The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.
Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)
I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,
Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.
Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.
Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.
Last Place in Japan Banning Women
大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)
A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.
"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"
All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.
Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)
The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,
Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.
I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.
Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge
big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)
The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).
Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.
Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
Of course I had to visit Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. The Twelve Mile Circle audience loved geo-oddities and I needed to deliver. I’d been to New England several times and I’ve plumbed its depths for nuggets repeatedly. What was left? Well, this lake with a really long name for one. That wasn’t the only remarkable feature in this corner where three states connected, this easily accessible area with an overabundance of lovely features all neatly aligned and waiting for my appearance. It became a day for geo-oddites.
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg offered 45 characters of awesomeness too good to pass up, or perhaps more accurately 45-ish characters as there were several different spelling variations. I’ve often seen this touted as the longest place name in the United States and I had to experience it in person. We trudged down to Massachusetts to check it out (map). The lake itself wasn’t all that remarkable; it was certainly a pretty gem sparkling in the early afternoon sun although it competed with many other wonderful lakes sprinkled about the countryside. Its real distinguishing feature was its name.
Many people have written about the unusual name and their accounts littered the Intertubes, including some appearing in respectable publications like the New York Times. Fact needed to be separated from fiction. The cold, hard truth was that Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg contained an element of fiction. Numerous sources traced its long-form name back to newspaperman Laurence J. Daly who edited the local periodical, The Webster Times. He’d concocted a fanciful tale on a slow news day in the early 20th Century about an agreement between Native American tribes, claiming the full translation meant "you fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fish in the middle." It sounded great but it wasn’t accurate.
It took a while but, gradually, the You-I-Nobody fantasy built a head of steam, aired on national radio broadcasts, rewritten in newspapers everywhere, and buoyed by a "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" illustration. People with Webster-area roots began mailing clips about Mr. Daly’s tale to the editor of the Webster Times, Laurence J. Daly, he recalled in my presence more than once.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the body of water officially as Chaubunagungamaug in the Geographic Names Information System. That was an impressive string of 17 characters although far short of 45. It also included some additional history.
In 1642, Woodward and Saffery, the first surveyors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called it "The Great Pond." In 1645, Connecticut Governor John Winthrop called it "The Lakes of Quabage." In a 1707 survey, John Chandler recorded the name as “Chaubunnagungamoug.”
Various translations of the shorter string, Chaubunnagungamoug, referenced the Algonquian language spoken by local Nipmuc Indians, and generated meanings such as Place of the Boundaries or Lake Divided by Islands. GNIS also recognized Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg and similar spellings as legitimate variants. Did I actually visit the place with the longest name in the United States? Well, maybe. I didn’t have to go out of my way to experience it so it wasn’t like it involved any special effort.
I was much more interested in some unfinished business, the only object skipped in 2012 during an epic Craziest Geo-Oddity Adventure Ever. I hit every conceivable geographic feature of importance in Connecticut on a single day as I circled the state with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest (now simply CTMQ). I truly believed that we were the first people ever to undertake that quest and it may never be surpassed. The Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island tripoint had been on our original itinerary (map) and we failed to capture it. We had to abandon our final objective with daylight running short and exhaustion kicking-in. I seemed to recall being quietly content with that decision at the time. We’d seen enough.
Steve reminded me of our omission when I put out a call for my 2016 travel plans. The CTMARI Tripoint absolutely had to make the cut. The goal was never about Lake Chargogga-whatever, it just happened to fall along a convenient line as I charted our course towards Connecticut’s Quiet Corner where I could reach the tripoint. I relied upon Steve’s CTMARI page for directions and you should too. Not only did it include the clearest, easiest path to the tripoint, it also included an account of the Great East Thompson Train Wreck of 1891, "The only time in US railroading history that FOUR trains crashed into each other!" Go over there and read it. I’ll wait.
We followed Steve’s recommendations, had a relaxing walk through the woods, and arrived at the tripoint just as expected. The cellular network extended nicely to this corner despite its perceived remoteness and I fired-off a self-congratulatory tweet with photo to the world. I could now finally call the journey to all Connecticut Extremes complete.
I’m certainly no peak bagger although I’ve managed to summit a few state highpoints over the years, usually those requiring minimal effort because I’m lazy and unmotivated. It’s always an added bonus if I can drive all the way to the top. I think my total stood at 6 state highpoints prior to this trip: Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Tennessee. Plus the District of Columbia. Then I added Rhode Island.
Jerimoth Hill would never be described as a challenging summit requiring great technical expertise. Literally, it was merely one crest amongst many rolling hills at the far northwestern corner of Rhode Island (map). It happened to extend a few feet higher than others nearby when someone drew artificial lines a few centuries ago to create a colony that later became a state. Still, at 811 feet (247 metres), Rhode Island had a higher elevation than Mississippi, Louisiana, Delaware and Florida. It used to be a running joke in the highpointer community that fewer people had reached the summit of lowly Jerimoth Hill than the peak of Mt. Everest. A crotchety landowner blocked access to the summit at the the point of a gun for decades, eventually allowing people to visit on special days once or twice a year. He passed away several years ago and it became the property of the state of Rhode Island after a series of real estate transactions. Now anyone can park by the side of Old Hartford Pike and walk a gentle trail through fragrant pine forest a few hundred yards to the marker.
In reality it’s completely unremarkable and practically indistinguishable from any other knoll nearby. However, I gave the Rhode Island highpointers all due credit for doing their best to make their summit special. I got the sense that their treatment was more than a little tongue-in-cheek, with its stone cairns, summit register box and Himalayan prayer flags like one would expect on much more exalted mountaintops. Still, Jerimoth Hill counted as a state highpoint just as much as Denali and I doubt I’ll ever travel to Alaska and climb to 20,310 feet (6,190 m). I took my short stroll through the woods to a small boulder and I deemed it a success.
Easy Road Trip
Best of all, these three geo-oddities were aligned neatly and in close proximity. Anyone should be able to replicate my feat. I imagined it might be a nice day-trip for 12MC readers from Boston or Hartford.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
Notions of endless horizons came to mind as I prepared for an Appalachian Loop. We would cross mountaintops, dip into hollows and follow valley flatlands along tumbling rivers amid early signs of spring. This journey promised stunning scenery in a little-visited and often under-appreciated rural preserve. People who ventured into Appalachia as tourists usually came in summer. Nobody would be silly enough to come in March — nobody — unless they wanted a reasonable chance of miserable weather, or they had an ulterior motive like I did. Some of the places surely must see crowds later in the year. Not in March. That was just the way I liked it; 12MC zigs when everyone else zags.
West Virginia State Capitol
I’ve been to Charleston three times in as many years. The city offered an odd hybrid of small town feel with urban amenities, and fewer than a quarter-million residents in its larger metropolitan area. Yet, it was West Virginia’s capital and largest city. I mentioned our Charleston plans to acquaintances and they nodded heads approvingly. South Carolina should be so nice at that time of year, they said. Then I noted wryly that it was the other Charleston, the one in Appalachia, and waited for their confused expressions. I rather enjoyed that.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon at what should have been the height of Rush Hour and barely slowed down, a nice change from terrible traffic back home. Charleston sat along both sides of the Kanawha River, with tough rocky terrain hemming it in. Yet beside the river where the city sat, there was hardly a hill to be found (terrain). It was flat. This fascinated me during every one of my visits, driving hours through mountains and arriving at a city as flat as a tabletop.
The dome of the state capitol building (map) rose over the riverbank, this photo taken from the far side of the Kanawha River at dawn from the campus of the University of Charleston. We got an opportunity to tour the capitol complex and the state museum later in the day. I’d recommend the museum, by the way. It was extremely well done.
Scenic views filled our dashboard multiple times along the route, simply driving around. However I knew nothing about the overlook atop Bob Amos Park in Pikeville, Kentucky until 12MC reader "Andy" suggested it. The precipice perched high above what was officially called the Pikeville Cut-Through (map). Pikeville, like Charleston, hugged the relatively level lands along a river. The town followed a U-shaped bend on the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. The river used to flood into Pikeville’s streets and homes occasionally because there wasn’t anywhere else for the water to go when it rose. That was simply a hazard of living within a narrow Appalachian valley. People in town simply endured it for the first hundred and fifty years.
Pikeville Still has it’s U-Shape while US Highway 23 Runs Straight
The mayor came up with an audacious plan. Why not simply cut through a mountain and remove the U-shaped bend, and straighten out the river? It sounded crazy although the Army Corps of Engineers picked it up in 1973 and finally finished it 1987. A marker at the site described an effort to remove 18 million cubic yards of earth, "the largest engineering feat in the US and second in the world only to the Panama Canal." Now a highway, a railroad and a river passed through the cut instead of downtown Pikeville. Meanwhile the town earned some nice parkland where the river once flowed, plus an artificial oxbow lake, and a River Drive (terrain) no longer crossing a river.
The overlook gave excellent views of Pikeview and the Cut-Through.
Them’s the Breaks
Reader Andy also suggested Breaks Interstate Park. The interstate portion of its name came from its location, crossing the border of Virginia and Kentucky. The two states offered a single highland experience, cooperatively. Breaks seemed a bit more confounding, providing a name both to a park and to a town just outside of its limits. Once again an on-site marker offered an explanation: "The name ‘Breaks’ was derived from a break in Pine Mt. created by the Russel Fork of the Big Sandy River as it carved a 1000 ft. deep gorge on its way to join the Ohio River." That actually made sense.
The park offered several distinct scenic vistas. The one in this photo was called Stateline Overlook (map). I’d actually like to return to Breaks Interstate Park someday when the weather is nicer. We barely scratched the surface of what would be available at warmer times of the year.
The View that Got Away
It rained as we approached Bluefield, a town bisected by the border of Virginia and West Virginia. It rained the only other time I visited Bluefield so I guessed the town had it in for me. Still, I’d heard good things about its East River Mountain Overlook and I felt optimistic as we drew closer. Then I noticed low clouds brushing against nearby mountains. We still drove to the top — one never knows when clouds might cooperate or not — and discovered a great white wall of icy fog. I’m sure it would have been a lovely experience. Not this time.
That was far from the only opportunity for impressive views so we pushed father along Virginia’s Appalachian spine the next morning. That’s when we entered the Alleghany Highlands north of Covington and I took the photograph above (map). It was a worthy consolation prize.
Falling Spring Falls
A little farther down the path, still within the Alleghany Highlands, crashed Falling Spring Falls (map). It certainly deserved an award for convenience, within easy eyesight of US Route 220 and adjacent to convenient parking. That was my kind of waterfall, a single 80 foot (25 metre) drop with no physical effort required. Even so I overcame my inherent laziness and scrambled down a path to get a photo from the bottom. I wasn’t quite sure if that was allowable. It felt ambiguous. A fence separated the parking area from the falls although visitors could circumvent the barrier easily enough with a short walk, and no signs prohibited it. The path seemed well-trodden. I figured it was an "at your own risk" activity so I went for it. No harm no foul, I supposed.
On the final day we pushed into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on the way home, a rolling plain sandwiched between Appalachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge. It featured one of my favorite topographies: karst. Wherever one finds karst one also finds limestone, and water bubbling through limestone dissolving it. That meant caves. I’ve toured caverns in many different places and I’ve always thought that some of the best could be found along this strip of Virginia. However, I’d never been to Shenandoah Caverns before (map). We had a little extra time, It fell directly along our path, and even the kids loved caves, so why not?
Nobody said that a scenic vista couldn’t be subterranean.
Appalachian Loop articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr