Time Zone Dams

On March 5, 2017 · 1 Comments

Time continued to play on my mind. This time it came courtesy of a random search engine query that landed on 12MC for some unknown reason. However, the notion implied by this wayward message intrigued me much more than the average query. I’ve focused on structures split by borders before although this one had an unusual twist. The border in question also served as a Time Zone boundary. Theoretically, then, not only did the structure exist in two different states, it existed in two different times. It was also a really big structure.

Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam. Photo by Ralph Arvesen on Flickr (cc)

The question focused specifically on the Time Zone of the Hoover dam (map). I’d never considered that possibility before although it seemed obvious once it came to my attention. The Colorado River marked the boundary between Nevada and Arizona. Nevada fell within the Pacific Time Zone (except for the city of West Wendover, a place that I visited a few years ago). Time in Arizona followed its own unique beat. If fell within the Mountain Time Zone although it also did not observe Daylight Saving Time (plus the whole Navajo and Hopi conundrum).

I discarded the anomalies and focused on time as it might be observed along the Colorado River. No time difference existed during DST. However, in the winter months during Standard Time, those living on the Nevada side of the border set their watches an hour earlier than those in Arizona. That time difference split directly through the Hoover Dam. Do workers at the Hoover Dam have to adjust their watches several times a day based on location? No, actually they do not. The Bureau of Reclamation solved the problem for them. The facility followed Pacific Time for its hours of operation.


Elsewhere Along the Colorado River


Parker Dam, Colorado River
Parker Dam, Colorado River. Photo by Don Barrett on Flickr (cc)

This made me wonder whether Time Zones split any other dams. It seemed logical to look farther downstream along the Colorado River for other examples. A similar condition prevailed at the Parker Dam (map) that created Lake Havasu. This dam fell along the border between California and Arizona although the same basic condition existed. In this instance California fell within the Pacific Time Zone.


Farther East


Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama
Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama.
Photo by Mr Seb on Flickr (cc)

Something similar happened between Alabama in the Central Time Zone and Georgia in the Eastern Time Zone, albeit with its own twist. The Walter F. George Lock and Dam (map) stood on the Chattahoochee River, forming a large reservoir behind it. Georgia controlled the river which remained within the state up to the mean high water mark. However, water behind this dam spread beyond the original riverbank that formed the boundary, crossing onto Alabama land so part of the lake belonged to Alabama too. The name of the dam and the lake honored Walter F. George, who served as a distinguished Senator from Georgia for many years. George died in 1957 so it seemed like a good idea to name the dam for him when construction finished in 1962, at least to the citizens of Georgia. That still left the lake without an official name so politicians in Alabama made their move.

On June 25, 1963, both Houses of the Alabama Legislature signed off on Act No. 60 (sponsored by Senator Jimmy Clark of Eufaula) which endorsed the name, Lake Eufaula, in honor of the Creek Indians who once lived throughout the Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia… Not to be outdone, House Resolution 268 was adopted by the Georgia House of Representatives on March 12, 1965 to designate the reservoir as "Lake Chattahoochee."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noting a lack of consensus, stuck with the simple name Walter F. George Lake. That also became its official name. The name Lake Chattahoochee fell by the wayside although usage of Lake Eufaula on the Alabama side of the border continues to be popular.

Murdo Mystery

On March 2, 2017 · 1 Comments

I seemed to be fixated on time lately, ever since writing the recent Time Zones in Greenland. I went through my long list of open items and found a few more timely topics. The Twelve Mile Circle could benefit from subjects of that nature while I cleared the backlog. Murdo seemed a likely candidate.

Murdo


Postcard from South Dakota
Postcard from South Dakota. Photo by John Lloyd on Flickr (cc)

The little town of Murdo, South Dakota fascinated me. It began as another one of those settlements along a railroad in the Great Plains. In the case of Murdo, that happened in 1907 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the Dakotas. I featured this same railroad in an earlier 12MC article although for a completely different reason, in King of Portmanteau. Murdo existed like many other towns along this particular line because of Albert J. Earling, the King I proclaimed in that previous article.

Jones County selected Murdo as its seat of local government and not much else happened there ever since, although 488 people still lived there as of the 2010 Census. Murdo provided a home to a well-regarded automobile museum (including some items for sale). It also featured 1880 Town, basically a museum of old buildings transported to the spot from all over South Dakota. Murdo seemed like one of those places I’d stop to see if I were driving on Interstate 90 and happened to spot a sign, because I loved roadside attractions. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way, though.


What’s in a Name?



Murdo, SD

However, the name of the town seemed so unusual. Why Murdo? Many towns took the surname of a town founder or an early pioneer or even someone’s distant relative. Something like that happened here too although not entirely. Murdo was somebody’s first name, specifically Murdo MacKenzie. I’d never heard of anyone called Murdo before so I checked some of those awful baby name websites. Apparently Murdo came from Scottish Gaelic, meaning seaman, mariner or something similar like that, if those unsourced sites could be believed. However, it made sense for Murdo MacKenzie. He immigrated from Scotland so the linguistic connection existed assuming the dubious claims were true.

Eventually Murdo realized his American Dream by becoming a cattle baron. He focused his attention on this particularl corner of South Dakota just as the railroad arrived. The city of Murdo said:

In 1904, Mr. Murdo MacKenzie, head of the Matador brand, who had herds from Mexico to Canada, shipped train load after train load of Texas steers to the Standing Rock Reservation so they could graze on the Dakota grass.

Certainly a success story such as that deserved a little recognition. The town named in his honor seemed to accomplish that quite nicely.


What did that have to do with time?


1880 town
1880 town. Photo by THEMACGIRL on Flickr (cc)

The always perceptive 12MC audience probably started wondering what my ramblings had to do with the observance of time several paragraphs ago. I’m getting to that.

I spotted an odd notation as I reviewed the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49 – Transportation, § 71.7 "Boundary line between central and mountain zones. What might be stranger, I wondered, the unusual notation or that I actually enjoyed reviewing obscure parts of the Code of Federal Regulations? Either way, it meant the audience could benefit from my discovery without having to wade through mind-numbing bureaucratic language. Subsection (g) said:

Points on boundary line. All municipalities located upon the zone boundary line described in this section are in the mountain standard time zone, except Murdo, S. Dak., which is in the central standard time zone.

One needs to understand that the boundary between Central and Mountain Time in the United States rivals just about any other division for sheer complexity. The code delineated all sorts of zigs and zags amongst various townships and ranges. Apparently officials decided that anytime the line bisected a municipality it would observe Mountain Time. However, somewhere in the distant past, someone in Murdo must have pushed back. I never learned the reason why. It seemed so far in the middle of nowhere, so distant from any obvious center of power large enough to pull Murdo into its Time Zone orbit. Why Central Time though? Why Murdo, and only Murdo? It will bedevil me forever.

Apparently some things are never meant to be known.

Good Fortuna

On February 22, 2015 · Comments Off on Good Fortuna

Fortuna was the Roman goddess of prosperity and luck. That would be an excellent name for any location hoping for some of that mojo to rub off. I was aware of a Fortuna in California (map), probably the largest Fortuna in the United States. It was settled in the heart of redwood country.


Along the Avenue of the Giants
Along the Avenue of the Giants by Images by John 'K', on Flickr (cc)

I’m sure it’s very nice and I’d love to go there someday and take a drive down the Avenue of the Giants. However this Twelve Mile Circle wasn’t about that particular Fortuna. Maybe I’ll circle back to that eventually. Not today.


Another Fortuna

Rather, I became fixated on the Fortuna I’d uncovered as I investigated the intricacies of what divided Divide County in North Dakota. There sat tiny Fortuna, population 22, all alone on the Great Plains (map). Let’s ride along on a little driving tour given by some random guy on YouTube, shall we?



Hmmm… there wasn’t much there, was there? A church, a gun club, a curling club, a few houses and a senior center.

Don’t be deceived. Look below the surface and every place is a geo-oddity. I myself live in the smallest self-governing county in the United States. I’m sure your little corner of the world has its own unusual geographic distinction too. Fortuna (pronounced For-Toona) was fortunate enough to have two unusual features, one created by nature and one caused by the arbitrary placements of lines by man.

We already discussed the first condition in County Divided: the Brush Lake Closed Basin. Fortuna fell barely within the eastern edge of this endorheic basin. Sandwiched between Arctic and Atlantic watersheds, water falling in Fortuna wouldn’t flow to either ocean. Instead it drained to nearby Brush Lake just over the border in Montana where its overland journey ended, trapped in a gouge carved by ancient glaciers during the last Ice Age.


US-Timezones
US Time Zones via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

The second feature was somewhat more esoteric. According to North Dakota State University, Fortuna had the distinction of having the latest sunset on the summer solstice for any town in the Lower 48 United States, at 10:03 p.m. That occurred because of a confluence of a couple of different situations. Fortuna happened to be located at the far western edge of the Central Time Zone. The zone had a nub in northwestern North Dakota that made Fortuna considerably farther west than almost any other place along the time zone edge.

The exception was a corner of west Texas east of El Paso, say, somewhere like Van Horne (map). It was just a little farther west than Fortuna. However there was a different factor that more than made up the difference: latitude. I put the points into a great circle mapper and found that Fortuna was about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres) farther north than Van Horne. Thus, with that large of a difference I think it would be safe to speculate that sunset happened later on the summer solstice in Fortuna’s corner of North Dakota than anywhere else in the Central Time Zone. I suppose I could also check the other three U.S. time zones in the Lower 48 for their westernmost extremes although I’m simply not that motivated. The Intertubes said it was true and I left it at that.


But Wait, You Also Get This

Fortuna had history. I hardly would have expected anything of historical significance in such a remote area. Yet, ironically its remoteness actually created its importance. Out-of-sight places made ideal locations for a variety of Cold War artifacts.


Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

The U.S. government constructed Fortuna Air Force Station just outside of town, a radar base operating from 1952 to 1984. It was designed to track enemy aircraft and coordinate their interception should Soviets bombers have attacked the United States. The site was completely abandoned once the Cold War faded and fell away. Ghosts of North Dakota visited the old station recently and noted,

We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late… The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged. The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.

The station may soon become just another patch on the plains before too long, however Veterans of the 780th AC&W Radar Squadron still keep in touch.

What does the future hold for the town of Fortuna? Perhaps something fortunate. This quadrant of North Dakota has boomed in recent years because of oil discoveries in the Bakken formation. The population of Divide County increased by more than 10% between 2010 and 2013 (the latest figures available) after decades of decline.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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