Alaska is in the western United States, on the northwest end of North America. The state borders the Canadian territory of the Yukon and is right next to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, part of the Russian Federation, just across the Bering Strait. There are two seas of the Arctic Ocean, the Chukchi and Beaufort, while the Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT ALASKA
- Capital City: Juneau
- Largest City: Anchorage
- Nickname: The Last Frontier
- Statehood: 1959; 49th state
- Population (as of 2020): 736,081
- Abbreviation: AK
- State bird: willow ptarmigan
- State flower: forget-me-not
- Total Size Of The State: 663,268 sq mi (1,717,856 km2)
It is estimated that the first people arrived in Alaska around 13,000 years ago. Either they walked or sailed from what is now Russia to Alaska, which was connected by a 600-mile stretch of land called the Bering Land Bridge.
In 1784, Russian settlers settled here, and in 1867, the United States bought the land for two cents an acre. Following the discovery of gold in 1872, people began to reconsider the harsh environment. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th U.S. state to join the Union.
In addition to the Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Aleuts, Athabascans, and Yup’ik, indigenous people still live here.
Why Does It Have That Name?
The name “Alaska” is derived from the native Aleut word Alyeska, which means “big land.”
Geographic Features and Landforms
Travel north through the contiguous (connected) United States, cross into Canada, and travel west to Alaska, the largest state (by area) in the Union. Canada’s territory of the Yukon borders Alaska on the east, the Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean on the north, the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea on the west, and the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Alaska on the south.
It is no coincidence that Alaska has a reputation for being cold. Permafrost covers much of the state, which is permanently frozen ground. It is also home to the largest glacier in North America. There are 2,250 square miles in the Bering Glacier, about the size of the state of Delaware. Tundra landscapes characterize the northern and western coasts: flat, treeless, and windy.
See North America’s tallest mountain, Mount Denali, at Denali National Park.
There are many evergreen trees, lakes, and meadows in the taiga forest in the state’s center. In addition, there are rainforests on the southeast coast. But beware, the state is home to more than 40 active volcanoes.
The Natural World
Pol bears, beluga whales, and walruses can be seen off Alaska’s north and west coasts. There are also black bears, moose, Dall sheep, musk oxen, caribou, and the world’s largest brown bear, the Kodiak. Also found in Alaska are albatrosses, eagles, and loons.
Trees include hemlocks, pines, cedars, and Sitka spruces, Alaska’s state tree. Only at night does the forget-me-not release its scent, which is the state flower.
- Alaska exports zinc as its biggest export, but gold is the most famous.
- Alaskan products include lumber, fish, coal, and jade, the state gem.
Some Fun Facts About Alaska
- In 1971, the temperature in northern Alaska fell to -80oF, making it the coldest temperature ever recorded.
- Alaska has been known as the Land of the Midnight Sun for over two months in the summer.
- Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are bands of brightly colored light that dance across the night sky. These are the results of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gasses in our atmosphere.
- You can also try a qutak, or Eskimo ice cream, a combination of seal oil, animal fat, snow, and wild Alaskan berries.