A Tireless Tour


            August 2 – There are a bunch of small communities on Prince of Wales Island and it seems each one of them has a great writer because when you read about it in the Island Guide you feel that you have to see the place.  We’d devoted the next two days of our exploring to see all of the towns that had roads to them as well as any attractions that might be on the way.  We started our day driving east towards the town of Thorne Bay, the third largest city with a population of around 550.  On the way we were supposed to pull off on a side road to see a fish pass, but all of the road signs have been a casualty of the paving work on the island.  Before we knew it we were in Thorne Bay and we stopped at the ranger station to get an official island road map.  Unfortunately, they were closed.  We drove through town and then turned north onto a dirt road bound for Coffman Cove (pop. 200).  About ten miles out of Thorne Bay we were stopped at a Forest Ranger roadblock.  It was the second day of hunting season so two armed Rangers questioned us on what we were doing in the area and if we had been hunting.  We told them we were on Bambi’s side and then the conversation turned to kayaking.  They were obviously pretty bored and needed company.  We continued north, dodging pot holes and telling the deer in the road to go hide.  We eventually hit Coffman Cove and drove around town.  Like all of the towns on Prince of Wales Island, Coffman Cove was a logging town and when logging on Forest Service land came to an abrupt end in 2000 the town was devastated.  We saw several abandoned houses and many were for sale.  People are trying to change over to providing lodging for tourists and they are waiting for the new inter-island ferry that is going to connect them to Wrangell and Petersburg.  We headed west from Coffman Cove to hit the “main” road and head south.  Once on the main road we were delayed by the paving work.  There wasn’t much traffic so the guide car was sitting around waiting for someone to escort.  On the way, though, we believe we discovered the real purpose of the guide cars – construction worker taxis.  The driver would stop and pick up and drop off workers as she drove through the work area.

            We stopped by the campground and checked the island map they had posted to find out which road led to the fish pass.  We found the right road and five minutes later we were at the fish pass trail.  The trail led through muskeg on boardwalk (with steps of course) to an observation deck over the fish pass.  This structure used a sloped aluminum tunnel to help the fish.  The inside of the tunnel is has numerous baffles that deflect the water and slow it down so that the fish can easily swim up it.  While the use of the tunnel is different than the conventional concrete structures we’ve seen so far, the end result is the same.  It is interesting that there is a difference between a fish ladder and fish pass, but it has nothing to do with construction materials.  A fish ladder is built when some activity of man (dam, road, etc.) has interfered with the existing natural migration of fish.  A fish pass is built to make more of an existing stream accessible to fish by giving them a route around an impassable barrier (usually waterfalls that are too high or turbulent for them to jump over).

            After the fish pass we headed for a hiking trail that was about 25 minutes (10 miles) away.  The trail led to a long abandoned copper mine and processing plant known as the Salt Chuck Mine.  The mine complex was built on a tidal bay, but the only way to reach it without a boat was a 1 ½ mile hike through the forest.  The buildings have collapsed, but most of the machinery was still there, rusting away.  The most impressive machines were the air compressors which were huge and the ‘Bulldog Crusher’ which crushed the ore.  There were also the remains of an old barge and docks.  Having had a full day of driving we headed back to camp to give the truck a rest. 


            August 3 – Continuing on our driving tour of the area we headed for the village of Kasaan, population 50.  The village has a totem park in the forest with a clan house which was the home to a local chief.  The road was rough, but after almost an hour we covered the 20 miles and reached the village.  The brief in the island guide book told us to park by the Community Hall and take the path to the totems.  We found the Community Hall, but didn’t see the path.  We wandered around the streets of the village and met some locals who told us where the path was and allowed us to take a short cut down their driveway to get there.  The path wound through the forest and soon we were in the totem park.  The totems were nice, although, like so many others we have seen the elements have taken their toll.  The poles inside the clan house were in good shape, but the house itself is slowing disintegrating.  We were going to stop by the Kafe, but it was closed and for sale.  Continuing on our driving tour we headed out of town.  We had almost reached the main (and paved) road when Dave noticed that the truck was handling differently.  We stopped and Dave checked the truck, sure enough one of the rear tires was going flat, quickly.  We decided to limp to the paved road which had a parking area about 500 feet ahead.  Dave pulled out the jack and started on the tire.  To make the experience more enjoyable, it started raining.  When the tire came off we found a large chunk of gravel firmly planted in the center of the tread.  We got the spare tire on with no problems, but our day of touring on dirt roads was over (we weren’t about to risk another flat without a spare).  We headed into Thorne Bay to look for lunch and a tire shop.  The restaurant wasn’t open, neither was the tire shop (it was Sunday after all).  Our next choice was Craig, about 35 minutes away.  We found the garage/tire shop and it was open, but the guy working didn’t know how to do tires.  We were both in a pizza mood, but we also knew we hadn’t showered since Ketchikan so we went down to the boat harbor to see if there were showers (harbormaster’s offices often have showers available).  There were showers in the bathroom building so we cleaned ourselves up.  Surprisingly enough, there were two pizza places in Craig.  One was in a strip mall (or at least Craig’s version of one) and looked quite busy.   The other, Zat’s Pizza, was tucked up on a hill with a nice view.  They described themselves as a small town pizzeria with great taste and they were right!  We started with a pitcher of our favorite Alaskan Amber and some bread sticks.  After noshing we split a small pizza.  We were going to top it off with ice cream, but we were full.  We rolled back into the truck and headed for camp.