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Useful Notes / Alaska

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North to the future
State motto

America's last true frontier, Alaska is, by a very wide margin, the largest of the 50 states. The next competitor for the title, Texas, is less than half its size. If it were overlaid over the contiguous 48 states, then Anchorage, its largest city, would be in Missouri; Utqiaġvik (formerly, and sometimes still called, Barrow), its northernmost town, would be in Minnesota; Ketchikan, its southernmost, would be in Florida; Nome would be in South Dakota; Juneau, the state capital, would be in Georgia; and the Aleutian Islands would stretch all the way into California. Bottom line: Alaska is huge.

But Alaska is also very sparsely populated. As of the 2020 census, there were just over 730,000 human beings living in Alaska, making the state the third least-populated in the nation, outranking only Vermont and Wyoming. And this comes after a huge population surge in the 2000s (many migrants coming in from California, Oregon, and Washington for economic opportunities) — in the 2000 and 1990 censuses, Alaska was firmly the second-smallest state by population, just barely ahead of Wyoming. More than half of those people live in only one tiny corner of the state: the Anchorage metropolitan area, with about 40% of the population living in Anchorage itself. The state has, by far, the lowest population density in the country (less than one-fourth that of Wyoming, the state with the second-lowest population density). Part of this likely has to do with the fact that most of Alaska is either frozen tundra or forbidding mountains, something of an American version of Siberia, with only the coastal regions in the south being really hospitable.note  The lowest temperature ever recorded in the U.S., –80° Fahrenheit (–62° Celsius), was taken in Prospect Creek, Alaska, on January 23, 1975.

Alaska was the first place in the Americas that human beings laid eyes on, as the last ice age lowered sea levels enough so that a land bridge, known as Beringia, formed between Alaska and Siberia.note  The people who crossed Beringia are the ancestors of all the aboriginal tribes of North and South America, from the Iroquois and the Sioux to the Aztecs and the Inca. Some of them, of course, stayed in Alaska. The peoples who settled along the state's long coastline lived off the ample supplies of fish and marine mammals; those in the interior lived off the equally ample supplies of freshwater fish and large land mammals. Collectively, they are known as the Alaska Natives, a group that encompasses the Tlingit, the Haida, the Tsimshian, the Aleut, the Yup'ik, the Alutiiq, the Gwich'in, and the Iñupiat.

The first Europeans to lay eyes on Alaska were the Russians in 1741, who colonized it for the same reason that everybody else in Europe wanted a piece of the Americas: getting rich. Specifically, the Russians were there for the fur trade, and claimed an area that includes much of the Pacific Northwest. As the U.S. and Canada expanded west, the Russian claims were pushed back to the present-day area of Alaska. The colony was never very profitable for Russia, and was increasingly under pressure from Canada and its British protectors, so when the Americans came knocking at their door in 1867 asking to buy it from them for the cool sum of $7.2 million,note  the Russians were happy to oblige. The purchase of Alaska was highly controversial initially, with many people calling it "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox" (after Secretary of State William H. Seward, the man who organized the purchase) and viewing it as a worthless wasteland that America would find no better use for than Russia did.

In time, however, America would soon realize just what a great deal it had gotten. Some 30 years after the purchase, a series of gold rushes in both Alaska and, more importantly, in the neighboring Yukon Territory of Canada,note  turned the area into The Wild West ON ICE, allowing it to gain enough people to be incorporated as a territory in 1912. After that, the Aleutian Islands were the site of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during World War II (and the only part of the United States to be invaded during the war). Known as the "Forgotten Campaign", because it was overshadowed by the simultaneous Battle of Guadalcanal, this chapter of WWII made up in bloodshed what it lacked in significance; after a gruelling and savage winter war that rivalled even the Eastern Front in brutality, the Japanese ended it all with an unexpected mass Banzai charge, one of the largest in the Pacific, which split the American lines into pieces and resulted in a day-long hand-to-hand melee until the 29 Japanese survivors finally surrendered.

Alaska's true value, however, was completely unforeseeable to the 19th-century Americans, and only became obvious in the late 1940s: Ladies and gentlemen, imagine Soviet Alaska. The West really dodged a bullet on that one, no? Anyway, with the onset of the Cold War, Alaska became the cornerstone of America's defense against Soviet bombers. The two wars, and the resulting military investment, caused a population surge in Alaska, allowing it to be inaugurated as the 49th state in 1959, followed by Hawaii a few months later.note note 

The two moments that defined Alaska's modern existence were the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the completion of the Alaskan Pipeline in 1977 to bring that oil to the rest of the country. Oil money transformed Alaska from a backwater to one of the richest states in America, and the state has set up a permanent fund to invest some of its oil revenue for the benefit of the people. Every Alaskan receives a dividend (of varying amounts — in 2011, $1281; in 2012, $878), meaning that a family of four has a guaranteed welfare check of about $5,000... which just about makes up for the substantially higher cost of living. While it's gotten better in Anchorage and, to a lesser extent, Fairbanks, prices for basic goods are still ridiculously expensive in most of the state, due to the isolation of many towns and the harsh conditions making freight transport quite difficult.

And now, for the part you've been waiting for: Sarah Palin. Yes, she spent a little more than two years as the governor of this state. She attempted to make a political comeback in 2022 by running for (1) the few months remaining in the congressional term of the state's only member of the House of Representatives, who died that March, and (2) a full House term later that year, but ultimately ended up losing both races to Democratic candidate Mary Peltola. The other Palin (no, not the former governor's now ex-husband) has also been here. His travelogue series about voyaging all around the Pacific Rim nations featured a visit to Alaska, where at one point he really could see Russia from the part of Alaska that he was standing in. So one Palin really did manage it— but it wasn't Sarah.

Some fun facts:

  • The capital of Alaska, Juneau, is the only state capital located on an international border (the Canadian border, not the Russian/Asian one),note  and is one of the state capitals that cannot be reached by land.note  To reach Juneau, you must fly or take a boat in.
    • Considering that Juneau is many hundreds of miles from Anchorage and its environs (the state's major population center), along with the whole can't-drive-there thing making access very inconvenient, there have naturally been several votes to move the state's capital to either Anchorage or some town close to it. The capital remains in Juneau, however, because no one is willing to pay the extra taxes it would take to relocate the government.note  Also many Alaska towns are concerned that, as Anchorage is already the richest and most populous city in the state by a wide margin, making it the capital would give it too much power compared to the rest of the state.
  • It is true that, in much of the state, nighttime can go for several consecutive weeks in the winter, and daylight can do the same in the summer. However, "six months of light, six months of darkness" is something of an overstatement. In Utqiaġvik, which is basically the worst-case scenario, the sun doesn't officially rise between about November 20 and January 20, but locals still get about three hours of twilight per day. The opposite is true around the summer solstice, where even in Anchorage the sun doesn't completely vanish from view for several weeks.
  • Alaska has more registered pilots per capita than any other state. In a place where the navigability of the roads is often in doubt, and some places just don't have roads, and still other places are islands, this is very much justified.
    • On a related note, the terrain in southwestern Alaska is so unpredictable that delivery service to the villages is often conducted by hovercraft.
  • Unlike the other 49 states, not all of Alaska is organized into counties (or "parishes" as in Louisiana, or "boroughs" as in Alaska itself). In the "unorganized borough" covering slightly less than half the state, the only local services are municipalities and school boards, with everything else handled directly by the state or by the tribal government. It was originally intended that Alaska would have multiple unorganized boroughs for all the regions that either lacked sufficient population for an organized borough or just didn't want one (the state constitution specifically authorizes such an arrangement) but it was soon realized that it would be simpler to just designate the entire state as the unorganized borough and then carve organized boroughs out of it as needed.note  There are periodic calls to create more organized boroughs out of the remainder of the unorganized borough, but since so much of it is completely devoid of human residents nothing ever comes of it. (Fun fact: If the "Unorganized Borough" were treated as one state and the actual boroughs combined as another state, they would both be larger than Texas. To reiterate: Alaska is huge.)
  • The tallest mountain in North America is Denalinote  in central Alaska. At 20,120 feet (6,190 meters), Denali is one of the tallest mountains in the world from base to summit (Mount Everest may have a much higher summit, but its base does not begin until 15,000' above sea level).
  • There is a town east of Fairbanks called North Pole, which is the official-unofficial place the United States Postal Service sends all the children's letters to Santa Claus. This has been embraced by the town, with North Pole becoming a bit of a Stepford Suburbianote  where the entire town is Christmas-themed and local sixth-graders are required to help answer letters to Santa. Incidentally, North Pole is nowhere near Barrow, the American town closest to the actual North Pole.
  • Less than 1% of Alaskan land is privately owned. The rest belongs to either the federal government (~65%), the state government (25%), or one of twelve Native corporations (10%).note  Much of the federal land is divided into the state's eight national parks: Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords (one of the clearest spots to observe the effects of climate change, as its glaciers have been shrinking dramatically), Lake Clark, Wrangell-St. Elias (the largest of the national parks, bigger than the nine smallest states combined), the aforementioned Denali, and the truly isolated Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic. Even more of the federal land is set aside as national preserves.
  • The final shot of The American Civil War was fired off the coast of Alaska. CSS Shenandoah was a commerce raider with the job of harassing, disrupting, and destroying Union supply ships. During the summer of 1865, they had been working the Bering Sea attacking Union whaling ships; in August 1865, they were informed by a friendly British crew that the war was over and the Confederacy dissolved. The crew of the Shenandoah knew that if they surrendered to the Union, they'd be given a perfunctory trial and executed for piracy, despite the fact that the Union and all major naval powers had ships just like theirs.note  Instead, they sailed west around Asia and Africa, finally debarking in Liverpool.
  • Towards the end of World War II, the United States designed and began to build the Alaska Class Large Cruisers. These ships, which were scaled-up Cruisers rather than slimmed-down Battleships, were intended to be dedicated "Cruiser Killers" (a similar role as envisioned for the Battlecruisers). Cruisers were traditionally named for cities, and Battleships traditionally named for states. Battlecruisers had no firm naming convention, the only (cancelled) American battlecruiser class having taken their names from famous Revolutionary War and War of 1812 ships, but the "Large Cruisers" were considered something different and needed their own naming theme. Being in-between, the Large Cruisers were to be named for U.S. Territories.note 
  • The Yanks with Tanks have several bases in Alaska, but the most notorious is Shemya, a radar and refueling station miles from anywhere on a tiny island. This place is basically the closest a member of the U.S. Air Force can get to being truly Reassigned to Antarctica. During the Cold War, missile launches were tracked from Shemya; there was supposedly a tradition that, when you left Shemya for good, you had to take a rock with you, so that one day there would be no more island left and nobody would need to be sent there.
  • Although Sarah Palin's claim that she could see Russia from her house was actually a Beam Me Up, Scotty!, Alaskans living on Little Diomede can see the Russian island of Big Diomede.note 
  • It is located in the Bering Strait which serves as the boundary between North America and Asia (Russia). Because of this, Alaska is the nearest U.S. state to Asia.
  • It is one of only two states (the other being Hawaii) to not share a land border with another state. However, it does share a whopping 1538 mile long land border with two Canadian regions: The Yukon and British Columbia.

Alaska in popular culture:

Comic Books

  • 30 Days of Night is set in Barrow, and fails geography spectacularly with its portrayal of the town and the surrounding North Slope.
  • The brothers Cyclops and Havok from X-Men are originally from Anchorage. They still have love for the area and returned a couple times during sabbaticals from superheroism.
  • Michael Pointer, AKA, Weapon Omega (from Omega Flight and Norman Osborn's X-Men) is from North Pole, Alaska.
    • Marvel must be a big fan of Alaska, because the so-called Mutant Messiah (the first mutant born after M-Day, later named Hope) was born in Cooperstown, Alaska.
  • No big surprise that the G.I. Joe named Frostbite (real name Farley S. Seward) is from Galena, Alaska.

Fan Works

  • Alicia Lily Aska from The Hamsterball Show is from Alaska. In fact, her first and middle initials plus her last name spells out Alaska!


  • The extreme sports comedy Out Cold is set at an Alaskan ski resort.
  • The film Alaska, a Kids' Wilderness Epic.
  • The Simpsons relocate to Alaska briefly in The Simpsons Movie.
  • Much of The Proposal was set in Sitka, Alaska (though filmed in Massachusetts).
  • The Grey is about a group of Prudhoe Bay oil workers who get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash.
  • The Fourth Kind takes place in Nome. It was actually filmed in Bulgaria and British Columbia, and it shows.
  • The Frozen Ground is based on the real story of serial killer Robert Hansen who murdered at least 17 women between 1971 and 1983. Filmed in south-central Alaska and starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.
  • Christopher Nolan's remake of Insomnia is set in Nightmute, Alaska (but mostly filmed in British Columbia). The long periods of daylight are worked into the plot, being one of the factors that prevents protagonist Will Dormer from sleeping.
  • In WarGames, Elmendorf Air Force Base (near Anchorage) is one of the bases supposedly hit by the Soviet first strike.
  • Snow Dogs is set in Talkeetna, but was filmed in Alberta. Despite the film having been marketed as a zany talking-animal comedy, it gives a surprisingly fair portrayal of rural Alaskan towns.
  • Pacific Rim opens in Anchorage, the hometown of the hero and his brother. A kaiju attack on nearby Anchorage is what sets the movie's motions forward.
  • 1924 silent film The Chechahcos is not only the first movie to be shot on location in Alaska, it's one of the first movies to be shot on location anywhere.
  • Mystery, Alaska is about an amateur hockey team in a remote Alaska village that gets to play an exhibition game against the New York Rangers.
  • Big Miracle is based on the true story of three grey whales trapped under the ice in Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) and the efforts that went into freeing them. Filmed in Anchorage and starring John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore.


  • A lot of Jack London's stories, such as Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Batard, take place in Alaska.
  • Into The Wild.
  • In The Twilight Saga, the Cullens are stated to have lived in Alaska before moving down to Forks. Their "cousins", the Denali coven, still live there.
  • Julie of the Wolves.
  • The 2009 short story "New Archangel" by Desmond Warzel takes place in Sitka at various points in Alaskan history.
  • In The Heroes of Olympus, it is literally "the land beyond the gods.". It is also where the titan Alcyoneus has his lair. To quote Percy:
    As they trudged on, Percy thought about all the crazy places he'd seen. None of them left him speechless like Alaska. He could see why it was a land beyond the gods. Everything here was rough and untamed. There were no rules, no prophecies, no destinies—just the harsh wilderness and a bunch of animals and monsters. Mortals and demigods came here at their own risk.
    Frank: Welcome to Canada, idiot.
  • Minuk: Ashes in the Pathway from the Girls of Many Lands series is set in Alaska and focuses on the life of the titular Yup'ik girl in an era where Christian missionaries are arriving.
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon is set in an Alternate History where, during World War II, the U.S. settled Jewish refugees from Europe in Sitka, Alaska, turning it into an autonomous state for sixty years. By the present day of 2007, the lease is about to expire, with the evangelical U.S. president hoping to resettle the Sitka Jews in Palestine.
  • The Kate Shugak mysteries by Dana Stabenow. Shugak is a Private Detective operating out of the largest national Park in Alaska.
  • There's a moment in George Papashvily's autobiographical novel Anything Can Happen where he's living with a White Russian family in Pittsburgh and they consider moving to Alaska because it was Russian territory and there must still be a lot of Russian speakers there.note  The young son likes the idea of learning to drive Sled Dogs Through the Snow while the mother dreams of Alaska as a transplanted bit of pre-Bolshevik Old Tsarist Russia, with "thick quiet snow", Orthodox churches and peasants with "shining faces". They end up going to California instead.note 
  • Touching Spirit Bear: Cole Matthews, the protagonist of the story, is sent to a deserted Alaskan island so that he can perform activities that will help him heal his soul and Tame His Anger.

Live-Action TV


  • Folk singer-songwriter Jewel is from the town of Homer. (She wasn't born in Alaska, but then again, neither are many of its residents.)
  • Country/rockabilly singer Johnny Horton spent some time looking for gold in Alaska, and it shows up in some of his later songs, notably "When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below)" and the title song to the movie North to Alaska.
  • Marian Call makes her home in Alaska (though, like Jewel, was not born there). Very much One of Us, as her music usually contains themes from geek culture, especially from her album Got to Fly (which even has a Nerd Anthem).
  • Rock band Portugal. The Man currently reside in Portland, Oregon, but they originate from the town of Wasilla.

Video Games

  • In the Fallout universe, Red China invades Alaska for its increasingly valuable oil supplies, precipitating World War III between them and the U.S. The Fallout 3 DLC Operation Anchorage allows you to play a virtual reality simulation of the U.S. Army's liberation of Anchorage.
  • In the Soviet campaign of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, the Allies make their Last Stand at Point Hope, Alaska.
  • Abigail Black from Clive Barker's Jericho is from Fairbanks.
  • In Shattered Union, the Russians invade Alaska after the U.S. collapses. The final mission, after you reunite America, has you invading Alaska to drive out the Russians. Despite it being the largest map in the game, it still only covers roughly a fifth of the state.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Shadow Moses Island is located in the Aleutians while Solid Snake lives near Twin Lakes.
  • Tell Me Why takes place entirely within the rural Alaskan town of Delos Crossing, centering around their run-down childhood home in the wilderness.

Web Original

  • The Memetic Mutation "series of tubes" came from a gaffe made by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who has an airport named after him in Anchorage.

Western Animation

  • In the Futurama movie Bender's Game, Mom has a dark matter mine operating out of Alaska.
    • It is implied later that Mom hails from Alaska.
  • In an episode of Ugly Americans, Leonard briefly works in a cannery in Alaska.
  • Let's Go Luna!: Four episodes take place in Juneau. There, the gang learns about totem poles, traditional stories, ice glaciers, and the importance of protecting wildlife.
  • In the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "The Great Alaskan Land Rush", a COBRA-sponsored buffoon shows up with a counterfeit "Great Seal of Alaska", an artifact lost after the 1867 handover of Alaska that purportedly gave its owner control of said territory. The Joes set out to find the real Seal and encounter both a COBRA battle group sent to stop them and a group of descendants from the shipwrecked Imperial Russian steamer that carried the Seal.
  • The Great North is set in Alaska.
  • Molly of Denali takes places in Alaska and is about Alaska Natives.
  • From SpongeBob SquarePants: "It was an ALASKAN BULL WORM!"
  • The Pixar short film Knick Knack stars a snowman trapped in a snow globe with "Nome Sweet Nome, Alaska" written on the base.