A cold and desolate wasteland thousands of years ago, Alaska was settled by different Inuit tribes, who found that despite its icy exterior, the land was fertile with fish and game. Today Alaska has become a hot spot for cruises and visitors from all over the world who want to explore its native culture, arts, and breathe in its untouched tranquility. Let ShoreTrips guide you around one of the last true frontiers in Alaska!
Known as the “First City” for its location as the first port for incoming ferries and cruise ships coming from the south, Ketchikan was founded as a site for canning salmon in 1885. Located along the Tongass Narrows, Ketchikan is a long but narrow town, only about 10 blocks across the widest part of the island. Ketchikan has a rich heritage of Alaskan Native culture, with the local Tongass National Forest providing the red cedar and spruce trees for traditional totems and basket weaving. Totem parks and art museums displaying art from local artists are all over the island, and Ketchikan proudly boasts a thriving visual and performing arts scene.
The largest forest in the nation, Tongass National Forest covers most of southeast Alaska, including the Inside Passage, and boarders the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Canadian border on the east. The national park offers the opportunity to see spawning salmon, eagles, bears, and the raw, unadulterated scenic landscapes of the Alaskan wild. Tongass is the largest temperate rainforest in the world and is roughly the size of West Virginia. Alaskan Natives have been living off the forest for over 10,000 years, and there are 32 communities, including the capital Juneau, that reside within the forest and live off the land.
With the encroachment of non-Natives in Alaska and the decline of the bartering economy, the tradition of totem-making was in danger of being lost forever. In 1938, the US Forest Services implemented a program that hired older Natives to help rebuild eroded totem poles, and younger Natives learned the art, thus keeping the tradition alive. Today these totems can be seen in the Totem Bight State Historical State Park, where you can see 14 of these restored totem poles, along with clan houses. Because of the rich game and land of Alaska, the Native people had the time to devote to building these totems and not to constantly hunting or searching for food. The colors on totem poles were made from clam shells, salmon eggs, hematite, lichen, copper, and graphite, with black the dominant color, followed by red and turquoise.
The capital of Alaska, Juneau is the only state capital in the US that is not accessible by car, only by plane or boat. Originally named Harrisburg after Richard Harris in the 1880s, Juneau was renamed after Harris lost favor with the residents, who renamed the town after his more favored partner, Joe Juneau. The two came to the area to pan for gold, as many did, and within a year the mining camp became a full-fledged town. Before the mines were closed in 1944 due to World War II, the mines had generated over $80 million in revenue. Eventually Juneau moved away from mining to become the major cruise port it is today, drawing in cruise ship passengers from all around the world.
The fifth-largest ice field in the Western Hemisphere, the Juneau Ice Field is the source of many of Juneau’s glaciers, including the Herbert, Lemon, Norris, and Taku Glaciers. The field reached its maximum thickness in the early 1700’s and is shrinking every year. Helicopter rides to the various peaks and glaciers are very popular, and after landing you can take a walk along the ice with your guide. During your hike you’ll see incredibly deep ice and crevasses cutting into the ice field.
Another popular stop for cruise ships, Skagway is drier than many of the other major Alaskan cities, which makes it ideal for exploring the forests and terrain. Originally known as Skagua by the Tlingit tribe, Skagway began like many of the other cities in the area, as a mining town. You can still see much of its Yukon Gold Rush heritage in the town itself and in nearby Dyea, a ghost town that served as the starting point for almost 40,000 miners heading to the Yukon. A railway was built over White Pass Trail at the climax of the gold rush fever, and is now open as a major tourist attraction.
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