I requested an additional account on the Mob Rule county counting website recently. I’d been planning a couple of trips for 2016, including one focused primarily on adding new counties to my lifetime tally in an obscure geographic corner of Appalachia. I’d been using the spare account to calculate "what-if" scenarios and I didn’t want to disturb my existing map in the process. Twelve Mile Circle readers will likely see maps generated by this account over the coming months and years as I chart further adventures.
It occurred to me that I will need to hit backroads a lot more often as I fill in the blanks and doughnut holes in my personal capture map. Those will diminish my pace although they will also allow me to experience out-of-the-way places where few people tread. It made me wonder exactly how much of the United States one would miss using only the Interstate Highway System. It wasn’t a question that demonstrated any greater practical purpose although that never stopped Twelve Mile Circle from going down a rabbit hole before. It wasn’t completely pointless I rationalized, because the results could be used to separate the "easy" counties from the more difficult ones, roughly speaking. Amateur county counties would stick primarily to the Interstate Highways while the truly dedicated hunters such as myself would need to veer into the empty white spaces. I supposed it made me feel more serious about my pursuit by separating me from the pack. It fed into the mythology of not being able to truly appreciate the United States until exiting the highways.
Naturally, I began by making a map of counties served by Interstate Highways, both two-digit and three-digit. Readers would probably want to open the image in another tab to get the full-sized image.
I couldn’t guarantee that I marked every county served by an Interstate Highway because I created this manually — I was still finding new ones that I’d missed hours after I thought I’d fnished it — although this should be close. Please feel free to offer corrections and I’ll update the map. For those wondering about the odd title, "Travels of T. H. Driver, " that was simply my initials plus the word Driver. I had to give the dummy account a name and that seemed as good as anything.
One of the features of Mob Rule that I’ve enjoyed over the years is its simple statistics to catalog counties visited by state. It produced a nice summary table of counties visited and percentages of states covered. I placed those data into a Google Docs Spreadsheet that readers should feel free to review if interested. Mob rule assumed everyone knew the 2-letter postal code abbreviations for each state so I can’t help you if you don’t know them because I didn’t feel like typing them out. Wikipedia provided a nice cross-reference. I sorted states by percentage completed from highest to lowest although one could rearrange the table in reverse order, alphabetically, or whatever might be desired and it won’t harm the underlying document.
Some observations jumped out. For example, county counters who stuck solely to Interstate Highways wouldn’t even visit half of the counties in the United States. The total would hit 44% but who’s counting? The chart also sifted winners from losers. I discarded the District of Columbia’s 100% although it was considered both a state and a county for county counters (in reality neither) because it was such a specialized case. Discounting that, Interstate Highways served 7 of 8 counties (87.5%) in Connecticut for the top spot, ranging all the way down to 16 of 77 counties (17.2%) for Nebraska at the bottom. Results followed intuitive patterns. Small northeastern states with large populations contained numerous Interstate Highways. Large, expansive Great Plains states with smaller populations featured fewer of them. New York and Pennsylvania posted particularly impressive results given the number of counties contained within each of them, hitting above 70 percent.
There were some anomalies. Someone would likely mention the paradox of Interstate Highways in Hawaii so I’ll simply link to the Federal Highway Administration’s explanation (i.e., "the Interstate System is more than just a series of connected highways. It is also a design concept") and get that out of the way. The same condition existed in Alaska although the roads weren’t signed as Interstate Highways (I included all of the so-called Secret Interstates too).
However, I’d been unaware of the bizarre disconnected set of Interstate Highways in the southernmost tip of Texas, Brownsville and McAllen. They formed a rough U-shape, outlined by I-69E, I-2 and I-69C (for central?). One would need to hop a plane or drive through Mexico to capture these Interstate counties without disturbing non-Interstate counties surrounding them, which nobody would ever do because it would be absurd.
I enjoyed the exercise even if it didn’t serve much of a useful purpose. It did confirm to me that Interstate counties were visited more frequently in general than non-Interstate counties, not that there was an underlying controversy. That could be observed quite easily when comparing the map I created with Mob Rule’s composite map of all county counters. The patterns looked strikingly similar.
I focused an inordinate amount of time and attention on Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames as I wrote the Comparison Nicknames article. That wasn’t the original intent of the effort however, just an interesting byproduct somehow spinning into its own topic. I’d been working on something else, something finally revealed today. It all began when an obvious fact presented itself to me in a new way. There was a major road nearby that ran for about 25 miles from Arlington to Great Falls in Virginia named Old Dominion Drive. So what, I figured, my entire lifetime up until a few days ago. Then I recalled that Virginia’s nickname was the Old Dominion State. The connection should have been completely apparent to me years ago although I’d overlooked it somehow. I’ve never claimed to be the brightest kid in class.
That led me to wonder whether or not at least one street in every state incorporated its nickname. I needed to know every state nickname first and that led me to the list on Wikipedia, sparking the whole chain of events that brought us here today after the earlier tangent. Only two states didn’t have official nicknames, Alabama and Wisconsin. I called Dealer’s Choice for those and selected Heart of Dixie and the Badger State respectively, finding streets named for each of them without any trouble. It surprised me how quickly I discovered streets even for the most bizarre of nicknames such as Show Me Lane in Camdenton, Missouri (map).
Most were ridiculously easy and provided an abundance of choices. I selected one per state somewhat randomly because I didn’t want to add every occurrence to the map. I supposed I rationalized that as wanting to prevent cluttering although the real reason involved laziness. Fifty waypoints seemed enough. Better examples (e.g., longer, more significant roads) likely existed and 12MC readers should feel free to add their favorites in the comments if they feel their home state may have been slighted. Readers outside of the United States can play the game too. Good luck finding "The Land of Seed and Honey" Street in Saskatchewan, though.
The easiest might have been Delaware. How could I possibly mark every nicknamed street in Delaware? The state called itself the First State. As the state explained,
Delaware is known by this nickname due to the fact that on December 7, 1787, it became the first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution. "The First State" became the official State nickname on May 23, 2002 following a request by Mrs. Anabelle O’Malley’s First Grade Class at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. Delaware Code Title 29 § 318
I was a bit surprised that it didn’t become the official nickname until 2002 although kudos to the kids at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. However, this resulted in any 1st Street in Delaware sharing a commonality with the state nickname. There must have been hundreds of them. The only thing that might possibly have been worse would have been if Maine had called itself the Main State (it didn’t thank goodness, it selected the Pine Tree State instead). I took a more complicated route and found a few that represented the entire state nickname, for example an actual First State Boulevard in Wilmington (map).
Why Atlanta Sucks by treybunn2 on Flickr (cc)
Georgia presented an interesting situation as the Peach State. There were so many Peachtree Streets and variants in its capital city of Atlanta that it became a running joke years ago. By some estimates, there were at least 71 separate occurrences of Peachtree in the city. However, Georgia wasn’t the Peachtree State, it was the Peach State. Oddly enough, there were very few Peach Streets minus the tree although I did manage to find several and I even found one with the full name, Peach State Drive in the town of Adel (map).
Boston – Boston University: The Castle by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)
Most of the states did not include a street with the full nickname, specifically dropping the "state" portion from the street name. Hawaii, as an example, had an Aloha Drive although no Aloha State Drive, and so on. Nonetheless, several did as noted previously for Delaware and Georgia. The best example may have been Massachusetts. The Bay State had a Bay State Road in Boston that actually traversed a significant place, the campus of Boston University (map). Most of the other examples were stubby little roads serving industrial parks, shopping centers or a few rural homes.
Last place in this friendly competition went to Wyoming. It was the Equality State, a nickname applied when Wyoming became a state in 1890 and was the first to allow women’s suffrage. I had no argument with that, it was a notable historic fact. However I couldn’t find a single Equality Street much less an Equality State Street, making Wyoming the the only state without a nicknamed street. There were several streets that aligned with its unofficial nickname though, the Cowboy State so I took some solace there.
At long last, and after years of gentle nudging, Steve from CTMQ finally created a County Counting map. He was up above 700 counties too. Great start!
Loyal reader Ken has attended Burning Man a number of times and suggested I highlight some of the geographic quirks associated with it. He was even kind enough to provide the topics! I’ve never experienced Burning Man so I was grateful to begin this article with a pre-packaged outline. All of the ideas below came from Ken except for the last little tidbit. I simply took his suggestions and put them in different words along with a few graphics. It also took me a lot longer to get around to this than I would have hoped. I always appreciate reader suggestions although it takes me awhile to figure out how to include them sometimes.
What is Burning Man? Well, it’s this (and so much more):
Burn Night and the citizens of Black Rock City: a panorama, 2009 by Neil Girling on Flickr (cc)
It’s a week-long gathering held annually on the Black Rock Desert playa in western Nevada (map). I’m not sure I can adequately describes what takes place there. Maybe 12MC attendees can post their recollections in the comments. I’ll simply borrow the description that Burning Man uses for itself.
Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome.
I did mention Burning Man in Twelve Mile Circle a couple of years ago. I believed that it could serve as a modern proxy for the nineteenth century Camp Meeting phenomenon. The focus shifted away from religious devotion in its current incarnation although it still retained the desire of people to band together in community each year. In one new twist, it followed a "leave no trace" philosophy. Every artifact of Black Rock City must be removed at the conclusion of each festival.
Black Rock City
2012 Black Rock City Theme Camps and Villages map by Alexander on Flickr (cc)
I wondered how I might describe the geographic layout of Black Rock City without a map because "Burning Man does not maintain a portfolio of ‘stock’ or PR images" with proper licensing. I figured a photograph of a map would constitute fair use so that’s the route I took instead of borrowing the much better map on the Burning Man site that might possibly run astray of a copyright.
The layout was quite logical. Radial streets followed the pattern of an analog clock in fifteen minute increments. Circumference streets began with Esplanade closest to the center and then proceeded in alphabetical order outward from the center. The alphabet streets changed each year based on the chosen art theme. In 2015 they were Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laffing Sal, to fit the Carnival of Mirrors theme.
Finding someone in a crowd of tens of thousands would be a daunting task ordinarily. The layout simplified efforts. Let’s say, and I’ll pick something randomly from the 2015 Unofficial Map of Black Rock, someone wanted to visit her friend at Ganesh Camp. She would simply wander over to 3:30 & G(eek).
County Road Conundrum
Portion of Washoe County Road 34 within Pershing Co.
The road leading up from Gerlach to Black Rock City, as Ken noted, was signed Washoe County Route 34. Nonetheless several miles of the road highlighted above — including the portion nearest Burning Man — strayed into Pershing County. 12MC had observed similar situations before such as New York stealing roads from its neighbors. It was nice to see another example albeit at the county level. I found a photograph that corroborated Ken’s recollection. I can’t reproduce it here because of its copyright notice although I could certainly link to it and let readers check it for themselves. Clearly this spot at the entrance to the festival was physically located in Pershing County and nonetheless signed Washoe.
Did Pershing contribute to road maintenance for the segment on its own side of the border? I don’t know. Washoe certainly had more financial resources, seeing how Reno was included within its borders. Washoe was a long, skinny county and CR34 connected its northern portions to the remainder. The road ran all the way from Gerlach up to the Oregon border, 120 miles, with only eight miles in Pershing. Additionally the Pershing portion didn’t serve anything in Pershing except for an ephemeral Black Rock City once a year. I thought Pershing might have a case for not paying for maintenance although I didn’t know that to be true.
Fly Geyser by photosbyflick on Flickr (cc)
Fly Geyser was an interesting attraction along CR34, not too far removed from Black Rock City. Geothermal activity created the wild design and coloration. However, it wasn’t natural. People exploring for geothermal energy sources failed to plug the well either intentionally or accidentally. Hot water continued to spew to the surface, creating a geyser cone from dissolved minerals. The attraction can be seen from the road although the site isn’t open to the public anymore (map). It looked like something that would fit within Burning Man itself.
Recent Freedom of Information Act requests confirmed that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents conducted surveillance on Burning Man for the last several years. Apparently they’ve tested some of their new toys there along with placing undercover agents amongst the guests to watch the happenings. Next year Ken can play “guess the FBI agent” as he wanders across the playa. Is it the lady meditating in the yurt or the dude twirling fire batons? Inquiring minds want to know.
Equally odd, think about it from the perspective of the FBI agents who get paid to attend Burning Man and blend in with the crowd. I bet they have a lot of volunteers.