Many longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already guessed that this article that would come next. Immediately after a story about the beginning of the alphabet, naturally one would expect to find one about the end. It became an equally difficult task too, except for the most notable location.
Zyzzyx chilensis, a type of sand wasp native to Argentina, Chile, and Peru, gained its name in the 1930’s. Flies would view this creature as particularly nasty and formidable. This wasp had a peculiar habit of laying its eggs on flies, which then hatched and consumed its host parasitically as larvae grew. I thought it sounded pretty gruesome.
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely off the deep end just yet. What may seem completely irrelevant actually helps establish context. Every site I examined included Zzyzx (spelled slightly differently than the name of the wasp) as the final entry on any alphabetical list of place names. Actually, it was the only entry. Like Zyzzyx chilensis, it preyed upon the weak and helpless in a parasitic manner as readers will soon see.
I couldn’t find a definite connection between Zyzzyx chilensis and the settlement of Zzyzx (map) although the timing seemed oddly coincidental. The former Soda Springs became Zzyzx in the 1940’s, during the same basic time period. However I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it for a couple of reasons. First, every oddball website mentioned Zzyzx so I didn’t have anything new to add. Second, it was a contrived name designed specifically to place it at the end of any alphabetical list. Zzyzx cheated.
A self-proclaimed minister-slash-doctor named Curtis Springer created Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on the western edge of the Mohave desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He promised all sorts of miracle cures and made piles of money. It was a complete fraud including the alleged "hot springs" he heated with a boiler. Springer didn’t even own the land. The government removed him from his desert domain in the 1970’s. After that Zzyzx became the Desert Studies Center for California State University, Fullerton so at least some good came from it. Roadside America had a particularly nice summary.
Everything about Zzyzx was fake including its name. Nonetheless, I couldn’t find any other place that began with a Double-Z, and it will likely remain alone until someone decides to honor ZZ Top.
I jumped farther down the alphabet for places beginning with ZY. There were several waiting to be found. Żywiec, Poland seemed to be the most significant. It had a population of a little more than thirty thousand and its own brand of beer. The Żywiec Brewery had a nice range of beverages although I couldn’t figure out much because the website was entirely in Polish — not that I’m complaining since it should be in Polish — just that my navigation was less than elegant as I guessed randomly and hoped for cognates.
Zyryanka (map) in the Sakha Republic of Russia also deserved a mention primarily because the 12MC Complete Index Map lacked decent coverage of Russia. I didn’t even know if the Russian name (Зырянка) would be remarkable in its native language or not. Anyway, the settlement apparently dated back to the 1930’s to serve local coal mines, and other than that was probably more notable for its remoteness and frigid temperatures.
I thought back to my school days when a teacher would call roll alphabetically. Naturally people with surnames like Anderson would be called upon first. Mine fell somewhere in the middle so I had to pay attention for a little while and then I could daydream for the rest of the drill. I always felt sorry for people named Zimmerman or such who had to remain on their toes the entire time. Those lucky Andersons, though. They could kick-back and relax, their jobs completed immediately thanks to a simple quirk of alphabetical order. The same thing could probably be said of countries. Imagine Afghanistan at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, first in line and grabbing a big dose of attention. Compare that to Zimbabwe. Most viewers are probably tuned out mentally by the time Zimbabwe strolls along.
That got me wondering about which city, town, or village might grab the very first spot in an alphabetical line. Sure, it would vary based upon the language used to sort through the list although I didn’t let that spoil my fun. Research appeared to be amazingly deficient though. I figured I’d find a ready list somewhere on the Intertubes and it would be easy. Perhaps that existed somewhere even though I checked — which meant I searched for a maximum of about 30 seconds — and I couldn’t find one. I did uncover the next best thing, Wikipedia’s List of towns and cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants.
A Coruña in Spain rose to the very top of that list (map). That was its officially-recognized name in the Galician language, prevalent in the northwestern corner of Spain that was once part of the Kingdom of Galicia. In Spanish it was La Coruña and in English sometimes Corunna. According to the rules of alphabetization, nothing came before something so the single letter A followed by a space came before A followed by additional letters. A Coruña was the only city with a single letter A so Wikipedia placed it first.
I had a bit of a quibble with A Coruña. The letter A was used as a definite article. There was a school of thought that the definite article should be disregarded in an alphabetical list. Certainly that was common with geographic place names, e.g., The Bahamas was generally listed as Bahamas, The and The Gambia transformed into Gambia, The. I’m sure there were plenty of learned people who could debate those finer points back-and-forth indefinitely although I didn’t want to get involved. Nonetheless, for me, placing A Coruña at the head of the line felt like cheating.
Aachen seemed to align more properly with the spirit of the contest, beginning with a double-A followed immediately by another letter near the start of the alphabet in the third position. AAC would be a hard combination to beat. People have lived in the Aachen area (map) since neolithic times, drawn there by its warm spring-fed waters. It became a spa town during Roman times and then a favored place of kings such as Charlemagne. Modern aficionados of geo-oddities also appreciated Aachen for its placement on the German side of the Belgium – Netherlands – Germany (BEDENL) tripoint, and prior to that as part of the quadripoint with the bizarre Neutral Moresnet "no man’s land" condominium.
That still left a lot of white space between cities of a hundred thousand residents or more and the untold multitude of places with smaller populations. I continued to be hampered by a lack of prior research so I turned to the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. It included a bunch of AAA stuff, primarily several small reservoirs called tanks in New Mexico, which I discounted. It also included an Aaberg School in South Dakota and the Aaberlite Mines in Colorado. Still, I couldn’t find a populated place that would come before Aachen in an alphabetical list.
I didn’t feel like running a bunch of separate queries because GNIS required a minimum of three letters when using a wildcard (e.g., I would have to search aaa*, aab*, aac* and so on if I wanted to check every combination starting with double-a). I took the easy route and figured there must be some place called Aaron. Sure enough, Aaron existed in four states, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. Only Aaron, Indiana had a Wikipedia entry and even that was limited to two simple sentences ("Aaron is an unincorporated community in Switzerland County, Indiana, in the United States. A post office was established at Aaron in 1871, and remained in operation until it was discontinued in 1907").
That was a long way of saying I was too lazy to figure out a location that would appear first on a list of populated places in the United States. I’ll throw Aaron out there as my guess and let someone else challenge it if so inclined.
Aasiwaskwasich, Québec, Canada
Natural Resources Canada actually provided an alphabetic list of place names, bless their hearts. I supposed that was feasible because there were fewer places named in Canada due to large swaths of lightly-populated territory. Canada included a former First Nation Village named Aa-at-sow-is in British Columbia, and that would have been a top contender, however I wanted to find an inhabited place, not something abandoned. The best I could find was Aasiwaskwasich, completely in the middle of nowhere near the eastern side of Hudson Bay.
But wait, the next entry was amusing even if it wasn’t a populated locality: Aass Indian Reserve 3 (map) in the Nootka Land District, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Interestingly, there were no signs of Aass Indian Reserves 1 or 2. Nor did there appear to be a tribe of Aass Indians. Don’t check a search engine for Aass Indians, though. I did that and let’s just say one cannot unsee things once they’ve been revealed.
Twelve Mile Circle received its first visit ever from Wallis and Futuna yesterday! I thought it would be nearly impossible and was genuinely surprised when it appeared. It’s a French collectivity in the South Pacific with only about 15,000 residents and most of them speak Polynesian languages or French. I’m not sure why they wanted to know more about Smokey and the Bandit’s Route although I will note that this page seems to attract a fairly steady stream of visitors for some unknown reason.
There were numerous other happenings from my recent Cape Cod and Islands adventure that didn’t fit within larger themes. Some of them were unusual. Others simply cataloged additions to my various lists. Still others, well, I’m not sure why I felt they were noteworthy except that they caught my attention for some inexplicable reason. My thanks go out to the Twelve Mile Circle audience for indulging me on this latest travelogue. This is the last installment. We will return to geo-oddity goodness soon.
What the Fox?
I am a terrible photographer. Even so, this blurry monstrosity was even worse than my usual sad fare. I broke a cardinal rule: just take the picture and only then try to get a better one. I was walking down Bradford Street (map) — one of the major roads through Provincetown — very early one fine morning on the way back from seeing the Wood End Lighthouse. I got a strange feeling that someone or something was watching me. I turned to the side and, directly across the street from me, stood a fox with a squirrel in its mouth. We stared at each other for maybe ten seconds while I slowly pulled a phone from my pocket to take a photo. I should have hit the shutter at the first opportunity. Instead I tried to neatly center the image, zoom in and get a perfect shot. Naturally the critter started walking as I set the shot, leaving me desperately clicking as fast as I could, capturing a blurry fox with squirrel. You’d think I’d learn.
Ferry, Ferry Quite Contrary
I like ferries. Longtime 12MC readers already know that. This particular trip offered multiple opportunities.
The Chappy Ferry on Martha’s Vineyard was particularly memorable because it was an unusual example of a ferry requiring another ferry. First people needed to get to Martha’s Vineyard on a ferry then those wishing to travel onward to Chappaquiddick Island needed to take a second ferry(¹), the Chappy Ferry’s "On Time III" boat (map). Also notable was its duration, all of maybe 30 seconds. In fact, my YouTube video showed pretty much the compete route in its entirety. One had to appreciate the simplicity of the solution, going back-and-forth all day long carrying three cars at a time across a narrow channel. It was more romantic than a bridge, I supposed.
We took two other ferries during our adventure, both departing Hyannis on the mainland using Hy-Line Cruises. One involved a round-trip to Nantucket and the other a round-trip to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard(²). We chose Hy-Line because it made visiting both islands on back-to-back overnight stays a little easier. We didn’t have to worry about getting to different mainland ports. I admit that it was a bit of an odd scheme contrived solely so that I could add to my county counting list. Nantucket was it’s own eponymous county. Martha’s Vineyard plus a few nearby islands formed Dukes County. I felt I had capture both counties on this trip because I wasn’t sure when I might be back that way again.
That created a minor time dilemma. We disembarked at Hyannis after the Nantucket round-trip and then had four hours to kill before catching the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We ate lunch at the harbor. OK, we still had three hours. Fortunately the Cape Cod Beer brewery was a short drive away. Problem solved.
I noticed a Cape Cod Beer truck loading the Martha’s Vineyard ferry when we returned. I really liked the photo. I should probably send a copy to the brewery.
I have a few stories that I’ll gladly share in person over a pint someday.
12MC Sees Geo Everywhere
Nantucket Water Meter
Maps always seemed to be on my mind even when I’m supposed to be relaxing on vacation. The only greater significance of that statement related to my unnatural interest in Nantucket water meters. They featured maps of the island. It took me awhile to fine one worth photographing. Let’s just say it became an obsession and move along to another topic.
My Digital Fingerprints
That Was Me
I’ve also never missed an opportunity to scour Google Analytics for unusual 12MC readership trends. My real-world adventures created the pattern on this image! That happened as a result of my back-to-back trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. I pinged the site from Nantucket in the morning and Martha’s Vineyard in the afternoon. That was the first time 12MC ever received hits from both of those islands on the same day. I’m easily amused.
And let me digress back to County Counting while I’m thinking about it. I also captured the final two counties in Rhode Island that I’d never visited previously. Newport County was a great capture. We stayed overnight in Newport and that counted extra in my mental categorization. Plus it was my first overnight trip ever to the state of Rhode Island so that made it doubly special. Bristol County was a lesser capture. I merely crossed the border then did a U-turn, traversing Bristol for probably less than a minute. It still counted! Now Rhode Island could be listed as completed on my scorecard along with Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut (a.k.a. "easy ones"). I know, Rhode Island doesn’t technically have self-governing counties anymore. I still count them.
Fort Revere Park
Most people probably visited the ruins of old Fort Revere in Hull (map) to see the fortifications themselves. I did that too. That was great. I also enjoyed walking through the underground tunnels within the fort to view graffiti. My wife rolled her eyes. I’m used to it.
(¹) I suppose one could also fly to Martha’s Vineyard although I still preferred the double-ferry option. (²) The triangular route beginning at Hyannis which included a direct link between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard would have been more efficient. Unfortunately that option only operates during summer months and wasn’t available during my trip.