2016 Travel Plans

On February 10, 2016 · 3 Comments

A new year dawned on Twelve Mile Circle as I turned my eye towards another batch of travel adventures. Plans began to fall into place. They won’t approach the stratospheric heights of a very ambitious 2015 travel season although they’ll still be substantive from my perspective. As always, I like to post my general plans ahead of time to solicit recommendation from the 12MC audience. I’ve visited many places I never would have known about otherwise without reader suggestions. I’ve even been lucky enough to meet some of you in person when we’ve crossed paths along our separate trails. Feel free take a few moments to examine these proposed routes and offer any suggested geo-oddities, roadside attractions, dubious historical landmarks, obscure parks, or other weirdness I shouldn’t miss.

Finish Virginia

I’ve wanted to visit every county and county-equivalent in my home state of Virginia for the longest time. It didn’t help that Virginia included 95 counties and 38 independent cities necessary to complete the quest, a total of 133 separate geographic entities. Each and every border had to be crossed. Those independent cities were the worst, with many of them scattered haphazardly around the Commonwealth in tiny out-of-the-way enclaves. I’ve chipped away at the total with determination over the last three or four years, and I finally came within striking distance after my drive back from western North Carolina last summer. I managed to knocked the total down to five remaining counties: Bath, Buchanan, Craig, Dickenson, and Highland. Those residual counties were all set deep within the rugged Appalachian spine bordering West Virginia and Kentucky, far away from any easy access. I will never hit them randomly; they will need to be tracked and hunted.

That will happen in mid-March if my plan unfolds as intended. I will drive to Charleston, West Virginia, then head down into Hatfield & McCoy country to capture several West Virginia and Kentucky counties, and finally loop back into Virginia to pick-up the remaining five. This one is actually the most uncertain plan at the moment. Much of the path involves minor roads through mountains and hollows. It’s possible that freezing rain or drifting snows could accumulate here during that period. I’ll have to watch the weather closely and maybe cancel the trip at the last minute. The plan itself is pretty solid and I can always shift it to a better time of year if necessary.

However, I want to get this done. Those five remaining counties are starting to bother me.

New England

What would I do without Mainly Marathons? Their back-to-back races in multiple states have entertained me for years. I’m a driver and a cheerleader for a specific runner, and in turn I get a valid excuse to poke into lightly traveled corners of the United States. So far we’ve completed the full set of multi-day Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation races. We will embark on the New England Series in May, covering those six states plus New York thrown in for good measure: seven races in seven states in seven days. It kind of reminded me of 12MC’s Easiest New England article except that it will take seven days. Oh, and it requires seven races.

I’ve never heard of any of the towns where races have been scheduled. That makes them perfect.

  • Day 1 (May 15): Sanford, Maine
  • Day 2 (May 16): Greenfield, New Hampshire
  • Day 3 (May 17): Springfield, Vermont
  • Day 4 (May 18): Northfield, Massachusetts
  • Day 5 (May 19): Coventry, Rhode Island
  • Day 6 (May 20): Simsbury, Connecticut
  • Day 7 (May 21): New Paltz, New York

I’ve been persuaded to run the 5K each day, which is a far cry from the efforts of most participants who will be completing either a half-marathon, a full marathon, or a 50K ultra marathon each day. My seven-day mileage will total less than most participants’ single day efforts! Are there any Twelve Mile Circle readers who would like to join me for a day? If I’m capable of running a 5K — and I use that term loosely because I plod along pretty casually — then certainly many other people can as well. It’s a nice supportive community of runners regardless of the distance one chooses to cover. I’ve really come to enjoy this group.

My county counting map of New England looks pretty solid although I can still use this trip to fill-in a few doughnut holes. That will leave plenty of time for other roadside diversions because the distance between towns isn’t much. Jerimoth Hill comes to mind.


Lake Michigan Sand Dune
Sleeping Bear Dunes; my own photo

Each year I select a U.S. state for special attention. This time it will be Michigan, using Grand Rapids as our base. Grand Rapids might sound like an unusual choice to many in the 12MC audience. Those of you who follow my brewery adventures or who follow the photos on the 12MC Twitter account will understand the significance. In previous years I selected Oregon (Bend) and North Carolina (Asheville) for similar reasons. Founders Brewing put Grand Rapids on the map and countless amazing breweries followed suit. Do any of the beer geeks in the audience have any "can’t miss" recommendations besides the obvious?

This trip will take place in July so I haven’t thought about it much. I do want to get back up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore again. We’ll probably have to visit Holland, Michigan too, because it’s cheesy and touristy. I’ll just have to see how research unfolds over the coming months. It’s still a little hard to concentrate on summer when there’s snow on the ground.

Geographic Matryoshka with US States

On January 10, 2016 · 6 Comments

A challenge resulted from the recent Outside of California article, in a comment by loyal reader Rhodent. I have to say that I spent way more time than I’d care to admit seeking an optimal solution. Readers who relish a good mental challenge will probably enjoy trying to improve upon my results. Others will hopefully at least appreciate the obsessive-compulsive effort I undertook.

MATRYOSHKA. Russian Nesting Doll 30 piece Pushkin Fairytales
MATRYOSHKA. Russian Nesting Doll 30 piece Pushkin Fairytales
by www.vintagecobweb.com on Flickr (cc)

I’ll go ahead and let Rhodent explain the challenge. One can also view the full comment in its original context if this snippet doesn’t provide enough information. Per Rhodent;

I made some GeoGuessr puzzles where the theme was places with this sort of name. I would string them together into what I called "Geographic Matryoshkas", although I didn’t stick to the idea that the city name had to be the name of another state… Maryland (neighborhood), London; London, Ontario; Ontario, New York; New York, Texas; Texas, Queensland… I’d be curious to know what would the longest string one could come up with if one did restrict it to using cities whose names were that of American states.

OK, challenge accepted.

I undertook a brute force method. I searched for every state name found in another state in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System that fell within feature classes Civil and Populated Place. This partitioned options to places where people likely lived, i.e., "A political division formed for administrative purposes (borough, county, incorporated place, municipio, parish, town, township)" or a "Place or area with clustered or scattered buildings and a permanent human population (city, settlement, town, village)." It eliminated topographic features like rivers, mountains, forests and such. Some of the resulting locations may have been tiny or insignificant, and that was fine, I simply wanted to make sure they all came from an authoritative source. If it was good enough for the USGS it was good enough for me. I called the resulting places "towns" even though some were counties, villages, etc., just to keep things as simple as possible.

Additionally I eliminated all partial matches. As an example, the result had to be New York exactly and not simply York. And yes, six different states actually had towns named New York, which certainly surprised me. I also eliminated over-matches so the town named Kansas in Alabama was acceptable while Kansas City in Missouri and its half million residents were left on the cutting room floor. I know! How arbitrary! I wanted to keep the game as pure as possible. That still left 299 state-named towns even after strictly applying the rules, leaving a manageable number of options in my opinion.

Everything went into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

I couldn’t figure out how to make the embedded spreadsheet larger so participants in this game will definitely want to open the spreadsheet in another window. It included three tabs. The first tab displayed all of the valid town names I discovered, sorted by state. I appended two-letter state postal abbreviations onto each name to try to reduce confusion. Trust me, it got very, very confusing — downright exasperating — trying to keep track of which were states and which were towns with state names.

The second tab compared potential movement between states that could be used to create linkages between them, which I called jumping IN and jumping OUT. Let’s use Maine as an example. There was a town in the state of Arizona called Maine. Arizona could be used to jump IN to Maine. Similarly, there was a town in Maine called Virginia. One could jump OUT of Maine to get to Virginia (and conversely, from Virginia’s perspective, Maine could be used to jump IN to Virginia). It was important to understand these relationships to avoid dead-ends. The best states were those with lots of opportunities to do both, to jump in and out, like Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas. Those would be key. I noticed they were all located physically in the continental interior. I figured that historically they were well-positioned to adopt names from east coast states when the original pioneers began moving inland, and they were still growing and creating new towns as the west coast states first came aboard, putting them in a unique position to adopt names from both directions. Fascinating. I would have never noticed that if I hadn’t undertaken this laborious exercise.

Other states were less useful, offering little or no means to jump in or out. They would create immediate dead-ends. Hawaii was the only state completely eliminated from the game. No state had a town named Hawaii, and Hawaii had no town named for any other state. Others were bizarrely unbalanced. I thought Washington would be a great option given George Washington’s prominence upon the geographic landscape. Forty-two states had towns named Washington! Then the state of Washington had to ruin everything by having only a single town named for another state. Wyoming performed similarly. Seventeen states had towns of Wyoming (thanks to Gertrude of Wyoming, no doubt). Yet Wyoming failed to return the love, creating an immediate dead-end.

Tab three held all of the raw data I compiled as I pulled information manually from GNIS. I suspected that it wasn’t useful to anyone else although I was too proud of my effort to hide it from view.

With apologies to Rhodent, I began to think of the progression as links in a chain instead of a series of Russian nesting dolls. I also thought that Aretha Franklin’s version of Chain of Fools would be a perfect theme song as I frittered away hour-after-hour on my complex task. Go ahead and turn it on. Perhaps it will offer some inspiration.

Maybe you’ve read this far. Most readers, I suspect, gave up awhile ago. Those who stuck around finally get to see my result.

  1. Wyoming, DE
  2. Delaware, VA
  3. Virginia, OH
  4. Ohio, CO
  5. Colorado, TX
  6. Texas, KY
  7. Kentucky, MI
  8. Michigan, VT
  9. Vermont, WI
  10. Wisconsin, MN
  11. Minnesota, GA
  12. Georgia, LA
  13. Louisiana, MO
  14. Missouri, OK
  15. Oklahoma, KY
  16. Kentucky, KS
  17. Kansas, IN
  18. Indiana, IA
  19. Iowa, NE
  20. Nebraska, IA
  21. Iowa, OK
  22. Oklahoma, TX
  23. Texas, GA
  24. Georgia, IN
  25. Indiana, KS
  26. Kansas, TN
  27. Tennessee, TX
  28. Texas, OH
  29. Ohio, NY
  30. New York, NM
  31. New Mexico, MD
  32. Maryland, NY
  33. New York, TX
  34. Texas, OK
  35. Oklahoma, MS
  36. Mississippi, AR
  37. Arkansas, KY
  38. Kentucky, IL
  39. Illinois, KS
  40. Kansas, OH
  41. Ohio, GA
  42. Georgia, AL
  43. Alabama, FL
  44. Florida, CO
  45. Colorado, AK
  46. Alaska, MN
  47. Minnesota, CA
  48. California, VA
  49. Virginia, WA
  50. Washington, CT

I built a chain with 50 links referencing 31 states. Not bad. I think there’s still room to improve upon it. The task started to become compulsive and I had to stop.

Readers should feel free to embed additional links and loops within the chain, or use portions of the chain, or start a whole new chain from scratch. The rules are simple. Make the chain as long as you possibly can without repeating any towns. It might be useful to print the first tab of the spreadsheet and cross-out towns as you use them. I’d be interested to see who can claim the most links, the most states referenced, and the most combined (links + states). The initial bar has been set at 50 links, 31 states, and 81 in total. Good luck and have fun. I’m done!

California Tangential

On January 6, 2016 · 4 Comments

Article research doesn’t always go as smoothly or as cleanly as one might imagine. I fall headlong into rabbit holes, sometimes finding inspiration for future articles that continue the cycle. Rarely, however, do I find the sheer volume of factual oddities I encountered while investigating places "Outside of California." I supposed it was enough to create a nice entry for the ongoing series of Odds and Ends that appear sporadically on Twelve Mile Circle, however I decided to call it California Tangential to honor its source instead.

Hooray for Hollywood

California was notable for so many things although perhaps best known for Hollywood, at least from a worldwide cultural perspective. Appropriately, the California locality in southern Maryland referenced in the previous article practically abutted another settlement named Hollywood. Only 6.3 miles (10 kilometers) separated Hollywood from California. This happy juxtaposition was completely coincidental:

It was named in 1867, when a storeowner at Thompson’s General Store near the Uniontown section of Hollywood required a name for the post office inside the store. The storeowner was inspired by the gigantic holly tree planted in front of the store and named the post office Hollywood.

The Hollywood in Maryland (map) predated it’s California cousin by more than twenty years as well as the movie industry’s establishment on the west coast by nearly half a century. Still, it put a smile on my face to imagine the possibility of a Patuxent River Walk of Fame.

Coney Island

Coney Island 003
Coney Island 003 by Jeremy Thompson on Flickr (cc)

I found another bait-and-switch at the California neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed strange that they select a name from the west coast. A later entrepreneur drew his inspiration from the opposite coast in an attempt to recreate New York’s Coney Island.

In time for the opening on June 21, 1886, the name was officially changed to "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West" in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. Fortunate enough to be on a riverfront location, riverboat soon became the most popular method of transportation for park visitors. In 1887, "Ohio Grove" was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as "Coney Island."

The attraction still exists. However, just as California, Ohio fell short of its original namesake, so too did its Coney Island (map).


Jackass Flat, Victoria, Australia

I’m too easily amused. I smirked when I spied Jackass Flat adjacent to California Gully in Victoria, Australia. Jackass Flat simply sounded silly because I lacked decorum and maturity. At least people elsewhere had the good sense to change their Jackass to something slightly more sensible. Pity the 224 people who lived in Jackass Flat. Still it could have been a lot worse as I was reminded by an 1860 book I uncovered, Two Years in Victoria

In our walk through the diggings, we could not help noting the names of places and signs as indications of the character of mind of the people who give such names — Jackass Flat, Donkey Gully, Dead horse Gully, Sheepshead Gully, Tinpot Gully, Job’s Gully, Poverty Gully, and Piccaninny Gullies without end. These however are not quite so bad as Murderer’s Flat and Chokem Gully.

I agreed that Murderer’s Flat would have been dreadful. Chokem Gully had a nice ring to it though, ignoring what it actually referenced.

California and Chicago Flip-Flop

California Renovated (Your New Blue)
California Renovated (Your New Blue) by cta web on Flickr (cc)

I found a California Avenue in Chicago. Actually I’d known about the California station (map) on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line for many years because I’d passed it many times taking the train from O’Hare International Airport. I didn’t realize that the station was named for a street until now, though. Conversely there was a Chicago (actually several of them) in California. The most well known may have been Port Chicago, on Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco (map). It was the site of the horrific "Port Chicago Disaster"

Port Chicago… was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units…. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.

These events exposed racial inequalities in the U.S. Navy although reforms took many more years. Port Chicago also no longer exists. The government declared eminent domain in 1968 and tore it down to create a safety buffer zone.

Back to the United Kingdom

I’d forgotten about an English California featured previously on 12MC in Wrong Side of the Atlantic. Then another California appeared in Ipswich (map) courtesy of a comment posted by reader Mark. He also provided a document link with much more information about the Ipswich California. That led me to examine the Gazetteer of British Place Names for more California locations. It included several; five in England and one in Scotland. I was surprised by the prevalence.

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