Life in the town of Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, is not what most people think of when they picture Alaska. This small town sits 500 miles from Fairbanks and is often called the 'top of the world' due to its proximity to the North Pole. Due to its geographical location, the town comes with some quirks. For starters, the entire town is shrouded in darkness from the month of November through January during a time called 'total darkness.' Anyone who has ever read the book or watched the movie 40 Days of Night will recognize this as a time when sunlight does not break the horizon line, as phenomena of polar night will prevent the sun from hitting this part of the world for over two months.


Following this occurrence is an abundance of sunlight during May when the sun doesn't fully set for roughly 80 days. But in order to get to that point, Utqiagvik's residents must first make it through two months of darkness, which isn't always an easy task.

The Utqiagvik Ways Of Life

Living in Utqiagvik is not for everyone. For those who have been there for generations, things such as the cold, extraordinary amounts of snow, ice, polar bears (yes, they wander into town!), and months of darkness are nothing more than a minor facet of life. Those who have never lived there must be prepared to deal with all of this and more, as the town itself is so remote and isolated that the only way in and out is by small plane. Furthermore, when the weather turns for the worst - as it often does - the roads, combined with the extended period of darkness, can make Ice Road Truckers appear tame.

With that being said, many in Utqiagvik know when and how to begin preparing accordingly for the long periods of night they experience every year. Some take to the supermarket, which is an experience in itself; many products are imported which drives up their prices, meaning something as simple as a jar of mayo can be upwards of $10. Dog food can run $20 for a basic brand and even cereal can cost $7 for one box, making shopping trips far more expensive than anywhere else in the US. However, with the cost of living being so high, it's not unusual to see that jobs in Utqiagvik do pay more than average to allow residents to live comfortably.

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Other times, preparation comes in the form of an ancestral lesson. Some people do still hunt on the land, using animals such as the walrus for food. Fishing is also a large part of life here and many still rely on these traditional means of food to get them through the duration of the season. The town of Utqiagvik is also very small, with an estimated 4,000 or so people who live there year-round. This means that most people know each other if they're not related in some way, which means that neighborly support is also part of life. This is important considering the fact that due to its long winter, many find themselves battling things such as depression and anxiety, which can actually be the biggest danger of living in such a remote place.

The Weather During Total Darkness

It's easy enough to imagine that the weather is sure to turn for the worst during the polar night. Temperatures in Alaska are alright frigid but during this time, they can reach as low as -30 degrees - or more - below Fahrenheit. This, combined with the Arctic winds that comb the town, can lead to frostbite within only minutes of being exposed to the outdoors. That makes cold-weather survival a skill that's necessary in this part of the world and something that residents are all too familiar with. When the weather is whipping like this, kids aren't usually allowed outdoors without an adult and with the added threat of polar bears so close to town, being overly cautious is not a bad thing.

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At one point, sled dogs were not uncommon to see around town but as the decades went on, snowmobiles gained popularity. Now, it's almost a necessity for local travel in Utqiagvik. The negative temperatures do no favor for the local business either, as it's not uncommon for food or drinks to freeze during delivery or when exposed to the cold. Eating things such as whale blubber and hot meals during the winter - often with rice as an accompaniment to breakfast, lunch, and dinner - is just a way of life during the dark months.

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