I thought about rivers, specifically those with legs that disappeared for awhile. It wasn’t about completely subterranean rivers, although those were certainly fascinating in their own right, it was about surface rivers with underground components. I knew they existed because I had a hazy recollection about reading something once. How rare were they, I wondered, and where did the occur?
Some quick research uncovered several and there were likely many more. I concluded that they might be unusual enough to raise an eyebrow although not something of exceeding scarcity either. They also seemed to share a common attribute, of being found in geographic areas associated with karst topography. Let’s turn it over to the International Association of Hydrogeologists for a simple explanation:
Karst is a type of landscape, and also an aquifer type. Karst areas consist of solid but chemically soluble rock such as limestone (most important) and dolomite, but also gypsum, anhydrite and several other soluble rocks… Karst landscapes show characteristic landforms caused by chemical dissolution, such as karren (crevices and channels, tens of cm wide), dolines and sinkholes (closed depressions, tens of m in diameter) and poljes (large depressions with flat floor, several km 2 or more). Streams and rivers sinking underground via swallow holes are also frequent. Karst aquifers are characterised by a network of conduits and caves formed by chemical dissolution, allowing for rapid and often turbulent water flow.
Postojna Cave Park by Michael R Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Karst was a German word originally, and referred to the Karst Plateau along the border of modern Italy and Slovenia. This limestone-rich area was known for its caves. That continued to the present, for example at Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave) in Slovenia that became a major tourist attraction based on its favorable geological placement (map) within the plateau.
Obviously an area rich with caves, a typical feature of karst topography, offered numerous opportunities for water to disappear from the surface and reappear elsewhere at a lower elevation. Karst areas were widespread and so were the prospects for partially subterranean rivers. I found a few illustrative examples in the United States.
Santa Fe River, Florida
O'Leno State Park: Sante Fe River Sink by Phil's 1stPix, on Flickr
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Florida’s Santa Fe River wasn’t huge, stretching only about 75 miles (121 kilometres), however what it lacked in length it made up for in wonder at what happened at O’Leno State Park:
Located along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River, the park features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps, and sandhills. As the river courses through the park, it disappears underground and reemerges over three miles away in the River Rise State Preserve.
I thought it was great that the reemergence had such a completely descriptive name, "River Rise." There, the Santa Fe River reappeared "as a circular pool before resuming its journey to the Suwannee River." The gap was also clearly visible on Google Map’s Satellite View (map).
Lost River, Indiana
Water Dripping by Cindy Cornett Seigle, on Flickr
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Indiana’s Lost River was another short river, flowing about 87 miles (140 km), while disappearing for as much as 25 miles (40 km) of that distance. The hydrology was different than the Santa Fe River, though. There wasn’t a single sinkhole or rise. Rather, the Lost River began normally enough until flowing onto a karst plateau where it disappeared into numerous distinct sinkholes and circulated through untold individual and interlocking channels before reemerging in at least a couple of different places. Furthermore, the sinkholes couldn’t drain the entire flow during wetter times of the year and the river would return to the surface in places. It followed a Swiss Cheese drainage pattern. This feature of the Hoosier National Forest was rather unusual,
The system can be thought of as a three-dimensional river delta. Depending upon how much water is moving through the system, you could have water in all of the levels. There is no other site in Indiana that matches the Lost River system in terms of the dynamic subterranean hydrology (water movement)… The Lost River is one of the largest sinking streams in the country. The watershed is over 200 square miles.
The Lost River reemerged permanently and primarily at a place known as the True Rise. Previously it was thought to be the Rise at Orangeville (map), pictured above, which was also supposed to be more picturesque. Orangeville was "the clearest illustration of subterranean stream resurgence in the famed Lost River karst area."
I also discovered additional occurrences such as the Mojave River in California and the Little Ocqueoc River in Michigan.
A Most Unexpected Example
Donauversickerung by Reisen aus Leidenschaft, on Flickr
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Remarkably, I discovered that the mighty Danube River, the second longest in Europe flowing 1,785 miles (2,872 km) included an underground segment, albeit early in its watercourse while still rather diminutive. The Danube Sinkhole, or Donauversickerung, once again on a karst plateau allowed the Danube to disappear for several miles within Germany before resurfacing at the Aachtopf Spring (map). It was intermittent phenomenon. Much of the time the Danube had sufficient volume to overcome the drainage and continued flowing across the surface in a defined channel as well.
There was a time in the early days of Twelve Mile Circle when I used to devote entire articles to differences in distances that didn’t seem plausible, although of course the actual measurements didn’t lie. For example, sticking with the Twelve theme, the twelfth article I ever posted on 12MC all the way back in November 2007 dealt with a whole list of state capitals located closer to southwestern Virginia than to its own capital in Richmond. I loved those little counterintuitive notions although I haven’t posted any in a long time probably because they’re kind-of mindless.
I recalled some of my Riverboat Adventures the other day while speaking with some friends and remarked how crazy-long it took to drive across the entire length of Tennessee. We drove through only two states on the way back, Tennessee and Virginia, and it took something like thirteen hours. That prompted me to hit the maps and resurrect the long-neglected genre.
Driving from Memphis
Memphis. My own photo.
The Tennessee leg of our return followed Interstate highways from Memphis to Bristol, specifically I-40 and I-81. I used one of my favorite mapping tools to create a circle around Memphis that extended to Bristol. That’s where the fun began. Memphis was closer to Oklahoma City, Dallas, New Orleans or Kansas City than it was to Bristol. It was even closer to Davenport, Iowa!
Two could play at that game so I created a similar circle around Bristol extending to Memphis. Bristol was closer to Detroit and Jacksonville than it was to Memphis, and about the same distance to Chicago or Philadelphia.
Back in Virginia
Casbah, Algiers by Nick Brooks, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I then drew some latitudes, returning my focus to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I noticed that there were parts of Africa farther north than parts of Virginia. I let that rattle around in by brain for awhile. Sure the overlap wasn’t much although definitely factual. Algiers and Tunis on the African continent were farther north than Danville and Suffolk in Virginia.
Keep Portland Weird by Christopher Porter, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Again with the latitudes, I compared Portland, Oregon with Portland, Maine. It reminded me of a quote in a guest post that Marc Alifanz contributed to 12MC in March 2011, Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon:
Portland was originally founded by Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Each wanted to name the new town after their place of origin. They flipped a coin, and Portland won. It’s probably a good thing it worked out that way, because two Bostons of very large size would have created more confusion than big Portland, OR and littler Portland, ME do now.
That was an interesting aside, although referring back to the latitudes, Portland in Oregon is actually farther north than Portland in Maine. That seemed odd because Maine bordered Canada and Oregon had an entire state (Washington) between it and Canada. Yet, that’s what the line revealed.
And speaking of Portland, Maine, I drew another circle and examined the results. Portland Maine was closer to Caracas, Venezuela than to Portland, Oregon.
A Canadian Example
old cayenne 6 by Nicholas Laughlin, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
All of the results seemed astonishing to me although I recognized that a lot of this had to do with my very specific geographic perspective. I doubt the measurements and observations had anywhere near the same impact for people living elsewhere. So I tried an example in Canada. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador was closer to: Bratislava Slovakia; Murmansk, Russia; Cayenne, French Guiana; or anywhere in Western Sahara as it turned out than it was to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Similar observations could be made about the distance between Vladivostok and Moscow, Russia, I supposed. Ditto for Sydney and Perth, Australia. Have fun and let me know the most counterintuitive observation you discover.
I found a genuine Canadian landmark in the form of Landmark, Manitoba, a village of about a thousand people in the Rural Municipality of Taché, southeast of Winnipeg. Sure there were other Landmarks in Canada including mountains by that name in British Columbia and Yukon plus a point in Newfoundland and Labrador, although the Landmark in Manitoba was the only inhabited one.
The Landmark Chamber of Commerce mentioned some attractive entertainment options recently including "’Redneck Nite’ at Keating Mechanical & Landmark Christian Fellowship Church" featuring both a Lawnmower Race and a Roadkill Supper. That wasn’t intended to be sarcastic or mocking. I grew up in redneck territory and I appreciate that kind of corny stuff. As we used to say back home, "there ain’t no fun like redneck fun." I’ve even featured lawnmower racing on the pages of 12MC before. The roadkill supper, well, maybe I’d take a pass on that.
Landmark took special pride in its fortuante geographic prominence, astride the "Longitudinal Centre of Canada."
SOURCE: Google Street View, Longitudinal Centre of Canada near Winnipeg, Manitoba; April 2012
If one started with the extreme eastern and western edges of Canada and used them to calculated the national midpoint, the resulting line would run along a longitude of 96° 48′ 35″ west. That’s what the experts said. I didn’t fact-check it. I figured if people bothered to place official signs along the Trans-Canada Highway attesting to this unique situation, that it was either correct or I didn’t want to dispel their hard work and effort. That would be rude.
Some might have speculated that English-speaking Canadians recognized a slightly different longitudinal centre of the nation than their French-speaking brethren because the government posted two separate signs. That might not be far-fetched although I disproved it. Based on my eyeball estimate, the line ran between the two signs on both sides of the highway. The English version came into view first for drivers traveling in either direction so it all evened out. French Canadiens might still have a valid complaint, as I think about it, because the English signs came first. I’m sure the opposite would have occurred had the longitude crossed through Québec instead.
The Longitudinal Centre described the same basic precept as the better-known 100th Meridian, a metaphor for the emptiness and beauty of the Canadian prairie. Musicians found inspiration in these geographic designations. I mentioned one instance a couple of years ago in Tragically Hundred. Now I’ve learned that John K. Samson of The Weakerthans focused on the Longitudinal Centre in his 2012 debut album Provincials, which "delves deep along roads into the Canadian landscape of Manitoba." He even mentioned the signs:
How the wind strums on those signs that say
The Atlantic and Pacific are the very same far away.
Canadian musicians had a better appreciation of specific longitudinal designations than their counterparts south of the border, apparently.
Any 12MC readers in Winnipeg, or anyone crossing the Great Plains on the Trans-Canada Highway for that matter, should consider a road trip extending from the Longitudinal Centre to the 100th Meridian. The journey should take about three hours between the two points, never leaving Manitoba. That could be a nice day trip. Don’t forget to send photos.
Longitudinal Centre at Landmark, MB
Now, if only the Longitudinal Centre actually ran through Landmark. That was a cheap shot. The line fell extremely close, maybe even clipping the very last house in town (map). I’m sure it won’t be an issue much longer when the town continues to grows as a bedroom community for Winnipeg.
Ironically, the name Landmark had nothing to do with the Longitudinal Centre and inexplicably it had nothing to do with anything apparently. Landmark went by various names into the early 20th Century including Prairie Rose, Linden and Lorette, in addition to Landmark. Sources differed. Landmark was either a name assigned arbitrarily by the government to a local post office or it was picked randomly by one of the early settlers. Either way the name stuck and it certainly seemed appropriate given Landmark’s fortunate geographic placement.