The second day-trip loop from Asheville plowed nearly due west onto the domain of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, and then continued into Great Smoky Mountains National Park for another easy U.S. state highpoint capture. I guess it was actually more of an out-and-back although one could cut the corner just a bit on the return trip with a brief yet scenic jaunt down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We rolled through pleasant countryside along serpentine roads, over hills and dipped into hollows as we followed U.S. Route 19 into the town of Cherokee. Something completely out of place loomed suddenly from the valley floor, not a mountain, rather a massive multi-story building with a huge parking garage. It was a resort hotel casino (map). I doubt there was a taller building anywhere closer than an hour away in Asheville. Here it stood probably fifteen stories high, an urban structure without a downtown.
I’m not a gambler so I never felt any temptation to answer its call. To me the most fascinating feature was the casino’s complete lack of context with all that surrounded it, like a giant middle finger to those who had mistreated the tribe since Europeans first landed on the continent and pushed into the mountains. North Carolina didn’t want casino gambling? Those laws didn’t apply here. I hope the Eastern Band makes a ton of money from their venture given how much they’ve been treated for the last couple of centuries… just not my money.
Oconaluftee Islands Park
We’d been eating out a lot and visiting multiple brewpubs so we decided to do something a little bit different, a picnic lunch outdoors. I’d wondered if that might be possible as I examined Street View the previous day. The main strip seemed pretty touristy. Then I noticed a little green spot (map) while poking through online map sites and identified Oconaluftee Islands Park. That was just what we needed, a little oasis of nature and solitude surrounded on all sides by water, accessible only by footbridges. Children splashed and rode inflatable tubes down a lazy river, ducks and geese floated by, the wind rustled through a bamboo forest, and we enjoyed our respite at a shady picnic pavilion. The price was right too: FREE.
The town of Cherokee served as the headquarters of the Eastern Band. Members of the nation were descendants of a small residual group of Cherokee that remained in North Carolina in the early 1800’s. They avoided the infamous Trail of Tears, however not without their own hardships. They were forced to renounce or hide their own culture for much of the Nineteenth Century, and spent the next hundred-plus years trying to revive it, a process that continues today. They also had to repurchase the land that rightfully belonged to them.
In North Carolina, those Cherokees who escaped removal either through a North Carolina provision called the Reservation Act of 1819 or by evading the United States Army remained behind in a land less state. By law, Native Americans were neither citizens of the United States nor the state where they resided therefore none could hold property… This ambiguous status continued until after the Civil War when the Cherokee question surfaced again. After several years of legal wrangling, the Cherokee formed a corporation. As a business, the Cherokee could hold the land and the land, which was to become known as the Qualla Boundary again, was in Cherokee control.
The entire history of the Cherokee people was explained in detail at the well-done Museum of the Cherokee Indian (map). It was a large facility and it took quite awhile to see everything in the level of detail it deserved. That took us longer than expected. Other sites nearby included the Qualla Arts & Crafts Center and the Oconaluftee Indian Village. I’d wanted to see both of those and we simply ran short on time. Most visitors would probably want to spend at least an entire day in Cherokee. We didn’t have that option because I had an important geo-oddity that required my attention.
We’d reached the summit of North Carolina’s elevation highpoint the previous day. Now it was time to do the same thing for Tennessee at Clingmans Dome, (map), with an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 metres). I know what readers are thinking — this is supposed to be an article about western North Carolina, not Tennessee. If it makes anyone feel better, the Tennessee highpoint fell directly upon the boundary between the two states. The Clingmans Dome summit also served as the highpoint for Swain County, North Carolina. That could be used as a justification to maintain the sanctity of the article title. We were only ever a few feet across the border into Tennessee and only momentarily.
I expected this to be another easy highpoint directly within my lazy mountaineering ethos. It was crowded! I knew we were in trouble when I saw cars parked along the access road more than a half-mile away from the official parking lot. Clingmans Dome (map) fell within the confines of Great Smokey Mountains National Park which had 10 million visitors in 2014, making it one of the most popular properties in the entire National Parks system. It was summer. We arrive at the middle of the day. What else should we expect?
Proving the adage that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good, a parking space opened up directly in front of us, practically the best spot in the entire lot. Clearly a higher power wanted me to visit the highpoint, or more likely didn’t want to hear our kids whine because we were going to the spot even if we had to park all the way down the road and walk the extra distance by golly. I didn’t drive all the way out to a remote mountain and up to the top to turn around and head home. From there we trekked from parking lot to summit along with a few hundred of our new best friends, looped to the viewing platform and jostled through the crowds searching for the horizon. I much preferred the experience of North Carolina’s highpoint the previous day, shooing away swarms of insects instead of people. The Tennessee highpoint would be best appreciated during the off-season.
Twelve Mile Circle finds itself with an overflowing mailbag once again with lots of intriguing readers suggestions. Each one of these could probably form an entire article although I’ll provide the short versions today to try to clear a backlog. Once again, I’ll say gladly that 12MC has the best readers. I really appreciate learning about news things that I can now share with a broader audience.
Ebright Azimuth (Delaware Highpoint) — my own photo
I wasn’t familiar with Dall Island, however it formed a miniscule part of the border between the United States and Canada, as mentioned by reader "A.J." and as noted by Wikipedia:
Cape Muzon, the southernmost point of the island, is the western terminus, known as Point A, of the A-B Line, which marks the marine boundary between the state of Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia as defined by the Alaska Boundary Treaty of 1903. This line is also the northern boundary of the waters known as the Dixon Entrance.
A.J. thought it interesting that Dall Island was listed as internationally divided with 100% of the landmass in the United States and 0% within Canada. The boundary just touched the tip of the island so the portion within Canada would be infinitesimally small, literally only at the so-called Point A (map). How could the United States own all of an island but not really all of an island? It brought a lot of questions to my mind, too: Was there a border monument? Did the border change with the tides? Would someone get in trouble for touching Point A without reporting to immigrations and customs?
12MC received a bit of a riddle from reader "Brian" that amused me. Everyone educated in the United States should be able to get the answer although apparently it fools a lot people. I’ll go ahead and post the question and then leave a little space so it doesn’t spoil the answer. "Name the City: Of the 50 US capitol cities, this one has the largest population AND falls alphabetically between Olympia (Washington) and Pierre (South Dakota)."
Feel free to scroll down when you’re ready.
It’s Phoenix, Arizona.
I almost fell into the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania trap until I remembered that Harrisburg is the capital city of Pennsylvania. That may be just an instinctual thing showing nothing more than I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic my whole life. I’m sure people in Arizona wouldn’t have a problem with this one. It would be interesting to know if the incorrect "answer" varied by geography.
Yes, I realize it was horribly unfair of me to use an image of the Liberty Bell to further confuse the issue.
photo courtesy of reader Lyn; used with permission
Lyn, who’s frequent contributions has earned the exalted title "Loyal Reader Lyn" struck again with a trip to the Maldives (map). Lyn learned long ago that I love getting website hits from obscure locations and has a job that goes to interesting places such as Douala in Cameroon. I wish my job took me to equally fascinating places. Sadly, it does not. I’m more likely to travel to exotic spots like Atlanta or Boston — nice places for sure although nothing in comparison to the Maldives or Cameroon. Lyn should start a travel website. I’d subscribe!
photo courtesy of reader Bob; used with permission
Bob spotted an interesting intersection while wandering about Waterbury, Connecticut: Stewart Avenue & Granger Street (map). Stewart Granger was a British actor active primarily in the 1940’s through 1960’s (e.g., starring with John Wayne in North to Alaska).
It had been a long time since 12MC had done an article on street names and intersections, and this topic looked particularly promising. I thought off the top of my head that someone else from that era would be a good possibility, Errol Flynn. In more modern terms, maybe Taylor Swift? I’ll bet there’s a Taylor St. intersecting with a Swift St. somewhere. Unfortunately the latest version of Google Maps wouldn’t accommodate this type of searching as elegantly as its predecessor so I had to abandon the search.
This may be the largest geographic area affected by the recent renaming of things associated with the old Confederacy. I always thought it was a tad strange that an area of Alaska was named for a Confederate cavalry officer.
It occurred to me, as I wrote two recent travelogues, that I’d visited a lot of interesting places in the last few years. I recorded my thoughts and impressions from those journeys on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle. The intent was to describe my adventures while still fresh in my mind. Looking back through many of those pages recently, as a complete body of work, they seemed to have transformed into something more like a diary. I wasn’t prescient as they unfolded at the time, just looking for topics that didn’t require a lot of advance research. Travel stories were easy to draft and offered a break from the usual fare of geo-oddities that sometimes took hours to write.
I couldn’t help getting a little nostalgic as the pages brought back events that had already started receding from memory. I couldn’t believe how quickly years had passed. I wanted to create a catalog, probably more for myself than for my faithful readers, so that I could always stroll through those past haunts with ease. This article was the result.
Wisconsin’s Point of Beginning
The concept began with a family trip to see the in-laws during the earliest days of 12MC, only a few months after I began writing it. The trip coincided with severe flooding in the area. The first travelogue on the site sprang organically from those events in a series of four articles.
Later we returned to Wisconsin and focused on the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. There I crossed into my 1000th county in my never-ending County Counting quest. I was up to 1,255 counties as of the time I published this article (June 2015) so I’ve progressed well. However I have to look at it realistically and I don’t think that I will be able to capture every remaining county. I’m moving too slowly.
Later that summer we traveled to Maine. It would set precedence for an annual family tradition: that summer and each subsequent summer (excepting one) we’ve picked a different state as a family and then spent a week exploring it.
That was fine although I was probably more excited about the state we selected that year, Alaska. I’d been to Alaska a couple of times before and I wanted to try a different corner. We rented a house at a central point on the Kenai Peninsula in the tiny town of Cooper Landing (map) and radiated out from there on day trips. We experienced only one small slice of the massive Alaskan landmass although we saw it in depth. I’d gladly return.
The Tropical Border Between France and the Netherlands on St. Martin/Maarten
We don’t go to the beach ordinarily. I’m too restless and my wife sunburns too easily. Yet, a trip to the Caribbean during early Spring without any kids sounded downright attractive. I selected St. Martin / Maarten because it had an international border running through it. Isn’t that how everyone chooses a tropical vacation destination?
We let our older son pick the state in 2012 and he selected Oregon. That was an excellent choice. I’d been to Oregon’s beautiful coastline several times so I decided to focus on the dry, hot eastern side of the Cascades this time. I also threw-in a couple of days in Washington for good measure. We spent most of the time near Bend, Oregon. It may have had something to do with the large concentration of breweries and brewpubs found there.
Then I joined Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through an incredible array of Connecticut geography extremes that may never be equaled again. Steve, has it really been three years already?
The Dust Bowl Adventures marked my first encounter with the Mainly Marathons organization. This was the first race series they’d ever sponsored; five races in five states in five days (now they do even more). The series was designed for people working on 50-state marathon (or half marathon) lists or adding to their lifetime totals. I was a driver for a runner, collecting all sorts of obscure counties while we wandered through unlikely corners where Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico all came in close proximity to each other.
Kentucky was our state of choice that summer for the annual family vacation. We focused on its Appalachian region for the most part. Eastern Kentucky featured spectacular natural beauty along the wooded hills and tumbling brooks.
We signed on for another Mainly Marathons series in 2014, this time along the Mississippi River with races in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. We never spotted Elvis although we did stop at Graceland.
Then we deviated from our usual pattern and selected Ireland for our family vacation instead of a U.S. state. One branch of my family came from Ireland and we were actually able to meet some of our distant cousins. We covered quite a bit of territory in the southwestern corner.
Eastern Continental Divide: Which Way Will the Water Flow?
The current year may be my finest travel period ever. I began with some healthy exercise in April when I completed a four-day bicycle ride along the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
That would probably be enough in a normal year. Fortunately I still have two more trips planned. I’ll spend a week in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina later in the Summer. In Autumn we will participate in another Mainly Marathon event, the Center of the Nation Series (six races, six days, six states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado). More travelogues will be forthcoming!