Why the Northernmost Town in America Exists

Why the Northernmost Town in America Exists

This is a Wendover Productions video in collaboration
with RealLifeLore, and made possible by Squarespace. Build your website for 10% off by going to
squarespace.com/wendover. 3,500 miles from Washington, D.C., 3,000 miles
north of Los Angeles, 750 miles north of Anchorage, where the ground never melts, where the snow falls
mid-summer, where no plants taller than a few inches grow, where the sun sets for months
in the winter and stays up for months in the summer, lies America’s northernmost town—Barrow,
Alaska. Combing through maps, Barrow has always intrigued
me and I had two questions—why does it exist and what is it like?—so I visited it. Now, asking why Barrow exists might seem like
an absurd question. You could ask the same question for Fernley,
Nevada or Grafton, Vermont or any other town but Barrow is a bit unique. It’s not a small town, at least by Arctic
standards. Just as many people live in Barrow as in the
entire rest of Northern Alaska. There is only one town on earth larger than
and further north than Barrow (Tiksi, Russia) Considering Barrow is one of the northernmost
communities in the world, the weather is far from typical. This clip from 1:45 AM on May 30th shows just
how unique it is. Just hours before, it was 68 degrees in Los
Angeles, 70 in Denver, 93 in D.C., and 96 in Dallas while Americans across the country
were having their Memorial Day barbecues and here in Barrow, the sun still lit up the landscape
and it billowed snow just before two in the morning. Snowy weather isn’t in the least bit unique
in the weeks leading up to summer and even during June, July, and August, the ground
regularly gets a light dusting. You can tell it’s the Arctic. For 65 days in the summer, the sun never sets,
then for 65 again in the winter it never rises. On the ground, Barrow is… desolate. It’s bounded on one side by the flat Arctic
tundra and the other by the often frozen Arctic Ocean. There’s
little emphasis on aesthetics within the town itself but there are few sights as beautiful
as the sea-ice just off of the beach. There’s not a single paved road in Barrow
as they would be destroyed each year by the shifting land as it freezes and melts. In fact, there aren’t even roads connecting
Barrow to the outside world—they end just a couple miles out of town. That does mean,
though, that for all but a few months of the year there’s only one way in or out—the
airplane. Barrow’s Airport is quite literally the
lifeline of the community. The entire town relies on planes going in
and out to get food in and people out. Somewhat surprisingly, multiple jet planes
fly into Barrow each day from Anchorage. You could start your day in this small town
above the Arctic Circle and finish in New York. With no roads or port, with little exception,
every ounce of food flies into Barrow. There’s even a special type of aircraft
built almost exclusively to serve small towns like Barrow—the 737-combi. These planes have their front half built like
cargo planes and their back half built like passenger planes to serve communities that
are small enough that they can’t demand full-size cargo airplanes and still need a
way to bring passengers in and out. Increasingly nowadays, however, Barrow can
be supplied by boat. For just a few months of the year, the ice
breaks up enough that a barge can come to shore and bring all the goods to Barrow that
won’t fit in a plane. That means that if you need a car or a truck
or building materials, you have one shot a year to order it. As the mayor says: [Mayor] “Cost of living is
very expensive here because a lot of the produce, products are very expensive, because they’re
flown in. Air freight is very expensive.” Heavy things are incredibly expensive—$15
for this hand sanitizer and $30 for this stain remover. Products that need refrigeration in transport,
such as frozen pizza, are also unnaturally expensive—$17 for this one. Bulky things demand a premium too—$20 for
some toilet paper and $22 for diapers. The cost of living above the Arctic Circle
in Barrow is just extremely high due to its location. In visiting such a foreign place, you do sometimes
have to remind yourself that you’re still in the same country as Miami, Minneapolis,
or Milwaukee. It’s a reminder of just how vast the United
States is. Barrow still has a US Post Office, a Wells
Fargo bank, those American-style signs—it’s still an American city even if it’s closer
to Tokyo and St. Petersburg than it is to D.C. So why do people live in Barrow? Why have 5,000 people chosen to live their
lives as close to the North Pole as to their own state capital? Well, for many residents, it’s been their
home for thousands of years. Barrow is the cultural center of the Iñupiat
tribe—one of the dozens of native Alaskan tribes. There’s evidence that the Iñupiat people
have lived in the same spot as Barrow for more than 1,500 years making it one of the
oldest permanently inhabited settlements in North America. That’s why over 60% of the residents of
the city are Alaskan Native—mostly from the Iñupiat tribe. The answer to why the other 40% is there,
as it often is, is oil. Barrow is the administrative center of the
North Slope borough—the equivalent of a county or region. The area is larger than the entire United
Kingdom, yet less than 10,000 people live within its borders. Barrow itself doesn’t have a significant
amount of oil, but nearby Prudhoe Bay has the single largest oil deposit in North America. [Mayor] “The larger companies that have leases out on the Prudhoe Bay oil fields hire people
to fill in positions that are needed within their services.” Some people go from Barrow to Prudhoe Bay
to work the drills, but there’s also good work within Barrow as it serves as the home
of the borough’s government. The primary employers in the area are the
city, borough, state, and federal government. And, in fact, you can make some decent money
in Barrow. The median household income is over $80,000
compared the US’ average of about $55,000. Of course, when spending
$500 a week on groceries is normal, this number seems slightly less impressive, but the city
does have real industry. That, of course, is a big reason why 5,000
people live here. It’s a completely self-sustaining city. It’s expensive, hugely expensive, to live
here but those who do make that choice for a reason. Among American cities, Barrow sits center
stage watching the world warm. -“I think we live through climate change
on a daily basis. Climate change and global climate change has
its effects on the North Slope and some see different effects over time as it occurs depending
on the season. Mostly, you can see it in the fall and
spring seasons in terms of the effects of climate change—the thawing, the warmer temperatures,
movements of and migrations of animals occurring a little bit more earlier than what they were
in the past. These are changes we’re contending with
on a daily basis in the Arctic.” Day by day, the oil supplies in the North Slope
Borough run out and the world is turning to renewable energy. The area has a looming threat of its biggest
industry moving out. Many other places in a similar situation such
as the UAE or Oman or Norway have attempted to fill the gap that oil will leave by growing
the tourism industry. But, as Mayor Brower says, “It’s very seasonal. It’s only from the spring to the fall—the
majority of the tourist season that occurs. There’s some interest in developing tourist
entrepreneurship into the communities but the infrastructure still lacking—a lack
of hotels, a lack of transportation needs or tourism business items that are needed
to conduct tourism, they’re not quite developed in a lot of our villages.” Visiting Barrow is an adventure, not a vacation,
and nobody should come expecting a McDonald’s, and Segway tours, and super-fast Wi-Fi. The beach of America’s northernmost town
presents one of the rarest views in the world—thousands of miles of civilization-free ice, water,
and nothingness. Alaska’s license plates may say that the
state itself is America’s last frontier, but nowhere feels closer to the end of the
Earth than Barrow, Alaska. This video was made possible by Squarespace. Squarespace is the number-one way to build
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the top of the world to film a video would never have been possible without Squarespace’s
support so I do hope you go at least check them out over at squarespace.com/wendover. I travelled to Barrow with the guys behind
two channels—Real Life Lore and Second Thought. You can find their videos on the town here. Please also be sure to check out my podcast
Showmakers and subscribe to this channel to get all future videos right when they come
out. Thanks again for watching and I’ll see you
in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

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  1. I hope you enjoyed this first on-location video!

    If you want to see more involved projects like this more often, be sure to check out the sponsor (Squarespace) with the link in the description. They truly made this possible and they're a committed sponsor. I've also used them for years before they became a sponsor so all the praise I give them is 100% true.

  2. 6:19 … OIL. thats all you needed to say. All men, all oil and anything goes, no protests. Squarespace must have stock in oil.

  3. Oil production will never be stopped because of renewable energy. That is silly. Our world, our lives totally depend on oil, gas and coal. The only “green” resource that has a chance of putting a dent in electrical generation is nuclear.

  4. I just got back from a 3 day visit there. It has a LONG way to go before it can be a tourist attraction. The town is completely dominated by oil interests and research scientists. The residents seem predominantly occupied by racing quads up and down the street pretty much all day. If you do some serious exploring you can see a really disturbing number of either abandoned or semi-abandoned "dwellings".

    There are dirt barriers keeping the ocean out but that hardly seems long term sustainable. It looks to me like if they quit maintaining the dirt berms that most of the town would wash away in a few years. Also, it's completely on permafrost so what's going to happen as the area warms? It may be worth going if you're doing a "four corners" quest of the US but it's not a destination that's really worth it otherwise.

    By the way, if you want to do the northernmost point you need to get to Barrow Point. Good luck getting there. I did it but don't recommend it to anyone. In fact, don't do it.

  5. I've been there ,have friends there still. Every year things change,the sea ,the snow,how cold it gets and how many bears come into town. It's crazy cause you can't really plan ahead,you just never know. Is there going to be a potato at the store ,not how many do I want.Eat fish and seal. My best friend was from Barrow, she was native and her family is there. Ate seal blubber, but I didn't like it, ate it anyway, customary.Saw the men bring in the long boats from a seal hunt and even had a pair of old seal skin mukluks given to me by her Grandma. My friend died in a house fire in Fairbanks (the city).The only reason I found my heart to scribe this out was for Barbara Joseph, so now you know her too just a little. A young soul who never got to grow up…………………………..I love all that is and all that is not.lolly

  6. OK…..so its mostly Natives…..tell me then, HOW did they survive without petroleum to ship all the supplies up for THOUSANDS of years?? THEY are huge polluters and bitch about climate change…..Hypocrites. They use 20 TIMES the carbon of the rest of us.

  7. that makes me think what do they mean when the say "had sex all night" in alaska, or "got high AF drinking ALL Nighter"
    i mean basically what does an all nighter mean in Alaska??? wtf
    i mean 3 months no sun and no moon???

  8. So, other than the oil workers, everyone else is on the government teat, or benefits directly from them.

    As always, a great video! Thank you!

  9. If American will do something Alaska can become also visited place but first of all they will have to spend money and build new and beautiful house roads more things because people love to go to cold place so they can develop but all about money

  10. I can't imatgine why anyone would conceivably ever want to live in this town. Snow year round, cost of living is sky high and from land transportation purposed can't leave the town.

  11. I don't like such extremely cold weather. Full respect to all people who lives in such conditions.

  12. can't get away from the green religion…can't even watch something on a small town and somebody has to inject their religion and politics….

  13. The man is speaking like a fanatic about global warming yet he is a mayor of the town with the biggest oil deposit in the USA and a huge oil centre. Disgusting hypocrite, he should be tortured and burnt alive.

  14. I remember one time, during an exceptionally cold New England winter, when the sound was full of chunks of sea ice, I just so happened to be walking past the beach on a foggy day during low tide, and the retreating water had dropped the ice chunks on the mudflats. It was magical: nothing but sea ice as far as the eye could see. It was one of the most breath-taking, awe-inspiring, mystical things I have ever experienced — a phenomenon that hasn't repeated itself since. I'm sure people who live in the Arctic take it for granted, but it must be quite something to be able to see that virtually every single day.

  15. "Barrow has one of the rarest views in the world: Thousands of miles of civilization free ice, water and nothingness"
    ~ que me sitting in quiet awe, staring out into the desolate wilderness of the arctic ~

  16. Make sure to visit the local dump every time you're in an arctic community. Since it's already super expensive to get things in, no one would bother to get them out, so decades of waste (from batteries to cranes and school buses) just accumulate somewhere at the edge of the town against the majestic and pristine arctic scenery. They're an environmentalist's worst possible nightmare materialized.

  17. I visited barrow for a week as part of an educational grant where we observed the schooling conditions and techniques of the teachers. I got to go everywhere from a middle school basketball game to the ice on top of the Arctic Ocean. ASK ME ANYTHING!

  18. I'm glad to have seen this video! My dad lived in Alaska and worked/visited Barrow in the 1960s. He has often suggested I visit.

  19. I live in Canada .
    Why do they lie and tell us the winters are warming and getting shorter?
    Last winter was colder and longer than the one in 1980!!

  20. I miss Alaska. Life there is so much… Slower. It's easy to get overwhelmed in the lower 48, but that never happened to me when I lived near Soldotna.

  21. I actually live in Barrow, it gets REALLY REALLY cold during winter, and sometimes fall. Fall is when it starts to get colder but now it seems to be getting colder quicker than normal. I was raised here for almost half my life, although I’m not a native to Barrow. I’ve learned the Iñupiaq language three times in elementary school, but decided not to learn anymore. I’m currently in middle school and having a good time here, it’s a nice place for tourists to take a look at how Barrow is very unique in its own way.

  22. This is awesome. Definately earning a sub from me. About a year after this was put out (so in May 2018) I visited an place called Cordova Alaska all by myself and went there to meet up with a friend and go ski touring. I have never been somewhere so unique. The only way in or out is by plane (or ferry) and everyone that lived there was incredibly proud of it. So much so, that a majority of the cars there had a sticker on the back that says "NO ROAD. Cordova AK." Staying with a local, in their home is such a different experience, and i got to such a different side of the town that way. Suffice to say. It was amazing and i want go back.

  23. If I were to go to Barrow for a year I would buy all non perishable and frozen products at a wholesale club and charter a plane to take everything with me. It should be much cheaper than buying anything there.

  24. I have heard about climate disaster stuff all my life. It’s the same old junk. Everyone will be dead in 20 years. Well it’s been 40 years and none, not one of The terrible predictions came true. We did not run out of food due to overpopulation. We did not ruin all the lakes and rivers. The air is cleaner than ever. But the young and inexperienced are well fooled into all this so they will hand over their freedoms to the socialists. I won’t have to suffer the way their children will. And the suffering will be their fault. All for the hope of free stuff. It makes me laugh to think how in the 70s they all said we were heading for an ice age. They wanted to cover the arctic with coal dust to hold in the absorbed heat. Lol. When you have seen this crap multiple times, you just stop listening. But the youth are shamed into accepting it. Bullied into line. Sad. They will never know the joys I did. They are not allowed to.

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