The second day-trip loop from Asheville plowed nearly due west onto the domain of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, and then continued into Great Smoky Mountains National Park for another easy U.S. state highpoint capture. I guess it was actually more of an out-and-back although one could cut the corner just a bit on the return trip with a brief yet scenic jaunt down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Out-of-Place Scene
Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino
via Google Street View, April 2013
We rolled through pleasant countryside along serpentine roads, over hills and dipped into hollows as we followed U.S. Route 19 into the town of Cherokee. Something completely out of place loomed suddenly from the valley floor, not a mountain, rather a massive multi-story building with a huge parking garage. It was a resort hotel casino (map). I doubt there was a taller building anywhere closer than an hour away in Asheville. Here it stood probably fifteen stories high, an urban structure without a downtown.
I’m not a gambler so I never felt any temptation to answer its call. To me the most fascinating feature was the casino’s complete lack of context with all that surrounded it, like a giant middle finger to those who had mistreated the tribe since Europeans first landed on the continent and pushed into the mountains. North Carolina didn’t want casino gambling? Those laws didn’t apply here. I hope the Eastern Band makes a ton of money from their venture given how much they’ve been treated for the last couple of centuries… just not my money.
Oconaluftee Islands Park
We’d been eating out a lot and visiting multiple brewpubs so we decided to do something a little bit different, a picnic lunch outdoors. I’d wondered if that might be possible as I examined Street View the previous day. The main strip seemed pretty touristy. Then I noticed a little green spot (map) while poking through online map sites and identified Oconaluftee Islands Park. That was just what we needed, a little oasis of nature and solitude surrounded on all sides by water, accessible only by footbridges. Children splashed and rode inflatable tubes down a lazy river, ducks and geese floated by, the wind rustled through a bamboo forest, and we enjoyed our respite at a shady picnic pavilion. The price was right too: FREE.
The town of Cherokee served as the headquarters of the Eastern Band. Members of the nation were descendants of a small residual group of Cherokee that remained in North Carolina in the early 1800’s. They avoided the infamous Trail of Tears, however not without their own hardships. They were forced to renounce or hide their own culture for much of the Nineteenth Century, and spent the next hundred-plus years trying to revive it, a process that continues today. They also had to repurchase the land that rightfully belonged to them.
In North Carolina, those Cherokees who escaped removal either through a North Carolina provision called the Reservation Act of 1819 or by evading the United States Army remained behind in a land less state. By law, Native Americans were neither citizens of the United States nor the state where they resided therefore none could hold property… This ambiguous status continued until after the Civil War when the Cherokee question surfaced again. After several years of legal wrangling, the Cherokee formed a corporation. As a business, the Cherokee could hold the land and the land, which was to become known as the Qualla Boundary again, was in Cherokee control.
The entire history of the Cherokee people was explained in detail at the well-done Museum of the Cherokee Indian (map). It was a large facility and it took quite awhile to see everything in the level of detail it deserved. That took us longer than expected. Other sites nearby included the Qualla Arts & Crafts Center and the Oconaluftee Indian Village. I’d wanted to see both of those and we simply ran short on time. Most visitors would probably want to spend at least an entire day in Cherokee. We didn’t have that option because I had an important geo-oddity that required my attention.
We’d reached the summit of North Carolina’s elevation highpoint the previous day. Now it was time to do the same thing for Tennessee at Clingmans Dome, (map), with an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 metres). I know what readers are thinking — this is supposed to be an article about western North Carolina, not Tennessee. If it makes anyone feel better, the Tennessee highpoint fell directly upon the boundary between the two states. The Clingmans Dome summit also served as the highpoint for Swain County, North Carolina. That could be used as a justification to maintain the sanctity of the article title. We were only ever a few feet across the border into Tennessee and only momentarily.
I expected this to be another easy highpoint directly within my lazy mountaineering ethos. It was crowded! I knew we were in trouble when I saw cars parked along the access road more than a half-mile away from the official parking lot. Clingmans Dome (map) fell within the confines of Great Smokey Mountains National Park which had 10 million visitors in 2014, making it one of the most popular properties in the entire National Parks system. It was summer. We arrive at the middle of the day. What else should we expect?
Proving the adage that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good, a parking space opened up directly in front of us, practically the best spot in the entire lot. Clearly a higher power wanted me to visit the highpoint, or more likely didn’t want to hear our kids whine because we were going to the spot even if we had to park all the way down the road and walk the extra distance by golly. I didn’t drive all the way out to a remote mountain and up to the top to turn around and head home. From there we trekked from parking lot to summit along with a few hundred of our new best friends, looped to the viewing platform and jostled through the crowds searching for the horizon. I much preferred the experience of North Carolina’s highpoint the previous day, shooing away swarms of insects instead of people. The Tennessee highpoint would be best appreciated during the off-season.
Western North Carolina articles:
I received an email message the other day from a first-time reader who happened to stumble across 12MC randomly through a search engine, hoping to learn the answer to a burning question. I’d never covered the topic on the site before so I didn’t have a ready answer. It fascinated me though and of course I dropped all of my other research topics underway to pursue it further because I have a short attention span and I love to follow tangents. I put as much effort into the question as I’ve done for any article I’d post ordinarily so I might as well share the results with the rest of you.
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The reader who went by "James" recalled an anecdote from the not-too-distant past. He was traveling through Yuma, Arizona and wanted a bite to eat. Sometimes it’s tough finding a decent meal on the road and we all have our own ways to deal with that. I like to go to brewpubs under the theory if the food falls short at least the beer will be decent. James homes-in on casinos for the buffets. I hadn’t thought of that option before so I’ll have to add that to my travel tip list.
Anyway, he crossed the Colorado River — the border between California and Arizona — only to discover a small chunk of Arizona on the "wrong" side of the river with the state line running through the casino parking lot. It’s the Paradise Casino owned by the Quechan Tribe (formerly known as the Yuma Indians). I don’t believe it was an issue of legality since there are Native American casinos in California, too. However it’s not particularly germane to the anecdote so I’ll leave the question of this particular state-hugging casino alone. The more important aspect was the sliver of Arizona within territory one would ordinarily expect to belong to California.
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One is able to appreciate the full extent of the anomaly by zooming out the map a little further. Rivers don’t normally flow at right angles so it’s not like the current state border followed an old riverbed that changed over time. Why, James wondered, did this artifact exist?
I had no idea. I thought it might trace back to old Fort Yuma, constructed in the 1850’s on the California side of the river to protect the new settlement on what was then the New Mexico Territory. That was an interesting bit of history, however, it didn’t provide an explanation.
The answer turned out to be much more recent: March 12, 1963. It seemed crazy that two long-standing states (California since 1850 and Arizona since 1912) were still arguing over their common border as recently 1963 since it was supposed to be the Colorado River, and yet that was indeed the case. That’s when the two finally agreed upon an "Interstate Compact Defining the Boundary Between the States of Arizona and California." The United States Congress approved the Compact in 1966, thereby enshrining the odd jog in the border permanently. The Compact explained its logic:
The boundary between the State of Arizona and California on the Colorado River has become indefinite and uncertain because of the meanderings in the main channel of the Colorado River with the result that a state of confusion exists as to the true and correct location of the boundary, and the enforcement and administration of the laws of the two states and the United States have been rendered difficult.
It also provided, in excruciating detail, 34 points forming the new border in perpetuity (e.g., "700 feet to Point No. 28, which lies on the easterly shoulder line of said north-south road due east of the northeast corner of the stone retaining wall around the Indian School Hospital…"), along with requirements for another 234 subpoints not monumented.
This was elaborated upon further in a U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper published by the Government Printing Office, "Boundaries of the United States and the several States." The key reference can be found on Page 153.
Because determination of the position midchannel at the time California entered the Union would be difficult now, it was decided to place the boundary line in a position that would provide an equitable distribution of the land that had been affected by the movement of the riverbed.
A map found on the following page (Page 154) clearly showed the jog.
How the two states agreed that this particular block should become part of Arizona may never be known except to those involved in the 1963 negotiations. Was it because it was close to Yuma? Was it because it was easy to reach from the rest of Arizona? That remains unanswered. However it was clearly intended to compensate Arizona for changes in the course of the Colorado River that had not been well-documented over the prior century. It was an approximation so straight lines and right angles were appropriate and probably easier to survey.
Thanks James, and I hope you become a regular reader.
Think of Nevada and the cacophony of Las Vegas springs to mind reflexively. It’s a familiar refrain that repeats across hundreds of desert towns large and small, a symbiotic intertwining of a state economy and a robust gaming industry. Entire towns have even blossomed simply to entice the residents of stricter states seeking legalized gambling.
There are at least two towns in Nevada that have bucked that trend by banning industrialized casino-style games of chance since their founding. The long arm of the Federal government contributed to both cases, but interestingly enough, through opposite ways; one town in spite of the government and one because of it.
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A river called the Meadow Valley Wash drains a portion of southern Nevada as part of the much larger Colorado River watershed. True to its name, the river nurtures greenery along its banks as it traverses the arid desert terrain. Early settlers took notice. Mormons eyed the Meadow Valley as a logical extension of their geographical reach as they sought to expand from their base in Salt Lake City. They colonized Panaca, Utah with several hundred settlers in 1864.
UTAH? Yes, Utah. Nevada split from Utah in 1861 and became a state in 1864. It gained successive slices of Utah’s territory including a final degree of longitude in 1866. The reasons were varied. Ostensibly, this was a mining district and Nevada was a mining state. Nevada could better manage these resources as the story goes. However, one shouldn’t discount good old-fashioned discrimination and distrust of the Mormon people either. Nevada gained statehood after only three years. Utah remained locked in second-class status as a territory for nearly fifty years, losing major chunks of land to its neighbors on several sides.
The citizens of Panaca became unexpected residents of Lincoln County, Nevada only two years into the colonization. Many people returned to the Utah Territory now several miles away. Others ignored Nevada’s sovereignty and refused to pay taxes for a number of years. Those who remained acquiesced eventually but they didn’t abandon their values or their faith. The residents of Panaca turned inward to preserve their way of life.
They farmed the Meadow Valley and formed an uneasy relationship with unruly silver miners streaming into eastern Nevada. Miners needed provisions and Panaca could supply them for a price. Eventually the bulk of prospectors moved away in search of the next big strike, leaving behind a string of abandoned ghost towns crumbling into the desert floor. Panaca easily outlasted the short-timers who arrived in the valley with silver dreams of riches. Several hundred people still reside in Panaca, many of them descended from original settlers, its remoteness insulating the town from contradicting social influences. The Federal government changed the border, but did Panaca really ever leave Utah philosophically? It’s no wonder that both gambling and alcohol are prohibited within its borders.
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Boulder City is a much more recent creation, owing its existence to the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The government erected Boulder City in 1932 as a place to house thousands of workers building nearby Hoover Dam. It ran the town as a government camp for the next quarter century, making all decisions normally reserved for a town’s citizens. The government determined that gambling and alcohol were detrimental to its workforce. Residents were not given a choice other than moving away.
The Bureau of Reclamation relinquished control. Later Boulder City incorporated in 1960. It eventually jettisoned alcohol prohibition but continued to outlaw gambling for its sixteen thousand residents. Chapter 4-4-1 of the Boulder City Code states explicitly that "it shall be unlawful for any person to allow, operate, carry on, conduct or maintain gambling within the City," although it does provide exceptions for certain charity events and for social games in private residences.
This custom is a rather quaint artifact and an unusual anomaly given its geography. Clearly it can’t have much of an impact on the habits of residents who can be standing on the Las Vegas Strip in less than half an hour, or at smaller establishments just over the Boulder City line. Perhaps that’s the point. They’ve created a quiet oasis for daily living with plenty of options just beyond town.
 Yes, I succumbed to those bright lights a couple of years ago and gambled my customary one dollar on a trip to Vegas to attend a wedding. I neither demonize nor advocate gambling – let adults make their own financial decisions – I’m simply cheap. Notoriously cheap.
 I say "at least two locations" have banned gambling although wherever I looked on the Intertubes it said "only two locations". The readers of Twelve Mile Circle have debunked similar claims several times before so please submit a comment if you know of any other locations in Nevada.