Riverboat Adventure, Part 1 (The River)

On April 20, 2014 · 0 Comments

12MC is back! Thank you for bearing with me while a took a brief respite from posting new articles. There were logistical reasons. Each race in the five state series took much of the morning, then we’d have to drive to the next location (stopping at geo-oddity sites along the way), arrive late each afternoon, and then start preparing for the next race the following morning. The distances were much farther than my Dust Bowl adventure, and we covered 2,700 miles (4,350 kilometres) in 9 days. Those unfamiliar with the basic outline can reacquaint themselves with our ambitious travel itinerary in The Pitch.

This was the longest break I’ve taken from 12MC in the six-plus years that I’ve been writing it. It felt weird. I had one article in the bag ready to post. It had a rushed and hurried tone without the quality normally befitting this site. So I gave myself permission to take a break. Now I’m able to look at the totality of my Riverboat adventure and organize subjects into themes rather than suffer the disjointed limitations of chronology.

I received several audience sightseeing suggestions both beforehand and along the way. Some of those made it into the narrative and will appear in articles over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy!


The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers Confluence


Fort Defiance

The Riverboat adventure focused on the Lower Mississippi River, defined as beginning at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and extending to the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t make it all the way to the Gulf although we started at the confluence and made it as far south as northern Louisiana.

We experienced only a single "disappointment" during the entire trip, and I’m almost embarrassed to call it a disappointment because it was so completely trivial. We planned a picnic lunch at Ft. Defiance Park located directly at the confluence. It would have been a lovely vantage point both for its scenery and its geographic significance. It would have offered Illinois’ southernmost point as well as its lowest point of elevation in addition to the awesomeness of the confluence itself. The park was closed because of recent flooding that happens frequently during springtime. Snowmelt flows down from the northern extremes of the Mississippi watershed and overruns the banks in floodplain areas. It was a mess.



Ft. Defiance Park at the Mississippi/Ohio River Confluence

Instead, under the guise of lemons vs. lemonade, we recorded one of the shortest state clips traversed by a 2-digit US Highway. Traveling this route, we crossed from Kentucky into Illinois over the Ohio River, drove through Illinois for a single mile (map) stopping briefly for a few photos — notice the water — and then crossed from Illinois into Missouri. Yes, it would have been nice to have been able to stop there for lunch. It didn’t happen. We salvaged our misfortune by having a perfectly fine picnic at an equally scenic spot a little farther downriver while waiting for the Dorena-Hickman ferry.


Kentucky Bluffs


Columbus-Belmont State Park

Much of Kentucky featured irregular borders (map) defined by rivers or mountain ridges. The Ohio River determined much of its northern and western border. A small portion, however, at the far western extreme of the commonwealth and immediately south of the confluence straddled the Mississippi River. That was our target.

High bluffs protected some of this area so that residents here remained dry while their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri flooded. We stopped at Columbus-Belmont State Park for one of the races. That was the site of a Confederate fortification during the US Civil War, perched atop the bluff in an attempt to control river access and commercial traffic during the conflict.


Memphis, Tennessee


Mud Island

Farther downstream, Memphis was undoubtedly the largest city we encountered during our journey. We blew through it on our first pass using its highways as a means cross the river and push towards our next destination in rural Arkansas. We would see Memphis again on the return path and stay for a couple of days, and in a bit of foreshadowing, yes we visited Graceland.

Barges heading up- and downstream were a frequent sighting during our journey. Here, a barge passed below the Hernando DeSoto Bridge that carried traffic on Interstate 40 between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas.


Greenville Bridge


Greenville Bridge

I’ve driven across the Mississippi River numerous times over the years. However I’ve never driven along the river this far before, not even during my Great River Road trip in Wisconsin. I gained a new appreciation for just how infrequently one can cross the river as we progressed southward down its path, jogging back-and-forth across its banks. One doesn’t comprehend that same sense of rarity on the Interstate highway system where the Mississippi River hardly seemed an obstacle at all.

We used the Greenville Bridge outside of Greenville, Mississippi a couple of times during the drive. We had one race on the immediate western side in Lake Village, Arkansas, and another race just south of Greenville, Mississippi the next day. That provided a rare respite, an uncharacteristic day that involved little driving and some needed downtime.


Lake Chicot, Arkansas


Riverboat Marathon Series - Arkansas

The Arkansas race took place at a beautiful spot along Lake Chicot, the lake for which Lake Village gained its name. Chicot was a classic oxbow lake.



The Oxbow Crescent of Lake Chicot, Arkansas, USA

Wikipedia described it as "the largest oxbow lake in North America and the largest natural lake in Arkansas, formed 600 years ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River." Astute 12MC readers know how much I love oxbows. Largest oxbow in North America! Largest natural lake in Arkansas! Sold. I experienced a genuine geo-oddity simply by watching marathoners loop through the park for a few hours while I went on a photo safari.

Then it started raining like crazy, with thunder and lightning and torrential downpours and the whole deal. This was our day without driving and we knew we were fortunate. I wasn’t disappointed by a rainy day. We were lucky even though the weather sucked, using it as an excuse to hole-up in a warm hotel room for an afternoon to relax.


Mud Island


Mud Island

At this point a special shout-out goes to reader "Bill C." for suggesting the Riverwalk at Mud Island. As the park site explained, "The Riverwalk is an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois 954 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico." I didn’t know about this place in advance and I would have missed it without Bill C.’s suggestion. It was geo-geek paradise, so thanks Bill C.

The Riverwalk represented the entire Lower Mississippi in miniature, everything we’d just spent a full week driving, at a scale where every footstep representing about a mile. I was giddy as I hopped back and forth across the model, pointing out each spot we’d visited during our journey while my wife rolled her eyes and pretended to be amused. This photo captured the Kentucky Bend (aka "Bubbleland") portion, which gave an indication of the model’s colossal scale.

The entire Riverwalk stretched about a half-mile with each concrete layer representing a five-foot elevation change. Notice the color changes, too. The light-tan coloration represented the floodplain. Thus, much of Kentucky Bend would be subject to periodic flooding while the darker-colored area remained dry. Not surprisingly, I noticed that was where the farmers concentrated their homes when we’d visited the Bend earlier in the week.

Signage at the park indicated that the model held about 1.2 million gallons (4.5 million litres) of water at any given time. It was interactive too. Lots of children splashed around in the river and that was perfectly fine. The gift shop even sold T-shirts to that effect.

Interstate Highway Time Zone Crossings

On April 6, 2014 · 7 Comments

I’ve been noticing search engine queries lately seeking additional information about points along US Interstate Highways where travelers cross from one time zone into another. I’m going to do that myself soon on my upcoming trip and I couldn’t find a comprehensive resource either. Maybe there’s one out there hidden away in a lonely corner of the Intertubes. Maybe not. I didn’t see it so I decided to create my own. Hopefully others will find this compact reference useful too.

Yes, I understand that mobile phones and other networked devices grab time changes automatically without human intervention from nearby cell towers as one drives merrily down the highway. However some of us like to by hyper-prepared before embarking on a journey. I even recorded the lat/long coordinates so travelers (OK, maybe just me…) could drop the waypoints into their GPS receivers and know exactly where the time change would happen well in advance.



View Interstate Highway Time Zone Changes in a larger map

Readers will want to open this map in another tab or window. It’s not very useful in its present scaled down version that is included for illustrative purposes. Others may prefer the even more detailed Google spreadsheet with links that I prepared. The spreadsheet layout mimicked the geographic footprint of the United States in rough terms, for example I positioned Idaho at the top-left (northwest) and Florida at the bottom-right (southeast). That was also the reason why Interstate numbers on the spreadsheet and the lists below were ordered from large to small (I-94 to I-8). I didn’t reverse the order just to be obstinate. Even-numbered Interstates run roughly west to east across the nation with the 2-digit numbering increasing from south to north. There were also a handful of odd-numbered highways that crossed time zone boundaries too and muddied the construct a bit. Again, the rules applied in general terms only.

This exercise was a lot more tedious than I imagined. Believe me, I’d use much more colorful language if this wasn’t a family-friendly website. I’d assumed quite foolishly that the preponderance of time changes would happen at state borders, and simplify my task. Some do, although many more switch at random county borders which were much more difficult to pinpoint on a map. That’s why I think people have trouble tracking time zones as they drive. Now they have a tool — this page.

Here’s what I found. I’m sure errors or omissions crept into this because it was such a pain to compile. Please let me know and I’ll make corrections.

Change Between Pacific Time and Mountain Time

  • Interstate 90: Idaho <--> Montana
  • Interstate 84: Baker Co., OR <--> Malheur Co., OR
  • Interstate 80: Unincorporated Elko Co., NV <--> West Wendover, Elko Co., NV(1)
  • Interstate 40: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Eastern Arizona <--> SE corner of Navajo Reservation in AZ (Daylight Saving Time)(2)(3)
  • Interstate 15: Nevada <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Arizona <--> Utah (Daylight Saving Time)(2)
  • Interstate 10: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Arizona <--> New Mexico (Daylight Saving Time)(2)
  • Interstate 08: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); no change during DST(2)(4)

Change Between Mountain Time and Central Time

  • Interstate 94: Stark Co., ND <--> Morton Co., ND
  • Interstate 90: Jackson Co., SD <--> Jones Co., SD
  • Interstate 80: Keith Co., NE <--> Lincoln Co., NE
  • Interstate 70: Sherman Co., KS <--> Thomas Co., KS(5)
  • Interstate 40: New Mexico <--> Texas
  • Interstate 10: Hudspeth Co., TX <--> Culberson Co., TX

Change Between Central Time and Eastern Time

  • Interstate 94: Indiana <--> Michigan
  • Interstate 90: LaPorte Co., IN <--> St. Joseph Co., IN(6)
  • Interstate 85: Alabama <--> Georgia(7)
  • Interstate 80: LaPorte Co., IN <--> St. Joseph Co., IN(6)
  • Interstate 74: Illinois <--> Indiana
  • Interstate 70: Illinois <--> Indiana
  • Interstate 65: Jasper Co., IN <--> White Co., IN /AND/ Hart Co., KY <--> Larue Co., KY(8)
  • Interstate 64: Perry Co., IN <--> Crawford Co., IN
  • Interstate 59: Alabama <--> Georgia
  • Interstate 40: Cumberland Co., TN <--> Roane Co., TN
  • Interstate 24: Marion Co., TN <--> Hamilton Co., TN
  • Interstate 20: Alabama <--> Georgia
  • Interstate 10: Jackson Co., FL <--> Gadsden Co., FL

Bonus Roads(9)

  • Western Kentucky Parkway: Grayson Co., KY <--> Hardin Co., KY(10)
  • Cumberland Parkway: Russel Co., KY <--> Pulaski Co., KY(11)

Footnotes

(1) West Wendover is the only part of Nevada that officially observes Mountain Time, primarily so gamblers from Salt Lake City — the nearest large town — won’t have to deal with a time change and can focus on losing their money without distraction. This was described in (West) Wendover: What Time? What State?
(2) Arizona does not recognize Daylight Saving Time, meaning that for practical purposes the spot where the time zone change takes place shifts in the Spring and the Fall. This can sometimes lead to embarrassing situations.
(3) The exception to the "Arizona doesn’t recognize DST rule" is the portion of the sprawling Navajo Nation that crosses into Arizona. The Navajo did this to assert their sovereignty as well as to keep their tri-state Nation on the same time all year.
(4) Interstate 8 extends from San Diego, California to south-central Arizona; fairly short by interstate standards. Therefore it does not experience a time change when the two states observe the same time (i.e, when the Pacific Time Zone switches to DST and Arizona remains on Mountain Standard Time)
(5) I crossed this one during my Dust Bowl trip. See Kansas Mountain Time.
(6) You’re not seeing things. Interstates 80 and 90 are repeated with the same information here. That’s because they’re co-signed at this spot.
(7) Interstate 85 is the best example of an odd-numbered Interstate messing up my chart. The time change happens at a very southern segment of this very eastern highway.
(8) Interstate 65 starts in Central Time in an Indiana suburb of Chicago, switches to Eastern Time as it heads south, then switches back into Central Time in Kentucky
(9) I included Kentucky parkways because they’re significant roads albeit they’re not Interstate highways (not even Secret Interstates). I probably could have added other roads too.
(10) I will be crossing here on an upcoming trip. This was the spot that inspired me to go ahead and compile the list.
(11) I crossed here in the summer of 2013 during my Kentucky Adventures.

Town of County Line

On March 16, 2014 · 1 Comments

I’m always on the lookout for odd town names and that’s what drew my eye to a dot, the aptly named County Line, Alabama.



County Line, Alabama, USA

I wish I could make a better map, however Google seems to be stripping features away from "old" Maps — and the newer version is even worse — so I can’t do simple things like customize the size and placement of embedded images anymore. The actual county line ran diagonally through the town of County Line, from northwest to southeast, right along the hypotenuse of that strange little doughnut triangle surrounded by the town. Jefferson County fell to the left (including the triangle) and Blount to the right. Incidentally, Mob Rule’s Google Maps with County Lines was extremely helpful for this exercise and keeps getting better and better. Go ahead and type County Line, AL into the search box there and the situation will become obvious.

Naturally, that began a 12MC quest for additional places named County Line. The general Intertubes wouldn’t be much help this time. There must have been a billion barbeque joints named County Line BBQ or something similar. I couldn’t find a plausible reason either. Maybe the wording reflected a quaint faux-nostalgia comfort for residents of the lower latitudes of the United States, something akin to emotional combinations like Biscuits and Gravy or Cracker Barrel.

Oh look, there’s one now:



County Line BBQ, Austin TX 05 by Larry Miller on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

This led to my reliable standby, the Geographic Names Information System, which wasn’t much help either when it generated 510 County Line results. I learned that lots of churches and cemeteries considered County Line to be a fine name. One could dine on County Line Barbeque during the week, attend County Line Church on Sunday, and rest in peace at County Line Cemetery after continuous feeding on County Line BBQ caused clogged arteries and a stroke, I guess.

That’s deliberately facetious. GNIS of course included an option for listing only Populated Places. That dropped the list to 26 sites including historical locations. I discarded those and was left with a manageable handful.


After all that, I discovered… the Alabama instance I found at the very beginning was probably the best. There were others, and I’ll get to those in a moment, although County Line in Alabama was the only incorporated town and it had at least 250 residents. The rest were rural crossroads, if that.



County Line Town Hall by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I never said it was a large town, just an incorporated one. Notice the size of the town hall and it became self-evident. The Fire Marshall will only allow 40 people in there at a time, strictly enforced, as happened during the landfill protests of 2011. That was the biggest thing to ever happen in County Line, Alabama. Combine small town politics, family friction, and large cities running out of garbage dumps, and it had the makings of an ugly fight.

From March through June that year, news sources recorded unsavory details in articles such as "Residents along Jefferson County-Blount County line protest proposed landfill," then "County Line Council approves landfill," leading to "Angry residents seek way to block proposed County Line, Alabama landfill," and finally "County Line, Alabama, landfill hearing on for Monday" as the story petered out.

It was a family affair, quite literally. John David Calvert owned a 219-acre parcel that he hoped to convert into a landfill, aligning with a group of speculators called Thornhill Marion Properties. The parcel had been annexed by County Line only the previous year, which according to those opposed to the landfill, was a deliberate attempt to eliminate opposition. That made it a town issue instead of a county issue so neighbors living next to the proposed landfill in immediately-adjacent unincorporated areas couldn’t prevent it. Pretty slick.

Did I mention that John David Calvert’s cousin James Larry Calvert was mayor of County Line or that "all but one member of the town council [was] connected to the Calvert family, and three of the five council members [were] appointed by Mayor Larry Calvert, since three elected members resigned"? Before getting too outraged, understand that the primary landfill opponent was Sue Calvert, another cousin. Apparently there were numerous interrelated Calverts in and around County Line, turning this into a family spat as much as a local political ploy.

The issue became moot later that summer when Alabama, finally tired of being a dumping ground for other States’ trash, put a statewide landfill moratorium in place. However the No County Line Dump Blog remained live, awaiting a day when it might be pressed into service once again.


What about the other County Line Settlements?



County Line, Oklahoma, USA

Two other County Lines befitted minor footnotes, one in Oklahoma (map), actually named Countyline (one word) and one in Wisconsin (map). They both seemed inconsequential unincorporated areas with maybe a few buildings, and in the Oklahoma instance, mostly abandoned.

The others were even smaller.

  • ARKANSAS, Fulton Co. / Baxter Co. (map): It was a little east of the county line (quarter mile) and intersected by State Line Road, which paradoxically did not run to the state line that was a couple of miles farther north.
  • GEORGIA, Meriwether Co. (map): Probably a half-mile north of the Harris Co. line.
  • NEW YORK: Niagara Co. / Orleans Co. (map): Definitely on the county line which ran north-south; not much more than a few houses.
  • OHIO: Preble Co. / Montgomery Co. (map): Also on the county line which ran north-south; and similarly not much to it.
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Montgomery Co. / Bucks Co. (map): A solid example in the suburbs with the county line running northwest-southeast; not as much a distinct place as an artificial border extending through sprawl.
  • TEXAS: Rains Co. (map): Maybe about a quarter mile from the northern border of Rains Co., although maybe only one building remains today.

May they all grow significant enough to spark their own landfill fights.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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