When I was asked to chauffeur a runner to a half-marathon with a course that crossed between the conjoined cities of Bluefield on the border between Virginia and West Virginia, how could I say no? A long weekend of fall foliage and geo-oddities? I felt like I was dropped into an episode of Weekend Roady.
Lotito City Park, Bluefield
To be clear, I’m not a runner. Even so I’ve enjoyed traveling with the athletic gang at several Mainly Marathon events. These journeys took me to some out-of-the-way corners of the nation including the Dust Bowl and the Lower Mississippi; five races (marathon or half-marathon options) in five days in five states. The newest event was the debut of the Appalachian Series. I would have loved to have stayed for all five races although we could only attend the first two before heading home, the races in West Virginia and Virginia.
Those two races involved the exact same course through Lotito City Park on both sides of the border in Bluefield. It counted as West Virginia on the first day and Virginia on the second day, or vice versa. That’s the way 50-state racers count things. Only one state can be claimed per race.
Play Tennis in Two States
I had to find ways to amuse myself as the runners ran the course. That wasn’t a problem with a state border drawn directly through it. Oh look, isn’t that a tennis court with the boundary cutting through it? Why, yes it is.
Little things like trying to count the number of times I could split myself with the borderline offered countless entertainment options. This was an image from the northwestern corner of that same tennis court, with West Virginia to the left side of the diagonal and Virginia to the right (and me in both). That was another weird thing: a border quirk at Bluefield made Virginia west and West Virginia east.
It wasn’t all about racing all weekend. By chance, we discovered an Oktoberfest celebration being held in the nearby town of Bramwell (map). Bramwell was originally one of the many towns of West Virginia that arose because of its proximity to the coalfields. It differed from many others though because of the wealthy owners that settled there.
Bramwell is best known for having the largest number of millionaires per capita of any town in America in the late 1800s. Bramwell once had as many as thirteen millionaires living there at one time in the early 20th century. The magnificent homes that remain there today testify to this wealth.
It was a wonderful setting for an Autumn festival. I was also pleasantly surprised at the quality of craft beers brewed in West Virginia.
I’d never been to this area before so I made a series of minor jogs during the weekend to further pad my County Counting list. In Virginia I collected Bland, Giles and Tazewell Counties. In West Virginia I collected McDowell, Mercer, Monroe and Wyoming Counties. The jog to Wyoming County was the most memorable. The narrow twisting roads ran through genuine Appalachian settlements verging on stereotype, ambled past strip mines and climbed over mountain ridges (map). I was shocked that it remained paved and never swtiched to gravel or mud. After getting stuck behind the third coal truck I figured it out. The road didn’t exist serve the needs of residents so much as the mines.
The foliage approached peak Autumn glory, improving each day of our visit. That became a perfect excuse for a picnic at Pinnacle Rock State Park, located on a ridge between Bluefield and Bramwell (map). We climbed up to the overlook and saw nothing but forest to the horizon.
We rounded out the long weekend with a visit to Pipestem Resort State Park. Pipestem included the "County Line Trail" that crossed between Mercer and Summers Counties a couple of different times. We didn’t have an opportunity to hike it because of the rain. However, precipitation didn’t spoil the weekend and it didn’t rain the entire time. It just happened that one of the intermittent storms passed through the park at the wrong time so it limited our activities for awhile.
The tram running from the Canyon Rim Center down to Mountain Creek Lodge was operational though (map), and the views were fantastic between frantic efforts to wipe condensation from the windows. On the river valley far below, the Bluestone River overflowed its banks after several days of stormy weather.
I mentioned a place where 81° west longitude crossed US Interstate 81 in a recent article. I visited the golden spot in person on the way home (map). Of course I did.
"Circling Back" would be the best title for this article, implying a revisiting or rethinking of previous ideas with a connection back to Twelve Mile CIRCLE. It’s appropriate. Also it sounded a lot better than "barely warmed-up leftovers" which is what it really is.
I reached back to a trio of articles for the first item including one from the very early days of 12MC. My wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to "Savor: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience" yesterday evening. I first wrote about this event in May 2008 which was also the first year it was held. Back then the venue was the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC and since then it’s been held at the National Building Museum except for last year when it moved to New York City. Naturally I’ve attended every year except for last year.
I’m getting to the point where my poor old body can’t take too many beer festivals anymore. We concentrate on Savor which is run by the Brewers Association (the same group that does the Great American Beer Festival) and also the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin, which is run by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Those are all I need; I might as well concentrate on the best. Quality over quantity.
Right about now the entire 12MC audience is wondering where I’m going with this. Let’s jump back a couple of months and revisit Geo-BREWities. One of the places I referenced was Confluence Brewing in Des Moines, Iowa. Well, to my complete surprise, notice what I spotted last night.
Last February I said,
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… 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 can confirm that now. I had a nice conversation with the owners. Either that or they were humoring some oddball geo-geek who was asking them about their name.
Another brewery connected with 12MC’s Three Notches article, and specifically to the Three Notch’d / Three Chopt Road in Central Virginia which runs not too far from the brewery. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery is at the forefront of the whole Farm Brewery movement that’s been building in recent years and offered a "Three Chopt Tripel" for tasting. Lickinghole sounded like a rather, um, interesting name for a brewery too. I guess you do what you gotta do to get your name to stand out in a crowded field. It’s certainly memorable.
By the way there is also a Three Notch’d Brewing Company named after the same road a little farther west in Charlottesville. They weren’t represented at Savor (I’ve tried their beers elsewhere) although I thought it was still worth mentioning because it aligned with the theme. I’ve now discovered a beer and a brewery both named for the same basic road.
Also represented was Mother Road Brewing Company from Flagstaff, Arizona, which would definitely qualify as a Geo-BREWity too. It was named for the Mother Road of course — the famed Route 66 — which ran through Flagstaff on its way from Chicago to Santa Monica. I should have taken a photo. I guess I was too busy grabbing coasters and stickers from their table. I’m a sucker for breweriana swag.
The boys and I will replicate the Monumental Ride I first referenced about three years ago, later today. I was informed in very certain terms that the best possible Mother’s Day present would involve removing myself and the kids from the house for a few hours.
This might also be a good opportunity to mention the upcoming 12MC Geo-Oddity bicycle ride I’ve been threatening for awhile. It’s finally going to happen and I’m trying to narrow down the date to a Saturday or Sunday in June. It will feature many of the sites discussed in Monumental Ride plus many more. The route remains a work in progress although here is what I’m thinking:
View Epic 12MC Geo-Oddity Bike Ride in a larger map
Those who expressed interest earlier should have already received an email message with more details and a request for date preferences. Those who want to jump on the bandwagon can contact me and I’ll forward the same information along. It should be a fun, casual ride with plenty of stops for abundant geo-geekery.
Everyone is probably tired of hearing about my Riverboat Adventures so I’ll be brief. The Dorena-Hickman ferry made an appearance in Part 3 (Borders). I finally uploaded some video footage to YouTube and created a dedicated page for the ferry on my travel website. That probably won’t interest most of the 12MC audience although maybe a handful of readers share my ferry fascination and may want to see much greater detail about this particular one.
The day I dreaded finally arrived. I was defaulted to the new version of Google Maps yesterday. I wasn’t favorably impressed when I first reviewed it last May and I always understood that the version I’ve used since the creation of Twelve Mile Circle would go away eventually. Sooner-or-later I was going to have to confront this issue.
Allow me to clear a backlog of some short topics with another installment of Odds and Ends while I try to figure out how to use the new version. Hopefully some of my earlier concerns have been addressed.
Mary Carson Breckinridge
Mary Breckinridge Park, Confluence, Kentucky
I noticed a little park in Kentucky as I searched for various places named Confluence while leading up to the Confluence of Confluences article. Mary Breckinridge Memorial Park, also known as the Confluence Recreation Area, caught my eye. Who was Mary Breckinridge and how did she earn a memorial park, I wondered?
It was a fascinating story that I’d hoped to turn into a full article, although I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Mary Carson Breckinridge, as I learned was part of THE Breckinridge family:
the family has included six members of the United States House of Representatives, two United States Senators, a cabinet member, two Ambassadors, a Vice President of United States and an unsuccessful Presidential candidate. Breckinridges have served as college presidents, prominent ministers, soldiers, theologians and in important positions at state and local levels.
Breckenridge, Colorado and its famous ski resort? Yes, named for the same family, even if spelled slightly differently. The family name and its influence spread far-and-wide across the United States.
Mary Carson Breckinridge took a different path, leveraging her family prestige and pedigree towards public service. She grew up privileged. She was also educated by private tutors and in exclusive schools both in the United States and in Europe. After personal tragedies during her early adulthood, she turned to nursing, helping to comfort victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic and then
The following year she joined the American Committee for Devastated France and organized a visiting nurse program in France. The program was so successful that two years later her nurses and midwives were caring for children and pregnant women throughout France. When Breckinridge returned to the United States in 1921, she found that there were no schools of midwifery and planned to start one.
This evolved into the Frontier Nursing Service and the Frontier Nursing University, providing health care and educating nurse-midwives in an under-served corner of Appalachia. Hyden, Kentucky, the base of her operations and home of the current Mary Breckinridge Hospital, was just just down the road from Confluence and the little park named in her remembrance.
Tour de Odd
I’m thinking about organizing a casual bicycle ride between several Washington, DC area geo-oddities sometime this spring or summer. Sites would include stops at the American Meridian, various practical exclaves, an original boundary stone and the little chunk of Washington, DC crossed by the famous Beltway which is displayed in the photograph above (and see map).
Members of the 12MC audience who might be interested in joining me — the potential out and back is displayed above — should feel free to contact me offline. The route is nearly flat, almost at sea-level, and provides amazing panoramic views of the monuments. I’ll let anyone interested know more as I work out the details and the weather warms up.
Ontario, California, not Canada
Twitter user @colourcountry mentioned the interesting situation of Ontario, California which comes remarkably close (in name) to Ontario, Canada. The postal code for California is CA and the top-level Internet domain for Canada is ca. There’s all sort of potential for trouble or confusion going in either direction. He also noted a similar issue with Trinidad, Colorado (CO) and Trinidad, Colombia, Colombia (co). Are there other instances?
That also reminded me of how far I’ve fallen behind on user mail. My apologies to all of you who have sent story suggestions. I’ll try to get to them as soon as I can.
Accident, Maryland, USA
Speaking of user suggestions, reader Kevin mentioned his fascination with the town of Accident in Maryland. He noted that visitors would be accidental tourists, and that the town had a "South North street and a North South Street." It’s true!
How did Accident get its name? The Town of Accident said:
Mr. George Deakins was to receive 600 acres of land in Western Maryland as a payment of a debt from King George II of England. Mr. Deakins sent out two corps of engineers, each without knowledge of the other, to survey the best land in this area. Both crews returned and to their surprise, they had both marked the same Oak tree as their starting and returning points. Mr. Deakins chose this plot of ground and had it patented “The Accident Tract”. Now called, the Town of Accident!
Right. It sounds apocryphal to me too.