Northwest and Arctic
Alaska's Past - Regional Perspectives
If you were to hover over the North Pole in a very high-flying aircraft and draw a map of the earth as you saw it, the resulting map would have a polar projection. Northwest and Arctic Alaska would appear close to the center of the world you drew. It lies along the shortest, although least used, route between Europe and Asia. This makes Northwest and Arctic unique among Alaska's regions.
This farthest north of Alaska's regions shares a common boundary with only one other part of Alaska, the remote Interior. The crest of the massive Brooks Range, which runs east to west across Alaska from the Canadian border to the Chukchi Sea, separates the two regions. From the foothills of the range Northwest and Arctic Alaska continues north toward the Arctic Ocean. The land is underlain by almost continuous permafrost. Offshore, the shallow Arctic Ocean extends north to the polar ice pack. The ice pack forces its way to Northwest and Arctic Alaska's coastline in winter, and retreats slightly toward the pole in summer. On the west coast of the region, where the Seward Peninsula juts between Kotzebue and Norton sounds, that are parts of the Bering Sea, the sounds and rivers are ice-choked nearly as long as the Arctic Ocean. In the Bering Sea, Little Diomede, St. Lawrence, and a number of lesser islands are also a part of Northwest and Arctic Alaska.
During brief summers, colorful wildflowers bloom on Northwest and Arctic Alaska's tundra. On south slopes of the mountains, mature forests cover river valleys. In the Kobuk River valley, spruce as large as a foot in diameter thrive. This vegetation, north of the Arctic Circle, must survive severe winter temperatures and low summer temperatures. To the north of the Brooks Range important rivers such as the Colville, Sagavanirktok, and Canningflow from the mountain areas to the Arctic Ocean.
Its polar location has made Northwest and Arctic Alaska's history in large part a record that has resulted from actions and events initiated outside the area. Although Alaska's other regions share this characteristic to some extent, it is especially clear in Northwest and Arctic Alaska's past. Look for evidence of this theme in this unit. Then compare the effect of influences from outside Northwest and Arctic Alaska with what you have learned and will learn about Interior, Southeast, Southcentral and Southwest Alaska.