Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Adak, Nov 2008

One of the most remote places in Alaska and therefore the entire US is Adak Island. Out at the end of the Aleutian Chain, it was once home to a Navy base of 5000 sailors. The base was abandoned about 10 years ago and left to fall into ruins. The entire community of about 100 now live in a small group of houses and duplexes just off the runway. The school holds the city administration, a few classrooms for the handful of children trying to live there with their parents, a medical clinic that has a doctor once a month, same with a dentist. Only the people who really want to live an 'end of the road' existance to so, depending on a 737 twice a week for supplies and mail.

When the island was a Navy base the roads were paved, their was a thriving social network with restaurants, bowling alleys, gyms, doctors, dentist and fully staffed school. Now the roads are full of potholes, many of the buildings are beginning to fall in and collaspe. The power poles carrying transmission lines are no longer straight and tall, having sagged and fallen into the tundra along the main road that stretches across the island. Power comes from generators powered by disel fuel.
When the sun is shining the isolation is its own beauty. A large caribou herd calls the island home. Hunting is year round and caribou and fish provide a large portion of the food for the residents. Halibut is plentiful in the bays around the island. In some ways if you're a big game hunter, the island has plenty to offer. If you hike off the roads large signs warn of buried ordiance, hazardous materials and war supplies buried after WWII and abandoned. Several of the buildings partly buried in the ground carry 'nuclear' symbols and rumor has it that once upon a time nuclear warheads were stockpiled here during the cold war. The gantries and pulleys still exist for moving missles from truck to bunkers. Everyone who visits the island or resides there is briefed on the hazards of moving off of established and well marked routes.

From the hills above what was once a thriving community the housing, barracks and administration buildings stretch across the land. In an effort to recycle some of the materials in all the buildings a contractor has been removing copper pipes, wiring and anything else that can be sold for bulk prices. As the years past the buildings will slowly lose the battle to the extreme weather. Once a roof is lifted in the routine 100 mile winds, the weather will destory the interior in a couple seasons.

Over the years several attempts have been made to do something with this abandoned city. A fishing industry is the latest attempt to spur growth on this tiny rocky island. The island is only hours by fish boat to the huge fishing grounds of the Bristol Bay and the waters between the US and Russia. The island has 2 huge runways, where large aircraft land and wait out weather before continuing on to their destination across the Pacific. Scheduled flights of a 737 occur twice a week, providing the island all of its supplies. There is no barge traffic, no ferries, no shipping fleets bringing in whatever is needed for the tiny population.

In all things, the weather is the deciding factor for anything happening on the island. The island is in the middle of the Pacific, in an area known as 'the Birth of Storms'. Hurricane force winds are a weekly occurrence. The weather can shut down the air service for weeks on end, forcing the Adak residents to have enough supplies stockpiled to last for several weeks or months. During WWII more people died because of the weather, not the Japanese. The island averages 5 days of sun per year. High temperature is about 45. Low temperature is about 40. Year round. You can't grow a garden in that climate without a greenhouse and lots of help.

It's a beautiful place, on a sunny day. I've been there 3 times and really don't care to come back.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unalaska Island, Alaska

Like I've said before, I travel all over the state. I was recently in Unalaska. Unalaska Island is one of the many islands on the Aleutian Chain. It's claim to fame was WWII, the biggest fishing port in the US and now the home of 'The Deadlist Catch', a TV show about the Bering Sea crabfleet.

The remains of WWII are scattered all over the island. From half buried Quonset huts to steel rings where the big guns were mounted, and machine guns bunkers buried in the grass, the evidence of the war tell the story of the island.

A few roads criss-cross the island for the intrepid explorer to use in the summer months. The grass is deep and long, hard to walk on but camflagouing ancient artifacts.

I was there with some co-workers to discuss airport concerns, like always. The weather helped and we had some blue skies and dry dirt roads to use, instead of 4-wheeling through mud bogs.

One of the roads parellels the coastline closest to the community, giving you access to tidal pools, sea urchins, clams, and places to cast out for halibut. At low tide the remains of ancient fishnets, wrecked fish boats, and trash appears. The deep bay offers shelter for freighters and the fishing fleet.

From the air the remotest of the island is readily apparent. A thousand miles of cold arctic waters seperate the island from the nearest urban center. One little 4000 foot runway provides access to anyone willing to fly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Homer, Alaska

My job takes me around Alaska. One of my recent trips took me to Homer, where I stayed in a nice little Bed & Breakfast, overlooking the Homer Spit.

Rock gardens and lots of annual flowers decorate the grounds of the home I stayed in.

The view from the deck. The long arm of land is known as the Homer Spit. It marks the head of Kachamak Bay. At the end of the spit is the port and harbor for the local fishing fleet.

Walking the numerous trails opens up wonderful vistas of glaciers across the bay. Our long hours of daylight reveals different views.

Rainbow over the Spit in the long twilight.

Twilight casts everything in long hours of 'alpine' glow. The magic hours cast pink light on white snow.

The Bear Winery in Homer. Since we don't have grapes, our local wines are made with berries. Everything from blueberries to rhubarb. Wines are usually sweet and great with desserts.

The winery is a bit of local color not well known to most visitors to the state. But a day trip to Homer while you score a few bottles of wine is a great way to spend a long summer day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Typical spring day in Anchorage

Go for a walk in the spring, you'll usually find someone browsing on the edge of the trails.

So you'll have a discussion on who owns the trails in Kincaid Park. Trust me, they win every time. If you're smart, you'll give these a wide berth and talk to them the whole time you're going past.

Until you come home and find one taking up residence in your front yard. So you tip toe to the back door and take photos from around the corner until he decides to leave. No matter how tame a moose looks, that's a 1000 pound wild animal occupying your yard, until it decides to leave.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Va. 2007 visiting home turf

I was born and raised in the mountains of Va., and I get back there about once a year. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

For example, the mountains were once home for more moonshine and bootlegging than any other place in the country. Now winerys' are popping up all over place and new skills and crops are replacing the old stills and corn whiskey.

This winery on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains above Stuart. It's just getting started and is a long ways from being an award winning winery. But it has promise, and a couple good wines.
Mabery's Mill on the parkway. Probably one of the most photographed spots in the state. It was a working mill in the 20s, now as a tourist attraction it has walks through the wilderness, demonstration of moon shine stills, honey bees, making bread, the list goes on. I just remember it as a great place to play as a kid.

The mountains around home. The Smokey mountains, named years ago because of the blue haze on the mountains. Compared to Alaska mountains these are just rolling hills but they are just as beautiful.

This was April, 2007. Green and warm and in some ways just as isolating as Alaska. My home town is just a tiny community compared to the city I live in now. I'm more of a city girl than a mountain lass.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing 2007

This is a photo of the huge Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I didn't take this one. Thanks to the Va. Chesapeake Bay website you can get a clue about how HUGE this bridge is.

Crossing this bridge is a really scary thing. You go over the bay for awhile, looking down at the small ships and boats.

Then you get to go under the bay so the big ships, like tankers and Navy ships can go up the bay. That means you're going under the water.

You enter through a long tunnel

It's a long tunnel, lit well with spots to pull off in case of an emergency. This is the biggest bridge I've been on.