It’s time for a #GreatAlaskaRoadtrip .
This is a special trip, as we will be retracing part of my grandparents’ trip up the Alcan 70 years ago (that’s Mary and Thor Smith, above, next to their 1948 Chevy “woody” wagon)!
First leg: Anchorage to Haines, to connect with the Alaska Marine Highway. We love the ferry—and we’ll be sailing through the Inside Passage all the way to Prince Rupert, BC.
Next: Driving over to Spokane. I’ve got a four-wheel drive Toyota 4Runner from Avis Alaska to test-drive on the journey. Flares. Check. Full-size spare. Check. Gas can. Check. I’m doing my best to prepare. Here’s an article I wrote for the Anchorage Daily News.
Then comes the fun part. We’ll be retracing some of the route my grandparents took 70 years ago. Here’s a little backstory:
“Im gonna take a Sentimental Journey….Sentimental Journey home.”
It’s a phrase from the song of the same name…made popular in 1944 by Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Listen to Doris Day belt it out here. That was the year the Allies stormed the beaches at Normandy in “Operation Overlord” on D-Day, June 6, 1944. My grandfather was there, at Ike’s side as a press officer. (Gen. Eisenhower is in the middle in this photo, taken on the eve of D-Day, June 5, 1944. My grandfather is at far right).
In 1944, finishing touches were being made on a military road called the “Alaska Highway” between the Lower 48 and Alaska, through Canada.
After the war, one newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, was convinced that Alaska would be the “Pearl Harbor of World War III.”
In 1948, Hearst tapped my grandfather, Thor Smith, to drive up the Alaska Highway or “Al-Can” to interview military and industrial leaders regarding the preparedness of Alaska in the event of an attack. In 1942, Alaska was attacked by the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. It’s been 75 years since the Battle of Attu . Afterwards, the Japanese were vanquished. But now, the Russians were a real threat.
Thor Smith and his wife, my grandmother, Mary Benton Smith, drove their new Chevy Wagon 8,900 miles in 39 days. Afterwards, my grandfather authored a six-part series on Alaska for the San Franciso Call Bulletin. ( In the photo at right, Thor wades out into the Delta River, which flooded the highway–before determining to drive the Chevy through to the other side. ) My grandmother also was a journalist and she filed Alaska stories for Sunset Magazine and other magazines.
What did they see? How was the trip? Well, I’ve got the clippings and it was not an easy drive. Here’s a snapshot from the Call Bulletin which shows the route they took (also…there’s an aerial view of Anchorage in 1948!):
We’ll be heading north from Spokane through Banff, Jasper and the Northern Rockies Naitonal Park. This is the main “Alcan” route, although there is another route alng the “Cassiar Highway.”
We’re using the tools at NorthToAlaska.com to plan out our route. We’ll be sharing photos and stories.
You can count on some “then and now” perspective. We’re gonna have a great trip. I hope you’ll follow along. I’ll be posting my progress here, as well as on Facebook and on Instagram .
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a beautiful trip to Haines (photo, below, was taken just outside of town on the banks of the Chilkat River)!
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