Friday, September 10, 2010

Alaska's First City

As I mentioned before, sometimes parents need a little get-away ...

Now that our children are grown, we are helping care for *our* parents in their golden years. (Hubby's Dad is 89, my Mom is 86.) Because of their failing health, we figured this was our last year to take a major vacation for awhile.

So ... I'll take up here where my last blog left off and give you a brief sketch of the third major leg of our journey to Alaska. Ketchikan was our next port of call ...

The first thing you notice when sailing into port are hundreds of fishing boats -- all sizes, shapes and colors -- and most with a name painted on the side. Names as simple as Maggie or Suzie Lou and others more creative -- Six Pence, Fishin' King, Sea Pearl, Alaskan Star, and more. What an intriguing sight they made against a backdrop of towering mountains!

When we stepped on shore, we hurried to meet our tour guide for the popular Duck Tour. That's my hubby standing by the amphibious bus. After everyone was on board, the "duck" rumbled to life and drove us around to get a general overview of the business and residential areas.

We spotted houses on such steep hills, it takes a major stairway to get up to them! Our guide lived in one of those homes and told us if at least two residences are situated up those hills, it officially is declared a street and given a proper name. You can see below how mountainous the area is. The building in the foreground is the Ketchikan High School.

She also grinned, "When you have 50-75 stairs going up to your house, it only takes ONE time of forgetting your car keys and having to trek back up all those stairs again! After that, you learn to take them down the first time."

The house with a totem pole was located on a lower level closer to the main street. Our guide told us this totem pole was given as an anniversary gift by a man to his wife. He must have loved her very much -- the price tag on this hand-carved pole was $60,000!

The second part of our tour was in the water. After driving around town, Captain Kai turned toward the harbor, went down a ramp and drove the bus right into the water. We could hear the boat motor take over soon after. Being out on the water gave us a different view of the town and got us right in the middle of the action!

Seaplanes buzzed like bees overhead, fishing boats puttered by on their way back to shore and eagles skimmed the water to catch fish. All those windows on the duckmobile made it possible to feel up close and personal with all the activity around us. You can see our cruise ship in the background.

In the photo below, our tour guide Erin is holding some bull-whip kelp, a plant that grows in Alaskan waters. It does, indeed, look like some kind of huge whip! Erin just leaned out the door while we puttered along and snatched it up to show us. The plant has many uses, including basket making.

Out on the water, we passed this boat of fishermen who were just tying up in the harbor. Our captain pointed out the way their boat was listing to the left as it moved toward shore. He said this meant they'd gotten a huge catch of salmon.

Once back on shore, we hiked up a street in the middle of town and visited a little park for a rare treat. There, we were privileged to get up close to a male adult eagle who is part of an education effort in Ketchikan.

Thor was injured a few years ago when he stepped into a trap. It tore off one of his back talons and destroyed the feathers of his right wing. He is unable to fly or hunt, so the Wildlife Rescue Association cares for him year round. A healthy 8-year old, Thor has learned quite a few tricks and is very responsive to his keeper.

Not long after visiting Thor, we had to head back to the Oosterdam. There's a good bit of nostalgia involved in saying goodbye and sailing away from one of the United State's most beautiful spots. I'm glad we had the experience of going to Ketchikan, and I hope someday we can go back again. What a lovely place to experience Alaska!

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