Cactus

On August 14, 2014 · 3 Comments

The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.

Cactus, Texas



How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.

The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).

It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.

Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980′s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.


Cactus Springs, Nevada


The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,

Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.

The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.


Cactus Flat, South Dakota


Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.

The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.

Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.


Cactus Beach, South Australia



Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.

Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!

I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,

The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.

So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.


(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.

Geography

Turpan Depression

On August 10, 2014 · 1 Comments

Are you ready for another installment in my occasional series on lowpoints? I am.

Everyone always focuses on the greatest of mountains and the highest of elevations. Lowpoints need a little love too, especially those below sea level, and the further down the better. I turned my attention to China, a nation that does not receive nearly as much 12MC coverage as it deserves, and to its Turpan (Turfan) Depression in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The deepest spot on the Turpan Depression descended an impressive 154 metres (505 feet) below sea level, which made it perhaps the second, third or fourth lowest point of land on earth depending on the source consulted.


The Lowest Point on Chinese Land.jpg
The Lowest Point on Chinese Land” by KgbkgbkgbOwn work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


The Chinese deserved credit for marking the spot rather distinctively. It might not be quite the tourist destination as Death Valley, however it seemed to have a lot more potential than Laguna del Carbón or Lac Assal. It is also located near a sizable city, Turpan, with more than a quarter of a million residents, and it’s already becoming an attraction for extreme sports.


Ancient city of Jiahoe
Ancient city of Jiahoe by Farrukh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The Turpan Depression exhibited history in abundance as a site along the famous Silk Road’s northern route. Dynasties came and fell over a couple of millennia as they sought to control trade at this pivotal oasis that later became the city of Turpan: Tang, Uyghur, and Moghul all spent time here. The nearby ancient city of Jiaohe dated to the earliest of those times around the same basic period as the Roman Empire, only to be destroyed later by Genghis Khan.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city of Jiaohe is nearly 2,300 years old. Jiaohe was of great military significance as it was located directly in the path which at the time safely and conveniently connected the Orient to the Occident. Geographically Jiaohe city is located near the nexus of the Flame Mountain and the Salt Mountain, through which was the only course for trade exchanges and military movement. On the other side of the pass ancient cavalries could reach an oasis in the Turpan Basin.

Clearly, this lowpoint of China has potential as a premier tourist attraction in the desert.


Flaming Mountains
Flaming Mountains by momo, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

It is truly a desert too, and hot.

Turpan is not only special for its low altitude, but also for its strange climate. In summer, the temperature can reach as high as 47°C (117°F), while on the surface of the sand dunes, it may well be 82°C (180°F). It is no exaggeration to say that you can bake a cake in the hot sand. The average annual rainfall is little more than ten millimeters; sometimes there is not a drop of rain for ten months at a stretch.

The extreme lowpoint of the Turpan Depression can be found at a location known as Ayding Lake or Aydingkol Lake.



View Larger Map

As one might suspect, a gouge in the earth created by shearing land masses during continental drift might serve as an excellent basin to catch water. Ayding Lake was indeed an impressive body of water into the early part of the 20th Century. Its name derived from the Uygur word for Moonlight, "gaining the name for the lake water as bright and beautiful as moonlight."

Today it might be described better as a cautionary tale or an ecological disaster. People siphoned the waters of Ayding Lake primarily for agriculture. Now instead of a large lake "…you won’t see moonlit water. What you can see is perhaps dried mud and salt beds."

Geography

Overheard in México

On August 5, 2014 · 0 Comments

A Wikipedia page caught my attention lately, an article on the Languages of México. Spanish naturally came to mind and the vast majority of its 120 million citizens do speak that. I figured there were probably a number of indigenous languages as well and that was likewise true. For example at least a million people speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people, either as a primary or as a secondary language primarily in central México. 12MC focused on the other end of the scale and went straight down to the bottom of the list to examine the least spoken of the 68 nationally-recognized Mexican languages.

The bottom three languages each had less than two hundred Mexican speakers. Sources varied on the exact number although each would be considered threatened or moribund, and possibly in danger of extinction.

I discovered a website previously unknown to me in the process, Ethnologue – Languages of the World. The source listed information more than seven thousand living languages. It became a great resource during my search and I’m sure I will return to it in the future.


Mocho’



Motozintla de Mendoza, Chiapas, México

Mocho’ (alternately Motocintleco, Motozintleco, or Qato’k) is a Mayan language found in the Mexican state of Chiapas, practically on the border with Guatemala. Two distinct dialects existed, in Motozintla (map) and Tuzantán (map). Ethnologue noted that this language was extremely endangered. It would be highly unlikely to encounter someone speaking Mocho’ in either of those towns by happenstance; it was spoken by "older adults" in "home only." There were no known monolingual speakers of Mocho’ either.


Kumiai


Kumeyaay Plaque
Kumeyaay Plaque by Steve R, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Kumiai is a Yuman language spoken by the Kumeyaay (formerly Diegueño) people. Yuman languages occupied a relatively small geographic footprint even during its heyday, covering modern Baja California plus portions of adjacent California and Arizona on the US side of the border. As an historical footnote, these were the people who stood on the shore greeting Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo when he landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first European expedition to the west coast of the future United States. An exhibit recognizes the Kumeyaay contribution at Cabrillo National Monument on the southern tip of Point Loma (map)

Currently 13 bands of Kumeyaay live in the United States and 4 live in México. The southernmost grouping resides at La Huerta, "located on the edge of a remote mountain wilderness area about 70 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border, and 30 miles east of Ensenada" (map). The Kumiai Community Museum in Tecate attempts to preserve some of their cultural heritage.

Ethnologue estimated about 370 Kumiai speakers spread across both sides of the border. None of them were monolingual. Kumiai was categorized as moribund although efforts are underway to teach it to new generations.


Tohono O’odham


Tribal Dancer
Tribal Dancer by Henri Louis Hirschfeld, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Tohono O’odham, a Uto-Aztecan language, didn’t have many speakers on the Mexican side of the border although there were at least 14,000 speakers in the United States including at least 180 monolinguals. That was enough to qualify it as "only" threatened rather than moribund, exhibiting "vigorous" usage by people of all ages. In México, however, there may be as few as a hundred speakers. These people were once known as the Papago — a name that lives on in objects as diverse as a moth, a park, and a US Navy ship. That name was discarded in favor of Tohono O’odham because Papago had been foisted upon them by outsiders.

Tohono O’odham occupied an historical range throughout the Sonoran Desert, roughly southeastern Arizona through northwestern México. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war between México and the United States in 1848 and then the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 established an international border directly through Tohono O’odham land. It wasn’t ever a problem until recently.

Initially, and for over one hundred years, the Tohono O’odham were able to pass freely over the border. However, in the mid-1980s the border was tightened in an effort by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Consequently, a barbed wire fence dividing the reservation in half and increased border patrol has made passing across the border difficult for tribal members. Entry anywhere but official check points is illegal and the entry points nearest to the reservation are 90 to 150 miles away.

The Tohono O’odham people never recognized a border and moved freely amongst themselves, making it possible for them to maintain family ties and participate in festivals such as the annual pilgrimage to to Magdalena de Kino (map) in Sonora: "we do not see ourselves as living in the borderlands. That is the view of people who look on a map but not at our lives. The border does not define us." Tohono O’odham extend as far as 90 miles south of the border into México.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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