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New author Pihlman writes about essence of the Southeast
Dale Pihlman stands recently for a portrait aboard the Ken Eichner 2 in the Tongass Narrows. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Photographer

A Ketchikan man and new author has published not only a local’s perspective of Alaska’s Inside Passage, but a well-examined history of the land he has meticulously explored and called home for his entire life.

When Dale Pihlman set out to document all he knew about  the islands and waterways that extend 500 miles from end to end and encompass the area between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Skagway, he had no idea it would take over 15 years of serious research to produce almost 400 pages of tenable information.

Pihlman’s regional guide titled “Alaska’s Inside Passage” is about nine inches square with one inch of thickness, and accommodates 14 chapters of reading. Each chapter is filled with colorful photos and illustrations of wildlife, botany, geology and historical accounts. The larger format provides a more visible flow of text, and space for big pictures, but still fits easily into a daypack or handbag, giving an explorer an on-demand educative resource.

With subjects ranging from fishing to art, the new author created a guide with a wide appeal for people with a collection of diverse interests.

“It covers all the basic subject areas that pertain to Southeast Alaska,” said Pihlman. “Everything that I can think of that's relative to the area that a visitor would want to know, and hopefully residents as well, is there. I tried to put something in there for everybody.”

Pihlman, who was born and raised in Ketchikan, has been employed as a guide, pilot, commercial fisherman, high school biology and art teacher. He was the first tour operator in Ketchikan.

“Nobody else was doing organized tours,” said Pihlman.

He also was the first operator to do short excursion tours for the cruise ships. He used to have his own Cessna float plane and tour boat, both of which he operated out of a docking station in Misty Fjords National Monument until a few years ago when he sold his boat to Allen Marine Tours and his plane to a private buyer.

Pihlman has spent his entire life exploring the region by air, land and water. If he had a favorite area, he claims the outer coast as his paradise.

“The area has pristine wilderness, big sandy beaches, craggy headlands and little inlets,” he said, pausing before continuing. “Its remote, pristine. I love it out there!”

The author’s research brought him face-to-face with local historians and professionals, who made things easier, and he depended on them to verify the information for his book and address any areas of concern.

“Just about every area I knew something about, but  I learned the most about ornithology, which is the study of bird migration,” said Pihlman. “And, when it came to birds, I really relied on Fish and Game biologist Andy Piston, here in Ketchikan,” he continued. “So it’s all well-checked, and they even provided some of the photos of the animals.”

In addition to the beautiful landscapes the region offers, he is also fascinated with Native history, culture and art. Pihlman makes this very apparent by contributing a significant portion of the book to the vast complex history of the Alaskan Native cultures. He researched the cultures within the settlements scattered along the coastline and delivered it into not only an interesting read, but a fascinating narration of events.

Pihlman’s journey into the Native culture and history led him to a plethora of information which he says “would not have fallen into my lap” without the help of an anonymous source leaving a stack of documents, mostly military, detailing early contact with the many clans that settled and traded throughout the region. As a result, six months ago Pihlman started his next book on Fort Tongass, which last stood from 1868 to 1870 on Tongass Island in Nakat Bay, serving as a U.S. Customs station when the United States first took over the territory from Russia in 1867.

The author’s life experience transcribes into a guide book of the region, yet Pihlman did face some challenges while compiling all the data and paraphrasing it.

“That was the biggest challenge, to keep it light enough to keep it interesting, but have the technical information there, that is important to the subject,” he said.

Pihlman’s book “Alaska’s Inside Passage” can offer a traveler a light read while at sea or a quick reference while at port. This is an adventurer’s short guide that crosses over to in-depth research and entwines the rich history of the area with a scientific account of the visible beauty along the shorelines, including the forests.

The importance of the subject matter is its significance to history. This is  a book about the Alaskan culture of not just the here and now but the then and there. A time of the past and its relevance to the present.