Hawaii on the Mainland

On April 1, 2015 · 4 Comments

Reader Joel expressed mild surprise at a Hawaiian-inspired spot in Utah that I’d referenced, the town of Loa named by a former resident of Hawaii honoring the towering mountain Mauna Loa. He wondered about "names out of place" in general while I continued to fixate on Hawaii. I complemented his comment with Diamondhead, Mississippi, a locale that had a history of creeping into articles such as Just Keep Turning and Residential Airparks because I have family living there.

Diamondhead, Mississippi


A maze of waterways on the Mississippi Coast near Bay St. Louis
A maze of waterways on the Mississippi Coast… by Frank Kovalchek

Nobody would ever confuse the bayous and tidal estuaries of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with any part in Hawaii. Diamondhead (the Mississippi city) certainly looked nothing like Diamond Head (the iconic volcanic cone in Honolulu spelled with a space between Diamond and Head). First of all Mississippi was flat along the shoreline giving way to gentle rolling hills farther inland at Diamondhead. That’s why Hurricane Katrine gave it such a wallop during its epic storm surge (my family remembrances).

One needed to understand that Diamondhead was a recent construct envisioned by developers hoping to attract retirees to the Gulf Coast. The theme was a marketing gimmick by a company with the same name. They weren’t going to call it Mudbug or Mosquito even though the coast had both in abundance. No, they wanted it to sound like a tropical resort. As the Hancock County Historical Society explained,

The Federal Highway Act of 1956 created the interstate highway system, and construction began on I-10 through the Mississippi Gulf Coast making Hancock County accessible to people from a wide area… It was in this environment that the Diamondhead Corporation, a large corporation with resort developments in several states, began development operations in coastal Mississippi. It purchased six thousand acres of property adjacent to I-10… The first land sales [in Diamondhead] were recorded in 1970.

Diamondhead has been an incorporated city only since 2012.


Aloha, Oregon



Aloha, Oregon

Right around the same time of my initial Hawaiian fixation I spotted a 12MC viewer who dropped onto the site from Aloha, Oregon. That’s when I decided I needed to create an article. Aloha was an area of approximately fifty-thousand residents just west of Beaverton, which in turn was just west of Portland. Yet, in spite of its size and population I found precious little information to explain the name except for a brief mention on Wikipedia.

According to Oregon Geographic Names, the origin of the name Aloha is disputed. Some sources say it was named by Robert Caples, a railroad worker, but it is unknown why the name was chosen. In 1983 Joseph H. Buck claimed that his uncle, the first postmaster, Julius Buck, named the office "Aloah" after a small resort on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.

Indeed, I found an Aloah Beach on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. I felt disillusioned, as if maybe Oregon’s Aloha didn’t have anything to do with Hawaii after all.


Honolulu, North Carolina


Honolulu, North Carolina
Honolulu, North Carolina
via Google Street View, June 2013

Honolulu, North Carolina (map) made me feel better. At least it was named for something Hawaiian sort of, although based on a whim. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, the newspaper for the "real" Honolulu highlighted its North Carolina cousin in a feature article in 2002.

The hamlet got its name in 1900 when James Witherington, Selba’s husband’s granddad, got the permit to set up a post office. "They asked what did they want to call it, and on the spur of the moment, he said, ‘We’ll just call it Honolulu.’" Witherington said. The family has no idea why the name of a place 4,872 miles away popped into James Witherington’s head more than 100 years ago. No one in the family has ever been to Hawaii, Witherington said. "They hardly ever got out of the county."

Sometimes I think we wouldn’t have any weird town names without the Post Office.


Kanaka in the Northwestern US



Kanaka Falls, Middle Fork American River

Sometimes Hawaiian names on the mainland were inspired by actual Hawaiians. Although generally not well know, people from Hawaii worked and settled on the western coast of North America beginning in the early 19th Century. They were employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in present-day British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. They also caught "Gold Fever" along with the rest of the world and flocked to California to make their fortunes. Hawaiians had a distinct advantage because stories of gold hit Hawaii faster than anywhere else, as early as June 1848. They could also sail to California a lot faster than easterners could cross prairie and mountain on foot. Many Hawaiians beat the crowds heading to California to stake their claims so they might more properly be Forty-Eighters instead of Forty-Niners.

Various geographic features in the central California goldfields earned Hawaiian names. One term, Kanaka, a Polynesian word for the native people of Hawaii was particularly popular. Prospectors attached it to mountains, streams, mines, valleys and populated places. The Geographic Names Information System referenced 25 different Kanaka occurrences in California. For example, Kanaka Falls on the Middle Fork of the American River is a well-regarded Class IV rapids for whitewater rafting (videos). Some of the Hawaiians remained in California. Many returned home after experiencing their first mainland winter, poorer although wiser.

I’m sure there were other Hawaiian place names on the mainland. I didn’t have any trouble finding the ones I featured.

Just Keep Turning

On February 10, 2013 · 16 Comments

I think it’s time for another participatory article. The 12MC audience seems to its like little puzzles and challenges. I had to drive to a local shopping center a couple of miles from my home yesterday afternoon to pick up my wife. An Interstate Highway stood between the two locations, acting as a natural barrier, with no direct straight-line route between them. This created a situation requiring the use of several roads both to find an underpass below the highway and then to snake my way back to the desired endpoint.

Once back home again, it occurred to me that I’d taken 9 completely different roads to move from Point A to Point B. The detours and turns increased the driving distance to 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometres). Thus, with some quick math, my little trip involved 2.8 roads per mile (1.7 roads/km). That’s a lot of roads and a lot of turns in a very short distance. Certainly I could find better, though.

Reston, Virginia



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I’m hamstrung by my own neighborhood because it’s built on a grid. Usually that’s a good thing. The most efficient path between two points rarely involves anything more than maybe three or four roads. Only an odd situation such as an inconveniently placed Interstate Highway could raise the count so I needed to look elsewhere.

There are large planned communities on the outer perimeter of my area, built in the style of the now largely discredited cul-de-sac model of urban sprawl. Those seemed ripe for better examples. Some residents have to take multiple roads to get anywhere, even to exit their housing developments. I picked a particularly remarkable occurrence on the metropolitan edge, Reston, Virginia, and quickly improved my result. That’s not intended to pick on the fine residents of Reston of course — I could have selected any of several other communities — it was the first one that came to mind.

The result: 7 roads in 1.2 miles = 5.8 roads/mile (3.6 roads/km).


Kissimmee, Florida



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What might confound the road network more than a planned community like Reston? How about a gated community combining the effect of two awful design elements: cul-de-sacs and limited access. I seemed to recall numerous gated communities in and around Orlando, Florida, and quickly found two such communities adjacent to each other in Kissimmee to wonderful effect.

The result: 9 roads in 1.2 miles = 7.5 roads/mile (4.7 roads/km).


Hot Springs Village, Arkansas



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Then I got greedy. If a gated community produced a great result then the largest gated community in the United States should score even better! That place is reputed to be Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (albeit without a citation). Sometimes assumptions aren’t scalable and this one may be an example. It’s one gargantuan gated community, that’s obvious, with an absolutely spellbinding spaghetti network of roads. The various water features and golf courses also increased road complexity and raised my hopes. However it was more grid-like than it appeared at first glance, using circular patterns rather than rectangles. I generated a decent score although I couldn’t raise it up to the level of Kissimmee or beyond.

Incidentally, when does a gated community grow so large that the alleged benefits of gates become meaningless? Hot Springs Village is 55.7 square miles with a population of nearly 13 thousand. I would have to assume that at some point along the continuum it reaches a semblance of equilibrium with the outside world.

The result: 8 roads in 1.1 miles = 7.3 roads/mile (4.5 roads/km). Good, not best.


Diamondhead, Mississippi



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I discarded size and seized upon the obstacle element introduced by Hot Springs Village. What about a planned, gated community with the addition of internal through-road barriers such as golf courses? I have family that live along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and some of them are located in a community called Diamondhead that seemed to match the criteria. It’s a nice community that happens to have particularly weird streets. I nearly get carsick driving through Diamondhead with all of its crazy turns and switchbacks that drill to the depths of the development. In addition the oddity of Hawaiian-themed names in Mississippi has always confounded me although that’s not particularly germane to the topic today. I’ll just note the dissonance and move along.

I produced my best score yet. Just as importantly, I can reasonably expect to replicate this route in person some day.

The result: 8 roads in 0.8 miles = 10.0 roads/mile (6.2 roads/km); and a variation with 7 roads in 0.5 miles (map) = 14 roads/mile (8.7 roads/km) (if only Malino Place changed names at the T!).


The Contest and the Rules

It’s pretty simple. Try to improve upon 10.0 roads/mile. Feel free to use any of the communities I’ve explored already. I didn’t mine them exhaustively so better examples may be lurking in there. Alternately, feel free to examine places more familiar to you.

  • As always, the default route on Google Maps is the final authority. No additional manipulations are allowed. You can specify only the two endpoints (using lat/long to shorten the distance on the beginning and ending roads is fine).
  • A given road can be counted only once even if Google Maps says "bear left to remain on road X" or "turn right to remain on road Y" or "do a U-turn on road Z" or whatever. You’ll notice that I tossed the second instance of Manoo Street in my Diamondhead example (even though it approximated a turn)
  • Let’s not get silly. We can all find better examples using only three roads. I won’t place a minimum on the number of roads, however, anything with fewer than 7-or-so roads begins to lose credibility. The goal is to produce an example of ridiculousness without becoming a ridiculous example.
  • What if an arrow-straight road changes names multiple times as it crosses town boundaries? I guess it would count although it does conflict with the spirit of the effort. That might be a good idea for a different contest, though.
  • You may conduct your examination using whatever measurement of distance makes you happy. Use chains, nautical miles or astronomical units for all I care, however, please convert your calculations both to miles and kilometres when presenting results. Google has easy converters (e.g., mi to km and km to mi).
  • The results need to be repeatable. Provide the map link or embed the map itself within your comment.
  • In the event of a roads/mile tie, the "better" result will be the one that involves more roads. In other words, 20 roads in 2 miles would be a lot more impressive than 10 roads in 1 mile.
  • Extra kudos will be bestowed upon anyone who has actually walked, biked or driven the submitted route in person.

I would say that any example meeting or exceeding double-digit mileage results (10.0+ roads/mi) or an equivalent (6.2+ roads/km) is pretty impressive. You should feel free to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. I know that my best score can be improved upon however, and I wonder by how much. I need to find a community shaped like a maze or the capital on an Ionic column.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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