Natural Forces: Nuclear

On May 10, 2012 · 9 Comments

My series on Natural Forces seems to be a dud based on the (lack of) comments which are usually rather robust in terms of both quantity and quality on the Twelve Mile Circle. It goes to show that I have no idea which articles will resonate with an audience, which probably also explains why 12MC readership is rather modest compared to lots of other sites.

The bad news is that I kind-of like the topic so I’m going to complete it. The good news is that the final two natural forces need to be combined into one due to lack of content so this will be the final article in the series. We’ll get back to a new bunch of geo-oddities in a couple of days.

Those final forces of nature are strong nuclear forces and weak nuclear forces. It’s pronounced nuclear not nucular. It’s like someone grating on a blackboard whenever I hear it pronounced "nucular," with apologies to actually, more than one former President of the United States. Sorry about that pet peeve mini-rant.

I can’t possibly begin to describe the difference between the two forces (except that one is "strong" and the other "weak") much less find any distinct towns named accordingly. I blame it on my liberal arts education. Actually, I couldn’t find a single populated place named Nuclear or some variation thereof in any of the official place names databases of the largest English-speaking nations. There’s always radioactivity of course but we’ve already covered that one rather extensively. I did find the names of a whole series of nuclear power plants of course, but I felt that was probably cheating and defeated the entire premise of the exercise.

No, I did not find a town but I did find a curious lake outside of Poughkeepsie, New York.

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Nuclear Lake? That’s seemed like an odd name and I figured there had to be an interesting backstory. I also noticed a dotted-line on the map running along the western shore of Nuclear Lake. I switched it from terrain mode to map mode, zoomed in and discovered that this was the famous Appalachian Trail. Thus, anyone collecting counties along the trail or otherwise hiking the AT from one end to another (like Steve from CTMQ has done) would have to strolled directly along the shores of Nuclear Lake.

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Here’s the scary part, and I think the title of a 1986 article in the Los Angeles Times says it all: New York Trail Includes Site of Plutonium Spill…

Hikers who stray from a new stretch of the Appalachian Trail may emerge from the oaks and laurel to find a shining lake echoing with the honks of Canada geese. To get there, however, they would have to surmount a rocky spine of land that hides the lake from the trail and pass signs posted every 50 feet bearing an ominous warning: “Property of U.S. Government. No Entry Beyond This Point. Potential Radioactive Danger.” United Nuclear operated the complex, a private research facility licensed by the government to experiment with bomb-grade uranium and plutonium, from 1958 to 1973. In 1972, the surrounding woods were contaminated when a chemical explosion scattered radioactive plutonium dust, considered by scientists to be the most toxic form of plutonium because of the threat of lung cancer if inhaled. The plant was closed, the plutonium was cleaned up, truckloads of contaminated soil were carried away.

Nuclear Lake does indeed have a nuclear connection. It may or may not have been contaminated at one time and it may or may not have been completely cleaned-up. It’s still somewhat controversial and a cause for concern for many people.

It looks like I won’t be hiking the Appalachian Trail anytime soon. Yes, that’s the reason… plutonium spill. It may have contaminated all 2,181 miles. Right. I’ll just keep telling myself that.

Appalachian Trail Counties

On December 28, 2010 · 5 Comments

For a long time I’ve wondered what would happen if a county counter hiked the Appalachian Trail. I know that’s not a normal curiosity but I’m not the type of person to let my mind wander in the same direction as everyone else. I am not interested in walking the Appalachian Trail. I am sure the wonders and hardships a hiker would experience on this truly memorable personal journey of physical endurance would provide a lifetime of memories. I think it’s a great thing, but it’s just not for me. I don’t even want to drive that far. No I simply wanted to see what the map would look like after someone might complete the hike, so I created one.

Appalachian Trail Route

A more useful map, and an interactive one to boot, is provided by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The Appalachian Trail, officially the Appalachian National Scenic Trail but sometimes shortened all the way down to AT, stretches an impressive 2,179 miles (3,507 kilometres) through fourteen states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Thru-hikers will attempt to cover every mile in a single season. Most of them will fail. Generally, but not always, they will start in Georgia and hike north. They’ll catch the warmth of a southern spring at the beginning their journey and avoid the worst of the summer heat later on. This feat of endurance can last five or six months, or even longer.

If a thru-hiker is a purist (e.g., sticks to the white paint blazes with no shortcuts) — and for this exercise let’s call him oh I don’t know, maybe let’s call him Steve — then Steve would be able to mark 87 counties on his county counting map. If he were a county counter. Which he’s not.

I could focus attention on any of those 87 counties but I think I’ll select only one of them as the closest thing to an AT geo-oddity: Jefferson County, West Virginia.

The Trail Crosses a Road in WV

  • West Virginia hosts the shortest segment of the trail. Only 4 miles (6 km) of the trail crosses completely within West Virginia. An additional 20 miles (32km) runs along a shared border with neighboring Virginia. Even with that, West Virginia has fewer miles than any other Appalachian Trail state.
  • The entirety of the 4 miles can be found in Jefferson County.
  • It passes right through the historic town of Harpers Ferry.
  • It’s the easiest place along the trail where one can reasonably expect to be in three states in a single day.

It’s also the only segment of the Appalachian Trail that I’ve ever hiked.

The Gauntlet has been Thrown

On October 8, 2009 · 0 Comments

Several weeks ago I toyed with an idea for a recurring topic. I would close my eyes, wiggle the cursor around on the screen, and drop it randomly onto a Google Street View map. I would oblige myself to write an article about the resulting spot regardless of where it fell and with no second chances. There is such vast emptiness between the cities and towns. I realized I would likely have to draw upon every research source and skill I could muster, with more than a little apprehension. It’s geo-blogging without a safety net and I shuddered when this image popped onto my screen.

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Really it’s not so bad, I considered, as I rotated the picture fully around in a circle and gained a better appreciation of my predicament. I saw signs of civilization, a house in the distance, another one nearby, electrical transmission lines atop poles, wire fences, even a fire hydrant. It’s rural but far from desolate, and the location sounded pleasant enough: the corner of Babbling Brook and the Wagon Road. May God help me when I select a chunk of Australian Outback, but I could work with this one.

I switched immediately to satellite mode and drew upward a few clicks to discern a few more clues.

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The landscape was actually rather handsome with fertile fields separated by lines of leafy trees that grew to maturity along long-established property boundaries. A couple more clicks and then a switch into map mode revealed that, contrary to my initial guesses, the spot sat barely a mile outside of a fairly sizable town, Piedmont, Alabama, USA.

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But does that make a story?

In the United States, "Piedmont" refers to a geographic region leading up to the Appalachian mountain range along its Eastern coast. It’s construed as a strip of territory inland from the coastal plain, situated between the fall line and the mountains themselves. The name derives from the combination of two French words, "pied" (foot) and "mont" (hill or mountain), so it’s nothing more than a fancy name for foothill. Somehow everything always sounds better in French, though.

Many people have a passing familiarity with the Appalachians and often consider it somewhat synonymously with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The famous AT runs 2,178 miles across 14 states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Maybe those folks would be a little surprised to learn that the Appalachian Mountains actually extend further south and west into central Alabama. Indeed, Alabama has mountains. My randomly selected spot falls within the foothills of those Alabama Appalachians at the doorstep of Talladega National Forest.

Here I stand virtually in the foothills of rural Alabama just outside of a modestly-sized town. I wish I could always report happy thoughts but sometimes life brings misfortune and that’s what I uncovered. The Wagon Road is a short path, stretching barely three quarters of a mile (roughly 1.3 kilometers). Residents named one stretch along this road, an incline among those rolling Piedmont foothills, "Thrill Hill." I don’t know its exact location but as I walk along Street View vicariously only one place — less than a half mile from our starting point — seems to match the likely criteria.

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Two teenagers died in December when they jumped Thrill Hill. Their automobile went airborne for about fifty feet, lost control and struck a power pole. It is a tragedy when events go awry in such a horrific manner. I know many of us, myself included, performed similar Dukes of Hazzard stunts when we were young. It could have been anyone. Thrill Hill was back in the news again just a couple of weeks ago (September 23, 2009) when a local television station reported that stop signs have been added and speed bumps are on the way. Let’s hope it never reoccurs.

A little further up the road and in the vicinity of its northern terminus the blacktop intersects the Chief Ladiga Trail. Look closely in the background and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Appalachian peaks of the Talladega National Forest in the distance.

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Chief Ladiga is a rails-to-trails success story, a paved recreational walking and biking trail along an abandoned railroad line.

In northeast Alabama, the nearly 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail is a regional playground that passes through welcoming towns and pastoral landscapes. Following a former CSX railroad corridor, the rail-trail is named for the Creek Indian leader who signed the 1832 Cusseta Treaty, surrendering the tribe’s remaining land in the area… From Piedmont the scenery begins to change. Duggar Mountain and the southern Appalachians provide a backdrop to fields that transition to forests. Terrapin Creek skirts the trail, and soon a bridge carries you over it. Here, the trail travels through protected wilderness within Talladega National Forest…

It gets even better. Chief Ladiga extends to the Silver Comet Trail at the Georgia border and continues all the way to Atlanta. When first joined in 2008 the two trails extended nearly a hundred miles and were considered the longest paved pedestrian trail in the United States.

It’s not so middle-of-nowhere after all.

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