GeoGuessing My Grandparents

As I alluded to in a previous dispatch, I’ve recently finally gotten around to scanning and archiving old family photos/slides/negatives that I’d collected from my grandparents’ house before they could be tossed after their passings. Most of these are photos of family members at various occasions that are, honestly, uninteresting unless you’re a member of my family (and, even then…). Among these, however, are some treasures, such as a large set of slides from the time my grandparents went to Europe and toured France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Or, as I’ll focus on in this dispatch, the time they drove from South Texas to Alaska.

Having been to Alaska a couple of times, these intrigued me as I connected with them on a more-personal level and I found myself wanting to know more about this adventure. What route did they travel? What did they see? How long did it take? All questions that I needed answers to. Unfortunately, because these photos were shot on slide film, before there were camera phones or digital cameras, time and location-specific data just isn’t available for these photos. So, like a difficult game of GeoGuesser, I’d have to do sleuthing the “old-fashioned way”, with Google Lens and Maps.

First, let’s set some boundaries for this journey:

We know that the time period for the journey had to be sometime between roughly 1973 and 1977, based on a bit of evidence I’ll get to later.

We know that they were living in Kingsville, Texas (home of the King Ranch, Reality Winner and not much else), at the time and that their ultimate destination was somewhere in the largest state, so that gives us couple of possible logical routes:

It’s a long par five to the Last Frontier

Note that these are both fairly-equidistant, though we have to remember that the Interstate Highway system wasn’t completed at the time, so there must be some variation in the route, though in the west, modern highways tend to roughly follow the same routes as older byways.

That said, we can be confident that they, at least on one leg of the journey, traveled through Wyoming based on this photo:

Love the typography on this one

The environs here seem to nicely-match those of the modern Welcome to Wyoming sign along I-90/US-87 near Parkman as seen in this Google Streetview shot:

However, as they would’ve only encountered this sign on the south-bound journey, this must be on their way home. For simplicity and sanity, we’re going to assume that they took the same route both ways—a roughly 10,000 mile (16,000 km) journey, which lets us calculate a rough estimate of their total drive time. Knowing my grandfather, he would’ve preferred to drive roughly 10 hours a day. If we assume a 50 mph average speed, which is only an educated estimate based on knowing that they would’ve encountered unimproved gravel roads in Alaska and parts of Canada and that they were towing a camper, we can do some quick calculations and get a rough approximation of 20 days total drive time (10000 miles/10 hours per day driving/50 mph). This might be wildly-inaccurate, but we’re going to go with it. That gives us a bare-minimum journey time of 20 days, but we know that they didn’t drive there, stop, take a look around, and drive back. So, maybe we be a bit more-generous and say that they drove 12 hours/day at 60 mph—that gives us around 14 days of driving…still a lot of time behind the wheel, so maybe we split the difference and go with 17 days total driving time, so a bit over 8 days there and 8 days back. This still gives us a bare-minimum journey time of 16 days (must be nice to be retired!).

Next, we know that they did eventually make it to Dawson Creek1, BC, as they helpfully took a photo of the starting point of the Alaska Highway (aka the Alcan Highway):

This next photo seems to be from the same vicinity, as zooming in on the sign reveals that it says “Dawson Creek Mile 0 Zero Alaska Alcan Highway”:

Damage to the slide or purple Canadian exhaust emissions?

Zoomed in a bit:

Damn low-resolution Instamatic 126 slide film

My gut feeling is that this photo was taken roughly in this location based on the hill in the background:

Interestingly, it seems that the marker was moved from the center of the roundabout to its periphery at some point in favor of a sculpture of a surveyor:

And, as part of the move, the stone marker was rebuilt and truncated:

Continued on the next page…


  1. Not to be confused with Dawson’s Creek.
Featured Image By Andrew Neel

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