It doesn’t take much to please Twelve Mile Circle and I’d been particularly fascinated by the first name / surname symmetry of Cristóbal, Colón, Panamá. Never one to stop beating that dead horse I considered that Christopher Columbus had lots of other places named for him that remained unexplored. Certainly there must be plenty of other examples with similar symmetry buried deep within those thousands of potential spots around the globe.
First, I pondered the many language variations of the name: Cristóbal Colón in Spanish; Christopher Columbus in English; Cristoforo Colombo in Italian; Cristóvão Colombo in Portuguese, and so on. Plus there were other permutations like the Latinized version, Columbia/Colombia. One had to be careful to avoid going overboard though. Words like columbine and columbina derived directly from Latin too (meaning dove-like) and had an etymology independent of Christopher Columbus.
Alright, I thought, let’s get right down to it. There was that big hunk of South America that formed the nation of Colombia. Certainly there must be a Cristóbal hiding within its borders somewhere. If it existed, I certainly couldn’t find it. I did uncover three sort-of near misses that provided modest comfort though.
There was a San Cristóbal on the southeastern side of Bogotá. However this neighborhood referred to the actual Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, who was probably more legend than fact and "died a martyr during the reign of Decius in the third century. " Then there was Pico Cristóbal Colón, the tallest mountain in Colombia (map), rising an impressive 5,700 metres (18,700 feet). That was pretty spectacular although it didn’t fit the first name / surname symmetry. Someone would need to rename it simply Pico Cristóbal for that to occur. Finally, as a consolation prize, I considered that Cristóbal in Colón Province, Panamá was once located in Colombia. Cristóbal would have maintained the requisite symmetry within Colombia from its founding in the 1850’s until Panamanian independence in 1903.
Maybe Canada would bail me out of this dilemma. British Columbia was a large place, and certainly named for Christopher Columbus. Natural Resources Canada contained three Christopher names in British Columbia within its extensive database; a creek, a lake and a point. I doubted that any one of them would actually be named for the proper Christopher. Still, on some tenuous level it maintained the integrity of the first name / surname symmetry even though it required a little imaginative thought.
Christopher Point, BC
I focused on Christopher Point because it seemed to be placed unusually far south on Vancouver Island (map) and that fascinated me. In fact it turned out to be the southernmost tip of the island so that was a nice surprise.
Christopher Point was part of a Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, a sub-unit of CFB Esquimalt. This area had also been fortified during World War II. The battery still existed although guns were removed long ago.
The most bizarre reference to Christopher Point turned up in a book, "World War II Goes to the Movies." It claimed that some scenes in the movie Son of Lassie (1945) were filmed on Vancouver Island, including Christopher Point. It was quite common for movie franchises of that period to weave Nazi plots into their narratives as a mix of propaganda and patriotism. Even a fictional dog could contribute to wartime efforts and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.
The sequel to ‘Lassie Come Home’ (1943), which now focuses on the adult Joe Carraclough, who joins the RAF during WWII and is shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway along with the stowaway, Lassie’s son ‘Laddie.’ The two are forced to parachute when they are hit by enemy fire. Laddie then seeks help for his injured master and race for their lives through Nazi lines to safety.
I don’t know how Eric Dunn got his lunchbox into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, although it seemed pretty cool. It made me jealous that I threw away my Hot Wheels lunchbox right around the time I hit puberty.
Even More Tenuous
Not hitting a lot of pay dirt for most of the research although enjoying the hunt, I turned to what I hoped might be a ringer. Certainly within the United States, where many places bore the name Columbus or Columbia, I should be able to find something named Christopher.
The readers of Twelve Mile Circle seemed to anticipate where this conversation was heading when I wrote about the advanced age of the French Broad River recently. I’d actually intended to write a single article about really old rivers. I had to split it when it got too wordy. I’d seen that same list of rivers by age on Wikipedia noticed by several readers and I decided to have some fun with it. I won’t recite the list in order though. I’ll meander though a bit of it in my own peculiar way.
For sure, I thought, someone would mention the ironic naming of the New River in southern Appalachia, flowing from North Carolina into Virginia and then into West Virginia. I wasn’t disappointed. The New River originated during the same Alleghanian Orogeny as the previously-mentioned French Broad River, as did the Susquehanna River. They all dated back about 300 million years, predating the Appalachian Mountains.
Nobody really knew exactly how or when the New River came to be encumbered with a misleading name although the Friends of the New River offered several possibilities.
One educated guess regarding the origin of the name is the theory that in the late 1700s or early 1800s, surveyors were working their way across the new country. When they happened on the New River, they discovered that it wasn’t on any of their existing maps, so they charted it and labeled it as "a new river." Another version of this story attributes the label "a new river" to Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father. The official name change to New River seems to have occurred between 1740 and 1750, although the two names, Woods and New, were used interchangeably in records and on maps in other states until about 1770.
Thus it could have just have easily been known as the Woods River into perpetuity, named for Colonel Abraham Wood who trades with local Native Americans in the 1650’s. Instead it became a very old river with a very New name.
If one searches for the oldest river using online tools one will invariable encounter frequent references to Africa’s Nile River. However the Wikipedia list didn’t even place it in the top ten, explaining that it was "65 to 75 [million] for the Sudd section; the rest of the river is only 1 or 2 million years old." Further, the page linked to a site at the University of Texas – Dallas that stated, "Although the Nile seems like an ancient river – after all, it was there long before one of the earliest civilizations began to develop on its banks – it is really a very young river and has gone through many changes over the recent (in geologic terms) past." The only ancient part — still considerably younger than the French Broad — was a portion in South Sudan in a swamp (map).
Don’t expect the rest of the Intertubes to issue a clarification though.
So now we finally arrive at #1 on Wikipedia’s list, presumably the very oldest river in the world, Australia’s Finke River along with various other smaller rivers nearby (map). They all predated the Alice Springs Orogeny, which would make them up to 400 million years old. The orogeny happened so long ago that most of the mountains have eroded away with the exception of the MacDonnell Ranges and a scattering of other ridges deep within the Australian interior. The highest remaining remnant was Mount Zeil at 1,531 metres (5,023 ft) (map)
I seem to have a little extra room in this article. I guess I should also list second place from the list too, if only because I’ve been there in person (as noted on my travel page for the Citadel of Dinant in Belgium, one of the oldest parts of my website). This was a long time ago. In fact, the image I’ve embedded came from a time prior to digital photography. I had to scan it from a print photo.
The Meuse predated the Hercynian Orogeny that resulted in the formation of the Ardennes. The river course ran from a corner of France to Belgium, onward to the Netherlands and finally into the North Sea.
Several months ago I mentioned that I would be supporting a runner in Mainly Marathon’s Center of the Nation race series. That adventure is now just around the corner. I’ll be in eastern Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and in western North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, September 14-19, 2015. They have options for single races and distances as short as 5K in case there are any 12MC runners in the area who might be interested. I have a big list of adventures planned including a few based on readers suggestions, so thank you all for that earlier input.
The recent Twelve Mile Circle journey to western North Carolina included one of my favorite activities, whitewater rafting. The boys were finally getting old enough to join us although we still kept it pretty easy on them, sticking primarily to a series of Class II and Class III rapids (moderate to intermediate). This made a guided rafting adventure on the French Broad River particularly enjoyable and appropriate for our little group (map).
Similar references and claims repeated themselves as I searched for a suitable rafting operator. Invariably websites noted that the French Broad River was the third oldest river in the world. It was always the third oldest. Even the U.S. Forest Service repeated the claim. I didn’t have any ability to corroborate or debunk the statement at the time so I tucked it away in my mind, intending to check it later. I’ve learned since then that measuring the age of rivers wasn’t an exact science. However, geologists could determine their relative ages in wide general bands based upon various signs and conditions. Determining an exact order would be problematic.
The best that might be said of the French Broad River was that it was really, really old, maybe 300 million years old. I pondered that for a moment. The first dinosaurs evolved during the Mesozoic Era, 225 million years ago. It was entirely possible, even likely, that the course of the French Broad River predated dinosaurs. Many geologists believed that possibility because the current flow of the French Broad could exist only if the river predated the Appalachian Mountains, because it sliced entirely through the range.
Mountains formed over millions of years in fits and starts, providing plenty of time for rushing water to preserve the original channel via erosion while the range slowly rose around it. Otherwise — had the river had been younger than the mountains — the channel would have formed on one side of the range or the other.
The mountain range surfaced during the Alleghanian orogeny, when the Euramerica continent (including modern North America) and the Gondwana continent (including modern Africa) slammed into each other to form the super-continent Pangaea. Orogeny was nothing more than a fancy word meaning, "the process of mountain formation especially by folding of the earth’s crust." Thus, geologists could estimate the age of the mountains and then by implication work backwards to estimate the age of the river. The initial collision took place approximately 300 million years ago so the French Broad River must be something older than that.
That was about all the geology my simplistic mind could comprehend. I still wondered about the river’s name and assumed correctly that French Broad had nothing to do with a woman from France. English explorers discovered two rivers of comparably broad width situated near each other on opposite sides of the Eastern Continental Divide on the unsettled fringes of the Carolina colonies.
The western river flowed towards the interior of the continent, in the general direction of lands claimed by France in the Mississippi watershed. Thus it became known as the French Broad River. Its course took it past what later became modern-day Asheville, then northwest through the Appalachian mountains (going past Lover’s Leap) then due west to the current city of Knoxville. There it joined the Tennessee River, onward to the Ohio River and finally into the Mississippi River.
The eastern river was located just outside of modern-day Asheville, directly past the summit of a ridge a few miles to the southeast. It flowed into the Congaree River and then to the Santee River and finally into the Atlantic Ocean. It became known as the English Broad River because that’s where the English has established their colony. The name shortened later to Broad River, so now there was a French Broad River and a Broad River. I saw the Broad River when we visited Lake Lure during the same trip. I’m lucky to be able to say that I had the distinction of experiencing both the Broad and the French Broad Rivers during our outdoor activities.
Was the French Broad River the third oldest river in the world? Well, who knows. It certainly fell within the top tier of ancient rivers.
Hurricane Katrina formed ten years ago today, on August 23, 2005, and hit New Orleans on the 29th. I wrote about some of my family’s experiences previously in Hurricane Katrina: Family Memories 5 Years Later. I can’t believe another five years has passed. I can’t believe I’m still writing Twelve Mile Circle either.