This city, 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s Western coast, has been home to the Inupiat Eskimos for more than 600 years. Today the population remains over 70 percent Alaska Native.
Kotzebue boasts a colorful waterfront and is surrounded by flowery tundra. It is a natural haven for wildlife, including caribou, oxen, and bears. Birders travel here with binoculars in hand to observe the migratory waterfowl. The native Inupiat Eskimos observe the wildlife here in a traditional way—with a blanket toss. In this tradition a group uses a blanket to toss an observer high into the air to look for walrus, whales, or other game.
The federal lands that surround the Kotzebue Sound protect both wildlife and archaeological sites. These remote wildernesses can be reached by aircraft from Kotzebue. The Kobuk Valley National Park, for example, has archaeological sites that provide evidence of human habitation from over 9,000 years ago, indicating the arrival of humans over the Bering Land Bridge. The nearby Noatak National Preserve has been declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve. At Cape Krusenstern National Monument there are 114 beach ridges laid down successively over the past 5,000 years, each one a repository of artifacts that together form a chronology of Eskimo culture in Arctic prehistory.
Kotzebue has long winters and cool summers, with ice in the sound from early October through early July. The average ranges from -12°F in January to about 58°F in July.
Did You Know?
Throughout history Kotzebue has been a trading and gathering hot spot. Due to the three rivers that drain into the Kotzebue Sound, people from interior villages and even Russia traveled here to trade furs, seal-oil, rifles, ammunition, and animal skins, as well as other goods and materials.