On August 14, 2014 · 3 Comments

The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.

Cactus, Texas

How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.

The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).

It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.

Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980’s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.

Cactus Springs, Nevada

The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,

Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.

The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.

Cactus Flat, South Dakota

Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.

The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.

Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.

Cactus Beach, South Australia

Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.

Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!

I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,

The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.

So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.

(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.


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.


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:

Sensing Senses

On May 8, 2014 · 4 Comments

Five senses came to mind; sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. They were very traditional human-centric senses I conceded, given various other senses in existence like echolocation, magnetoception and others. I ignored those. I also ignored the so-called sixth sense, extrasensory perception, ESP. You already knew that, though (kidding!). Could I find five traditional senses in placenames? Well no, not really although a few instances emerged. Some came with stories while others remained shrouded in mystery.


Sight Point, Western Australia

I could have selected any of several places featuring sight. I settled on Sight Point in Western Australia on the edge of Prince Regent National Park. I don’t know why. It didn’t seem any more significant than the others. Maybe it was because the park sounded interesting:

Prince Regent National Park is one of Australia’s most remote and beautiful places… The park contains more than half the mammals and bird species found in the whole Kimberley region, and more than 500 species of plants. Saltwater crocodiles are huge and abundant… There is no road access to the park, which is only accessible by boat.

I’d like to encounter every bit of that park except for any of the huge, abundant saltwater crocodiles.


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Noisy-le-Grand: Les Arènes de Picasso by harry_nl, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I never thought that the French commune Noisy-le-Grand in the Île-de-France region would translate into English as "Great Noise," although that truly would have been, um, grand. It has been postulated that Noisy derived from the Latin nucetum for walnut grove. The town’s coat-of-arms included three walnuts in recognition of its likely etymology. The le-Grand part did indeed mean "great" and probably arose as a way to distinguish Noisy-le-Grand from several other French places with the Noisy prefix: e.g, Noisy-le-Sec; Noisy-sur-Oise; Noisy-le-Roi. Did Noisy-le-Roi mean Walnut King?!? That would be funny. It probably meant something less amusing like the Royal Walnut Grove or words to that effect.


Queens Taste Mine, New Mexico, USA

I found Queens Taste Mine in Hidalgo Co., New Mexico. I couldn’t discover anything else about it. However I did find Queens Taste in Queens, New York. It was a restaurant and food festival sponsored by the Queens Economic Development Corporation, billed as "the borough’s premiere networking and culinary event" and "feature everything from sweet to savory, Asian to Italian, and crunchy to creamy."

I doubted that Queens Taste in far southwestern New Mexico, set no more than ten miles from the Mexican border, had any relationship whatsoever with the Queens Taste in Queens, New York. Someone please prove me wrong because that would be awesome.


Smell-No-Taste, Liberia

Liberia faced severe financial problems in the 1920’s. Backed into a corner, the nation made a hard bargain with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Their agreement allowed the corporation to amass the largest contiguous rubber plantation in the world under its Firestone Natural Rubber Company subsidiary. Firestone negotiated brutal terms, a 99-year lease on a million acres at 6 cents per acre. That’s an area about the same size as the U.S. state of Rhode Island by comparison. The company also got to choose the location, anywhere in Liberia it desired. Oh, and Firestone controlled all of Liberia’s finances for a couple of decades until various loans it offered were paid off. The plantation remains in Liberia today amidst various allegations of questionable practices including child labor exploitation.

The Firestone Plantation served as a beachhead for other foreign investments along with the infrastructure necessary to serve them. Hemmed-in between the Firestone Plantation and Roberts International Airport (informally called Robertsfield), a town arose with the curious name of Smell-No-Taste. Many sources recounted the story. One version came from the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University:

Near Robertsfield International Airport in Liberia, there is a town named “Smell-no-Taste.” The town acquired its name in the period after World War II, when foreign contractors arrived in the country, tasked with building the airport. The massive construction project attracted a stream of Liberians hoping to find employment. Eager to be selected as a temporary worker, those migrants set up camps near the residences of the foreigners who were supervising the project. Every night, the contractors would cook dinner inside their compounds, the smell of the food drifting its way into the camps where the hungry migrants waited for the opportunity to work. Thus, the town became known to locals as “Smell-no-Taste.”

Apparently it was officially named Unification Town although that’s not what took hold as the popular name. Smell-No-Taste also became a bit of a euphemism for everything wrong with foreign investment in Liberia.

On a tangent, take a look to the south — A town named Snafu! The family-friendly version of this acronym is "Situation Normal All Fouled Up." Use your imagination or consult the Urban Dictionary for the more commonly referenced profane definition. Liberia hosted a US Military presence during the Second World War. I had to wonder if the name derived from a bit of military slang or whether it was completely coincidental and meant something different and innocuous in an indigenous language.


Touchit Cove, Alaska, USA

I didn’t have nearly as many options for touch nor any interesting stories for the location I selected either, Touchit Cove. The United States Geological Survey GNIS simply said it "extends E near mouth of Shoe Inlet, on NW coast of Long I., Alex. Arch." I liked the name. Nothing more.

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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