The analysis of landlocked national lowpoints amused me so much that I decided to extend the exercise to individual states within the United States. Once again I found a perfectly matching Wikipedia page so I didn’t have to recreate my own, a List of U.S. states by elevation. Only two states included elevations below sea level, California and Louisiana, and both featured seacoasts. Thus, I only had to search for states with positive elevations, which by process of elimination would have to be landlocked. If the District of Columbia ever became a state it would lead the pack with a single-foot lowpoint at the spot where the Potomac River exited the nation’s capital. However, setting that aside, there were three states with impressive lowpoints all falling beneath a hundred feet (30 metres).
The delta of the Mississippi River drained an incredibly flat plain although it still surprised me that it extended all the way into Arkansas. It had the lowest elevation of all landlocked states. Arkansas was a solid two hundred miles (320 km.) from the nearest seacoast at the Gulf of Mexico. Yet it offered a lowpoint where the Ouachita River crossed from Arkansas into Louisiana at an elevation of only 55 ft. (17 m.). The Ouachita joined the Tensas River, forming the Black River, commingling later with the Atchafalaya River and eventually intertwining with the Mississippi River. The whole mass of bayous, sloughs and waterways formed an immense tangled delta reaching far inland.
Native Americans thrived in the swamplands for hundreds of years during the Pre-Columbian period, building large settlements and ceremonial mounds.
The major Indian tribes that lived along the OUACHITA were the Washita, Caddo, Osage, Tensas, Chickasaw and Choctaw… The Spanish explorer DeSoto recorded in 1540 the existence of an enormous mound built on the banks of the OUACHITA. This site was named "Anilco", and was located at the present site of Jonesville, Louisiana. This mound was tragically destroyed when a bridge was built over the site in the 1930’s. This mound was one of the largest ever recorded in North America.
Priceless cultural artifact or second-rate highway bridge? Apparently priorities differed in the 1930’s.
The actual Arkansas lowpoint (map) occurred at an interesting intersection for followers of modern geography, directly upon a county quadripoint. Four counties (parishes in Louisiana) joined where the Ouachita River left Arkansas and entered Louisiana: Union County, AR; Ashley County, AR; Union Parish., LA and Morehouse Parish., LA. The two entities named Union were referenced previously in "Adjacent Counties, Same Name, Different States."
Arizona also surprised me although maybe it shouldn’t have seemed all that counterintuitive once I considered the situation some more. Arizona was such a large state and it seemed so far away from a seashore. Yet, if one looked at a map it became abundantly clear that its southwestern corner fell pretty close to the Gulf of California. One would have to travel through neighboring México to accomplish that though, and perhaps that was why I tended to overlook it mentally. The quickest path to the Gulf followed the course of the Colorado River, making Arizona’s lowest elevation 72 ft. (22 m.) where it exited the state at San Luis.
Oddly, that hadn’t happened much in the last half century making the lowpoint a dry, empty riverbed instead. A series of state compacts, international treaties and dams strictly parceled the Colorado’s waters to variously prescribed residential and agricultural purposes. The final dam built on the river at a place straddling the U.S / Mexican border between Yuma and San Luis — the Morelos Dam (map) — took what little flow remained and channeled it into croplands in surrounding areas of México. That converted what used to be a wonderfully diversified estuary and turned it into just another patch of Sonoran desert sometime around 1950. Environmentalists on both sides of the border began to wonder what might happen if the Morelos Dam opened periodically and allowed the Colorado River to flow naturally to the sea for limited times. Thus the notion of the "Pulse Flow" came to pass and it actually happened in March 2014:
… officials released an experimental pulse of 105,000 acre-feet of water from the Morelos Dam on the United States-Mexico border, and on May 15 the river once again flowed into the sea. The eight-week water release, though small, was enough to cause a 43 percent increase in green vegetation in the wetted zone and a 23 percent increase along the river’s borders…
Actually all three of the landlocked states with elevations of less than a hundred feet completely fascinated me. Third on the list went to Vermont — literally the Green Mountain — where one would expect higher elevations instead of lower ones. Certainly Vermont included impressive peaks within its boundaries although it also bordered on Lake Champlain (map). Its lowpoint coincided with the lake, a diminutive 95 ft. (29 m.) flowing into the St. Lawrence River and onward towards the Atlantic Ocean.
Lake Champlain served as an important transportation corridor during colonial times and the early days of an independent United States where difficult overland travel took place on muddy, rutted roads. It was a lot easier to navigate a boat inland wherever that was possible instead of turning to horse and wagon. Lake Champlain became Vermont’s access to the outside world. It was no wonder that the lake figured prominently in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Forts such as Ticonderoga and Crown Point appeared along its shorelines. British and American naval forces battled upon its waters. The United States fortified Lake Champlain’s shoreline even after the wars, including the infamous "Fort Blunder" placed on the wrong side of the border by mistake. Canals later connected the lake to the Hudson River watershed and the Erie Canal system, creating a vast superhighway over a large swath of the continental interior.
This was one of the more enjoyable article series I’ve written in awhile. Lowpoints seemed to offer more untold stories waiting to be discovered than highpoints.
I started playing a little game over the weekend using a search engine and the exact phrase "The only one in [name of a country].” Much of the time this query resulted in lists of exotic automobiles for some odd reason, or vacation properties with excessive hyperbole. More amusing results floated to the surface every once in a while. I focused primarily on English-speaking countries with lots of Twelve Mile Circle readers. I figured I might as well pander to the loyal audience.
Folks can head down to Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas (map) when dreaming of riches. Perhaps they’d hit the motherload at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The first diamonds were discovered there about a century ago in the ancient remains of a volcanic vent. Commercial mining failed once geologists determined that only the top layer held enough diamonds to make digging worth their trouble. It was too labor intensive to turn a profit so the site became a privately-owned tourist attraction. The new operators took a different approach by charging amateurs a fee to seek their fortunes instead of paying miners to dig on their behalf. The grounds disgorged just enough winnings to keep things interesting, acting more like a casino slot machine than a typical mine. The state of Arkansas bought the attraction in the 1970’s and converted it into a state park.
Anyone lucky enough to find a diamond on the 37-acre dirt field gets to keep it. Occasionally a visitor will unearth something interesting. The Strawn-Wagner Diamond was discovered in 1990 and became "the most perfect diamond the American Gem Society (AGS) ever certified in its laboratory." Someone also found an 8.52 carat white diamond as recently as 2015. Eureka moments like that were the exception. The vast preponderance of visitors went home with dirty clothes and maybe a small but worthless diamond chip. A day of digging would have been about the same as buying a few lottery tickets at the corner market although at least the treasure hunters got outdoors for a few hours.
The only full set of 12 change-ringing bells in Canada
First I needed to ponder the definition change-ringing and then I could consider the significance of the number of bells. Fortunately the North American Guild of Change Ringers provided everything I needed to know.
Change Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.
Change-ringers were the people who rang bells in church towers. Bells were located in the part of the tower called the belfry, for the obvious reason, and were hung in rings of 8 (typically) or 12 (more unusually). It would take a special structure to handle the weight of 12 bells ranging from 100 to 3,600 pounds (45 to 1,600 kg), and St. James included tower walls six feet thick with an additional buttress supporting a concrete beam holding the bell frame. That’s why this was the only location in Canada with 12 bells.
Reindeer or caribou inhabited the far northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America natively, although certainly not within Britain for at least the last several centuries. Their domesticated cousins ranged more broadly and included one small herd with a couple of hundred beasts in the Cairngorms region of Scotland. They were introduced in the 1950’s as a tourist attraction (map). Visitors continue to flock to Cairngorms National Park to see the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Reindeer remain active throughout the year although most people tend to be interested in them solely at Christmas. That’s when the "adult male reindeer go out and about on tour nationwide."
The only fossil bed from the early part of the Tertiary Period in Australia
The Murgon fossil site in Queensland, Australia (map) filled a vital link in the historical record to the early Paleogene Period, the beginning of the age of mammals only a few million years removed from the extinction of dinosaurs.
Nestling in the rolling green hills of south-eastern Queensland, under the shadow of the basalt-capped Boat Mountain, is one of the most remarkable fossil deposits in the world. Located near the township of Murgon, this site is the only one in Australia that produces mammal fossils from the early part of the Tertiary Period and is dated at around 54.6 million years old. What makes Murgon so remarkable is the diversity of animals found there that were not expected to be seen in such an old Australian deposit. The world’s oldest song birds are found at Murgon as well as one of the world’s oldest bats, Australonycteris.
In Kenya one could visit Rosemary Odinga in Kiserian (map), a suburb of Nairobi, where she established a snail farm in 2008. The Kenya Wildlife Service granted her a license to farm Giant African Land Snails — the only one issued in the nation — a requirement since snails were classified as wild animals. The farm produced about 12,000 snails per year although most locals residents wouldn’t eat them. Instead she marketed them quite successfully as escargots to fine dining establishment and wealthy European expatriates.
I mentioned focusing this article on countries with sizable 12MC audiences. That’s right, Kenya has begun to emerge as one of the more common international points of origin for Twelve Mile Circle readers. Some of them came for the Oxbow Lake discussions although now they seem to have branched out to other topics. Welcome Kenyan readers! It wasn’t too long ago that I bemoaned my lack of African viewers. I’m glad to see that things have started to change.
I had so much fun writing this article that I may have to do a part 2 with more countries. Readers should feel free to search for their own one-of-a-kind superlatives and place them in the comments. They might even become fair game for that future article.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.