Ketchikan was our final stop on our brief southeastern Alaska tour, and it was a bittersweet day. As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the previous three posts in this series, I really loved Alaska. It has shot up my list of favorite places in the world to Top Three, and I feel like at this point I’ve travelled enough that Top Three is impressive.
Our itinerary in Ketchikan included two things: the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show and a visit to Saxman Native Village. This excursion is the only one that’s stayed the same since we first booked the cruise back in May 2020. I was really excited about it, as I had not anticipated the opportunity to experience Tlingit culture. Now that I’ve been to Alaska, I know Tlingit culture is all around you wherever you go – even out in the wilderness. Nonetheless, I was interested to learn more and as tacky as it sounded, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show sounded fun.
Our first stop was the Great Alaskan Lumberjack show. I had expected this to be out in the woods somewhere, but the arena is nestled right in the middle of town. As expected, the show was extremely cheesy, but I had to appreciate the strength and skill of the loggers – they wield chainsaws with the same ease as I hold a pen. Each of the performers was an actual woodsman – lumberjacks, loggers, and such. One of the men had even spent the previous year fighting wildfires in California.
The event splits the audience up into two sides, each supporting a duo of lumberjacks. We were sorted into the Canadian side and booed and cheered appropriately as the competitors performed things I can’t even imagine doing. From slicing to carving to log running to climbing… it was all extremely impressive.
And, for all its tackiness, a lot of fun. The show is well-built to emphasize the importance of safety, highlight the different performers, teach the audience about the history of logging in Alaska, and it is peppered through with comedic moments. As much as it was a novelty, I think if you’ve got an hour to kill in Ketchikan, it’s a worthy way to spend your time. Especially for families – this show is definitely appropriate for all ages.
Once the show was over, we bundled into a bus and headed over to Saxman Native Village. Several different clans reside at Saxman Native Village, but the two main groups are the Eagle and Crow clans. First, we were taken to a gymnasium where we were introduced to our liason and shown a brief video about the Tlingit in the area. It was welcoming and informative. Afterwards, we were taken to the Beaver clan house to watch songs and dances.
The clan house was so impressive. The craftsmanship is beautiful and you can tell that the clan house was made lovingly by hand. Each piece of wood is carefully in its place and the house was made as authentically as possible to the old ways, honoring Tlingit tradition and remaining sustainable.
As the various dances were performed, visitors were encouraged to take as many pictures and videos as they like – in fact, we were encouraged time and again to take as many pictures and videos as we wanted throughout the village. Despite this encouragement… I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the dances. I’m sorry! The performers were wonderful and the dances felt so intimate… it felt like an intrusion, even with permission.
All I can say is that I recommend visiting and taking the tour – not just to watch the performance, but also to support the Tlingit people in this region.
After we were treated to the performance, we were taken outside to view several of the totems. Each totem tells a story, and each story is known only to the artist as they carve the pole. Once the totem pole is finished, the story is shared with everyone else. Then the stories are passed on.
The totem park is the largest collection of poles – nearly thirty. Many of them have been moved and restored since the Tlingit moved to a new site in the 1930s. All of them are striking and impressive, even the one with the unknown story (the carver passed away before finishing the pole). These totem poles are lovingly restored and maintained, beautiful to look at, and they hold parts of Tlingit history.
After viewing the totem poles, we had a little time to shop (I bought a handcrafted journal – I love handcrafted journals) and then we were taken to the workshop where we were able to see a couple carvers at work. One of the gentleman was working on a larger project and another was carving the miniature totem poles sold in the gift shop. Here, we learned how the totem poles were made in antiquity and how they are made today. The process isn’t too much different, but the tools are better.
In particular, I enjoyed hearing that paint used to be made by mixing iron and copper powder and mixing it with saliva. Today, that’s something we can’t imagine doing, but according to our tour guide, the paint would be bright and vivid for thirty years when the paint is made that way. These days, they buy paint at the hardware store for touchups just like anyone else, but it doesn’t last as long.
I also learned that if you every wanted to buy a totem pole from a professional carver, you’re looking at at least $1000/ft. And that all depends on design and experience. They are a little pricey for my blood, but I am grateful for places like Saxman Native Village where we are able to see these authentic pieces or art. And I am deeply grateful to the Tlingit tribe for welcoming us tourists into their village.
After visiting Saxman Native Village, we had a little bit of extra time before all aboard, so we wandered a little into the city of Ketchikan. Specifically, we were looking for crab legs. While I don’t eat seafood, Matt does, and he really wanted some King or Dungeness crab before we left Alaska. We weren’t able to get any in Icy Strait Point or Juneau (businesses closed for the season) so Ketchikan was the last opportunity.
And Alaska cam through!
I never had any doubts. He was able to have Dungeness Crab Legs at the Ketchikan Crab and Grille and even though it was a rushed meal (so we didn’t miss the last tram) it was completely worth it because he enjoyed the crab legs AND Alaska bit us farewell with one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen.
If we hadn’t stayed, we wouldn’t have been in town when the sun peeked out and gifted us with this. Beautiful moments like this in nature always make me slow down and pause to appreciate the little things in life.
This is the last post from Alaska! We’re heading down to Orlando next and while I won’t repeat the overviews from 2018, I will have some new posts about Disney coming up, including a dive into Food & Wine at Epcot and the 50th Anniversary. I’ll also be bringing Halloween Horror Nights and other Universal Studios content… just in time for Christmas, haha. So I hope you’ll stick around for a little more travel.