Anchorage is in Southcentral Alaska, at the terminus of the Cook Inlet, on a peninsula formed by the Knik Arm to the north and the Turnagain Arm to the south. In September 1975, the City of Anchorage merged with the Greater Anchorage Area Borough, creating the Municipality of Anchorage. The municipal city limits span 1,961.1 square miles (5,079.2 km2), encompassing the urban core, a joint military base, several outlying communities, and almost all of Chugach State Park. Because of this, less than 10% of the Municipality (or Muni) is populated, with the highest concentration of people in the 100 square-mile area that makes up the city proper, on a promontory at the headwaters of the inlet, commonly called Anchorage, the City of Anchorage, or the Anchorage Bowl.
Archaeological evidence discovered at Beluga Point just south of Anchorage proper, along the Turnagain Arm, suggests that habitation of the Cook Inlet began 5,000 years ago by a tribe of Alutiiq Eskimos that arrived by kayak. As this population moved on, they were followed by a second wave of Alutiiq occupation beginning roughly 4,000 years ago, followed by a third wave around 2,000 years ago. Around 500 AD the Chugach Alutiiq were displaced by the arrival of Dena'ina Athabaskans, who entered through the mountain passes. The Dena'ina had no fixed settlements, migrating throughout the area with the seasonal changes, fishing along coastal streams and rivers in the summer, hunting moose, mountain goats, and Dall sheep in early fall, and picking berries in late fall. They tended to winter near trading junctions along common travel routes, where they traded with other Dena'ina and Ahtna tribes from nearby areas
Captain James Cook was among the first European explorers to map the Alaskan coastline, and many of the geographical features (mountains, islands, rivers, waterways, etc.) still bear the names he gave them. Cook was searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, a route that would provide a shorter means of reaching the Pacific from Europe than sailing east around Asia or south around South America. On May 15, 1778, after enduring weeks of hard weather, Cook turned into an inlet between two landmarks he called Cape Douglas and Mount St. Augustine. He anchored his ship, the Resolution, at a place he called "Anchor Point" (later named "Anchorage" as another Anchor Point existed to the south near Homer, Alaska), near a creek he dubbed "Ship Creek" nestled between two large arms (waterways). Cook spent ten days exploring the inlet named after him. He first sent William Bligh to scout the north arm, where he met with the Dena'ina Natives of the Eklutna area, who told him the name of the Knik Arm and that it was not the Northwest Passage, but rather an outlet for two rivers (the Knik and Matanuska Rivers). Cook then sailed south to scout the other arm, and in a bad mood after running the Resolution aground on a sandbar on his way back out of the shallow waters, called it "River Turnagain", having found no sign of the passage there either.
In the 19th century, Russian presence in south-central Alaska was well-established. The Russians placed trading posts along Cook Inlet, such as the Shelikhov-Golikov Company's post at Niteh on the Palmer Flats (between the Knik and Matanuska Rivers), which in turn created small agricultural communities in Ninilchik, Seldovia, and Eklutna. The Russians also introduced diseases such as smallpox that had devastating effects on the local Native population, which plummeted by half just 10 years after the first census.
In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward brokered a deal to purchase Alaska from Imperial Russia for $7.2 million, or about two cents an acre ($111.3 million in 2019 dollars). His political rivals lampooned the deal as "Seward's folly", "Seward's icebox" and "Walrussia." In 1888, gold was discovered along Turnagain Arm just south of modern-day Anchorage, leading to a new influx of prospectors, and small towns such as Spenard, Hope, Rainbow, Bird, Indian, and Girdwood began to spring up.
Alaska became an organized incorporated United States territory in 1912. Anchorage, unlike every other large town in Alaska south of the Brooks Range, was neither a fishing nor mining camp. The area surrounding Anchorage lacks significant economic metal minerals. A number of Dena'ina settlements existed along Knik Arm for years. By 1911 the families of J. D. "Bud" Whitney and Jim St. Clair lived at the mouth of Ship Creek and were joined there by a young forest ranger, Jack Brown, and his bride, Nellie, in 1912.
he city grew from its happenstance choice as a site for railroad construction to begin in 1914. The waters near Ship Creek were deep enough for barges and small ships to dock, and under the direction of Frederick Mears, it became a railroad-construction port for the Alaska Engineering Commission. The area near the mouth of Ship Creek, where the railroad headquarters was, quickly became a tent city. Anchorage formed at a time when proponents of Prohibition were gaining traction, and as part of an effort to stem the flow of the alcohol trade, at the direction of President Woodrow Wilson and with the symmetry of the US Army, a town site was mapped out on higher ground to the south of the tent city, with the condition that a person's land could be repossessed if caught breaking the alcohol laws. Anchorage has been noted in the years since for its order and rigidity compared with other Alaska town sites. In 1915, territorial governor John Franklin Alexander Strong encouraged residents to change the city's name to one that had "more significance and local associations". In the summer of that year, residents held a vote to change the city's name; a plurality favored the name "Alaska City", but the territorial government ultimately declined to change the city's name. Anchorage was incorporated on November 23, 1920.
Construction of the Alaska Railroad continued until its completion in 1923. The city's economy in the 1920s and 1930s centered on the railroad. Colonel Otto F. Ohlson, the Swedish-born general manager of the railroad for nearly two decades, became a symbol of residents' contempt due to the firm control he maintained over the railroad's affairs, which by extension became control over economic and other aspects of life in Alaska.
Between the 1930s and the 1950s, the city experienced massive growth as air transportation and the military became increasingly important. Aviation operations in Anchorage commenced along the firebreak south of town (today's Delaney Park Strip), which residents also used as a golf course. An increase in air traffic led to clearing of a site directly east of town site boundaries starting in 1929; this became Merrill Field, which served as Anchorage's primary airport during the 1930s and 1940s, until Anchorage International Airport superseded it in 1951. Merrill Field still sees a significant amount of general aviation traffic.
The Good Friday earthquake of March 27, 1964, hit Anchorage hard at a magnitude of 9.2, killing 115 people and causing $116 million in damages ($750 million in 2019 dollars). The earth-shaking event lasted nearly five minutes; most structures that failed remained intact for the first few minutes then failed with repeated flexing. It was the world's second-largest earthquake in recorded history. Broadcaster Genie Chance has been credited with holding Anchorage together, as she immediately rushed to the Anchorage Public Safety Building and stayed on the KENI airwaves for almost 24 continuous hours. Chance, effectively designated as the public safety officer by the city's police chief, was instrumental in Anchorage's relief and recovery efforts as she coordinated response efforts, connected urgent needs with available resources, disseminated information of available shelters and food sources, and passed messages among loved ones over the air, reuniting families. Because the city and surrounding suburban area was built on top ground consisting of glacial silt, the prolonged shaking from the earthquake caused soil liquefaction, leading to massive cracks in roadways and collapse of large swaths of land. One of Anchorage's most affected residential areas, the Turnagain neighborhood, saw dozens of homes originally at 250 to 300 feet above sea level sink to sea level. Rebuilding and recovery dominated the remainder of the 1960s.
In 1968, ARCO discovered oil in Prudhoe Bay on the Alaska North Slope, and the resulting oil boom spurred further growth in Anchorage. In 1975, the City of Anchorage and the Greater Anchorage Area Borough (which includes Eagle River, Girdwood, Glen Alps, and several other communities) merged into the geographically larger Municipality of Anchorage The city continued to grow in the 1980s, and capital projects and an aggressive beautification campaign took place.
Several attempts have been made to move Alaska's state capital from Juneau to Anchorage, or to a site closer to Anchorage. The motivation is straightforward: the "railbelt" between Anchorage and Fairbanks contains most of Alaska's population. Robert Atwood, owner of the Anchorage Times and a tireless booster for the city, championed the move. Alaskans rejected attempts to move the capital in 1960 and 1962, but in 1974, as Alaska's center of population moved away from Southeast Alaska and to the railbelt, voters approved it. Communities such as Fairbanks and much of rural Alaska opposed moving the capital to Anchorage for fear of concentrating more power in the state's largest city. As a result, in 1976, voters approved a plan to build a new capital city near Willow, about 70 miles (110 km) north of Anchorage. In the 1978 election, opponents to the move reacted by campaigning to defeat a nearly $1 billion bond issue to fund construction of the new capitol building and related facilities ($3 billion in 2019 dollars).. Later attempts to move the capital or the legislature to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, also failed.
A diverse wildlife population exists within urban Anchorage and the surrounding area. Approximately 250 black bears and 60 grizzly bears live in the area. Bears are regularly sighted within the city. Moose are also a common sight; in the Anchorage Bowl, there is a summer population of approximately 250 moose, increasing to as many as 1,000 during the winter. They are a hazard to drivers, with over 100 moose killed by cars each year. Two people were stomped to death, in 1993 and 1995, in Anchorage.Cross-country skiers and dog mushers using city trails have been charged by moose on numerous occasions; the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has to kill some individual aggressive moose in the city every year. Thinhorn sheep are often viewed quite close to the road at Windy Point. Approximately thirty northern timber wolves reside in the Anchorage area. In 2007, several dogs were killed by timber wolves while on walks with their owners. There are also beaver dams in local creeks and lakes, and sightings of foxes and kits in parking lots close to wooded areas in the spring are common. Along the Seward Highway headed toward Kenai, there are common sightings of beluga whales in the Turnagain Arm. Lynxes are occasionally sighted in Anchorage as well. Within the Municipality there are also a number of streams that host salmon runs. Fishing for salmon at Ship Creek next to downtown is popular in the summer.
Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge
The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is located on a 16-mile-long section of coastline in Anchorage, Alaska, stretching from Point Woronzof to Potter Creek. The vast majority of the refuge is located on intertidal floodplains of glacial silt, with a smaller portion consisting of coastal wetlands, bogs, wooded areas, and Potter Marsh, a popular wildlife viewing area.
The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is a seasonal home for many migratory bird species, including grebes, swans, Canada geese, yellowlegs, and northern phalaropes.Eagles, moose, porcupines, and, less frequently, black bears inhabit the wooded areas closer to shore. While the glacial silt plains are generally devoid of visible life, they are traversed by thousands of salmon every year when much of the refuge becomes submerged at high tide.
The refuge is open to the public year-round. Popular activities include birdwatching, hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, hiking, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing. Potter Marsh is open during the winter for ice skating. Despite its proximity to urban Anchorage, public access to much of the refuge is limited to unmarked trails through wooded areas, and the glacial silt floodplains that make up most of the refuge can be dangerous.
Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge extends from Point Woronzof southeast to Potter Creek, a distance of 16 miles, but is best known for that portion located between the Old and New Seward highways called "Potter Marsh." Potter Marsh was created in 1917 with construction of the Alaska Railroad embankment. Source: ADF&G
Feeding wildlife is prohibited. To protect wildlife from disturbance during summer months, visitors to Potter Marsh are restricted to boardwalks and roadsides. Visitors can observe adult chinook, coho and pink salmon returning to Rabbit Creek to spawn. Juvenile fish are often seen in the marsh below the boardwalk. Source: ADF&G
Thousands of people stop to view wildlife at Potter Marsh each year. It is easily Anchorage's most popular wildlife haven. Parking areas, an elevated boardwalk, and interpretive signs along the New Seward Highway provide wildlife enthsiasts with an excellent vantage point for viewing and photography. However, when near the highway viewers must always take extreme care with traffic travelling at high speeds. Source: ADF&G
Each summer the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) has a Family Fun Day at Potter Marsh where adults and kids can learn about Alaska wildlife. This summers event was held on June 6, 2015 and photos are posted below.
Approximately 35 miles south of Anchorage, nestled below the Chugach Mountains, you will find the small community of Girdwood. With its breathtaking view of Alaska's vast wilderness, hanging glaciers and virgin beauty, enjoy year-round activities, incredible Alaskan hospitality and a variety of excellent accommodations to meet your individual needs. Girdwood is where you also find Alaska's premier year-round destination, Alyeska Ski Resort.
Alyeska Resort is beautiful and charming winter, spring, summer and fall. Winter offers world class skiing and snowboarding and summer brings stunning beauty filled with colorful wildflowers. Two 60-passenger trams operate year-round, providing a scenic ride up Mt. Alyeska and ending at the 2,300-foot level where you enjoy a view of Turnagain Arm and seven area glaciers.
While there be sure to visit Crow Creek Mine. Built in 1898, the camp includes a mess hall, blacksmith's shop, bunkhouse and several other restored buildings. See a gold panning demonstration and then strike out on your own at a nearby creek.
The Girdwood Marketplace, featuring live music and local artisans, is held every Sunday throughout the summer at the Girdwood Lions Park and an enjoyable way to spend a morning or afternoon. The Girdwood Center of Visual Arts is a coop studio featuring local artists and is open daily in summer. Both activities are free.
Girdwood/Alyeska also hosts the annual Girdwood Forest Faire, a popular summer crafts fair held each July. This weekend event features crafts, food and entertainment and draws a ton of locals and visitors. The Alyeska Blueberry and Mountain Arts Festival takes place in August and features local artists, live music and the Classic Alyeska Mountain Run.
Surrounded by Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest, Girdwood and the surrounding area offers plenty of hiking and adventure, including kayaking, raft trips, mountain biking, wildlife viewing and it is a popular place for paragliding. Guided snowmachine adventures are available year-round, with summer trips on one of the surrounding glaciers.
Girdwood/Alyeska is the perfect place to anchor your Alaska experience. Girdwood is the gateway to Portage Glacier, located a short distance down the road and featuring the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center as well as boat cruises to get a closer look at the glacier. Just across the way is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a 140-acre refuge dedicated to the care of orphaned, injured and displaced Alaska wildlife.
Also down the road and through the Anton Anderson tunnel is Whittier, a major gateway into Prince William Sound and the base for a ton of glacier and wildlife cruise operators. The Kenai Peninsula is next with its famous fishing, unlimited adventure and many communities, each offering its own special attractions. Anchorage, with all the largest community in Alaska has to offer, is only 35 miles the other direction.
Location: Girdwood/Alyeska is located on Turnagain Arm, in the Municipality of Anchorage, 35 miles southwest of downtown Anchorage. The Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest border Girdwood on three sides.
Access: By road on the Seward Highway, 35 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Accommodations: One resort, numerous condos/chalets/cabins/bed and breakfasts; eight restaurants and cafes.