Adak, Alaska: day 4

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cousin Shannon convinces me to get up early so I can photograph the sunrise. We head over to the fuel farm and walk out on the pier. Just in time. The clouds light up with the drama I was hoping for.


It doesn’t last long, but I do get a photo of god rays:


The wind is picking up and, combined with a slight drizzle, I’m feeling uncomfortable for the first time since I got here. Ever so briefly, I get a sense of how nasty the wind must be when it really blows.

Fortunately, the wind and rain don’t last long. That’s pretty much my experience with any kind of weather on Adak: Wait a few minutes and it’ll change. That’s what they say about Hawaii, too.


I take a few more photos as I head back to the car. Shannon has taken off already to go to work at the fuel farm.


15090_Adak_dusk beach_WM

On the way back to our house I stop a few times to take photos of the early morning light. There’s so much beauty all around me.


Even these satellite dishes, no longer in use, look scenic at this time of day.


And these warehouses and workshops look downright photogenic, in a gritty kind of way:


Since I have the car today, I head over to Bering Hill after breakfast. I want to take a few more photos inside the Old Bering Chapel.


More than any of the military structures, most of which are built of concrete, this humble structure vividly demonstrates the effects of time and the elements. Unless something is done to stop the decay, it will be gone long before the barracks and bunkers are.



As I said on Sunday, the Old Bering Chapel was originally built in 1944 and fell into disrepair after the Navy had constructed a larger chapel in the 1980s (see below). However, because of its cultural importance it was restored in 1990 and had just received a new roof and a fresh coat of paint when the Adak naval base was closed in 1997.


I don’t know if the hymnal is original or if somebody placed it there later for effect, but it’s a poignant reminder that this chapel was once a vibrant house of worship, filled with a choir of human voices. Now it’s just the wind.


The padded red door is a surprising detail:


The structural element that captivates me the most is the ceiling with its crisscrossing beams. It looks so new and sturdy, like it should last another 100 years. I’m not sure the walls will hold that long.


The light fixtures are just as fascinating. I wonder: Are from the 1940s when the chapel was originally built?


On the hill behind the old chapel is the new chapel, built in the 1980s. It’s a much larger structure, with a metal roof that will last forever. The building is now used as an evacuation center should a natural disaster befall the island.


After I leave the Old Bering Chapel, I go back to one of the barracks we’d explored on Sunday to take more photos. I think it was called the “New Barracks” back in the day.


I snap a few photos of broken windows but somehow my heart isn’t in it today.


However, this drawing catches my eye…


…as does this personal message. Did these guys ever see each other again after they left Adak?


I feel strangely melancholic as I walk down yet another abandoned street. It must be the cumulative effect of all of these empty buildings. I’m all by myself, and I hear no man-made sounds, no birds, just the soft whistle of the wind.




At lunchtime, Shannon takes me up to the hill behind the fuel farm to show me one of her favorite views of the island:


This is the small-boat harbor, with the partially sunken ship all the way on the right:


I drop Shannon off at work and drive out towards Clam Lagoon where I’d been with Elaine yesterday. Elaine is busy today so I’m on my own. That turns out to be a good thing because I need some time to digest all the things I’ve seen in recent days.

The ever-present clouds create the perfect backdrop for this panorama:


I’m close to feeling overwhelmed by so much natural beauty. I sit in this spot for a while to take it all in. I never want to forget how majestic the landscape on Adak is.


This view of the mountains is even more breathtaking:


Be sure to click the small photos to see the high-resolution version.



What you see in the next photo are the water tanks I photographed on Monday. From there you have a panoramic view of the town below.


This is Bering Hill from the distance, photographed with a long telephoto lens. On the left you can see part of the roof of the new chapel.


Last photo of the day: the beach were Shannon and I had gone walking on Monday evening. Adak only has 16 miles of road, so you can’t drive too far.


Yesterday we’d given Imelda, the owner of the Blue Bird Café, some halibut that Shannon and her boss had caught, and Imelda promised to make us dinner tonight. And does she ever! Her ceviche and fish and chips are some of the best I’ve ever had. The perfect meal on what is essentially our last evening on Adak. Tomorrow we leave on the 6 p.m. flight.




  1. "I’m close to feeling overwhelmed by so much natural beauty. I sit in this spot for a while to take it all in. I never want to forget how majestic the landscape on Adak is."

    I picture you having a Thoreau moment sitting on that rock...

    Also: A little sunlight makes the place look quite different!

    1. I should written a poem or something :-).

      YES, sunshine makes Adak look completely different. I loved the moments when the sun would come out for just a minute, lighting up different parts of the landscape. I didn't like it when it was all sun--half of the mystery was gone. Fortunately, clouds and fog are the norm.

  2. I'm glad you got up early to catch the sunrise - it was worth it. I understand the sense of melancholy you were feeling - even following your movements through your photos brings to mind the sense of moving through a ghost town or being alone in a post-apocalyptic world.

    1. No matter what my feelings were at any given moment, positive or negative, just the fact that what I saw on Adak stirred up these feelings is an exciting thing.

  3. What an adventure! So different from our over-crowded traffic-choaked state, eh?

    My sister said the Feds spent tons of $$$ on Adak. She painted the runway on Amchitka, not Adak. Amchitka is a few islands west of Adak. My BIL Brian spent considerable time on Adak; he assisted in the transfer of Adak to the native corporation and testified before Congress about it.

    Yes the roof of that chapel is so beautiful!

    1. What a coincidence! I love that your sister and brother-in-law are familiar with Adak. I assume your brother was working for the Navy when the transfer took place? Please show them my posts if you haven't already. They probably recognize quite a few places.

  4. Just lovely!!! Thank you ...


  5. Coolest trip, and coolest trip report, EVER. The landscape, the sheer scale of it... your photos are just breathtaking. Thanks so much for sharing Adak with us!

  6. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for these photographs!
    I grew up on Adak, from the age of 5 to 18 [1968 - 1981] and
    will most likely never make it back. I get homesick a lot, and
    these pictures will be looked through over and over again.

    1. Your comment made my day. I'm so happy to hear that you connected with my photos. Thank you for letting me know.

  7. Just Jonell. I saw your post on another site and tried to get a hold of Robin but her e mail wasn't working. WE were there in the 70's.

  8. Love the photos, brought back a lot of memories. Our family was stationed there from 1976-1980.


Post a Comment