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"Visitors to Eklutna Historical Park can take a guided tour to the    
old log Russian Orthodox Church, see the Spirit Houses, and visit the 
new Orthodox Church. You'll learn about the history, culture, and customs
of the Dena'ina Athabascans in combination with Russian Orthodox traditions."
~ from the Eklutna Historical Park home page

After hiking to Thunderbird Falls and Twin Peaks, both in the Eklutna Lake area, I stopped at the historical Russian Orthodox Church and picturesque cemetery in the old village of Eklutna [ee-KLOOT-na].

I'd read about the unusual "spirit houses" in the cemetery at this historical park but hadn't seen any pictures of them.

I was curious what they look like. Some were even more elaborate than what I had envisioned:

There are many different styles of spirit houses. I'll show more of them in a little bit. 

The old and new St. Nicholas churches are located just west of the Glenn Hwy. at the Eklutna Lake exit (MM 26.5) in the Eklutna Historical Park.

The original log church was built sometime between 1830 and 1870 according to the official website.   It seems a little odd to me that no one knows for sure. Regardless, it’s deemed the oldest building in the Anchorage area and is on the National Register of Historic Places:



The new church was built in 1962 and is currently being used for services:



The two churches and the Russian Orthodox-Athabascan cemetery are located behind an attractive white picket fence.

Visitors enter through a gift shop, pay $5 each, and either tour the place alone or with a guide.

I went alone because I was tired from my two hikes, in a hurry to get back to the campground, and Cody was in the truck (sunny and about 70 F. -- I left the windows open). Only two other folks were on the grounds besides the guy in the gift shop. 

I went inside both churches and read some of the historical information. This Russian-Native Alaskan cultural mix still intrigues me even after all the information I’ve read since we’ve been in Alaska.




What I was most interested in, however, were the “spirit houses” in the cemetery.

The cemetery we wandered through on the Kenai Peninsula didn’t have spirit houses. They are a custom unique to the Athabascans who settled around what would become the Anchorage-Eagle River-Chugiak-Eklutna area.

I wondered if they’d be like some of the above-ground structures in cemeteries in New Orleans but they aren’t. They are brightly-painted wooden boxes (and one elaborate model of a house) on top of the graves: 


This one is painted in more feminine pastel colors for the woman buried there:

That's also one of the newer graves in the cemetery; she died in 2005.

Many of the graves have the Russian Orthodox three-barred crosses with the lower bent bar:


I took several photos of the spirit houses and wish I’d taken more, especially after seeing the angle of the photo in the official website with the church in the background:


I was in too big of a hurry to get that creative.

My favorite had to be this scale model of a house. It is about three feet high. I assume it is a replica of  the house where the woman buried here lived before her death in 2003:


This moose dressed as a monk (I think) made me smile:

He was in the farthest reaches of the cemetery, near the house shown above.

Check out the official church/park website for more historical and cultural information, the origin of the Orthodox three-barred cross and Native spirit houses, and more photos. 


I really enjoyed my day. Cody and I are tired tonight but we had a good time on our hikes near Eklutna Lake.

Jim seemed to enjoy his day, too, especially since it was sunny. He had a good, long bike ride on base this morning and got to watch some of the aircraft that will be flying in the huge Arctic Thunder Air Show on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In the afternoon he cleaned the carpet and did some other work around the camper. In the evening we both relaxed and shared our experiences.

I like all the individualism displayed in this cemetery.

With the air show coming up, the Black Spruce FamCamp is getting pretty full. I hope there is at least one available campsite on Monday so we can extend our stay another four or five days. There are so many things to do in the Anchorage area!

Next entrya memorable bike ride on the Coastal Trail with (finally!!) views of Mt. McKinley AKA Denali

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil