I'm back with more facts from the great state of Alaska. In case you missed it, check out part 1 here.

Greater than Grand

Canyon enthusiasts will undoubtedly seek out Arizona's Grand Canyon when looking for an impressive crack in the land. But they may be better off in the Alaska Range, where Ruth Glacier has carved out the Great Gorge. Measurements that include the ice of the glacier, which fills the bottom of the gorge, show it to be almost 9,000 feet deep, making it deeper than the Grand Canyon, where the depth ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. Still, the Grand Canyon is almost 10 times wider than the Great Gorge.

The Idita-detour

Perhaps Alaska is best known for the Iditarod, the annual sled dog race across more than 1,150 miles of wintry wilderness. The route was originally run out of necessity- it was used to relay mail and supplies from coastal towns to the interior mining sites, including a 1925 run led by Balto that delivered much needed medicine to quell a diphtheria epidemic in Nome.

However, the race's traditional route has been changing in recent years thanks to global warming. The race opens with a ceremonial start in Anchorage, followed by the official restart in Wasilla. In 2003, though, the Anchorage start had to be moved to Fairbanks due to warm weather and an embarrassing lack of snow. Then, in 2008, the official restart was moved north to Willow, also due to warm weather.

Not-So-Good Friday

earthquake 2.jpgOn March 27, 1964, Alaska experienced the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America, which registered a 9.2 on the Richter Scale and lasted between three and four minutes (it originally registered between 8.4 and 8.6, but the number was later adjusted). The Good Friday Earthquake was followed by a massive tsunami that claimed 113 lives, on top of the 15 who died during the earthquake. There was extensive damage to buildings in Anchorage and in other cities, but it wasn't just manmade structures that took the brunt. An area of land around Kodiak was raised, in some places as high as 40 feet, and an area in the Turnagain arm dropped 8 feet, requiring the highway to be rebuilt. The earthquake and tsunami were felt as far away as California and Hawaii.

One Big Test

As if the earthquake wasn't enough seismic activity for Alaska, the government decided to generate some man-made rumbles. The United States Atomic Energy Commission designated Amchitka, an Aleutian island, an underground test site. The testing started with the 80 kiloton Long Shot in 1965, then the 1-megaton Milrow in 1969. Those tests were controversial, with people fearing they would do damage to the wildlife and might cause another earthquake, but the protests couldn't stop the third and final test. In 1971, they tested Cannikin, with a blast just under 5 megatons. Cannikin was the largest underground weapon test by the United States, as well as the first one conducted under the new regulations put forth by 1969's National Environmental Policy Act. The blast registered a 7.0 on the Richter scale and tectonic events went on for the next two weeks, although no grand-scale earthquakes or tsunamis.

A schoolboy, the Great Bear and a state flag

ak-flag.gifAlaska had an official flag long before it became a state, thanks to a 13-year-old. In 1926, territorial governor George Parks, seeing the flags of the other 48 states, decided that Alaska ought to have one of its own. So he created a contest for schoolchildren to design the new flag. The winner, John Ben "Benny" Benson, was a seventh-grader from Seward, who won for his idea of putting the Big Dipper and North Star on a field of blue. Benson explained his concept in a paragraph on the back of his entry:

"The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska Flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the union. The dipper is for the Great Bear symbolizing strength."

As a reward for designing the flag, Benson won a $1,000 scholarship and an engraved watch, not to mention immortality (he has a memorial along the Seward highway). His win was considered especially significant because he was part Native Alaskan (his mother was Aleut and Russian).