Extreme in the extreme, Alaska is treeless with tundra in the north, lush with temperate rain forests in the Panhandle, and rocked by more earthquakes than any other U.S. state. A northern summer day can go all night, a winter night can last all day.
How to put such magnitude into words? Even the habitually eloquent John Muir deemed the task “hopeless beyond description.” Aleut Indians wisely opted for understatement, saying simply Alyeska—“the great land.”
laska’s mountains rise like battlements; four seas and unimaginable distances form a mighty moat; and a patchwork of national parks and wildlife refuges protects more than a third of the state. It’s a fortress for wildlife.
Shielded from civilization, bears, wolves, moose, and caribou cast their bulky shadows from coast to coast, and musk oxen roam the far north like refugees of the last ice age. Migratory birds flock river deltas each summer, and raptors prowl Alaskan skies year-round.
As with any fortress, wild Alaska’s perimeter is especially vulnerable. Tankers laden with oil from bays and coastal wetlands skirt the seaboard. Though now protected, endangered whales struggle to rebuild their populations. Like sea lions and other marine mammals, they now must compete with massive trawlers—floating factories—for the sea’s dwindling harvest.
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