Story last updated at 9/4/2013 - 6:41 pm
Designated as a National Monument in 1978, Misty Fjords offers two million acres of wilderness to explore within the Tongass National Forest. Its dramatic steep rocky cliffs, lush green trees and abundant fresh and saltwater habitats make the perfect backdrop for an a wide variety of wildlife but the ancient rocks formed by glaciers and a famous volcanic plug called New Eddystone Rock are the real stars of the show.
There are dozens of tours cruise ship passengers and independent travelers can enjoy when coming to Ketchikan. Since 2004, one of the most popular tours has been a cruise to Misty Fjords National Monument with Allen Marine Tours.
Founded in Sitka in 1970 when Bob and Betty Allen restored a ruined boat that became the St. Michael (named like all their boats for Russian Orthodox saints), Allen Marine tours was literally created from the ground up. They design and build their own catamarans, hire their own staff and design their own tours. All of this careful attention to detail adds up to a guaranteed good time when you are in their hands.
Earlier this summer I traveled with Allen Marine to Misty Fjords with a random group of cruise ship passengers and a few local Ketchikan residents who were sightseeing with a guest from Denmark. I had enjoyed the Misty cruise several times in the past, since it was an easy way of entertaining summer visitors with a day on the water, but it had been many years since I had last taken the tour.
The tour was just as good as I remembered it. As the late afternoon clouds slowly broke, an enthusiastic group of 40 or so passengers boarded the boat piloted by Captain Mark. The boats seat several hundred people and are often full, so it's best to call ahead and inquire if seats are available for the day/time you want and further ask the passenger count. It can be a lot more relaxing to go with fewer passengers on board and you also have more room to spread out.
Boarding the boat, we had our choice of plush velour captains-style chairs either lined up towards the front of the boat in rows or set along the side windows in groups of four with tables for eating, writing or playing games. Every few chairs had a pair of binoculars for day use and a free souvenir route map to take home.
I comfortably took notes at my tableside seat while another group of passengers played cards nearby when there was a break in the sightseeing action. I recommend bringing a simple game like Uno, Yahtzee or Go Fish for this tour if traveling with children because there is a lot of down time on the water as you move from one natural attraction to another.
As we slowly motored out of the busy waters near Thomas Basin, our on-board naturalist and guide for the day, Betty, gave a thorough safety lecture and introduced other members of the crew, including Gracie who had come to Ketchikan as an infant and Ashley who had previously worked as a deckhand on a tall sailing ship.
Once we were really underway, we motored down Revillagigedo Channel past Annette Island, home of the only Native Reserve in Alaska. At Point Alava, we headed northeast into Behm Canal before turning north at Point Nelson on our way to New Eddystone Rock.
The distinctive tall rock was named by Captain George Vancouver after a lighthouse in his native England on August 9, 1793 while he was in search of a Northwest Passage. He wrote in his journal that the rock appeared as a "ship under sail" and, indeed it does from a distance. More recent explorers have determined that the rock is actually a volcanic plug or the remains of ancient volcano.
Turning East into Rudyerd Bay, the boat headed to scenic Punchbowl Cover and quietly glided beneath 3,000 foot glacier-sculpted cliffs filled with waterfalls and nesting sea birds. This quiet stop is a favorite of photographers and the only sounds are the calls of birds and the snap of shutters.
Moving quietly through the cove, the boat stopped so passengers could view a faint ochre colored pictograph said to be a Native territorial mark likely made with salmon egg paint. A final stop took the group to an enormous Eagles nest where we were rewarded with a good view of a brown speckled juvenile eagle whose markings had not yet changed to the distinctive black and white of its parents.
As the boat worked its way back toward Ketchikan, the sun broke through the clouds and a very rare double rainbow followed us back to Ketchikan. While we traveled, passenger munched on their samples of smoked salmon with crackers, piquant pickled kelp and lemony kelp marmalade.
The pleasant hum of the engines made it hard to stay awake, but those who did were treated to some outstanding renditions of traditional stories by Native Alaskan artist and storyteller Reg Kalkins who had been demonstrating scrimshaw drawings during the tour. For me, his resonate voice filling the boat as we came into sight of the harbor was the highlight of the trip. We had traveled back in time to a place where the land was formed by wind, rock and rain and had one last moment of enjoying the peace and beauty of the place we had been before returning to our busy lives.
If you go:
Tours must be booked ahead. Visit Allen Marine at 5 Salmon Landing 215, Ketchikan ¿ (907) 225-8100
Learn more at www.allenmarine.com.