Alaska's largest city lies between Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains at 61° N and 150° W. Anchorage's growth from an Alaska Railroad staging area in 1915 to a city of 259,391 people owes much to its location. It lies in the Anchorage "bowl," undulating terrain between the two arms of Cook Inlet, Knik Arm to the north and Turnagain Arm to the south.

British explorer James Cook named its ice-free port when he explored Cook Inlet in the 18th century. Native

Alaskans lived here long before European explorers arrived. At Beluga Point, on Turnagain Arm, multiple layers of archaeological remains show that both the Athapaskan Denaina people and the Eskimo-like Alutiit people lived in the Anchorage area at different times in prehistory. Until recently, they maintained a fishery on Fire Island, clearly seen off the approach to the east-west runway of Anchorage International Airport. Much of the archaeological story, however, was probably lost in the early days of the city's growth. Anchorage spread outward from Ship Creek, still a superb salmon fishery, at the Port of Anchorage.

The United States military developed an extensive presence in the Anchorage Bowl before and during World War II. Much of the coastline is military reserve land, and has not been explored for archaeological remains. The native village of Eklutna, a Denaina community, has been incorporated into the suburbs of Anchorage. The urban native population of Anchorage is presently about 40,000. The Alaska Native Heritage Center opened in 1999 both as a cultural center introducing outsiders to the five major native peoples in Alaska and as an educational center where native elders teach their cultures to Alaskan youth.

Anchorage functions as a prosperous business and service center for Alaska. The military, federal, and state governments are major employers, but since 1969 the oil industry and the businesses it supports have emerged as Anchorage's key economic force. The state of Alaska opened the North Slope to oil extraction leases in 1969. Within five years, oil was being piped across Alaska. Prior to that time, Anchorage maintained many characteristics of a small city far from American centers of power. The North Slope oil boom expanded the city rapidly and brought the concomitant problems of swift urban growth. Many newer residents of Alaska call the city "Los Anchorage" in reference to its resemblance to Los Angeles, another sprawling city between ocean and mountains, complete with smog.

In 1970, however, concerned citizens lobbied to have much of the mountains to the east set aside as Chugach State Park. Anchorage's citizens are thus able to drive, in 20 min from downtown, to trail heads leading quickly into Alaskan wilderness. Business people catch salmon on their lunch hours from Ship Creek and the several branches of Campbell Creek. The municipal area encompasses several hundred kilometers of cross-country ski trails, bike trails, horseback trails, and other outdoor recreational opportunities, including two downhill ski areas. Anchorage is also home to a thriving arts community.

Anchorage features one of the busiest air traffic centers in the world. Elmendorf Air Force base maintains steady military traffic. The International Airport has become a global air freight hub, but much air traffic is still at nearby Lake Hood float plane base. Many residents own small planes that are berthed at Lake Hood. Other planes take off and land from several gravel airstrips scattered through the Anchorage Bowl, still others at the city's original Merrill Field, barely three miles from downtown.

Ellen Bielawski

See also Alaska; Alutiit; North Slope; Oil Exploration

Further Reading

Henning, Robert (editor), Anchorage and the Cook Inlet Basin, Volume 10, No. 2, Anchorage: Alaska Geographic Society, 1983

Rennick, Penny (editor), Anchorage, Volume 23, No. 1, Anchorage: Alaska Geographic Society, 1996

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