If you fly three hours west out of Anchorage on a Sunday afternoon, along the spine of the Aleutian Islands that separate the Gulf of Alaska from the Bering Sea, and you land in Adak, you’ll walk off the plane into an otherworldly place, stunning in its natural beauty, rare for its isolation from technology, rich in military history.
You’ll also be there just in time for donuts.
Adak, population maybe 100, is one of the most interesting American communities you can get to by jet. Its few residents make their homes on a large abandoned military base that dates back to World War II. A visitor can’t help but be struck by the ghostliness of the place at first: its boarded-up elementary school, empty commissary, childless neighborhood playgrounds and wind-battered vacant houses giving way to the elements. But the longer you spend there, the more your view of it changes, like your eyes getting used to the dark. As the shadows come to life, you realize where you are: an independent-minded, truly Alaskan small town. It is impossible not to be charmed.
Everything in Adak used to be something else. City Hall used to be the high school. The store, which is only open two hours a day (because after that electricity costs eat all the profits), used to be a community center. The Navy-issue hutches holding beer and wine at the liquor store? They used to be in some- body’s living room. The Bluebird Café (one of two restaurants in town) is in a house on a suburban-feeling cul-de-sac. The only way you know it’s a restaurant is the “Open” sign out front. About half the neighboring houses are empty.
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With photos by Nathaniel Wilder.