Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Why would you name a city in Alaska….Unalaska? Unalaksa, AK is a small town located in the Aleutian Chain 800 miles southwest of Anchorage. We’ve all heard that Alaska is the least populated state per square mile (1.1, where the country’s average is 79.6), but to put things into greater perspective, Unalaska ranks as the state’s 11th largest city with a population of 4,000.

Part of the reason for the city’s number of people may be the area’s stable temperate. The mean annual temperature is about 38 °F (3.4 °C), dipping to 30 °F (−1.1 °C) in January and rising to 52 °F (11.1 °C) in August. Yet I still doubt whether people choose to stay here because of the temperature alone. The city is also claimed as the rainiest place in the United States with about 250 days of rain per year.

Did you know?- Unalaska has a total area of 212.3 square miles and almost 48% of that is water!

The city has only one port, Dutch Harbor, which the locals simply know as “Dutch”. It was given its name because the Russians believed the first ship to enter the harbor was Dutch. (Why would that be the case?) The harbor is actually located on Amaknak Island which is connected to Unalaska Island by bridge. While Amaknak is home to 59% of the city's population, it makes up only 3% of its area.

Dutch Harbor

Unalaska and Amaknak Islands once contained a native population, known as the Aleut, for hundreds of years before being discovered by modern man. The islands’ trading potential weren’t harnessed until 1759 when the Russian fur trade claimed the harbor as their own. The Russians named the island Ounalashka, meaning ‘near the peninsula’.

For three years, the Russians operated peacefully with the Aleut until violence broke out between the two. Outnumbered and unable to compete with the Russians’ weaponry, the Aleut were forced to surrender.

In time there were others who would come to take Dutch. In 1788, the Spanish discovered the Aleutian Chain. Explorers Esteban José Martínez and Gonzalo López de Haro visited hundreds of native settlements with Unalaska being the farthest west. These two men alone claimed the island for Spain and named it Puerto de Dona Marie Luisa Teresa, Port of Donates Marie Luisa Teresa, named after the former queen of Spain.

Marie Luisa Teresa (What is she wearing?)

If you’re still looking for a reason to bear what will most likely be a rainy trip, there are two places that have been deemed National Historic Landmarks you need to see. The first is the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears, one of two U.S. army bases located in Alaska when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The fort also played a crucial role in the Battle of Dutch Harbor during the Japanese invasion of Alaska. Second is the Church of the Holy Ascension which was built in 1826.

Church of the Holy Ascension

And if you’re not into taking tours, why not visit Makushin Volcano which has an elevation of 5,691 feet (1.75 Km). On clear days, steam can be seen coming from its peak.

Makushin Volcano

Unbeknownst to those in the lower forty-nine, Dutch Harbor is one of the most productive ports in the United States. It has seen the largest volume of seafood caught for almost every year since 1981, and until 2000 ranked first in dollar value per catch. The position is now held by New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Did you know?- A experimental project based on the island is attempting to produce fish oil biodiesel from the fish waste from local manufacturers. The idea is hoped to kill two birds with one stone by reducing the need to transport excess fish oil off the island (now, 3.5 million tons annually) but also to fuel the majority of machines which use diesel engines.

Thanks to television, this once unheard of port has become the most famous in the country. For five years, the Discovery Network has been documenting the life of Alaskan crab fisherman in their hit series Deadliest Catch. One of my favorite shows, it is one of the few reality programs that is truly reality. The series gets its name from the fact that it is the deadliest job in America, above other profession like logging and mining. Watch one of the show’s most shocking moments when a ship rescues a man overboard below.

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