Alaska is the 49th state in the US, but how much do you know about this northern territory? You may have learned back in school that it’s the largest state in the nation. But did you know its total population is no bigger than that of Seattle? You know where the Alaska Highway runs, but did you know it was built during WWII, is a full 1520 miles long, and runs all the way from Northern Alaska to British Columbia? And you know, of course, that Alaska gets mighty cold in winter, has glaciers and high mountains and is home to Grizzly bears, but did you know it has rainforests
Alaska is a truly magical place, with something for everyone. No wonder there’s a whole list of things about it that may surprise you! Here are just a few.
Alaska has a poetic name. The world ‘Alaska’ comes from the Aleut ‘Alyeska’ meaning ‘Great Land’. So Alaska is “The Great Land” for good reason. So much so, that the northernmost point in the US (Point Barrow) and the easternmost one (Cape Wrangell) are both located there!
Alaska has rainforests. The southeast coast of Alaska is largely covered by rainforest. It lies in the heart of the North American temperate rainforest, a 2500 mile strip of dense trees (cedar, hemlock and spruce), running from northern California to near Sitka, in central Alaska. Temperate rainforests are rare, and only found in 6 other places in the world.
Alaska is also home to the two largest forests of any kind in the US. The Tongass is the biggest – it surrounds the Inside Passage and is home to many of Alaska’s species of wildlife. Chugach rainforest, above the Gulf of Alaska in the south, is the second largest, and is mostly untouched by roads or trails.
Alaska cost $7.2 million. That’s what Secretary of State William Seward paid for it in 1867, when he bought it from Russia. He was widely criticized at the time, and his purchase described as “Seward’s Folly”. But then gold was discovered in the Yukon some years later…and the rest is history!
Barrow has both the longest and shortest days of the year. If a judge in Barrow were to ask a suspect, “Where were you on the night of the November 18th?” he might get rather a long answer – the night in question lasts until January 24th! And in summer in Barrow, once the sun rises on May 10th, it won’t sink below the horizon again for nearly three months.
In Fairbanks, you can see the Northern Lights 243 days of the year. Aurora Borealis – or the Northern Lights – is visible in Fairbanks from August 21 to April 21. During this season, when the sky is clear enough, (and dark enough), you can enjoy this spectacle of lights approximately four nights out of five.
Alaska is home to 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the US. Mount Denali is the highest, towering some 20,310 feet above sea level, rivalling certain peaks of the High Andes and Himalayas. It has a topographic prominence of 20,124 feet – which makes it almost 4 miles high from base to summit – and is the third most prominent mountain on earth.
Alaska has 3 million lakes and 3000 rivers. It’s not the best place to keep your feet dry, as 14.2% of it is water! Picture the entire double berth garage of an average American home being water, and you get the idea! 3% of Alaska is also covered by glaciers – imagine one large couch and two big armchairs in your lounge being solid ice!
Alaska is home to approximately 1 grizzly for every 21 people. That means statistically that if bears and humans mingled, there’d be at least two or three brown bears wandering around the aisles every time you go to Walmart. Or a couple munching popcorn in the theater whenever you go to the movies!
Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but is inaccessible by road! The only way to get to Juneau from the outside is by boat or plane. If you’re wondering why there are no roads to Juneau, to the east lies just the small problem of an icefield the size of Rhode Island. To the south, the Taku River valley would be a nice route, if it weren’t for large and ever shifting glaciers. A road north? This would technically possible, but Alaskans are very protective of their natural areas and don’t want them spoiled – road builders would first have to get past the locals, which might be even trickier than mountains of ice!
Alaska’s state sport is dog mushing. And Alaskans get hugely excited about their largest, and annual, sporting event, the Iditarod dog sled race! Ice hockey, football and baseball hold little sway this far north. Dog sleds used to be the main form of transportation for people and goods, during winter months.
You probably already knew Alaska was an exciting destination, now you know it’s a truly fascinating one too! If you want to find out still more about Alaska, perhaps for your next trip, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
As travel experts, few things still surprise us about Alaska – but we like to think you might be pleasantly surprised by our services! Reach out today