National Geographic : 1959 Jul
Alaska Proudly Joins the Union westerly through the great volcanic laboratory surrounding Mount Katmai. A World War II story grew up about 8,215 foot Pavlof Volcano, which gives up alternate puffs of black smoke and white steam. The "top-secret" rumor: the Army had harnessed it to give a dot-dash-dot signal warning of enemy approach! The Aleutian Islands bristled with air and naval stations during World War II. The level island of Shemya, a spearhead for the attack on Japanese-held Kiska, is used as a station for flights to the Orient. A village on Atka, midway in the chain, is now the west ernmost permanent civilian community. Its people live by fishing, whaling, reindeer rais ing, basketry, and trapping. Bristol Bay, indenting the mainland just north of the peninsula, has for years been the great fishing area for red salmon, most highly prized of several varieties. In recent years its runs have been sadly depleted by Japanese fishermen. A 1952 treaty permits them to fish up to the 175th meridian, west longitude, but American-spawned salmon mi grate 20 degrees or more west of that line. North of Fairbanks: Empty Expanses At the northern end of the 470-mile Alaska Railroad lies Fairbanks, affectionately called by its residents "The Golden Heart of Alaska." Founded on gold in 1902, it is today the State's second largest city and the distribution center for northern Alaska. Near-by Ladd Air Force Base is the northernmost United States defense bastion on the continent. Four miles west of Fairbanks, on a knoll overlooking the wide Tanana Valley, is the world's farthest north university. The Uni versity of Alaska opened with six students in 1922; today some 850 study arts, sciences, agriculture, engineering, business, and educa tion (page 65). Fairbanks is Alaska's northernmost city. Yet almost half of Alaska's expanse lies north of it, empty but for scattered communities along the Yukon River, occasional Indian settlements, and Eskimo villages scattered all the way to the Arctic coast. One community on the Bering Sea coast Nome-survives in the shadow of its past. In 1900 its population approached 20,000. Gold dredging persists today, though it is diminish ing; the present city of 1,900 supplies the miners of the vast Seward Peninsula. Nearly 200 miles north "the Eskimo capi- tal" of Kotzebue, with a population of almost 1,000, attracts many tourists with its Eskimo dances, kayak rides, whale and walrus hunts, and other activities. Visitors come by plane; there is no road within a hundred miles. Barrow, Uncle Sam's farthest north, num bers more than 1,400 Eskimos. Here the Navy established an oil-drilling venture which un covered a vast natural gas field. Barrow also benefited by the building of the Distant Early Warning system (DEW Line), the chain of radar stations which I proposed ten years ago.* Ocean Current Keeps Winters Mild As Alaska's people, an estimated 211,000 including the military, undertake the respon sibilities of statehood, they welcome the in terest their fellow citizens are displaying. Impressions Alaskans would like to correct, however, include those concerning the State's climate. Alaska has not one climate but sev eral-some mild, and few, if any, hard to bear. True, Nome lies locked behind sea ice seven months or more of the year, and Fairbanks uses antifreeze in its fire hydrants. But where many Alaskans dwell, winds warmed by the Alaska Current push winter temperatures higher than those of northern States a thou sand miles to the south. A summer swim near my cabin at Eagle River Landing is as com fortable as a dip in New England surf. This Pacific Ocean "Gulf Stream" delivers more rain, however. Warm, moist air from the sea, striking the mountain ramparts, drops 150 inches of rain a year in Ketchikan; more than 80 in Sitka and Juneau. As one moves inland, winters are colder, summers warmer, precipitation less. Fort Yukon, just above the Arctic Circle, has re corded temperatures ranging from 1000 F. in June to 710 below zero in December. Spring and fall are brief all over Alaska. The real difference in Alaska's seasons is the varying daylight. Long summer days pleasantly affect the lives of Alaskans. On June 21, the longest day of the year, Fair banksans annually play a midnight baseball game. On that night the sun is below the hori zon only two hours and 11 minutes. Con versely, on December 21, dawn-to-dusk lasts only from 9:59 in the morning until 1:41 in the afternoon. What of Alaska's people? Approximately * See "DEW Line, Sentry of the Far North," by Howard LaFay, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, July, 1958.