Located on the Arctic Ocean, Barrow is one of the largest Eskimo settlements in Alaska. It’s also the farthest-north community in the United States. Its extreme location means Barrow receives 24-hour daylight between sunrise on May 10 and sunset on August 2.
Barrow is one of the oldest inhabited town sites in the United States, and archaeological evidence of human habitation in the area goes back to 800 AD. In the Inupiaq language, Barrow is called Ukpeagvik, which means “the place where we hunt snowy owls,” but that’s just one of the species that have provided nourishment to local people for thousands of years. Hunting and gathering is still a big part of life in Arctic Alaska, and seasonal hunts for whales, seals, walrus, caribou and ducks remain important for both traditional and economic reasons. Today, Barrow serves as a hub community for smaller outlying villages, and its population of more than 4,000 residents makes it one of Alaska’s larger villages.
Things to do
The Inupiat Heritage Center offers visitors the opportunity to purchase arts and crafts such as baleen boats, etched baleen, carved ivory, masks, parkas and fur mittens. If you time your visit right, you may also get to witness the local men embark on their annual whale hunt. A whaling captain directs crews of hunters, and if the whalers are successful, there is a festival called Nalukataq when the season ends in May. Hunters share whale meat and sections of skin and blubber known as muktuk with the entire community.
During the summer months, tour operators offer package tours of the area that can include viewing polar bears, photographing snowy owls or learning about the North Slope’s traditional culture. Other sites on the National Register of Historic Places are the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station in nearby Browerville and the Birnirk archaeological site approximately two miles north of the Barrow airfield. Cape Smythe was built as a whaling station in 1893 and is the oldest frame building in the Arctic. The Birnirk culture, which existed about 500-900 AD, is represented by a group of 16 dwelling mounds and is considered a key link between the prehistoric cultures of Alaska and Canada.
The Will Rogers and Wiley Post Monument, dedicated in 1982 to commemorate the 1935 airplane crash of the American humorist and the famous pilot, is located across from the airport. The accident occurred 15 miles southwest of Barrow, a planned stop on their trip from Fairbanks to Siberia. Two monuments, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are located where the men died.