Saturday, June 15, 2013

WHALE WATCHING FROM THE GAUCHO DECK….


We off-load in Ketchikan. This time it’s out the side exit of the ferry (which probably means we’ll back up with a turn when we continue on.)  The larger ferries like the Kennicott are outfitted with multiple doors and elevators to load and unload in different port environments.  Very versatile and efficient!

The town of Ketchikan is located on the southern end of Revillagigedo Island.  The main road extends fifteen miles northwest and runs fifteen miles east of town.  We’re staying at the northwest end at the Clover Pass Resort.  When we check in everyone is talking about the annual KingSalmon Fishing Derby  that finished the night before.  Some skilled and lucky local person won the $10,000 grand prize with a 44+ pound salmon.  As we back into our waterfront space, a young bald eagle swoops in and lands on the rocks about 25 feet from us. (Must be the official Ketchikan welcome wagon.)  Our views here are spectacular, the people are friendly and the Wi-Fi speedy – we have a wonderful first impression of this place.

Creek Street
After setting up, we head into town to forage and explore.  We stroll along the charming and picturesque Creek Street.  The colorful houses are now galleries and shops for the tourist trade but this neighborhood was originally the red light district in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Their motto: “Where salmon and men come to spawn. Salmon once a year and men more often.” 

We grab a bite to eat at the Halibut Hole, an alfresco café along the creek. This is a family run business.  The current owner Amber Nygren took over the business from her aunt and uncle five years ago when they retired and she is committed to preparing super fresh local fare.  We order beer battered zucchini and baskets of salmon and clam strips with chips.  The batter is light and everything delivered to our table hot out of the fryer. 
Halibut Hole on Urbanspoon

Later, we stop at the Tongass Historical Museum to view artifacts and learn a bit about the history of this area (which is rowdy and colorful.)

The next day, while sipping our morning coffee we are treated to a show: a convocation of eagles feeding near the dock, a mink scampering across the rocks, otters swimming near the shore and an orca cruising the channel.  (It’s one of those “priceless” MasterCard moments!)

Totem Bight Totem
Our neighbor tells us about an eco tour of the rainforest and totem park that he and his brother are taking later that morning with WildWolf Tours, a company offering off the beaten path small group tours of the area. We’re interested, and plan to try to add this to our itinerary.  When their guide, Tracy Wolf arrives to pick them up, it turns out that we are able to join them.  She takes us first to the Totem Bight State HistoricalPark. Tracy is a member of the Native Tlingit Tribe.  She has a wealth of local knowledge and an easy way of sharing. While we study and photograph the totem poles and clan house, she explains the significance of the carvings and shares the native stories that they represent.  It is entertaining and informative.  Next it’s a short drive to the end of the road to the Tongass National Forest.  There we hike the Lunch Creek Trail 
 and learn about the native plants and animals of the Alaskan rainforest. What a great way to experience the nature of the area!

Later in the afternoon we head back into town and do the downtown walking tour.  We stop at the Totem Heritage Center and check out the priceless nineteenth century totem poles and artifacts retrieved from abandoned native villages of the area.

At the Tatsuda Market we pick up some dried shitake mushrooms (Asian specialties are sometimes hard to find, so we get em when we see em.)   While shopping, one of the employees stops us and tells us some of the history of the store.  During WWII when Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese decent were being relocated and interned, members of the Ketchikan community stepped up.  They took over the businesses left behind. When the Tatsuda family returned after the war, all of their property and income from the market was returned.

At the Ketchikan Visitor center we chat with the clerk and ask for dining recommendations.  He suggests the Ocean View Restaurant.  It’s away from the cruise ship docks and caters more to local patrons.  There IS an ocean view, but the every surface in the restaurant is covered with trompe l’oile.  We ask our waitress Sauta about the art and she explains that there was a traveling artist who would pass through and stay for a few months every year.   Her brother (the owner) would hire him and let him paint whatever he wanted.  So we dine in the Sistine Chapel of Ketchikan (with an ocean view no less!)  They serve both Mexican and Italian Specialties and we opt for an appetizer of Queso Fundido, (Baked Mozzarella Cheese with green chilies and chorizo) and The Patron Molcajete (Strips of steak, chicken and jumbo shrimp sautéed with bacon in a spicy Diablo tomato sauce and topped with Mozzarella, served in a hot lava bowl.)  This is definitely one of the most flavorful and vibrant dishes we have ever enjoyed.  This restaurant is truly a gem.  Art on the walls and art on the plates!
Ocean View Restaurante on Urbanspoon

yep that's us
What's for dinner?
eagles, lots-o-eagles
Our next adventure is the Bearing Sea Crab Fisherman’s tour. This is one of two excursions that we pre-booked a couple of months back since it sells out frequently.   We ride the "Aleutian Ballad" crabbing vessel as seen on Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch". Ok so we’re not huge fans of the show but we did watch it occasionally and this is one opportunity to see kinda how they do it without editing for ratings or danger to anyone (including the crabs.) So there are no huge waves washing over the bow or ice forming on the rails, but we learn more about how our seafood gets caught.  They demonstrate line fishing, and three different types of crab and shrimp pots.  The crabs in the pots are actually caught in a different location and brought in for the demonstration.  They use them for a few weeks and then release them back where they found them.  But this is not a completely controlled environment and we get to see a rare juvenile red king crab that happened to climb into the opilio and box crab pot. (After showing him off they immediately let him go.) And now for the bonus round:  The tour also includes eagles. Now, raptors are known to be lazy and highly motivated by food.  So, the Captain of the Aleutian Ballad stops us near an island and they toss herring into the sea.  Within moments about a hundred bald eagles start swooping around snatching the fish.  (Like seagulls chasing french-fries on the pier or pigeons and breadcrumbs.)  It is breathtaking to watch.

 After the tour we walk over to the Arctic Bar, one of the oldest bars in Ketchikan.  We order a couple of Alaskan Ambers on tap and sit back to enjoy the atmosphere.  Shortly thereafter, two guys walk in with a big black dog.  The dog, Hank takes a liking to us.  Hank’s owner was part of the team that won the Salmon Derby with a 44.6-pound salmon… so we get to hang with a local celebrity, while Hank guards my backpack and his friend Robert clears the pool table game after game.  (These guys are the Ketchikan drinking version Jay and Silent Bob and we mean this in the most affectionate way.)  We are probably the only non-locals in the bar, but we feel welcome and it’s a perfect way to end another great day.

Misty Fiord
Falls in the Fiord
Ketchikan is one of the rainiest places in North America.  It’s located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest – the largest rainforest in North America.... so rain is expected.  And not just scattered showers… we’re talking serious precipitation!  They get an average of 160 inches of rain a year.  Yep – that’s over 13 feet of rain a year.  So waking up to a bright sun shiny day is glorious!  Today we are taking our second pre-booked tour.  We head out on a four hour, hundred mile round trip to the Misty Fiords National Monument with Allen Marine Tours, aboard the St. Nona, one of the fastest tour vessels in the area.  Once out of the harbor we cruise at 30 knots around the southern tip of the island and up into the fiord.  The scenery is breathtaking. Snow capped, glacier carved, sheer granite walls with huge waterfalls tumbling into the sea. The closest thing we can compare this is: Yosemite filled with water.  And to top it off… no mist… not a cloud in the sky!   We also see eagles, deer, harbor seals and an orca while a naturalist points out the sights.  On the return trip, a native artist and storyteller entertains us with his personal insights into the area.  Another exceptional day of vagabondage!

Totems
The third totem pole exhibit in Ketchikan is the world’s largest collection of standing Native American totem poles, The Saxman Native Village.  Seems like the only way to get inside the clan house and carving studio is through a pre booked group tour.  They do not sell tickets on site to the general public.  But we are able to wander around and photograph the stunning poles for free.

Ketchikan is a wonderful destination but alas… after six days here we have to prepare to move on, pick up dry ice at Safeway so we can turn off the fridge, hook up Dave and Dimples and board the ferry to Juneau… and so the adventure continues…

k


(BTW, In case you were wondering about the caption to this post; in the RV world a gaucho is not an Argentinian Cowboy, but the lounge that converts to a bed.)

0 comments:

Post a Comment

We love to hear from you! Remember to hit post, after you enter your comment. Comments are monitored and spam… well spam never sees the light of day ��