Alaska is the largest state in the US and its least densely populated. It is home to polar bears, glaciers, active volcanoes and some of the planet's most varied extremes of cold, rain, snow and wind. Although there are no officially defined borders, there are six generally accepted regions, and with its myriad islands, Alaska boasts almost 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline.
People have inhabited this unforgiving wilderness since 10,000 BC. The first Russian settlement, according to some researchers, was established in the 17th century and it wasn't until 1867 that the United States Secretary of State negotiated the Alaska Purchase with Russia for $7.2 million. During most of Alaska's first decade under the 'Stars and Stripes', Sitka, on Baranof Island, was the only community inhabited by American settlers, but the gold rushes of the 1890s brought thousands of miners to the country.
In 1959, Alaska was officially proclaimed a state after being approved by Congress. However, dark days lay ahead, when, in 1964, the massive 'Good Friday Earthquake' killed 133 people and destroyed several coastal communities. The third most powerful earthquake in the recorded history of the world, it triggered tsunamis and landslides, boasting a moment magnitude of 9.2.
Today, Alaska has a population of over 700,000, with around 5.2% speaking one of the state's 22 indigenous languages. While travel and tourism is its fastest growing industry, oil and gas dominate the economy and seafood is the main export. Popular annual events include the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which crosses mountain ranges, frozen rivers, thick forests, and windswept coastline.