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January 29, 2013

Ketchikan -- Alaska's southern most city

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 "Cedar Community House at Saxman Totem Village" and "The George Inlet Salmon Cannery." Photo credit Bill Rockwell.

 

There’s a running joke about the weather in Ketchikan, Alaska’s fifth largest city, that says anytime it goes three days without rain, the city is experiencing a drought.

My fellow passengers and myself onboard Holland America Line’s ms. Oosterdam got even more tongue-in-cheek humor about the city’s climate during our shipboard preview when our travel advisor quipped that Ketchikan has about three dry days a year and it’d already had two of them.

Hyperbole aside, average annual rainfall comes in at a whopping 152 inches, which falls on average 228 days a year, more than enough to qualify Ketchikan as a temperate rain forest town. The classification requires a minimum of 70 inches of precipitation annually. By comparison, Ketchikan set a personal record with a soul-drenching 202 inches in 1949.

Fearing the worse, we arrived in port not with raindrops falling on our heads but with the sun glimmering through a pale blue, nearly cloudless, sky. Raincoats be damned seemed to be the common consensus as the throng of passengers disembarked our ship, ready to explore this charming town of slightly more than 8,000 residents.

Located on Revillagigedo Island, the 11th largest in the U. S., Ketchikan was incorporated in 1900, but its roots go back centuries to the time when native tribes used the site as a summer fishing camp.

Scanning a helpful brochure the evening before our port of call, I read that the town’s name is derived from the Tlingit word Kitschk-Hin, which supposedly can be translated into English as "spread wings of a prostate eagle." I understand that there are other, less esoteric translations, but I never did find out why contemporary Tlingits who speak the mother tongue can’t settle the matter.

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