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Wildlife is thoroughly adapted to the challenge of the Arctic. Tundra plants burst into life in the endless June daylight. Animals give birth, feed, and mate during the intense months before winter. Migratory birds flee south after a brief feast.
Geographically, the Far North encompasses the Brooks Rangenorthernmost extension of the Rocky Mountainsand the north-draining foothills and tundra plains of the North Slope. The treeline at the northern edge of the taiga spruce forests demarks the region clearly from the Interior. The Brooks Range is barren, well-drained, and relatively dry, while the tundra-covered lowlands in the north show many features of the freeze-thaw cycle that affects all surface soils, including large domes called pingos and polygonally patterned dikes that separate lakes and bogs.
It is difficult to comprehend how wild the Brooks Range and North Slope truly are. Only nine permanent settlements with a combined population of 9,215 are located within a region nearly the size of Montana. All are encompassed by the North Slope Boroughthe worlds largest municipality and Alaskas least populated.
Visitors to the Far North will surely sense this emptiness. No village street can mask it. No motorized vehicle can dominate it. Even in the profoundly altered landscape around Prudhoe Bay, the impression is always one of briefly interrupted wilderness. The Arctic is my favorite region in the state, in part because it is so wild, but also because of the strange potency of Arctic light and the desperate intensity of the short growing season. Journeys to the Arctic require preparation, commitment, and some extra money, but the rewards are among the richest to be had.