The Only One

On November 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

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.

The only public diamond mine in the United States

Screening Shed
Screening Shed by Lance and Erin on Flickr (cc)

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

Bells of St. James Cathedral
Bells of St. James Cathedral by Ryan on Flickr (cc)

Canadian fans of change-ringing bells should head towards the Cathedral Church of St. James on Church Street in Toronto (map).

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.

The only free range reindeer herd in Britain

Reindeer on Cairngorm
Reindeer on Cairngorm by andrewrendell on Flickr (cc)

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

Murgon fossil site

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.

The fossil beds were remarkable enough to become a World Heritage Site.

The only snail farm in Kenya (and all of east Africa)

Giant African Land Snail
Giant African Land Snail by John Tann on Flickr (cc)

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.

Hot Springs Everywhere

On July 5, 2015 · 2 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.

Reader Mailbag 2

On May 6, 2015 · 7 Comments

Every once in awhile I receive an overwhelming number of excellent finds from the Twelve Mile Circle community. Last time I called the collection "Reader Mailbag." I simply tacked the number 2 onto that older title in a nod to my lack of creativity for the current installment. To be considered for the Reader Mailbag an item had to be unknown to me previously and it had to be able to stand on its own. Actually the bar wasn’t that high — as you will see soon enough with some of them, well, one in particular — so keep your suggestions heading towards me because I love getting them. Maybe you’ll become a 12MC star!

I might add a little text to add context although all credit should go to the site’s loyal contributors with my sincere appreciation.

Consecutive Highway Numbering

I-70 to I-170 to I-270 to Rt. 370

First I heard from "Glenn" who recounted an unusual numerical arrangement along a sequence of roads he took recently in and around St. Louis, Missouri. He drove in progression numerically: Interstate 70 –> Interstate 170 –> Interstate 270 –> Missouri Route 370. Glenn didn’t stop there, however. He then tried to determine the longest numerically progressing route anywhere.

Van Buren, Maine
Van Buren, Maine by Doug Kerr, on Flickr (cc)

I’ll shamelessly steal Glenn’s findings verbatim because I couldn’t find any better way to portray it.

US 1: Van Buren, Maine at the Canadian border, to Houlton, ME (77 miles)
US 2: Houlton, ME to Lancaster, NH (300 miles)
US 3: Lancaster, NH to Boscawen, NH (113 miles)
US 4: Boscawen, NH to White River Junction, NH (56 miles)
US 5: WRJ to Hartford, CT (155 miles)
US 6: Hartford to near Danbury, CT (60 miles)
US 7: Danbury to Norwalk, CT (23 miles)

The comprised an astounding seven consecutively-numbered roads stretching almost 800 miles! I invite anyone to improve upon that result. Well sure, someone could start with Route 1 in Key West, take that up to Van Buren, Maine and follow the rest of the sequence. Let’s try to be a little more original though. I’d be more impressed with the greatest number of consecutive roads (something more than seven) rather than the total distance covered.

Another United States Practical Exclave

Goodness knows I’ve explored all manner of oddities along the border between the Canada and the United States (e.g., Canada-USA Border Segment Extremes) as well as any number of practical exlaves (e.g., Practical Exclaves of Andorra). I thought I’d plumbed the depths of both topics a long time ago, and yet apparently there’s always something more to be found. Someone could probably write a blog with nothing but oddities along the border between Canada and the United States.

Check what "Gerard" found on Lake Metigoshe on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba. Indeed, it appeared that the backyards of several Canadian citizens included boat docks on the U.S. side of the border. I checked this anomaly on several mapping sites and it appeared to be accurate, not just another Google Maps error. I’m not even sure how this would work in practicality. The border seemed downright porous at that point. Here was a sizable community without any border controls whatsoever? Did the residents have to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection every time they wanted to walk to the back of their yard and use their boats? Did they have to pay taxes to North Dakota each year for the sliver of property they owned there? So many questions came to mind.

Geographic Tongue

Landkartenzunge 005
Source: Wikimedia Commons (cc)

I’m fine with weird somewhat tangentially-related topics. Reader "Jonathan" brought a medical condition to my attention called Geographic Tongue. Don’t worry, it won’t kill anyone. The Mayo Clinic described it thus:

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition affecting the surface of your tongue. The tongue is normally covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae), which are actually short, fine, hair-like projections. With geographic tongue, patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae and appear as smooth, red "islands," often with slightly raised borders. These patches (lesions) give the tongue a map-like, or geographic, appearance.

A more scientific name was Benign Migratory Glossitis. Feel free to drop that into your next cocktail party conversation and get some tongues wagging. Several versions of the Rolling Stones logo appeared to suffer from Geographic Tongue. Maybe that explained something.

And Last…

There comes a time every once-in-awhile when Twelve Mile Circle feels it’s necessary to provide abundant advanced warning to readers who happen to have good taste and refined manners. This would be one of those times. The red lights are flashing. That’s why I saved this entry for last. Now might be an excellent opportunity to stop reading and move on to a different article because we’re about to have a Beavis and Butthead moment.

Weiner Cuttoff Road; Weiner, Arkansas, USA

Courtesy of reader "John," 12MC presents the stupendous Weiner Cuttof Road in Weiner, Arkansas. Thirteen year old boys nationwide rejoiced.

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