Loyal reader "Lyn" contacted Twelve Mile Circle a few weeks ago with a stack of digital images from a recent road trip to California’s Salton Sea. This has long been on my list of places I’d love to see some day, and I still hope that will happen, so I was pleased to receive the photos. These pictures plus the text I’ve created around them will have to keep me content until the day I can visit the Salton Sea in person.
This wasn’t the first time Lyn contributed to 12MC either. I mentioned receiving a web hit from Cameroon awhile ago. Yes, that was Lyn who happened to be in Douala at the time and knew I’d appreciate the ping.
I’m fortunate to add Lyn to the very selective list of 12MC readers who have provided material that became full articles. All photographs belong to Lyn and are used with permission.
According to the Salton Sea History Museum, this geographic feature was actually an extension of the Gulf of California until about four million years ago. The Colorado River washed enough silt downstream over numerous millennia to cut the tip off from the Gulf. This left behind a large, deep depression now known as the Salton Sink. The floor of the empty sink extended far below sea level, down to -226 feet (-69 metres). By comparison Death Valley — the lowest spot in North America — measured -282 ft (-86 m) so the Salton Sink compared rather favorably as the second lowest spot on the continent.
The Salton Sea was an artificial creation and an accident. People diverted the Colorado River to irrigate parts of the sink, and for a time around the turn of the previous century the area blossomed with cropland. The river busted from its man-made diversion in 1905 after it ran higher than usual, and flooded uncontrollably into the sink. Engineers couldn’t completely halt the breach for two years and by then the spill grew to 35 miles long and 15 miles wide (56 km X 24 km) within the depression, and formed the Salton Sea.
However it was an endorheic basin without an outlet to the ocean. The salinity increased over time, and continues to increase, making it difficult for the few fish species that survived there to thrive in ever worsening conditions.
That naturally brought up a legitimate point. Why would 12MC, or anyone for that matter, want to experience the Salton Sea in person? I supposed it had to be because every description I’ve ever seen of the few settlements still clinging to its shores undoubtedly referenced the phrase "post-apocalyptic" (e.g., Salton Sea: From Relaxing Resort to Skeleton-Filled Wasteland).
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The Salton Sea held so much promise after its accidental creation while the water remained fresh, before salt built up and poisonous farm runoff added to the disaster. Bombay Beach was envisioned as an inland resort, a beachfront paradise, and was constructed in such a manner. Now it’s mostly a ruin, a desolate place strewn with graffiti and abandoned belongings in the searing Sonoran Desert by a fetid saline lake, a photographer’s paradise and an oddball’s dream. A handful of outcasts still live among the detritus adding character to the scene. Now does it make sense?
Harsh conditions created strange situations out there on the fringes of society. Slab City started as a marine corps training facility during the Second World War: Camp Dunlap they called it. The marines had no need for remote camps in the middle of the desert after the war so Camp Dunlap closed and the government dismantled it, leaving behind only the cement foundations of various buildings.
Seasonal campers in large recreational vehicles learned about the wide selection of perfectly level concrete slabs and figured that a favorable wintertime climate made this an attractive spot to park for a few months every year. Slab City came without amenities, however people remained there as long as they wanted for free. "And now thousands of visitors return to ‘The Slabs’ each winter."
I couldn’t be sure if the isolation created unique behaviors or if people with those traits saw the Salton Sea as a beacon and arrived there from elsewhere, or a little bit of both. No matter the case, this location provided a perfect backdrop for something as wonderful as Salvation Mountain by Leonard Knight (1931–2014).
I barely scratched the surface of the Salton Sea’s weirdness or Lyn’s collection of photographs. I need to save a few surprises for later in case I ever make it out there.
When I was asked to chauffeur a runner to a half-marathon with a course that crossed between the conjoined cities of Bluefield on the border between Virginia and West Virginia, how could I say no? A long weekend of fall foliage and geo-oddities? I felt like I was dropped into an episode of Weekend Roady.
Lotito City Park, Bluefield
To be clear, I’m not a runner. Even so I’ve enjoyed traveling with the athletic gang at several Mainly Marathon events. These journeys took me to some out-of-the-way corners of the nation including the Dust Bowl and the Lower Mississippi; five races (marathon or half-marathon options) in five days in five states. The newest event was the debut of the Appalachian Series. I would have loved to have stayed for all five races although we could only attend the first two before heading home, the races in West Virginia and Virginia.
Those two races involved the exact same course through Lotito City Park on both sides of the border in Bluefield. It counted as West Virginia on the first day and Virginia on the second day, or vice versa. That’s the way 50-state racers count things. Only one state can be claimed per race.
Play Tennis in Two States
I had to find ways to amuse myself as the runners ran the course. That wasn’t a problem with a state border drawn directly through it. Oh look, isn’t that a tennis court with the boundary cutting through it? Why, yes it is.
Little things like trying to count the number of times I could split myself with the borderline offered countless entertainment options. This was an image from the northwestern corner of that same tennis court, with West Virginia to the left side of the diagonal and Virginia to the right (and me in both). That was another weird thing: a border quirk at Bluefield made Virginia west and West Virginia east.
It wasn’t all about racing all weekend. By chance, we discovered an Oktoberfest celebration being held in the nearby town of Bramwell (map). Bramwell was originally one of the many towns of West Virginia that arose because of its proximity to the coalfields. It differed from many others though because of the wealthy owners that settled there.
It was a wonderful setting for an Autumn festival. I was also pleasantly surprised at the quality of craft beers brewed in West Virginia.
I’d never been to this area before so I made a series of minor jogs during the weekend to further pad my County Counting list. In Virginia I collected Bland, Giles and Tazewell Counties. In West Virginia I collected McDowell, Mercer, Monroe and Wyoming Counties. The jog to Wyoming County was the most memorable. The narrow twisting roads ran through genuine Appalachian settlements verging on stereotype, ambled past strip mines and climbed over mountain ridges (map). I was shocked that it remained paved and never swtiched to gravel or mud. After getting stuck behind the third coal truck I figured it out. The road didn’t exist serve the needs of residents so much as the mines.
The foliage approached peak Autumn glory, improving each day of our visit. That became a perfect excuse for a picnic at Pinnacle Rock State Park, located on a ridge between Bluefield and Bramwell (map). We climbed up to the overlook and saw nothing but forest to the horizon.
We rounded out the long weekend with a visit to Pipestem Resort State Park. Pipestem included the "County Line Trail" that crossed between Mercer and Summers Counties a couple of different times. We didn’t have an opportunity to hike it because of the rain. However, precipitation didn’t spoil the weekend and it didn’t rain the entire time. It just happened that one of the intermittent storms passed through the park at the wrong time so it limited our activities for awhile.
The tram running from the Canyon Rim Center down to Mountain Creek Lodge was operational though (map), and the views were fantastic between frantic efforts to wipe condensation from the windows. On the river valley far below, the Bluestone River overflowed its banks after several days of stormy weather.
I’m planning a quick trip down to southwestern Virginia and neighboring West Virginia, intending to count some new counties along the way although primarily for other purposes. I wish I could say it was entirely about the counties and I could finally finish Virginia. That will have to wait for another day.
Being true to my nature, I’ll completely over-prepare with multiple maps, both electronic and paper, even though I’ve driven the vast preponderance of the route multiple times and understand it intuitively. I’ll have lat/long coordinates prerecorded in my GPS, turn-by-turn directions printed from my preferred map website, and a battered dogeared Triple-A road atlas as a backup should a solar flare destroy every navigational satellite and should an asteroid bust the car window and suck the printouts from the dashboard. Nobody will be getting lost. No way, no how. Logic has no bearing here. Preparations will be ridiculous.
Patterns often appear on 12MC and another one emerged as I plotted waypoints. Most of the path involved Interstate 81, the primary route along the western diagonal of Virginia (map). Many of those waypoints fell awfully close to longitude 81 West. This type of reasoning often leads me to trouble. Was there a place, I wondered, where 81 West crossed Interstate 81? It seemed like it would offer a nice bit of numerical symmetry.
In fact a golden spot existed at 36.938110°,-81.000000°, just a stone’s throw from the Wilco Hess Truck Stop – Wytheville. Or the Flying J. Or Galewinds Go Carts & Mini Golf although apparently it’s closed now so scratch that suggestion.
Were there other Primary (e.g., one or two-digit) Interstate Highways equally blessed with similar golden spots? Why yes there were. Longtime readers already knew that I’d have to map them.
View Interstate-Coordinate Confluences in a larger map
I noticed that spots concentrated in the eastern half of the nation, many in the Upper Midwest. I think I found all of the possibilities although there might be others lurking out there. Let me know if you find any that I overlooked and I’ll add them to the map.
Interstate Longitude Confluences
Chicago Skyline During Sunrise from Lombard, Illinois by Corey Seeman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Longitude possibilities were limited to feasible values between 67 (easternmost whole number longitude) and 99 (highest possible 2-digit Interstate Highway). I found a total of seven places where a longitude crossed an Interstate highway with the same number, including the original example I discovered on I-81.
Some of those spots saw more traffic than others although I’d be surprised if even a single person recognized the significance. Why would they? Only a geo-oddity aficionado would find the topic even mildly interesting. One such location fell in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I was surprised to find a photo of the Chicago skyline captured from an upper floor of a hotel less than a mile away from I-88/88°. That amused me for some weird reason.
Interstate Latitude Confluences
Lincoln Village, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
There were fewer latitude opportunities, limited to values between 25 (southernmost whole number latitude in the Lower 48 states) and 49 (northernmost). I found only two occurrences.
Once again I was lucky to find something to illustrate a nearby area, the Lincoln Village neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I-43 formed its eastern boundary including the segment with I-43/43°.
The overall champion had to be Interstate 94. It shared a confluence with longitude 94° West. It was also concurrently signed with a stretch of I-43/43° North and I-90/90° West.
Confluences Outside of the United States
Penllergaer by stu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Similar confluences existed outside of the United States. I found a couple of occurrences between motorways and longitudes in the United Kingdom. One fell near a lovely waterfall at Penllergaer Valley Wood (M4/4° West).
I even discovered one in Ireland, M8 and 8° West: 52.356181°,-8.000000°.
Then I grew tired of the exercise.