Ketchikan is our last Alaskan port.
Once again, as it can only be reached by boat or plane, the environment is pristine. As he ferries us to Promech Air offices further down the wharf, our driver tells us that we have ‘lucked it in’. And indeed we have, as the 8 am float plane excursions that morning were cancelled due to severe fog. But by 10am the heavy mist has dissipated, blue skies have won the battle and we are basking in warm sunshine. Given that Ketchikan is the rainiest city in the USA – with clear skies just five per cent of the time – we are fortunate, indeed, to be able to take off at all, let alone on the clearest day locals have seen for months.
So what exactly is a float plane? Ours is a De Havilland Beaver DHC2, which means that it’s a small 8-seater with pontoons (floats) under the fuselage, where the landing wheels are normally located. It’s surprisingly comfortable and very manoeuverable for our pilot Danny as he guides us over Tongass National Forest, heading to Misty Fjord in search of mountain goats, black and brown bears, and black-tailed deer. Tongass is the biggest national park in the USA, larger in size than the state of Virginia, with dense forest coverage of spruce, western hemlock and cedar trees. As well as playing home to four-legged creatures, it also boasts trout, five species of Pacific salmon, various whales, porpoises and sea lions. Danny tells us that there are now 15,000 bald eagles in South East Alaska, so this species has recently been removed from endangered species list.
In this year of the presidential race, existing and wannabe candidates, Obama and Romney, get bad press. Very bad press. In fact, CNN had a show the other day which evaluated how (very) much American presidents have lied over the decades. But in Alaska, we see a different side of presidents past, one which celebrates their vision and foresight . Two, in particular, are celebrated in Ketchikan: Roosevelt and Carter. For it was Franklin D Roosevelt who declared Tongass a national park way back in 1907. And Jimmy Carter who made Misty Fjord a national monument in 1978.
For two amazing hours Danny swoops low over the ice-capped mountains of the fjord, lands us in the green waters of a mountain lake, and shares with us the wonders unseen from the more normal vantage points.
After a safe return, we visit main town Ketchikan, wandering the Married Man’s Trail to Fish Creek where ‘colourful’ houses were once home to ‘sporting’ women such as Miss Dolly Arthur. We also see totem poles carved by local indigenous people and the famous Grant Street trestle.
Ketchikan may well be the rainiest town in the states, but it’s also one of the most beautiful and colourful. We were privileged to visit on such a magical day.
Read more about the ms Oosterdam and its seven-day Alaskan voyages.