The Only One, Part 2

On November 22, 2015 · 4 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.


On November 11, 2015 · 12 Comments

I thought I’d sliced-and-diced my county counting exploits in every way imaginable by the time I posted Counting Down, my account of barely crossed and airport only captures. Loyal reader and fellow county counter Andy begged to differ. He discovered one more dimension when he noted, "Probably 99% of what you or I color in on the map has been driven over or flown into, even if we got out of the car to touch ground with our own feet. But — have you visited any counties /only/ on foot?" On foot, eh? Now that was something I’d never considered.

I knew it couldn’t be very many instances. I’ve lived a pretty sedentary life devoid of strenuous hikes over vast distances. Friend-of-12MC Steve from (formerly Connecticut Museum Quest and now much more broadly focused) once completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I created an article on counties he’d hiked through hoping he’d pick up the county counting hobby, although it just wasn’t his thing. I’m sure Steve drove through a few of the 87 AT Trail counties on other journeys although I’d also guess that his "only-on-foot" tally would be substantial. Mine, not so much.

San Juan County, Utah

4 Corners
Four Corners – Summer 1992.
Utah, Colorado, New Mexico & Arizona come together at a single point

I think I have two only-on-foot counties. One for sure. That would be San Juan County which was Utah’s contribution to the sole state quadripoint of the United States, Four Corners. Notice my right foot touching said county in the photograph above from a long-ago road trip. I circled around the marker any number of times, traveling through that tiny bit of Utah on foot each time.

Four Corners

I had confidence in my memory although I consulted maps extensively to confirm it. Apparently I drove on all sides of San Juan Co. without actually crossing the border except on foot at the Four Corners marker. Even the road leading up to the marker remained completely outside of Utah. So that’s ONE. Absolutely.

Nantucket County, Massachusetts

Cisco Brewers
Visiting Cisco Brewery.
That is NOT the pedaled vehicle we used.

Might it be possible to bend the rules a little? I’d have a second example from one of my more recent travels if that wish were granted. Massachusetts’ island of Nantucket fell within its own county. I never used a motorized vehicle anywhere on Nantucket. However, we rented bicycles and pedaled a few miles into the countryside to the Cisco Brewery for an afternoon of tastings and entertainment during our stay (map). I think I deserved at least partial credit or an honorable mention for getting everywhere on Nantucket under my own personal muscle power.

Incidentally I couldn’t make the same claim a day earlier in Dukes County (Martha’s Vineyard, primarily). We rented a car in Oak Bluffs and drove all over the island.

Municipio de Juárez, Chihuahua, México

Av Juarez to S El Paso Crossing
Av Juarez to S El Paso Crossing by Aquistbe on Flickr (cc)

I wondered if I could expand the game into foreign countries. I’ve been to México twice, neither time using engine power so I felt I might meet the rules for an entire nation. It involved two separate Mexican states so I should also get credit for Chihuahua and Coahuila. However I decided to focus on counties for this exercise, or in this instance their Mexican equivalents, municipalities (municipios).

Several years ago on a business trip to El Paso, Texas, a group of us decided to walk across the bridge into Juárez (map). The smarter bunch hopped into a taxi as soon as they crossed the border and went to a restaurant in a nicer part of town. Others, myself included, just sort-of milled around the border area checking out the scene. I thought it was pretty seedy, with a bunch of shops selling liquor and discount drugs that would need prescriptions back in the United States. I lasted about ten minutes before I grew bored and walked back into the U.S., although apparently it added Municipio de Juárez to my very short only-on-foot list.

Municipio de Ocampo, Coahuila, México

Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico
Boquillas… and the burro I rode in on

How about an even better rule bender than Nantucket? Several years ago I wrote about my technically illegal (albeit tolerated) dodge across the border into México while visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas. I visited tiny Boquillas del Carmen (map) in Municipio de Ocampo. I never used a motorized vehicle during that visit although I didn’t remain entirely on foot either. I rode a burro into town after disembarking a rowboat that ferried me across the border. Yes, a burro. I’m fairly certain it was the only time I’ve even ridden a burro. I should get double points for that effort.


Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls. My Own Photo.

I couldn’t think of any other examples. I’ve traveled into Canada using seven different border stations. For a moment I thought I might be able to claim the Regional Municipality of Niagara in Ontario because I walked across the border from New York for a better view of the falls. Then I remembered I drove up to Toronto on a different trip and would have passed through the same municipality by automobile. No dice. I also looked at my travels to Europe, Asia and Australia and found nothing.

The final tally in the United States: one county solely on foot; one on foot and bicycle. In México, one municipio solely on foot; one on foot and burro.

More Endorheic in Europe

On November 1, 2015 · 1 Comments

I have a mild obsession with endorheic basins, those magical places where where water flows into them and never flows out except through evaporation. They’ve appeared several times on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle over the years. I’ve even discussed an example in Europe before, Lake Neusiedl on the border between Austria and Hungary. There were a few more of those special spots in Europe with similar properties so I decided to take a moment to explore them vicariously. None of them were particularly large although they fascinated me nonetheless since Europe wasn’t generally known for having endorheic basins. Each of them also seemed to be noteworthy in a way completely distinct from their unusual lack of drainage.

Lake Trasimeno, Italy

isola maggiore
isola maggiore by Olga e Zanni via Flickr (cc)

Italy’s Lake Trasimeno (Lago Trasimeno) was the largest of the latest set I examined, with a surface area of 128 square kilometres (49.4 square miles). That made it big enough to be Italy’s fourth largest lake. It formed in the region of Umbria, about as far as one could get from a coastline in the middle of the long Italian leg. The lake had been part of a shallow sea three million years ago, created in a depression formed by fractures in the underlying stone. It retained that shallow shape in modern times with an average depth of only about five metres. However, Lake Trasimeno varied greatly in size and depth based on cycles of rainfall and evaporation, expanding and retracting dramatically at times.

To me, the most fascinating aspect wasn’t so much the lake as the three islands set upon the lake. Medieval inhabitants used this topography to create protected spaces with a picturesque, natural moat. One of the islands, Isola Maggiore (map), included a village with a large Franciscan monastery. It was noted by many sources that St. Francis of Assisi lived as a hermit on Isola Maggiore for 40 days during Lent, possibly in the year 1211, when it was uninhabited. A few people still live on the island today, albeit with regular ferry service and a steady stream of tourists connecting it to the outside world.

Lake of Banyoles, Spain

Another endorheic basin developed in Catalonia, Spain. Lake of Banyoles (Estany de Banyoles) formed next to a geological fault line (map). The Catalan version of Wikipedia had a rather detailed explanation. It was essentially sandwiched between an area of porous karst limestone on one side and a layer of waterproof stone on the other that blocked any outward flow. Unlike Lake Trasimeno, the primary source of water for Lake of Banyoles could be traced to the local aquifer. Water flowed easily into the lake through porous karst, thus replenishing water lost through evaporation in a reliable manner, and keeping lake levels relatively stable. Man-made canals were added to drain swampy areas and create a spillway for times of particularly heavy rainfall. Technically, I supposed, that converted Lake of Banyoles into something not quite completely endorheic since it drained to the nearby Terri River at times. I still kept it on the list.

Even though it was the largest lake in Catalonia, Lake of Banyoles was still pretty small and covered an area of only about 1.12 km2 (0.43 sq mi). Nonetheless it formed in a long, skinny manner making it absolutely perfect for the sport of rowing. Many rowing championships have been held on the placid waters of Lake of Banyoles in recent decades including all fourteen of the rowing events for the 1992 summer Olympics based in Barcelona. The video, for example, showed the medal round held on the lake for the Men’s Coxless Pair competition. Great Britain won the gold medal. My juvenile sense of humor found the phrase "Men’s Coxless Pair" to be slightly amusing. I should probably move on to the next section before it crosses over a line into something distasteful.

Lasithi Plateau, Greece

view from Zeus's Cave, Lassithi Plateau, Crete, October 2012
view from Zeus's Cave, Lassithi Plateau, Crete, October 2012 by alljengi on Flickr (cc)

The final spot I examined didn’t include a catchment area large enough to produce a lake. Nonetheless the Lasithi Plateau on the Greek island of Crete was a fertile valley with a long history of settlement, with sufficient rainfall and snow melt to support a steady population. I found it particularly fascinating that an endorheic basin emerged on an island, and yet there it was covering a good 18 km2 (48 sq mi), hemmed in on all sides by mountains.

The adjacent mountain caves actually attracted my attention more than the plateau itself. One in particular near the village of Psychro was called Diktaion Andron, or Diktaean or Dikteon or other variations (map). Its spectacular formations were known to Neolithic people and later it became a sacred place of worship and sanctuary during the Minoan period. Greek mythology held that the god Zeus was born in this cave. That gave a pretty good indication of the prominence Diktaion Andron held for the people of that time. It pleased me that Zeus would have been born next to a geo-oddity.

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
November 2015
« Oct