We took a 2-1/2-hour plane trip south from Anchorage to explore Sitka, the capital of Russian America in the early 1800s. The municipality covers most of Barankof Island, which rises from rain forests along the coast to snow-capped mountains in the interior.
For more than a century, from the 1740s until the 1860s, Russian fur traders, priests and settlers plied the coast of Alaska, setting up trading posts from California to the Bering Sea. Despite conflicts with the local native Aleut peoples, the Russian put down roots, creating permanent settlements flush with schools and Russian Orthodox churches and priests
The capital of this tenuous Russian outpost was Sitka, where the Russians repeatedly clashed with the native Tlingit people living there. The Russians brought in their true believers, including Bishop Innocent who oversaw his religious duties from a large house overlooking the bay.
In a replica of the original Russian Orthodox Cathedral, gold- and silver-encrusted icons speak of the glory of the past.
Weakened by the Crimea War, Russia had to sell its territory and, in 1867, held a formal ceremony in Sitka to hand it over to the United States.
The Russian legacy in Sitka, along with its lush rainforest environment, make it an interesting place to spend a few days. A National Historical Park now covers the site of an ancient Tlingit village and native totem poles emerge from the fog-covered forests along the path.
The year-round residents of the city have shown grit and imagination, carving softly sloping trails around the perimeter of town and steeper, stiffer challenges on the mountains that drop into the sea.
My brother-in-law Jerome visits Sitka frequently in his role as a member of the board of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. The camp has restored several buildings of a former college and runs a vibrant summer program for children and adults with dance, music, painting and pottery.
The marina brings in pleasure boats as well as fishing boats that provide the economic backbone to the place. An occasional cruise ship docks in the waters off-shore and come onshore to view the sights.
In the distance, Mt. Verstovia, a dormant volcano looms.
During four days in Sitka, a notoriously rainy place, we found slivers of sunlight every day on the trails beneath its mountain peaks.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.