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Enter Alaska

Alaska: The Last Frontier

January 3, 1959
JOINED UNION: January 3, 1959
STATE BIRD: Willow Ptarmigan
STATE FLOWER: Forget-me-not
MEANING OF STATE NAME: Based on Eskimo word "Alakshak" meaning "great lands" or "peninsula"
1992 POPULATION: 586,872
LAND AREA: 570,373 square miles
ECONOMY: Oil, gas, tourism, commercial fishing, lumber
HISTORY: Native Eskimo and Aleut tribes inhabited the area before it was discovered by Vitus Bering, a Dane exploring for the Russians, in 1741. America bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Gold was discovered in 1896 and the following Gold Rush drew many people -- mostly men -- to the area. Discoveries of oil and natural gas in 1968 led to a gold rush of another sort -- one to plumb these natural resources. The Trans-Alaska pipeline was built and completed in 1977 at a
cost of $7.7 billion. The wealth of income from the sale of oil led Alaska to give money back to all its tax-paying residents. An oil spill by an Exxon tanker in Prince William Sound in 1989 damaged pristine coastline and led to battles between environmentalists and the oil industry. The beautiful scenery, many national parks, and wildlife are Alaska's main natural resources and tourist attractions.

A Whale Of A Meal



While contemporary Eskimos can go to the store and buy Campbell's soup for dinner, some still dine on traditional Eskimo fare, like whale meat.

"Eskimo" is a name derived from an American Indian word meaning "eaters of raw meat." The land where Eskimos live is very cold and often covered with ice, so there is little wood with which to build a cooking fire. Thus, Eskimos often ate their meat and fish raw.

Whales are one of the few animals found in Eskimo country so, of course, it became part of the Eskimo diet. In addition to eating the flesh of the whale, Eskimos also enjoyed eating whale blubber, or fat. This blubber can also be burned as an oil in lamps, though it does not give off enough heat to be used as a cooking oil. A diet high in fat, like blubber, suited the Eskimos because their bodies needed to burn many calories to keep warm.

Russians Vs. Aleuts



When we think of early territory disputes between white settlers and Native Americans, we usually think of the Europeans and tribes like the Cherokee or Iroquois. Similar early disputes, however, took place between the Russians and the natives of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

Russia had an interest in this region because of the plentiful supply of animals that could be trapped for furs. The Russians' demands for more and more pelts led them to hunt in ways that violated the ancient practices of native Aleutians, who hunted for subsistence only.

In 1764, an Aleut uprising killed 10 Russians. The Russians stifled the uprising and subsequently relocated and divided Aleut families, much as Western European settlers relocated Native Americans in middle America. In 1791, there were 12,000 Aleuts; just nine years later, in 1800, only 2,000 remained.

But It Looks So Cute



When California became a state in 1876, it put a picture of the grizzly bear on its flag. While the grizzly has been extinct in that state since the turn of the century, it still makes for a fierce state mascot. It would be an appropriate mascot for Alaska, where many of the bears live today.

"They're so cute," is how most people think of bears, but the grizzly is one bear you do not want to pet, or even get near. A grizzly bear can stand up to nine feet in height, weigh 800 pounds, run at 30 miles an hour, and crush a moose's skull with one swipe of its paw. Long sharp claws add to the reasons why humans should stay away from this animal.

Unlike black bears, a foraging grizzly is not afraid of animals or humans, and will attack them when hungry. Most of the bear's food is elk, deer, and cattle, as well as wild fruits and nuts, insects, and even fish when available.

Like other bears, the grizzly hibernates in winter, generally in high and remote north-facing slopes where it won't be disturbed. Here it digs a den, lining it with evergreen boughs. During its winter sleep of five to six months, the grizzly gets no food or water. Amazingly, the grizzly lives off its
accumulated fat.

Most grizzly births occur in January, and the hairless cubs weigh a pound or less at birth, requiring little milk for their small size. The cubs are dependent on their mother for almost a year and reach maturity in four years.

Protected by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the grizzly bear is considered a success story as there are about 600 of the bears in the northern Montana Rockies, 300 or so in Yellowstone National Park, and a few in the Idaho panhandle. They are still prevalent in Alaska.


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