The Only One, Part 2

On November 22, 2015 · 3 Comments

If it were Only One, how could there be a Part Two? I discarded that paradox and decided to plow forward. The premise, to recap, was rather simple. I typed the exact phrase "The only one in [name of a country]" into various Internet search engines and observed the results. Part 2 focused on a set of major countries that would be large enough to generate interesting superlatives even though they had smaller Twelve Mile Circle audiences than the previous exercise. I also confronted the distinct possibility that the chosen topic interested me more than other 12MC readers judging by reactions to my previous effort that reminded me of crickets chirping. That never stopped me before so I ignored obvious signs and continued with my little game.

The only wildlife sanctuary designated specifically for the only ape native to India

Hoolock gibbon
Hoolock gibbon by michael bamford on Flickr (cc)

Only one ape (superfamily Hominoidea) inhabited India natively, the Hoolock Gibbon. Well, except for 1.25 billion humans I supposed, although I set that little inconvenience aside and focused on the gibbons anyway. Hoolock gibbons ranged from northeast India into nearby neighboring areas of Bangladesh and China. They hadn’t fared particularly well recently due to deforestation and general loss of habitat. The World Wildlife Fund noted that "populations of western hoolock gibbons have declined by almost 90% over the last 30 years, and it is now considered to be one of the most endangered 25 primate species in the world." The Indian government created the Hoollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Jorhat district as part of an effort the protect the species as well as other rare primates located within a 21 square kilometre (8 square mile) domain (map).

Hoollongapar Sanctuary contains India’s only ape family – the Hoolock Gibbon, numbering about 106. Other primates in the sanctuary include the Stump-tailed Macaque (Henduri Bandor in Assamese) which are some 233 in number, the Pig-tailed Macaque which are left with a population of 75 only, the Capped Langur with just 162, 174 Rhesus Macaques, and the Slow Loris (Lajuki Bandor) whose estimation is yet to be made.

The numbers didn’t look promising although maybe this could be an important step in preserving the species.

The only French settlement in New Zealand

French Origins
French Origins by Michael on Flickr (cc)

I hadn’t realized that France coveted the islands that became New Zealand although I probably shouldn’t have been surprised given that every European power sought to colonize every far-flung corner of the world during that period. The French sent ships to the South Island to establish a whaling station in 1840 at Akaroa. However the English had already claimed the area a year earlier so that created a bit of a problem for French territorial aspirations. The British dispatched their ship the Britomart to Akaroa to confirm their sovereignty while the French continued to occupy their whaling port. Oddly enough the two managed to coexist peacefully. Over time French settlers began to acculturate to British rule and became fully absorbed within the local English populace. Few remnants of the French settlement remained although it certainly left its mark on local street names (map), many of which are still in the French language.

The only place in Russia with geysers

Kamchatka 2010 084
Kamchatka 2010 084 by Einar Fredriksen on Flickr (cc)

I wasn’t sure what impressed me more, that the Valley of Geysers on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula were the only significant geysers in Eurasia or that they weren’t discovered until 1941. The area was so remote that this spectacular geological formation escaped notice until recent times. Even then, they weren’t fully explored until the 1970’s and opened to foreign visitors only in the 1990’s. Tourists hoping to experience the hundred-or-so remaining geysers needed to arrive by helicopter.

Kikhpinych, a quite active stratovolcano, generated tremendous heat that fed geothermal waters pushing from cracks in the ground (map). This dynamic nature continued to scar the landscape, creating a large landslide in 2007 that covered about half of the original geysers. Another landslide happened in 2014. Scientists and tourists continued to flock to the valley in spite of possible dangers.

The only tea museum in China

Entrance to Tea Museum
Entrance to Tea Museum by Clyde Bentley on Flickr (cc)

With the well-worn cliché "all the tea in China" could it be possible that there was only one tea museum in China? Apparently that was the case and it was located in Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province (map). The China National Tea Museum featured an interesting construction technique with open walled buildings commingling with natural flora of the surrounding countryside. Visitors could walk fluidly amongst several open structures while appreciating the history, culture, varietals, production and preparation of tea. Around them grew rows of Longjing (Dragon Well) tea plants, one of the most well-regarded of Chinese green teas.

The only natural arch with flowing river in France

Pont d'Arc
Pont d'Arc by Brian Smithson on Flickr (cc)

Only one place in France had a natural stone arch formed by a river, with the river still flowing through it. This was the magnificent Pont d’Arc above the Ardèche River, a tributary of the Rhône in southern France (map). The natural beauty of the area attracted numerous tourists, many of whom chose to canoe or kayak along gently flowing waters through the 30 km (19 mi) Ardèche Gorges. The river cut deeply through surrounding limestone, with the highlight being Pont d’Arc where it bored a tunnel directly through rock.

The Only One

On November 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

I started playing a little game over the weekend using a search engine and the exact phrase "The only one in [name of a country].” Much of the time this query resulted in lists of exotic automobiles for some odd reason, or vacation properties with excessive hyperbole. More amusing results floated to the surface every once in a while. I focused primarily on English-speaking countries with lots of Twelve Mile Circle readers. I figured I might as well pander to the loyal audience.

The only public diamond mine in the United States

Screening Shed
Screening Shed by Lance and Erin on Flickr (cc)

Folks can head down to Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas (map) when dreaming of riches. Perhaps they’d hit the motherload at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The first diamonds were discovered there about a century ago in the ancient remains of a volcanic vent. Commercial mining failed once geologists determined that only the top layer held enough diamonds to make digging worth their trouble. It was too labor intensive to turn a profit so the site became a privately-owned tourist attraction. The new operators took a different approach by charging amateurs a fee to seek their fortunes instead of paying miners to dig on their behalf. The grounds disgorged just enough winnings to keep things interesting, acting more like a casino slot machine than a typical mine. The state of Arkansas bought the attraction in the 1970’s and converted it into a state park.

Anyone lucky enough to find a diamond on the 37-acre dirt field gets to keep it. Occasionally a visitor will unearth something interesting. The Strawn-Wagner Diamond was discovered in 1990 and became "the most perfect diamond the American Gem Society (AGS) ever certified in its laboratory." Someone also found an 8.52 carat white diamond as recently as 2015. Eureka moments like that were the exception. The vast preponderance of visitors went home with dirty clothes and maybe a small but worthless diamond chip. A day of digging would have been about the same as buying a few lottery tickets at the corner market although at least the treasure hunters got outdoors for a few hours.

The only full set of 12 change-ringing bells in Canada

Bells of St. James Cathedral
Bells of St. James Cathedral by Ryan on Flickr (cc)

Canadian fans of change-ringing bells should head towards the Cathedral Church of St. James on Church Street in Toronto (map).

First I needed to ponder the definition change-ringing and then I could consider the significance of the number of bells. Fortunately the North American Guild of Change Ringers provided everything I needed to know.

Change Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.

Change-ringers were the people who rang bells in church towers. Bells were located in the part of the tower called the belfry, for the obvious reason, and were hung in rings of 8 (typically) or 12 (more unusually). It would take a special structure to handle the weight of 12 bells ranging from 100 to 3,600 pounds (45 to 1,600 kg), and St. James included tower walls six feet thick with an additional buttress supporting a concrete beam holding the bell frame. That’s why this was the only location in Canada with 12 bells.

The only free range reindeer herd in Britain

Reindeer on Cairngorm
Reindeer on Cairngorm by andrewrendell on Flickr (cc)

Reindeer or caribou inhabited the far northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America natively, although certainly not within Britain for at least the last several centuries. Their domesticated cousins ranged more broadly and included one small herd with a couple of hundred beasts in the Cairngorms region of Scotland. They were introduced in the 1950’s as a tourist attraction (map). Visitors continue to flock to Cairngorms National Park to see the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Reindeer remain active throughout the year although most people tend to be interested in them solely at Christmas. That’s when the "adult male reindeer go out and about on tour nationwide."

The only fossil bed from the early part of the Tertiary Period in Australia

Murgon fossil site

The Murgon fossil site in Queensland, Australia (map) filled a vital link in the historical record to the early Paleogene Period, the beginning of the age of mammals only a few million years removed from the extinction of dinosaurs.

Nestling in the rolling green hills of south-eastern Queensland, under the shadow of the basalt-capped Boat Mountain, is one of the most remarkable fossil deposits in the world. Located near the township of Murgon, this site is the only one in Australia that produces mammal fossils from the early part of the Tertiary Period and is dated at around 54.6 million years old. What makes Murgon so remarkable is the diversity of animals found there that were not expected to be seen in such an old Australian deposit. The world’s oldest song birds are found at Murgon as well as one of the world’s oldest bats, Australonycteris.

The fossil beds were remarkable enough to become a World Heritage Site.

The only snail farm in Kenya (and all of east Africa)

Giant African Land Snail
Giant African Land Snail by John Tann on Flickr (cc)

In Kenya one could visit Rosemary Odinga in Kiserian (map), a suburb of Nairobi, where she established a snail farm in 2008. The Kenya Wildlife Service granted her a license to farm Giant African Land Snails — the only one issued in the nation — a requirement since snails were classified as wild animals. The farm produced about 12,000 snails per year although most locals residents wouldn’t eat them. Instead she marketed them quite successfully as escargots to fine dining establishment and wealthy European expatriates.

I mentioned focusing this article on countries with sizable 12MC audiences. That’s right, Kenya has begun to emerge as one of the more common international points of origin for Twelve Mile Circle readers. Some of them came for the Oxbow Lake discussions although now they seem to have branched out to other topics. Welcome Kenyan readers! It wasn’t too long ago that I bemoaned my lack of African viewers. I’m glad to see that things have started to change.

I had so much fun writing this article that I may have to do a part 2 with more countries. Readers should feel free to search for their own one-of-a-kind superlatives and place them in the comments. They might even become fair game for that future article.

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.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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