Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last person to find out about things. A reader who identified himself as "Jasper" mentioned a $100 hamburger when I put out a call for southeastern Kentucky travel suggestions. I thought he was referring literally to a hundred dollar hamburger. Such a thing does indeed exist so I didn’t rule it out as a possibility. Maybe he had a thing for ground beef wrapped in gold foil, infused with truffles and rolled in caviar, or something. I don’t know. I try not to make value judgments (and generally fail miserably).
Jasper provided a convenient link to explain the hamburger reference as term of art used in general aviation in the United States (perhaps with variations on the theme elsewhere?). A lot of pilots like to pick a random airport a couple or a few hours away, drop-in for a meal, refuel, and then take off again to fly back home. The sheer joy of flying seems to serve as the primary motivation, like someone taking a sports car out into the countryside for a weekend getaway. The $100 price tag refers to the cost of flying to a distant runway for no reason other than wanting to fly to it, and not specifically to any meal that may have been purchased there. It’s a euphemism, or a wink-and-a-nod, or both, even though fuel prices today would make a hundred dollar round-trip flight a bargain.
This sounds like the most awesome idea ever. I’d be all over it if I were a pilot. My county counting abilities would be over the top, too.
I had to check into this further. Various sources mentioned anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 different fly-in restaurants. The 100 Dollar Hamburger is a website for a book with the same name that provides a compendium of such locations although it requires a subscription. A competing site provides a similar service and takes pride in NOT requiring a subscription. Do I detect some bitterness, perhaps?
Jasper said he flew into London-Corbin airport for his $100 hamburger, stopping at The Hangar Restaurant found on-site there. That’s an example of a restaurant AT the airport, probably offered as a service by the airport’s fixed-based operator (FBO). It surprised me how commonly general aviation airports provided restaurants within their facilities, albeit usually in the larger ones. Their clientele extended beyond $100 hamburgers, though. Fly-in restaurants are patronized by airport staff and also by plenty of local residents especially in the smaller towns.
I consulted several websites in search of the best $100 hamburgers. One source included a list compiled in 2011. I can’t vouch for Rick’s Crabby Cowboy in Montauk, NY (map) or the Pik-N-Pig at Gilliam-McConnel airfield in Carthage, NC, although I liked both of their names so I thought I’d give them a mention.
The Hard Eight at Clark Field in Stephenville, Texas, came up on the list and also on several website forums where pilots share information. I figured those mentions qualified the Hard Eight as one of the better $100 hamburger opportunities. It was an example of a restaurant NEAR an airport, and looked to be about a ten minute walk.
Flickr by JMD Pix via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
I think my favorite location might have to be the Beaumont Hotel in Kansas (map). It’s a Bed & Breakfast inn, it’s a restaurant, AND it has its own dedicated turf runway. The hotel reportedly averaged about 38 aircraft operations per week.
Thank you Jasper for acquainting me with the $100 hamburger concept.
Has anyone managed to snag an invitation for the test version of the new Google Maps? Does anyone know how I can get one? — I did submit a request although I haven’t heard back. What’s a geo-geek gotta do to get a little map love?
I was poking around the CIA World Factbook (doesn’t everyone?) and came across an interesting page that listed "miscellaneous geographic information of significance not included elsewhere." That’s wonderful, I thought, a page of international odds-and-ends that didn’t fit within the book’s prescribed format. I live for moments like that.
It listed little tidbits on just about every nation around the globe. My mind wandered over to the entry for Djibouti:
strategic location near world’s busiest shipping lanes and close to Arabian oilfields; terminus of rail traffic into Ethiopia; mostly wasteland; Lac Assal (Lake Assal) is the lowest point in Africa and the saltiest lake in the world
That’s a lot of miscellany for such a tiny nation, a place slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts and populated by fewer than a million residents. I was fascinated by the thought of Lac Assal although seeing a nation described as "mostly wasteland" amused me as well. I’m sure the residents wouldn’t endorse that characterization.
Sources agree that Lac Assal is the lowest point of elevation in Africa. However, there’s a variation in its recorded altitude which seems to center at about -155 metres (-509 feet) give or take a few metres. Assal is a crater lake on the end of a rift valley formed along a geologic fault. The plates split apart, a volcano created a crater, and a depression formed well below sea level. Any water that finds its way into the valley and the crater has no way to escape. Lac Assal doesn’t have an outlet to the sea.
The salinity has become intense due to minerals eroding from the surrounding terrain that washes down into the lake and remains there, while the water evaporates. This is typical of endorheic basins — the same condition exists in Utah’s Great Salt Lake (my visit). The CIA referred to Lac Assal as the "saltiest lake in the world" and that may be true, although Don Juan Pond in Antarctica is allegedly saltier. Lake? Pond? Whatever. Lac Assal is really salty and it’s a source of industry for the area. Huge salt flats are clearly visible on the northwest side of the satellite image.
That’s all interesting, however I’m most fascinated by its proximity to the sea. Maybe 10 kilometres separates Lac Assal from Ghoubbet El Kharab (or Lake or Bay of Ghoubet). Take a close look at the eastern edge of Ghoubbet El Kharab. It is connected to the Gulf of Tadjoura by a narrow passageway, which in turn is connected to the Gulf of Aden. Thus, the surface of Ghoubbet El Kharab would be at sea level. The lowest point in Africa is a mere ten klicks away! One narrow ridge of stone is all that separates Africa’s lowpoint from being inundated by the sea.
In fact, Ghoubbet El Kharab is Lac Assal’s main source of water. Certainly whatever rain falls within the basin, as lacking as that may be, would flow into the lake. Much more water seeps through fissures in the stone wall between Ghoubbet El Kharab and Lac Assal. The stone separating the two features acts as a dam with a crack in it.
Tourists visit Lac Assal generally in winter. The temperature can hit 50° Celsius (122° Fahrenheit) in the summer, and become truly life threatening. There are other hazards. Djibouti was involved in a civil war between 1991 and 1994 and matériel still remains scattered throughout the countryside. The United States Embassy issued a security message in 2012 after a boy was injured by a land mine nearby (map). So if you go — and I hope someday some of you do — time it right and stick to the roads. And take lots of photos.
The race series moved on to Colorado next. We’d intended to check-in to our hotel room in Lamar and sit by the pool, using that as an opportunity for our sole afternoon of rest. The hotel must have been busy the previous evening because our room wouldn’t be available for another three hours. We needed to find a way to fill the afternoon constructively. We consulted a map and noticed a national historic site about an hour away.
I’d remembered hearing about the Sand Creek Massacre vaguely from history classes decades before. The site of the massacre was now one of the National Park Service’s newest properties, gaining official status in 2007. We decided to drive up to it.
Bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians established a camp along Sand Creek in November 1864. It was an ideal spot with abundant water, plenty of food, and set within a safe floodplain protected from the constant prairie winds. The camp stretched about a mile along the lower-elevated portion of the satellite image, above.
It was a friendly tribal gathering that had reported to a nearby fort on a mission of peace before establishing camp. Most of their warriors, completely assured of their safety, went onto the plains to hunt for bison. They left behind a gathering of mostly unarmed women, children and the elderly. U.S. troops under the command of Colonel John Chivington swept down on the encampment, ignored both a U.S. flag and a white flag of surrender hoisted by the tribes, and slaughtered an estimated 165 to 200 people without provocation.
View from the bluff above the Sand Creek floodplain
The massacre receive widespread attention only because two of the U.S. officers refused orders and stood down their troops. Their complaints eventually reached all the way to the United States Congress which ordered an investigation, and which eventually condemned Chivington’s actions. Nonetheless, nobody was ever held accountable. Sand Creek was a turning point in the relationship between the U.S. government and the Plains Indians. There was "before Sand Creek" and "after Sand Creek." Warfare on the plains would last another quarter-century as a result.
The Sand Creek Massacre site has a powerful emotional impact upon those who visit. It marks an ugly, scary part of American history that deserves to be remembered.
We moved on to New Mexico the next day. The fifth and final race took place at Clayton Lake State Park the following morning. I’d seen Sauropod dinosaur tracks earlier on the trip at Black Mesa in Oklahoma. Those were a tad disappointing, honestly, a single line of tracks filled with sand and hard to discern even with exact coordinates in hand. (satellite view).
I’d heard about a much better set of tracks at Clayton Lake. Those were completely different from Black Mesa, with hundreds of tracks left behind by at least eight different dinosaur species, primarily varieties of plant-eating Iguanodonts. My photo represented only a small corner of a wide field of tracks. Unfortunately the location is totally washed out in satellite view.
I’d put out a plea to the 12MC community before I left on my trip, asking for suggestions and recommendations for further adventures. Loyal reader Mike Lowe suggested Capulin Volcano National Monument. I’d never heard of it before although I noticed it was directly on our route and decided to add it to our itinerary.
I’m glad we stopped. A road corkscrewed around the volcano exterior to the lowest point of the rim. From there, one could park and then venture around the rim on a one-mile hike. The views were stunning.
Finally, with all of the races behind us, we ventured out on our own for a couple of days. We made it as far west as Taos, New Mexico the following day.
As featured in a previous article, the Rio Grande River doesn’t simply form a border between Texas and México. It originates deeper within the United States and slices all the way through New Mexico before heading down to Texas. This includes a spectacular gorge west of Taos best viewed from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Here one can stand hundreds of feet above the river as it passes through the canyon that it dug into the solid stone of the valley floor.
This was an unusual housing development constructed by Earthship Biotechture. Houses are self-sustaining and built of discarded materials such as automobile tires, glass bottles and aluminum cans. Many of them were above-ground although I liked the one in this photo the best. It reminded me of the fictional home of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine.
I have one more wrap-up article on the Dust Bowl Adventure and then I’ll return to the normal diet of geo-oddities.