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The northernmost community in the United States, Barrow sits 1,300 miles south of the North Pole. The village is 10 miles south of the Beaufort Sea and Point Barrow, from which it takes its name. Point Barrow, in turn, was named in 1825 by British captain Frederick William Beechey, who'd been ordered by the British Navy to map the continent's northern coastline. Beechey wished to honor
Sir John Barrow, a member of the British Admiralty and a major force in Arctic exploration. The region's Inupiaq Eskimos knew the site as Ukpeagvik, or "place where owls are hunted." Even today, many snowy owls nest in the tundra outside Barrow each summer, though they're not hunted as they once were: they are now protected by federal law.
About 4,000 people inhabit Barrow today, making it easily the largest community on the North Slope. Nearly two-thirds of the residents are Inupiaq Eskimos. Though they remain deeply rooted in their Inupiaq heritage, Barrow's residents have adopted a modern lifestyle. Homes are heated by natural gas taken from nearby gas fields, and the community is served by most modern conveniences, including a public radio station and cable TV and Internet access. The community recreation center has a gymnasium, racquetball courts, weight room, and sauna, and hosts a variety of social events, from dances to basketball tournaments. In Barrow, as in much of Bush Alaska, basketball is the favored sport, played year-round by people of all ages.