Interior Alaska is a concept more than an area precisely defined by physical boundaries. Its borders have been established by cultural differences and political ideas. To the north and west, Interior Alaska ends where Athapaskan villages give way to Eskimo settlements. To the east, Interior Alaska ends at the 141st meridian which marks the political boundary between Alaska and Canada. Only to the south, where the Alaska Range arcs in a great crescent to separate it from Southcentral Alaska, does Interior Alaska have a clear natural boundary.
The Interior, home of Fairbanks and Denali National Park, has some of the most extreme weather in the world with rapid temperature swings, thunderstorms with hail and lightning and snow in the summer. Winters are very long, lasting from late September to mid-April. They are very cold and dry, with temperatures sometimes dipping down to -65 °F (-51.1 °C). Usually the temperature is below zero, almost for entire months.
The boundaries of Interior Alaska are matched in their variety by the natural features they encompass. Many rivers provide thousands of miles of transportation corridors used both summer and winter. Yet the low, swampy river flats, heavily timbered river valleys, forested hills, and mountain foothills found in Interior Alaska are characterized by their geographic isolation from other regions of Alaska. This remoteness, proportionately small populations of game animals, and severe winter temperatures make Interior Alaska a relatively hostile environment. Hardy, imaginative people were required to successfully inhabit the region.
The story of Interior Alaska is the story of such people--Athapaskans, Russians, and Americans--and how they have wrested sustenance and wealth from the land around them. This theme of economics, the production and distribution of material goods, is the focus of this unit.
In the following pages you will learn about fur trading, mining, and farming in Interior Alaska. You will discoverthe ways people engaged in those activities have dealt with the land around them and with other people. Influences from outside Alaska and from other regions of Alaska on the activities and the people will be discussed. In later units of this book you will be able to compare the economics and people of Interior Alaska with similar issues in other regions.