Southern Swing, Part 1

On January 7, 2015 · 2 Comments

I still hate airlines. I don’t fear flying, I simply want to withhold as much of my money as I can from those greedy [censored] until the tight squeeze of market forces compel them to start treating their passengers with a little respect. I’m pretty much at the point where I’ll drive to any destination of a thousand miles or so instead of fly. That sentiment led to another grandiose road trip over the winter holidays. Of course, the handful of readers who follow the 12MC Twitter feed already figured that out. That’s an incentive for the rest of you to subscribe to my Twitter page I guess, or maybe it’s a disincentive. I don’t know.



DC to Florida to Mississippi and Back

We took a rather unusual route to the Mississippi Gulf Coast this time, via St. Augustine, Florida. I know many readers would think of that as a crazy detour. I rationalized it a couple of different ways. First, there wasn’t a completely straight route between the Mid Atlantic and the Mississippi Gulf so the detour didn’t make all that much difference in the larger trip. Was it the most direct route? No, of course not. It wasn’t totally insane either.

Second, there were lots of cool things to see and do in St. Augustine and I knew the boys would love it. My wife actually nailed it on the head, though. "Is this a county counting thing?" she asked. Well, ahem, yes that might have had something to do with it. She was fine with the idea once I confessed the ulterior motive. We’ve been married long enough by now that she accepts my weird hobby even if she doesn’t completely understand it.

We left on Christmas day to avoid the worst of the soul-sucking horror of Interstate 95 traffic and stopped overnight somewhere in North Carolina. That evening, with few restaurant options, I chose shrimp and grits for my Christmas Dinner. That’s a thing, right? The traditional shrimp and grits Christmas Dinner? I enjoyed it anyway, and it reminded me that we were in the South. I washed it down with a Sweet Tea since we were way below the Sweet Tea Line by that point. The next day we continued to Florida and all went smoothly except for some bad traffic for the final forty-five miles of South Carolina. We made it safely to St. Augustine (map) by late afternoon.



Castillo de San Marcos National Monument



Castillo de San Marcos

We stopped first at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (map).

Americans often think of Plymouth, Massachusetts (established 1620) or Jamestown, Virginia (established 1607 – and visited by 12MC) as the "oldest" successful European settlements in the continental United States. That’s because people of English descent wrote many of the history books. As a point of fact, that honor should go to St. Augustine instead which was founded by Spanish settlers in 1565.

St. Augustine didn’t incorporate a magnificent fort from its inception. Rival European nations and their privateers conducted raids up and down the Atlantic coast. St. Augustine was sacked a couple of times by the English and threatened by the French. Spain finally had enough after the 1668 attack by Jamaican privateer Robert Searle. Construction of Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672, a full century after the original settlement of the city.

The National Park Service discussed the architecture and construction of this oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., and its only surviving specimen from the Seventeenth Century:

… It is a prime example of the "bastion system" of fortification, the culmination of hundreds of years of military defense engineering. It is also unique for the material used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina… A cannon ball fired at more solid material, such as granite or brick would shatter the wall into flying shards, but cannon balls fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and stuck there, much like a bb would if fired into Styrofoam. So the thick coquina walls absorbed or deflected projectiles rather than yielding to them, providing a surprisingly long-lived fortress.

Castillo de San Marcos was constructed in a star shape with four bastions. This allowed defenders to create deadly crossfire for anyone hoping to to attack. The fort never fell during battle, however it changed hands a number of times because of political changes.

  • Florida became a British territory in 1763 as part of the settlement of the Seven Years’ War.
  • Florida returned to Spanish control in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War (Spain had been a supporter of American independence and this was its reward).
  • Florida became part of the United States through the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821.
  • Florida seceded from the U.S and joined the Confederate States of America in 1861.
  • Union troops seized the undefended fort in 1862 and held it for the remainder of the war and ever since.

During all that time and up until 1933, it remained a military garrison. Only then did the property convey to the U.S. National Park Service.



Saint Augustine Lighthouse



St. Augustine Lighthouse

Our other primary stop that day was the Saint Augustine Lighthouse (map).

Everyone else, it seemed, had a similar idea. The weather was absolutely perfect on the Saturday after Christmas. All the sites were mobbed. We drove onto Anastasia Island and noticed a line of traffic stretching at least a half-mile in the opposite direction, backed up by a traffic light at the end of the bridge in St. Augustine proper. Getting onto the island was easy. Getting back would be a problem. We couldn’t do anything about it so we headed towards the lighthouse anyway. We feared the worst when we were forced to park down the street because the parking lot was completely full. Tons of people mingled around the lighthouse base although few of them ventured to the top. I suppose the 219 steps in the spiral staircase separated the tourists from the lighthouse nerds. From there, 165 feet (50 metres) above the fray, we spotted another bridge several miles away. We enjoyed a panoramic lighthouse view of the Florida coast and discovered a way to avoid the dreaded stoplight. Pro Tip: maybe skip the extra helping of mashed potatoes on Christmas so one can climb to the top of the tower and find the secret escape route.

A lighthouse stood at this spot even during the Spanish period. It was an important structure marking the inlet between two barrier island, Anastasia and Conch, so that ships could enter the Matanzas River and approach St. Augustine safely. This version was constructed in 1874 and continues to remain an active navigational aid. According to Lighthouse Friends, the tower was built using brick from Alabama, granite from Georgia, iron work forged in Philadelphia, and a first-order Fresnel lens crafted in France."



And More


A1A Ale Works
A1A Ale Works

We also visited a couple of brewpubs including A1A Ale Works in downtown St. Augustine (map).

Imagine that. Somehow we ended-up at a fort, a lighthouse, and a brewpub — all things that I "collect" and count. It sounded pretty self-indulgent although we also did plenty of things enjoyed by the other members of the family too. I’ll talk about some of those in the second part.

Few Remain

On December 7, 2014 · 1 Comments

It had been a long time since I checked the visitor logs for new readers arriving from countries that had not ever landed on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle previously. I’d pretty much given up on that specific pursuit after tracking seven years of 12MC, figuring I’d already received what I was going to get. Nonetheless I checked the other day, the first time in more than a year, and I found a few new arrivals. That surprised me. Truly, I think this might have to be the last roundup of national representation though. The visitor map has only tiny holes remaining in it from places that are quite likely to be long-term holdouts like North Korea and such.

Niger


Niamey, Niger
Niamey, Niger by LenDog64, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Niger, a landlocked nation in north Africa that uses French and indigenous languages, wouldn’t seem to be high on the list of places that might be interested in content from Twelve Mile Circle. That was indeed the case. Its seventeen million citizens had bigger concerns than an English-language website focused on geo-oddities: "Niger ranked 186th and last in the 2013 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, with 76 per cent of its people living on less than US$2 a day." Nonetheless, after several years of tracking traffic, I found someone living in Niger who had a burning question. He or she sought information about the Lowest Elevation in Nepal and it filled a big blank spot on my map. Now if I could just convince someone to arrive from the Central African Republic…


Republic of the Congo


08 Kongo - 463
08 Kongo – 463 by Prince Tanzi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I had a similar issue with the Republic of the Congo. On the other hand, I’ve never had any problem attracting visitors from its confusingly-named neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). They had some similarities both with their geographic placement and with their use of French as an official language (albeit one a former colony of France and the other of Belgium). Their primary divergence for my purposes likely occurred due to population. The Republic had fewer than five million citizens while the Democratic Republic had closer to seventy-five million. That right there would seem to explain why I’ve hosted 9 visitors from the DRC over the history of the site and, well, now one visitor from the Republic. That person landed on a very logical page about National Capitals Closest Together. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo are one of the better pairs of cities that address the question. This seemed to also prove the point that I’ll get a visitor from an obscure location eventually if I write about it.

Maybe I should write something about Pyongyang. Then again, maybe I should just let that visit from North Korea arrive organically.


Montserrat


Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/11/09)
Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/11/09)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The other two locations hailed from a completely different part of the world, the Caribbean. Twelve Mile Circle actually does quite well with visitors from the tropical islands there because of my Caribbean Ferries page. Not only do I get a lot of visitors from cold weather countries seeking potential vacation ideas, I capture a lot of traffic directly from people already on the islands. I’d never had a visitor from Montserrat though. That was due to a geological quirk, I am sure. This British Overseas Territory was rocked by the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995. It destroyed the capital city, Plymouth, and forced most of the island’s inhabitants to flee. Only a few thousand people live on Montserrat today and much of the island remains off limits as part of a strictly enforced "exclusion zone." The volcano remains active and it’s a constant threat.


Saint Barthélemy


Toiny, St. Barth
Toiny, St. Barth by Charlievdb, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m not sure what happened with St. Barths. I’d never had a visitor from there before and then I recorded 14 visitors over the last year. This was likely a delayed counting issue arising from changes in political status. Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin were part of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe until 2007. The two are now separate overseas collectives of France and thus are tracked as distinct entities by Google Analytics. Oddly, I’ve been recording Saint Martin hits for years and St. Barths only recently. I guess it took Google awhile to get its act together on that subject. Of course I’m sure I’d been receiving traffic from St. Barths all along although it was aggregated within Guadeloupe.


I May Have to Give Up on Antarctica

The greatest strength of 12MC is the collective knowledge and connections of its readers. Through all of you, I’ve been able to establish connections with people who have been stationed in Antarctica. It appears that telecommunications to and from Antarctica register as traffic from whatever host nation provides the link (e.g., New Zealand, Argentina). Even though Antarctica has its own country code top-level domain (.aq) it’s probably not going to show up that way in my reader logs, which is unfortunate.

Particularly Possessive

On December 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

I noticed that Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County and St. Mary’s County — all in Maryland — included the genitive apostrophe to form their possessive constructions. I’d always taken it on faith that the United States Board on Geographic Names disallowed apostrophes for that specific purpose. That’s how we ended-up with Harpers Ferry and other odd conglomerations. The possessive remained albeit awkwardly without an apostrophe. I wondered how Maryland got away with it.

A little checking revealed a probable answer in the Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page: "certain categories—broadly determined to be ‘administrative’—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc." In those cases (and apparently counties were considered part of "etc."), possessives formed by an apostrophe-s were allowed although discouraged. Maryland felt that a prince, a queen and a saint would all deserve an apostrophe.

For names not considered broadly administrative, however, exceptions with the genitive apostrophe were extremely rare. The Board authorized apostrophes for that specific purpose only five times since its creation in 1890. Lots of theories and folklore attempted to explain that odd disdain for apostrophes although the FAQ proclaimed: "The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy." Someone a century ago apparently had a preference, made a bold decision and it stuck.

Each of the five exceptions merited further examination. Most were obscure. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System included additional justification for these deviations and I could use them to tell their stories.


Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (approved 1933)


Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs
Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Martha’s Vineyard (map) would be the prime example. I won’t spend any time talking about it because I’d like to save that for another day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s foreshadowing. I’ll simply note that if I ever want to tally Dukes County on my county-counting list I’ll need to travel to Martha’s Vineyard (or one of several smaller islands nearby).


Ike’s Point, New Jersey (approved 1944)



Ike’s Point

GNIS described Ike’s Point as "a swamp point on the western side of Jenkins Sound about 0.4 km (0.25 mi) south of Shellbed Landing." It was named for a local family and it had been in common usage for at least 60 years when evaluated in the 1940’s. The Board decided to keep the apostrophe to clarify pronunciation. Otherwise it would have been Ikes Point and subject to interpretation. Surprisingly, Google Street View coverage went all the way to Shellbed Landing. It’s possible to sort-of see Ike’s Point.


John E’s Pond, Rhode Island (approved 1963)


Block Island Southeast Lighthouse
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse by Heather Katsoulis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The same issue pertained to John E’s Pond on Block Island, RI, not far from the Southeast Lighthouse (map). Otherwise it would have been John Es Pond. Originally the Board named this tiny pool of water something else, Milliken Pond. The decision was reversed in 1963 citing "apparent persistence in local usage, recently verified by GS field workers" that dated back to 1886. Actually, further statements in the record implied that another variation may have been more common, John E’s Tug Hole. Some 12MC Intertubes sleuthing found several other "tug holes" on Block Island: Dees Tug Hole (included in GNIS – map); Ames Tug Hole and Elija Tug Hole. Tug hole appeared to be a very localized term for a pond.


Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona (approved 1995)


Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees by Melanie J Watts, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (map) certainly seemed to be a mouthful for an isolated slope in Arizona. The problem was that Carlos, Elmer and Joshua might confuse readers because all of them could be construed as first names. The place wouldn’t make any sense without the apostrophe. From the minutes of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names, January 11, 1995:

Booth, Arizona Board member and proposer of the name, provided a brief biographical sketch of Carlos Elmer, long time Arizona photographer published in Arizona Highways Magazine. Booth commented that he had consulted with Elmer’s widow in trying to locate an area that he loved and to establish a name in memory of him, and together they pinpointed a mountain slope that is very dense with Joshua trees, a subject of many of Elmer’s photos… removing the word Joshua from the title would be inappropriate, because Joshua trees were the subject of the area that Carlos Elmer photographed.

The United States Board on Geographic Names concurred with the Arizona Board’s recommendation.


Clark’s Mountain, Oregon (approved 2002)



Clark’s Mountain

Clark’s Mountain retained its apostrophe for historical reasons. The name came about as part of events commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark likely admired the view from this eponymous mountain as told in the journal of Meriwether Lewis on January 10th, 1806.

Capt. C. found the road along the coast extreemly difficult of axcess, lying over some high rough and stoney hills, one of which he discribes as being much higher than the others, having it’s base washed by the Ocea[n] over which it rares it’s towering summit perpendicularly to the hight of 1500 feet; from this summit Capt. C. informed me that there was a delightfull and most extensive view of the Ocean, the coast and adjacent country; this Mout. I have taken the liberty of naming Clark’s Mountain and point of view; it is situated about 30 M. S. E. of Point (Adams) and projects about 2 1/2 miles into the Ocean…

Meriwether Lewis named the vantage point Clark’s Mountain — with an apostrophe — for his co-leader while the famed Corps of Discovery explored overland to the Pacific Ocean and back. The Board decided to honor his choice.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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