Fashionable Watches

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
your website. They power my Wendover Productions website
and the website of my podcast, Showmakers. Both of those websites were built in less
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or whatever you do, so I highly encourage you to check out what Squarespace can do for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but
nothing is more professional than giving out a link to your custom website that tells
someone about you or what you do. You can get 10% off your custom website by
going to squarespace.com/wendover. This project where I travelled literally to
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.


Reader Comments

  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. 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.

  3. "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 ~
    GIANT S Q U A R E S P A C E LOGO SCROLLS UP FROM THE HORIZON

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Ironic how you talk about how food and vehicles as well as building materials have to be flown in or out on a boat and then at 6:21ish you say it is a self sustaining city. It really isn't. If you can't build a home or food without flying it in from other places.

  14. This place would would make me entirely anxious…..I mean just imagine staring out at the artic ocean of nothing but the unknown…..I can't handle that…

  15. 2:45 "with little exception, every ounce of food flies into Barrow." 6:25 "It's a completely self-sustaining city." How stupid.

  16. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the average US income is what, 55,000??? Damn what part???? NC, average household income $35,000-40,000!!!

  17. imagine the sun not rising for 65 days…… dam that's a lot of darkness. how do plants survive 2 months w no sunlight?

  18. Dumb title, of course there has to be a northernmost town! Duh… there’s also a southernmost and westernmost etc… should be called “meet America’s northernmost town”.

  19. I wonder if they have a methadone program there. I saw a documentary where opiates are rampant in Alaska. Of course drugs are crazy expensive there as well. That’s part of the problem is that dealers see the smuggling as a risk worth taking because of potential profits.

  20. where’s the proof that u went? Just some drone footage that anyone coulda taken and a generic interview with the mayor. Fake

  21. there are good paying jobs up there but you have to know a trade or have office skills and they are inupiaq not inupiat

  22. More people will probably move there when they discover that many residents live to be thousands of years old. @4:39

  23. Thankfully for Barrow, the US has increased its oil output and a warmer climate makes the place more habitable. All signs point to good for them.

  24. Alright, with oil and a bit of accessibility, one would understand people moving to Barrow. But what about the natives who've been living here since 1500 years when there was exactly zero food availability and accessibility.

  25. People are always harping about climate change, but never actually fo anything to stop it. The mayor says climate change is bad, but he is probably a huge endorser in that massive oil feild. I'm guilty as well, but I'm not constantly ruining our atmosphere with burning fossil fuels.

  26. Anybody who truly believes the 🇺🇸 is transitioning to solar or clean energy anytime soon or for the good of the next generation(s) should watch this video.

    We are going to pimp the 🌎 until, well, until the 🌎 fights back.

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