Anchorage, Alaska

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With about 247,000 residents according a 1998 estimate, Anchorage is the largest city in the state of Alaska, composing somewhat less than half of the state's population. Anchorage is located in South Central Alaska, 61 degrees latitude (about the same as Stockholm and St. Petersburg), -149 degrees longitude (about the same as Hawaii), northeast of the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Cook Inlet, due north of the Kenai Peninsula, northwest of Prince William Sound and Alaska Panhandle, and south of most everything else in the state (nearly due south of Mount McKinley/Denali). The city is situated on a triangular-shaped peninsula bordered on the east by the rugged, scenic, and eminently hike-worthy Chugach Mountains, on the northwest by the Knik Arm, and on the southwest by the Turnagain Arm, both of which are arms of the Cook Inlet.

Despite having wide and treacherous mudflats rather than beaches, Anchorage is a major port, as well as a terminus of the famous Alaska Railroad. Major industries include oil, tourism, and the military. There are two strategically important U.S. military bases bordering Anchorage on the north: Elmendorf Airforce Base and Fort Richardson. Nearly all tourists pass through Anchorage at some stage of their journeys in Alaska. Not suprisingly, summer is tourist season, and downtown Anchorage, as well as the highways leading north and south of town, are typically teeming with tourists then.

Average daytime summer temperatures are, approximately, 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit; average daytime winter temperatures are about 5-20 degrees (warmer than many places in "The Lower 48"). The weather on any given day and indeed for entire seasons can be unusually unpredictable. Some winters feature several feet of snow and bitterly cold temperatures, while others, just a foot or two of snow and constant, annoying thaws, which puts dangerous ice on the streets. (This has forced Anchoragites to be become rather good drivers.) Summers are typically very mild and pleasant, though it can rain quite a bit then. There isn't any beach-bathing in Anchorage, except at a few local lakes on the warmest summer days, and then those lakeside beaches can be extremely popular. Aside from the winter cold, which most Alaskans don't mind, there are two primary nuisances associated with the seasons: in the summer, mosquitos (which are much worse out in "The Bush" -- see Alaska/TheBush--than in the city itself); in the winter, long nights and very short days. Since Anchorage is at such a high latitude, for months in mid-winter, residents go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. Those who don't study or work next to a window can go all week long without seeing the sun. Consequently, SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is an acknowledged problem in Anchorage and in Alaska generally.

Anchoragites exemplify many of the qualities to be found among Alaskans generally: independence, friendliness, practical-mindedness, and a love of the outdoors. There is, even among businesspeople in Anchorage, a tendency to "dress down." This, and a sort of frontier spirit that still lives on in Alaska generally, gives Anchorage a relatively casual, relaxed atmosphere compared to some other American cities. (These cultural characteristics are only more exaggerated the farther one moves out of the city into the rest of Alaska.)

There was a massive, incredibly destructive earthquake in 1964 called the Good Friday Earthquake, and the earthquake danger has prompted a limit on the height of buildings in Anchorage; the tallest buildings are 21 stories high. But the city has an attractive skyline nonetheless, particularly with the Chugach Mountains, Cook Inlet, or the oft-visible Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) as a backdrop. Though space is limited in the "Anchorage bowl" as locals call the peninsula on which the city is located, many parks, greenbelts, and other undeveloped areas can be found within the city itself, making it a particularly attractive city to live in for nature lovers (to say nothing of the attractions available just a short distance outside the city). Over the past thirty years, however, many of these undeveloped areas have filled in with houses, strip malls, and other development. Nonethless, there is an enormous amount of land under the Anchorage municipal control: some 1,955 square miles (about the size of Delaware).

There is a branch of the University of Alaska in east-central Anchorage, the quality of which, in most departments, lags that of the flagship University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Despite the remoteness of the location, the arts thrive in Anchorage. The city boasts a symphony orchestra, an opera company and concert association, and numerous independent performance groups. There are even weekly sessions of Irish traditional music and other sorts of music.

There are other features of Anchorage that make it unique: the huge tidal range, second in the world; multiple, beautiful cross-country ski trails; the Fur Rendezvous festival, held each February; a huge portion of airplane pilots (with several airports and landing strips in the city or nearby); a very low population density for a city its size; frequent small earthquakes; spring windstorms ("Chinook winds"); erupting volcanos nearby (to the southwest, in the Alaska range, there are active volcanos such as Mount St Augustine, Iliamna volcano, and others, that have coated the city with ash); its extreme youth (it was founded in 1915 and didn't grow much until the 1940s); and much else besides. And despite all this, Anchorage is definitely an American city, replete with an enterprising business sensibility, large shopping malls, a lot of automobiles (one can't easily move about by foot and public transportation in the middle of winter), areas of town resembling suburbs (and two sizable actual suburbs, Eagle River and Chugiak), a downtown skyline, etc.


External links:

For more information, see the website of the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau or the Municipality of Anchorage.


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