Alaska: Amazing Facts About The Last Frontier

USA, Alaska, Denali National Park, grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) standing, looking at rainbow, rear view. (Johnny Johnson/Getty Images)

The Bering Land Bridge

Scientists estimate that as far back as 15,000 years ago, there was a land bridge between what is now Alaska and Russia that allowed ancient humans to travel between the two lands without facing the dangerous Bering Sea. These Paleolithic peoples went on to settle both the North and South American continents, though some stayed in Alaska and became the Athabascans, the Aleut, the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascans, the Inupiat, and the Yup'ik peoples, who still live on the land today. The land bridge was consumed by rising sea waters at the end of the Ice Age, dividing the Americas from the rest of the world for thousands of years until 1741, when Russian explorer Vitus Bering made contact with Alaskans again.

A modern Alutiiq dancer in traditional festival garb. (Christopher Mertl/Wikimedia Commons)

The Largest State

As often happened in the 1700s, the foreign explorers decided to take the land for themselves, and by 1784, the first Russian settlement was established on Kodiak Island. After their defeat in the Crimean War, however, Russia wasn't exactly looking to spend money and human resources on a territory that was almost impossible to defend and whose land and wildlife was just as dangerous as any army that wanted to invade. Thus, they offered to sell it to the United States, who bought the territory in 1867 for the incredibly cheap price of two cents an acre, or $7.2 million (which is still only around $150 million in today's money), but it didn't officially become a state until 1959. At over 665,000 miles, Alaska is the largest state in the country by land but the third-smallest by population. Per the most recent census, Alaska boasts a population of only 737,000 people, half of whom live in the city of Anchorage.

Balto with Gunnar Kaasen, his musher in the 1925 Serum Run. (Brown Brothers/Wikimedia Commons)

The Coldest Coast

When you think of the West Coast of the United States, you're probably thinking of the sunny beaches of California, but while Alaska's sprawling coastline spans three seas and touches more water than the rest of the states combined, don't break out your swimsuit just yet. It also holds the record for the coldest state in the country, once plunging to –80 degrees Fahrenheit in the town of Prospect Creek back in 1971.

It's Hard To Get Around

Most of Alaska is uninhabitable to humans, and as such, there are few ways to get around. In fact, there are only 12 highways in the whole state, and only 20% of the landmass is accessible by road, provided those roads aren't snowed into uselessness, which they are often are. Even the most steadfast maintenance can be foiled by the cold. When a deadly diphtheria outbreak erupted in the city of Nome and its youngest inhabitants' only hope was a serum that had to be exported from Anchorage, things started looking dark after temperatures dropped so low that any car or airplane that could deliver the serum froze up before it got anywhere near its destination.

Officials resorted to sending dog sledding teams 674 miles into the bitter 20 degree wilderness. The leader of the final stretch, a Siberian Husky named Balto, became a worldwide sensation after the serum was successfully delivered and administered to the residents of Nome, though a special shout-out was earned by a dog named Togo, who led his team the longest, spanning a whopping 200 miles under brutal conditions.