Are there really penguins all over Alaska? Is Alaska cold and dark year round? Do they really live in igloos? Does Alaska ever get sunshine? Is there snow year round? Do the Eskimos’ really kiss with their noses? And do you have pet polar bears or wolves? Let’s just see if I can debunk a few of these rumors about Alaska!
I have lived in Alaska nearly my entire life and, in fact, I am married to a Native Alaskan (he is actually Eskimo/Athabascan and no, he does not kiss me with his nose…most of the time.) I have great insider information and can handle pretty much any rumor or question that is out there. There have recently been a lot of reality TV shows about Alaska; however I feel that they do not dispel these rumors and they actually will add to them. Now we shall sort through some of the top 15 Alaskan Rumors and questions that I have heard throughout my life.
#1. Do Alaskan’s live in the snow year round? Well, yes and no. Most Alaskans do not live in the snow year round and, in fact, may have warmer temperatures than many places in the northern states of the U.S. Some very remote villages up on the North Slope of Alaska can receive snow year round, although it is somewhat rare. You can access snow and glacier ice in some areas of the mountains and along glaciers. So for the most part…No, we do not live in the snow year round. Winter for where I live lasts from about October to April. And during the summer, in the interior of Alaska, it can reach high temperatures of 80-90 degrees! Granted, in those same places, it is common for it to be -50 degrees for weeks at a time.
#2. Do you live in igloos? No, we do not live in igloos. As you can tell from my answer in question #1, we do not have snow year round so it really wouldn’t be practical. Also, I have never actually seen a real igloo, other than one that my kids and hubby made for fun and a huge several story building built to look like an igloo. Igloos were built by the Inuit people of Canada and a few other places. The igloo building skill has been taught in the past as part of survival training to help the military and other people survive cold weather situations.
#3. Does everyone own sled dogs or Alaskan Huskies? Well, there are a lot of them up here, but not everyone owns them. I do think that it is common place for me to see “dog yards” full of sled dog teams or huskies walking with their owners. My current dog is a mixed breed and is ¼ husky (also ¼ white german shepherd and ½ black lab.) I do live near the Iditarod Headquarters area and I have worked up in Nome when the sled dog teams from the Iditarod have come into town. Actually most people drive cars or ride snowmobiles (aka: iron dogs or sleds.) Do we get around by sled dog teams? Not really. I mean, they used to use dog teams not that long ago in Alaska as transportation but now most folks drive cars or trucks. I have, however, ridden on a dog sled that was attached to the back of a snowmobile as a sort of sled. Now that is awesome fun!
#4. Do they have paved roads in Alaska? Yes, throughout a large area of Alaska, they do have paved roads. They have highways, stop lights, and even roundabouts in some of the more populated areas. There are a lot of dirt roads and trails in Alaska. Most villages do not have road access at all. Some villages are so remote that you can only reach them via airplane or boat. These remote villages are known as the Alaskan bush. Some villages have dirt roads and some even have cars or trucks that are barged or flown in. Almost all villages have a small runway. But for the most part, they use snowmobiles, ATV’s, and boats. Sometimes they will make roads on the ice between villages and those are known as ice roads. They also have train tracks through some of Central Alaska.
#5. Alaska is nothing but an immense wilderness. Well, yes and no. Yes it is an immense wilderness, but it is also villages, cities, and lots and lots of tundra. Alaska’s population is around 730,000 people with nearly 300,000 living in the Anchorage area. Alaska has the most coastline of any state and is covered with lots of lakes, creeks, and rivers. Alaska also has the largest mountain in North America whose name is Mt. McKinley, but it is known as Denali by the locals which means “the great one.” It’s also great to know that you can fit Rhode Island into Alaska 425 times.
#6. Do you have pet bears or wolves? I would have to say no to this one. However, I have heard rumors of folks breeding wolves into their dogs but it is most definitely illegal. It is illegal in Alaska to possess a wolf without a special permit granted for research or education purposes, and illegal in all circumstances to own a wolf hybrid. I would assume the same goes for bears. I have heard about foxes being kept as pets but those also will get taken away if caught. Do not, in any circumstance, feed wild animals in Alaska. Believe me; I have seen tourists try to take a picture of their child feeding a caribou a lollipop. Not smart!
#7. Do you have penguins walking down the street? Absolutely not! Penguins are from the Southern Hemisphere. We do have Puffins in many parts of Alaska; however they will never be walking down the street. I actually have to go to Seward or Whittier and catch a small cruise to get to the puffins or go visit the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, Alaska.
#8. Alaska is not part of America OR Alaska is an island near Hawaii. Seriously? Yes, seriously. I get this question or statement quite a bit. Some people think you actually have to have a passport to be in Alaska. Alaska IS part of the United States and in truth was a state before Hawaii was. We are part of the Continental United States, although we do have Canada between us, and if you plan on driving to Alaska you will need a passport to drive through Canada. You can fly to Alaska without a passport though. And no, Alaska is not near Hawaii, no matter what the map says.
#9. Are the mosquitoes as big as birds? Welllll….no. Although they can get pretty big and they can be so thick that you can’t hardly breathe without swallowing some. When I lived in the bush of Alaska, I have been through times where the mosquitoes were so thick that you would tip your coffee away from you to spill out the mosquitoes floating on top, and then take a sip. In fact, it was so thick that you wished you had more than a mosquito net for you head, because a body net would have been awesome! I have also heard folks be surprised that we even have mosquitoes up here because they think it’s too cold for bugs to survive up here. Oh and DEET? They eat that for breakfast!
#10. Have you been to the North Pole or have you met Santa? Well, yes, I have!! The actual North Pole you mean? No, I haven’t been there. But there is a town in Interior Alaska named North Pole and it is the home base for Santa. I have been to his house and I have met his reindeer. I have pictures to prove it. If you ever have a chance to come to Alaska, I recommend a drive up to Fairbanks and then on to North Pole. It is worth the drive.
#11. Do you have fast food in Alaska? That is a massive Yes! We have almost all of them. We don’t have them in the bush but in most of the larger towns and cities, we have them. You can pretty much count on getting your fix if you stick to the more populated areas. I, however, prefer to eat caribou burgers!
#12. Can you ride a moose? Absolutely not! And if you try, you will most likely end up in the hospital. I have seen where some folks have been charged and trampled by them. They either end up in the hospital or dead. I literally get them looking in my windows but they can be dangerous even with the window separating us. View from afar, and again, do not feed them.
#13. Is the ground really frozen year round? Yes, it is. Permafrost is defined as ground that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years. The depth of permafrost is different for different parts of Alaska. The reason why trees do not grow very big in many areas is because the roots cannot grow very deep and, instead, they spread out. Some areas where the permafrost is not very deep, the earth will not be capable of having any trees at all. The ground also heaves a lot during freeze and thaw seasons causing the roads to buckle and houses to shift.
#14. Are there really 3rd world living conditions in Alaska? Yes, in some villages there are, but they are getting better. You see, some areas with tundra cannot have septic tanks or underground pipes because the ground has permafrost (see above) and therefore you have either pipes running over-ground to a containment area or you use honey buckets or outhouses. What is a honey bucket? Well, it’s what you use indoors (a 5 gallon bucket) during the night and then in the morning you dump the honey bucket in the outhouse. You get the idea. So yes, in many ways, the villages in the bush do have 3rd world conditions, but they also have game systems, TV’s, phones, and microwaves.
And finally #15. Is there 24 hours of darkness year round? This question is tricky. Yes, in the winter in some northern areas, it can be dark 24 hours. In my area, an hours’ drive away from Anchorage, it is about 20 hours of darkness in the middle of winter. Also in the winter, you will need sunglasses because the sun doesn’t really rise above the horizon and will reflect off the ice directly into your eyes. However, in the summer, we can have up to 24 hours of daylight! At summer solstice in Fairbanks, they have the Midnight Sun festival with baseball at midnight without lights. You can hike till very late at night because you can see all night long. This really isn’t that great for those that want fireworks on the 4th of July and for those that are sensitive to light when they sleep. The sun doesn’t really go directly above your head in Alaska, but rather it skims around the horizon in a large circle.
As you can see, there are a lot of rumors and myths about Alaska. I hope I have dispelled some of them and answered your questions. I love this state and I have lived and traveled all over Alaska, and my husband has worked on the North Slope from time to time. If you have any more questions, you are free to ask them in the comments section below and I will do my best to respond.