I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.
The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.
I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."
The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).
There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.
The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.
Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.
Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.
Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.
A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."
That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.
If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.
A long time ago Twelve Mile Circle featured the Highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, specifically Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. At the time I figured I’d quickly move to the island of Great Britain itself and the highest points of elevation of its three countries, England, Scotland and Wales. Several years passed and I decided to clean out some of the clutter on my potential topics list. Better late than never, I supposed. Plus I figured I’d give a little attention to the UK audience. I’ve focused too much on North America lately.
Ben Nevis sounded like some guy’s name. However I figured that couldn’t be the case, that it probably derived from Scottish Gaelic for something completely different. Ben-Nevis.com offered an explanation. It came from Beinn Nibheis. Beinn meant mountain or pinnacle, logically enough. Nibheis, well, that could mean one of several things. Maybe it meant "malicious," perhaps "in the clouds." Whatever the case, no mountain in the British Isles overshadowed Scotland’s Ben Nevis (map) at 1,344 metres (4,409 feet).
The Ben — its affectionate nickname — attracted about 125,000 full ascents and 100,000 partial ascents each year. If I quickly did the math in my head, and considered most people hiked to the top during warmer months, then there could be hundreds of people on the summit on a nice day. People might be tripping over each other.
I drove through the Scottish Highlands a number of years ago on my way to Fort William and passed right by Ben Nevis. I didn’t climb it though. If I had I would have seen the ruins of an old observatory that operated on top at the turn of the last century. That reminded me of Mount Washington the highpoint of the US state of New Hampshire. I did reach that summit although I drove up. The 12MC audience knows I’m a lazy, often reluctant highpointer.
I loved Wales because Welsh words looked so strange to my untrained eye. The English language version of its highest point of elevation went by Snowdon (map). In Welsh it became Yr Wyddfa. I couldn’t even begin to consider how to pronounce it. Snowdon derived from Old English, just a version of Snow Hill. The Welsh version offered a much more interesting situation.
The current Welsh name for Snowdon is Yr Wyddfa (the tomb). In the past, it was also known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr (the great tomb) and Carnedd y Cawr (the cairn of the giant). The tomb and cairn in question are said to mark the grave of the fierce giant Rhita Gawr (or Fawr), who made himself a cloak from the beards of the kings he had killed.
That must have been quite the ancient character on its summit, 1,085 m (3,560 ft) above sea level, with a homemade king-beard cloak.
On the other hand, I’d never been anywhere near Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (map). The Scafell part probably came from Old Norse, perhaps meaning the maintain (fell) with the bald summit. The word Pike came from Northern English as used in the Lake District, simply meaning Peak. I guess by that logic, Pike’s Peak in Colorado USA would be redundant, except that it took the name of an early explorer, Zebulon Pike. Regardless of that completely arbitrary non sequitur, Scafell Pike reached 978 m (3,209 ft.)
Lots of people liked to hike Scafell Pike too, particularly because of its easy accessibility and abundant rewards.
Not only is the Scafell Pike walk modestly challenging, it has invariably been described as exhilarating, beautiful and breathtaking. The view from the top, has inspired writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Baines and Wainwright as, on a clear day, you can see Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
The name itself derived from an error. Nearby the mountain Scafell or Sca Fell — without the word Pike attached to it — was once thought to be the tallest mountain in the range. Scafell Pike got its name because the appendage Pike implied a lesser status (i.e., just one subsidiary peak of greater Scafell). Later surveys demonstrated that Scafell Pike actually rose a couple of metres higher than Scafell.
None of the three seemed particularly daunting from a mountaineering perspective. They might dissuade the unmotivated such as myself, although I bet lots of 12MC readers could conquer any of these slopes. In fact, many people do undertake those efforts and want to make the task even more difficult. Increasingly lots of them wanted to scale each of the summits in a single 24-hour period, an event called the National Three Peaks Challenge. That seemed rather more difficult although not impossible. It involved about 42 kilometres (26 miles) on foot with an elevation gain of 3,000 m (9,800 ft).
Another group offered an even more interesting proposition, the Three Peaks Yacht Race. Participants do not use motorized vehicles. They sail from one mountain to another. However, those mountains don’t abut the sea exactly so participants have to run from dockside to summit trails. At Scafell Pike they can use bicycles because they need to cover a longer distance.
Teams of four or five per yacht sail from Barmouth to Fort William, with two of the crew climbing the highest mountains of Wales, England and Scotland en route, running the equivalent of three marathons in 3 or 4 days.
The team Pure Attitude won in 2016 with a time of four days and a few minutes.
I’ve become increasingly enamored of the Wendover Productions site on YouTube. Their latest is "Every State in the US."
It cites lots of geo-oddities, many of which have also been featured in Twelve Mile Circle in the past. The big difference here is that Wendover Productions comes at if from a much more professional angle. If you haven’t seen any of their videos you should check them out. You’ll enjoy them.
I revisited an old concept from a much earlier version of Twelve Mile Circle, the simple pleasure of wandering aimlessly through Google Street View. That’s something I used to enjoy regularly. However, life got busier and other priorities mostly prevented that luxury in recent years. They still do, although I needed to clear my mind of a million other things as the holidays approached. A couple of hours traveling vicariously online did the trick. Plus I found some interesting places.
Google Street View covered territory in many nations albeit with notable exceptions. I wanted a closer look at mysterious Myanmar (Burma) as an example, because it remained under tight control until only recently. However Street View hadn’t arrived there yet. Then I wondered if I could peer across the border from its neighbors. I began with Bangladesh. It shared a brief border with Myanmar although only a single road featured Street View coverage along the way. The road extended to the end of the Teknaf Peninsula. Naturally I lost all interest in Myanmar and fixated on that little road running to the farthest southern point of the Bangladeshi mainland.
What a road! It turned out to be a perfect place to meander, a great place for people watching. Humanity seemed to be everywhere as I followed along the Street View path. People gathered in every small patch of open space. Impossibly small roadside shops sold necessities. Animals wandered freely. I compared that with the average Western town where people hid in their homes, where public appearances limited themselves to automobiles.
In this corner of Bangladesh, the vehicle of choice seemed to be a 3-wheeled motorized rickshaw. Others made do with motorcycles, bicycles or even their own feet. A hive of activity hugged both sides of the narrow path. The Street View car must have created quite a commotion as it passed. Even so, the modern world extended all the way down here to the end of the line. A mobile phone tower in the background implied Internet connectivity. I can always hope for a 12MC visitor from Bangladesh’s Chittagong Division someday. I’ll need to think of a suitable prize.
The terrain seemed extremely flat too, and perilously close to the Bay of Bengal. I wouldn’t want to be around there during Monsoon Season.
Where would people go when the water rose? That wasn’t idle speculation. Historically floods bedeviled Bangladesh. A 1998 deluge submerged 100,000 square kilometres (38,000 square miles), forcing 25 million people from their homes. I wondered, did Bangladesh even have land high enough to avoid rising waters? Obviously it had a highpoint. Was it good enough?
The nation actually contained a mountainous region along it border with Myanmar, much to my surprise. The hills didn’t encompass a lot of Bangladesh although they certainly existed. Oddly, Bangladesh didn’t have a recognized highpoint because nobody ever bothered to measure it officially. Many geographers believed the honor went to Saka Haphong in the Mowdok range (map). It reached 1,052 metres (3,451 feet) unofficially. After I got over the shock of learning that nobody really knew the highpoint of an entire nation, I figured I’d head towards Saka Haphong should I ever find myself in Bangladesh during a monsoon.
Dirt Road Super-Highway
China didn’t have Street View either although neighboring Mongolia had a little. I followed the same process and got the same result: interesting views of Mongolia sidetracked my attempts to peer into China.
I meant "interesting" as an appreciation of its scenery completely wide-open and devoid of any features whatsoever. It reminded me of the Big Sky of eastern Montana in the United States, although amplified by an order of magnitude or two. I could almost imagine Genghis Khan galloping across the steppe on horseback with his hordes.
Looking to the horizon in any direction I saw nothing, simply nothing. Just two sets of dirt tracks across grassy fields in Mongolia’s Dornogovi province. I’ve experienced many dirt roads in my life. However, I’ve never seen one with TWO tracks. That implied sufficient traffic and speed to justify separate lanes. That seemed crazy. With vehicles stirring up easily-visible dust storms as they drove, with lines of sight across an endless horizon, with almost zero population or vehicles, with plenty of room to pull over and let occasional traffic pass, who would ever need to worry about a driver coming in the opposite direction? Yet, apparently it was necessary.