A Walk in the Parks
Since 2012, we have had a return to Alaska on our to-do list. That was the year we found and planted letterboxes in all the 48 contiguous states. In 2014, on the way back from New Zealand, we added Hawaii to our list of F and P states. Wrapping up this goal with a visit to Alaska was several years overdue.
|image from Wikipedia|
|Ketchikan is famous for its historic Creek Street but today most streets are asphalt.|
|Airport ferry crossing Tongass Narrows to Ketchikan|
|Ketchikan's colorful shops and restaurants shutter their doors when the cruise ships sail away.|
But what we found most appealing about Ketchikan were its natural gems, not the flashy ones. With its mild, maritime climate, Ketchikan has moderate temperatures year round. Its signature climate feature is rain—and lots of it, explaining why the local tourist bureau promotes the town as "America's Rainiest City." Cue the story of a tourist asking a local child, "How long has it been raining, son?" "I don't know, sir," came the reply. "I'm only five years old."
As in Washington state, the steady flow of rain has created a lush temperate rain forest along the southeast Alaska coast. And on Ketchikan's compact island home, the state has carved out some particularly spectacular natural areas to preserve for public use and enjoyment. Catch a natural star and put it in a pocket...park. Three such small parks around Ketchikan definitely rise to the stellar level, and only one was promoted in tourist brochures.
1. Refuge Cove State Recreation Site
Stretching a half mile along the beach, this remarkable little 13-acre shoreline park is given barely a passing mention on the Alaska DNR web site and no promotion elsewhere. Not a single word on the town's list of "can't miss attractions." Yet this diminutive jewel is a treasure trove of massive tree specimens. Interpretive signs educate visitors about the trees. A cooperative effort of the Alaska State Parks Advisory Board and the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, a local charter school, the signage was researched and written competently by 5th and 6th graders, who also raised funds to pay for the project.
|Part of the amazing grove in Refuge Cove|
|Fluted western hemlock, a genetic predisposition in southeast Alaska|
|A stilted tree that began life growing on a rotted "nurse log." Roots are exposed when log decays.|
Continuing north on our drive up Tongass Highway, we reached Totem Bight State Park, an Alaska DNR facility which is heavily promoted and for good reason. Totem poles tell stories which are handed down from one generation to the next. However, in this area in the early 1900s, this chain began to be broken. The growth of non-Native settlements and decline of the barter economy led to a migration of Native Alaskans to communities near the white settlements where work was available. Forests soon grew over the villages they had abandoned, and weather deteriorated the totems left behind.
|The type of small totems on the right and left were used as grave markers.|
|Recreated clan house at Totem Bight State Park|
Leaving the totem village, we continued on our quest to drive to the end of the road. The distance from the extreme points on the south and north ends of the road is only 27 miles, and we needed to justify our car rental somehow. At the northern terminus of the coastal Tongass Highway, we found Settlers Cove State Recreation Site, another temperate rainforest nestled in a cove. Like the grove in Refuge Cove, this stand of forest boasted sizable specimens of Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, many draped in cattail moss.
|Trail system at Settlers Cove|
|At the bottom of the photo, what looks like rocks in the very shallow water is actually salmon.|
|Connell Lake Trail through yet another rainforest|
|Pipeline Trail runs along an old wooden pipeline.|
MONDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER & TUESDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER, 2016
More Photos from Ketchikan
|Houses hanging on the hillside|
|Creek Street, quaint but atypical|
|Sparkly things for the cruise passengers|
|"Thundering Wings" by master carver Nathan Jackson in Eagle Park|
|Back side of "Thundering Wings" in park next to cruise ship berths|
|Interior of clan house at Totem Bight State Park|
|Ketchikan's airport gift shop capitalizes on the Bridge to Nowhere notoriety.|