It’s a Mystery to Me

On July 27, 2017 · 0 Comments

I felt like a good mystery. People named a number of geographic features Mystery something-or-another. Most of them seemed to be Mystery Lake for some mysterious reason. Generally I couldn’t find much because they were often small, existed in abundance and fell across many different English speaking countries. I discarded them. Instead I found a few spots where I could actually unlock the mystery.

Mystery Bay, New South Wales


Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay. Photo by Tim Riley on Flickr (cc)

Mystery Bay sat on the Tasman Sea, near the southeastern corner of New South Wales. It also offered a double bonus from my perspective. Two things bore the Mystery Bay name, an actual bay and an adjacent town. Not a lot of people lived there, maybe a couple of hundred, although the seaside setting seemed nice.

The mystery traced back to 1880. Five men left Bermagui in a small boat, led by a geologist employed by the Mines Department. The government wanted him to inspect new goldfields a few kilometres farther north along the coast. Everyone on the expedition completely disappeared. A search party discovered the boat although the men vanished. A memorial at Mystery Bay offered additional details (map).

The boat… had been carefully steered through about 70 metres of jagged rocks… On the seats were bait, a pocket knife, pipe and tobacco, crumbs and other food. There was a bag of potatoes and a bag of mixed personal articles like clothing, bedding, tools and sundries.

The searchers found additional items on the beach, although nothing unusual or out of place. The ultimate fate of the men continues to baffle those who still try to unravel the secret.


Mystery Island, Vanuatu


Mystery Island - Vanuatu
Mystery Island – Vanuatu. Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr (cc)

Cruise ships dock regularly at Vanuatu’s Mystery Island (map). People traveling to nearby Aneityum Island have to land at an airstrip on Mystery Island, too. The island is so well known that Vanuatu’s postal service issued commemorative stamps to highlight it in 2009. How could anyone consider it a mystery? It sat there as bright as day with abundant visitors next to a large populated island almost within touching distance. Sure, it didn’t cover much territory, just one kilometre by a few hundred metres. Nobody lived on it permanently either; Vanuatu wanted to keep the beaches pristine. Nonetheless, it got plenty of attention.

That Vanuatu Post page actually offered an explanation.

During World War II, this small, uninhabited island was used as a landing strip for the allied forces… The "mystery" is said to have derived from the fact that the air strip is impossible to see from the sea and therefore it took some time for the Japanese to determine where all the planes were coming from.

The island went by a different name officially, Inyeug.


Another Mystery Bay; This One in Washington State


Marrowstone
Marrowstone. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)

The U.S state of Washington also contained a Mystery Bay, just off of the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The bay formed a hooked inlet on the western side of Marrowstone Island. The state created Mystery Bay State Park there (map) along its shoreline. Historically a band of Native Americans called the Chemakum lived on the island. They disappeared suddenly in the early 19th Century to be replaced by the Klallum. Nobody really knew what happened to them although the mystery actually referred to something else.

Canada sat tantalizingly close, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A motorized boat could easily make a quick run to Victoria and back. From 1920 to 1933, the United States enforced alcohol prohibition. No such prohibition existed in Canada. See where this is heading? Smugglers would sneak alcohol from Canada into the US by boat and hide amongst all those tiny islands conveniently close to Seattle. Marrowstone Island seemed to be a particularly good choice, especially the little inlet on its western side. Bootleggers could practically vanish into the slot. Coast Guard crews trying to intercept smugglers referred to their regular disappearances as a mystery. This, supposedly, provided the bay its name.


Plenty of Mysteries in New Zealand, Too

New Zealand contained a number of Mystery places although none of them amounted to much in the way of a good story. I couldn’t find any useful information. However, I did learn a couple of new words. I’ve been on a streak lately so it seemed fine to continue it.

Mystery Tarn (map): I learned that Tarn meant pond. It derived from tjörn, the Old Norse word for pond. That made perfect sense once I saw it. When I visited Iceland in 1999 I remembered seeing the scenic pond in central Reykjavík, also called Tjörn.

Mystery Burn (map): Burn seemed a little more unusual although it referred to a stream. Some digging uncovered a Scottish Gaelic origin that meant something like "fresh water."

Neither of these New Zealand examples served as great revelations although I enjoyed the pursuit.

The Border Peaks

On July 23, 2017 · 1 Comments

It’s not unusual to see an international border extend across or along a mountain range. Even Mt. Everest sits on the border between Nepal and China. Sometimes a border will need to be adjusted when the underlying physical characteristics of a mountain changes too. That issue confronted Italy and Switzerland several years ago as glaciers began to melt. However, I’d never seen a mountain named in recognition of the border, much less a pair of mountains found on either side of the border. I noticed an occurrence in the United States first and then spotted its partner in Canada.

The Border Peaks


Border Peaks and Larrabee
Border Peaks and Larrabee. Photo by Sean Munson on Flickr (cc)

Less than a mile separated American Border Peak from Canadian Border Peak. They belonged to a single ridge on the Slesse-Tamihi creeks divide. Four peaks capped the rim, from the north to south, Canadian Border Peak, American Border Peak, Mt. Larrabee and the Pleiades. Geologically the ridge belonged to the Chilliwack group, composed primarily of ancient volcanic rock and sediment. Its brittleness created abundant debris, with plenty of scree and talus. I’d never used those words before. In fact, I had to look them up. Scree came from Old Norse and talus came from French although they meant about the same thing. Rock eroding from higher elevations rolled downhill, creating precarious slopes of broken stone. Those were scree and talus.

It dawned on me that someone had to climb up to that col between the two peaks to survey the border. That marked another new word for me: col. It meant something like a saddle or notch along the ridge, a place between peaks. I didn’t know if one of those metal border posts found its way to ridge, though. Perhaps I could check the data set and find out. I didn’t really have the motivation today. Maybe someday. Nonetheless, at the very least, a group of people with a bunch of surveying equipment had to get up there. I doubt the border patrol will ever have to worry much about illegal crossings either. This remote ridge didn’t get a lot of visitors except for an occasional mountaineer. That seemed pretty low risk.

I turned to the usual sources like SummitPost and Peakbagger to examine the American and Canadian peaks.


American Border Peak


American Border Peak
American Border Peak. Photo by Dru! on Flickr (cc)

American Border Peak (map) rose 7,998 feet (2,438 metres) on the United States side of the border. Nobody managed to climb it until 1930.

The summit crested just 0.4 miles away from Canada. That didn’t really matter, borders being artificial creations and all, although that placed it within the state of Washington. Specifically it fell within the confined of the Mount Baker Wilderness of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. This height made it the tallest of the four peaks along the ridge. All four broke the 7,000 foot barrier and naturally one had to be the tallest. I declined to make any geopolitical statements based on its altitude relative to the others.

Its isolation and loose terrain made American Border Peak a challenging climb for most people. It didn’t have a defined trails to the summit either. That left climbers on their own to find their way across unstable debris. Many waited until springtime when ice and snow locked shifting rocks into place. One doesn’t ordinarily think of snow providing more traction than stone although this particular peak offered an exception.


Canadian Border Peak


Canadian Border Peak
Canadian Border Peak. Photo by Tim Gage on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared on Canadian Border Peak (map), rising 2,291 metres (7,516 feet) in British Columbia. Noticed that I switched to metric for the elevation. We crossed the border into Canada so it seemed appropriate to use the proper unit of measurement that applied there. I liked to pander to the local population. Bivouac.com described it as "a sharp pointed horn of mediocre rock."

Canadians had it a bit easier on their climb to the summit. Logging roads brought climbers further up the hillside. Nonetheless, the underlying rock retained the same characteristics as the American side. They belonged to the same ridge, after all. Here again, a prime time to climb seemed to be springtime with snow on the ground. The first assent happened in 1932.

Duck

On July 20, 2017 · 1 Comments

Several years ago, and I don’t recall exactly when, I wrote an entire Twelve Mile Circle article without using a single Google tool. I found it incredibly frustrating, nearly impossible. The article got buried somewhere in the archive and I don’t remember the title. Just trust me. I didn’t enjoy it. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson that first time so I decided to try it again.

I don’t mind Google in general and I’m not trying to bash it. However, my 12MC investigations do produce some rather mistargeted advertisements because of my unusual search patterns. As an example, I’m currently getting lots of ads for "Official Detroit Red Wings Apparel," no doubt because of King Boring and the Detroit Gems. I’ll never purchase any of that stuff. Those advertisements are completely wasted on me. Google’s all-knowing algorithm thinks differently.

Well, as I considered the situation further, the DuckDuckGo search engine seemed to be improving. It also famously didn’t track its users. Maybe I could repeat my "Google avoidance" experiment. Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Duck


Duck, North Carolina - 2010 - 09
Duck, North Carolina – 2010. Photo by sugargliding on Flickr (cc)

The Town of Duck in North Carolina sat at the northern end of the Outer Banks, snuggled up against Virginia (map). Lots of people I know owned vacation homes there. Middle class people could afford these homes by renting them out for most of the summer. They’d enjoyed their beach homes for a couple of weeks during prime season and then anytime at all during the off-season. That model didn’t really work for me though. I liked to wander and count counties. Even so I drove to the Outer Banks in 2012 and enjoyed it just fine. I could see why people might want a second home in Duck if they preferred to relax on a beach.

Duck didn’t have much of a history because it’s only existed as a town since 2002. Prior to that it wasn’t much more than a strand of houses along the ocean. The population ebbed and flowed in the predictable manner too. A few hundred people lived there year round, to be joined by twenty thousand other folks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Some of us living on the eastern side of the United States might have heard about Duck for another reason. A little shop called Duck Donuts began there and has been spreading regionally. It’s always funny to see a Duck Donuts shop when it’s disconnected from the geographic source of its name. I imagined a donut literally made from a duck. Nonetheless, the shop simply carried the name of its hometown on the Outer Banks as it expanded.


Duck


Duck, West Virginia 25063
Duck, West Virginia 25063. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Duck also existed considerably inland, in the rugged interior of West Virginia (map). Wikipedia considered the origin of the name "obscure." Come on, someone saw a duck and named the town. Mystery solved.

Whoever founded the hamlet chose a scenic spot along the Elk River on the border between Clay and Braxton Counties. In this place, "rugged, laurel-covered hollows dart back from the narrow river valley, and level land is at a premium." It didn’t have much else in the way of significance although it qualified for its own post office. That counted for something. The Elk River continued onward past Duck on its way to the Kanawha River, then into the Ohio and Mississippi, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Elk and Duck. They liked animals and they kept it simple.

Duck had a better name than another community nearby called Booger Hole. On the other hand, Booger Hole had a better story, considering the murder spree that happened there about a hundred years ago.


Go



Go, Ghana

I found only a single Go, a small village in Ghana. GeoNames provided its exact location and offered multiple name variations: "Go, Gogo, Goo Abokobisi." The spot fell at the very northern extreme of Ghana, nearly all the way up to Burkina Faso. Other than that, Go seemed to leave behind few digital traces anywhere on the Intertubes. I ran it through DuckDuckGo and the first two recommendations involved the band Goo Goo Dolls. It also suggested its rival, Google. D’oh!

Vietnam provided some possibilities albeit not for Go as a standalone name. Go appeared frequently either as a prefix or as a suffix, with various accent marks above the letter "o." None of them seemed particularly remarkable.


Panaji, Goa , India
Panaji, Goa, India. Photo by Dan Searle on Flickr (cc)

Results improved dramatically with the addition of a single letter, creating Goa (map). Nearly 1.5 million people lived in this smallest and wealthiest of Indian states. The Portuguese ruled Goa for four and a half centuries. Then an independent India siezed Goa with force in 1961. Later Goa became its own Indian state in 1987. Its economy depended on tourism, especially for its Portuguese influences and its amazing beaches on the Arabian Sea.


The Verdict

I found it a lot easier to research a 12MC article without using Google this time. DuckDuckGo could probably substitute for Google’s search capabilities. It came surprisingly close to replicating its functionality. However I found it difficult to replace many of Google’s other services. There were parts of this article where I desperately wanted to turn to Google Maps, Books, and Translate. Google’s YouTube video capability would have come in handy too.

I guess I’ll live with Detroit Red Wing advertisements for awhile longer.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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