Canada’s Pocket Desert

On March 13, 2014 · 3 Comments

Canada allegedly has exactly one lonely desert, or maybe none at all depending on who might have been consulted. Various names were coined for the anomaly known colloquially as "Canada’s Pocket Desert" including Okanagan, Osoyoos and Nk’mip. Whatever the designation, it’s located adjacent to the Town of Osoyoos in southern British Columbia, just north of the United States border.



Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada

Some of it might be marketing hype. Osoyoos registered a trademark for its motto, Canada’s Warmest Welcome® in 2008, stating via press release that it "was a play on the fact that Osoyoos has the country’s warmest climate and lake." It’s tourism website claimed "Canada’s only true desert." and noted "very little rain or snow (12 inches or 30.5 cm a year)."



Osoyoos Desert Centre to Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The area even included two distinct Desert Centres. The nonprofit Osoyoos Desert Society operated its Osoyoos Desert Centre on the western side.

The South Okanagan is home to one of the highest concentrations of rare and at-risk species in all of Canada. Through its conservation, restoration and education efforts, the Society strives to generate public knowledge, respect and active concern for these fragile and endangered ecosystems.

The Osoyoos Desert Society seemed to take a solidly consistent position that they were protecting a true desert.



Osoyoos by Claude Robillard on Flickr
via Creative Commons license

The Osoyoos Indian Band of the Okanagan Nation operated its Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre on the eastern side. This First Nations tribe hedged its bets about the status of the desert.

Expecting to see tall cactus and sand dunes? Although we share the same dry conditions as Phoenix Arizona, and many desert dwellers such as prickly-pear cactus, scorpions, rattlesnakes and Canyon Wrens live on our site, the jury is still out about whether we are a true desert. What is a desert— low rainfall, hot weather, cactus? Osoyoos does have years with precipitation below 10 inches but we often have rainy and snowy spells which support areas of lush vegetation.

Whether its a true desert, semi-desert, shrub-steppe, Upper Sonoran — all terms used to describe the area by various sources — a more official designation might be Osoyoos Arid Biotic Zone. Desert or not, it’s quite small, quite rare and quite endangered.

The semi-desert area in the southern Okanagan Valley is the region called the Osoyoos-Arid Biotic Area by Munro and Cowan (1947). It is a narrow strip of territory, about 38km (24 miles) long, running from Shaha Lake south to the international boundary. It lies generally below 335 m (1100 ft.) and is characterized climatically by mild winters, hot summers and very little precipitation (less than 20 cm (8 inches)).

I never concluded my thoughts about the controversy. It’s an interesting feature whether it’s an actual desert or not (and certainly more of a desert than England’s "Desert"). That’s when I spotted the nearby Anarchist Protected Area and lost interest.


Anarchists?

Anarchist Protected Area? Did Canadian anarchists require their own protected area? As it turned out, no they did not. The Anarchist Protected Area was named for nearby Anarchist Mountain.



Anarchist Mountain, British Columbia, Canada

British Columbia’s GeoBC cited two sources in its origin notes and history for Anarchist Mountain, including "BC place name cards, or correspondence to/from BC’s Chief Geographer or BC Geographical Names Office":



Anarchist Mountain – July 2009 by Jamie Rothwell on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Anarchist Mountain and Sidley were both named after Richard G. Sidley, an early settler and first postmaster at Sidley (1895), who, because he showed some brilliance, was appointed Justice of the Peace and Customs Officer (dates not cited). He held, for his time, somewhat advanced political views; he was often called an anarchist, and this plateau became known locally as "the anarchist’s mountain". Local officialdom eventually relieved him of his posts.

I loved that little throwaway comment at the end — "Local officialdom eventually relieved him of his posts" — like the settlers tolerated him for awhile until he finally got on their nerves. At least he still had his mountain.

Confluence of Confluences

On February 6, 2014 · 3 Comments

I began to consider confluences while pondering the Confluence Brewing Company during my recent Geo-BREWities exercise. Maybe I should credit Google Map’s auto-completion function for the suggestion after I typed the brewery name into an address bar. It noted that at least one town of Confluence existed. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered two more although the occurrences in Kentucky (map) and Alabama (map) barely registered as pinpricks.

By comparison, Pennsylvania’s Confluence was a veritable metropolis, and home to several hundred residents nestled in the hills of the southwestern corner. Confluence was even large enough to justify its own Tourism Association.



The Confluences of Confluence, Pennsylvania, USA

Confluence, the town, recognized a couple of distinct riverine confluences. First, Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman River. A few hundred feet later a slightly-enlarged Casselman River flowed into the Youghiogheny River. Truly this Confluence represented the facts on the ground. Abundant water descended from neighboring hillsides and joined near a common spot where a settlement sprouted.



(A) Fallingwater (B) Kentucky Knob (C) Town of Confluence (D) MDPAWV Tripoint (E) PA Highpoint

The situation went beyond those literal confluences as I considered the surrounding landscape. Confluence, the village, offered a gateway to a confluence of interesting historic and geographic features within remarkably close proximity.


Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob



Fallingwater, photographed by Chun-Hung Eric Cheng on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Fallingwater (aka the Kaufmann Residence) — Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 architectural masterpiece — perched on a hillside nearby. This was arguably one of the most visually recognizable homes ever built, an iconic symbol certainly within the United States and perhaps beyond. The unusual cantilever design constructed over a natural waterfall has been hailed as a masterpiece.

Lesser known, Wright designed another home only seven miles (11 km) away, Kentuck Knob (aka the Hagan House). This property remains a private home, owned by Lord and Lady Palumbo of the United Kingdom who reside there part of the year. It has become available for limited tours only recently.


Great Allegheny Passage



Great Allegheny Passage Trail Outside of Confluence

The Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail blazed directly through Confluence. This Rails-to-Trails project followed the path of several lines abandoned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and Western Maryland Railway. Someone could bike 150 miles (240 km) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland on the Great Allegheny Passage, and from there pick-up the C&O Canal Towpath all the way to Washington, DC, stretching the ride to more than 330 miles (530 km).


Maryland-Pennsylvania-West Virginia Tripoint



Confluence and the MDPAWV Tripoint

Government officials drew artificial lines all over the eastern side of the continent during Colonial times and tweaked those boundaries in the early years of the newly-independent United States. That resulted in a tripoint for the current states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia very near where Confluence later grew. The MDPAWV Tripoint should be a readily-approachable waypoint for those fascinated by borders and boundaries. It maintained additional historic significance as a marker along the famed Mason-Dixon Line.


Pennsylvania Highpoint



Mount Davis Observation deck by David Fulmer on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

As an added bonus, nearby Mount Davis marked the highest point of elevation for Pennsylvania at 3213 feet (979 m). Summit Post said,

Views from the top are nice, especially with the very tall observation tower, that allows for expansive views in all directions. You are surrounded by mountains, and you can also see modern wind turbines on a nearby ridge.

For a lazy highpointer such as myself, I noticed that a visitor could drive almost all the way to the very top and reach the summit with a short, easy hike.

Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience.

Geography

Geo-BREWities

On February 4, 2014 · 5 Comments

My interests collide every once in awhile. I’ve mentioned my unnatural compulsion to visit breweries several times before so an overlap shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers. This time, an industry publication mentioned a beer dinner where courses were paired with beverages from Oxbow Beer in Maine. A brewery named for an oxbow — how intriguing — I do have a thing for oxbows. I wondered if I could find that aforementioned oxbow.



Where’s the Oxbow in Newcastle, Maine, USA?

That led me to ponder the possibility of other geo-oddity-themed breweries which I conveniently decided to call geo-brewities. I turned to the Brewers Association, an organization representing "small and independent American brewers" for a complete list. They referenced 2,722 brewing facilities in the United States at the end of 2013, an increase of nearly 400 establishments in a single year.

I dug into the list — even though it was dated 2012 and had since grown — since I figured I’d still find plenty of suitable examples. I’ll mention a few favorites uncovered while noting that many more had to be cut from my review because of space limitations. Also, I examined only names. I’ll let others judge taste and quality. That matters in the real world. It didn’t matter for this exercise.

Then I returned to Oxbow Beer and found an article in The Lincoln County News

The brewery is run out of a converted barn at Masland’s home on Rt. 215 in Newcastle. Oxbow’s beer, their name, their logo – an owl carrying a keg – and their motto – loud beer from a quiet place – are all inspired by the rural location.

This led me to wonder whether the brewery name reflected an actual oxbow lake. It may have been named for a genuine oxbow, like what a farmer would hang around the neck of an ox to pull a plow. I’d already become completely cross-eyed reviewing a couple of thousand brewery names by that point, with commensurate emotional investment, so I continued with my quest for geo-brewities. After all, this effort could form the backbone of a brewery-related geo-oddity driving tour someday, ignoring the obvious distances involved. That’s how I rationalized it.



Stateline Brewery, South Lake Tahoe, California, USA

Twelve Mile Circle loves borders and the notion of Stateline Brewery in South Lake Tahoe, California seemed promising. Their logo even incorporated the California-Nevada border within its design. Only a single building, an Embassy Suites Hotel, stood between Stateline Brewing and the actual state line. Impressive.

Then I spotted Latitude 33 Brewing Company in San Diego, California (map). Did someone mention latitude? Why yes, that’s another common 12MC topic. I was about to bust them when I measured the actual geographic placement of 33° North and it fell about ten miles south of the brewery (which was at 33° 8′ 10.46″ or thereabouts). However the brewers already knew that and posted their perspective, preventing geo-geek nitpickers such as myself from bothering them.

The obvious answer is, of course, that the 33rd parallel runs smack dab through the heart of San Diego County, and our brewing facility is just a hair north of being directly on the line. But there’s actually more to it than that. If you look back through the history books you’ll find the 33rd latitude has been right there in some of the world’s most significant events… Distilled to one word, Latitude 33 is “Adventure”

Good save, Latitude 33. Good save.



Confluence Brewing, Des Moines, Iowa, USA

Confluences don’t have a separate tag on 12MC although they have appeared as a regularly recurring topic. I prepared myself to be disappointed by the explanation offered by Confluence Brewing from Des Moines, Iowa, when it noted, "The brewery is itself a confluence of John and Ken’s love for Iowa and craft beer." Looking at its location a little more closely, the brewery can’t be more than maybe a mile-or-so from the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. That was a pivotal spot in the city’s history. The State Historical Society of Iowa said, "The City of Des Moines developed from a small frontier fort at the confluence… ", and thus the city would not have existed without them. I’ll bet the river confluence inspired the name of the brewery at least a little even if I couldn’t find it stated explicitly.

I’ve also noted elevations on a number of occasions. Breweries seemed enamored of elevation too, albeit choosing names that tended to favor specific landmarks, mountains or peaks. Only one bucked the trend in a fascinating way, Elevation 66 Brewing in El Cerrito, California (map). The Examiner said Elevation 66 was "named after El Cerrito’s altitude" That may be true for the city overall or perhaps at some key location, however, I dropped the brewery coordinates into an altitude finder and it listed 8.759 metres / 28.738 feet. What’s a few feet amongst friends? I still applauded the effort.



Dry County Brewing, Spruce Pine, North Carolina, USA

I focus often on counties and Dry County Brewing Company sounded rather paradoxical. How could one brew in a dry county? Wikipedia came to the rescue: "Mitchell County was one of the three dry counties in North Carolina, along with Graham and Yancey, but in March, 2009, after much controversy, the Town of Spruce Pine approved beer, wine, and ABC store sales." It didn’t take long for a brewery to fill that void either — it looked like Dry County opened in late 2010 or early 2011 — nestled safely within a wet enclave, and circled entirely by an otherwise prohibitionist county.

Roads and associated infrastructure? Of course I talk about those. Bridge and Tunnel Brewery in Queens (Maspeth), New York, may not have been named for a specific bridge or a specific tunnel. The name seemed to refer to the whole set of them in New York City: "because it’s the bridges and tunnels that unite this city, not divide it." Nonetheless the nearest bridge and tunnel into Manhattan were probably the Queensboro Bridge and the Midtown Tunnel. The NYC contingent of 12MC readers would have better insight into that calculation. This was a nanobrewery, even smaller than a microbrewery, that produced only 1.5 barrels (47.25 gallons / 179 litres) in each batch. I couldn’t find a location other than that generic Maspeth placement though (map). I guessed maybe the brewery was so small that it didn’t have a permanent facility.


Breweries with Coincidental Connections to Specific 12MC articles

I could also make a case to add any of the following breweries to a beer and geo-oddity driving tour. Each had a tenuous serendipitous alignment with an article published previously on Twelve Mile Circle.

Now I’m thirsty. Cheers!

Geography

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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