In 1741, Vitus Bering brought the first European expedition to Alaska. After his crew returned, Alaskan sea otter pelts were discovered, and Alaskan furs were soon known around the world. In the late 1700s, small trading settlements were established. The land was originally occupied by Russia, and it was not until 1867 that the United States purchased Alaska. During the latter part of the 19th century, thousands of miners traveled to Alaska during the Yukon Gold Rush. During World War II, islands off the tip of Alaska were invaded by the Japanese. Alaska was then still not considered a state; it became one January 3, 1959. In more recent times, due to Alaska's abundance of oil, there has been much debate about drilling in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
Alaska is bordered to the east by the Yukon Territory and British Colombia, Canada, and the Pacific Ocean lies to its south. Its coastline is longer than that of any other U.S. state. Territorial waters include the Bering Strait, the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Alaska's landmass is more than 20 percent that of the mainland United States, and its land area is more than twice that of Texas.
The subarctic climate of the northernmost parts and the moderate temperature of the southernmost parts of Alaska mark the extremes of the state's climate. Temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit during Alaskan summers and dip as low as minus 60 F in the wintertime. This vast difference between highs and lows occurs most often in the center of Alaska's landmass. Precipitation in Alaska is infrequent; however, snow tends to remain for most of the cold period.
Alaska contains 17 of the United States' 20 highest peaks; its Mount McKinley is the highest North American peak. The 2,000-mile-long Yukon River is the third longest river in the United States. In addition, there are 100,000 shifting glaciers in Alaska, taking up at least 5 percent of the state's surface area. Alaska also sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and has more than 70 active volcanoes.
When traveling to Alaska, people are often pleasantly surprised that the summer temperatures range between 60 and 90 F. Road quality also exceeds many expectations; almost half of the highway system's roads are paved, and the Alaskan Highway is surfaced with asphalt. And many travelers find prices are reasonable compared to those of most other vacation destinations, according to the Alaska Office of Economic Development.