Ketchikan, Alaska: Quirky and Wild

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Clan House, Totem Bight State Park

Ketchikan is your typical first Alaskan stop on an Alaskan cruise itinerary, and it offers a tantalizing contrast in cultures to explore! The best place to start your adventure first is Totem Bight State Park, where you can discover and learn about Native American culture in Alaska, their totem poles, and enter one of their clan houses, brilliantly restored and preserved.

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Richly decorated totem pole

Totem poles served a variety of different purposes. In front of a clan house, it could serve as an “address” marker, much like our address number and street. Others convey local legends, or honor a local clan. And others serve as grave markers, much like cemetery stones.

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This one is akin to a cemetery stone

The totems are decorated in rich, bold colors and depict a wealth of different designs. Animals are abundant in totem design. At Totem Bight State Park there are many different types of totems to compare and contrast. And, if you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of a whale from the waterfront!

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Welcome to Ketchikan sign near the port

The area around the port hosts many retail shops, and can be crowded when multiple cruise ships are docked. Perhaps the most interesting sight here at the port is “The Rock” statue.

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“The Rock”

According to the Ketchikan Story Project, “The Rock tells the story of how Alaska’s First City came to be. Six of the seven figures on the sculpture represents a prominent archetype in the city’s history – a fisherman, a miner, a logger, a bush pilot, a frontierswoman, a native drummer. The seventh represents an actual historic figure – Chief Johnson, a Tlingit who stands on top of ‘The Rock,’ symbolizing the fact that his people were the first to make their home in SE Alaska.” (www.ketchikanstories.com)

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Fishing culture

Fishing is a vital component of the Alaskan culture, and there is no shortage of evidence of this here in Ketchikan. Boats bob peacefully along the docks in a “skyline” of masts at the port, while beyond them brightly colored wooden houses dot the shoreline, and towering dark green mountains are nestled in puffs of mist and clouds behind them.

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Creek Street Boardwalk

Another not-to-be-missed attraction in Ketchikan is the historic Creek Street Boardwalk. It can be a challenge to navigate – attracting hoards of eager tourists – but it is well worth the effort. Here wooden houses in a rainbow of colors sit upon a lengthy boardwalk creek front, where miniature waterfalls provide a chance to witness leaping salmon. There is history here, including “Dolly’s House,” a brothel from 1919. Of course, retail shopping opportunities abound as well, given the crowds.

Ketchikan is quirky and wild, a place of great contrasts, and an excellent place to start your Alaskan journey!

You can view my tour of Ketchikan here:!

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