The Largest Smallest US County (a.k.a. it sucks getting old)

On March 19, 2009 · 1 Comments

Did yesterday’s dispatch seem a little shorter than usual? That’s because it was half the length I’d intended. To summarize briefly, each of the fifty United States has a smallest and a largest county. Yesterday I featured the largest of those smallest counties. Today I’ll take the opposite tack and present the smallest of the largest counties.

I was getting ready to post an entry on both sets of facts but something didn’t feel right. I went back to the maps. It still seemed odd so I consulted an almanac and combed through the listings of counties by state all displayed in a horrendously small font. Yup, I’d transposed population and square miles for this section.

In my own defense, and I’ll note this for the record, the values were surprisingly similar. While it didn’t change the state that had the largest smallest county it did change the actual county. That’s a pretty big deal when making a claim of this magnitude. I had to stop the presses and regroup my thoughts before bestowing that honorific.

Sadly the years have not been kind to my ability to see close-up objects these last few months. I’m at that age where menus in darkened restaurants extend to arm’s length, where newspapers start to blur; where the fine print becomes too fine to discern without effort. I went to the optometrist last week and walked away with a prescription for reading glasses. I’ve never needed glasses so I didn’t appreciate being confronted with my own mortality, and I’m getting no sympathy from my wife who has struggled with poor vision since childhood. But enough of the whining. Here are the results.

Hot Springs Co., Wyoming: 2,006 square miles

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The largest of the smallest counties is Hot Springs County, Wyoming. The contest isn’t even close. Second place goes to a county barely half its size. Hot Springs County is a behemoth of smallest counties, a Jupiter in the solar system of smaller counties, a Goliath, a Leviathan. You get the idea. It’s so large that it’s larger than more than half of the largest counties in other states.

The town of Thermopolis, which I suppose translates to something like "Heat City" or "Warm Bath City", serves as the county seat and continues with the hot springs theme. It claims to have the largest mineral hot spring on earth contained within Hot Springs State Park, a claim I have no way of confirming but it’s on the Internet so it must be true. Yeh, right. Nonetheless, it sounds rather pleasant whether actually largest or not:

Over colorful terraces along the Big Horn River at Thermopolis flows water from mineral hot springs. More than 8,000 gallons flow over the terrace every 24 hours at a constant temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The park has a free bath house where the water is maintained at 104 degrees for theraputic bathing. There is no fee for using the Bath House; however, there is a nominal charge for rental of towels and swimsuits.

Rent a swimsuit? Really? I think I’ll bring my own, thank you. The thought of sharing swimwear with dozens of earlier visitors doesn’t sound all that appealing. The giant hot tub sounds great, though.

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Tepee Fountain at Hot Springs State Park

Tepee Fountain is somewhat like a stalagmite except its totally artificial. Someone stuck a pipe in the ground. Pressurized hot water pushed up the pipe and flowed from the top. A mineral residue remained behind as the hot water dissipated, and this impressive stone structure resulted over several decades.

Santa Cruz Co., Arizona: 1,238 square miles

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Santa Cruz County, Arizona may find itself a distant second to its cousin in Wyoming in stature but it’s no less fascinating.

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona can be found in Santa Cruz County. Father Eusebio Francisco Kino built a Spanish mission here in 1691. It’s now part of the Tumacácori National Historic Park. In more modern times, the county served as the location of the last battle in the Indian Wars, just west of Nogales. I found a couple of facts surrounding that event particularly interesting:

  • This happened in January 1918, much later than I would have imagined. I would have guessed, perhaps naively, that these armed conflicts would have ceased by the end of the nineteenth century.
  • The action involved the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment, the "Buffalo Soldiers" renowned in African-American history, who intercepted a band of Yaqui Indians.

Additionally, Nogales, its county seat, is the largest Arizona gateway to Mexico with a corresponding town of the same name on the other side of the border. More than 20,000 people live way out here in the hauntingly beautiful dessicated land.

Two fascinating counties have come to my attention by their odd designations. Unusual places arise from many different sources.

On March 19, 2009 · 1 Comments

One Response to “The Largest Smallest US County (a.k.a. it sucks getting old)”

  1. Jeff Rundell says:

    Your post is now 5 years old and the fact that no one has replied on this matter must be caused by: 1 – No one thought it important enough to mention, or: 2 – I am misreading the 1st paragraph’s last two sentences. Shouldn’t it be – Yesterday I featured the smallest of the largest. Today I present the largest of the smallest.

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