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.

More Ancient Rivers

On August 26, 2015 · 0 Comments

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.


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.

Nimby Lane

On May 13, 2015 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has an international audience so I’m never sure whether a term that’s part of my lexicon translates geographically. Many readers probably know the term NIMBY. For the rest of you, and particularly the foreign-language readers, NIMBY is an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard." As defined by NIMBY is…

…used to express opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

The term has become somewhat of a personal inside joke during my formulation of articles for 12MC. I’ve attempted to write a NIMBY story for years and I always get about fifteen minutes into it before dropping it. I can never seem to make it flow well. Maybe I’ll write that article someday although for today I’m going to punt once again and take a slightly different twist on the topic.

Nimby Lane

Nimby Lane, Jackson, Pennsylvania, USA

Instead of providing examples of NIMBY behavior I thought I’d focus on a few people who live on streets named Nimby. These had to be some rather special residents as I thought about it, who acknowledged their passive-aggressive behavior with a healthy dose of irony. Good for them! What’s the expression? — something about the first step in solving a problem is accepting that one has a problem?

First I discovered Nimby Lane in Pennsylvania. It was funny because a humongous 4-lane highway was in the figurative backyard. I wondered if the residents had fought the battle and lost or were collectively thumbing their noses at other nearby people who had fought and lost. It was quite the paradox, and of course 12MC loves a good paradox.

I noticed an odd little map symbol just to the west; I wasn’t sure if it was a person kneeling in prayer or a tabletop microscope. Was it a place of worship or a laboratory? It took some digging on OpenStreetMap to confirm that it was indeed a place of worship. Some additional searching determined that this was the site of the Chickaree Union Church, "The Jesus Saves Church" That led me to wonder when one would use a Christian cross symbol versus a person kneeling in prayer. I know we have some OpenStreetMap contributors in the audience. Perhaps one of them could enlighten us.

The name of the highway also provided a tantalizing point of trivia since we’ve already veered along an unrelated tangent once again. It’s not difficult to derail me. It was labeled US Route 22, the Admiral Peary Highway. That seemed like an odd choice.

Robert Edwin Peary
Robert Edwin Peary via Wikimedia Commons in the public domain

Admiral Robert Edwin Peary was an Arctic explorer who was credited with leading the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Later research showed that he probably missed it by quite a few miles although he certainly garnered significant fame during his lifetime for his achievement. He was born in Cresson, Pennsylvania. That was less than 20 miles away from Nimby Lane. Clearly a lot more had happened in Nimby Lane’s back yard than met the eye.

Nimby Drive

Nimby Dr., Savannah, Georgia, USA

Nimby Drive in Georgia seemed less clear-cut. It was located within a nascent golf course community at The Club at Savannah Harbor. Actually I wondered if it might have been nothing more than a cute placeholder name. The residential area, at least on the most recent satellite view, seemed to be in the early stages of development with a street grid and very few houses. It was funny because the back yard was a golf course and usually people like golf courses in their back yard. In fact I think that houses in golf course communities commanded premium prices? Maybe it referred to golf balls, as in it might be nice to live near a course except for the places where a wicked slice could send something crashing through a window.

Sam Snead hanging out in Savannah
Sam Snead hanging out in Savannah by Jesse Hirsh, on Flickr (cc)

The Club at Savannah included a bust commemorating golfer Sam Snead. I wondered if there might have been a local connection like I’d observed with Admiral Peary in Pennsylvania. Nope. Snead was born in Virginia and died in Virginia. Apparently it was simply a tribute to a legendary golfer instead of a local connection. Snead was not in their back yard.


Nimby Place, Cooma, NSW, Australia

I found a couple of Nimby Roads in New South Wales, Australia. I’ll have to defer to the Australian readers to determine if NIMBY is actually a thing there or not. I got the distinct feeling that neither road referred to the acronym, though. They were found in areas where roads carried aboriginal terms so it probably meant something innocuous in a native language like "pleasant view". I could be completely wrong though. I made that up.

The Nimby Road in Cooma actually had a rather lovely backyard, the Cooma North Ridge Reserve:

The North Ridge Reserve area on the edge of Cooma comprises approximately 80 hectares which was a consolidation of a Crown Land Reserve and land purchased by the Council from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority in 1996. The area is home to many native animals and flora and is a favourite area for the many people who enjoy bushwalking.

I would think that just about anyone would want that in their backyard.

There was another Nimby Road near Harden (map). The two Nimby spots were only about a three hour drive apart via Canberra. That might make a nice weekend trip for readers in New South Wales.

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