The ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan was the first leg of our trip up the Inside Passage. The ferry is ran by the Alaska Marine Highway Service (AMHS) which is a state run ferry to provide transportation throughout Alaska to the many places that do not have roads or in the case of the Bellingham, WA to Whittier, AK run, to avoid the long drive through Canada and Alaska to get to Anchorage. That run is also the only way to carry a handgun to Alaska as Canada will not let you in with one. We will be visiting Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines, and Skagway on the Inside Passage. Haines and Skagway are the only ones of those that can be reached by road.
Leaving Prince Rupert required us to go through U.S. customs before boarding. This required us to be in line three hours before departure. It’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” but it wasn’t too bad. We were still almost an hour late leaving despite the early arrival! It takes a long time to load the vehicles as they have to evaluate all the vehicles being loaded and determine where each one will fit best to maximize the room available. They had Doris drive Libby all the way to the front into a little bitty spot just big enough for her. Of course the biggest problem is getting the motorhomes and fifth-wheelers positioned so they have room to maneuver for exiting. The design of the ferry we were on was kind of crazy – we drove in the rear of ship but exited on the right side when we got to Ketchikan. This means that forty foot motorhomes have to have room to make a right turn through a narrow gangway to get off. Plus they have to position the vehicles correctly because some are going further than the current port and stay on the ship until their destination is reached. I wouldn’t want to be the loadmaster!
Our campground here is in the Tongass National Forest. We haven’t seen any RV parks in Ketchikan so I guess you are forced to camp in this campground and another one in the National Forest. Ours is called Signal Creek Campground and the other is called Last Chance Campground. We are far enough out of town so that we don’t have any cell phone service at all. We are surrounded by huge, old growth Western Cedars that prevent even trying to get through to the DirecTV satellite. We are too far outside town to get cell service without driving into town as well. There are also no hookups at all so we provide everything ourselves, running the generator every morning to recharge the batteries and conserving their usage as much as possible. The biggest user of electricity is the furnace fan – it runs quite often when we are here to keep us warm. The site itself is very nice and large. It even has a stream flowing behind it.
The Tongass National Forest stretches from all of the Inside Passage up almost all the way to Anchorage and is part of a huge rainforest that covers an area from Oregon up to Alaska, much larger than the Amazon Rainforest. I forgot how many million acres they told us that was – a lot. It is a true rainforest, raining two-thirds of the time (Ketchikan gets 156 inches a year on average and has received 19 feet in one year) and almost constantly wet. It is almost always cloudy, even when it isn’t raining. The particular campground we are in reminds me a lot of the Silver Falls State Park we stayed at in Oregon with the constant wet and huge old growth trees.
On Friday, the 29th, we went on the Misty Fjords tour boat. The Misty is a fantastic piece of nature containing, not only the water passageways forged by a glacier long ago, but also over 2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. We were fortunate to briefly, much to fast to get a picture, see an Orca while between Ketchikan and Misty. We also got to see a Bald Eagle’s nest and the mama eagle herself. The views within Misty were varied and plentiful. From snow capped peaks to sheer cliffs formed by the glacier and the many waterfalls created by the snow melt and constant rains. The reason for her name was also self-evident with a constant mist around the mountains. The tour was on a large water jet boat with four engines that output enough water to fill an Olympic sized pool in 40 seconds. We cruised at about 38 mph on the way there and back.
On Saturday we went on a self-guided tour to the totems in the area. Most of these are contained in two areas, Totem Bight and Saxman. These totems have been recreated to duplicate the many that have been found in the area made by artists long ago. They are made from the Western Cedar so prevalent in the area. The replicas have been carved using the same methods used by the ancients and it has revived the culture and art of what they call the First People, the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida tribes who first lived in the area. I have included many pictures of the totems, probably too many, but you don’t have to look if you don’t want. :)
Tomorrow, the 31st, we have an early morning (6:45 a.m.) date with the ferry for a two-hour loading and six-hour trip to Wrangell, where we will spend the next three days. Hopefully cell service will be available! I hope to post this on the blog during the ferry ride but may have to wait until later.