The Museum of the North dazzles before you even get in the door, occupying a spectacular "concept building"—all swoops, curves, and silvery skin. Designed by a disciple of Frank Gehry, the building is supposed to evoke glaciers, alpine ridges, the Northern Lights, and the spring ice breakup on the Yukon River. I never would have figured that out without help, but once I read it, I could kinda see it.  

The main attraction is the ground floor Gallery of Alaska, which offers an overview of the last 11,000 years of human history, and the  past few million years of natural history preceding that. The gallery has an extensive collection of Alaska Native, Russian, gold rush -era, and other artifacts that tell Alaska’s story of cultural change. Among the whiz-bang natural history highlights are:

  • *Mammoth tusks, mastodon molars (which you can run your fingers across), and a 36,000-year-old mummified steppe bison named Blue Babe (look closely and you’ll see the wounds left by the lions who killed it).
  • *Alaska's largest public display of gold, millions of dollars of coins, nuggets, spoons, jewelry, and other golden objects squeezed squeezed into a display case the size of a half phone booth.
  • *Looping videos on the Northern Lights, Native dance, and Arctic whale hunting.

Upstairs, in the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, thousands of years of Alaskan art is on display. Contemporary multimedia pieces, paintings and photography are presented alongside ancient Native artifacts, such as carved ivory harpoon weights, and a pair of good shaman/bad shaman masks made from whale bone. The most notable two pieces are an enormous painting of Mount McKinely by Sydney Laurence is juxtaposed against the tiny Okvik Madonna, carved into a piece of walrus tusk.  

Finally, a sound and light installation by Fairbanks composer John Luther Adams has received national praise. It creates a hypnotic aural and visual environment in a special room, with music that changes along with changing real-time Earth measurements such as seismic vibrations and the aurora.