The Beach Ridges of the Cape

Low angle sunlight makes numerous wetlands and beach ridges glow in an aerial image of a coastline
Nearly 5000 years of accumulated beach ridges show up well as concentric curved lines in the light of the summer sun. Arctic Ocean is on the left, Krusenstern Lagoon on the right.

NPS Photo/M. Woodbridge Williams

Cape Krusenstern National Monument is a coastal plain dotted with sizable lagoons and backed by gently rolling limestone hills. Nearly 5,000 years of prehistory are represented on the 114 well-preserved beach ridges located adjacent to Krusenstern Lagoon (Giddings and Anderson, 1986). Sites on the bluff behind the beach ridges may date as early as 9,000 years before present.

Because the ridges accumulated over time, the earliest ridges lie inland, with the most recently formed ridges and bluffs near the shore. This unusual series of beach ridges presents, in sequence, detailed evidence of an estimated 9,000 years of prehistoric human use of this coastline. Some archeological sites here are older than well-known remains of ancient Egyptian civilizations. Numerous research projects have focused on this beach ridge complex.

In summer, wildflowers color the beach ridges and nearby hills. Large numbers of migratory birds come from all over the world to Cape Krusenstern to nest. In fall, these migrating birds use the lagoons as feeding and staging areas. Shifting sea ice, ocean currents, and waves continue to form spits and lagoons possessing important scientific, cultural, and scenic values.

Along the outer beaches, Alaska Natives still hunt marine mammals. Local rural residents are allowed to hunt in the Monument. A road to the Red Dog mine crosses the northern boundary. Trucks haul lead and zinc from open pit mines to a tidewater port. Teck Cominco Alaska operates the mine. It is owned by the NANA Regional Corp., a Native-owned corporation based in Kotzebue.

Last updated: November 7, 2018

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