Barabara Point, Kachemak Bay

Barabara Point, Kachemak Bay

by | May 8, 2022

Barabara Point is on the Kenai Peninsula between McDonald Spit to the east and Seldovia Point to the west in Kachemak Bay, about 12 miles (19 km) south-southwest of Homer and 4 miles (6.5 km) northeast of Seldovia, Alaska. The mouth of Barabara Creek is at the point and creates a broad fluvial fan in the intertidal zone. The local name is after the historical Alutiiq semi-subterranean dwellings and was first reported in 1918 by Professor Adam C. Gill, a mineralogist with Cornell University, who conducted a special investigation of the chromite deposits of Red Mountain and Chrome Bay in lower Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet basin is part of a northeast-trending collisional forearc basin that extends approximately from Shelikof Strait in the southwest to the Wrangell Mountains in the northeast. The basin is bounded on the west and north by granitic batholiths of the Alaska Range and volcanoes of the Aleutian volcanic arc, and on the east and south by the Chugach and Kenai Mountains respectively, which represent the emergent portion of an enormous accretionary prism called the Chugach terrane. The Border Ranges Fault is roughly aligned with the axis of Kachemak Bay and juxtaposes Mesozoic sedimentary rocks of the Peninsular terrane to the northwest against highly deformed and metamorphosed Mesozoic rocks of the Chugach terrane to the southeast. Quaternary glacial deposits blanket Tertiary rock strata throughout most of the Kenai lowland and bedrock exposures are limited to coastal bluffs and isolated river cuts. Oligocene to Pliocene age bedrock consists of either the Tyonek, Beluga, or Sterling Formations. Most of the Tyonek Formation is exposed in the northwestern part of Cook Inlet near the village of Tyonek, but a few coastal locations are exposed on the Kenai Peninsula between Barabara Point and Coal Cove at Port Graham. At Barabara Point, the Tertiary rocks of the Tyonek Formation is comprised mostly of conglomerate derived from braided fluvial gravel deposits that filled ancient paleo valleys cut into Mesozoic greywacke of the McHugh Complex in the Chugach terrane.

The occupation of the Cook Inlet basin by Europeans dates from the latter part of the 18th century when settlements called artels were established by Russian fur traders and missionaries. The indigenous Dena’ina people were only subjugated after much fighting which continued over a considerable number of years. In 1818, the total population of Dena’ina was about 1500 individuals, and the following year the Russian-America Company had four permanent villages under control. By the early 20th century, the most noticeable change was an increase in the Euro-American population and a decrease in the native population along with the disintegration of their culture. The principal villages of the Dena’ina were Seldovia, Kenai, and Eklutna on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet, and Tyonek on the western shore. The Dena’ina living along the lower inlet, and Kachemak Bay in particular, had access to a greater variety and abundance of food than the villages farther north. The Dena’ina of Kachemak Bay also adopted many of the maritime traditions of the Alutiiq of the outer coast and were skilled sea hunters. Marine mam­mals that were hunted included sea lions, seals, porpoises, sea otters, beluga, and other whales. Seafood caught from the lower inlet included salmon, herring, halibut, eulachon, sculpins, octopus, clams, mussels, crabs, and cod. This was facilitated by the Alutiiq baidarka, or kayak, built with a wood frame covered by up to ten seal skins sewn together and the seams waterproofed with grease. A single-bladed paddle was preferred over the double-bladed style. Larger boats called umiaks were also used and made with sea lion skins and pro­pelled by teams of men using paddles. Although Dena’ina villages are well documented, there were many families that lived seasonally at more isolated sites scattered along the coast but typically near the mouth of salmon streams such as Barabara Point. Barabara Creek drains a watershed of 13,838 acres (5,600 ha) and flows generally northwest for about 7 miles (11 km) to Kachemak bay at Barabara Point. The stream receives a run of about 4,900 pink salmon that spawn during late August and historically one or more Dena’ina families had permanent or seasonal dwellings there.

A barabara is the Russian term for the traditional dwelling used historically by Alutiiq and Aleut people and adopted by the Dena’ina that they called ‘ciqlluaq’. The semi-permanent structures were partially underground to withstand high wind forces. The floor was several feet below the surface of the ground and the houses were long enough to accommodate one or more families. After digging a foundation, builders erected a post and beam frame covered with planks hewn from driftwood. Logs were split with stone mauls and whalebone wedges and formed into planks with stone adzes. Blocks of sod or grasses were then piled over the frame for insulation. Each house had a set of rooms connected by narrow tunnels to side rooms. Houses were entered through a low passageway that led into a large room with a central hearth. Early versions had a roof doorway for entry and later designs used a vertical doorway. Fires were built in the middle and smoke holes were spaced at intervals along the ceiling and covered with a hatch that could be opened to release smoke or let in fresh air and light. Around the walls were earthen benches or platforms for sitting and sleeping covered with dry grass or hides. Here, people cooked, repaired tools, sewed clothing and hosted visitors. Stores of food hung from the ceiling in seal stomach containers. Beneath the plat­forms were sleeping compartments for the younger married people and others for unmarried girls, while the older people had little rooms ex­tending from the sides for sleeping quarters. A steam bath, also known by the Russian term banya, was attached to the central room. Rocks heated in the hearth were carried to the banya with wooden tongs and splashed with cold water to create steam. The banya was always the smallest room in the house with a low roof designed to trap heat. Hot rocks were traditionally piled in the corner so bathers could exit easily. The outside of the barabara had a drainage ditch that surrounded the entire structure. Residents stored larger gear including kayak frames, paddles, and fishing nets on the roof. Racks for drying fish and meat were commonly constructed beside houses. Read more here and here. Explore more of Barabara Point here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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