The ever-reliable Anonymous Searcher provided inspiration again today. I’m not sure how I’d write half of my articles if it wasn’t for the inspiration of random search engine queries that somehow land on the Twelve Mile Circle. It’s my daily Google Love. What can I say? My unknown friends in the general public need to know things. Today they wanted to find the highpoint of Summit County, Ohio.
That’s an easy request. I can find that answer in about fifteen seconds on the County Highpointers Association website. Yes, that’s a genuine organization and I use their website regularly. County highpointers are a highly specialized set of county counters. Traveling into every county of the United States isn’t good enough for them. They also want to touch the highest points of elevation. I’ve done that myself and more than once so of course I believe it’s perfectly rational. I don’t go out of my way in this pursuit but I understand it and I appreciate it.
The County Highpointers identified a location in Summit County about three-quarters of a mile north of West Richfield, at 1,320 feet of elevation.
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It’s not much of a summit but it’s clearly marked right along the western edge Broadview Road at the entrance to Camp Hilaka, a Girl Scout retreat. This is an easy highpoint, the kind that I like to visit. It’s marked by a big blue sign by the side of the road, clearly visible in this Street View image. Trekkers can’t possible miss it.
There’s also a dirty little secret. The highpointers have noticed that despite the claim posted on the sign, terrain directly across the street marks the true summit of Summit County. It’s about five feet higher. I guess the county engineer didn’t want to see citizens trampling through someone’s front yard.
That finding answered the random query but it felt a little anticlimactic to me. That’s a rather inconsequential summit.
BUT THAT’S NOT WHY IT’S CALLED SUMMIT COUNTY!
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The actual "Summit" referenced by the county name isn’t the county highpoint at all. It’s the highpoint of an historic remnant from the early-industrial age: the Ohio and Erie Canal. It sort-of followed the map image I embedded above — while Google provides driving, walking, bicycle and public transportation options, it doesn’t include water routes, so you’ll need to use your imagination. How times have changed. Canals were once a major form of transportation used to open wilderness areas to settlement and trade. Ohio had several hundred miles of canal by the middle of the 19th Century.
The Ohio and Erie Canal was a particularly complicated undertaking since it had to traverse the St. Lawrence Continental Divide. One part of the waterway flowed north via the Cuyahoga River, to Lakes Erie and Ontario, to the St. Lawrence River and finally to the North Atlantic. The other side of the waterway flowed south via the Tuscarawas River, to the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and then to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lock 5 on the Ohio and Erie Canal
SOURCE: flickr under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
The summit happens atop the crest between the two watersheds. A complete crossing required passage through 49 locks including an engineering marvel called the Cascade Locks. As the Northeast Ohio Journal of History described:
Akron’s Cascade Locks are a unique artifact left over from Ohio’s canal era—an era that began in 1825, and ended in 1913 in a catastrophic flood. They are the remains of a steep staircase of seven locks on the Ohio & Erie Canal that permitted canal boats to ascend 70 feet in less than half a mile to reach the Akron Summit—the highest point in on a canal more than three hundred miles long. The Cascade Locks were part of the canal system that transformed Ohio from a primitive wilderness into the third most populous state in the union.
That’s a great article by the way. You should read it.
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The Ohio and Erie Canal contributed to the success of cities such as Cleveland and Columbus. It also created the very reason for Akron’s existence. A savvy speculator, Simon Perkins, understood that canal boats would take much of a day to cross the divide using slow but effective locks. People in transit needed services and this key constriction created perfect conditions for a town to provision them. He was influential enough to finagle a route across the divide through land that he owned. The resulting town, Akron (from the Greek, "high place") quickly became an industrial powerhouse. More than a half-million people live within its metropolitan area today.
The summit of the canal that inspired names for a city and a county was located at Lock 1, just west of the original Akron town center at Main & Exchange Streets.
The history I uncovered was infinitely more interesting than the original anonymous query. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Much more information can be found at the websites of the Cascade Locks Park Association, Ohio and Erie Canalway and the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.
I have a fascination with tunnels and I’ve featured them before on the Twelve Mile Circle including articles on Superlative Tunnels, Tunnel Under the Border, and Tunnels, Bridges, Lifts and Inclines. I’ve also fixated on boundaries and watersheds previously such as the Hydrological Apex of North America.
It seems odd to me that I hadn’t yet encountered a mashup of the two, yet that’s exactly what occurred when I read an article in Slate a few weeks ago. The article wasn’t about tunnels or watersheds precisely. Rather it focused on traffic efficiency versus driving speeds, including the counterintuitive notion that "sometimes you have to go slower to go faster." Colorado throttles Interstate 70 speeds down to 55 miles per hour west of Denver at certain levels of congestion using police cars as rolling roadblocks. It’s an interesting concept and you can read the article on your own if you prefer because it’s not actually germane to this conversation. I latched onto a single phrase… "a two-mile-long tunnel that dips under the Continental Divide."
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You read that correctly. It’s possible to drive across North America’s continental divide below the surface. Technically this is the Great Divide, one of several "continental divides" albeit the most well-known version and generally the one that’s meant when someone mentions a divide without qualifiers. It’s pretty cool even with the asterisk, don’t you think?
It required a little fact-checking because it sounded almost too good to be true. The Colorado Department of Transportation believes it. They constructed the Eisenhower Tunnel in two phases in the 1970’s, the Eisenhower Memorial Bore for westbound traffic and the Edwin C. Johnson Memorial Bore for eastbound traffic. CDOT throws out a number of superlatives as they describe their engineering achievement:
It is the highest vehicular tunnel in the world, located at an elevation of 11,013 feet at the East Portal and 11,158 feet at the West Portal. The Tunnel traverses through the Continental Divide at an average elevation of 11,112 feet… Annual snow fall in the area averages 315 inches (26 feet) for the months of November through April.
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Crossing the Rocky Mountains isn’t a joke. The Eisenhower Tunnel burrows beneath a summit that climbs 12,500 feet (3,810 metres). An Interstate highway could not possible cross here without a tunnel. Previously vehicles twisted around the southern edge using Loveland Pass at speeds considerably lower than Interstate standards, adding another hour to their passage.
The tunnel entrance at 11,000+ feet is still amazing. I’ve never used this tunnel although I crossed the Great Divide further north during a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s an elevation high enough to cause one to become light-headed until acclimated, as was the case for myself who lives practically at sea level.
What would happen if a bottle of water happened to fall from one’s vehicle at whatever point in the tunnel marks the divide? It would probably break and evaporate but for the sake of amusement lets say it happened right on the divide and water flowed unobstructed in both directions without soaking into the ground, etc., etc., etc. The eastern water would travel Clear Creek –> South Platte River –> Platte River –> Missouri River –> Mississippi River –> Gulf of Mexico –> Atlantic Ocean. The western water would travel Straight Creek –> Blue River –> Colorado River –> Gulf of California –> Pacific Ocean.
Clear Creek is quite famous as the epicenter of the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush. It also passes through Golden, CO, the home of the Coors brewery. A few molecules of our hypothetically spilled liquid might possibly make its way into the Rocky Mountain Water touted by the brewery (or be contaminated by it). Straight Creek isn’t nearly as famous and faces it own set of issues. The I-70 corridor takes a toll on the surrounding countryside. CDOT dumps huge amounts of sand on the roadway to keep it open during the winter which then washes into the creek as silt.
I became aware of other tunnels under continental divides during my search and perhaps I will elaborate on them someday. Until then, feel free to explore on your own:
I enabled the new MapsGL this morning in Google Maps. It seems like Google is bringing Maps a bit closer to Google Earth (without requiring the plugin). I’m not sure I have any immediate reactions other than to notice that it hasn’t required any great mental adjustments on my part.
Many months ago I toyed with an idea that I called the Throw the Dart game. That’s where I’d go into Google Street View, drop the cursor onto some random part of the world and then try to create an article from thin air. It worked pretty well in October 2009 when I hit a spot outside of Piedmont, Alabama, USA. I found similar success when fate delivered my eyes to Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England in March 2010.
Then I stopped.
I still enjoyed the concept so that wasn’t the problem. No, it was this image that put me into a tailspin for nearly a year:
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Yikes! Go ahead and circle that image all the way around. I’ll wait. I can guess that you saw only a ribbon of Ontario 527 stretching to both horizons with a curtain of trees on either side. I should have known I’d hit a bunch of remoteness if I threw a cursor at interior Canada when something like 75% of the population lives within 160 km of the United States border. A gambler wouldn’t place any meaningful bet on the odds of hitting a recognizable settlement by random chance here. That’s closer to Lotto territory. Why would the Google car even drive here?
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So I’d succeeded in capturing an image of some inexplicable stretch of rural Ontario north of Thunder Bay surrounded by forests and lakes. It sat unexplored as a draft in the queue of my WordPress blog software, month after month, reminding me that I’d been stumped. I came close to deleting it. Repeatedly. Psychologically I couldn’t do it though, and it remained lodged there every day confronting me. I’d come back to it from time-to-time, piddle around with it a bit, and still find nothing.
The beauty of the Intertubes is that as long as one searches hard enough and waits long enough then something will turn up eventually. Is today my day? Well, maybe. Let’s see if we can salvage something from this location and exorcise this demon for good.
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I’ll drill in a little closer. Ponds and lakes of various sizes dot the landscape. The largest one, maybe 3 km west of my spot, is called Cheeseman Lake. I tried to determine how it gained it’s unusual name and found nothing. However, I did learn that people fish here. In fact the fishing is supposed to be pretty good according to Internet chatter. Anglers warn that one should bring plenty of extra gasoline along though: the nearest filling station is 100 km further north in Armstrong, it’s expensive, and the pumps have been known to run-out at times.
It’s also not too far away from one of Canada’s continental divides. My random spot drains towards the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. A bit further either north or west and the land drains to Hudson Bay.
The last one is best. The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry mentions the Cheeseman Lake area on its Geology Ontario website. It’s also caught the attention of the Ontario Prospectors Association. Early testing has shown anomalous amounts of copper, gold, silver and several rare earth elements. This random spot may be sitting on a gold mine — literally — and that’s not so bad for some unknown place set in the middle of nowhere.
Nonetheless, I think I’m done with the Throw the Dart Game. Canada kicked my butt again.