Ends of Canada

On December 15, 2016 · Comments Off on Ends of Canada

My Ends of the Earth wandering reminded me of an earlier Google Street View quest. A long time ago, way back in 2010, Twelve Mile Circle included an article I called The Shack at the End of the Road. This marked the northernmost extreme of Street View coverage in Canada at that time. I wondered about who lived there and whether they minded this invasion of their privacy. However nothing lasts forever so it seemed a fitting time to see if things had changed. It turned out that the resident of this shack no longer lived at the Canadian coverage extreme. Somewhere in the preceding years the spot shifted to Tuktut Nogait National Park, to a latitude of 69.34° north. The shack lost its notoriety.

A Very Remote Street View

Tuktut Nogait National Park
Tuktut Nogait National Park
via Google Street View, August 2014

Parks Canada described Tuktut Nogait as "one of the most isolated national parks in North America." The closest population lived 40 kilometres away by air in the tiny, isolated hamlet of Paulatuk. The nearest sizable town fell another 420 km farther west beyond that at Inuvik. Visitors getting into trouble in this park faced perilous odds. Help would not arrive quickly. Nonetheless and inexplicably, this site included a modicum of Street View coverage. Specifically, images fell into three separate clusters scattered broadly across the park. The northernmost spot overlooked the impressive Brock River canyon, a place so remote that it remained nearly unmentioned on Internet searches I conducted.

I needed to include an asterisk. No streets led to these absolutely gorgeous views from such an isolated Canadian park in the High Arctic of the Northwest Territories. Technically it didn’t quite meet the definition of a "street" view. A man carrying a specially-designed camera backpack captured those images. However, this wasn’t a unique, one-time effort. Canada and Google collaborated to provide Street View coverage for many Canadian parks. Google visited over 200 locations as part of this project. Parks Canada mentioned several primary benefits including virtual visits and dreaming, education and learning and trip planning. Clearly the 12MC effort fell into that first category.

That left some hope that the shack might retain its title.

Cambridge Bay

North Warning Site Cambridge Bay 02
North Warning Site Cambridge Bay. Photo by Alan Sim on Flickr (cc)

Then I found Cambridge Bay, a settlement that grew around military facilities designed to warn against Soviet bomber attacks during the Cold War. They required construction and maintenance. Military personnel deployed there needed basic services. This opened rare employment opportunities for local Inuit inhabitants so a town sprang to life around it.

The Municipality of Cambridge Bay stood on the edge of Victoria Island, in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. It seemed an unlikely location for Street View. Sure, it was the biggest settlement within hundreds of kilometres, housing nearly 1,500 residents. However no road connected it to the outside world. Cambridge Bay appeared as a blue dot completely isolated from any other Street View coverage area.

It came with a story though. A local resident petitioned Google to travel to Cambridge Bay in 2012. The New York Times described the results in "Coming Soon, Google Street View of a Canadian Village You’ll Never Drive To."

There are no cars in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Aside from a few trucks, snowmobiles are the preferred form of transportation for much of the year in the hamlet high in the Canadian Arctic… All that would suggest that Google Street View has limited value there. But a pitch to Google from an Inuit man brought a tricycle fitted with Google’s camera system to the streets of Cambridge Bay on Monday as part of what the company expects to become a long-term project in Canada’s Far North… as a way to educate the rest of the world about the region.

Cambridge Bay wasn’t as far north as the other spot in Tuktut Nogait although it was farther north than the original shack, and it had actual streets.

Yet Another Shack at the End of a Different Road

Cambridge Bay
Outside of Cambridge Bay
via Google Street View, August 2012

Most of the Street View coverage for Cambridge Bay fell within the confines of town. I searched for the clusters of children on bicycles rumored to have followed the Street View tricycle mentioned in the article. However, I didn’t find any. It looked really cold too, with people wearing jackets even during August. Coverage didn’t make it very far out of town — after all the tricycle chosen for this endeavor relied upon human-powered peddling — although the biker did head northeast another two or three kilometres. I worked my way up to the northernmost point where the final image of Cambridge Bay ended. There I spotted a little green dot on the distant horizon. Was it a billboard of some kind, maybe the boundary of a military property?

I drilled down and found… another shack! I crowned a new king.

Alaska’s Southernmost Mainland Airport

On December 23, 2015 · 5 Comments

Thank goodness for random search queries that land on Twelve Mile Circle. This time our unknown visitor wanted to find Alaska’s southernmost mainland airport. I didn’t know why they wanted to learn and it didn’t really matter. It became an intellectual exercise, and considerably more complicated than I expected. I’m not completely confident in my answers although I think I came reasonably close to the right solution after a fairly thorough search through a series of maps.

One needed to start with a premise that aviation in Alaska connected far-flung communities where roads didn’t exist. Pilots sometimes made their own spur-of-the-moment airfields on any reasonable surface, whether water, land or snow. I needed to winnow the possibilities. Thus I concentrated on recognized commercial, general and public airports included on Wikipedia’s List of Airports in Alaska.

Adak Airport

Runway by Kim F on Flickr (cc)

Adak appeared to be Alaska’s southernmost airport although it failed a vital condition of the query; it was built upon an island on the extended Aleutian chain (map). It was so far south that Adak fell on approximately the same latitude as Oxford, England (just a little bit of trivia for 12MC’s UK readers to help them understand the immense stretch of Alaska from north to south). Adak didn’t provide a complete answer although it offered a clue. Maybe this was a trick question. Most people would naturally consider southeastern Alaska and forget about the western side of the state extending down the 500 mile (800 kilometre) Alaska Peninsula. I should begin by checking there.

King Cove Airport

Meeting the Alaska Ferry at King Cove
Meeting the Alaska Ferry at King Cove by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

King Cove was the final town of any significance at the southernmost knob of the extended peninsula just before where the Aleutian island chain began. There was also an airport nearby (map). It wasn’t much, in fact wasn’t even paved, although it had a runway maintained by the state and available for public use. King Cove Airport handled more than a thousand aircraft operations per year. Its latitude equated to about 55.1° North.

A little to the west and only slightly farther north stood a much larger airport at Cold Bay. This one had been a US Army Air Force installation during the Second World War before its conversion to civilian use. It included two paved runways that handled nearly ten times the number aircraft operations per year than King Cove. Cold Bay registered a latitude of about 55.2° North.

The bar had been set at a very promising southern point on mainland Alaska. Would that be far enough south to beat Alaska’s better known panhandle on the eastern side of the state?

Hyder Seaplane Base

Weekly mail run
Weekly mail run by Jitze Couperus on Flickr (cc)

Alaska’s Panhandle featured a distinct lack of mainland. Large islands composed most of its square footage. The mainland portion formed a narrow ribbon hemmed-in by the Canadian border to the east and the Inside Passage to the west. Even more confining, mountains practically jutted directly from the sea providing very little elbow room for mainland airports. Communities made due with their geographic limitations however, and some towns turned to seaplane bases instead. Hyder was the town farthest down along Southeast Alaska’s mainland. It was a bit of an anomaly anyway, accessible by road only from Canada (as were Haines and Skagway farther up the coast). One could use Hyder Seaplane Base (map), a state-owned general aviation facility if arriving by air. One could also use a paved runway just a few minutes away in adjacent Stewart although that was just across the border in British Columbia, Canada so it didn’t count for this exercise.

Hyder certainly challenged King Cove. It would be close, I thought, as I eyeballed the latitudes. My measurement for Hyder came to 55.9° making it just slightly north of King Cove and Cold Bay. Indeed, I’d encountered a trick question. I believe the southernmost mainland airports in Alaska were indeed found on the western peninsula at King Cove (unpaved) and Cold Bay (paved).

Juneau International Airport

Helicopter View of Juneau Airport
Helicopter View of Juneau Airport by Robert Raines on Flickr (cc)

The puzzle may have been solved although I continued with the game. I felt a seaplane base cheated somewhat even if it hadn’t been far enough south to win the contest anyway. There were plenty of formal land-based runways within the panhandle although most of them were built on islands. The next thing I knew, as I crossed-off possibilities from the list, I was looking at Juneau (map). I’ve flown in-and-out of Juneau a couple of times and it was a large airport with regular jet service. That’s why I was a bit surprised. Certainly it felt like there should have been another paved runway somewhere on the mainland between Juneau and Hyder, and yet I could not fine one.

That was enough Alaska airport trivia for one day.

Center of the Nation, Part 5 (Wildlife)

On October 11, 2015 · 2 Comments

My route crossed paths with all sorts of wildlife, some more wild than others as we rolled through endless terrain in a land largely devoid of people. We never pushed deep into backcountry so I didn’t see anything too exotic — and no rattlesnakes thank goodness, which were supposedly quite common — still our roadside trips and short hikes into state and national parks presented a decent representative sample of Northern Plains fauna. If you don’t have a soft spot for cute and cuddly animals you might want to skip this article and wait for the final installment of Center of the Nation in a few days. Or just look at the photos. I won’t take it personally.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs

See what I mean? Prairie Dogs were the very embodiment of cute and cuddly. They were as common on the plains as squirrels back home on the east coast. That shouldn’t have been too surprising I supposed, since prairie dogs were simply a type of ground squirrel uniquely adapted to the dry grasslands of the continental interior. We saw their burrows practically everywhere, in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, at Wyoming’s Devils Tower, and many places in between.

Our closest personal observations took place at Devils Tower (map). A large prairie dog village ran along the main park road and that’s where most of the tourists focused their efforts. We went to the back side of the village instead and hiked along a trail that ran amongst the creatures that tourist hordes generally avoided. Prairie dogs popped in and out of burrows, stood on their hind legs, barked warnings of our impending arrival and behaved in their characteristic adorable manner. Signs along the trail warned visitors to keep a distance from wildlife though. Vicious behavior wasn’t the concern, it was a disease called tularemia that prairie dogs could pass to humans. They might also be able to spread the plague. With that in mind, cute still rang true although cuddly might need to be struck from the list.

Wild Horses

Wild Horses

We spotted feral horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (map), that have "existed in the Badlands of western North Dakota since the mid-1800s." Their ancestors escaped from the original European explorers centuries earlier and adapted quite well to the plains. Originally the National Park Service thought of mustangs as pests that needed to be removed. However their opinion began to change by the 1970’s. Wild horses came to be considered an important part of what made this the Old West. Horses ran in small bands throughout the park. Originally I thought they must have belonged to nearby ranchers until we returned to the Visitor Center and learned that they were indeed feral.


Center of the Nation Marathon Series - Day 2

Spotting a flock of Canada Geese outside of Bowman, North Dakota (map) wasn’t all that remarkable. I’ve seen plenty of geese in many places and I’m sure anyone living in North America has experienced much the same. I took notice only because they were flying south, an early sign of Autumn, of Winter looming just around the corner. We already felt a slight chill in the air on mid-September mornings. Winter came early in higher latitudes and grasslands would soon give way to snow. Our hotel in Montana even had metal posts at the end of each parking spot where guests could plug-in their cars to keep their engine oil warm. Like the geese, I felt we left at the right time.


Custer State Park

I’d hoped to see Bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park although that plan didn’t work out as intended. Our encounter would have to wait until we drove the Wildlife Loop Road at Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We entered the park expecting the best and saw nothing. We feared a repeat of our earlier debacle until rangers told us the herd had migrated to the southern end of the park (map). Finally!

They were noble creatures, as magnificent as I’d remembered from years ago in Yellowstone. It was hard to imagine the great bands that once roamed the Great Plains freely, and then their near extinction as indiscriminate hunters pushed their population down to 500. Bison have rebounded to a degree, with a half million specimens today although "the total number of mature individuals in wild free-ranging and semi-free-ranging populations is estimated to be approximately 11,250 and only 5 subpopulations have more than 1,000 individuals." The great herds will never return although one can still get a sense of what it must have been like at a handful of state and national parks.


Custer State Park

"Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

(from "Home on the Range" – 1874).

Custer State Park definitely became the place to see wild animals during our adventure, so once again a hearty round of applause goes to the Twelve Mile Circle audience for suggesting it (map). Custer mirrored Home on the Range although ironically the song labeled two of the major animals incorrectly. Bison are not technically buffalo and Pronghorn aren’t antelopes although they’re commonly called Pronghorn Antelopes. Pronghorn are the last surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. There used to a dozen North American species during the Pleistocene period (about 1.8 million years ago until the last Ice Age) and only Antilocapra americana — the pronghorn — avoided extinction. They adapted well and remained quite numerous on the Great Plains.

Trivia: their closest living relatives are giraffids (e.g., giraffes).


Custer State Park

I wondered how burros differed from donkeys. I knew male donkeys and female horses produced mules. What might account for burros? A little Intertubes sleuthing showed that burro was nothing more than a Spanish word for small donkey. Mystery solved, I turned my attention to the burros of Custer State Park. Many called them the "begging burros." We lived through the begging firsthand (map). A burro would wander into traffic, slowing cars down. His buddies would then walk up to each window extorting handoffs.

These were not pets, they were feral. Entrepreneurs brought their ancestors here to carry visitors to the top of nearby Harney Peak, the South Dakota highpoint. Eventually tours were discontinued. Those in charge decided it would easier to simply set the burros free to fend for themselves. Decades later, the burros extract their revenge by hassling tourists as they drive through the park, an equine version of panhandlers.


Center of the Nation Marathon Series - Day 4

I couldn’t resist taking a photo when I saw these wonderful folk art animal cutouts in Sundance, Wyoming (map). The race we attended that day took place on the town’s rodeo grounds. The cutouts were part of their annual celebration although we were entirely out of season.

Apparently pigs don’t have a predetermined number of teats although 12-14 would be good number and 16 would be ideal. The anthropomorphised cartoon version apparently had two, which she covered modestly with a bikini top. Neither sow nor boar saw fit to cover their nether regions though.

Center of the Nation articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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