Alaska Range

The 600 mile (1000 km) Alaska Range in southern Alaska is crowned by the highest mountain in North America, Mt McKinley (Denali), which soars dramatically some 17,000 ft (5182 m) above a vast stretch of taiga, the characteristic ecosystem of interior Alaska. From Denali's double peaks (20,320 ft, 19,470 ft), the Alaska Range merges in the west with the Aleutian Range at the base of the Alaska Peninsula and in the east with the mountains of the Yukon Territory of Canada. The Alaska Range is in general higher and more continuous than the Coast Range, although it is split in three by two highways, the Parks Highway and the Richardson Highway. Both the Mentasta Mountains and the Nutzotin Mountains, at the eastern end of the arc, lie partially within the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve. At the western end of the arc, the Tordrillo Mountains and Revelation Mountains are close to, but mostly outside of, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Denali and the surrounding mountains form the centerpiece of the six million acre (2,430,000 hectares) Denali National Park and Preserve.

The Alaska Range was heavily glaciated during the Ice Ages, and several glaciers remain today. The largest glaciers are clustered around Mt McKinley, especially on the south-facing slopes, which intercept moist air from the Gulf of Alaska and gather greater amounts of snow. Other glaciers occur in the Mentasta Mountains and the Tordrillo Mountains. The climate of the Alaska Range is typically continental—very cold winters and moderately warm summers. The Revelation and Tordrillo Mountains tend to receive more rain and snow than the other parts of the range because of their closer proximity to the Gulf of Alaska. Since the Mentasta and Nutzotin Mountains lie in the shadow of the Wrangell and St Elias Mountains, they receive less precipitation than other parts of the range. In general, the south-facing slopes, because they are warmer and wetter, have taller and more diverse kinds of both woody and herbaceous vegetation than the north slopes, where alpine tundra is more common.

Denali National Park, Mt McKinley (Denali) and the Alaska Range. Copyright Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography

The origin of the Alaska Range is related to subduction of the north Pacific plate below southern Alaska. Parts of the Alaska Range (notably south of the Denali Fault, a prominent linear valley that follows the range for much of its length) have been traced far back in time to terranes that at one time were equatorial volcanic islands. As a result of tectonic plate movements, these Pacific terranes eventually collided with and accreted to the Alaskan mainland (which at that time consisted only of what is now interior Alaska). Several of the larger peaks, including Mt McKinley, are remnants of volcanic intrusions that cooled and hardened to become granite. Major uplift of the Alaska Range began in the early Pliocene, c.4-5 million years ago. Mt McKinley has reached such great heights because it is composed of rocks that are relatively lighter than the surrounding rocks and because it is located at a point along the Denali Fault where uplifting forces find maximum expression. A major earthquake of magnitude 7.9 occurred on November 3, 2002 along the Denali Fault, the largest ever recorded in the interior of Alaska.

Grizzly bears, black bears, caribou, moose, wolves, Dall's sheep, and many kinds of smaller mammals are found throughout the Alaska Range. The native people of the Alaska Range are largely Dena'ina Athapaskan Indians, originally an inland group from the west of the Alaska Range. Denali, the name of Mt McKinley, is a Koyukon Athapaskan name.

J. Richard Gorham

See also Alaska Peninsula; Mount McKinley (Denali); National Parks and Protected Areas: Alaska

Further Reading

Brown, William E., Denali: Symbol of the Alaskan Wild: An Illustrated History of the Denali-Mount McKinley Region, Alaska, Virginia Beach: The Donning Company and the Alaska Natural History Association, 1993 Collier, Michael, The Geology of Denali National Park,

Anchorage: Alaska Natural History Association, 1989 Murie, Adolph, A Naturalist in Alaska, Garden City: The Natural History Library, Anchor Books, Doubleday and Company, 1963, many reprints Plafker, George & Henry C. Berg, The Geology of Alaska,

Boulder: The Geological Society of America, 1994 Rennick, Penny (editor), "Backcountry Alaska." Alaska Geographic, 13(2) (1986): 1-224

- (editor), "Denali." Alaska Geographic, 15(3) (1988):


- (editor), "Glaciers of Alaska." Alaska Geographic,

28(2) (2001): 1-128 Ward, Kennan, Denali: Reflections of a Naturalist,

Minnetonka: NorthWord Press, 2000 Waterman, Jonathan, In the Shadow of Denali: Life and Death on Alaska's Mt McKinley, New York: The Lyons Press, 1998 Woerner, R.K., The Alaska Handbook, Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 1986 Wuerthner, George, Alaska's Mountain Ranges, Helena: Alaska Geographic Publishing, 1988


During the 18th century, the Russian Empire spread its influence into Arctic lands as it expanded to the east. on June 4, 1741, two Russian ships, the Saint Peter captained by Vitus Bering and Saint Paul led by Alexey Chirikov, started from Petropavlovsk on the

Kamchatka peninsula, and on July 15 approached the northwestern coast of North America. Since 1741 for more than a century, the Russian Empire ruled Alaska and the Aleutian Islands until their acquisition by the United States in 1867.

Exploration of Alaska was bound primarily to fur trade; colonization of the new lands and the Arctic people remained minimal and settlers founded the first settlement on Kodiak Island only in 1784. The first town of Novoarchangelsk (New Archangel) was founded in 1802, and the total Russian population of Alaska never exceeded 800 people. By the middle of the 19th century, Russia's geopolitical and economical interests in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands had waned. The governor of East Siberia, N. Muraviev-Amyrskiy, first suggested selling the Russian territory in Alaska to the United States, which he formulated in his report to the Czar Nicolai I in 1853. Duke Constantine, the brother of the next Czar in line to the throne, Alexander II, supported Muraviev-Amyrskiy, and in 1857 wrote an official letter to the Russian foreign minister Prince A. Gorchakov encouraging him to begin negotiations with the US government. In 1859-1860, Gorchakov, acting through the Russian minister to the United States, Baron Edward de Stoeckl, began negotiations with the Californian Senator William Gwin and Vice-Secretary of State J. Appleton. The negotiations, however, failed as the parties disagreed on the selling price.

Negotiations continued through 1866 until after the end of the American Civil War. Minister de Stoeckl and William Henry Seward, Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson, inspired this second round. In the fall of 1866, Stoeckl visited St Petersburg, where he conducted several meetings with Russian officials including Duke Constantine and the Russian minister of finances. On March 29, 1867, Stoeckl and Seward drafted the text of the resultant treaty according to which Russia ceded 1,518,800 sq km (586,412 sq mi) of its territories in North America to the United States for the sum total of $7,200,000. The United States and Russia signed the Alaska Treaty on March 30, 1867; it passed through the US Senate on April 9 despite negative public opinion in both countries. Russian officials in St Petersburg adopted the Alaska Treaty on May 15, 1867. To mitigate the negative response from the American media, officials in Russia published the text of the treaty in French in the diplomatic periodical of 1868, which had a small distribution. One year later, on July 14, 1868, the US Congress adopted the Alaska Treaty.

On October 18, 1867, the American flag was raised in New Archangel, the former capital of the Russian territories in America.

Marina Belolutskaia

See also Alaska

Further Reading

Bolkhovitinov, Nikolai N., Russian-American Relations and the Sale of Alaska, 1834-1867, translated and edited by Richard A. Pierce, Moscow: Nauka and Fairbanks, Alaska: Aleutian Islands, Limestone Press, 1997 Callahan, J., Russian-American Relations During the American

Civil War, Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1908 Jados, Stanley (editor), Documents on Russian-American Relations. Washington to Eisenhower, Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1965 Jensen, Ronald, The Alaska Purchase and Russian American

Relations, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975 Shiels, Archibald, The Purchase of Alaska, Fairbanks: University of Alaska and Seattle: University of Washington, 1967

Sumner, Charles, Works of Charles Sumner, 15 volumes,

Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1870-1877 Van Deusen, Glydon, William Henry Seward, New York: Oxford University Press, 1967

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