Alaska: The Great Land of the North

Alaska is the largest and most northern state of the United States of America. It is also one of the most diverse and fascinating places on Earth, with a rich history, culture, and natural beauty. In this article, we will explore some of the facts and features that make Alaska a unique and amazing destination.

History of Alaska

Alaska was first inhabited by various indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit, Aleut, Tlingit, Haida, Athabascan, and others, who adapted to the harsh climate and landscape. They developed complex cultures and traditions, and traded with other groups across the Bering Strait and the Pacific Ocean.

The first European to sight Alaska was the Danish explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering, who sailed from Siberia in 1741. He named the land he saw after his ship, the St. Peter. Soon after, Russian fur traders and whalers began to establish settlements and forts on the Alaskan coast, especially on Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands. They exploited the abundant resources of the region, such as fur seals, sea otters, walruses, and whales, and often clashed with the native inhabitants.

In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for $7.2 million, or about two cents per acre. Many Americans thought this was a foolish deal, and called it “Seward’s Folly”, after the Secretary of State who negotiated it. However, Alaska soon proved to be a valuable acquisition, as gold was discovered in the Klondike region in 1896, sparking a massive gold rush that attracted thousands of prospectors, adventurers, and entrepreneurs. Alaska also became strategically important during World War II, when the Japanese invaded and occupied some of the Aleutian Islands in 1942. The US military built bases and airfields in Alaska to defend against further attacks and launch raids on Japan. Alaska was granted territorial status in 1912, and became the 49th state of the union in 1959.

Geography of Alaska

Alaska is the largest state in the US by area, covering 663,268 square miles (1,717,856 square km). It is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined, and has more coastline than all the other states combined. Alaska is also the most northern, western, and eastern state in the US, as it extends into the Eastern Hemisphere and crosses the 180th meridian. Alaska is bordered by Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea to the west.

Alaska has a diverse and spectacular landscape, with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, forests, tundra, rivers, lakes, and islands. The highest point in Alaska and North America is Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), which rises to 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) above sea level. Denali is part of the Alaska Range, which stretches across the south-central part of the state. Alaska has about 100,000 glaciers, covering about 5% of the state’s area. Some of the most famous glaciers are the Hubbard Glacier, the Mendenhall Glacier, and the Columbia Glacier. Alaska also has more than 130 active volcanoes, mostly located along the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. Some of the most active volcanoes are Redoubt, Pavlof, and Shishaldin.

Alaska has a variety of climate zones, ranging from polar to temperate. The northern and western parts of the state have a subarctic climate, with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. The average temperature in Barrow, the northernmost town in the US, is -12°F (-24°C) in January and 47°F (8°C) in July. The southern and southeastern parts of the state have a maritime climate, with mild winters and cool summers. The average temperature in Juneau, the state capital, is 25°F (-4°C) in January and 58°F (14°C) in July. The interior and central parts of the state have a continental climate, with extreme temperature variations. The average temperature in Fairbanks, the second-largest city in the state, is -16°F (-27°C) in January and 65°F (18°C) in July. The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was 100°F (38°C) in Fort Yukon in 1915, and the lowest temperature ever recorded was -80°F (-62°C) in Prospect Creek in 1971.

Wildlife of Alaska

Alaska is home to a rich and diverse wildlife, with more than 430 species of birds, 105 species of mammals, 3,000 species of plants, and countless species of fish and invertebrates. Some of the most iconic animals of Alaska are the bald eagle, the moose, the caribou, the grizzly bear, the polar bear, the wolf, the wolverine, the lynx, the muskox, the sea otter, the sea lion, the whale, the salmon, and the king crab. Alaska has 16 national wildlife refuges, covering about 77 million acres (31 million hectares) of land and water, where these animals are protected and studied. Some of the most famous wildlife refuges are the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska also offers many opportunities for wildlife viewing and recreation, such as hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and more. Some of the most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike are the Denali National Park and Preserve, the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the Katmai National Park and Preserve, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and the Tongass National Forest.

Culture of Alaska

Alaska has a diverse and vibrant culture, influenced by its native, Russian, American, and other immigrant heritage. The state has about 229 federally recognized tribes, each with its own language, customs, and traditions. Some of the major native groups are the Inupiat, the Yupik, the Aleut, the Alutiiq, the Tlingit, the Haida, the Tsimshian, the Eyak, the Athabascan, and the Haida. The native cultures are celebrated and preserved through various festivals, museums, and organizations, such as the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

The state also has a strong Russian influence, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when Alaska was part of the Russian Empire. The Russian legacy can be seen in the architecture, art, music, cuisine, and religion of some of the communities, especially in the Aleutian Islands and the Kodiak Island. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Alaska, with about 50,000 members and 100 churches. Some of the most notable examples of Russian architecture are the St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka, the Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral in Unalaska, and the St. Nicholas Chapel in Kenai.

The state also has a significant American influence, as it became part of the United States in 1867 and a state in 1959. The American culture is reflected in the political, economic, and social aspects of the state, as well as in the education, entertainment, and sports. Alaska has a bicameral legislature, a governor, and two senators and one representative in the US Congress. The state’s economy is largely based on oil, gas, fishing, tourism, and military. The state’s population is about 733,000, with about 40% living in Anchorage, the largest city in the state. The state’s education system includes the University of Alaska, with campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, and several other public and private colleges and universities. The state’s entertainment industry includes film, television, music, theater, and literature, with some of the most famous celebrities being Jewel, Sarah Palin, Tom Bodett, and John Green. The state’s sports include basketball, hockey, baseball, football, and soccer, as well as unique events such as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race, and the Mount Marathon Race.


Alaska is a state of contrasts and contradictions, of beauty and challenges, of history and innovation. It is a state that offers something for everyone, whether they are looking for adventure, culture, or nature. Alaska is a state that deserves to be explored, appreciated, and celebrated. Alaska is the Great Land of the North.

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