Welcome back to our weekly feature "Last Frontier FAQs" - where I answer the most common questions people have about Alaska. It's common knowledge to anyone here who works in the tourist industry or travels out of state that they're going to field some, I'll say it, objectively dumb questions about Alaska. Something about being at the top of the globe makes people's heads spin and they seem to forget everything they know about geography and physics.
Maybe you have a "dumb" question about Alaska. If so, I hope to save you the embarrassment and just clear it up in this blog.
Do people live in igloos?
Alaskans became familiar with working with materials like wood and metal sometime in the mid-90s and most of the population has moved into tiny houses and yurts (at least that's what it feels like in Homer) since then.
Seriously though, no. Igloos were used by the Inuit people of Canada's Central Arctic and Greenland to survive hunting trips in the winter, not Alaska Natives.
Do you have polar bears/penguins in your backyard?
Polar bears - almost certainly not. Penguins - absolutely not.
Alaska is the only state in the US with three species of bear (polar, black, and brown). However, polar bears are only on the very northern and northwestern coasts of the state. The vast majority of people live in the interior, southcentral, or southeast Alaska. That's as far removed as Georgia is from Nebraska. There are places in Alaska you can see them though if you wish...
Is it cold all year round in Alaska?
This actually isn't that dumb of a question. In some places north of the arctic circle the average temperature doesn't get above 50 degrees in the summer months. Also, the Pacific coast tends to be cool and temperate in the summers.
But the spirit of this question really is "Is it always winter in Alaska?" The answer to that is no. We have short, intense summers all over the state, sometimes downright hot.
Another interesting fact is that parts of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska are actually quite a bit warmer in the winter than the interior of the Lower 48!
Does Alaska have its own currency? OR Do I need a passport (as a US Citizen) to travel to Alaska?
Alaska is a card-carrying official state of the United States (sorry Guam). So yes when we aren't bartering with moose meat we are using US Dollars to exchange goods and services. And you only need a passport if you're going to drive up through Canada!
What elevation am I at? (While standing on a boat or on the shore)
Can you feel sea spray on your face? Are the waves lapping at your Xtra Tuffs? Can you, in fact, reach down and touch water over the side of the boat?
If you answered "yes" to any of these three questions, then your elevation is 0' - sea level. Just because Alaska is on top of your globe doesn't mean it's closer to the sun.
Is it always nighttime in the winter?
Again, this isn't a REALLY dumb question, but you're probably starting to see a pattern here. Polar bears, perpetual cold, perpetual night - all these ultra-extremes people learn about Alaska - take place in the northernmost third of the state, which holds a very small fraction of its population.
Where most people live in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska you get about 6 hours of daylight during the winter solstice. Fairbanks in the interior of the state, Alaska's second-largest city, gets less than four hours of daylight on that day.
Are there women in Alaska?
This stereotype comes from the 100 years or so of history preceding the 1980s, when men came in droves to work in Alaska during the gold rush, to fish, or to build the Alyeska pipeline. It was well known that if you were a single woman here "The Goods are Around the 1980s the gender distribution pyramid started to normalize and now it's not nearly as extreme.
While Alaska still has the highest ratio of men-to-women of any state, about 107:100, that is further skewed by places like Prudhoe Bay, the epicenter of the North Slope oil industry, that has a ratio about 431:100. Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, is more like 104:100
Can you really see Russia from Alaska?
This one's actually true.