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.

Odds and Ends 13

On June 4, 2017 · Comments Off on Odds and Ends 13

Twelve Mile Circle occasionally features topics that don’t warrant an entire article. I collect these items in a spreadsheet and present them all together every once in awhile. However I hadn’t done one of those in awhile and the topics began to pile-up on my list. Odds and Ends 12 appeared all the way back in March 2016! That surprised me a little. I needed to do some spring cleaning so I hopped to it.


An Island Apart


Malabo
Malabo. Photo by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea on Flickr (cc)

The small African nation of Equatorial Guinea featured an odd geographic arrangement. Most of the nation occupied a rectangle of land bordering the western continental coastline. As well, it included an island quite a bit removed towards the northwest, directly off of the coast of Cameroon. Yet, Equatorial Guinea placed its capital on that island and not on the mainland. The island went by the name of Bioko and the city Malabo (map).

That arrangement existed as a relic of colonialism. Europeans first encountered this corner of Africa when Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó landed on Bioko in 1472. That effort didn’t stick so Portugal traded the island to Spain in 1777. Spain didn’t do much with it either so the British came along and squatted on it in the 1820’s when they found nobody from Spain occupying it. Spain got around to reasserting sovereignty in 1844 and the island remained in Spanish control until Equatorial Guinea gained its independence in 1968. Malabo became the capital by default because it was the oldest and most developed city in the new nation.

Malobo won’t be the capital much longer, however. Equatorial Guinea plans a new capital deep within its mainland jungle interior. Construction began several years ago and government function started moving to the new city, Oyala (map), in February 2017. This completely planned community may someday hold up to two hundred thousand residents, nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. The BBC explained at least one motivation. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema survived several coup attempts and he wanted a more secure location. Oil revenues fund its construction.


What a Mistake


2007-09-10-16-08-59
Rainy Lake. Photo by d Wang on Flickr (cc)

An oddly named geographic feature appeared as I researched the Pub with No Beer. There, just to the northwest of Taylors Arm, I spotted Mistake State Forest (map). I never did find the mistake that led to its name. However, I did learn that it covered 5,638 hectares (~14,000 acres) managed by the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales. I think I made a mistake when I tried to investigate Mistake State Forest.

Fortunately I ran across something completely unexpected and infinitely more interesting. Minnesota’s Star Tribune covered a situation where an 80-year-old error in land records wiped out a popular state trail. Minnesota sold some surplus acreage to a private landowner near International Falls in 1935 and forgot to record its sale. "And the buyer, a prominent International Falls businessman, apparently lost track of the purchase amid all his wheeling and dealing." The spot subsequently became a popular recreational area (map) on Rainy Lake. It might have a generally happy ending though. The heirs seemed willing to gift much of the land back to the state, although retaining acreage with prime views.


A Literal Name


Colstrip Montana
Colstrip Montana. Photo by Spot Us on Flickr (cc)

I noticed that a user landed on 12MC from a remote corner of Montana, so I took a closer look. The spot said Colstrip (map), which I considered a rather strange name. Wouldn’t it be funny, I though, if the name came from an actual strip of coal. Well it did actually, as the city confirmed.

Colstrip was established by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 as a company town to provide coal for their steam locomotives. The mining is open pit strip mining, where draglines remove soil above the layer of bituminous coal from the Fort Union Formation.

The coal mining tradition continued to the present day, with the nearby Rosebud mine being one of the largest in the state. Later, a large power plant opened up nearby to generate electricity for a huge territory surrounding it. However, Colstrip residents face an uncertain future as pressures build on coal. Nearly everyone in town worked either at the mine or at the power plant. Meanwhile coal begins to fall out of favor. It probably won’t be worth renovating the plant to make it more efficient. It’s too outdated. The plant was built forty years ago and is now considered "the nation’s 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases."


First Name, Last Name


Welcome to Clinton, Iowa
Welcome to Clinton, Iowa. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an additional example of First Name, Surname Symmetry recently. This one involved an historical figure named DeWitt Clinton. He dominated New York politics during the early part of the Nineteenth Century. His service included mayor of New York City and multiple terms as Governor. He nearly became President of the United States with a respectable showing against the eventual winner, James Madison. Clinton’s crowning achievement may have been his pivotal role in promoting and building the Erie Canal. This opened a vitally important trade route to the growing interior of the nation. This singular achievement led to dozens of places named in his honor throughout the American Midwest.

They must have really loved DeWitt Clinton in Iowa, though. The state (then a territory) named one of its counties Clinton in 1837 (map). However the county took it one step further. Two of the towns that formed within its boundaries became DeWitt and Clinton, located about 20 miles (32 kilometres) apart (map). That formed an excellent First Name, Surname Symmetry.

Some astute readers may have already figured out how I discovered this happy confluence, especially the people who follow my 12MC Twitter account. I was in Clinton, Iowa three days ago although I’m back home now. Take that as a little foreshadowing of articles soon to come.

Gibraltaresque

On May 21, 2017 · 2 Comments

I didn’t intent to feature Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. I talked about that one before. For example, a major road crossed its airport runway. Fun stuff!


The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar. Photo by Stian Olsen on Flickr (cc)

One other little tidbit interested me too, its etymology. Gibraltar came from the name of an Arab or Berber military leader, a Muslim, who crossed the straight and invaded Visigothic Hispania sometime around the year 710. They called him Tariq ibn Ziyad and the place where he crossed into Europe became Jebel el Tarik, the mountain of Tarik. Somehow Spanish speakers converted Jebel el Tarik into Gibraltar.

Interesting tangent aside, I actually wanted to focus on places named Gibraltar other than the famous Gibraltar. Longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably noticed how one article often led to additional articles. That happened here too. Remember Borders of Lago de Maracaibo? Well, I noticed that the Sucre exclave in Venezuela’s Zulia state also contained a town called Gibraltar.


Gibraltar in Venezuela


Cristo Negro
Cristo Negro on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Once this smallish town of 4,000 residents held an exalted position in Spain’s colonial dominion. The empire needed a trade route into the continental interior from the north. Lake Maracaibo provided a means to penetrate deep into South America from the proper direction. The southern tip of the lake offered the nearest access to the settlement of Mérida in the Andes Mountains. A harbor would be really useful right there, and that led to the founding of San Antonio de Gibraltar in 1592 (map). Spain sent Gonzalo Piña Ludueña to the New World to make it happen and he came from Gibraltar. Thus, he provided a name for the new port. Agricultural products could now be extracted from the area to help feed the rest of Spain’s Caribbean possessions.

That didn’t mean Gibraltar existed peacefully. Pirates attacked incessantly for much of the Seventeenth Century. They sacked and looted Gibraltar at least a half dozen times between 1642 and 1678.

Native inhabitants also took their toll on Gibraltar. They attacked several times, the worst occurring in 1600. In that raid they tried to burn a large crucifix hanging in the local church. It would not burn and it became a revered object, the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) of Gibraltar. Officials moved their relic to Maracaibo for safekeeping until Gibraltar could be rebuilt. Unfortunately for Gibraltar, the residents of Maracaibo took a liking to the Cristo Negro and didn’t want to return it. Then the local council decided on a solution. They placed the crucifix on a boat without a crew and let God’s will determine where it should go. The wind blew it back to Maracaibo where it remains in its cathedral to this day, now called the Cristo Negro de Maracaibo.


Gibraltar in Australia


Gibraltar Rocks
Gibraltar Rocks. Photo by jennofarc on Flickr (cc)

I saw Gibraltar in Australia too. First I noticed Gibraltar Peak near Canberra (map). I liked that it fell within the confines of the Australian Capital Territory. Nothing more. Lots of peaks in the ACT towered above its 1,038 metre (3,406 ft) summit. Given that, I wondered why they named it Gibraltar. It did include some cliffs and a geological feature called the "Gibraltar Rocks" near its summit. Maybe it had a slight resemblance to the original. I couldn’t tell. It seemed like a nice area to visit either way. Gibraltar and other parts of the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve hosted tons of hiking and climbing trails.

Australia also contained an entire Gibraltar Range of mountains (map) in New South Wales within a national park of the same name. However none of the individual peaks appeared to be named Gibraltar, just the collective. The Gibraltar Range summit reached 1,106 metres (3,600 feet).

Other Gibraltar promontories existed elsewhere in Australia.


Gibraltar in Canada



The Geographic Board of Canada said that Alberta’s Gibraltar Mountain got its name because of its "fancied resemblance to the famous rock." It reached an altitude of 2,665 meters (8,743 feet), a part of the Canadian Rockies. The bivouac.com website included a photograph and offered additional information,

It was named in 1928 because some thought it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea. In the summer of 1918 three young men working at the Burns coal mine ascended the mountain. While on the summit one of them was near the edge of the cliff when wind gusts pushed one of them over the edge and the body was never found. 40 years later when the buildings of the old Burns mine were about to be razed, a trunk with some of the victims belongings was found.

I agreed, I could see a passing resemblance between the mountain in Alberta and the actual Gibraltar. Also, people should stay away from the edges of cliffs. Wind gusts and such.


Gibraltar in the United States


Gibraltar, Michigan
Gibraltar, Michigan. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)

Lots of Gibraltar places and geographic features existed within the United States too. I chose to focus on the City of Gibraltar mostly because it seemed to have the best online presence (map). The name clearly referred to the original in Europe, however it didn’t have any meaningful promontories. No rock towered above the rest. In fact it looked basically featureless, almost completely flat. I guessed the name referred to the city’s geographic position on the Detroit River instead. At Gibraltar the river flowed into Lake Erie, directly across from Canada. It seemed to be something akin to the strategic placement of the more famous Gibraltar.

Too bad I didn’t notice this place when I posted Venice of Whatever. A book written for the Gibraltar Historical Museum described Gibraltar as the "Venice of Michigan." Several canals ringed the islands forming much of the eastern side of town. Many of its five thousand residents lived on those islands with instant access to lake Erie. Clearly the inhabitants of Michigan’s Gibraltar loved their European analogies.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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