Thursday, August 2, 2012

Geography 101- The Aleutian Islands

I just had to start with this post because after speaking about this to several people recently I realized that most people do not even know where the Aleutian Islands are.  The most common response I have gotten is- 'somewhere south, somewhere tropical'.  Umm yea, not so much, let's try the complete opposite direction.  Look up, way up North, to Alaska.

The Aleutian Islands are a string of 14 volcanic islands (yes with a few that are currently active) plus many more smaller ones, that extend about 1,200 miles southwest off the Alaska Peninsula.  They are surrounded, to the south, by the Pacific Ocean and, to the north, by the Bering Sea.  They make up the most westward part of the United States.  The Islands are very mountainous as they are a continuation of the Aleutian Range on the mainland, with peaks reaching 6,200 feet, some of which come up straight up from the sea creating a dramatic and beautiful rocky coastline.

Islands of Four Mountains, Alaska

The Islands are almost free from trees and are covered with a dense growth of shrub like plants with costal areas covered in peat bog, wet spongy layers of decomposing vegetation. The islands are said to be one of the rainiest places in the United States with an average of 250 rainy days a year, which is more precipitation than rainy Seattle or Vancouver.  They are under an almost constant fog with seasonal temperatures ranging from 30-52 degrees Fahrenheit. (Yikes, that is a little chilly for this former Canadian who now has some thin Florida blood.)  The Aleutians are known as the birthplace of the winds; the cradle of the storms.  The climate in the chain can change in an instant with Williwaws, sudden gusts of strong winds descending from the cold snowy mountains to the sea,  developing seemingly out of no where. 

The Islands are sparsely populated with only an estimated population of 8,100 people, half of which live in Unalaska (Dutch Harbor), AK, one of the largest Islands located on the eastern side of the chain.

Unalaska (aka Dutch Harbor), Alaska

In World War 2, the beautiful and mysterious Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese. The first invasion took place in June 3rd, 1942 on Dutch Harbor and days later the Japanese went on to claim the two most westerly Islands of Kiska and Attu.  My Grandfather was a fighter pilot and served in the Aleutian Campaign to rid the Islands of its forgein invaders and keep North America safe.  

This is how I came to know of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska,  and I am now on a mission to know more, a lot more about this barren but magnificant part of North America!

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