Wednesday, May 15, 2013

KETCHIKAN, Settling In

Totem pole at Saxman Village.   Modern paints are used today but red, black and blue green are traditional colors, once made from local minerals and set with salmon eggs.  These magnificent poles are made of cedar.
I am settling in to my new apartment and getting to know my way around town.  I have finished an intense period of training and have given my first tours.   I still have lots to learn, plenty to polish up on to improve my presentations, but I have two days off now to relax, regroup, and assimilate the two week since my arrival in Ketchikan.

Ketchikan has many nicknames; "Totem Pole Capitol of the World," "Alaska's First City," and " Salmon Cannery Capitol of the World" are three common ones and all of them tell you something about this community.   It is the first stop in Alaska for people heading north along the Inside Passage.   It has several excellent collections of totem poles, old and new, connecting the community with its Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian heritage.   It's Anglo history begins with the establishment of salmon salteries and canneries.   Today, salmon fishing is still its biggest industry although with modern transportation and refrigeration, many of those salmon reach the rest of the world fresh and fresh frozen and canned salmon is a smaller portion of the delectable fish that leave its harbors.

I flew up.  Ketchikan is located on an island.  It is accessible only by air or water.  I could say it is accessible only by water as the airport is located across Tongass Narrows and a five minute ferry ride is required to reach town.    

For this summer's employment, I am working as a naturalist aboard the Allen Marine fleet operating out of Ketchikan.   I decided there was no point in bringing the motorhome.  The cost of getting it here and staying in the one RV park I could locate, was more expensive than an efficiency apartment.   And with a very limited road system, I decided to leave the car behind as well.  This will be a summer to walk, a lot, and get into better shape.  
View of cruise ship arriving in town as seen from my window

Another view from my window.  The landlord's house and chimney are in the foreground.  The Lutheran Church below

View from Tongass Narrows from my side window.  

Ketchikan is built on a narrow strip along Tongass Narrows.  With only a small tidal flat area, early Anglo settlers solved the issue of building by putting in pilings and building on top of them.  Carved by glaciers, the region offers deep water channels with vertical mountain slopes right to the water line.   The main road runs  along the waterfront and the houses rise on the steep hillsides above.  So, besides walking to and from work and to downtown, I have a three block hill to climb, plus a flight of stairs inside.

I hardly saw the apartment when I entered it the first time because my attention was drawn to the picture window overlooking the Narrows, with views of  Pennock and Gravina Islands.  I watch fishing boats, the ferry, cruise ships, barges, float planes and bald eagles from my window.  

My apartment.  You can see the chimney from the house below in the window and the vista beyond
A cruise ship leaving town with raindrops on my window.
  And walking will be the name of the game.  There is a great little bus system, with a $25 monthly pass which gets me to stores, and out of town to parks and recreation area.   I've ridden several times and have gone to the end of the line to the south and as far as Walmart to the north.  Tomorrow I will ride the blue-line to its end, past Ward Cove to Totem Bight Park which includes another collection of totem poles and some nice hiking trails.   The library isn't far away from where I live although the hill will push my leg muscles.  It is also accessible by bus.  

So how steep are the hills of Ketchikan?   Well some of them are staircases rather than roads.  However, they bear a street name, street sign, and are maintained by the city streets department. 
Chapman Street is one block south of the vehicular street leading to my apartment

My windows are circled in yellow. 

This is Lund Street where I live.  My entrance is just around the corner to the left at the top of the street.

For fun, here are a few Ketchikan facts:
*Annual rainfall: 13 FEET.   Why bother with inches when it is this much?
*Annual days of rainfall:   228 days with measurable precipitation.
*Wildfires:   almost never.  Forest regeneration is through landslides or windstorms.  There have been some large and notable building fires in town however.
*Revillagigedo Island:   the island on which Ketchikan is named.   Named by an early          
  Spanish explorer for a viceroy of Mexico, the pronunciation is not Spanish.  The double "ll:s which should be a "y" are not.   But locals don't bother with the full name; it is known as Revilla.  It is 35 miles by 55 miles and most of it is roadless.   Mountains, glacial lakes, rivers, and hundreds of waterfalls are found here.  the Tongass Hwy goes 12 miles south of town, becomes dirt for a few more miles and ends.   North of town it goes 20 miles and ends in a cul de sac.   A dirt road goes into the interior and there are residential roads.  But, like all of SE Alaska it is mostly roadless.  The statistic for SE is 89% roadless.
*It is not particularly snowy or cold.  An average winter snowfall is 37" and this year was light.   My second day in town it did snow, and we could see it on surrounding peaks, but what came down in town melted before it hit the ground.  Average winter temperature is 31 degrees and summer is 55 degrees.
*Fishing and tourism are the major industries.  But is also has a strong art base with many artists, visual and performing arts, living here.  The Coast Guard has a large facility here which handles major repairs on the entire Alaskan Coast Guard fleet.  It employs about 300 people, military and civilian.    My mother served in the SPARs during WWII and was stationed here.
*Tidal fluctations reach 23 feet.    I haven't experienced an especially low minus tide yet, but even a moderate low tide makes the ramps from ships to dock pretty steep.   It is often an issue for guests from the cruise ships.
*It is situated within the Tongass National Forest, a 17 million acre entity set aside by Teddy Roosevelt.  
*wildlife includes whales, notably humpbacks, orcas, porpoises, seals, river otters, deer, black bear (occasional brown bear or aka grizzly, but more are found on other nearby islands), sea lions. lots of bald eagles, pigeon guillimots, loons, and plenty more.
*Population is about 13,000.   And most of the folks stay year round.   And it sounds like the biggest problem is winter is figuring out which event to go to.   I rather like the idea of the monthly concert, featuring local performers, at the clan house at Saxman Village.  Admission is $5.00 but it is waved if you bring a desert.  At intermission everyone gets coffee and a potluck of deserts.  A panel judges the deserts and local businesses give prizes.  
*The population  figure above is for the folks who live here.  In the summer, huge cruise ships dock and this year they anticipate over 950,000 people will visit Ketchikan.  the ships are only here for a day.  But evening the berths are empty.  
*Its population began with Tlingits, who arrived about 10,000 years ago.  Haida moved up from the Haida Guai\ Queen Charlotte Islands about 200 years ago.  Tsimshian arrived from BC with Father Duncan to settle Annette Island, across the channel in 1887.   The Russians arrived in southeast Alaska in the 1700's.   People from the US arrived, first opening canneries and salteries.  The gold rush that followed brought more.  And while the big rushes were further north,  mining for gold and copper occured here and on the neighboring islands.  There was also a good sized marble quarry on one of the  islands.
More interesting information on this area will follow in later blog entries.   Since my tours include Misty Fjords National Monument and George Inlet, look for photos and information on those areas later on.