Tag Archives: quote

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue


The Alaska state flag

In 1927, when Alaska was still a U.S. Territory, Territorial Governor George Parks persuaded the Alaska American Legion to hold a competition. The Governor thought it would help the statehood movement by having a state flag, so the Legion held a contest, open to all Alaskan children, to design Alaska’s new flag.

142 designs were sent to Juneau from all over the state. A thirteen year old living in Seward, John Ben “Benny” Benson won the contest with a simple, yet elegant design.


Benny Benson holding his design for the new Alaska flag

Benny Benson was born in the fishing village of Chignik. His father was a Swedish fisherman, his mother an Aleut-Russian. Benny’s mother died when he was just three, and the family home burned to the ground shortly afterwards. His father, John Ben Benson Sr, could not take care of his three children alone, so they were divided up. Benny and his brother were put into an orphanage in Unalaska; his sister Elsie was sent to a school in Oregon.

The Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska was home to hundreds of Aleut orphans. It eventually moved from Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain, to the town of Seward on the mainland. It was from here that Benny Benson sent his design for the Alaska flag, as a seventh grader.


The Jesse Lee Home for Children in Unalaska, circa 1901

Benson described his design to the judges this way: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The Territorial Legislature approved the new flag in May of 1927, and Alaska officially flew its new flag for the first time on 9 July 1927. Benny Benson received a watch, with the flag design etched on it, as well as a $1000 educational scholarship, which he eventually used to become a diesel mechanic.

Benson Boulevard in Anchorage, which is a major east-west thoroughfare, is named after Benny.
A Benny Benson Memorial is located at milepost 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward.
The airport in Kodiak was renamed the Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport in 2013.
A school in Anchorage on Campbell Airstrip Road has been named the Benny Benson School.

Benny Benson died of a heart attack in 1972. He was 58.

The black & white photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library Archives


Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe, PA


Jim Thorpe competing in the Stockholm Olympics, 1912

Jim Thorpe is considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern times. After winning gold in both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, King Gustav V of Sweden said to Thorpe, “You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Thorpe was a collegiate All-American, NFL All-Pro & charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, and played baseball with three different MLB teams. He also played for a traveling professional basketball team.


Jim Thorpe Olympic statue near Jim Thorpe, PA

When in Pennsylvania for hockey, we traveled through Jim Thorpe, PA. Originally founded as Mauch Chunk, the community made a deal with Jim Thorpe’s widow in 1953. After Thorpe’s funeral in Shawnee, OK, city officials of Mauch Chunk bought his remains from his third wife, and Thorpe’s body was shipped to Pennsylvania without the rest of the family’s knowledge.


Jim Thorpe’s tomb

I had mixed feelings about the monument to Thorpe in Penn. On one hand, the tribute, if a bit dated and weather-worn, was well done and seemed sincere. On the other hand, it was hard to get past the fact that Thorpe has become a road side attraction. Of all the turn-offs I’ve taken traveling, this one was as surreal as any.


Thorpe’s football statue at the turnout/monument

Upon receiving Thorpe’s body, the communities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged and were renamed Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. His tomb was built on a mound of dirt from his native Oklahoma and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, where he earned international fame.

In 2010, son Jack Thorpe sued in Federal Court to have his father’s remains returned to Oklahoma. After several court rulings favoring both sides, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 refused to hear the case, effectively ending the suit and leaving Thorpe’s remains in Pennsylvania. Jack Thorpe died in 2011.


The addiction that is Alaska

For Pete:


Caribou gauntlet on the Alaska Highway

I will be starting my 24th year in Alaska on the first day of May. I drove up in a copper-colored ’74 Ford Bronco, with my yellow lab in the back of the truck, along with my camping gear, a box of books and my typewriter. I didn’t really have a plan, just a desire to check out the Last Frontier. Much to my father’s dismay, I fell in love with the state immediately. It isn’t a stretch to say, that I realized that I had found my way home, on that original first day of May.

There are Two Truths about Alaska that I learned very quickly upon my arrival, and they are diametrically opposed. That does not make either one, any less true.
Truth One is the definition of a sourdough: Someone who has soured on Alaska, but doesn’t have enough dough to get out. Truth Two, is that Alaska ruins you from being able to live anywhere else. I fall into the latter category. I’m not just an Alaskan, but an Interior Alaskan to boot. I had a buddy from Anchorage who came up to visit one summer, and stayed at my cabin near Fairbanks for a whole week. He lamented to mutual friends after the visit, that “Mike has ‘gone Fairbanks’ on us. He has gone over to the ‘Dark Side’.” I took it as a compliment, even though he did not mean it as one. It was true, I had gone all in on my life at the end of the road.

Alaska isn’t for everyone; it does take a certain personality to thrive here. I’ve known people who could not leave the state fast enough after their first winter. But I’ve also met many retired military members who served in Alaska, eventually transferring out, but returning to build a life here after their service was done. There is something about Alaska that burrows into your bones, and soaks into your soul. For those of us who choose to live here, Alaska becomes a part of us, and we take a little bit of the state with us everywhere we go.


The Alaska Range as seen from the University of Alaska campus in autumn

“When you first arrive in Alaska, you notice that even the towns on the road system maintain a rugged uniqueness. Alaska is still a destination that beckons the adventurer, the individualist, and the free spirit… Home to 15 species of whales, and healthy populations of caribou, grizzlies, and moose, plus one of the last remaining strongholds of wild salmon, Alaska is still a place to behold.”
— Dave Atcheson, “Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond”

There is an ability here to immerse yourself in the natural world which is unique. Not because it can not be done elsewhere, but because there is still wilderness in Alaska. True wilderness. I do not know how long we will be able to hold onto that wilderness, but for now, we still have it, and it lies outside our back door.

On one or two occasions, I have been called a “free spirit”. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I do follow my own trail some of the time. Heading into Year 24, I’m as thrilled to be here today, as I ever have. We all have our roller coaster rides, and I’ve lived through my fair share. I’m excited to be returning to The Ridge full time, and that should happen this summer. There are several trips planned over the next several months that will allow me to explore additional areas of this amazing corner of our planet, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.

I state all of this with caution. I tend not to plan out too far, because that is when the universe decides to throw you a wicked curve ball. I send out hope to the fates, that they will allow me to think out as far as September, if only for a change of pace.
I’ve been up in Alaska for a while now, and I know that each day is a blessing. After some revisions, I hope to immerse myself in this natural wonder for a while longer yet. At some point, I realize that I may have to move on from here. All one can do is make the most out of life wherever you are. That holds true for everyone/everywhere.

I will be heading Outside shortly. It is time to travel, and I’m excited to be heading Out. Some new places to explore, and some old friends and family to visit. As much as I am looking forward to it, I know I will be just as excited to return to Alaska when the time comes. As much as I do love to travel, I am always anxious to get back home in the end. I’ve seen Alaska recently described as a drug, and I think that is as accurate a description as any.

Alaska is a drug, and I’m addicted to her, just like many other very special people.


Year’s End

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
—Hal Borland


The Apache Trail

“The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.”
— Theodore Roosevelt


Map of the Apache Trail

We headed for Apache Junction to pick up the start of the Apache Trail. Long used by the Apache Indians, the trail became a stagecoach route through the Superstition Mountains in the 1800’s. Today, the route from Apache Junction is officially known as State Route 88.

Goldfield


Mammoth Saloon in Goldfield

The first stop on the trail is the old Ghost Town of Goldfield. In 1890, Goldfield was booming, with three saloons, a brewery, blacksmith, general store, meat market and a boarding house. Once thought to overtake the town of Mesa in population, the mine’s vein suddenly faulted, and the ore quality dropped. From there, the town withered in the desert.


Goldfield’s bordello

Today, you can tour the played out Mammoth Mine, ride the narrow gauge train, eat outside the cafe, or have a cold beer and meal in the saloon. I will say that the ice cream cones are damn good, especially when the waffle cones are fresh out of the oven.


Canyon Lake

The first reservoir on the Salt River is Canyon Lake, which was formed after the building of the Mormon Flat Dam in 1925. Steamboat rides are offered on the lake, and hiking trails abound.

Tortilla Flat: Population 6


Superstition Saloon in Tortilla Flat

We stopped in Tortilla Flat, for what I hoped would be lunch, but it turned out that I was the only one hungry, so we only looked around. I heard the food in the saloon was the best in town, but even that did not convince the relatives.


Inside the Superstition Saloon

The saloon boasted one dollar bills as wallpaper, and bar stools that were actual saddles.

The trail gets interesting

The trail turns to gravel once you travel past Tortilla Flat. Gravel may be a generous term, silt may be more accurate. Either way, I had a blast. The road is a switch-backing, sandy, twisting bundle of pure overland fun.

Apache Lake


Apache Lake

Apache Lake is the next reservoir. The lake is formed by the Horse Mesa Dam, which was completed in 1927. It’s a lake I’d like to come back and explore. The fishing is suppose to be great, and the access restricting. Perfect.

Roosevelt Dam

The 357′ Roosevelt Dam was built between 1905-1911, and raised 77′ in 1989. The addition increased the storage capacity of Roosevelt Lake by 20%. 42 lives were lost building the dam.


Theodore Roosevelt Bridge

Highway 188 used to cross the river over the dam. With the ambitious remodel, the highway was realigned over the newly built Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

From the bridge, the Apache Trail officially ends. To complete the loop back to Apache Junction, head towards the town of Globe.

Tonto National Monument


The view from Tonto Cliff Dwelling

The Tonto National Monument is on the opposite side of the highway from Roosevelt Lake. The cliff dwellings of the Salado people are the main attraction. More on these in a future post.


Tonto NM cliff dwellings

Globe, AZ

I had heard that the Burger House in Miami was well worth the stop, but I also heard that it was incredibly popular, and I was starving and didn’t want to risk a line. We swung into Globe instead and ate at Nurdberger. The small cafe did not disappoint. Worth the stop, after a day on the trail.


Fats

Pioneer rock & roller, Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr has died. From 1950 through the early 1960’s, Domino had over three dozen Top 40 hits, 23 gold records, and sold over 65 million singles.
The New Orleans artist, with his Cajun accent and boogie-woogie piano, had a style all his own. Elvis Presley once said, ” …Rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

Domino was 89.


Fats playing the Carib Theatre, Kingston in 1961


Rest in peace, Gwen

Gwen Ifill

“We can’t expect the world to get better by itself, we have to create something we can leave the next generation.”
— Gwen Ifill