Revisiting Street View Extremes

On August 31, 2014 · 2 Comments

Time moves forward, an unstoppable force. We all must face that awful truth as we age. On a happier thought, that allowed me to revisit a Twelve Mile Circle article from nearly five years ago and see if it remained true. I concluded in Streetview Beats a Deadhorse from February 2010 that the northernmost Google Street View image correlated to a spot at 70.242777 degrees north latitude in the North Slope Borough of Alaska. The Dalton Highway went no farther, terminating at a restricted checkpoint of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

Forward to today, the final day of meteorological summer for the northern hemisphere 2014. Had the honorific shifted? I established simple rules and expanded the search to all four cardinal directions. The site must have been visited by the Street View car, not by someone aboard a ship or carrying a camera backpack. That eliminated Antarctica, Svalbard and various isolated South Pacific islands.


Nordkapp, Norway


North Cape
North Cape by Tor Even Mathisen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The northernmost crown had been stolen! It now shifted to 71.169475 degrees north, where the Street View car reached Nordkapp, Norway. All end-of-the–line Street View images were rather boring so I posted photos from Flickr instead. I still included a link for each entry for curious 12MC audience members though (for example, Street View).

Apparently many people were drawn to Nordkapp as a tourist attraction especially in recent decades because it was considered the northernmost point in Europe. I wouldn’t have the heart to tell them they were all wrong. I think it would be legitimate to say, in their defense, that it was as far north in Europe as anyone could conveniently drive a car. European route E69 provided a well-maintained road right up to the the Nordkapp doorstep where tourists could disembark at a newly refurbished visitors center and snap lots of photos memorializing their accomplishment.

Interestingly, "Nordkapp is a Norwegianized form of the English language name North Cape." A 16th century English explorer searching for a safe route through the Northeast Passage named it, and the designation stuck.


Cochrane, Chile


Casa mate
Casa mate by Claudio Jofré Larenas, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cochrane, Chile, extended to -47.258816 degrees south and claimed the southernmost image title (Street View). I fully expect that position to change someday. It’s only a matter of time before Street View arrives in Ushuaia, Argentina or Cabo de Hornos, Chile along the Beagle Channel of Tierra del Fuego (map). For today at least, Cochrane held the title.

Cochrane also seemed an odd choice for a place named in a Spanish-speaking area, and like Nordkapp demonstrated that British ship captains sailed far and wide across the planet. Cochrane referred to Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, from Scotland. He sailed relentlessly during the first part of the 19th century, experiencing one adventure after another, and getting into and out of trouble repeatedly. He was an archetype of the swashbuckler. Numerous authors drew upon Cochrane as inspiration for their fictional characters thereafter. Cochrane, the town, honored its namesake’s role as Admiral of the Chilean Navy, a position he also filled later for Brazil and Greece in addition to his years of service in the British Navy. The guy got around.

We should be thankful that the Street View car made it down to Cochrane. The Chilean southern highway (Carretera Austral) didn’t connect Cochrane and other southern towns to the larger road network until 1988, and even today "the trip involves gravel, winding curves and unpredictable weather."

The biggest tourist attraction — other than the abundant natural scenery of various large parks in the area — seemed to be the oddly-shaped Casa Mate.


East Cape, New Zealand


east cape lighthouse
east cape lighthouse by Christopher
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Easternmost and westernmost didn’t have the same appeal during my review because of the arbitrary nature of a prime meridian. I won’t spend as much time discussing them. A prime meridian could exist anywhere. Once again British sea power influenced events and Greenwich became a worldwide standard. Nonetheless I examined the situation for the sake of completeness.

East Cape, the easternmost point of New Zealand’s primary islands, had Street View coverage up to the farthest point an automobile could travel (Street View). It would be difficult to ever improve upon 178.544347 degrees east. Images extended all the way to a car park where visitors could then hike to the actual point.

A 22km, mostly unsealed, no-exit road from Te Araroa takes you to the most Easterly point on mainland New Zealand. The historic East Cape lighthouse stands 154 metres above sea level and is accessed by a walking track of some 700 steps – worth it for the views at the top.


Mana Point, Kauai, Hawaii, USA


201401_Kauai-PMRF-Barking-Sands_401
201401_Kauai-PMRF-Barking-Sands_401 by Thad Westhusing, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Street View provided extensive coverage of the Hawaiian islands so it was only a matter of finding the westernmost image on the westernmost major island, Kauai. I noticed images from minor outlying islands along the archipelago, however, those didn’t involve automobiles or road networks so I discarded them. I settled on Mana Point on Kauai at 159.779397 degrees west (Street View).

The area was known for two things: surfing and missiles. It was the site of Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands:

…the world’s largest instrumented multi-environmental range capable of supported surface, subsurface, air, and space operations simultaneously. There are over 1,100 square miles of instrumented underwater range and over 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace.

The updated Street View extremes delivered viewers to some interesting places. I wonder where they will lead another five years from now?

Ireland, Part 4 (On the Water)

On July 27, 2014 · 0 Comments

I enjoy boat rides. Ireland is surrounded by water. Is it surprising that I found myself cruising over the waves? No of course not, although I didn’t expect it to happen four times during my trip even if a couple of those were fleeting encounters.

Skellig Michael



12MC’s brief video from the Skellig Islands

Skellig Michael ranked high on my list of priorities as I planned the trip. A skellig is rock, in this instance the Rock of Michael, mirroring the Irish language Sceilig Mhichíl. Skellig Michael and its sister Little Skellig jutted sharply from the Atlantic Ocean a dozen kilometres from the Iveragh Peninsula (map). While just a stone’s throw from the famous Ring of Kerry and its tourist busloads, Skellig Michael stood a world apart in approachability and was equally difficult to conquer.

Irish authorities severely limited access to this fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only small boats could dock at Skellig Michael and only a handful of licenses were awarded each year to charter operators working primarily from Portmagee. This limited visitors to about 150 people per day give-or-take, and only in the summer months when ocean swells calmed sufficiently. Even that could be a crapshoot. We had to reschedule our original reservation after all five sailing days leading up to it were canceled due to high waves. The island caretakers wouldn’t let boats land there in perceptively dangerous conditions.

So why would anyone want to go to Skellig Michael? Lousy weather, seasickness, expense and inconvenience were all possibilities. These were all offset by the actual experience. The difficulty of the journey only enhanced the rewards.



The two Skelligs, out by themselves and surrounded by water, attracted huge colonies of birds. These included about ten thousand Atlantic Puffins on Skellig Michael, and I think many people would agree that puffins are about the cutest birds that exist. They’re like the pandas of the avian world. They also seemed to lack all fear of human visitors. We got as close to puffins on Skellig Michael as we would to pigeons in a park, and they were everywhere. Our kids loved them. I wouldn’t have ridden an hour on a cabin cruiser through an intermittent drizzle to a rocky shard simply for a few birds, though. They were a bonus.



The main attraction was the ancient monastery built high atop Skellig Michael around the 6th Century. The monks who settled here were sometimes called "white martyrs" because of their lives of suffering, deprivation and absolute devotion to their Christian faith, albeit without bloodshed. This must have felt like the most isolated place on earth 1,500 years ago.

We climbed the steep unprotected steps carved into the mountainside centuries ago, several hundred feet up to the monastery, as the horizon disappeared into clouds. It seemed otherworldly as we explored in a thick fog through beehive huts constructed by those early monks as crude shelter. I thought to myself as we walked along, that it seemed like a setting out of Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’ve since learned that this will likely be a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII. It’s a good thing we visited Skellig Michael when we did. Reservations will become a lot more difficult once the secret gets out and Star Wars fans put it on the pilgrimage list.


Kenmare Bay



The Seafari cruise out of Kenmare became our consolation prize on the day we planned to visit Skellig Michael originally and had to postpone it due to the weather. The waves were much calmer in protected Kenmare Bay (map) than the open Atlantic so we diverted to Kenmare that morning to see the Harbor Seals instead of Portmagee to see the puffins. It’s good to be flexible.

The ship’s captain explained that a gloomy day actually worked to our advantage. Sudden movements spooked seals, and sunny days created shadows they detected as motions. More seals should be sitting out on the rocks when cloudy. I wasn’t sure if that was something like rain supposedly being "good luck" on a wedding day — designed to make someone feel better — or whether there was truth behind his statement. Either way, we saw plenty of seals including a few tiny pups that resided with their parents only for a brief period each Summer before striking out on their own.


Innisfallen



We kept returning to a recurring theme during our journey: how to separate ourselves from larger crowds in popular tourist destinations. Case in point, several sites in Killarney National Park just outside of the town of Killarney all drew healthy gatherings. However, Innisfallen Island (map) in the middle of the park’s Lough Leane, did not. That required a boat and most people did not want to go through the effort.

I think large excursion boats went to Innisfallen at certain times of the day although none were there when we visited. Instead, we hired a boatsman to ferry us from the concession stand at nearby Ross Castle to the middle of the lake. There we climbed through the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, founded originally in 640 and lasting through 1594. There were only two other people on the island during our brief layover, and then we got a guided tour around the lake afterwards to boot.


Valentia Island Ferry



Our fourth journey across water involved the Valentia Island Ferry (map). I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article so I’ll just mention it for now.


Completely Unrelated

Comment spam seems to have returned to the Twelve Mile Circle. It took a nosedive a few months ago after Google started penalizing link-back schemes in its page-rank algorithms. The spammers have responded by linking back to YouTube and Yahoo Answers pages instead, and I’ve noticed a steady upswing in those tactics. Of course, I moderate every comment on 12MC and I delete spam before readers ever see it. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse games from my little corner of the world.


The Ireland articles:

Ireland, Part 1 (Castles and Ruins)

On July 20, 2014 · 0 Comments

My typing fingers grew a little rusty over the last couple of weeks. Those of you who follow 12MC on Twitter already knew that I was in Ireland because I posted a steady stream of photographs. What may have been less understood was that I wrote all Twelve Mile Circle articles ahead of time. That’s right, the blog was on autopilot for awhile although I was still able to approve comments, update the complete index map and attend to administrative tasks of that nature.

The next several articles will relate to my Irish adventures and shift towards a travelogue briefly rather than tackle the usual compendium of geo-oddities. Historically, those haven’t been the most viewed articles so I won’t take it personally if readers decide to skip a few until we get back to normal business. I like writing them and that’s what I’m going to do.

When one thinks of Ireland in a somewhat stereotypical sense, one often envisions medieval structures like castles, abbeys, and cathedrals of weathered stone in various states of decay. Maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, that seemed like a good starting point for the series. My younger son wanted to see "lots of castles" and that’s what I fed him. I think even he was tired of walking through crumbling ruins by the time we left. I’ll focus on four ancient buildings in four different Irish counties that we visited.

Granuaile’s Tower



This might be my favorite photograph from the trip except for maybe the puffin, although I’m getting ahead of myself.

Achill Island on the western coast of County Mayo appeared as a quiet, unspoiled landscape bypassed by the largest of the tourist hordes. Known more for its beaches and scenery, Achill had only one ancient fortification still standing, Granuaile’s Tower at Kildavnet (map). It had an impressive backstory.

The Tower at Kildavnet, in the south-east corner of Achill Island, is a perfect example of a 15th century Irish tower house. The Gaelic Chiefs of the time copied a Norman design and constructed many such tower houses. The tower at Kildavnet is thought to have been constructed by the Clan O’Malley in about 1429, but is associated locally with a descendant of the original builders, Grace O’Malley or Granuaile. This legendary pirate queen is thought to have been born around 1530 and died in about 1603.

The tower belonged to a woman of significant power and means known as the "The Pirate Queen of Connaught." Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley in its anglicized version) inherited the family business from her father. Some would characterize it a shipping enterprise while others might have noted elements of pirating. The lines were a little fuzzier back then. Nonetheless Granuaile established strongholds along the western Irish coast and this was one of the towers she used to protect and control her domain.


Ross Castle



Ross Castle in Killarney (map) was another excellent example of an Irish tower house of the period. It dated probably to the 15th Century, originally built by the O’Donoghue clan, later owned by the Brownes of Killarney and finally served as a military barracks until the 19th Century.

Today it’s an often-visited part of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. Ross Castle sat conveniently along the famous "Ring of Kerry" tourist road so it’s evolved into a more-or-less obligatory stop for sightseers in one of the most heavily visited areas of Ireland. This was the only place where I saw signs in the car park warning people to remove valuables from their vehicles. This was also the only place where we had to be content with external views of the castle because tours were sold out. Still, if one is in Killarney, one should probably visit Ross Castle (if only to book a boat from there to visit Innisfallen Island, which I’ll talk about in a later episode).


Rock of Cashel



The Rock of Cashel was a real castle (map), not simply a tower house for pirates or lesser nobility. The imposing Rock of Cashel, Carraig Phádraig, served as the home of the Kings of Munster, in what is now County Tipperary.

It was here that St. Patrick converted the reigning king to Christianity in the 6th Century according to legend. A later king, Muirchertach Ua Briain, gave his mighty fortress to the Church around the year 1100. An imposing cathedral was added to the grounds in the 1200’s. The site fell into disrepair over several centuries although more recent restorations preserved what remained, and visitors are allowed to wander the grounds mostly unimpeded.


St. Canice’s Cathedral



I enjoyed St. Canice’s Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, in County Kilkenny (map). The church itself was remarkable although I’d recommend its Round Tower as something to be included on the itinerary too.

Round towers – a particularly Irish feature – were built at major religious sites as places of refuge for body and treasure, during the times of the Viking raids from the end of the 8th century. St Canice’s round tower offers a breathtaking 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside from its summit – hardly surprising since that was the other reason they were built. The presence of the round tower here is the clearest sign of the antiquity of St Canice’s as an important religious site. There is a reference that suggests a mid-9th century date for it, making it the oldest standing structure in the City.

The thought of climbing a 30 metre (100 ft.) tower that was 1,200 years old might seem unnerving to many visitors, and as a case in point my wife and older son decided to remain earthbound. It was up to my younger son and I to uphold the family honor and reach the summit. I won’t lie — it wasn’t for the faint of heart. The climb involved a succession of seven ladders leading to small wooden platforms in increasingly narrow spaces as the diameter of the tower tapered towards the top. This wouldn’t be enjoyable for those with claustrophobia, acrophobia, or irrational fears of old towers crumbling at any moment whatever phobia that might be named. Fortunately my son and I had none of those fears and we reaped a splendid bird’s eye view of surrounding Kilkenny.

My kids never did understand why I quietly muttered "You Bastards!" every time someone mentioned Kilkenny.


Others

We visited a number of other medieval structures, too.

Some of these may be featured in later installments. Others may not. Feel free to check images I’ve posted on each of these places using the photo links provided.


The Ireland articles:

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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