This Native Alaskan village, ironically named for a white schoolteacher, is a 2.5-mile walk via a paved path, a $1 city bus ride, or a $12 taxi ride south of Ketchikan. Saxman (pop. 400) is crowded with the largest collection of standing totem poles in the world—more than two dozen. Most were brought from their original sites in the 1930s and restored by Native Alaskan Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers; others came from a second restoration project in 1982.
The oddest pole is topped with a figure of Abraham Lincoln and commemorates the settlement of a war begun by the U.S. revenue cutter Lincoln. Probably the most photographed is the Rock Oyster Pole, which tells the story of a man who drowned after his hand became caught in a large oyster. Behind the poles is a cedar Beaver Clan House, open most days.
Adjacent to the totem park is a carving shed (free admission) where you’ll find local artisans completing totems, masks, and other pieces. You’re welcome to drop in whenever a carver is at work, which is most weekdays in the summer. Renowned carver Nathan Jackson can often be found working here. Interested in having a pole carved? Expect to pay at least $2,000 per linear foot.
Cape Fox Tours (907/225-4846, www.capefoxtours.com, $45) leads 1.5-hour tours that include a visit to the carving shed, a video on Tlingit culture, and a performance by the Cape Fox Dancers. Get tickets at the Ketchikan Visitors Center or the Saxman Village Store (907/225-4421), which sells a mix of wares. Half the shop is dedicated to inexpensive imports, but the other side is more noteworthy, with high-quality locally made totems, masks, paddles, jewelry, and carved pieces, including an $8,000 bentwood box.
Two blocks downhill is the Saxman Arts Co-op (907/225-4166), with historic photos and local pieces.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition