Alaska and Alabama don't seem to have much in common. After all, the inhabitants of one state live in perpetually chilled conditions, while those in the other experience a nearly tropical environment by comparison. The two environs certainly lend themselves to vastly different kinds of daily life: It's hard to imagine the apocalyptic conditions that would have to take place for us to motor a snowmobile around Alabama swampland. Nor do we think we're in any real danger of running into alligators on the frozen tundra. Still, we've managed to uncover a few commonalities these disparate states have in common, beginning with the obvious, next.
They Both Start with "A"
Obvious, but true: Alaska and Alabama launch their monikers with the same vowel. OK, we admit this seems like a gimmee, but there's more to it. Both states not only have matching vowels, they also get their names from the native people who initially inhabited their spaces.
It was the Aleut who named Alaska, using their word to describe an object against which the sea breaks. Although the Aleut name for Alaska referred to the relationship between the Alaskan peninsula and surrounding ocean, it's been loosely translated as "big land" -- which seems to make perfect sense for a state that's 500 times larger than Rhode Island. Likewise, Alabama was named for the Native American tribe that in pre-Starbucks days largely inhabited the central part of the state.
They're Both Bear Markets
And we're not talking the Wall Street kind, either. These back-to-nature states are home to unique species of bear. In Alaska, the polar bear is king. The world's largest land predator, the polar bear weighs up to 1,500 pounds and feasts on seals plucked from oceanic ice holes, living up to the descriptor once given it by Norse poets: seal's dread. The polar bear's fearsome reign isn't only over ocean creatures, though. Some natives still refuse to utter its real name for fear of causing offense.
In Alabama, there once lived an entirely different kind of bear. Longtime college football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant earned his nickname by agreeing to wrestle a captive bear at age 13. "Now imagine a guy that can carry the nickname Bear," former quarterback Joe Namath once told ESPN. Known for his record-breaking career wins and fearsomely competitive nature, Bryant was as easy to spot in his native habitat as a giant polar bear: He always wore a houndstooth hat on the sidelines.
There's a French Connection
In 1786, French explorer Jean Francois de Galoup de la Perouse arrived at Lituya Bay in Alaska and claimed it for his country.
Although we know that didn't exactly work out (we ended up buying the massive acreage from Russia in 1867), Alabama still has a strong French connection to its history. To this day, the state hosts an annual re-enactment of French Colonial times. Known as Alabama Frontier Days, the re-enactment offers a close view of authentically costumed soldiers who commandeer French Fort Toulouse, as well as educational events aimed at deciphering the French influence that lingers in local culture.
Of course, Perouse's exploration of Alaska got its due, too. Alaska's La Perouse glacier and mountain are named after him.
They Both Battled Jim Crow
The Jim Crow laws enacted by state and local governments from the late 1800s to the 1960s were a barrier designed to keep blacks and whites separate; they also created a foundation from which the mid-century civil rights movement played out. Many events that served to overturn Jim Crow notions took place in Alabama, including Rosa Parks' infamous Montgomery bus boycott.
Alaska has a largely untold civil rights story, which includes a non-violent fight for equal rights for its indigenous peoples, who were once subject to a variety of Jim Crow restrictions. In fact, Alaskan native Elizabeth Peratrovich is credited with prompting Alaskan legislature in 1945 to pass the first anti-discrimination law in America.
They Lay Claim to Wacky Town Names
Whether you're in Alaska or Alabama, there's no shortage of towns with fun-loving names -- and most have a history as interesting as their wacky monikers. Take Slapout, Ala., for instance. Turns out, the town grocer spent most of the early 1900s telling patrons he was "slap out" of the many items they requested. Now just a church, bank and barbershop remain in Slapout, and the only thing the town runs short of these days are new residents.
Chicken, Alaska, is named for a bird. But, no, not that one. Turns out the ptarmigan, a mealtime staple of gold rush Alaskans, looked temptingly like a chicken -- and was the only such poultry available at the time. Rather than continually misspelling the head-scratcher "ptarmigan," they went with the easier version: chicken. Less points when playing Scrabble, but the ptarmigan got its due. It's now the state bird.
Incidentally, if you're looking for an intriguing stop on your Alaskan tour, check out Manley Hot Springs. We don't know if it's as scenic as it sounds, but it's worth a look-see.
They're Home to Famous Pipes -- and Pens
Alaska and Alabama seem to be the birthplace of creativity, at least when it comes to singers and novelists. Contemporary singer Jewel (of "Pieces of You" fame) grew up in Homer, Alaska, while jazz singer Nat "King" Cole (who rose to fame during the 1950s) hailed from Alabama. Harper Lee penned "To Kill a Mockingbird" while living in Alabama, and the well-loved novel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Jack London -- although not a native Alaskan -- captured the imagination of young readers the world over with his novel "Fang," set during the territory's gold rush.
This certainly isn't a comprehensive list, but one thing's for sure: We'll be watching both these states for the next hometown favorite who makes it big.
Both Were Affected by Infamous Oil Spills
Although the BP oil rig explosion that prompted thousands of gallons to spew unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico never reached Alabama's coast lines en masse, in many ways it was still disastrous -- hurting the state's tourist trade, fishing industries and more.
In 1989, an oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker treading Alaskan waters caused far-reaching damage to coastal lands and waters, something many recalled during the recent environmental plight along Alabama's shores. Unfortunately, some Alaskan beaches remain oiled today -- despite four summers of clean-up efforts and more than two decades of time passage. Kind of makes us want to vacation in Alabama and order the bass blue-plate special while we're there. Just to do our part.
Both Shoot for the Stars -- and Beyond
NASA has important facilities in both states. There's the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Meanwhile, Alaska is home to NASA's SAR Data Center, a satellite data tracking plant.
In 1960, Marshall became NASA's first field center. Today, it's still at the forefront -- uncovering such interstellar oddities as cannibalistic stars. The center's research has also leapt to the aid of allergy suffers by using NASA satellite data to uncover pollen dispersal. We're not sure if the data comes from the SAR Data Center's massive satellite tracking system in Alaska, but one thing's for certain: We'll never again complain NASA research doesn't have real-life application.
Both Have Inhabitants Who are "the Marryin' Kind"
Although they have vastly different population levels, Alaska and Alabama come out nearly shoulder-to-shoulder when it comes to marriage. That's because they both rank similarly in the percentage of people who annually vow "I do."
While Alaska's nearly 700,000 inhabitants have plenty of elbow room in the 586,400-square-mile state, they still manage to mingle. As of 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, about 8.5 percent of the people in Alaska marry each year. In Alabama, about 9 percent of its residents annually tie the knot. There's no word on what percentage in each state are happily married, but it makes us think it may be time to go into the bridal business.
Both Count on Their Coastlines
Many Alabama and Alaska residents depend on fishing for their livelihoods, but both are adding another important coastline-related incentive to their repertoire: tourism. Next up? Eco-tourism. As both states tap into an increased interest in ecologically friendly travel, there's plenty of incentive to give the regions a closer look.
The 22.4 million people who visit Alabama each year drop more than $9 billion in tourist dollars. In Alaska, the number of visitors is about 2 million annually, but the economic impact is just as great: The cruise ship industry alone generates more than $1 billion for the state.
And, with 600 miles of tidal coastline in Alabama, and 44,000 miles of Alaskan coast, we're betting on plenty of opportunities to see the local flora and fauna -- and support the local economies while we're at it.
Summer travel destinations for families are a fun way to spend time together. Learn about the top 10 summer travel destinations for families.
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