This isn’t intended as a biography of Captain James Cook although his voyages throughout the South Pacific and beyond were numerous and legendary. Rather this is about places named for Captain Cook, strewn about the waters he sailed and the shorelines he charted. He has an entire society named for him if other aspects of his remarkable life interest you.
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Certainly I’d read about Captain Cook in history books as I went through school, however I can’t say I’d really though much about him since then. That’s not intended to dismiss his contributions as much as to note that I’d simply focused on other topics. This began to change during my most recent trip to Alaska a couple of years ago. The preponderance of Alaskan residents and visitors alike can find a near-daily reminder of Cook’s legacy if they are attentive: Cook Inlet is the big arm of water connecting Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska and the open sea. Indeed, "Anchorage" connotes a ship-friendly place where one could load and unload via Cook Inlet.
Captain Cook didn’t discover Cook Inlet. The Dena’ina (Tanaina), an Athabascan people, already lived there for millennia. He wasn’t even the first European to arrive. Russian fur traders beat him to the Alaskan coastline as well. Nonetheless Cook sailed into this specific body of water during his 1778 expedition while searching for the legendary Northwest Passage. Subsequent explorers named the inlet for Cook and the name stuck. Life works that way sometimes.
That never would have registered on my mind either except that we visited Captain Cook State Recreation Area on the inlet’s southern edge along the Kenai Peninsula. It finally resonated once I was slapped silly about the head with the name. Only then did it finally connect with my conscious. I don’t profess to be the brightest or most observant geo-geek.
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I thought it was interesting but I didn’t do much with the notion until a few days ago. That’s when I noticed a 12MC visitor landing on the website from Captain Cook, Hawaii. Fascinating. I’d never heard of it before. It turns out to be a census-designated place (not formally a town) on the western side of the island of Hawaii, the Big Island. It is located along Kealakekua Bay. Captain Cook stopped here in 1779, upset the natives, and died after being clubbed about the head and stabbed. Thus ended the career of Captain James Cook.
It’s fitting, I suppose, that a town would bear Captain Cook’s name here and that a monument would be erected in his honor nearby in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. Except the town isn’t named for him!
Let me explain. Yes, he was definitely the Captain Cook in question. There wasn’t some other Captain Cook traipsing around Hawaii in the Eighteenth Century sewing geographic confusion. The settlement was named in the early 1900′s for a post office at the Captain Cook Coffee Company. Therefore, technically the town was named for the coffee that was named for the Captain. It would be like someone naming a town Cap’n Crunch because it happened to be co-located with the Quaker Oats Company. Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad but you get the point.
By the way, the Captain Cook Coffee Co. still exists: "Captain Cook is one of the oldest existing coffee companies in Hawaii. Since the 1880’s, Captain Cook has been growing and processing raw green Kona coffee." I wasn’t expecting that at all. I would have thought they’d be long gone.
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There are other places named for the Captain. One is a point of land ("Captain Cook Point") in Lane County, Oregon.
Captain Cook Point isn’t marked as such by Google Maps. However the coordinates are listed in the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) so it’s legitimate. I do see "Cooks Chasm" on Google Maps which lends it an additional air of credibility. Captain Cook spotted nearby Cape Perpetua in 1778 so he definitely sailed past this stretch of Oregon coastline.
The coincidences continue. I could have visited Captain Cook Point if I’d only explored the weird checkerboard during my recent Oregon adventure. That’s another geo-oddity I can add to my long list of lost opportunities.
The previous-mentioned Captain Cook place names are all found within the United States. There are plenty of others located outside of the US, in and around and throughout the South Pacific:
- The Cook Islands (map) is the most obvious example: a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand.
- Cook Strait (map): the narrow body of water separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
- Cooktown, Queensland, Australia (map): near where Cook beached his ship in 1770 for repairs.
- James Cook University (map): a public university in Townsville, Queensland, Australia
- Cook Crater (map): on the moon, yes the moon!
I’ve enjoyed my little sailing adventure with Captain Cook this morning. This list of course is by no means all-inclusive; I have only so much time to write. Please feel free to list others if I’ve neglected your personal favorite(s).
The visit to the Alaska‘s Kenai Peninsula is winding down and I will be making my way back home slowly over the next couple of days. Those of you who follow the Twelve Mile Circle for its odd geography can rejoice. I’ll return to a regular schedule of useless trivia that only we enjoy unless something totally unusual happens over the coming hours. Those of you who enjoy the travelogues, well, there’s always the next trip.
I know someone asked me about the amazing tides in coastal Alaska — I seem to have misplaced the message so please accept my apologies, anonymous reader whoever you may be, for the outstanding tip. It made for an interesting visit to Captain Cook State Recreation Area which is as far northwest as one can travel on the Kenai Peninsula using paved roads. The City of Anchorage is just up the inlet from here where Turnagain Arm splits away. Someone standing here in 1778 would have seen Captain James Cook sailing past on his third expedition, on what is now known as Cook Inlet, as he searched for the famed Northwest Passage.
I took this photograph at nearly low tide. Notice that the tidal area extends nearly to the outer edge of the image. This entire muddy flat filled with water only a few hours later. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: "The highest tides in the world can be found in Canada at the Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia… Anchorage, Alaska, comes in at a close second with tidal ranges up to 12.2 meters (40 feet)."
I’ll have to content myself with "second best" which is still rather spectacular.
A town has to stake its fame on anything imaginable in these rural lands. It’s all about differentiation. Everyone seems to be searching for that magic hook that might bring a few more tourist dollars during tough economic times. I get a sense that tourism is way down here. Its the height of summer, the salmon are running, and vacancies still abound. Anchor Point plays the game too: they bill themselves as the westernmost point of the United States and/or North American highway system.
I guess it depends on how one defines "highway." Does the Alaska Marine Highway, an extensive system of ferries extending all the way to the Aleutian Islands count? If so, extend that westernmost claim to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. If the claim requires pavement I guess Anchor Point is a good as any other claimant as any at least until Alaska builds a long-planned route to Nome.
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I saw a number of photos on the Intertubes of a marker that commemorates the spot in Anchor Point. I couldn’t find the marker but I also didn’t look very hard as I drove through a town, passing in the blink of an eye. Nonetheless if one wants to see the actual spot, it’s really a couple of miles north of town. I created a waypoint on my GPS prior to the journey and took my photo when I hit the appropriate point while driving along.
The Homer Spit provides another prominent geographic feature. "Homer Spit" sounds like something out of the Simpsons but actually its a sandbar jutting more than four miles into Kachemak Bay. Wikipedia claims that "the Spit features the longest road into ocean waters in the entire world, taking up 10–15 minutes to cover by car." I don’t know if it’s actually true but I’ll concede that it’s definitely an odd site to be set below the otherwise hilly terrain.
It seemed out of place for other reasons too. The large concentration of beach shacks hawking t-shirts, beachwear, alcohol, sugary snacks and such seemed more reminiscent of the familiar boardwalk scene down in the Lower 48 than the wilds of Alaska. There was even an entire shop devoted to selling every item that could be imprinted with the logo of the Time Bandit, one of the ships featured on the Deadliest Catch television reality show. Time Bandit use Homer as its home port, and I certainly can’t fault the captain for trying to make a few bucks during his 15 minutes. It’s a lot easier than pulling crabs during harsh winter storms.
If someone stuck a Ferris Wheel at the tip of the spit it would become a miniature version of Santa Monica or maybe coastal New Jersey. It didn’t seem like Alaska to me so I didn’t spent a lot of time there despite my fascination with the extended sandbar as a geographic oddity.
The Iditarod is more than an annual dogsled race. It’s also more than the heroic delivery of Diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925, the event commemorated by the modern Iditarod. The Iditarod is actually an historic trail used to transport goods into the remote Alaskan interior. Seward is one of the northernmost ice free ports in North America and is a natural starting point for supply routes. Mile Zero of the Iditarod, the 1910 Seward to Nome Route, began here and extended for 938 miles to Nome. It didn’t last long. Airplanes replaced it within a couple of decades.
Really? Well, it actually started about fifty miles north of here. The railroad did began in Seward and the trailhead extended from there. See what I mean about grabbing any hook?
Other Parts of the Kenai Advanture
Part 3 – Wildlife