Homer a Whittier, Alaska

In Search of the Stealth Whittier

alaska from the air
View of the Alaskan Mountains from an airplane.
Anchor Inn
A small Whittier hotel.
The Bunker Buckner
Buckner's bunker-shaped building
Ninilchik Cemetery
Ninilchik Cemetery, an Alaskan village of Russian origin.
Automobile junk in front of the Buckner Building,
Kasilof river below
Navigation on the Kasilof River, in the middle of the salmon season.
Matron Oskolkoff
Detail of a grave in Ninichik Cemetery.
america with russian origin
North American flags stand in Ninichik Cemetery.
The Begich Towers
The buildings that house almost the entire population of Whittier.
Walt & Connie's Knives
Walt & Connie Knife Shop by the roadside.
Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Small Orthodox Church of Ninilchik.
We leave Homer in search of Whittier, a refuge built in World War II and housing two hundred or so people, almost all in a single building.

We wake up late. We left at bad times, determined to stop whenever the path justified.

We pass by Nikolaevsk. we interrupt the trip, for the first time, in Ninilchik, a village founded by Russian settlers, in 1820, forty-seven years before its rulers sold Alaska to the United States for 7.2 million dollars in one of the most disastrous deals made by the country of the Czars.

Shortly after the transaction, US explorers discovered gold in various parts of the state. It took only a few years for the wealth extracted by the Americans from the seams and rivers of the state to surpass the amount spent.

After the passage of vast territory into American ownership, not all Russians left. Those who stayed, preserve a good part of their culture.

Alaska, by Homer in Search of Whittier

View of the Alaskan Mountains from an airplane.

Entire Families Share Large Tea samovars secular, keep traditional Russian costumes in which they pose for memorable photographs, along with great matryoshka colorful.

your Christian faith is Orthodox, of course. As are its various wooden churches with eight-armed crosses, decorated with golden-colored panels of the saints that the community praises.

Homer's Transfiguration of Our Lord Church, Ninilchik, Alaska, in Search of Whittier

Small Orthodox Church of Ninilchik.

We veer off the Sterling Highway in search of the local Russian church. We found it on the edge of a cliff, facing the sea and surrounded by a white wooden fence.

More than religiosity, the historical significance of the vision is impressive.

Ninilchik Cemetery, Alaska, Homer's Search for Whittier

Ninilchik Cemetery, an Alaskan village of Russian origin.

Despite the Slavic architecture of the main building, in a small cemetery subsumed among the vegetation, Orthodox and Catholic crosses are mixed, these, accompanied by the flags of the United States of America.

As was proved there, the coexistence of inhabitants of the two nations took place for a long time.

And so it continues long after the diplomatic withdrawal of the Russia. It is, by the way, one of the most fascinating aspects of life in southern Alaska.

The Rivers of Salmon Irrigating Alaska in Russian Times

We continued north. We passed through other places of Russian origin, such as the small, almost imperceptible Kasilof, named after the river that passes through and flows further on.

In June and July, an army of fishermen from the outskirts and farther reaches of Alaska gathers from both shores. As long as the migration of schools allows it, they compete with each other and with ospreys and throat clearing for salmon specimens, which are more accessible than ever on the shallows where the river spreads.

There, the salmon are still at the beginning of a river voyage that, if completed, would take them much further upstream from Kasilof, who knows if to the grandiose Lake Tustumena.

Kasilof River, Alaska, by Homer in Search of Whittier

Navigation on the Kasilof River, in the middle of the salmon season.

On these sides, the landscape closest to the road is dominated by low, fragile-looking coniferous forests. They do not reach more dignified heights due to the almost always icy subsoil on which they sit.

In the distance, the peaks of the Kenai mountain range stand out, crowned in white by the most persistent ice.

Up Sterling Highway

Soldotna follows. Soon, Sterling. In Sterling, a graphic billboard catches our attention. From it stands out a large knife with a yellow and red handle. Protruding from the knife, an American flag star-spangled fluttering.

A panel below introduces us to Walt & Connies Knives, this couple's roadside business, well positioned to serve fishermen, hunters, and Alaskans in general with what they most lack: hunting knives, filet knives. , kitchen knives, alaskan knives one and Campbell knives.

Walt & Connie Knives, Alaska, by Homer in Search of Whittier

Walt & Connie Knife Shop by the roadside.

In addition to all these types of knives, the couple also announces that they are sharpening and that they sell reindeer pens. Unfortunately, by the time we passed his door, the couple's establishment was closed. We could not wait for the time of their return, without even being sure that they would return.

After several detours that include strategic breaks at Soldotna, Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, we finally leave Sterling Hwy. Pointed northwest, at the very bottom of the Turnagain inlet, which extends from the still distant city of Anchorage.

Finally, the Revelation of the Whittier Dodge

Having explored every corner of the city and its surroundings, we begin the new stage. Before returning to Anchorage, visit one of the most surreal towns in the entire state: Whittier.

Only those interested in the war history of the world know. During the 2nda world war in addition to Pearl Harbor, the United States was attacked by the Japanese in its 49th state. 

Misfortune befell Dutch Harbor and the Aleutian archipelago, the long chain of islands at the far end of the Alaska Peninsula, closer to Japanese territory than any other part of the United States.

Faced with the need to build a secret military base, army officials found the ideal spot, there, facing the Canal Passage, surrounded by the surrounding steep mountains, covered by ice and thick clouds for most of the year.

In a flash, they turned it into a sophisticated military hideout, endowed with a port and railroadO. During the tourist peak season, this same port now receives the large cruise ships that travel the west coast of Alaska, from Anchorage to the various villages of Cape Frigideira Alaska. Capital Juneau included.

At the time they called it Camp Sullivan. By 1943, Camp Sullivan was already used as the port of entry for US forces into Alaska.

In order to ensure access by land, a long tunnel was opened, which is still one of the engineering marvels of Alaska today.

The War Genesis of Povoação, in the 2nd World War

Despite the purpose of its foundation and the large bunker look it boasts, Whittier has borrowed the name of an imposing glacier in the vicinity. In 1915, this glacier was named in honor of the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

In late March 1964, still in the midst of military occupation, Whittier was shaken by the Good Friday earthquake, one of the most powerful and destructive seismic events in Alaska, with a magnitude of 9.2 degrees, generating several tsunamis. along the west coast of the United States but which, despite this intensity, only claimed thirteen victims.

The military occupied Whittier until 1968, when they abandoned it and its strange buildings.

With the affirmation of summer tourism, even among mountain ranges and glaciers, the ghost town – however colonized by indigenous people – became an attraction of its own, with importance reinforced by having become a scale of the Alaska Marine Highway.

It was only when we arrived at the entrance to the Anton Anderson Tunnel that we discovered that it does not allow simultaneous travel in both directions, that access is only possible on an hourly basis. We dedicate the remaining 40 minutes to regional radio stations and to enjoy the surrounding glacial landscape.

When the green light finally goes down, we proceed through the dark. It took us fifteen minutes to go through the long tunnel. Until, on the other side of the mountain, we came face to face with a shelter with a cemented look, in everything identical to so many others that the Cold War would later generate.

Alaska, by Homer in Search of Whittier

Automobile junk in front of the Buckner Building,

The Unusual Buckner Building and Begich Towers

Due to its architectural size and weight, the Buckner Building stands out from the houses, which we cannot resist exploring. At one point, it seemed to the residents so vast and complete that they called it "a city under a roof."

Until 1968, more than 1000 people lived there, mostly in the service of the US army. Today, the building is no more than a bunker housing abandoned to time and vegetation, with the company of several dented and rusty cars.

Destination different had the Begich Towers. With fourteen floors and the civil appearance of a suburban building, right after the

Homer's Begich Towers, Alaska, in Search of Whittier

The buildings that house almost the entire population of Whittier.

demobilization, were occupied by indigenous people from the region and some immigrants who settled in the XNUMX two- and three-bedroom apartments. Several dependent Alaskan families and civil servants were also deployed there.

The Begich Towers are now home to around 80% of Whittier's XNUMX-odd inhabitants. Underground, a labyrinth of tunnels connects the buildings to schools and shops.

Protect residents from bad weather. They save them the time wasted removing snow from the entrances to their homes and roads during the endless cold months.

With the accumulation of decades, this new housing structure gave rise to a unique society, semi-isolated from the outside world by location and distance, at least while summer and curious tourists do not arrive.

A Military Shelter, in the Full Chugach Indigenous Route

The area where the American authorities installed Whittier was once the travel route for the Chugach natives, whenever they took the path of the immense Prince William Sound.

Years later, with the arrival of Russian and American explorers and American gold prospectors during the Klondike's Gold Fever, a multitude of meddlesome outsiders and disrespectful of the Chugach origins, also began to use it.

Aware that Whittier was the ultimate example of an American furtive military town, we absorbed its strange beauty, or rather strangeness, until the last minute.

Buckner Building, Alaska, by Homer in Search of Whittier

Buckner's bunker-shaped building

In the time we had, few residents were found. “By this time everyone is at work at the oil terminal, the kids are at school and a lot of people are walking around Anchorage” John Kerry assures us the owner of a store that sold a little of everything.

One thousand two hundred kilometers and nine days later, we were about to finish the planned circuit, surrendered to the peculiar existence of the Kenai Peninsula, we were excited to plan a winter return.

After all, few places are more rewarding than out-of-the-box places like Whittier where life is extreme and remains untamed.

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