I Have Never Heard of Utqiaġvik — Yet I Have Been There

During a break, I spotted a video called 5 Most Isolated Communities At The End Of The Earth; and curiosity got the best of me and compelled me to watch this video.

I Have Never Heard of Utqiaġvik — Yet I Have Been There

As I watch the video, the isolated community which was labeled number two in the video is called Utqiaġvik — which is apparently pronounced OOT-kay-ah-ah-VEEK — and it was called “the northernmost city in America and the ninth most northern city in the world.”

I thought to myself, Wait a minute — that cannot be correct. I have been to Barrow; and I thought that Barrow was the northernmost city in the United States

…until I realized that this city in Alaska had officially changed its name from Barrow back to its traditional Iñupiaq language name of Utqiaġvik on Thursday, December 1, 2016. The name Utqiaġvik refers to a place for gathering wild roots; while the definition of another recorded name — Ukpiaġvik — means “the place where snowy owls are hunted.”

People of the indigenous Inuit ethnic group known as the Iñupiat have lived in this area — which is the largest city in the North Slope borough of Alaska — for greater than 1,500 years.

Point Barrow was the namesake of the city of Barrow; and it was named by explorer Frederick William Beechey back in 1825 after John Barrow of the British Admiralty. It is the northernmost point in the United States at which two seas of the Arctic Ocean meet: the Chukchi Sea to its west; and the Beaufort Sea to its east.

The indigenous people even created their own video in exuding pride in their culture and history.

Quick Memories of My Time in What Used to Be Known as Barrow

I redeemed Trans World Airlines Aviators miles to travel to what was then known as Barrow via Alaska Airlines from Fairbanks, as you cannot drive there because there are no roads which go there.

Despite being there in August, the temperature was 37 degrees Fahrenheit or so during a cloudy and windy day. A coat was definitely needed.

Although goods are generally expensive, I had a reasonably good meal at a reasonably good price at Arctic Pizza, which is located at 125 Apayauk Street. You can enjoy the view of the Arctic Ocean from the second floor.

Speaking of a view of the Arctic Ocean, I stayed overnight at the old Top of the World — purportedly the northernmost hotel property in North America — before it was damaged by fire and rebuilt. I had a room with a view of the Arctic Ocean. Watching the sun try to set in the sky — only to stall well above the horizon of the ocean before rising again — was surreal because of the daylight at 2:00 in the morning, which seemed more like the afternoon.

I saw cultural dances and celebrations; walked the “streets” of the city, which are unpaved due to thick permafrost; and even took a tour of the part of the area which had significantly fewer modern conveniences.

In addition to visiting Point Barrow, I dipped my foot in the Arctic Ocean while standing on the unusually black sandy beach, as shown in the photograph at the top of this article. The water was indeed cold; but it actually felt warmer than the air — especially with the wind.

Summary

I hope to find more of my photographs of my visit to Barrow — now known as Utqiaġvik — some day and post them in an article in the future as a retrospective trip report.

I enjoyed my stay in Barrow — but while I cannot recommend anything mentioned in this article because I had not been there in years, I would definitely recommend visiting Utqiaġvik if you ever have the opportunity.

In the photograph shown at the top of this article, Brian Cohen puts his bare foot into the Arctic Ocean along the coast of what was then known as Barrow in Alaska.

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