More Ancient Rivers

On August 26, 2015 · Comments Off on More Ancient Rivers

The readers of Twelve Mile Circle seemed to anticipate where this conversation was heading when I wrote about the advanced age of the French Broad River recently. I’d actually intended to write a single article about really old rivers. I had to split it when it got too wordy. I’d seen that same list of rivers by age on Wikipedia noticed by several readers and I decided to have some fun with it. I won’t recite the list in order though. I’ll meander though a bit of it in my own peculiar way.

New River


New River Gorge Bridge

For sure, I thought, someone would mention the ironic naming of the New River in southern Appalachia, flowing from North Carolina into Virginia and then into West Virginia. I wasn’t disappointed. The New River originated during the same Alleghanian Orogeny as the previously-mentioned French Broad River, as did the Susquehanna River. They all dated back about 300 million years, predating the Appalachian Mountains.

Nobody really knew exactly how or when the New River came to be encumbered with a misleading name although the Friends of the New River offered several possibilities.

One educated guess regarding the origin of the name is the theory that in the late 1700s or early 1800s, surveyors were working their way across the new country. When they happened on the New River, they discovered that it wasn’t on any of their existing maps, so they charted it and labeled it as "a new river." Another version of this story attributes the label "a new river" to Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father. The official name change to New River seems to have occurred between 1740 and 1750, although the two names, Woods and New, were used interchangeably in records and on maps in other states until about 1770.

Thus it could have just have easily been known as the Woods River into perpetuity, named for Colonel Abraham Wood who trades with local Native Americans in the 1650’s. Instead it became a very old river with a very New name.

I have been whitewater rafting on a stretch of the New River in West Virginia numerous times. I’d recommend it highly.


Nile River


Fishing in Sudd wetland
Fishing in Sudd wetland by Water, food and livelihoods in River Basins (cc)

If one searches for the oldest river using online tools one will invariable encounter frequent references to Africa’s Nile River. However the Wikipedia list didn’t even place it in the top ten, explaining that it was "65 to 75 [million] for the Sudd section; the rest of the river is only 1 or 2 million years old." Further, the page linked to a site at the University of Texas – Dallas that stated, "Although the Nile seems like an ancient river – after all, it was there long before one of the earliest civilizations began to develop on its banks – it is really a very young river and has gone through many changes over the recent (in geologic terms) past." The only ancient part — still considerably younger than the French Broad — was a portion in South Sudan in a swamp (map).

Don’t expect the rest of the Intertubes to issue a clarification though.


Finke River


Finke River and MacDonnell Ranges

Finke River and MacDonnell Ranges by Georgie Sharp of Flickr (cc)

So now we finally arrive at #1 on Wikipedia’s list, presumably the very oldest river in the world, Australia’s Finke River along with various other smaller rivers nearby (map). They all predated the Alice Springs Orogeny, which would make them up to 400 million years old. The orogeny happened so long ago that most of the mountains have eroded away with the exception of the MacDonnell Ranges and a scattering of other ridges deep within the Australian interior. The highest remaining remnant was Mount Zeil at 1,531 metres (5,023 ft) (map)

Much of the Finke River has been preserved within Finke Gorge National Park.


Meuse


Citadel of Dinant

I seem to have a little extra room in this article. I guess I should also list second place from the list too, if only because I’ve been there in person (as noted on my travel page for the Citadel of Dinant in Belgium, one of the oldest parts of my website). This was a long time ago. In fact, the image I’ve embedded came from a time prior to digital photography. I had to scan it from a print photo.

The Meuse predated the Hercynian Orogeny that resulted in the formation of the Ardennes. The river course ran from a corner of France to Belgium, onward to the Netherlands and finally into the North Sea.


Completely Unrelated

Several months ago I mentioned that I would be supporting a runner in Mainly Marathon’s Center of the Nation race series. That adventure is now just around the corner. I’ll be in eastern Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and in western North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, September 14-19, 2015. They have options for single races and distances as short as 5K in case there are any 12MC runners in the area who might be interested. I have a big list of adventures planned including a few based on readers suggestions, so thank you all for that earlier input.

Hot Springs Everywhere

On July 5, 2015 · 3 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has featured hot springs before. There was Hot Springs, Virginia in Taking a Bath. There was Hot Springs County, Wyoming and its county seat of Thermopolis in The Largest Smallest US County. Geothermal activities existed in many places and I’d taken notice plenty of times. Nonetheless I was mildly surprised when I spotted a virtual visitor dropping onto the site from Hot Springs, South Dakota. I’d not heard of that one before. I wondered how many places were named Hot Springs — just Hot Springs and not Something-or-Another-Hot Springs — scattered around the continent wherever warm water bubbled from deep below. There were many. Some of them were even worth mentioning.

These towns dated back to an earlier age when natural hot springs were a much bigger attraction than they are today. Eventually even budget accommodations like the Super 8 and Motel 6 installed hot tubs that plugged into wall sockets. However, back at the dawn of American settlement, hot waters warmed by the earth as if by magic seemed wondrous.


Hot Springs, Arkansas


View of Batthouse Row from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas
View of Batthouse Row from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas by Ken Lund, on Flickr (cc)

I supposed I should start with the obvious one, Hot Springs, Arkansas. If anyone mentioned Hot Springs, chances were good that this would be the one. It had been a resort town for most of two centuries and even today boasted thousands of residents. Hot Springs was the oldest Federal reserve in the United States, set aside for future generations all the way back in 1832 before becoming a full-fledged National Park in 1921.

Hot springs in the middle of town? Water. That’s what first attracted people, and they have been coming here ever since to use these soothing thermal waters to heal and relax. Rich and poor alike came for the baths, and a thriving city built up around the hot springs. Together nicknamed "The American Spa," Hot Springs National Park today surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

One of the most interesting features was Bathhouse Row, a collection of eight buildings constructed in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. (map). Each one had been designed with increasing opulence by entrepreneurs competing with each other to attract the most visitors searching for curative waters.


Hot Springs, South Dakota


The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs-12
The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs-12 by Gouldy99, on Flickr (cc)

I figured I should look at Hot Springs, South Dakota next since that was the one that started me down this tangent. The site went back in history although it didn’t seem to catch-on as a spa town.

Called Minnekahta (warm waters) by the original white settlers in 1879, the town’s name was changed to Hot Springs in 1886. Earlier, the Lakota and the Cheyenne Indian tribes fought for control of the natural warm waters. Legends tell of a hostile encounter waged in the hills high above the gurgling springs on a peak called Battle Mountain.

A more recent find actually fascinated me more, the Mammoth Site discovered in the 1970’s when a new housing development was being built on the edge of town (map). Excavators stumbled upon the remains of a karst sinkhole that had once been a spring during the Pleistocene era about 26,000 years ago. Megafauna, particularly Columbian and Woolly Mammoths, occasionally wandered too far into the spring and couldn’t escape. Their skeletons were beautifully preserved where they died. It remains an active archaeological site.


Hot Springs, North Carolina


lover's leap - hot springs, north carolina
lover's leap – hot springs, north carolina by sarahriceNC, on Flickr (cc)

Hot Springs were discovered in the early days of settlement after the American Revolution where Spring Creek fed into the French Broad River in North Carolina. It became a spa town and a resort built around the springs continues to operate at that location in the modern era (map). It may be better known, however, as a stopping point on the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was built through the town of Hot Springs over seven decades ago, and today white blazes still mark the path through town and over the bridge across the French Broad River, before heading north up to the vista, Lover’s Leap. The Trail is unequivocally intertwined with the town – it is the first town, headed on a northbound hike, through which the Trail literally overlaps the town’s main street.

I imagine a dip in the hot springs might feel pretty good to a thru-hiker who has already marched hundreds of miles on foot along the mountaintops.


Hot Springs, Nevada



Hot Spring, Nevada

The actual town of Hot Springs, Nevada ceased to exist a long time ago. It is a ghost town: "As near as one can tell, the doctor closed up shop in the mid-1870s and no other interest emerged in the area. Today absolutely nothing remains of the wooden bathhouse but the hot springs are going strong." A park for Recreational Vehicles, Bailey’s Hot Springs, later occupied the site and continues to serve travelers. According to the website, "Hot Mineral Baths [are] Included" — a nice perk for those wanting to park an RV overnight.

Taking a Bath

On May 20, 2014 · 1 Comments

I continued to ponder how I might complete my county-counting adventures for the 133 counties and independent cities within the Commonwealth Virginia, with a dozen still remaining on my list. It might be feasible after a long weekend of concentrated efforts, I considered. Maybe someday. How lucky to be from somewhere like Delaware with only three counties to count. Completing my home state requires considerably more effort. That’s how I found myself pondering Virginia’s Bath County, one of the dirty dozen not yet captured by 12MC.

The name certainly highlighted the bathing angle that underpinned its economy. Geothermally warmed waters percolated to the surface from springs throughout Bath County containing various minerals considered beneficial and curative to its devotees. That explained towns named Healing Springs, Hot Springs, Millboro Springs, Warm Springs and West Warm Springs all within a few minutes of each other. That was a pretty impressive cluster for a county of fewer than five thousand residents.



(A) Healing Springs, (B) Hot Springs, (C) Warm Springs, (D) West Warm Springs, (E) Millboro Springs

That made me wonder about the actual springs themselves. A quick check of GNIS produced Big Spring, Blowing Springs, Bubbling Spring, Fowler Spring, Grose Spring, Muddy Run Spring, Sand Springs, and Warm Springs Baths.

Mountains and valleys defined Bath County. The Appalachians cut northeast to southwest, with two distinct valleys of the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers (which join later to form the James River). The springs bubbled to the surface in lower elevations carved by these rivers and their tributaries. It’s a rugged and remote corner of the Commonwealth even today, with nearly 90% of Bath covered by forest and most of that included within the public lands of the George Washington National Forest.

The name derived from a shrewd Eighteenth Century business decision, a clear homage to the City of Bath in England. The English incarnation dated back to Roman times. It grew in popularity as a resort destination in the Stuart era and even more so in the Georgian era.



The Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset, England

The Commonwealth of Virginia formed a new county in 1790. What should they call it? The springs were long known to Native Americans and then to Colonial mountaineers and early settlers. Visitors trekked to this remote outpost in increasing numbers simply to relax in the soothing waters. A hotel had already been built as early as 1766 by Andrew Lewis and Thomas Bullitt to cater to them. Bath in England was also at the height of its Georgian glory at the time. Naturally the spring-fed mountains and valleys came to be known as Bath County, a name seemingly selected to leverage the popularity of the English resort in the hopes of attracting more tourism.


The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia - IMG_0599_DxO copy
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia by Bruce Tuten, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Numerous spas continue to bring tourist dollars to Bath County more than two centuries later. The Homestead dominates Bath, a renowned resort built on the site of the original 1766 hotel, now part of the Omni Hotels & Resorts consortium. The property also includes the Jefferson Pools, "the cream of the crop of Virginia hot springs and have drawn visitors from across the country for centuries. The pools are named for Thomas Jefferson, who sojourned here in 1818 to spend three weeks relaxing…" I think maybe there is a law that every property in Central or Western Virginia has to have an obligatory connection to Thomas Jefferson in order to be taken seriously, and The Homestead has a solid one.

I could use a little pampering on my next county counting adventure.


Somewhat Related

I also noted Bubbling Spring Recreation Area as I checked GNIS. More specifically, I saw it included on the Nimrod Hall map. That map, in turn, got its name from an actual Nimrod Hall, a "summer resort and art colony" founded in 1783.

What did that have to do with anything? It represented one more site to add to 12MC’s Nimrod list!

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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