Alaska became part of the United States on January 3, 1959. Only Hawaii joined the Union after that. The state’s nickname is The Last Frontier. Even though Alaska is part of North America, it is separate from the contiguous United States. Less than a million people call Alaska home, in fact, the only states with fewer people who live in them are Vermont and Wyoming. Alaska is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful states in the country. It is a popular cruise destination during the summer months. Here are some things that you might not know about Alaska.
Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States. It is so large that Texas, the second largest state, could almost fit inside of it twice. Much of Alaska remains undeveloped or underdeveloped. Over 75 percent of Alaska is not accessible by car. You will need to take a boat or a plane to get to many places, including the capital city of Juneau.
Much of Alaska is managed by the federal government. It is estimated that 65 percent of the land is federally owned and maintained. Seven of the ten largest national parks are located in Alaska. Each of the national parks is unique, and they are all worth a trip. The largest national park in the country, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, is well over eight million acres in size. Denali National Park, which is perhaps the most famous in the state, is over four and a half million acres.
You can’t mention Alaska without talking about its mountains. Seventeen of the top 20 tallest mountains in the country are located within the state’s borders. The three main mountain ranges are the Alaska Range, the Aleutian Range, and the Brooks Range. The highest peak, and the tallest mountain in North America, is Denali. It is 20,310 feet! For those who attempt to climb Denali there are two major summits along the way. There has been some controversy over the name. Denali was called Mount McKinley for decades, after President William McKinley. In 2015, President Barrack Obama and his administration restored the name to Denali, which it had been called for centuries. Today you will hear people refer to the mountain by either name.
Volcanos and Earthquakes
Alaska sits on what is known as the Ring of Fire. It is home to 80 percent of the active volcanoes in the United States, and eight percent of the active volcanoes in the world. There are also multiple earthquakes daily in the state. Most of these are minor and so far away from the population that they are not felt. Not all are mild. Three of the largest earthquakes ever were in Alaska.
The climate in Alaska ranges from oceanic to subarctic to arctic. Since Alaska is so large it is impossible to say that the state receives one type of weather. January tends to be the coldest month, while July is the warmest. The average daily temperature in January can be anywhere from 38 degrees to -11 degrees, depending on how far inland and how far north you are. Temperatures in the 70s are not uncommon for parts of the state during the summer. The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was 100 degrees. That was in Fort Yukon on June 27, 2015. The lowest recorded temperature was -80 degrees. That was on January 23, 1971 in Prospect Creek. Because of the extreme cold, Alaska is free from many common pests, including cockroaches, snakes, and termites. Bees also cannot survive in Alaska.
It is fairly well known that dog sledding, or dog mushing, is a popular sport in Alaska, but often that is where the knowledge ends. Dog sledding is the official sport of the state. The most famous race is the Iditarod, which is a one thousand mile race from Anchorage to Nome. There are plenty of other races that are also held of various lengths throughout the year. The dogs used in mushing are considered athletes, and they are well taken care of. Mushing isn’t just for races. There are plenty of companies that will teach tourists the basics, and then take them out for a ride. Dog sledding takes place all year long, not just in the winter months. It was originally a form of transportation, and some locals will still use dog sleds to get around.
The Alaska Railroad
Many people think that the best way to get around Alaska is on a boat or a plane. While these are fantastic options, Alaska also has a great railroad system. The Alaska Railroad covers hundreds of miles. You can sign up for a tour and follow a set agenda, or you could instead make your own plans and stop when and where you want. Seeing Alaska by train is a good way to be able to see some of the smaller towns and areas that you might miss if you are traveling by boat.
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are a must experience part of any trip to Alaska. It is not as difficult to see them as you might think. On average, the Northern Lights are visible almost 250 days a year in Fairbanks! That is considered the best place in the state in which to see them. The Northern Lights are easiest to see when the sky is at its darkest. The best months are usually September through April. Seeing the Northern Lights can be unpredictable, so be patient. If you can see stars in the sky, that is a good time to start looking for the Northern Lights. If you aren’t sure what to do, sign up for a tour with an experienced guide.
One More Fact
Here’s one more interesting fact that you might not know about Alaska. It is the only state name that can be typed on one row on a keyboard. Go ahead and type it out, then think of the names of some other states. You will need to use more than one row on your keyboard for those!