Sunday, August 23, 2015

Adak Alaska, Some Photographs

Gretchen and I spent a week on Adak Island. Here are some photographs. I hope to share stories and additional photographs in a few weeks.

There are two flights a week to Adak Island--Thursday and Sunday. It's about a three hour flight from Anchorage, Alaska, on a 737-400 "Combi." 

Adak was for many decades, from World War Two, until the end of the Cold War, a Naval Air Station as well as an early warning site. I don't know what percentage of the houses in the above photograph are inhabited, but I would guess maybe 10%. Currently about 100 people live on the island. At its peak over 6,000 thousand sailors and seamen, pilots, and their families lived on Adak. 

Our hosts treated us to smoked salmon our first night visiting, a very plentiful fish caught in the open ocean as well as swimming up the creeks trickling from the islands hills. 

When the base shutdown and the Navy left in 1997, most of the structures became open spaces to explore. Many places are marked "Do Not Enter" due to asbestos construction still present. Some places, like the newer chapel were boarded up and restricted, but most of the barracks, housing complexes, schools, hangers, galleys, rec centers, armories, fallout shelters, and work depos were left open to explore.

In the last ice age all of the trees were scoured from the island, leaving it covered in a variety of grasses, but then in the 60's the Navy decided to try growing a couple evergreens to boost morale.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bound for Adak Alaska

I have a week left living in Alaska, though it feels as if these final days I won't even be in the same state that I've called home the past nine years. We're flying to Adak to visit a friend that has temporarily retired out there. While still technically Alaska, the island situated near the end of the Aleutian chain, is a three hour flight from Anchorage, 1400 miles from Fairbanks, about 500 miles from landfall in Russia, about 1900 miles from Cape Soya (northern most of the four largest of Japan's main islands), and 2400 miles from Oahu. Adak sits at 51N, about the same latitude as Vancouver, British Columbia, and 176W, about the same longitude as the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.

In the 1940's, during WWII, it was pivotal in turning the tide of the Pacific campaign against the Japanesse and used as a staging area for 90,000 soldiers positioned to retake Kiska and Attu from the only enemy to invade American soil since the War of 1812. During the Cold War the Navy remained and the base had several thousand seamen and aviators stationed there. My uncle, an Annapolis graduate and Navy helocopter pilot lived on Adak with my aunt for over two years. In 1976 my grandmother flew all the way from Buffalo, NY, to spend time with her newly born grandbaby, my cousin.

Today, Alaska Airlines flies to Adak twice a week. A couple hundred people still live out there. Situated within a maritime wildlife refuge, it sees thousands of birds each season and a swarm of bird watchers that follow them with cameras and binos and identification guidebooks. State residents travel to the island to hunt the invasive caribou herd, 10,000 strong, from which you can kill ten a day. Fisherman stage there for halibut, cod, and crab. And afficienados of apocalyptic landscapes come to crawl through the hundreds of abandon buildings and huts left behind when the military finally pulled out and shut the base.

We brought camping gear and hiking gear. Maps. Cameras. Food. Wine. The usual kit for a week long adventure. Members of Club 49,  Alaska Airlines lets us check three bags, up to 50lbs each, for free. Our friends will be happy to unpack fresh groceries.

For now, waiting in the Anchorage airport, boarding in an hour, we're just hoping the fog and 30 knot winds clear so our flight doesn't have to circle the Bering Sea too many times.