June 30 – Our ferry from Ketchikan to Wrangell left bright and early at 7:30, so check in was at 6:30 (if this is a vacation, why are we getting up so early?) We arrived at the dock a few minutes early and found the office closed (but the ferry was there). Around 6:45 the office opened and we got our destination card and lane assignment. Dave was reassured that he bought the right truck when he noticed that all of the trucks in the line up were Ford F-250 diesels. We were traveling aboard the Aurora, one of the smaller vessels so there were no lectures by the Park Service. One the way we saw the Guard Islands lighthouse. Upon arriving at Wrangell (only three vehicles got off) we set about finding a campsite (see Finding Nemo for the scoop) and setting up camp.
July 1 – We started the day at the famed Petroglyph Beach (Wrangell’s main and perhaps only claim to fame). Thousands of years ago natives carved many (40 have been located to date, there are undoubtedly more) designs into the rocks on a stretch of beach. No one knows what they mean, but they are interesting to see (and find since there is no map as to where exactly they are). We were able to locate 27 of the carvings. The petroglyphs shown on this page are modern copies – the originals are so worn that the detail is lost when the pictures are reduced and compressed for use on these pages. Pictures of the originals can be seen on thePetroglyphs page (but it will take a long time to load). Our next stop was Chief Shakes Island, which was located in the center of the boat harbor connected to by land by a boardwalk. The island features several totem pole copies and a replica of a clan house (like Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan this was built by the CCC in the 30’s). We walked through town for lunch (as the campsite was about 15 miles away) and observed a curious going-on.
The police had closed down a road and there were two plywood and tarp booths with people selling food. They were too small to be a carnival and too makeshift to be a year-round stand. Each booth was plastered with signs telling you to vote for Jenny or Talea for 4th of July Queen. On the menus for each establishment the prices were mostly followed by “+2 QT” or “+3 QT”. Well, we had to ask a townsperson what was going on. As it turns out, the 4th is a big deal, but this little town (population around 3,000) has never had the money for any kind of celebration in its budget. So many years ago someone decided to raise money by holding a raffle with a big grand prize. To encourage people to go out and sell the tickets, a prize was also given to the person who sold the most tickets. It seemed that girls usually sold the most tickets and in a few years the winner got to be known as the 4th of July Queen. Well the title stuck and it became a contest with a coronation and all that. Somewhere around 20 years ago one of the girls in the competition got the idea to sell food and along with the meal you would get a queen ticket (QT). It was a good deal, the buyer got a reasonably priced meal and the girl sold another ticket. Needless to say that girl won and the food booths have been a fixture ever since. This year’s competition started on June 1st with a huge salmon bake and the booths have been open everyday since. They publish menus with their specials in the newspaper each week. We had lunch at Talea’s booth (she was cuter and more hometown looking) and were given 5 queen tickets. Top prize is $5,000, 2nd is $3,000, and 3rd is $1,000. The queen gets $1,000. The big winner was the fireworks budget – over $40,000 is raised in this raffle. In years past when the town had a bigger population they had been known to raise $70,000 and that’s a lot of hot dogs and fried bread.
After lunch we drove deep into the forest to the Highbush Lake trail. Our research indicated that it was a 400 foot walk to a small lake. Our plan was to carry the kayaks down the trail and launch them for an afternoon paddle. Upon arriving at the trail head we found that it was a 400 foot walk to the start of more of those cursed stairs. There weren’t too many stairs and the lake was pretty so we decided to carry the kayaks down the stairs. One of the unique features of a rain forest ecosystem is that trees will spring up anywhere. Since it rains so often they don’t need to get deep roots to find water. The picture shows a tree and grass growing on a fallen log in the middle of the lake! The tree roots absorb water and nutrients from the rotting log. We had a great paddle until the end when we had to carry the kayaks back up the stairs! It wasn’t too bad though. We called it a day and headed back to camp.
July 2 – It was a cold and rainy night and in the morning we didn’t really feel like doing anything outside so we sat under the canopy at the picnic table and created the Ketchikan web pages. The rain got lighter so we got moving. We hiked the Rainbow Falls trail which, as the name would imply, led up to a nice waterfall. We then went into town and had lunch at a local diner (and listened to the locals mock the cruise ship tourists and their expensive designer rain suits). We then stopped by the internet café and sent in a bunch of web pages. Our next stop was the Wrangell Museum. The museum was an eclectic, but nice collection of memorabilia from the city’s history. The museum was created a few years ago by soliciting donations from everyone in town. We went back to camp, but decided that it was too early to quit for the day so we decided to hike the Turn Island trail - we were curious to see if the Forest Service had tried to build a trail to an island (given their keen sense of direction). The map indicated that the trail was a half mile long and led to one of the other clusters of campsites in the campground. What the map failed to show was that this was another stairmaster trail! We decided to tackle it anyways, hoping that the trail would at least give us a few good views and it did! We crawled back up the stairs and headed for camp having earned some time in a chair by the fire.
July 3 – We had a late afternoon ferry to catch so we had some more time for exploring. We decided to try the Thom’s Lake trail a 1.2 mile hike to Thom’s Lake. The trail started off as expected, a nice bridge across a creek and then the all too familiar boardwalk through muskeg meadow. We figured that at any minute the trail would enter the forest and turn to more stairs. But, this time we got a new twist on things – the boardwalk had sunk into the meadow! Small surface streams from the rain were running over the boardwalk. Next we hit spots where the boards were missing. We were glad we had our Xtratufs (knee high boots see Ketchikan, part 1). And finally, as we should have expected the boardwalk just plain ended. The trail still existed, sort of (there were orange reflectors nailed to trees marking a route) but we had to try to find a path through the standing water and sinkholes. Dave didn’t do so well crossing one puddle and sank in knee deep! We did make it to the lake and as is always the ending with trail stories, the view was amazing. We headed towards town, but still had 5 hours until check in. We pulled off at a log transfer facility along the road (there was, after all, only one main road) and looked things over. The facility was used to take logs off of barges and transfer them to trucks for the ride to the sawmill (why don’t the barges just go straight to the sawmill??). There were logs piled all over, but no activity. So, we changed clothes and put the kayaks in. We had a good paddle after conquering some rough water. After drying off we still had 2 hours until check in. There was no choice but to take in some local flavor (and a few Alaskan Ambers) at a place called the Totem Bar. They were in the process of getting ready for their karaoke contest (part of the 4th of July festivities, they were having a toga party on the 5th), but luckily no one was warming up. We made it to the dock at check in time and found that we were the only vehicle getting on the boat!
This ferry trip was an overnighter. We didn’t get a cabin on the ship because we’re on a budget and we had heard it was common practice to set up a tent on the rear deck of most ferries and then strap it down with duct tape. Although we had brought magnets to hold our tent down (and duct tape), we decided not to set up as it was raining heavily again and instead found some seats in the “recliner lounge”. The seats were nice and they did recline, but they weren’t something you could fall asleep easily on. Fortunately this ferry’s next stop was in Petersburg, about four hours later and most of the people got off there. During the exodus we were able to grab a pair of couches that faced each other. While the couches weren’t long enough to stretch out on, we each did manage to get some sleep.