Biggest Unvisited

On October 22, 2017 · 5 Comments

A couple of years ago I wrote about my Airport Visits. At that time I came oh-so-close to capturing Love Field in Dallas, Texas. A weather delay and a change of route dashed that achievement. However a work trip to Dallas last week finally righted that wrong. I flew down there on Southwest Airlines and naturally landed at and later departed from Love Field. It didn’t change anything in the earlier article, I figured. Houston’s Hobby Airport remained the largest airport in the United States I’d yet to use. Although something did change, something subtle.

Since that last article, Love Field surpassed Hobby in passenger counts. Unbeknownst to me, Love Field became my largest unvisited airport for awhile, although my recent visit corrected the situation. I’ve now traveled through the top 32 largest airports in the U.S., with Hobby dropping one spot to 33rd. It remained unvisited.

Houston’s Hobby Airport


Old Terminal at Hobby Airport
Old Terminal at Hobby Airport. Photo by BFS Man on Flickr (cc)

Actually, I’m not sure I will ever set foot in Hobby (map). I used to have a reason to go to Houston when family lived nearby. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away a few years ago at the age of 102. Then remaining family members moved to New Mexico for their retirement years. I just don’t see any trips near Houston on the horizon. So progress on this list will probably end. Plus, even if I did return, I’d likely use the much larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Southwest Airlines still uses Hobby extensively although most others focus on the other one.

Hobby began as Houston’s original commercial airport in the 1920’s albeit with a different name and under private ownership. It didn’t become Hobby until the city purchased it in the 1930’s. William P. Hobby, its namesake, had connections both to Texas and to Houston. He served as Governor of Texas in 1917 before his fortieth birthday. Afterwards, I guess because he felt he hadn’t accomplished enough already, he became publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. Naming the local airport for him seemed fitting.


Fresno County, California


The Best Little City in the USA, Plate 3
The Best Little City in the USA. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

That got me thinking about some of the other largest places in the United States I’d never visited. I’ve done a lot of county counting over the years. The total stood at 1,428 as of the time I wrote this, or 45.5% of counties available. However, I’d never considered the largest of the remaining unvisited. I had to actually create a spreadsheet to figure it out. When I sorted the results I learned the answer: Fresno County, California. More than 900 thousand people resided in the county so I’d missed a pretty significant place.

In my defense, there didn’t appear to be a lot of reasons to target Fresno. Sure, a lot of people lived there although it seemed to lack specific attractions unless agriculture in California’s Central Valley seemed exciting. People who are more familiar with the area are free to correct me. I’m sure it’s a nice place and I hate to give it short shrift.

It did have an attraction of a sort, I supposed. As Historic Fresno reported,

The Fresno Sanitary Landfill is the oldest "true" sanitary landfill in the United States, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western United States… [it] is a National Historic Landmark as well as in the National Register of Historic Places.

Someday I’m sure I’ll find myself in the area and of course I’ll capture Fresno. I might just check out the Historic Landfill too (map).


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Oklahoma City National Memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photo by Phil Roeder on Flickr (cc)

The largest unvisited city in the United States on my list was Oklahoma City (map). I liked this place because of the whole nesting of Oklahoma City in Oklahoma County in the state of Oklahoma. It didn’t exist until 1889 when the big "Land Run" commenced and it blossomed overnight. The city grew so quickly that it became the state capital in 1907. Today about 600 thousand people live there.

I’m trying to convince my family that we should go there for our family vacation next summer. I select a different state each year and I’ve already made my initial pitch for Oklahoma. It didn’t generate a lot of interest. I don’t know why. I found a couple of zoos for my older son and some military museums for my younger son. For my wife I compiled a list of breweries and brewpubs I knew she’d enjoy. Still, well, we’ll just have to see. Nobody else suggested a state so I might just win this one by default. I believe we have some Twelve Mile Circle readers from Oklahoma City. Please give me a few good reasons to visit and help me make my case. I think the family would enjoy it.

Select City Highpoints

On May 11, 2017 · 7 Comments

I’m not much of a highpointer, and a begrudging one at best, although I maintain a kinship with those who follow this pursuit. I like the concept of highpointing more than the actual climbing of summits. That’s why I find myself occasionally visiting sites like peakbagger.com and examining things like its Peak Lists. I admit, I lifted many of the ideas for today’s article from its Selected World City High Points, and I’d do it again. City highpoints never got much attention. They fell way down on the pecking order behind national, state and county highpoints. I decided to give a few city highpoints the attention they deserved. I ordered my list from lame to grand.

Unnamed


City of Toronto Highpoint
Toronto, Ontario Highpoint
via Google Maps 3D, 2017

Toronto didn’t appear on that peakbagger list. Nonetheless I felt I should take a look anyway. The Canadian city with its largest population certainly deserved some attention. A great city in a great nation undoubtedly marked its highest elevation with a spectacular monument. Well, no, not really. Toronto’s maximum elevation of 212 meters (696 feet) barely rose above the surrounding terrain. Trip reports described an underwhelming experience, essentially walking onto a field (map) directly across the road from York University. I did notice that a regular Twelve Mile Circle reader posted one of the trip reports so that was a nice bonus.

The generally flat field covered a large reservoir of underground oil tanks. It seemed odd, as I considered it, that sports fields would be built atop oil tanks, although I supposed it must have been safe or they wouldn’t have done it. The fields served as home base for the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club, with the specific highpoint found on what they called the West Fields. I can never remember where people call the sport Soccer and where they call it Football. Apparently Canada went with the soccer variation, or at least one club in Toronto did. I’m sure the Canadian 12MC audience will correct me if I’m wrong.

I doubted that any kids kicking soccer balls across a field atop oil tanks appreciated their exalted location upon Toronto’s summit.


Chancery Lane at High Holborn


City (High Holborn, 22m)
City (High Holborn, 22m) Junction with Chancery Lane. Photo by diamond geezer on Flickr (cc)

Peakbagger suggested a highpoint for London, England although I disagreed. It focused on Greater London and I’ll get to that in a moment. I wanted the actual City of London, a very tiny area of barely more than a square mile. The possibility of an exciting highpoint within such a small urban footprint seemed remote. It met my paltry expectations and nothing more. The actual spot registered maybe a notch better than Toronto only because it fell within a fairly busy, seemingly dynamic area. The highpoint could be discerned on the eastern side of Chancery Lane near its junction with High Holborn (map). It registered a measly elevation of 22 m (72 ft).

People who "climbed" to the summit recorded some interesting trip reports. One person said, "I’d walked across this pavement summit several times whilst working in London, without realising it was a high point." Another offered a recommendation to future climbers, "Suggest you do this one from Chancery Lane tube station, then at least you walk slightly uphill to it." Everyone seemed rather unimpressed.

Westerham Heights appeared as the highpoint on the Peakbagger list (map), at 245 metres (804 ft). However, that applied to Greater London, comprised of all 32 London boroughs plus the City of London. It wasn’t much more spectacular either, at 245 m (804 ft), "A rather unpleasant high point opposite Westerham Heights Farm; on a blind bend, the verge of a fast dangerous road, the A233."


Mount Lukens


Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop
Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop. Photo by Vahe Martirosyan on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared in Los Angeles, California although the highpoint was much more prominent. I didn’t want the Los Angeles county highpoint, Mount San Antonio (aka Mount Baldy) at an impressive 3,068 m (10,064 ft). I wanted the city highpoint. The summit of Mount Lukens (map) reached 1,547 m (5,074 feet). While it didn’t reach quite the same stature as Mount Baldy, it still hit a pretty good altitude. At least it was a real mountain, too. It sounded amazing.

Mount Lukens stands majestically above the Crescenta Valley as the western most peak of the San Gabriel Mountains front range… It’s western flank drops over 3,000 feet affording terrific views of the San Fernando Valley to the southwest and the Verdugo Mountains and the Los Angeles Basin to the south. On exceptional days both the south and west facing beaches can be seen.

That made Los Angeles the city with the highest elevation of the 50 largest cities in the United States.


Montmartre


Montmartre
Montmartre. Photo by heroesbed on Flickr (cc)

However, Montmartre, the highest point of elevation in Paris, France, impressed me the most (map). A highpoint should look like this. It actually fell outside of the city limits until 1860 when it was annexed to become part of the 18th arrondissement. While the summit climbed only 130 m (430 ft), French authorities took full advantage of the situation. What does one do with such a prominent peak? Stick a basilica atop it and make it look even taller! The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, underwent construction on Montmartre between 1875 and 1914. What a lovely setting. No wonder artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet spent time on Montmartre.

Focused on Counties

On March 9, 2017 · 9 Comments

I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.

Square Miles (land area only)


Georgia Counties
Georgia Counties
via Mob Rule

Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.

Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.

I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.


Population (2016 estimates)


Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.

I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?

South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.

California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.

I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.


The Complete Oddball


4th of July 2009
Washington Monument on the 4th of July. My Own Photo.

What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.

I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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