Our last port of call on the way back to Vancouver was a stop on Revillagigedo Island at the town of Ketchikan, a Tlingit name for the creek that runs through the center of the town. Famed for being the salmon capital of the world it was established in 1887 when, a cannery was built, at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. Picturesque Creek Street is the towns historic area, constructed on boardwalks above the creek and from 1902 to 1954 was the red light district, with over 30 brothels.
Salmon, dead, dying and desperate to get upstream, are abundant at this time of the year in the creek all trying to migrate back to their birthplace to spawn.
We had been told that this was the place to see Bald Eagles close up, but no eagles today, evidently the gulls bully them so they keep well away. But the gulls and harbour seals were feasting on hundreds of fish left dying on the banks. After a look around the historic area we took a walk to the end of the pier and encountered a family of mink playing in and out of the rocks on the sea wall, and we spent some time watching their antics.
Deer Mountain stands behind the town and the locals say if you can’t see the top it must be raining, if you can see the top it’s going to rain soon. They also tell you that it rains for 364 days of the year here in Ketchikan, well we must have struck it just right not a drop and brilliant sunshine by midday. Ketchikan is also famed for being the wettest place in the states, the rainfall capital of the US, with an average annual rainfall of 162 inches (13ft) a year. In 1949 the town experienced a record of 17 feet now commemorated by the towns Ketchikan’s Liquid Sunshine Gauge. Surrounding the town is the vast 17 million acres of the Tongass which benefits from all the rain.
The Tongass Forest.
The Tongass National Forest is the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest covering most of the southeast Alaska Panhandle. As well as thousands of acres of spruce, hemlock and red cedar forests, the Tongass consists of numerous clean creeks, rivers and lakes. All of which provide a home to fish including trout and salmon. This huge area of forest is also home to both brown and black bear, deer, bald eagles and wolves.
Our afternoon excursion was to the rain forest in the hope of seeing black bear. The Tongass has the highest density of black bears in the world and one of the highest densities of brown bears this is one of the few places where bears outnumber people.
Although bears, are omnivorous and will eat a wide range of foods in late summer, when the salmon are running back to their spawning grounds bears can eat up to 80 to 90 pounds of fish a day to fatten up for the winter ahead. During this summer binge, they can gather in numbers in the creeks to feed
There are a number of places in the Tongass where bears congregate naturally when there are fish in the streams, and a boardwalk above the creek had been built to make viewing the bears easier and safer, with minimum disturbance to the animals.
The excursion guaranteed a bear sighting or a $80 refund so I guess because the salmon had been running for a few weeks the chances of a sighting were good. I think our small group certainly didn’t expect to spot a bear within a few minutes of starting down the trail. In front of us curled up in the bottom of a hollow tree was a black bear trying to sleep. The abundance of salmon in the crystal clear creek below suggested that he had probably eaten his fill, further along the creek through almost magical Middle Earth looking forest where more black bears chasing salmon through the pools and eddies caused by the trees which had fallen into the creek.
Gulls were shrieking loudly as they shared the feast. A large black bear suddenly appeared from behind a tree on the slope above us as he cautiously waited his turn to descend into the creek. I think we probably sighted at least eight different bears in and around the creek and had a wonderful opportunity to watch and photograph their behaviour.
As the boardwalk left the side of the creek we walked through the ferns and moss draped trees along to the cove where a large number of harbor seals were eating the salmon.
This was an unforgettable experience and another excursion I would recommend.