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."

Geography

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.

Abundant Agglomerated Archipelagos

On March 4, 2014 · 1 Comments

Rather than call this "More Thousand Islands" and confuse it with the purpose of my recent celebratory Kiloanomaly, I came up with a new name. Rest assured, by mentioning abundant agglomerated archipelagos, I actually meant places other than the Thousand Islands poking above the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United states that share a similar name. The latest twist was that none of them were in English so the 12MC audience will get to see me struggle once again with my complete inability to deal with foreign languages.

I have to give a tip of the keyboard to Wikipedia’s Thousand Islands (disambiguation) page for inspiring the notion. I also researched other sources so it wasn’t like I completely stole the idea, only partially.


Rivière des Mille Îles



Rivière des Mille Îles, Québec, Canada

Rivière des Mille Îles, or River of a Thousand Isles, had the best chance of being confused with the other Thousand Islands simply because of its proximity. The river was actually a channel of a larger river system, and one could reach the St. Lawrence from either its source or its mouth. Rivière des Mille Îles when paired with other channels formed the island that separated Laval from Montréal. The whole area teemed with islands, albeit farther downstream from the more famous Thousand Islands in Ontario. It can become rather confusing.

The area included the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which was described nicely once run through Google Translate:

The decor of the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles offers a real landscape bayous, with its calm river, shallow and safe, marshes flowers, marshy forests and lush vegetation of the islands, forming a maze of greenery. Half an hour from Montreal, nearly twenty islands that are accessible, a major tourist attraction and a unique place in Québec.


Tusenøyane



Tusenøyane, Svalbard, Norway

Thousand Islands converted into Norwegian became Tusenøyane, and indeed that’s the name of an isolated grouping found south of Edgeøya on the Svalbard archipelago. The entirety of Svalbard itself was rather obscure with barely 2,500 residents so one can imagine the remoteness of one tiny scattering of rocks along its lower flank.

Correspondingly, there wasn’t all that much additional information about Tusenøyane available. The Norwegian Polar Institute served as the naming authority, identifying Tusenøyane as "A number of small islands south of Edgeøya" with a linguistic origin tracing to "the thousand islands." The authority further noted several variant names including the Hopeless Islands.

I also found a site with several photographs. It looked barren and cold. I don’t think I’d go so far as to describe it as "hopeless" though, well unless someone got shipwrecked there or something.


Kepulauan Seribu



Understanding the theme presented so far, it should come as no surprise that Kepulauan Seribu translated to Thousand Islands, in this case from the Indonesian language. These numerous small islets formed a string due north of Jakarta. Administratively they were actually part of Jakarta, and the city government explained:

Kepulauan Seribu [Thousand Island] is located in Java Sea and Jakarta Bay, it is an area with characteristic and natural potential that is different with other parts of Jakarta Capital City, because this area is basically a cluster of formed coral islands and shaped by coral biota and other associated biota (algae, malusho, foraminifera, and others) with the help of dynamic natural process… it doesn’t mean that the total number of islands within the clusters is a thousand. There are approximately 342 islands in total, including sand islands, including vegetated and non-vegetated coral reefs.



Some Island on Kepulauan Seribu by TeYoU @ Sydney via Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Indonesia created the Kepulauan Seribu Marine National Park and it grew into a major tourist attraction. Search on Kepulauan Seribu online and one will find a nearly innumerable set of websites trying to sell luxury vacations there. This formerly unspoiled paradise may have become a little too well loved in recent decades, leading to warnings of environmental degradation.


Qiandao Lake



Qiandao Lake, Zhejiang Province, China

Qiandao Lake (which was represented by several Chinese language characters I couldn’t seem to replicate in WordPress), or Thousand Island Lake, was the only location in this series created artificially. The islands were a byproduct of the flooding of a valley after construction of a dam.

The Xin’anjiang Hydropower Station, the country’s first large-scale power plant designed and built by Chinese in the 1950s, is still the pride of the local people. It is on the Xin’an River in Jiande city of Zhejiang Province in east China. Moreover, it formed a huge reservoir (Qiandao Lake) with 1,078 islands, which is part of a golden tourist route linking Hangzhou, Provincial capital of Zhejiang, and Mount Huangshan in neighboring Anhui Province.

My favorite quote, however, was "Qiandao Lake, known for its clear, and sometimes drinkable water, is used to produce the renowned Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water."

Sometimes drinkable? Thanks, I’d prefer consistently drinkable water.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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