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Visiting the Grandest of Grand Entries: The Uniqueness of Ketchikan, Alaska's First City

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State flag of Alaska

State flag of Alaska

Ketchikan Alaska

Ketchikan Alaska

Here, uniqueness is not overblown

Uniqueness is sometimes an overblown word. But few cities can have as grand a grand entrance as does Ketchikan (1), traditionally known as Alaska's First City (2).

Here in the city's Downtown, at the intersection of Front and Mission Streets, is a massive sign proclaiming a welcome to what is dubbed not only Alaska's First City but also to the Salmon Capital of the World, in tribute to Ketchikan's huge fishing industry.

But it is not only the referents of the sign which give a sense of the grandiose: it is the sheer proximity of the larger-than-life scenery to the city's Downtown area. Snow-capped mountains and heavily forested foothills are seemingly telescoped to seem overwhelming.

Pictures of Innsbrück, Austria perhaps give a similar sense of the sheer closeness of rugged, mountain scenes to a Downtown area (although Austria is of course landlocked). I have supplied a link, below, to a hubpage about the skyline of Vancouver, with the Rockies as a backdrop, though here the imposing mountain profiles are most distant to that city's Downtown area.

Here in Ketchikan, however, there is a sense of the sheer grandiose immediacy of high mountains, clean air and forest greenery bearing down upon a Downtown area.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), known both for his cityscapes and for his somewhat desolate landscapes also, would surely have found the immediate locality of Front and Mission Streets at Ketchikan to be a scene which rewrote the rules of what constitutes a cityscape. In his cityscapes there is a sense of the individual being somewhat lost as a seeming minute element within urbanity. But here at Ketchikan the juxtaposition of the grandiosity of nature with a sense of urban centrality is both vivid and curious.

Uniqueness overblown at Ketchikan? I myself hardly think so, anyway.

Novermber 24, 2020

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(1) See also:

(2) This is because visitors to Alaska who arrive by sea were traditionally seen as making Ketchikan their first port of call. In fact, Ketchikan is not Alaska's southernmost city; Metlakatla — technically an Unorganized Borough — is actually further south, and was visited by US President Warren Harding in 1923. Cruise ships do indeed visit Metlakatla also; see:

Also worth seeing

In Ketchikan itself, visitors to the city often frequent the many gift stores which specialize in Native Alaskan and other artwork; First Lutheran Church in Newtown was built in 1930 principally on account of the city's Norwegian population; St. John's Episcopal Church dates from 1904; the city is well known for its totem poles; 'The Rock' is a remarkable, historical sculpture by Dave Rubin; nearby Deer Mountain overlooks the City.

Misty Fiords National Monument (distance: 64 kilometres / 40 miles), which is administered by the US Forest Service, consists of 9,246 km2 / 2,294,343 acres of often near vertical glacial valleys, some of which rise to 600 to 900 metres / 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level and descend to 300 metres / 1000 feet below it; boat and floatplane tours [NB: You are advised, please, check the FAA status of these floatplane tours] are organized from Ketchikan.

How to get there

Alaska Airlines and Delta Connection fly to Ketchikan International Airport, (distance — travel via ferry — from Downtown Ketchikan: 2 kilometres / 1.43 miles) from Seattle/Tacoma, WA, with wide North American connections; Princess Cruises and other cruise companies offer services to Ketichikan, often on a seasonal basis; some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States

Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States

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