary pole. This was built in honor of someone important by the person who was their successor as a way to honor their life. A hole would be dug out of the back of the pole in which a wooden box would be inserted, hosting the ashes of the deceased. When such a pole is erected it occurs during a potlach ceremony in which up to 200 people from various clans would come to bear witness to the celebration. This is where the oral tradition was so important as everyone who attended served to acknowledge the importance as well as carry on the story and to have the event as part of a wider collective memory. Larry added the fact that these poles are made from red cedar which has been known as the “tree of life” to Native people for over 1,000 years. Further into the building were about 10 other totem poles which, due to the deterioration, had to be laid down and protected in glass cases. Nonetheless, these poles along with beadwork, robes, and photographs created a lasting experience for me – one that I feel lucky to have been able to visit.

There is so much to Ketchikan to explore, but this lady had some napping to do. I kid you not, I found a nice bench alongside Creek Street, laid my weary head down and took a nice 45-minute nap. With the sun was shining down, the sound of birds overhead, and the occasion “woof” of a passing dog lulled me into a nice slumber. Per the instructions given to me, I headed to a specific meeting location after waking and was so excited to see some of the Mother Goose clients already assembled: the Koa Lanai crew (Donna, Roy, Anita, and Dave), Ajax (Don & Liz), and folks from Hele Mai (Andy, Cathy, Paul, and Joyce). After some hugs and hand-shakes we piled into a van that was taking us to a very special dinner occasion. A beautiful 30-minute drive along the roads of Ketchikan ended in a wooded switchback that opened up in the Salmon Falls Lodge. I think everyone did a collective intake of awe as we parked next to the gorgeous log lodge with a patio and chairs overlooking the water. The lodge itself is a magnificent wonder of beauty and love.  While the dinner was amazing (grilled salmon for me on top of roasted asparagus, potatoes, and carrots), the staff: Dave, Dana (the best bartender in the world hailing from Arkansas), Andrew, and Megan made the evening as special as it was. Their attention to detail, the philosophy of making the dining an experience for the customer, and just the genuine love for what they do – was just phenomenal. After dinner the Deception crew and Patos crew met in the lounge at the front of the restaurant – leaning back in velvet chairs and couches and sharing smiles, jokes, and laughter.

I may have only landed just 8 hours ago…but this has already been an amazing experience with clients who already feel like great friends and new family. I could fly out today and feel extremely lucky… but even luckier for me…this is only the beginning!

Excited in Ketchikan,

Christina

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