Tendril of Fairmont

On July 30, 2017 · 1 Comments

Last October I took a trip through various parts of northern West Virginia to count some counties. This included a stopover in Morgantown, home of the state’s flagship West Virginia University. I had to bypassed this area a number of times previously so I enjoyed being able to stop for once.


Fairmont
Fairmont, West Virginia
via Google Maps

Research at the time brought my attention to the nearby town of Fairmont. I noticed that Fairmont included a long tendril with a bulb on its southern end. It almost looked like an umbilical cord, literally just the width of a road for a couple of miles. What could possibly be so important that the town had to reach out like that and make sure this acreage fell within its borders? I should have been tipped-off by my numerous drives up and down I-79 over the years. I’d noticed an office park with huge satellite dishes by the side of the highway.


I-79 Technology Park


DSC_4119
Dedicating New, Innovative North Central Advanced Technology Center.
Photo by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Flickr (cc)

Sure enough, those dishes appeared within the confines of the I-79 Technology Park. This served as West Virginia’s answer to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. WVU, a major research university, sat just twenty minutes up the road and offered a solid anchor. The facility contained 750,000 square feet (70,000 square metres) of building space. These housed data centers and offices for 30 businesses, where 1,500 people worked (map). Many of those jobs were solid, high-paying scientific an engineering positions too. No wonder Fairmont claimed it.

The government also maintained a visible presence there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration operated its Independent Verification and Validation program on the campus. There it tested all of its mission critical software, a program created as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a supercomputer center there too.

These facilities should help dispel the myth that everyone in West Virginia works in a coal mine. Mystery solved, I could go ahead and end this article, right?


Captain James Booth



Captain James Booth Memorial

Well, maybe not so quickly. The tendril — Industrial Park Road — bisected a large grassy area just as it entered I-79 Technology Park. My curiosity got the best of me so I drilled down to check it out. There I noticed the Captain James Booth Memorial. I’d never heard of Captain James Booth and I didn’t know why he warranted a memorial. The memorial itself fell just outside of Fairmont’s borders although I considered it close enough for my purposes.

Obviously this high-tech corridor with its data centers and satellite dishes didn’t always exist in this manner. The area was on the wild edge of the American colonial frontier two hundred and fifty years ago. James Booth, an officer who served under George Washington before the United States declared independence, settled in the Monogahela Valley in 1772. He was the first person of European ancestry to live there permanently. Nobody knew much about his earlier life, though. Historians couldn’t even agree on his parents or his place of birth. However he earned a minor historical footnote for the Boothsville settlement he founded in the valley, a few miles south of current Fairmont.

Five years later, Native Americans believed to be from the Shawnee tribe ambushed Booth and his party. He took an arrow to the chest and died. His memorial marked the spot of his death as well as his grave.


Some More Parks


Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton 2.15.12
Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton. Image provided by General Mills on Flickr (cc)

I noticed a small, less dramatic tendril on the eastern side of Fairmont too. The connecting feature went by a more interesting name, Pinch Gut Hollow Road. This road tethered Morris Park into the town boundaries. It seemed like a nice gesture for them to include a park although nothing made it particularly special. The 112 acre property featured nature trails, picnic pavilions, courts for basketball and tennis, and such. Again, nothing remarkable.

However, Fairmont bisected another park just where the tendril to I-79 Technology Park began. It recognized someone I’d certainly heard of before; Mary Lou Retton (map). She was one of the most memorable names from the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Her gold medal began the United States’ dominance of women’s gymnastics. However, that didn’t really show why a park in Fairmont, West Virginia reflected her name. Well, that was her home town, so that explained it. She lived in Fairmont up until she started getting ready for the Olympics. The town should go ahead and annex the rest of the park while they’re at it.

That tendril to the I-79 Technology Park packed a lot into it. Mary Lou Retton anchored one end of it, Captain James Booth anchored the other, and of course the technology park itself formed a nice bulb for an exclamation point at the end.

It’s a Mystery to Me

On July 27, 2017 · 0 Comments

I felt like a good mystery. People named a number of geographic features Mystery something-or-another. Most of them seemed to be Mystery Lake for some mysterious reason. Generally I couldn’t find much because they were often small, existed in abundance and fell across many different English speaking countries. I discarded them. Instead I found a few spots where I could actually unlock the mystery.

Mystery Bay, New South Wales


Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay. Photo by Tim Riley on Flickr (cc)

Mystery Bay sat on the Tasman Sea, near the southeastern corner of New South Wales. It also offered a double bonus from my perspective. Two things bore the Mystery Bay name, an actual bay and an adjacent town. Not a lot of people lived there, maybe a couple of hundred, although the seaside setting seemed nice.

The mystery traced back to 1880. Five men left Bermagui in a small boat, led by a geologist employed by the Mines Department. The government wanted him to inspect new goldfields a few kilometres farther north along the coast. Everyone on the expedition completely disappeared. A search party discovered the boat although the men vanished. A memorial at Mystery Bay offered additional details (map).

The boat… had been carefully steered through about 70 metres of jagged rocks… On the seats were bait, a pocket knife, pipe and tobacco, crumbs and other food. There was a bag of potatoes and a bag of mixed personal articles like clothing, bedding, tools and sundries.

The searchers found additional items on the beach, although nothing unusual or out of place. The ultimate fate of the men continues to baffle those who still try to unravel the secret.


Mystery Island, Vanuatu


Mystery Island - Vanuatu
Mystery Island – Vanuatu. Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr (cc)

Cruise ships dock regularly at Vanuatu’s Mystery Island (map). People traveling to nearby Aneityum Island have to land at an airstrip on Mystery Island, too. The island is so well known that Vanuatu’s postal service issued commemorative stamps to highlight it in 2009. How could anyone consider it a mystery? It sat there as bright as day with abundant visitors next to a large populated island almost within touching distance. Sure, it didn’t cover much territory, just one kilometre by a few hundred metres. Nobody lived on it permanently either; Vanuatu wanted to keep the beaches pristine. Nonetheless, it got plenty of attention.

That Vanuatu Post page actually offered an explanation.

During World War II, this small, uninhabited island was used as a landing strip for the allied forces… The "mystery" is said to have derived from the fact that the air strip is impossible to see from the sea and therefore it took some time for the Japanese to determine where all the planes were coming from.

The island went by a different name officially, Inyeug.


Another Mystery Bay; This One in Washington State


Marrowstone
Marrowstone. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)

The U.S state of Washington also contained a Mystery Bay, just off of the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The bay formed a hooked inlet on the western side of Marrowstone Island. The state created Mystery Bay State Park there (map) along its shoreline. Historically a band of Native Americans called the Chemakum lived on the island. They disappeared suddenly in the early 19th Century to be replaced by the Klallum. Nobody really knew what happened to them although the mystery actually referred to something else.

Canada sat tantalizingly close, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A motorized boat could easily make a quick run to Victoria and back. From 1920 to 1933, the United States enforced alcohol prohibition. No such prohibition existed in Canada. See where this is heading? Smugglers would sneak alcohol from Canada into the US by boat and hide amongst all those tiny islands conveniently close to Seattle. Marrowstone Island seemed to be a particularly good choice, especially the little inlet on its western side. Bootleggers could practically vanish into the slot. Coast Guard crews trying to intercept smugglers referred to their regular disappearances as a mystery. This, supposedly, provided the bay its name.


Plenty of Mysteries in New Zealand, Too

New Zealand contained a number of Mystery places although none of them amounted to much in the way of a good story. I couldn’t find any useful information. However, I did learn a couple of new words. I’ve been on a streak lately so it seemed fine to continue it.

Mystery Tarn (map): I learned that Tarn meant pond. It derived from tjörn, the Old Norse word for pond. That made perfect sense once I saw it. When I visited Iceland in 1999 I remembered seeing the scenic pond in central Reykjavík, also called Tjörn.

Mystery Burn (map): Burn seemed a little more unusual although it referred to a stream. Some digging uncovered a Scottish Gaelic origin that meant something like "fresh water."

Neither of these New Zealand examples served as great revelations although I enjoyed the pursuit.

The Border Peaks

On July 23, 2017 · 1 Comments

It’s not unusual to see an international border extend across or along a mountain range. Even Mt. Everest sits on the border between Nepal and China. Sometimes a border will need to be adjusted when the underlying physical characteristics of a mountain changes too. That issue confronted Italy and Switzerland several years ago as glaciers began to melt. However, I’d never seen a mountain named in recognition of the border, much less a pair of mountains found on either side of the border. I noticed an occurrence in the United States first and then spotted its partner in Canada.

The Border Peaks


Border Peaks and Larrabee
Border Peaks and Larrabee. Photo by Sean Munson on Flickr (cc)

Less than a mile separated American Border Peak from Canadian Border Peak. They belonged to a single ridge on the Slesse-Tamihi creeks divide. Four peaks capped the rim, from the north to south, Canadian Border Peak, American Border Peak, Mt. Larrabee and the Pleiades. Geologically the ridge belonged to the Chilliwack group, composed primarily of ancient volcanic rock and sediment. Its brittleness created abundant debris, with plenty of scree and talus. I’d never used those words before. In fact, I had to look them up. Scree came from Old Norse and talus came from French although they meant about the same thing. Rock eroding from higher elevations rolled downhill, creating precarious slopes of broken stone. Those were scree and talus.

It dawned on me that someone had to climb up to that col between the two peaks to survey the border. That marked another new word for me: col. It meant something like a saddle or notch along the ridge, a place between peaks. I didn’t know if one of those metal border posts found its way to ridge, though. Perhaps I could check the data set and find out. I didn’t really have the motivation today. Maybe someday. Nonetheless, at the very least, a group of people with a bunch of surveying equipment had to get up there. I doubt the border patrol will ever have to worry much about illegal crossings either. This remote ridge didn’t get a lot of visitors except for an occasional mountaineer. That seemed pretty low risk.

I turned to the usual sources like SummitPost and Peakbagger to examine the American and Canadian peaks.


American Border Peak


American Border Peak
American Border Peak. Photo by Dru! on Flickr (cc)

American Border Peak (map) rose 7,998 feet (2,438 metres) on the United States side of the border. Nobody managed to climb it until 1930.

The summit crested just 0.4 miles away from Canada. That didn’t really matter, borders being artificial creations and all, although that placed it within the state of Washington. Specifically it fell within the confined of the Mount Baker Wilderness of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. This height made it the tallest of the four peaks along the ridge. All four broke the 7,000 foot barrier and naturally one had to be the tallest. I declined to make any geopolitical statements based on its altitude relative to the others.

Its isolation and loose terrain made American Border Peak a challenging climb for most people. It didn’t have a defined trails to the summit either. That left climbers on their own to find their way across unstable debris. Many waited until springtime when ice and snow locked shifting rocks into place. One doesn’t ordinarily think of snow providing more traction than stone although this particular peak offered an exception.


Canadian Border Peak


Canadian Border Peak
Canadian Border Peak. Photo by Tim Gage on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared on Canadian Border Peak (map), rising 2,291 metres (7,516 feet) in British Columbia. Noticed that I switched to metric for the elevation. We crossed the border into Canada so it seemed appropriate to use the proper unit of measurement that applied there. I liked to pander to the local population. Bivouac.com described it as "a sharp pointed horn of mediocre rock."

Canadians had it a bit easier on their climb to the summit. Logging roads brought climbers further up the hillside. Nonetheless, the underlying rock retained the same characteristics as the American side. They belonged to the same ridge, after all. Here again, a prime time to climb seemed to be springtime with snow on the ground. The first assent happened in 1932.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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