Four Corners, Part 1 (Orientation)

On August 3, 2017 · 12 Comments

Our family visits a different part of the United States every summer. This year we decided to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We made it as far west as the Four Corners monument although we we spent only a few moments in Utah and Arizona. We toured through parts of Utah back in 2011. Arizona will need to wait for another day.



The embedded map showed our approximate route. We began our adventure at the Denver International Airport where we landed and rented a car. From there we drove down to Angel Fire, a ski resort town in New Mexico where I have family. That offered a nice base for a return trip to Taos, a place I last visited in 2013 during the Dust Bowl adventure. The next swing included a series of National Park properties: Pecos National Historical Park; Bandelier National Monument; Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and Mesa Verde National Park. We also spent time in towns along the way including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango. Then we drove back to Denver.

We packed a lot of activities into those ten days. From mountains to desert, from cold to warm, from historic to modern, we tried a little of just about everything. I didn’t capture many new counties on this trip though, for a couple of reasons. First, the immense size of counties out there made it difficult, although each capture covered a lot of territory on the map too. Second, I’d been to several of the places before. This was more about visiting friends and family, and showing the kids places I loved seeing during an epic road trip I took a quarter century earlier. Even so, I still found time for a few county captures, some under interesting circumstances


Pecos Subterfuge


Pecos National Historical Park

The path from Angel Fire to Santa Fe, New Mexico would ordinarily go through Taos and enter Santa Fe from the north. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture a couple of new counties by traveling along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then looping back to Santa Fe from the south. That inefficient route led directly past Pecos National Historical Park. I used the park as my excuse. We enjoyed Pecos — and I’ll talk about that some more in a future article — although the actual reason focused squarely on the new counties, Mora and San Miguel.

The park fell within San Miguel and the photograph above gave a nice overview of its terrain. Each afternoon the "monsoon" rains of summer covered the plains. Mora County looked similar, maybe a little greener, with an economy seemingly based on ranching. I didn’t see a lot of wealth in sparsely-populated Mora. At one point we drove through its county seat, also called Mora, and the speed limit dropped down to 15 miles per hour (24 kph). You better believe I didn’t go a single mile per hour over that limit. It seemed like one of those places where speeding tickets probably funded the few public services that existed out there. I admit I had no evidence of that and perhaps I’ve made an unfair assessment. I didn’t risk it either.


Let’s Make Sure at Los Alamos


Bradbury Science Museum

I’d marked New Mexico’s smallest county, Los Alamos, as one I’d visited previously. Los Alamos made my tally many years ago during that previously-referenced epic road trip. However, I’ve since doubted that I actually captured it. No major roads between popular destinations cut through there. That was by design. Los Alamos served as the secret hideaway for scientists designing atomic bombs during World War 2. Nobody was supposed to travel to Los Alamos without a specific reason to be there. The county, established formally in 1949, covered barely a hundred square miles (250 square km). I simply couldn’t see how I’d crossed its borders on that earlier trip. Why had I concluded otherwise so many years ago? This time I made sure to record my visit photographically for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It didn’t "count" as a new capture even if that might have actually been the case.


Giving William McKinley His Due


Chaco Culture

My exceedingly brief visit to McKinley County, New Mexico probably set a record for my most absurd county capture ever. It also became another exceedingly rare example of a "walk only" county like my recent visit to Cass County, Michigan. McKinley happened during my trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Nothing was easy about getting to Chaco Canyon. The National Park Service recommended the northern route that involved about 16 miles of mostly decent dirt and gravel roads. I took that route. Visitors could also approach from the south with about 20 miles of "at your own risk" dirt roads. The southern route, if I’d been more adventurous, would have brought me through McKinley County.

However, I noticed that I could head south from the Visitors Center, go a couple of miles along the southern dirt path, and reach McKinley. I decided to touch McKenly at its closest point, where the road ran directly along the county line. I simply needed to stop the car and touch a point of land just beyond the roadside (map). A barbed wire fence ran along there too, so I put my foot between the strands of wire. Then I gently patted the ground with my foot. County captured.


Colorado Backcountry


Durango, Colorado

Actually I captured most of my new counties on a single day. We drove from Durango to Denver using the default route. We had some friends to visit in Denver so I didn’t want to go out of the way. Even so, that brought me through Archuleta, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, and Park Counties for the first time. Driving through Saguache offered particularly remarkable scenery. Much of the county sat in humongous bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides. Amazingly flat, filled with fertile fields, and yet the wide plain sat at an elevation of something like 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). Park County also offered a little entertainment, if only as the setting of the South Park cartoon. That included a drive through Fairplay, the inspiration for the quiet mountain town where Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lived.

Nine (possibly ten) new county captures didn’t seem like a lot from a numerical perspective. Nonetheless, we covered quite a bit of territory and had a great time doing it.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Tendril of Fairmont

On July 30, 2017 · 1 Comments

Last October I took a trip through various parts of northern West Virginia to count some counties. This included a stopover in Morgantown, home of the state’s flagship West Virginia University. I had to bypassed this area a number of times previously so I enjoyed being able to stop for once.


Fairmont
Fairmont, West Virginia
via Google Maps

Research at the time brought my attention to the nearby town of Fairmont. I noticed that Fairmont included a long tendril with a bulb on its southern end. It almost looked like an umbilical cord, literally just the width of a road for a couple of miles. What could possibly be so important that the town had to reach out like that and make sure this acreage fell within its borders? I should have been tipped-off by my numerous drives up and down I-79 over the years. I’d noticed an office park with huge satellite dishes by the side of the highway.


I-79 Technology Park


DSC_4119
Dedicating New, Innovative North Central Advanced Technology Center.
Photo by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Flickr (cc)

Sure enough, those dishes appeared within the confines of the I-79 Technology Park. This served as West Virginia’s answer to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. WVU, a major research university, sat just twenty minutes up the road and offered a solid anchor. The facility contained 750,000 square feet (70,000 square metres) of building space. These housed data centers and offices for 30 businesses, where 1,500 people worked (map). Many of those jobs were solid, high-paying scientific an engineering positions too. No wonder Fairmont claimed it.

The government also maintained a visible presence there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration operated its Independent Verification and Validation program on the campus. There it tested all of its mission critical software, a program created as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a supercomputer center there too.

These facilities should help dispel the myth that everyone in West Virginia works in a coal mine. Mystery solved, I could go ahead and end this article, right?


Captain James Booth



Captain James Booth Memorial

Well, maybe not so quickly. The tendril — Industrial Park Road — bisected a large grassy area just as it entered I-79 Technology Park. My curiosity got the best of me so I drilled down to check it out. There I noticed the Captain James Booth Memorial. I’d never heard of Captain James Booth and I didn’t know why he warranted a memorial. The memorial itself fell just outside of Fairmont’s borders although I considered it close enough for my purposes.

Obviously this high-tech corridor with its data centers and satellite dishes didn’t always exist in this manner. The area was on the wild edge of the American colonial frontier two hundred and fifty years ago. James Booth, an officer who served under George Washington before the United States declared independence, settled in the Monogahela Valley in 1772. He was the first person of European ancestry to live there permanently. Nobody knew much about his earlier life, though. Historians couldn’t even agree on his parents or his place of birth. However he earned a minor historical footnote for the Boothsville settlement he founded in the valley, a few miles south of current Fairmont.

Five years later, Native Americans believed to be from the Shawnee tribe ambushed Booth and his party. He took an arrow to the chest and died. His memorial marked the spot of his death as well as his grave.


Some More Parks


Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton 2.15.12
Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton. Image provided by General Mills on Flickr (cc)

I noticed a small, less dramatic tendril on the eastern side of Fairmont too. The connecting feature went by a more interesting name, Pinch Gut Hollow Road. This road tethered Morris Park into the town boundaries. It seemed like a nice gesture for them to include a park although nothing made it particularly special. The 112 acre property featured nature trails, picnic pavilions, courts for basketball and tennis, and such. Again, nothing remarkable.

However, Fairmont bisected another park just where the tendril to I-79 Technology Park began. It recognized someone I’d certainly heard of before; Mary Lou Retton (map). She was one of the most memorable names from the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Her gold medal began the United States’ dominance of women’s gymnastics. However, that didn’t really show why a park in Fairmont, West Virginia reflected her name. Well, that was her home town, so that explained it. She lived in Fairmont up until she started getting ready for the Olympics. The town should go ahead and annex the rest of the park while they’re at it.

That tendril to the I-79 Technology Park packed a lot into it. Mary Lou Retton anchored one end of it, Captain James Booth anchored the other, and of course the technology park itself formed a nice bulb for an exclamation point at the end.

Cigarette Hill

On July 16, 2017 · 1 Comments

I focused attention on unusual street names awhile ago. That theme played itself out over time so I left it behind for the most part. However, every once in awhile, I came across something interesting enough to mention on Twelve Mile Circle. This time it appeared in Texas. What was it about Texas? Once I found a subdivision with streets named after South Park characters. This time I found something stuck in an even earlier period of time, probably the 1940’s or 1950’s. Cigarettes had a positive image back then. Sometimes advertisers even promoted alleged health benefits (e.g., "More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Brand"). In that context, perhaps, a subdivision with streets named for cigarette brands might have seemed like a good idea.

Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill; Dallas, Texas

Imagine the possibilities. One could live on Pall Mall Avenue, Camel Court, or Kool Avenue. Lucky Street seemed to be a stand-in for Lucky Strike. Maybe Durham referenced Bull Durham tobacco. I also spotted a Fatima Avenue. I’d never heard of Fatima cigarettes although they used to be quite popular. Liggett & Myers launched the brand in 1913 to capitalize on the popularity of Turkish tobacco. Fatima faded as the century progressed. It disappeared completely by the 1980’s.

The neighborhood earned a name, Cigarette Hill.


Hard Times on Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill stuck in a time warp just like the vintage cigarette brands of its street names. Its residents lived in poverty with a median household income of less than $15,000 in 2014. It also became a highly segregated neighborhood with an overwhelmingly (88.6%) African American population.

Ripple Road also traversed Cigarette Hill. Perhaps it existed as a coincidence or perhaps not. Ripple was an old type of a particularly nasty, cheap fortified wine. The television character Fred Sanford (played by Redd Foxx) considered Ripple his favorite drink. It gained "a reputation as a drink for alcoholics and the destitute."

By 2008, the City of Dallas recognized that Cigarette Hill and the larger Lancaster Corridor needed help. The local NBC television station reported on the situation that led to a Community Revitalization Plan.

…the neighborhood in the middle of the City of Dallas seems like a piece of old rural Texas. Residents complain the neighborhood has been overlooked for decades with no sidewalks, no storm sewers, few streetlights, and overgrown roads to name just a few problems… The Cigarette Hill area is very close to other Southern Dallas neighborhoods that have proper lighting, wider streets and complete sidewalks.

Still, it held a lot of promise. Cigarette Hill had ready access to employment centers and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) rail station. It also offered scenic views from its elevated position. Revitalization efforts still continue.


Cigarettes in Sterling Heights



Sterling Heights, Michigan

I found another cigarette subdivision in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Residents there could choose from Camel, Pall Mall, Parliament, Winston, Newport and Viceroy Drives. Ironically, it also included a Tarry drive (which by one definition meant "covered with tar"). I supposed a street surrounded by cigarettes would eventually become tarry as a result. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything else about this neighborhood beyond its themed street names. It seemed from Google Street View that the houses probably dated from the 1950’s or 1960’s based on their architecture.


Pall Mall


Pall Mall
Pall Mall Circa 1900. Reproduced by Leonard Bentley on Flickr (cc)

I found myself with a little extra room left in this article. Maybe I should take a look at one of those old-timey cigarette brands. What inspired the naming of Pall Mall I wondered?

The mystery solved itself pretty quickly. Pall Mall is a street in London, England (map). It connected St. James’s Street to Trafalgar Square, running past St. James’s Square. The 18th Century brought a lot of wealthy people to Pall Mall who lived in ornate mansions there. It also became known for art galleries and auctioneers. It didn’t take a lot of effort to see why a cigarette brand would emulate its name. Obviously it wanted to trade on the high-class status of London’s Pall Mall, a good bit removed from its later namesake on Cigarette Hill.

Reaching back farther, the street got its name from a lawn game. Pall mall — the game — grew in popularity during 16th Century. Later it evolved into croquet. The street ran along an area that once hosted a popular pall mall field. First came the game, then came the street, then came the cigarette brand, and finally the cigarette-themed neighborhoods.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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