The plane settled down on the island’s runway. The Ketchikan airport is on an island just offshore and became famous when they tried to build a bridge from the terminal to the mainland. It became all the political rage as “The Bridge To Nowhere.” I never figured that one out. I liked the five-minute trip and it added to the anticipation I always felt knowing I was about to return to one of my favorite places on the planet. Ketchikan, Alaska.
And for once, Jan was with me. When on tour up here we usually arrive a day early which was great because Jand I had decided to spend a few extra days in Ketchikan before returning to the lower 48 and reality. As usual, there were a lot of places I wanted to show her. Places she had heard about for years. Alaska is one of those places you actually have to have been to truly understand the stories you hear. It truly does defy description. Even the high school. Ketchikan is the 6th largest city in Alaska with a population of 8,289 people. Less than ½ the size of our little Ozark college town. So the high school has the only auditorium large enough to host a concert, making it a really cool venue. The lobby alone says it all.
We had picked a very cool place on the wharf right across from where the fishing boats and float planes were docked. That and a search for another Dungeness crab dinner were enough to take up the time before hitting the sack. But this was Alaska and it wouldn’t get dark for a few hours. Our hotel was right on the corner of Creek Street which was famous for its restaurants so off we went. Creek Street got its name from the very large creek that runs through town. There was a bridge by the dock and a boardwalk, of sorts, that bordered both sides of the creek. Ketchikan had been a rough and tumble kind of town based on the fishing and the timber industry. Prostitution in Alaska had been legal until the mid-1950s so you can imagine what had originally housed the restaurants and shops along Creek Street.
The next spot on the tour was Saxman Village. The village is famous for its totem park and part of the Tlingit people’s heritage. It is considered the world’s totem capital where one can visit the park, the shop where new totems and being carved, and the shop where one can purchase some of the most beautiful indigenous Alaskan art to be found, anywhere.
Next on the list was a trip to Misty Fjords National Monument. There are only two ways to get there. By float plane or boat. Jan had never been in a floatplane so there were no doubts as to how we were going to get there. I had seen a sign on the wharf for flights to the park as well as for fishing guides. I had brought my fly rod as I have always done wherever I travel. So I booked a flight to Misty Fjords and a fishing guide for a morning trip the following day. The flight was unbelievable. A little four-seat Cessna was waiting for us and, having a pilot’s license myself I told Jan she should take the seat next to the pilot. We each had headphones equipped with microphones so we could hear each other and ready we were. I have been blessed by having visited some of the most beautiful places in the world but I was not ready for Misty Fjords. Steep, cloud-shrouded cliffs and greenery beyond compare greeted us at every turn. At one point the pilot pointed out a brown bear. We were in Alaska!
Finally, as we thought it couldn’t get any better, the pilot set us down on one of the many mountain lakes that dotted the area. Looking up at the mountains we had just flown over gave us some real perspective as to how wild a place this was. I don’t believe I have seen water that clear and I reveled in my chance to stretch my legs on such beautiful ground.
Ketchikan sits at the edge of the Tsongas National Forest. The Tongass is the nation’s largest national forest and covers most of Southeast Alaska, surrounding the famous Inside Passage and offers unique chances to view the breath-taking vistas of “wild” Alaska. It is the Alaska you see in pictures. As I stated earlier, I had brought my favorite fly rod with me and had already made arrangements to go out with a guide the following day. My guide, Seth Cornrow, was a cool guy who understood what I wanted out of our trip. To catch a couple of trout I had never caught before. In this case, it was a “Leopard Rainbow.” A trout with more spots than I have chiggers when collecting blackberries. The second and most important to me was the Dolly Varden trout. A beautiful creature that one has to travel to places where the water is very cold in order to pursue. The size was not the issue. I just wanted to put something in the net that had never been there before and Seth understood.
Pursuing my favorite pastime in the most beautiful place I have ever been was a treat that words can’t express. I can still feel the tug of the current against my legs and the Alaskan rocks beneath my feet. Trying to pay attention to what was happening with my fly in the water was difficult because of my surroundings. Green. Everything was green. The tall Sitka spruce and Western Hemlock rose above us like giants as we were surrounded by bracken and maidenhead ferns and deep, rich mosses of every kind. I had to believe that it just doesn’t get any better than this.
Our days in Ketchikan were nearly over. Like Juneau, there are only two ways into Ketchikan. By boat or by plane. Given this, the roads are not very long. On our last day, we drove south, past Saxman Village as far as we could go. There we came across a waterfall tumbling down through a green mountainside. A perfect place, I thought, to get one last picture of Jan before we had to leave Paradise. The water pouring down the mountainside came from an unseen glacier above making the air in front of it at least ten degrees cooler. For this, Jan ditched her yellow slicker that had seen here through our Alaskan adventure. It was a trip I will never forget and always dream about returning to paradise.