Yes, Alaska is as beautiful as they say. Yes, the fishing in Alaska is as good as they say. Yes it rains a lot in Alaska. Yes there are bears in Alaska. And yes everything you hear about Alaska being naturally beautiful and wild is true. So whatŐs it all about? The name Alaska comes from an Aleut word meaning "great continent" or "mainland." Called by the natives Al-ak-shak or Al-ay-ek-sa. The name became, Alashka, Aliaska, Alaksa and ultimately Alaska.
Alaska is big. It has a land area of 663,267sq miles making it the largest state in the US. With 634,892 inhabitants, it has a population density of 1.1persons per sq. mile, pretty sparse compared to the lower 48, which has approximately 80 people per sq. mile. The state is made up several distinct regions. The Aleutian Islands extend westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward Asia and border the Pacific Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea to the south. The islandsŐ towns are mostly small villages with the exception of the town of Unalaska on Unalaska Island. (Unalaska meaning unattached from the Ňgreat continentÓ) The town of Unalaska sits alongside Dutch Harbor, the worlds most productive fishing port, and has a population of about 4000, which can grow up to 8,000 during the fishing season. Exposed to the elements from both the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, the islands have a harsh climate with freezing temperature in the winter and winds over 162kph (100mph).
The Interior of Alaska has milder weather than the state's extremities. ItŐs covered with 129million forested acres and North AmericaŐs tallest mountain, Mt. McKinley which stands at a height of 6096m. (20,320ft)
The Southeast of Alaska, or The Panhandle, is a coastal strip of land that extends south from The Interior of Alaska along the west coast of Canada. The coastline is shadowed by tall peaks and caving glaciers, and sheltered from the Pacific by numerous islands with isolated towns inaccessible by road, yet connected by the inside passage and accessible by ferry. Kodiak Island is AlaskaŐs largest Island, and home to 8000 Kodiak brown bears.
The North and Western regions are harsher arctic tundra wilderness with extreme climatic changes from season to season. In the winter days are short and cold, leading to summer days of almost 23 hours of daylight. People say that around the summer solstice in June, the sun never really sets.
Alaska is teaming with wildlife. There are moose, black-tailed deer, caribou, mountain goats, Dall sheep, bears, wolves, harbor seals, porpoises, dolphins, humpback, Beluga and Minke whales, sea lions, sea otters and walruses. In the late summer, thousands of salmon swim upstream to spawn, sometimes traveling inland up to 200 miles. There are many birds as well including the Willow Ptarmigan (the state bird) and Bald Eagles. The flora of Alaska is diverse, and changes dramatically from one region to the next. Among the 33 native tree species are Sitka spruce (the state tree), western hemlock, alder, white spruce, cottonwood and paper birch.
Alaska's climate is fickle, and it is not uncommon to change at will several times a day with rain, sun, sleet, snow and fog along the coast. Alaska generally experiences high rainfall and moderate summer temperatures averaging 15-21ˇC (60-70ˇF), although the winters can be quite cold with common temperatures below 0ˇC (32ˇF) Alaska is the land of the midnight sun with long summer days averaging 18 to 20 hours and brutally short day 4 hour days in the winter.
Alaska is thought to have been populated as far back as 30to 40 thousand years ago by people following herds of game across the Bering Land Bridge. The bridge formed between the continents of Asia and North America during the Ice Age when the sea level dropped as the oceans water froze around the polar ice caps. The Tlingits and Haidas were the first to establish permanent settlements in southeast Alaska and went as far south as what is now Seattle. Their lives were thought to be relatively easy because of the moderate climate and the abundance of fish in the area. They are best known for carving Totem poles.
About 8000 years ago came the Inupiaks, Yupiks and the Aleuts, three separate groups from Asia that settled in the north and southwest regions of Alaska. Their lives were more difficult due to the harsh cold conditions of those areas. They developed a sea hunting culture, and hunted seals and 60-ton whales from Bidarkas (sophisticated kayaks made with wood and stretched seal hide). The Aleuts who lived on the Aleutian Islands were also known for fine basket weaving, seal skin boats and bentwood hats.
The native people lived plentifully within the environment until the Europeans arrived aboard the Dutch Explorer, Vitus Bering's 1741 Russian funded exploration. After reports about the abundance of seals and otters, groups of Russians soon arrived. They moved across the Aleutian Islands, to Kodiak Island and then to the Inside Passage, where they set up a government in Sitka. There occupation reduced the native populations by 90% over fifty years by introducing diseases and alcohol, as well as enslaving the natives to work, hunting otters into near extinction for their pelts. Other explorers that came to the region today known as Alaska included the English and Spanish.
On March 30, 1867, The United States signed a treaty with Russia to acquire Alaska. The following Oct. 18, for a whopping 7.2 million dollars (thatŐs 2˘ per acre) the deal was finalized and Alaska became a territory of the United States. Sitka was the first capital and the area remained relatively lawless until the 1897 Gold rushes. The governor's office was moved to Juneau in 1900, and a territorial legislature first took office in 1913. This was also the same year Mount McKinley, north Americas highest peak, was climbed for the first time.
During World War Two, The Japanese occupied Attu and Kiska Islands, and bombed Dutch Harbor on the Island of Unalaska. In 1942, U.S. forces repelled the invaders, and over an 8 month 12 day period built the Alaska Highway to supply the military. This was not only an engineering feat, but also the only overland link to Alaska. On Jan. 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.
On March 27, 1964 (Good Friday), an earthquake registering 9.4 on the Richter rocked Alaska. 32 feet of coastline slipped into the sea in Kodiak, the harbor was lost in Cordova when the sea rose 16 feet and the resulting tsunami killed 131 people. In 1968 Oil deposits were discovered in Prudhoe Bay and in 1977 the 789-mile, Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe to Valdez was completed. The project took three years, cost of 8 million dollars and was the most expensive construction project of its day. Fast forward to March 24, 1989, another Good Friday. The Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker ran aground off of Valdez dumping 11 million gallons of North Slope crude oil into Puget Sound and destroying coastline up to 600 miles from the grounding site. The accident killed over 64,500 birds, 5000 sea otters and uncountable amounts of fish.
The Aleutian island extends westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward Asia and borders the Pacific Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea to the south. The first large island is Unimak Island, where the small village of False Pass sits. And the furthest island out is Attu. Dutch Harbor is the most populated, natives and non-natives alike, mostly making a good living of the plentiful fishing in the Bering Sea. Dutch Harbor has a population of about 4000, which can grow up to 8,000 during the fishing season. Being so exposed to the elements from both the Pacific and Bering Sea, the island has a harsh climate.