Last Chance

On November 2, 2017 · Comments Off on Last Chance

Speaking of odd town names (we were just speaking of those, weren’t we?), what about Last Chance? Every place deserved a last chance, I supposed. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed more than three hundred of them. Many — no surprise — aligned with mining claims. Also they frequently referenced ditches, streams and gulches, probably running near those old mines. However that wasn’t always the case. A handful of populated places rose to the top of the list too. It took an unusual outlook on life, I figured, for someone to name a settlement Last Chance.

Last Chance, Colorado


Last Chance, CO (0)
Last Chance, CO. Photo by Michael Sauers on Flickr (cc).

Colorado’s Last Chance clung to life, just barely. It sat about 80 miles (130 kilometres) due east of Denver (map). Truly, a straight shot. Head straight north of Denver and hit Fort Collins, or straight south and hit Colorado Springs, or straight west and, well, hit a wall of mountains. Straight east should hit something more important than a hamlet on life support.

The original settlers of Last Chance probably felt the same way. Travelers driving through Colorado’s empty eastern plains to and from Denver took the straightest possible path during the early automotive period. Back then, Last Chance served as a literal last chance for motorists to refuel, grab a meal, or sleep in an actual bed anywhere between Denver and a vast nothingness. The town’s name became a marketing tool and a warning. Stop there or suffer the consequences.

The Ghost Town website summarized the rise and fall of Last Chance quite succinctly.

Last Chance was a town that grew up with the automobile and died when the interstate took the traffic south to I-70. It was a busy center for travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, and probably earlier than that.

Indeed, Interstate 70 heading east from Denver took a distinct southeastern curve about 30 miles (50 km) short of Last Chance before turning east again. Last Chance couldn’t survive that cruel routing.


Last Chance, Oklahoma


Last Chance Baptist Church
Last Chance Baptist Church
via Google Street View, July 2016

I couldn’t find any information about how the Last Chance in Oklahoma earned its name (map). The settlement seemed to simply vanish. It wouldn’t surprise me if the US Geological Survey dropped it from the database entirely someday. Only the Last Chance Baptist Church remained behind as a reminder. By the way, Last Chance might be the best church name ever. That choice positioned it perfectly as the final opportunity for redemption before banishment to the fiery pits of Hell. It gave sinners one last chance.

A post office didn’t exist in Last Chance as far as I could tell, if indeed one ever existed there. Addresses in Last Chance bore the postmark of nearby Okemah. Nothing much important happened in Last Chance although Okemah registered a minor brush with fame. Okemah had a famous native son, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie born there in 1912. An oil boom began around that time in the same general area, leading me to wonder if perhaps Last Chance got its name from the boom somehow?


Last Chance, Iowa



The Last Chance of Iowa fared about as well as its counterpart in Oklahoma. Here, the sole remaining sign of its existence was a cemetery. While I liked Last Chance as the name of a church I disliked it as a cemetery (map). A final resting place seemed to signify the end of any remaining chances. Last chance? More like no chance. At least I learned how it got its name, though. I found a website about cemeteries in Lucas County that offered a surprising amount of information. I was really impressed by the detail it presented about such an obscure location.

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after it occurred to him that he was living in a place that didn’t yet have a name… he said, "Let’s call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest…

Last Chance sat favorably along the Mormon Trail. Thousands of Mormon emigrants and many others walked the trail during the middle of the 19th Century. Some travelers moved their households without any pack animals, becoming a special category of Mormons called the Handcart Pioneers. Then the transcontinental railroad opened. Last Chance disappeared because of the railroads. The typical story prevailed. Railroads, long the lifeblood of small rural villages in the Heartland, all bypassed Last Chance. Decline later led to collapse.

I found additional Last Chance settlements in Idaho, California and North Carolina. However, even less information existed about any of them. It seemed that every Last Chance was down to its last chance if any of them ever had a chance at all.

Biggest Unvisited

On October 22, 2017 · 5 Comments

A couple of years ago I wrote about my Airport Visits. At that time I came oh-so-close to capturing Love Field in Dallas, Texas. A weather delay and a change of route dashed that achievement. However a work trip to Dallas last week finally righted that wrong. I flew down there on Southwest Airlines and naturally landed at and later departed from Love Field. It didn’t change anything in the earlier article, I figured. Houston’s Hobby Airport remained the largest airport in the United States I’d yet to use. Although something did change, something subtle.

Since that last article, Love Field surpassed Hobby in passenger counts. Unbeknownst to me, Love Field became my largest unvisited airport for awhile, although my recent visit corrected the situation. I’ve now traveled through the top 32 largest airports in the U.S., with Hobby dropping one spot to 33rd. It remained unvisited.

Houston’s Hobby Airport


Old Terminal at Hobby Airport
Old Terminal at Hobby Airport. Photo by BFS Man on Flickr (cc)

Actually, I’m not sure I will ever set foot in Hobby (map). I used to have a reason to go to Houston when family lived nearby. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away a few years ago at the age of 102. Then remaining family members moved to New Mexico for their retirement years. I just don’t see any trips near Houston on the horizon. So progress on this list will probably end. Plus, even if I did return, I’d likely use the much larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Southwest Airlines still uses Hobby extensively although most others focus on the other one.

Hobby began as Houston’s original commercial airport in the 1920’s albeit with a different name and under private ownership. It didn’t become Hobby until the city purchased it in the 1930’s. William P. Hobby, its namesake, had connections both to Texas and to Houston. He served as Governor of Texas in 1917 before his fortieth birthday. Afterwards, I guess because he felt he hadn’t accomplished enough already, he became publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. Naming the local airport for him seemed fitting.


Fresno County, California


The Best Little City in the USA, Plate 3
The Best Little City in the USA. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

That got me thinking about some of the other largest places in the United States I’d never visited. I’ve done a lot of county counting over the years. The total stood at 1,428 as of the time I wrote this, or 45.5% of counties available. However, I’d never considered the largest of the remaining unvisited. I had to actually create a spreadsheet to figure it out. When I sorted the results I learned the answer: Fresno County, California. More than 900 thousand people resided in the county so I’d missed a pretty significant place.

In my defense, there didn’t appear to be a lot of reasons to target Fresno. Sure, a lot of people lived there although it seemed to lack specific attractions unless agriculture in California’s Central Valley seemed exciting. People who are more familiar with the area are free to correct me. I’m sure it’s a nice place and I hate to give it short shrift.

It did have an attraction of a sort, I supposed. As Historic Fresno reported,

The Fresno Sanitary Landfill is the oldest "true" sanitary landfill in the United States, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western United States… [it] is a National Historic Landmark as well as in the National Register of Historic Places.

Someday I’m sure I’ll find myself in the area and of course I’ll capture Fresno. I might just check out the Historic Landfill too (map).


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Oklahoma City National Memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photo by Phil Roeder on Flickr (cc)

The largest unvisited city in the United States on my list was Oklahoma City (map). I liked this place because of the whole nesting of Oklahoma City in Oklahoma County in the state of Oklahoma. It didn’t exist until 1889 when the big "Land Run" commenced and it blossomed overnight. The city grew so quickly that it became the state capital in 1907. Today about 600 thousand people live there.

I’m trying to convince my family that we should go there for our family vacation next summer. I select a different state each year and I’ve already made my initial pitch for Oklahoma. It didn’t generate a lot of interest. I don’t know why. I found a couple of zoos for my older son and some military museums for my younger son. For my wife I compiled a list of breweries and brewpubs I knew she’d enjoy. Still, well, we’ll just have to see. Nobody else suggested a state so I might just win this one by default. I believe we have some Twelve Mile Circle readers from Oklahoma City. Please give me a few good reasons to visit and help me make my case. I think the family would enjoy it.

Out of Season

On September 21, 2017 · 4 Comments

A strange sight confounded my older son as we walked through a warren of shops near the Santa Fe Plaza during our recent New Mexico trip. He spotted a year-round Christmas store. It didn’t register on my mind until he pointed it out, I guess because I’d seen plenty of them before. Although, as I thought about it longer, the notion did seem peculiar. Christmas felt impossibly removed from the high desert in the middle of July. Yet, the shop attracted plenty of foot traffic and presumably did well enough to keep momentum even outside of the advent season. Twelve Mile Circle once posted a story on seasonal towns so it seemed like a fine opportunity to now study seasonal businesses that defied the odds.

More Christmas


DSC_0040
Bronner’s West entrance. Photo by Sue Talbert Photography on Flickr (cc)

I imagined that Christmas stores probably did better than many other off-season enterprises. As I mentioned, they didn’t even register on my mind until my son pointed one out. They’ve done so well they’ve been "normalized" in many people’s consciousness, even though they catered to an event that happened just one day each year. Amazing.

The granddaddy of all shops must be Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan (map). I have a relative that simply must stop there whenever nearby, as just one example. Apparently "over 2 million" other people per year agreed. Wally Bronner founded this epic Christmas extravaganza in 1945 and it grew to cover several acres of shopping space with 100,000 lights, 800 animated figures and parking for a thousand cars.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anybody although I don’t really understand the year-round phenomenon.


Fireworks


South of the Border Billboard
South of the Border Billboard. Photo by SeeBeeW on Flickr (cc)

I understood year-round fireworks just slightly more than permanent Christmas. Sure, almost every firework in the United States detonats on July 4 for Independence Day. Sometimes people saved a handful for special events though, like New Years Eve or if their favorite sports team won a championship, or things of that nature. Generally though, little plywood fireworks stands tended to pop-up a couple of weeks before July 4 only to disappear just as suddenly like mushrooms on a lawn. Operating an all-year fireworks stores didn’t seem like a great business model, yet they existed.

Lots of them seemed to flourish around state borders, generally in South Carolina although I’ve seen them in other states. They found a niche wherever the laws of one state fell out of balance with its neighbor. I mentioned that situation in Right up to the Line when I discussed the ever-tacky South of the Border (map). Plenty of other fireworks warehouses also clustered nearby, tempting drivers along Interstate 95 as they entered South Carolina. Practically anything that blew up could be sold there legally.

Unlike a Christmas shop, a fireworks warehouse probably couldn’t stay afloat just anywhere as an all-year business. It needed to work by osmosis. Sales seemed to focus on outsiders that wanted to bring "the good stuff" back to their home states.


Ice Cream


The Freeze
The Freeze. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)Yo

I switched my thoughts from annual events to extreme weather patterns. Near my home, and I’m sure near yours too, an ice cream shop kept selling its chilly treats even through the dead of winter. What if we took that notion to its utmost? Could a business like that survive all year in Alaska? Well, yes.

In Fairbanks, the average low temperatures generally hovered around -20° Fahrenheit (-29° Celcius) in the winter. It could get a lot colder than that, too. I found a bunch of ice cream shops in Fairbanks and most of them opened only during mild months, like May through August. That made perfect sense. Who would want ice cream warmer than the outside temperature? However, I did discover one place that remained open all year, College Town Creamery. They also offered non-frozen items so I’m sure that helped carry them through the cold, dark winter.

Really, I wanted to find something a little more Alaskan, a bit farther away from the city. The Freeze in remote Glennallen, Alaska (map) seemed to fit that definition. Unfortunately it appears they’ve closed. I guess ice cream in Alaska had its limits.


Hot Yoga


Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga. Photo by Todd Lappin on Flickr (cc)

Some people swear by hot yoga. This trend gained popularity largely through a style created by Bikram Choudhury. Other styles of hot yoga also existed. In Bikram yoga, room temperatures hovered around 104° F (40° C) as practitioners cycled through 26 predefined positions. I imagined people felt rather baked after an hour and a half-or-so in that oven. Maybe 12MC readers who’ve tried hot yoga can elaborate on its benefits or drawbacks.

I thought of Phoenix, Arizona where summertime temperatures often topped 110" F (43° C). I’ve never been hotter in my life than a summertime visit to Phoenix a few years ago. Would hot yoga businesses survive year-round there? Indeed they could. I found so many of them that I had to stop counting. It seemed people in Arizona could tolerate a lot of heat.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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