Ketchikan

Fish ladder aids salmon when they swim upstream to spawn

Words by Les and Kel Rohlf Photos by Les Rohlf (June 21-24, 2021)

Les’ Notes

As of late afternoon on Wednesday, June 23, order has returned to the universe, and it’s raining in Ketchikan, Alaska. We’ve enjoyed the last few days of dry weather to relax and explore a little. While we’ve been relaxing, there’s a continual hum of activity here at the Bar Harbor South Basin with fishing boats arriving or departing. We’re in between two floatplane zones, so we see and hear the regular departures from the north zone and approaches to the south zone just over the basin’s break wall. The Ketchikan airport is on Gravina Island and across the channel from us, so we also see the commercial airline arrival/departures.

Float plane approaching for a landing

We walked the 2 miles to downtown on Monday, wandered through a few shops, and had good burgers at the 108 Tap Room. The downtown area where cruise ships normally dock has obviously been hurt by their absence this year and last. It’s nice for us to be able to wander without fighting the crowds, but I hurt for everyone here who relies on tourism for their livelihood. The young lady running the nearby coffee shop indicated she’d otherwise be leading tour groups.

After spending a little time here, I’m glad we were assigned a spot at Bar Harbor South Basin. There are three main public Marinas in Ketchikan proper: Thomas Basin, Casey Moran, and Bar Harbor. Thomas Basin sits at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek adjacent to downtown; Casey Moran is a short distance north and is tucked behind one of the cruise ship berths. While close to downtown, I don’t believe these marinas offer nearby shower or laundry facilities. Bar Harbor, about 1.5 miles north of downtown, includes showers at the Harbor Office (North Basin) and a laundry adjacent to the South Basin. The Safeway is just a couple blocks south of Bar Harbor as well. Visiting the downtown area is not difficult either by walking, taxi, or public bus. One minor negative about the Bar Harbor men’s restroom – it includes only a single sit-down toilet. In a large marina like this one, it’s an in-demand property most mornings.

On Tuesday, we caught the bus and visited the Totem Heritage Center. They have an excellent museum showcasing several totems preserved from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From there, we followed the creek down the hill and walked through historic “Creek Street” to its end at Thomas Basin. We had an excellent lunch (Halibut Fish and Chips and Kebab Platter) at the New York Café. Kel has also identified and thoroughly scoured the three thrift stores in town.

Creek Street

Today (Thursday) is one of big tidal extremes. The low tide this morning was -3.8 feet, after last night’s high of 18.2 feet. A very low tide creates an extreme angle to the walkway from the floating docks up to street level. It’s a good workout for your quads going up, and a rather harrowing experience coming down.

Low tide walkway and fish cleaning tables
High tide walkway (brown building houses the laundromat)

Kel’s Musings

Staying in port lends itself to a different routine than the early morning departures of transit, and long haul cruises to get to each anchorage, which we practiced on the way here. After our initial arrival in Ketchikan followed by showers, laundry and dinner, we have settled into a daily rhythm of sleeping in a little, 6am instead of our 4am wake-up calls.

Monday night, we scoped out the closest coffee shop, and Les asked if I noticed the thrift store next to the laundromat. I had noticed, and even found out that they opened at 10am. Monday’s agenda included breakfast at the Pilothouse Coffee shop, and then heading to the thrift store to find a few more warm clothes to supplement my wardrobe. The weather has been temperate, and even the gentle rains when they occur feel welcome, rather than dreaded. But in the evenings and in the mornings layering my clothes makes life more comfortable. Until Wednesday, we hadn’t really broke out our raincoats or rain boots, but we appreciated both, when we walked into town to splurge on a pair of taller rain boots for me, with octopus print lining that I spied in a brochure.

Besides shopping and walking, we’ve enjoyed meeting folks and just witnessing how the locals live as they sling coffee or flip hamburgers or filet halibut at the stainless steel tables at the end of the dock. We met a fellow traveler at the Arctic Bar, who gave us insider tips on eateries here, as well as in Sitka. People are friendly and welcoming. Even the dogs here are nice. We miss our Kokomo, so when a stranger lets me pet their dog, it fills a spot in my heart. We also miss the cat, but she’s never been on the boat, so it’s not as strange for her to be absent.

It has been strange to see very few tourists strolling around downtown, giving the whole vibe a surreal, off-season, ghost town feel at times. We appreciate when someone strikes up a conversation and makes the effort to be sociable. Long times of solitude are good, yet I prefer my solitude to be balanced with human interaction. Both make the journey all the more interesting.

As we close out our stay at Ketchikan, we take our showers, do the laundry and eat out for lunch. We have bought a few groceries each day to restock, since we have to carry whatever we buy back to the boat. I would guess that over the past few days, we walked about twenty miles. I appreciate the change of pace when we’re in port, but also look forward to the next stops along the way. The cool thing about this adventure is that we will be coming back through to return to our starting point. So if we missed anything or want to revisit a favorite haunt we can. I saved my coffee punch card for just such an occasion.

The revelation of God is whole
    and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
    and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
    showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
    and easy on the eyes.
God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
    with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of God are accurate
    down to the nth degree.
(Psalm 19: 7-9 The Message)

4 thoughts on “Ketchikan

  1. Oh Kel, I could see this entire installment in my mind, having visited Ketchikan and spent several days there. Creek Street and the New York Cafe, in particular.
    You are right about the oddly absent crowds–it must be so very sad for the locals–the loss of tourism is huge everywhere but Ketchikan feels it worse than most places because of the cruise ships not going there.
    I’m glad you’ve met some kind folks along the way–how could you not? I’m sure you and Les are super friendly.
    Scorching weather ahead here in the PNW for the next 5 days–you’ll be glad you’re on the water up north!
    Take care.

    1. Thx, Jody…Ketchikan is a great place to begin our Alaskan odyssey 😊 Now we’re taking a slow cruise up to Wrangell…have a blessed weekend 💗

  2. Oh Yes, a 22+ foot tide. Now if that doesn’t make you tired just doing all that up and down, just imagine moving all that water through some of those narrow channels. As to the lack of tourists, Alaskan seacoast towns have become accustomed to the Cruise industry, but not that many years ago, those same folks didn’t want the intrusion. I wonder if the cruise jobs are easier, or the money is better, or the workers are not native and just up there for seasonal labor. Having been up there on a cruise I remember seeing signs in some of the shops saying they were owned and staffed by native Alaskans, differentiating them from the shops owned and staffed by the cruise ship companies. I know Seattle is saying they are missing out on nearly a Billion Dollars from the lose of the cruise industry here. Harvey/SleepyC

    1. Harvey-Interesting paradox about wanting tourists vs not…I didn’t notice the differentiation between stores but some folks were eager to tell us if they were native…yes we have our eyes on those tide fluctuations esp in narrow passages Blessings-Kel

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