I thought I’d lump another set of somewhat related items together as I continued to cull the enormous backlog of possible Twelve Mile Circle topics. They didn’t have much in common except that they all involved continental Africa. Two were geographical observations and two were geological oddities. All of them piqued my interest although not enough to devote an entire article to them.
Most of us have probably seen the recent comparison-style maps on the Intertubes lately, some demonstrating Africa’s immense size. Brilliant Maps, for example, had a wonderful portrayal of the True Size of Africa in an article a few months ago. People tended to misconstrue Africa’s enormity, probably due to its under-representation in popular media combined with Mercator map projections that distorted its actual size. Twelve Mile Circle fell into some of those same traps as witnessed by the relatively few African article markers on the Complete Index page.
In that vein, I pondered Africa’s enormity in a slightly different manner using great-circle distances. And what better measure of great-circle distance could I generate than airline flights? One could take a direct nonstop flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Nairobi, Kenya (currently 7 flights per week on Kenya Airlines) and ponder its width. That would carry a traveler from west to east across the continent, not even its widest part, and it would take 5 hours and 20 minutes. That compared pretty nicely with a flight from New York to San Francisco across the width of the United States; or from London, England to Ankara, Turkey.
Looking at length, one could then take a nonstop flight from O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (4 flights per week on EgyptAir) in 8 hours, or alternately to Dakar, Senegal (3 flights per week on South African Airways) in 8.5 hours. That compared rather favorably with a flight between Chicago, Illinois and Paris, France. Of course, an entire ocean didn’t have to be crossed on any of those African flights. That, to me, demonstrated its vast expanse quite succinctly.
Plus, now I get to see all sorts of interesting advertisements on my website now that Big Data thinks I’m contemplating so many far-flung adventures.
Extreme Elevation (or Lack Thereof)
Gambie by Guillaume Colin & Pauline Penot on Flickr (cc)
Africa demonstrated many extremes, although not in every instance. Certainly a landmass of its size featured an array of elevations, from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5,895 metres / 19,341 feet) down to Lake Assal in Djibouti (-153 m / -502 ft). I wondered though, which African nation had the smallest elevation extremes. I discounted the various offshore islands that were considered part of Africa and focused on the continent itself. The honor went to The Gambia. I featured Unusual Geography of the Republic of The Gambia in the very early days of 12MC and even commented on its elevation. What I didn’t note at the time was that its greatest "peak" (53 m / 174 f) was also the lowest national highpoint on the continent.
The continent also served as a home for what National Geographic dubbed the Strangest Volcano on Earth. The Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano in the Gregory Rift of the larger East African Rift of Tanzania (map) was well known to vulcanologists for its unique properties. It was the only active volcano that was known to produce natrocarbonatite lava. The lava at Ol Doinyo Lengai wasn’t based on silica as was typical, rather it was composed of sodium and potassium carbonate minerals.
Black water lava? I’d love to see some of that in person. I may have to settle for the YouTube video for now.
Map of Vredefort dome via Wikimedia Commons
In the distant ancient history of the planet, something like two billion years ago, an asteroid slammed into the earth leaving an impact crater 300 kilometres (185 miles) across. The asteroid was much smaller than that, maybe 5-10 km in diameter, although it hit with such tremendous speed and force that it vaporized stone for great distances in all directions. This celestial divot was called the Vredefort crater — named for the South African settlement that grew there in modern times — the largest verified crater on the planet.
Very few signs remained because of its ancient pedigree, leaving it mostly eroded. A structure known as the Vredefort Dome sprouted at impact, an uplifting of rock that occurred at the very center of the strike. It was mostly weathered away too although it still appeared as a faint semi-circle on satellite images. A few roads also crossed its ridges, making it an interesting sight in Google Street View (image).
The thought of an impact that large seemed terrifying.
Twelve Mile Circle has been on a bit of an odd placenames fixation as of late. I found a few more examples although they didn’t have enough of a story behind them to justify an entire article on any one of them. I figured I’d resurrect an earlier series and title this "Even More Weird Placenames" in continuation of the theme. This will also help me whittle-down my ever persistent list of possible topics I’ve been compiling since I began this site.
A anonymous 12MC visitor landed onto the site by chance seeking information about Knockemstiff. I didn’t know anything about it and had nothing prepared so I supposed they left disappointed. Even so, it sounded like a suitable topic and I knew I’d explore it eventually. It took little effort to find Knockemstiff once I got around to it, a crossroads in Ohio near another place featured on these pages previously, Chillicothe.
Knockemstiff served as the backdrop for a series of short stories published in 2008 by local writer, Donald Ray Pollock, in a book with the same title. One review said Pollock "presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor." His literary works received national attention including the New York Times which profiled the settlement of Knockemstiff, attempting to learn the story behind its unusual alias.
That was a long way of saying that no definitive explanation existed. The story had been lost to history. Nonetheless this brief summary will be waiting here for the next unknown visitor who may stumble onto 12MC searching for Knockemstiff.
Ennis in Ellis
Bluebonnet Sunrise – Ennis, Texas by Kelly DeLay on Flickr (cc)
The City of Ennis fell within the confines of Ellis County, Texas. Ennis had been named for a railroad official, Cornelius Ennis. Ellis probably referred to Richard Ellis, who headed the commission that declared Texas’ independence. The two men had no connection or relationship that I was aware of, although that was completely irrelevant to this story anyway. My fascination centered on the peculiar notion that if one replaced the “nn” in Ennis with “ll” it became Ellis. I was unaware of any other town-county combination where one could make a simple letter substitution in the town’s name to transform it into the county name. Of course I didn’t look too hard trying to find other examples either. I’d like to say that I wanted to reserve that puzzle for the 12MC audience although the real reason was my laziness.
Completely unrelated, the aforementioned Ennis in Ellis "was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the ‘Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail’ and was designated the ‘Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.‘" That was a pretty big deal considering the prominence of the bluebonnet in Texan culture. The Department of Horticultural Science at Texas A&M University elaborated,
During times when bluebonnets weren’t in bloom, no worries, one could always visit Bluebonnet Trail — not the trail itself, rather a street named Bluebonnet Trail — in a local trailer park (map).
Welcome to Brazil, Indiana by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)
I’m sure if I thought long and hard enough I could figure out a few similarities between Brazil and Indiana. Nonetheless I still found it strange to see a town named Brazil in Indiana (map). It wasn’t a small place either. It had eight thousand residents and served as the seat of local government in Clay County. I wished I could have found a decent explanation. Several sources pointed back to the naming of a local farm in the 1840’s, designated Brazil because the nation had been in the news frequently during the era, supposedly. The town then adopted the name of the nearby farm when it was founded in the 1860’s. I guess I could accept that even though I couldn’t find any solid attribution. I’ve heard of stranger explanations for town names.
High Point, Palm Beach Co., Florida
I didn’t know what to make of High Point in Palm Beach County, Florida, except that I wished I’d known about it when I wrote High Level some time ago. What point of High Point was actually high? It’s total elevation barely broached 20 feet (6 metres). It wasn’t even the highest point in Palm Beach, where two separate spots reached pinnacles of 53 feet (16 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. I realized those two co-highpoints didn’t have magnificent summits either, although 53 feet completely dominated 20 feet. I guess it didn’t matter. High Point and its condominium community were in the process of being annexed by the nearby city of Delray Beach, anyway. The name will probably disappear.
Continuing on the theme of items uncovered while researching Geographic Matryoshka with US States and in recognition of the Presidential primaries that will be held in Iowa in a couple of weeks, I felt an Iowa topic might be appropriate. I’d uncovered a wonderful triple sequence formed by Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa. That put it right up there in exalted territory along with Oklahoma City/Oklahoma Co./Oklahoma and New York Co. (i.e., Manhattan)/New York City/New York. The latter two were a little more obvious and significant. I hadn’t anticipated Iowa.
Homestead in Iowa Twp., Iowa Co., Iowa, USA
Iowa Township was rather obscure. There were only 148 people living in Homestead, its principal settlement, as of the 2010 Census. That made it just a tad less meaningful than the more obvious trifectas of Oklahoma and New York. Still, the relationship existed and it counted as much as the others for purposes of this exercise. The triple layer arrangement had been around for a long time, too. I turned to the History of Iowa County, Iowa (1881) which helpfully noted that Iowa Township existed ever since Iowa County was first subdivided in 1847. It was one of the county’s original townships in a much larger form until chipped away to create additional townships in later decades, as more people moved in to farm its fertile soil.
One never knows what one may uncover while searching for information on obscure jurisdictions. Often it was very little. However the History of Iowa County turned out to be a goldmine. That little Iowa Township tucked within a rural county of the same name hid quite a colorful past, particularly in its former Brush Run community. Brush Run sounded like a quiet, relaxing name and yet the History claimed "… the first settlers along the section of country where Brush Run is were very depraved…" I’ve consulted a lot of similar county history books over the years and they’ve tended to be puff pieces exclaiming the wonders of their out-of-the-way domains. I’d never seen any of them refer to settlers within their own boundaries as depraved. It got better:
It then kindly offered several examples of depravity and debauchery, most distressingly,
Brush Run did not appear on any modern maps, nor did it receive a mention within the records of the US Geological Survey’s vast database of place names, past or present. I supposed it should be expected given Brush Run’s notoriety. They erased the name from the map. However, the paper trail hadn’t disappeared completely and I was able to trace its evolution. Brush Creek soon faded, to be replaced by Homestead at the same approximate location.
Homestead by Jon Taylor on Flickr (cc)
Homestead bore no resemblance to Brush Creek whatsoever, in fact it was pretty much its polar opposite. Homestead was designed as a rail depot and shipping point for the nearby Amana Colonies. Amana had its roots in a religious movement arising in Germany that settled on the American prairie to escape persecution.
Homestead was the only one of the seven Amana villages in Iowa Township. The remainder were across the nearby border in Amana Township. Homestead didn’t receive much attention after that except for the meteorite that exploded directly overhead.
Don’t be fooled by references to the "Amana" Meteorite. The closest settlement was Homestead, and indeed the Meteoritical Society declared Homestead as the meteorite’s OFFICIAL name. People still search for fragments of it today.
Things remained quiet in old Homestead for more than a century after that, remaining in obscurity until Ashton Kutcher grew up there. Recently he even renovated his childhood home. He was one of the few people who could claim that he lived in Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa.
Somehow I never saw that one coming.