The Aleutian Islands are an arc of of volcanic islands that connect the continents of North America and Asia. This windswept, barren environment is almost devoid of trees, yet one the Aleutians claim to be home to a US National Forest, albeit the smallest in the country, and one that has yet to be officially recognized by the Department of Agriculture.
Adak National Forest consists of exactly 33 pine trees, huddled together and out of place in the vast treeless landscape. It is in fact unnatural, the remnant of an unsuccessful army experiment.
During WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied the two westernmost Aleutian Islands. In order to boost defenses, the US military decided to build an airbase at Adak. At the height of operations it was home to over 6,000 American servicemen, who suffered through miserable weather of almost constant snow, sleet, rain, fog, and mud.
Army General Buckner thought that planting some Christmas trees might cheer up his troops. A formal tree planting program was undertaken from 1943 through 1945. Unfortunately, even the most sturdy pines couldn’t withstand the harsh Aleutian climate. At one point, there was only a single tree left. It was at this time that the sign that reads “You are now ENTERING and LEAVING The ADAK NATIONAL FOREST” was placed here on a whim by soldiers in the early 1960s.
However, 50 years later, either by some freak twist of micro-climate, or through human intervention, some 33 pine trees have managed to survive the harsh climate, forming a very small forest. The two large surviving groves are located in the sheltered ravines of Nurse Creek and Hospital Creek.
Apparently the fact that the trees were originally planted for Christmas has not been not totally forgotten by the local Aleuts, who decorate the whole forest every December.
Know Before You Go
Alaska Airlines provides two flights weekly to Adak island from Anchorage, with Boeing 737 aircraft.