Alaska – State of Extremes
No other US state can boast so many numerical extremes as Alaska. How about some facts? Alaska was the second latest state to be admitted to the Union,
becoming a full member only in January 1959. The state has the most extreme elevation difference between its lowest point (the sea level of the Pacific Ocean)
and its highest peak (Mount McKinley, 20,320 feet). Mount McKinley is also the highest point in all of North America. Alaska is, of course, also the northernmost
American state. In terms of population, Alaska is one of the smallest states (totaling an approximate 626,000 people). In terms of area, it is the largest
state of all. That makes, of course, also for the lowest population density of all states. In Alaska, statistically there is only one person living on each
square mile. Alaska has the longest shoreline and the most lakes of all US states. Time to discover the vast wild beauty of the state that is known as “The Last Frontier”!
The weather in Alaska is not like the weather in Alaska. Many people think that it is almost always freezing in Alaska. This is far from the truth, especially in the
southern parts. The climate in the Alaska Panhandle, the southeastern region, in fact is not very different to the temperatures one finds, for example, in the state of
Washington. Throughout the south, for instance in Anchorage, there is a mid-latitude oceanic climate, with summer highs in the 60s and winter highs in the 30s. Generally,
the coastal regions get a much milder climate than the rest. The temperatures of Barrow in the far north only insignificantly differ from Anchorage’s numbers. Fairbanks,
however, situated in the central portion of Alaska, has a much broader and more extreme temperature range. Here the average January highs lie at a freezing zero degrees
Fahrenheit, while in June and July the thermometer climbs regularly beyond the 70s.
The southernmost part of the Alaska regions boasts rugged fjords, many peninsulas and islands, and a rich habitat for many impressive animal species like bald eagles, porpoises
and whales. Both the native peoples, the Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian Indians, and the many Russian settlers who came here in the 20th century have left their indelible mark on
the region. The region houses many stunning glaciers. Juneau is surrounded by many of them, called the Juneau Icefield. The Mennenhall Glacier is located just 13 miles outside
of the city. The glaciers can be viewed and explored in a variety of ways, for example by dog sled, trek, helicopter or boat. Further south, Ketchikan, Alaska’s southernmost
port, is at the same time a center of sports fishing. The city invites for many more activities. The Prince of Wales Island attracts visitors with its abounding wildlife and
stunning natural panoramas. Fishing, kayaking, and bird watching are among the most popular activities.
The Southcentral Region is the home of over half of Alaska’s population as well as the state’s biggest city Anchorage (population: 278,000). Anchorage is a modern metropolis
in a surrounding of natural wilderness. Many museums and sights can be found in this city such as a botanical garden and a zoo, or the Alaska Heritage Library and Museum where
paintings and artifacts from native Alaskans are displayed. Moreover, Anchorage is an ideal gateway or base camp to explore the surrounding mountains. 120 miles of paved and
another 300 miles of unpaved trails invite for exploration. Chugach State Park is one of the most popular destinations for hikers and bikers. The park receives more than one
million visitors each year. The habitat of the Chugach foothills includes moose, wolf packs, grizzly bears, soaring eagles and lynx. Three major campgrounds and many more smaller
public cabins provide accommodation. Famous hiking trails include the circle around the 3,500-feet-high Flattop Mountain, Turnagain Trail, a former telegraph line, and the
14-mile round-trip through the Williwaw Valley.
In the southwestern region one finds not only green hills and plains but also a rugged volcano landscape. It is situated in what is today the Katmai National Park. The lava
of the Novarupta volcano erupted in 1912. Since 1980 the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a national park site. The area is also famed for its brown bears and rugged coastline.
If you go further west, you will reach the Aleutian Island group, the westernmost point of the United States. They are all volcano islands and if you are lucky you might even spot
an occasional bison here.
The landscape of the interior region is dominated by Mount McKinley. The mountain, which is also called Denali, is the centerpiece of Denali National Park, spanning over six
million acres. Possible activities are abundant both in winter and summer. Dog-sledding and cross-country skiing are obvious examples for the cold and snowy months. When the snow
has melt, hikers, campers, anglers, and naturalists populate the slopes of the mountain and the wild nature around it. The region, however, also contains one of the state’s largest
settlements, Fairbanks. Especially in summer, it gets an unusually high amount of sunshine hours per day. Founded during the turn-of-the-century gold rush, Fairbanks is now the
transportation and trade center in the heart of Alaska. The city is home to many museums informing visitors, for instance about native Alaskan or pioneer life. And the mail service
in nearby North Pole is getting more busy than any other in the region around Christmas time. It is said that most letters are addressed to a certain Santa Claus.