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The center part of Alaska is known as the Interior.  Largely wild and undeveloped, this is the State's frontier.  About 100,000 people live in the Interior, most of them centered around Fairbanks. In the early days this part of Alaska was the home of the Athabaskan people, and many of them still call this region their home.

This is also bush Alaska, with few roads and only one major city—Fairbanks, the Golden Heart of Alaska. Second in size only to Anchorage, Fairbanks still retains the feel of a frontier town and takes pride in its Gold Rush history.  Fort Yukon is the major community in the Yukon Flats and Bethel the largest settlement on the Lower Kuskokwim River. Interior boasts spectacular mountain vistas, berry-laden tundra and an abundance of wildlife including caribou, moose, Dall sheep and grizzly bear.

Most Alaskans settled on the southern coast, a more lenient landscape. The Interior is a  land of short trees and long winters. It's one of the most inaccessible on earth because of the rugged, inhospitable terrain. Scores of unclimbed peaks exist, but a rugged topography limits travel within the area to mountaineers with technical climbing skills.  A majority of Alaska’s heartland only can be reached by dog sled or bush plane.

The Rocky Mountains extend from the western Lower 48 northwestward through Canada into Alaska.  Here they form the Alaska Range of the Interior, the southern boundary of this region, and the Brooks Range which separates the Arctic region from the Interior.  Yukon Territory is on the eastern border, and the Bering Sea is on the west.  North of the Alaska Range is the complex Central Highland and Basin Region, sometimes called the Yukon Plateaus.  In the west, elevations are low, and extensive areas flood with the spring thaw. The elongated Kuskokwim Mountains, a low range here,  separates the Yukon and Kuskokwim valleys. Once the Kuskokwim River passes through the mountains, it forms the southern edge of a vast lake-studded alluvial plain bounded on the north by the Yukon River. This water-logged lowland is a major summer nesting area for birds. This district is drained by the Yukon River with its large tributaries including the Tanana, Koyukuk, and Porcupine.

In the Interior region, vegetation must adapt itself to short, warm summers and long, cold winters. The country is generally covered by taiga, or northern forest, with trees giving way to alpine vegetation in the hills and mountains and to the north. Trees grow slowly, and their root systems must be shallow because they cannot penetrate the permafrost. These forests are slow growing and of limited commercial value. Toward the west the trees become sparse and are replaced by wet tundra. Similarly, the mountain slopes contain tundra in the Interior. Cleared areas are often brilliant with fireweed in the summer months. Principal trees found in this region are black and white spruce, paper birch, tamarack, aspen, Alaskan larch, and balsam poplar. There are expanses of bogs called muskeg, and grasslands, where many species of wild flowers, berries, and shrubs occur.  Lowlands are marshy, while highlands have moss, grass, and brush.

The glaciated Brooks Range separates Interior from Arctic Alaska. Its highest elevations are in the east near the border with the Yukon Territory, and it extends almost to the Chukchi Sea in the west. The western Brooks Range consist of two ranges, the Baird and DeLong Mountains, and is drained by the Noatak River. The Dalton Highway, connecting Fairbanks with Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean, crosses the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass.

The Alaska Range rises up through the clouds to the peak of Mt. McKinley, Alaska's best known landmark. At 20,320 feet above sea level, it is the highest peak in North America and the northernmost peak that reaches over 20,000 feet.  The Athabascans called the mountain Denali, which means very simply, "the great one" or "the high one." The Russians called it Bolshaya, which has a very similar meaning.  The mountain received its present name from William H. Dickey, a reporter for the New York Sun, who made a trip to Alaska in 1896 to report on the gold rush that was getting under way. While on the trip, he got into an argument with a prospector about the gold standard - something the prospector opposed but Dickey favored. As a way of getting in the last word, Dickey referred to the mountain as Mount McKinley, for William McKinley, then a candidate for President of the United States, who also favored the gold standard. Because of the number of people who read his writing in the Sun, that was the name that stuck. Most climbers and other people familiar with Alaskan history and culture strongly prefer to call it Denali regardless of what Congress decrees. Denali is a highly appropriate reflection of the mountain's stature, whereas William McKinley never traveled to Alaska and is not known to have had any interest in the mountain. Some are even offended by the mountain's present official name.

The natural environment of the Interior is drier and less fertile than that in Southeast or Southcentral. Generally, this region has an average annual rainfall of about about 24 inches.  The State’s greatest extremes of temperature are here - mild, brief summers and harsh winters. Alaska’s highest temperature, 100°F, was recorded at Fort Yukon in 1915.  The Yukon flats, northeast of Fairbanks, form a large depression surrounded by highlands and have the coldest winter and hottest summer temperatures in Alaska. Summer temperatures have reached 100°F on occasion, though 70° to 80° is more common. 

Interior winters are cold and clear with icefog over populated, low-lying areas and can drop to temperatures of 50 to 60° below zero - some of the lowest recorded in the state. The lowest recorded temperature for Alaska (and for the US) was -80°F, observed in 1971 at Prospect Creek, north of Fairbanks on the Arctic Circle. For half of the year the ground is covered with powdery snow that accumulates to depths of several feet. Invasions of warmer maritime air from the Gulf of Alaska may break the extreme winter cold for a week or so at a time.  Permafrost here is discontinuous and easily disturbed by fire or human activity.

Like all subarctic regions, the months from May to July in the summer have no night, only a twilight during the night hours. The months of November through January have little daylight. Interior receives an average 21 hours of daylight between May 10 and August 2 each summer, and an average of less than 4 hours of daylight between November 18 and January 24 each winter.


Of all naturally occurring heavenly phenomena, few come close to a night with a magnificent northern lights display. Flickering curtains of dancing light against the dark skies - northern lights is certainly one of the most spectacular of nature's phenomena. 

The aurora borealis or "northern lights" may be seen from late August through April. Ancient Inuit believed that the northern lights were the torches of spirits guiding souls in these shimmering bands of lights to a land of happiness and plenty. Turn of the century gold rush prospectors believed the colors were rising from the Mother Lode. The Interior is considered one of the best spots on earth to view the aurora borealis.  On clear winter nights, the aurora borealis can often be seen dancing in the sky.

The sun gives off high-energy charged particles (also called ions) that travel out into space at speeds of 300 to 1200 kilometers per second. A cloud of such particles is called a plasma. The stream of plasma coming from the sun is known as the solar wind. As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth's magnetic field, some of the particles are trapped by it and they follow the lines of magnetic force down into the ionosphere, the section of the earth's atmosphere that extends from about 60 to 600 kilometers above the earth's surface.  When the particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere they start to glow, producing the spectacle that we know as the auroras, northern and southern. The array of colors consists of red, green, blue and violet.  The Northern Lights are constantly in motion because of the changing interaction between the solar wind and the earth's magnetic field. The solar wind commonly generates up to 1000,000 megawatts of electricity in an auroral display and this can cause interference with power lines, radio and television broadcasts and satellite communications. 

See an animated aurora borealis movie Aurora Movie 1 - ©Dick Hutchinson, movie by D.C. Spensley (748k, QuickTime Player is required.  Download it here free).

Hear the sounds made by an aurora borealis "Listening to the Northern Lights" - from National Public Radio (RealAudio is required.  Download it here free).



Communities in the Interior are: 

Big Delta
Chena Hot Springs
Circle Hot Springs
Coal Creek
Crooked Creek 
Delta Junction
Dot Lake
Eagle Village
Lake Minchumina
Manley Hot Springs
Miller House
North Pole
Sterling Landing
Woodchopper Creek