The Only One, Part 2

On November 22, 2015 · 4 Comments

If it were Only One, how could there be a Part Two? I discarded that paradox and decided to plow forward. The premise, to recap, was rather simple. I typed the exact phrase "The only one in [name of a country]" into various Internet search engines and observed the results. Part 2 focused on a set of major countries that would be large enough to generate interesting superlatives even though they had smaller Twelve Mile Circle audiences than the previous exercise. I also confronted the distinct possibility that the chosen topic interested me more than other 12MC readers judging by reactions to my previous effort that reminded me of crickets chirping. That never stopped me before so I ignored obvious signs and continued with my little game.

The only wildlife sanctuary designated specifically for the only ape native to India

Hoolock gibbon
Hoolock gibbon by michael bamford on Flickr (cc)

Only one ape (superfamily Hominoidea) inhabited India natively, the Hoolock Gibbon. Well, except for 1.25 billion humans I supposed, although I set that little inconvenience aside and focused on the gibbons anyway. Hoolock gibbons ranged from northeast India into nearby neighboring areas of Bangladesh and China. They hadn’t fared particularly well recently due to deforestation and general loss of habitat. The World Wildlife Fund noted that "populations of western hoolock gibbons have declined by almost 90% over the last 30 years, and it is now considered to be one of the most endangered 25 primate species in the world." The Indian government created the Hoollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in Jorhat district as part of an effort the protect the species as well as other rare primates located within a 21 square kilometre (8 square mile) domain (map).

Hoollongapar Sanctuary contains India’s only ape family – the Hoolock Gibbon, numbering about 106. Other primates in the sanctuary include the Stump-tailed Macaque (Henduri Bandor in Assamese) which are some 233 in number, the Pig-tailed Macaque which are left with a population of 75 only, the Capped Langur with just 162, 174 Rhesus Macaques, and the Slow Loris (Lajuki Bandor) whose estimation is yet to be made.

The numbers didn’t look promising although maybe this could be an important step in preserving the species.

The only French settlement in New Zealand

French Origins
French Origins by Michael on Flickr (cc)

I hadn’t realized that France coveted the islands that became New Zealand although I probably shouldn’t have been surprised given that every European power sought to colonize every far-flung corner of the world during that period. The French sent ships to the South Island to establish a whaling station in 1840 at Akaroa. However the English had already claimed the area a year earlier so that created a bit of a problem for French territorial aspirations. The British dispatched their ship the Britomart to Akaroa to confirm their sovereignty while the French continued to occupy their whaling port. Oddly enough the two managed to coexist peacefully. Over time French settlers began to acculturate to British rule and became fully absorbed within the local English populace. Few remnants of the French settlement remained although it certainly left its mark on local street names (map), many of which are still in the French language.

The only place in Russia with geysers

Kamchatka 2010 084
Kamchatka 2010 084 by Einar Fredriksen on Flickr (cc)

I wasn’t sure what impressed me more, that the Valley of Geysers on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula were the only significant geysers in Eurasia or that they weren’t discovered until 1941. The area was so remote that this spectacular geological formation escaped notice until recent times. Even then, they weren’t fully explored until the 1970’s and opened to foreign visitors only in the 1990’s. Tourists hoping to experience the hundred-or-so remaining geysers needed to arrive by helicopter.

Kikhpinych, a quite active stratovolcano, generated tremendous heat that fed geothermal waters pushing from cracks in the ground (map). This dynamic nature continued to scar the landscape, creating a large landslide in 2007 that covered about half of the original geysers. Another landslide happened in 2014. Scientists and tourists continued to flock to the valley in spite of possible dangers.

The only tea museum in China

Entrance to Tea Museum
Entrance to Tea Museum by Clyde Bentley on Flickr (cc)

With the well-worn cliché "all the tea in China" could it be possible that there was only one tea museum in China? Apparently that was the case and it was located in Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province (map). The China National Tea Museum featured an interesting construction technique with open walled buildings commingling with natural flora of the surrounding countryside. Visitors could walk fluidly amongst several open structures while appreciating the history, culture, varietals, production and preparation of tea. Around them grew rows of Longjing (Dragon Well) tea plants, one of the most well-regarded of Chinese green teas.

The only natural arch with flowing river in France

Pont d'Arc
Pont d'Arc by Brian Smithson on Flickr (cc)

Only one place in France had a natural stone arch formed by a river, with the river still flowing through it. This was the magnificent Pont d’Arc above the Ardèche River, a tributary of the Rhône in southern France (map). The natural beauty of the area attracted numerous tourists, many of whom chose to canoe or kayak along gently flowing waters through the 30 km (19 mi) Ardèche Gorges. The river cut deeply through surrounding limestone, with the highlight being Pont d’Arc where it bored a tunnel directly through rock.

Turpan Depression

On August 10, 2014 · 1 Comments

Are you ready for another installment in my occasional series on lowpoints? I am.

Everyone always focuses on the greatest of mountains and the highest of elevations. Lowpoints need a little love too, especially those below sea level, and the further down the better. I turned my attention to China, a nation that does not receive nearly as much 12MC coverage as it deserves, and to its Turpan (Turfan) Depression in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The deepest spot on the Turpan Depression descended an impressive 154 metres (505 feet) below sea level, which made it perhaps the second, third or fourth lowest point of land on earth depending on the source consulted.

The Lowest Point on Chinese Land.jpg
The Lowest Point on Chinese Land” by KgbkgbkgbOwn work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Chinese deserved credit for marking the spot rather distinctively. It might not be quite the tourist destination as Death Valley, however it seemed to have a lot more potential than Laguna del Carbón or Lac Assal. It is also located near a sizable city, Turpan, with more than a quarter of a million residents, and it’s already becoming an attraction for extreme sports.

Ancient city of Jiahoe
Ancient city of Jiahoe by Farrukh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The Turpan Depression exhibited history in abundance as a site along the famous Silk Road’s northern route. Dynasties came and fell over a couple of millennia as they sought to control trade at this pivotal oasis that later became the city of Turpan: Tang, Uyghur, and Moghul all spent time here. The nearby ancient city of Jiaohe dated to the earliest of those times around the same basic period as the Roman Empire, only to be destroyed later by Genghis Khan.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city of Jiaohe is nearly 2,300 years old. Jiaohe was of great military significance as it was located directly in the path which at the time safely and conveniently connected the Orient to the Occident. Geographically Jiaohe city is located near the nexus of the Flame Mountain and the Salt Mountain, through which was the only course for trade exchanges and military movement. On the other side of the pass ancient cavalries could reach an oasis in the Turpan Basin.

Clearly, this lowpoint of China has potential as a premier tourist attraction in the desert.

Flaming Mountains
Flaming Mountains by momo, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

It is truly a desert too, and hot.

Turpan is not only special for its low altitude, but also for its strange climate. In summer, the temperature can reach as high as 47°C (117°F), while on the surface of the sand dunes, it may well be 82°C (180°F). It is no exaggeration to say that you can bake a cake in the hot sand. The average annual rainfall is little more than ten millimeters; sometimes there is not a drop of rain for ten months at a stretch.

The extreme lowpoint of the Turpan Depression can be found at a location known as Ayding Lake or Aydingkol Lake.

View Larger Map

As one might suspect, a gouge in the earth created by shearing land masses during continental drift might serve as an excellent basin to catch water. Ayding Lake was indeed an impressive body of water into the early part of the 20th Century. Its name derived from the Uygur word for Moonlight, "gaining the name for the lake water as bright and beautiful as moonlight."

Today it might be described better as a cautionary tale or an ecological disaster. People siphoned the waters of Ayding Lake primarily for agriculture. Now instead of a large lake "…you won’t see moonlit water. What you can see is perhaps dried mud and salt beds."


Farthest Inland Port

On March 20, 2014 · 4 Comments

I’ve discussed the port at Duluth, Minnesota before and even created a travel page for it. I was particularly fascinated with the bit of trivia that Duluth was a significant seaport even though it was located 2,342 miles (3,770 kilometres) from its eventual outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.

Port of Duluth
My Own Photo

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority described itself as "the largest, farthest-inland freshwater port." Maybe that was the case and maybe that was hyperbole. Claims are cheap. Either way I though I should check into this a little further and see what other candidates might exist. I discovered a very useful website in the process, the World Port Source, which provided interactive maps by inland waterway.

Like all my geo-oddity searches, I establish some ground rules. I was looking for a port, most importantly. That was far different than the longest navigable river. Anyone could take a canoe farther upstream. I was looking for recognized port facilities that supported commercial shipping. That was also different than the farthest point upriver negotiable by an oceangoing deep-draft ship. One simply won’t be able to get a large oil tanker hundreds of miles upstream. So those were the general parameters.

Duluth, Minnesota, USA

Duluth would be tough to beat. It definitely held the record for North America. Canada did well also with the Port of Thunder Bay — like Duluth, on Lake Superior — although Duluth was at the farthest extreme of the lake so that increased its distance from the Atlantic.

Port of Lewiston, Idaho, USA

The Port of Lewiston, Idaho was the farthest U.S. inland port from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia and Snake Rivers, some 465 river miles (750 km) upstream. It also had the distinction of being the only port city in the state of Idaho, which was an interesting bit of trivia worth filing away and retrieving at a strategic time. Maybe I’ll use that one on my wife some day just to watch her eyes roll.

For the Mississippi River watershed and the Gulf of Mexico though, the farthest inland port was either Minneapolis or St. Paul. The Port of Minneapolis might not exist anymore because city officials were eager to get rid of it as recently as 2012. That would hand the honor over to the nearby Port of St. Paul about 1,670 miles (2,690 km) upriver from the Gulf.

I then turned to the aforementioned World Port Source to examine additional extremities outside of North America.

Amazon River – Iquitos, Peru

Port of Iquitos, Peru

The vastness of the Amazon River truly amazed me. Notice the placement of Iquitos, Peru, and specifically how far west it fell on the South American continent. Ponder for a moment that the waterway it sits upon drains to the east.

Belèn, Iquitos. Stilted burrow by Stefe on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

The Port of Iquitos, Peru can be accessed after traveling upriver some 2,300 miles (3,700 km) which put it in the same ballpark as Duluth. One location might be slightly farther inland than the other, or not, although either way they were essentially analogous for practical purposes. World Port Source noted:

The Port of Iquitos became important to the country in the late 19th Century with the rubber boom. The Port of Iquitos is the biggest city in Peru’s rainforest and the capital of the large Department of Loreto. Many think that the Port of Iquitos is the biggest city in the world that roads do not reach. In 2005, almost 154 thousand people lived in the Port of Iquitos

"The biggest city in the world that roads do not reach!" — more fascinating trivia. Is someone writing these down?

Yangtze River – Yibin, Sichuan, China

Yibin, Sichuan, China

Once again, ponder the distance the Yangtze River penetrates inland to the Port of Yibin. It was hard for me to find an exact figure on the river miles between Yibin and the East China Sea. By extrapolation it seemed to be about 1,750 miles (2,800 km).

huge cities, huge rivers by joan vila on flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Certainly one could travel much farther upriver although Yibin seemed to be the final commercial port, and it’s become quite active. I found a recent article in SeaNews that described how train locomotives made in Sichuan were being shipped internationally from the Yibin port. The article also said that as of January 2014, "Cargo vessels of 1,000 tonnes can sail between the port and the sea year round."

I didn’t have time to consider every possibility for farthest inland port. Additional candidates could include the Port of Tver, Russia on the Volga River system or the Port of Kelheim, Germany on the Danube River system. Still it satisfied my curiosity. It confirmed that freighters could sail mighty far inland on multiple continents.

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