Tuesday, July 2, 2013



Disembarking from our cruise ship in Ketchikan, Alaska, we were surprised!  With an average of 154 inches of precipitation annually, (the record was 202.55 inches in 1949) we were surprised to see the sun shining brightly in what is known as the "Rain Capital of Alaska". Ketchikanners, who never carry umbrellas, will tell you: "If you can't see Deer Mountain it's raining, and if you can see it, it's going to rain."  Our gloriously sunny day on shore was an unexpected treat.


Ketchikan, with a population of about 13,800, is the fourth largest city in Alaska. The  economy  of Alaska's southernmost city thrives on the booming industries of lumber, fishing and tourism.   Alaskans call Ketchikan "the First City", not because of size, population or discovery but because, before air travel, it was the first port reached by northbound steamships.

Ketchikan's infamous Creek Street runs along Ketchikan Creek.  In 1903, the wooden boardwalk built on pilings over the creek became the location of the red-light district.  In its heyday, more than 30 brothels lined the boardwalk.  Each house had one or two working girls.   It has been said that this was the place where "both fish and fishermen went up the creek to spawn.


Big Dolly Arthur was the most famous madam in Ketchikan.  During prohibition in the 1920s, Dolly's house--along with the other houses of ill repute--became a speakeasy.  Small boats would sail up the creek at high tide and smuggle booze into the houses through trapdoors in the floor.   Business boomed for more than 50 years until, in 1953, activity was shut down.  Today Dolly's House is a museum that relives the town's shady past.  The self-guided tour through her house is fun and inexpensive.  So, go on in. Although the night shift closed in 1953, the day shift is open.


Take the funicular  to the top of the hill for great views of Ketchikan and the Tongass Narrows.  Near the base of the funicular, the Tongass Historical Society Museum presents both permanent and changing exhibits for a glimpse into the area's fascinating past.  A striking totem titled Raven  Stealing the Sun  stands in front of the museum.  The totem was commissioned by the city of Ketchikan to honor the Tlingit people.

Huge runs of salmon migrate from the open ocean into the protected waters of the Inside Passage near Ketchikan.  Loaded with five species of Pacific salmon, it is little wonder that Ketchikan is often called the "Salmon Capital of the World".  Ketchikan is an angler's dream. 

Not unlike San Francisco, Ketchikan has its own Nob Hill.  Located in the center of town, the summit of Nob Hill has been a favorite residential area of Ketchikan's most prosperous citizens since the first home was built there in 1901.  The tunnel running beneath the hill is listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the only tunnel in the world that one can drive through, around, and over.

Saxman Native Village is located 2.5 miles south of Ketchikan along the South Tongass Highway.  Local Tlingit Natives give daily dance performances in their traditional Clan House. 


Saxman has a large collection of totem poles.  In the Village Carving Center you can watch as master carvers carve totem poles.  

Although barhopping is big business in Ketchikan, many of the historic bars are now gone from downtown Ketchikan to make room for jewelry stores and gift shops. However, there are still a few historical saloons and bars to visit, with names like Potlatch, Arctic, Sourdough, and Totem, where you're still liable to see a bunch of the Sourdoughs whopping it up.  

So go on in, have fun, and have one on me.  Cheers! 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant affiliated with The Travel Authority, Mariemont/Cincinnati, Ohio office.

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