Alaska is the largest U.S. State - in fact it is larger than all but 18 countries of the world, and about 1/5 of the total land area of the 48 contiguous states.
Since the Aleutian Islands cross over the 180-degree longitude line, Alaska is in fact the westernmost, northernmost, and easternmost state! It is rugged and wild with glaciers, countless rivers and lakes, majestic mountain peaks, some active volcanoes, and nearly 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline. North America's highest peak, Mt. McKinley (or Denali) at 20,320 ft., is located in Alaska.
65% of the state's land is owned and managed by the U.S. federal government. The State of Alaska owns about 25% and 10% is owned by native people, leaving less than 1% of the land in private hands.
Originally settled by people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge, Alaska later became populated by Inupiaq, Inuit and Yupik Eskimos, Aleuts, and a variety of Native American groups. Most of the original people of the Americas are thought to have traveled this route from Asia and then continued farther south.
In 1725, Peter the Great of Russia sent Vitus Bering to explore the North Pacific Ocean area. He sailed through what we now call the Bering Strait in 1728. Nearly 50 years later, Juan Perez of Spain and James Cook of England also explored the same area.
The first non-native settlement, Nikolaevsk, was constructed on Kodiak Island in 1784. Originally established as a sea otter fur post, it was never profitable because of high transportation costs.
In 1867 the British-North America Act established a monarchical state in Canada. Then U.S. Secretary of State William Seward urged his government to quickly purchase Alaska from Russia for the negotiated price of $7.2 million – or about 2 cents per acre. See the canceled check here.
On October 18, 1867 an American flag was raised over Alaska and it is commemorated as Alaska Day. Widely derided as "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox", the purchase was thought to be a waste of money, but proved to be one of the best real estate deals ever.
When gold was discovered in Alaska, an estimated 100,000 people eventually participated in the Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1901). The Northwest Mounted Police strictly controlled the miners and their activities, and that 'Gold Rush' is regarded as the most orderly and peaceful in history. The writer Jack London took part, and many of his books were influenced by the experience.
Alaska was granted U.S. territorial status in 1912, and entered the United States on January 3, 1959 as the 49th state, with its capital at Juneau.
Alaska is no stranger to disaster. The Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964, struck 120 km (85 miles) east of Anchorage. It proved to be one of the most powerful earthquakes ever, with a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale. Many Alaskans were killed by the related tsunami that destroyed coastal towns and several native villages on the southern coastline.
Modern Alaska's economy relies heavily on petroleum extraction, with more than 80 percent of the state's revenues derived from the industry. There have been some problems however, as in 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of that oil into Prince William Sound, creating an ecological disaster.
Excluding oil and natural gas, Alaska's main export product is seafood, but because of its topography and weather extremes, in-state manufacturing is rather limited, so most basic necessities must be imported.
With very few roads yet-built across the state, and long distances between cities, the main transportation methods are by water and air. In fact, Alaska has an extensive bush pilot system and has the highest number of pilots per capita of any state (1 in 78).
Snowmobiles and ATVs are popular personal vehicles. Dog sledding is the state sport, and Alaska is world famous for the annual 'Iditarod Sled Dog Race,' a demanding 1,150 mile route from Anchorage to Nome in normally harsh conditions.
From grizzly bears to polar bears, and from humpback whales to sea otters, wildlife abounds across Alaska. Anchorage is probably the only city in the United States that has a major moose problem, as there are hundreds within the city limits.
Alaska is like no other place on our planet. It's a constant adventure for those that live there, and for those fortunate enough (or smart enough) to travel there, it often proves to be their most exhilarating and worthwhile adventure.