Ketchikan, Alaska is the self-proclaimed salmon capital of the world. They have over 300 days of rain each year and boast the largest rain forest in the United States – not that there is a lot of competition.
I was pumped for our hike in Ketchikan and wanted to see lots of wildlife. They told us to dress for wet weather and wear rugged shoes we don’t mind getting wet. Unfortunately, Ketchikan was experiencing their idea of a drought – four days without rain. Our hike was at low tide so the streams the fish travel to spawn were little more than muddy creeks. Our hike was on a boardwalk through the rain forest along the salmon “stream.” Without fresh fish the Bears were not interested in a public dining experience.
There were a lot of fish to be seen, and more impressively, to be smelled. Dead salmon carcasses were everywhere rotting on the banks of the stream. Salmon return to their place of birth to spawn a new generation and to die – preferably in that order. Without enough water to make it back the salmon had to settle for just dying. Not even the bears were interested in eating those odorous nasties. The guides felt bad and pointed out every bit of wildlife they saw. We saw a number of birds which looked to me like, well…birds. Not terribly exciting. We saw several piles of bear poop. One of our fellow hikers even stopped to photograph the large brown piles from various angles. Aren’t you glad you are not reading his blog complete with pictures.
We got to a boggy area where the water was deeper and a few bald eagles dropped by to fight over the dead fish parts. A few in our group were grossed out by the way the eagles held the fish down with a talon grabbed a chunk with their beak and stretched until the fish ripped apart and could be eaten. Our crap-tographer didn’t seem to mind though. We also saw a family of river otters playing in the water which was a rare treat.
The most memorable critter for me was the banana slug: a gigantic fat slug covered in slimy mucous. They told us that if you lick the slug it will make your whole mouth go numb for hours.
My first thought was that Alaskans have too much time on their hands, but I kept thinking about that slug and what it would be like to have Novacaine mouth without the needle. As we circled around our hike we returned to where we found the gargantuan lump of snot and I stood there debating whether or not to lick it. It wouldn’t cause permanent damage. Alas, the slug and I did not share that intimate interaction. In hindsight, I regret not licking the slimy bugger. It would have been a memorable experience and would have made this blog a lot more fun to read.