The world’s largest enclave, one of the world’s largest glaciers, the largest state in the United States… these labels all belong to Alaska.
Alaska is located at the northwest tip of the North American continent, bordering Canada to the east and surrounded by the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean on the other three sides. It has 17 of the 20 highest mountains in the United States, of which Denali, with an altitude of 6,194 meters, is the highest peak in North America. With its endless ice fields and brilliant aurora, it’s hard to sum up Alaska’s attractions in just one or two words. In addition to its unique natural scenery, it also hides a history unknown to the public.
Uncover the mysteries of Alaska with the Bering Expedition
One night about seven years ago, I followed a group of photography enthusiasts on an aurora chasing trip in Anchorage, and I still have a deep impression of Alaska. But as I sat in front of my computer and thought about Alaska, I realized how little I knew about it. So I looked through historical information and tried to follow an adventurer and set foot on the land of Alaska again… In
1724, Peter the Great decided to organize a sailing expedition to the North Pacific to explore the land between the Asian continent and the North American continent. Who should entrust such an important task to? Peter the Great thought of Vitus Jonathan Bering.
Bering was born in Horsens, Denmark in 1681 and had served in the Russian Navy since 1704. He was appreciated by Peter the Great for his outstanding military talents and was appointed captain. He participated in Russia’s wars against Sweden and Turkey and had outstanding military achievements. After receiving the navigation mission, Bering immediately formed the first navigation expedition team in Russian history. Since the sea route to northern Russia had not yet been opened at that time, the expedition planned to start from Petersburg (now Leningrad), cross the Eurasian continent, and sail to Okhotsk, 7,000 kilometers away.
In the spring of 1725, Bering led an expedition of more than 70 people over mountains and ridges, sleeping in the open air. Along the way, people kept falling in the wind and snow and never woke up. With food shortages, the expedition had to kill the accompanying horses to satisfy their hunger. Two years later, they arrived in Okhotsk and then took a boat across the Sea of Okhotsk to Petropavlovsk in eastern Kamchatka.
The following year, the expedition left the port by ship and continued northward along the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula. One day in August of the same year, accompanied by wind, rain and thick fog, the expedition team came to the sea near the easternmost tip of the Asian continent. Looking at the vast ocean in front of him, Bering was convinced that North America and Asia were indeed separated by the sea. But due to the heavy fog that day, Bering did not see the North American continent that was so close at hand, and the expedition team did not know that they were in a narrow strait. The narrowest point of this strait is only 35 kilometers. If the weather is clear, they may really be able to set foot on the North American continent.
In 1730, Bering ended his expedition and returned to Petersburg. In addition to proving that America and Asia are not connected by land, the expedition also documented conditions on the east coast of Kamchatka and mapped more than 3,500 kilometers of new coastline. However, top naval officials in Petersburg were not satisfied with the results of their expedition. Even some scholars from the Russian Academy of Sciences stubbornly believed that Asia and America must be connected by land. As a last resort, Bering embarked on a journey to find the North American continent again three years later.
In June 1741, Bering led the expedition and chose to set off from Siberia and head east. One day two months later, when the sea was calm, Bering stood on the bow of the ship and finally saw the North American continent he had been looking for for a long time – the towering St. Elias Mountains with an altitude of more than 5,000 meters. Since then, the originally missing piece of Alaska’s geographical puzzle has finally been filled in by the Bering expedition.
Along with the joy, misfortune also followed. The expedition ship encountered a storm during the subsequent voyage, and the food and fresh water on the ship were exhausted. Many crew members also contracted scurvy. Bering had to order a return to Kamchatka. On the way back, Bering’s health deteriorated and his life was about to come to an end. In November 1741, the expedition ship ran aground in strong winds and waves and ran aground on a small island in the Commander Islands. In the early morning of December 8, Bering died on the island. In order to commemorate him, later generations named the island he discovered “Bering Island” and the strait he discovered “Bering Strait”.
Zoom in to see the amazing geography of Alaska
Bering’s expeditions stopped, but Russia’s expansion did not.
In 1784, the Russians established the first permanent settlement on Kodiak Island. By 1799, expansion continued eastward to Sitka, Alaska. In order to further expand colonial interests, Russia opened the American Company in Alaska in the same year and implemented colonial rule over the local residents. At this time, Russia had become a super empire spanning Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Russia aggressively developed Siberia and Alaska, and at the same time hunted wild animals to expand the fur trade. During this period, the Russians hunted a total of about 300,000 sea otters in Alaska, almost wiping out these lovely creatures.
As the saying goes, it is easier to start a business than to keep it. Faced with such a vast land like Alaska, Russia is also a little unable to cope with it. Especially after killing the sea otters on the island, the Russians believed that Alaska no longer had high economic value to them. In addition, with the outbreak of the Crimean War, the Russians were worried that Alaska would be taken away by the British, so they came up with the idea of The idea of selling this land to the United States.
After lengthy negotiations, in 1867, the United States purchased approximately 1.7 million square kilometers of Alaskan land from Russia for US$7 million plus US$200,000 in fees. This translates into an average soil value of only two cents per acre. . The land sales contract came into effect on October 18, 1867. Therefore, this day is also designated as “Alaska Day” by Americans.
In fact, historically, it was reasonable for Russia to sell Alaska. Although Alaska has a large land area, its climate is not suitable for human habitation. This has protected Alaska from over-exploitation by humans and made it a pure land.
The magic of Alaska is first reflected in its geographical location. When it comes to the United States, we generally default to Hawaii as the southernmost state, and Alaska as the northernmost and westernmost state in the country. But in fact, the easternmost point of the United States is still Alaska.
You may have questions, shouldn’t the eastern part of the United States be New York, Pennsylvania and other states? Why is it related to Alaska? If we turn over the map, we can clearly see that Alaska is far away from the mainland of the United States. Otherwise, why would it be called an enclave? But when we zoom in on the map of Alaska, we will see that Alaska has a long string of islands between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific, which are the Aleutian Islands. If you zoom in on the map of the Aleutian Islands, you will be surprised to find that the dividing line between east and west runs across the Aleutian Islands. Part of the archipelago is located at east longitude, but there is also Semisopochnoi Island next to the 180th longitude, located at 179 degrees 36 minutes east longitude. This is the actual easternmost land in the United States.
It is not an exaggeration to describe Alaska as inaccessible. It is the largest state in the United States, and it is also the state with the least population and the lowest population density in the United States. It borders the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Yukon, with its westernmost point on Attu Island, and has a maritime border with Russia west of the Bering Strait.
The capital of Alaska is Juneau, and the largest city is Anchorage, known as the “best place to watch the aurora”. The entire state of Alaska governs a total of 23 municipalities. As of 2021, the state’s population is only 732,000. With so much land and so few people, it is difficult to develop a large-scale urban economy. Fortunately, Alaska is a unique tourist destination. The rugged mountains, boundless glaciers, and the wonders of the northern forests are all its dazzling business cards.
Beyond that, Alaska is a paradise for wildlife. Walruses, seals, brown bears, black bears, moose…more than ten species of wild animals still live here. Of course, Alaska is also a veritable natural cornucopia. With extremely rich reserves of oil, natural gas and other resources, it is an important energy supplier to the United States. Alaska waters are also one of the richest fishing waters in the world. The tuna, salmon and other seafood produced every year are very popular around the world.
National parks gather together where the last ice age unfolded
National parks are an important calling card of Alaska. The number of national parks in Alaska far exceeds the total number of national parks in other states on the East Coast of the United States.
People who come here first go to Denali National Park. The reason is simple. This national park contains Denali, the highest mountain in North America. Whether it is mountain climbing, hiking or stargazing, this place can bring tourists the most original experience. In addition to Denali Park, other national parks are also worth visiting, such as Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States. It is adjacent to three national parks, Glacier Bay National Park (southeast Alaska), Tachenschnee-Alsek Provincial Park (British Columbia), and Kluane National Park (Yukon Territory, Canada). It is listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. If you are interested in the history of gold mining in Alaska, you can also go to the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park and re-trace the route of the gold rushers in 1898, from the coast of the Alaska Panhandle, along the Chilkoo Trail all the way up into Canada.
In my mind, the most distinctive one is Glacier Bay National Park.
At the southeastern tip of Alaska on the border with Canada, there are many tall and steep peaks. Six of the 10 highest peaks in North America stand here. The snow-covered peaks surround a bay all year round and block it from the warm monsoon winds from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in extremely high snowfall in the bay, forming a natural wonder of crisscrossed glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Therefore, the bay was named ” Glacier Bay”. Glacier Bay National Park has the most wild and primitive natural scenery and is known as “the place where the last Ice Age unfolded.” The glaciers in the park seem to be faithful recorders of Alaska and even the earth, witnessing the great geographical changes.
The park is criss-crossed by glaciers and contains more than half of the world’s tidal glaciers. There are currently 30 tidal glaciers discovered in the world, 16 of which are located in the Glacier Bay area. The largest Pan-Pacific glacier is like a giant blue city wall on the edge of the bay.
Another special feature of the Pan-Pacific Glacier is that it crosses the border between the United States and Canada—the first 3.2 kilometers of the glacier belong to the United States, and most of the subsequent area is located in Canada. Since its discovery in 1879, this glacier has retreated northward every year due to continuous melting, but until today, it is still nearly 40 kilometers in length, more than 2 kilometers in width, and about 100 meters in height. On the glacier pouring into the sea, the surface is covered with a large amount of silt carried from the mountains, making the overall color of the glacier appear gray, but this does not detract from its magnificent scenery as the widest tidal glacier.
If you take a helicopter and look down, the glaciers are like giant white dragons, winding down from the mountains and rushing into the sea. You can also take a cruise into Glacier Bay. The towering glaciers are like giants, silently watching everything around them. The air is filled with light mist, making this “land at the end of the world” even more lonely and profound.