Riverboat Adventure, Part 1 (The River)

On April 20, 2014 · 0 Comments

12MC is back! Thank you for bearing with me while a took a brief respite from posting new articles. There were logistical reasons. Each race in the five state series took much of the morning, then we’d have to drive to the next location (stopping at geo-oddity sites along the way), arrive late each afternoon, and then start preparing for the next race the following morning. The distances were much farther than my Dust Bowl adventure, and we covered 2,700 miles (4,350 kilometres) in 9 days. Those unfamiliar with the basic outline can reacquaint themselves with our ambitious travel itinerary in The Pitch.

This was the longest break I’ve taken from 12MC in the six-plus years that I’ve been writing it. It felt weird. I had one article in the bag ready to post. It had a rushed and hurried tone without the quality normally befitting this site. So I gave myself permission to take a break. Now I’m able to look at the totality of my Riverboat adventure and organize subjects into themes rather than suffer the disjointed limitations of chronology.

I received several audience sightseeing suggestions both beforehand and along the way. Some of those made it into the narrative and will appear in articles over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy!


The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers Confluence


Fort Defiance

The Riverboat adventure focused on the Lower Mississippi River, defined as beginning at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and extending to the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t make it all the way to the Gulf although we started at the confluence and made it as far south as northern Louisiana.

We experienced only a single "disappointment" during the entire trip, and I’m almost embarrassed to call it a disappointment because it was so completely trivial. We planned a picnic lunch at Ft. Defiance Park located directly at the confluence. It would have been a lovely vantage point both for its scenery and its geographic significance. It would have offered Illinois’ southernmost point as well as its lowest point of elevation in addition to the awesomeness of the confluence itself. The park was closed because of recent flooding that happens frequently during springtime. Snowmelt flows down from the northern extremes of the Mississippi watershed and overruns the banks in floodplain areas. It was a mess.



Ft. Defiance Park at the Mississippi/Ohio River Confluence

Instead, under the guise of lemons vs. lemonade, we recorded one of the shortest state clips traversed by a 2-digit US Highway. Traveling this route, we crossed from Kentucky into Illinois over the Ohio River, drove through Illinois for a single mile (map) stopping briefly for a few photos — notice the water — and then crossed from Illinois into Missouri. Yes, it would have been nice to have been able to stop there for lunch. It didn’t happen. We salvaged our misfortune by having a perfectly fine picnic at an equally scenic spot a little farther downriver while waiting for the Dorena-Hickman ferry.


Kentucky Bluffs


Columbus-Belmont State Park

Much of Kentucky featured irregular borders (map) defined by rivers or mountain ridges. The Ohio River determined much of its northern and western border. A small portion, however, at the far western extreme of the commonwealth and immediately south of the confluence straddled the Mississippi River. That was our target.

High bluffs protected some of this area so that residents here remained dry while their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri flooded. We stopped at Columbus-Belmont State Park for one of the races. That was the site of a Confederate fortification during the US Civil War, perched atop the bluff in an attempt to control river access and commercial traffic during the conflict.


Memphis, Tennessee


Mud Island

Farther downstream, Memphis was undoubtedly the largest city we encountered during our journey. We blew through it on our first pass using its highways as a means cross the river and push towards our next destination in rural Arkansas. We would see Memphis again on the return path and stay for a couple of days, and in a bit of foreshadowing, yes we visited Graceland.

Barges heading up- and downstream were a frequent sighting during our journey. Here, a barge passed below the Hernando DeSoto Bridge that carried traffic on Interstate 40 between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas.


Greenville Bridge


Greenville Bridge

I’ve driven across the Mississippi River numerous times over the years. However I’ve never driven along the river this far before, not even during my Great River Road trip in Wisconsin. I gained a new appreciation for just how infrequently one can cross the river as we progressed southward down its path, jogging back-and-forth across its banks. One doesn’t comprehend that same sense of rarity on the Interstate highway system where the Mississippi River hardly seemed an obstacle at all.

We used the Greenville Bridge outside of Greenville, Mississippi a couple of times during the drive. We had one race on the immediate western side in Lake Village, Arkansas, and another race just south of Greenville, Mississippi the next day. That provided a rare respite, an uncharacteristic day that involved little driving and some needed downtime.


Lake Chicot, Arkansas


Riverboat Marathon Series - Arkansas

The Arkansas race took place at a beautiful spot along Lake Chicot, the lake for which Lake Village gained its name. Chicot was a classic oxbow lake.



The Oxbow Crescent of Lake Chicot, Arkansas, USA

Wikipedia described it as "the largest oxbow lake in North America and the largest natural lake in Arkansas, formed 600 years ago by the meandering of the Mississippi River." Astute 12MC readers know how much I love oxbows. Largest oxbow in North America! Largest natural lake in Arkansas! Sold. I experienced a genuine geo-oddity simply by watching marathoners loop through the park for a few hours while I went on a photo safari.

Then it started raining like crazy, with thunder and lightning and torrential downpours and the whole deal. This was our day without driving and we knew we were fortunate. I wasn’t disappointed by a rainy day. We were lucky even though the weather sucked, using it as an excuse to hole-up in a warm hotel room for an afternoon to relax.


Mud Island


Mud Island

At this point a special shout-out goes to reader "Bill C." for suggesting the Riverwalk at Mud Island. As the park site explained, "The Riverwalk is an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois 954 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico." I didn’t know about this place in advance and I would have missed it without Bill C.’s suggestion. It was geo-geek paradise, so thanks Bill C.

The Riverwalk represented the entire Lower Mississippi in miniature, everything we’d just spent a full week driving, at a scale where every footstep representing about a mile. I was giddy as I hopped back and forth across the model, pointing out each spot we’d visited during our journey while my wife rolled her eyes and pretended to be amused. This photo captured the Kentucky Bend (aka "Bubbleland") portion, which gave an indication of the model’s colossal scale.

The entire Riverwalk stretched about a half-mile with each concrete layer representing a five-foot elevation change. Notice the color changes, too. The light-tan coloration represented the floodplain. Thus, much of Kentucky Bend would be subject to periodic flooding while the darker-colored area remained dry. Not surprisingly, I noticed that was where the farmers concentrated their homes when we’d visited the Bend earlier in the week.

Signage at the park indicated that the model held about 1.2 million gallons (4.5 million litres) of water at any given time. It was interactive too. Lots of children splashed around in the river and that was perfectly fine. The gift shop even sold T-shirts to that effect.

Interstate Highway Time Zone Crossings

On April 6, 2014 · 7 Comments

I’ve been noticing search engine queries lately seeking additional information about points along US Interstate Highways where travelers cross from one time zone into another. I’m going to do that myself soon on my upcoming trip and I couldn’t find a comprehensive resource either. Maybe there’s one out there hidden away in a lonely corner of the Intertubes. Maybe not. I didn’t see it so I decided to create my own. Hopefully others will find this compact reference useful too.

Yes, I understand that mobile phones and other networked devices grab time changes automatically without human intervention from nearby cell towers as one drives merrily down the highway. However some of us like to by hyper-prepared before embarking on a journey. I even recorded the lat/long coordinates so travelers (OK, maybe just me…) could drop the waypoints into their GPS receivers and know exactly where the time change would happen well in advance.



View Interstate Highway Time Zone Changes in a larger map

Readers will want to open this map in another tab or window. It’s not very useful in its present scaled down version that is included for illustrative purposes. Others may prefer the even more detailed Google spreadsheet with links that I prepared. The spreadsheet layout mimicked the geographic footprint of the United States in rough terms, for example I positioned Idaho at the top-left (northwest) and Florida at the bottom-right (southeast). That was also the reason why Interstate numbers on the spreadsheet and the lists below were ordered from large to small (I-94 to I-8). I didn’t reverse the order just to be obstinate. Even-numbered Interstates run roughly west to east across the nation with the 2-digit numbering increasing from south to north. There were also a handful of odd-numbered highways that crossed time zone boundaries too and muddied the construct a bit. Again, the rules applied in general terms only.

This exercise was a lot more tedious than I imagined. Believe me, I’d use much more colorful language if this wasn’t a family-friendly website. I’d assumed quite foolishly that the preponderance of time changes would happen at state borders, and simplify my task. Some do, although many more switch at random county borders which were much more difficult to pinpoint on a map. That’s why I think people have trouble tracking time zones as they drive. Now they have a tool — this page.

Here’s what I found. I’m sure errors or omissions crept into this because it was such a pain to compile. Please let me know and I’ll make corrections.

Change Between Pacific Time and Mountain Time

  • Interstate 90: Idaho <--> Montana
  • Interstate 84: Baker Co., OR <--> Malheur Co., OR
  • Interstate 80: Unincorporated Elko Co., NV <--> West Wendover, Elko Co., NV(1)
  • Interstate 40: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Eastern Arizona <--> SE corner of Navajo Reservation in AZ (Daylight Saving Time)(2)(3)
  • Interstate 15: Nevada <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Arizona <--> Utah (Daylight Saving Time)(2)
  • Interstate 10: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); Arizona <--> New Mexico (Daylight Saving Time)(2)
  • Interstate 08: California <--> Arizona (Standard Time); no change during DST(2)(4)

Change Between Mountain Time and Central Time

  • Interstate 94: Stark Co., ND <--> Morton Co., ND
  • Interstate 90: Jackson Co., SD <--> Jones Co., SD
  • Interstate 80: Keith Co., NE <--> Lincoln Co., NE
  • Interstate 70: Sherman Co., KS <--> Thomas Co., KS(5)
  • Interstate 40: New Mexico <--> Texas
  • Interstate 10: Hudspeth Co., TX <--> Culberson Co., TX

Change Between Central Time and Eastern Time

  • Interstate 94: Indiana <--> Michigan
  • Interstate 90: LaPorte Co., IN <--> St. Joseph Co., IN(6)
  • Interstate 85: Alabama <--> Georgia(7)
  • Interstate 80: LaPorte Co., IN <--> St. Joseph Co., IN(6)
  • Interstate 74: Illinois <--> Indiana
  • Interstate 70: Illinois <--> Indiana
  • Interstate 65: Jasper Co., IN <--> White Co., IN /AND/ Hart Co., KY <--> Larue Co., KY(8)
  • Interstate 64: Perry Co., IN <--> Crawford Co., IN
  • Interstate 59: Alabama <--> Georgia
  • Interstate 40: Cumberland Co., TN <--> Roane Co., TN
  • Interstate 24: Marion Co., TN <--> Hamilton Co., TN
  • Interstate 20: Alabama <--> Georgia
  • Interstate 10: Jackson Co., FL <--> Gadsden Co., FL

Bonus Roads(9)

  • Western Kentucky Parkway: Grayson Co., KY <--> Hardin Co., KY(10)
  • Cumberland Parkway: Russel Co., KY <--> Pulaski Co., KY(11)

Footnotes

(1) West Wendover is the only part of Nevada that officially observes Mountain Time, primarily so gamblers from Salt Lake City — the nearest large town — won’t have to deal with a time change and can focus on losing their money without distraction. This was described in (West) Wendover: What Time? What State?
(2) Arizona does not recognize Daylight Saving Time, meaning that for practical purposes the spot where the time zone change takes place shifts in the Spring and the Fall. This can sometimes lead to embarrassing situations.
(3) The exception to the "Arizona doesn’t recognize DST rule" is the portion of the sprawling Navajo Nation that crosses into Arizona. The Navajo did this to assert their sovereignty as well as to keep their tri-state Nation on the same time all year.
(4) Interstate 8 extends from San Diego, California to south-central Arizona; fairly short by interstate standards. Therefore it does not experience a time change when the two states observe the same time (i.e, when the Pacific Time Zone switches to DST and Arizona remains on Mountain Standard Time)
(5) I crossed this one during my Dust Bowl trip. See Kansas Mountain Time.
(6) You’re not seeing things. Interstates 80 and 90 are repeated with the same information here. That’s because they’re co-signed at this spot.
(7) Interstate 85 is the best example of an odd-numbered Interstate messing up my chart. The time change happens at a very southern segment of this very eastern highway.
(8) Interstate 65 starts in Central Time in an Indiana suburb of Chicago, switches to Eastern Time as it heads south, then switches back into Central Time in Kentucky
(9) I included Kentucky parkways because they’re significant roads albeit they’re not Interstate highways (not even Secret Interstates). I probably could have added other roads too.
(10) I will be crossing here on an upcoming trip. This was the spot that inspired me to go ahead and compile the list.
(11) I crossed here in the summer of 2013 during my Kentucky Adventures.

Railroads Torment Colfax

On March 6, 2014 · 1 Comments

I mentioned Colfax, Louisiana in "Just the -fax, Ma’am." Something rang in my mind with a sense familiarity. Where had I heard of the town’s namesake, Schuyler Colfax before? I combed through the 12MC archive and discovered he’d made an appearance in a different context, mentioned originally by reader John Deeth and then featured in First Name, Surname Symmetry. Mr. Deeth noted that there was a town of Schuyler that served as a seat of local government for Colfax County, Nebraska. This was intentional; both the town and the county were in fact named for Schuyler Colfax.


Schuyler Colfax portrait
Schuyler Colfax
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

If I could be bold or perhaps exceedingly lazy, I think I’ll quote from myself as presented in that earlier article.

Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad.

I then went on to reference the irony of Schuyler, the town in Nebraska, having been situated along the Transcontinental Railroad so that the man and the scandal would be link forevermore. Actually the town was founded two years before the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872 so the irony didn’t come until later. However it served thereafter as a visible reminder of Colfax’s political demise, certainly visible to Colfax personally and to those who happened to possess knowledge of an obscure Nineteenth Century bribery scheme like the members of the 12MC audience.

That would become prescient. Railroads, as I noticed once I began to reacquaint myself with the life and times of Schuyler Colfax, would continue to trail him to his death and beyond.


Cold and Alone



Where Colfax Died, Mankato, Wisconsin, USA

I featured Mankato, Minnesota recently in the Blue Earth series. Little did I realize that I’d return to Mankato for its prominent role in the death of Schuyler Colfax. An historical marker sat in a public park although it wasn’t always a park. It was once an railroad depot. Waymarking.com recorded the Washington Park Historical Marker, including the key paragraph.

… On January 13, 1885, Schuyler Colfax, former U.S. Vice President and Speaker of the House, was traveling in Mankato, Minnesota. In order to get from the depot located along the Minnesota River to the depot on Fourth Street, he had to walk three quarters of a mile in 30 degrees below zero weather. After he arrived at the depot on Fourth Street, he collapsed and died…

His biography on the United States Senate website attributed his death to a heart attack and duly noted, "Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket."


Rest in Peace?



City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana, USA

Schuyler Colfax, recently departed, was delivered to the place where he’d spent much of his adult life, and he was interred in the City Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Always a popular figure in Indiana, Colfax was further honored by town officials when they renamed a street Colfax Avenue adjacent to the cemetery.

Notice, however, the proximity of several nearby rail lines and railyards. They practically extend all the way to the cemetery gates, no doubt their warning whistles and clacking tracks taunting his gravesite.


Colfax Gets a Statue



Schuyler Colfax Statue by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Undoubtedly, Colfax would have been pleased by the statue of his likeness placed prominently in a town named for him in California. However, the location added to the irony. Take a look at a map in Street View. Colfax town officials placed the Colfax statue on Railroad Street at the Amtrak train station. This line also formed part of the original western route of the Transcontinental Railroad.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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