Going Postal, Part 1

On December 14, 2014 · 2 Comments

I alluded to postal ZIP codes in the recent Zip Lines and I’ll carry that theme through the next couple of articles. I’d stumbled upon the United States Postal Service’s Fun Facts. Someday maybe I’ll explore what exactly makes a fact "fun" although for now I think I’ll simply steal liberally from that page and ponder some of its claims in greater detail. Today I’ll focus on post offices and in the next article I’ll shift to methods of delivery. Spoiler alert: don’t visit that USPS page unless you want to ruin the surprises.

Highest



Alma Colorado 2010
Alma Colorado 2010 by Gord McKenna, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


There was a surprising amount debate about the town with the highest elevation in the United States. I explored that previously in something I wrote a couple of years ago. Was it Leadville, Colorado, was it Alma, Colorado or was it some poseur town that annexed an adjoining ski resort? There was no doubt, however, about the post office building with the highest elevation. Clearly, that was the one in Alma (map) at 10,578 feet above sea level, serving ZIP Code 80420.

Rocky Mountain High, indeed. I’ll refrain from making any jokes about the highest post office being located in Colorado where a certain herbal substance has been legalized. We’re talking strictly about elevation here.


Northernmost and Westernmost – 48 Contiguous States



La Push to Sumas, Washington

It’s not that I don’t love Alaska and Hawaii, its that they skew anything to do with directional superlatives in the United States. I’ll give a little nod to Alaska momentarily although for purposes of northernmost and westernmost post offices I’ll focus on the contiguous 48 States. They were both in Washington and not too distant from each other. Best of all, the preferred route calculated by Google required a ferry. That would put it pretty high on the 12MC list of sites I’d like to visit someday. I’ll bet readers in Seattle could probably accomplish this easily. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell folks that you’d been to the northernmost and westernmost post offices in the Lower 48 in a single day? Perhaps mail yourself a letter from each spot? Maybe I’m the only one who would find that interesting. I don’t know.

The northernmost post office served Sumas, Washington, Zip Code 98295. The ZIP Code abutted the Canadian border although that wasn’t special. Lots of other locations shared that attribute. What made Sumas different, however, was the physical location of its post office building just a stone’s throw away from the actual border. I also wondered about the name Sumas. The City of Sumas provided an explanation. It also provided a website that looked like it had been transported through a dial-up model directly from the 1990’s. Wander over there if you’re ever feeling nostalgic about how the Intertubes used to appear including the use of 3-D buttons as links, educating people to "click here" and the placement of a site counter at the bottom of the page.

Sumas (pronounced Soo’mass) means "land without trees". Although lake and swamp once covered most of the area there was also a considerable area that because of natural flooding was a wide open grassland.

The westernmost post office, on the Olympic Peninsula, served ZIP Code 98350 in La Push, Washington. Its name also had an interesting etymology: "La Push is from French La Bouche, meaning ‘The Mouth’ of the Quillayute River, adapted into Chinook Jargon."


Coldest


Barrow, Alaska
Barrow, Alaska by NASA ICE, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The USPS bestowed a tie for the coldest post offices, for Barrow, ZIP Code 99723 and Wainwright ZIP Code 99782, both on Alaska’s North Slope along the Arctic Ocean. The site didn’t offer an explanation for "coldest" although I knew that neither of those locations represented the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska. That happened that at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, when the thermometer fell to -80°F / -62°C. Rather, I believe the claim was based on average temperature. Barrow routinely remains below freezing for eight months of the year, often considerably below. However its oceanfront location and lack of elevation variation tends to keep its very cold temperatures relatively stable versus the spikes and drops found farther inland. It’s also getting warmer.

Instrumented weather and climate observations were first made at Barrow during the first International Polar Year in 1881-82. The modern era of weather observations commenced in 1920. Climate observations have continued uninterrupted to the present. These observations support what every resident in America’s northernmost town can see: climate change is happening—right now—in obvious and dramatic fashion.


Smallest


Ochopee Post with flag
Ochopee Post with flag by Chris Griffith, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Look at the cute little post office for Ochopee, Florida, (map) serving ZIP Code 34141. Just look at it. The entire building covers only 61.3 square feet (5.7 square metres). A nearby historical marker explained the situation.

Considered to be the smallest post office in the United States, this building was formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to the J. T. Gaunt Company tomato farm. It was hurriedly pressed into service by postmaster Sidney Brown after a disastrous night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee’s general store and post office. The present structure has been in continuous use ever since-as both a post office and ticket station for Trailways bus lines-and still services residents in a three-county area including deliveries to Seminole and Miccosukee Indians living in the region. Daily business often includes requests from tourists and stamp collectors the world over for the famed Ochopee post mark. The property was acquired by the Wooten Family in 1992.

It wasn’t a joke. It was a temporary fix that became permanent due to inertia.


Oldest in the Same Building


110708 207
Hinsdale Post Office by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I don’t know why this one fascinated me. Nonetheless it seemed remarkable that the post office serving Hindsdale, New Hampshire (map) had remained in the same building for two centuries, or about a century and a half before ZIP Code 03451 even existed. It didn’t have much of a backstory beyond its age. The town said its "1,327 square foot building was constructed on September 25, 1816, following the appointment of Hinsdale’s first postmaster in 1815." From an architectural perspective, "A Field Guide to American Houses describes this design as a Gable Front Family Folk house common on the East Coast of the U.S. before the Civil War." That was about all I found.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

On October 5, 2014 · 3 Comments

I thought about rivers, specifically those with legs that disappeared for awhile. It wasn’t about completely subterranean rivers, although those were certainly fascinating in their own right, it was about surface rivers with underground components. I knew they existed because I had a hazy recollection about reading something once. How rare were they, I wondered, and where did the occur?

Some quick research uncovered several and there were likely many more. I concluded that they might be unusual enough to raise an eyebrow although not something of exceeding scarcity either. They also seemed to share a common attribute, of being found in geographic areas associated with karst topography. Let’s turn it over to the International Association of Hydrogeologists for a simple explanation:

Karst is a type of landscape, and also an aquifer type. Karst areas consist of solid but chemically soluble rock such as limestone (most important) and dolomite, but also gypsum, anhydrite and several other soluble rocks… Karst landscapes show characteristic landforms caused by chemical dissolution, such as karren (crevices and channels, tens of cm wide), dolines and sinkholes (closed depressions, tens of m in diameter) and poljes (large depressions with flat floor, several km 2 or more). Streams and rivers sinking underground via swallow holes are also frequent. Karst aquifers are characterised by a network of conduits and caves formed by chemical dissolution, allowing for rapid and often turbulent water flow.


Postojna Cave Park
Postojna Cave Park by Michael R Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Karst was a German word originally, and referred to the Karst Plateau along the border of modern Italy and Slovenia. This limestone-rich area was known for its caves. That continued to the present, for example at Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave) in Slovenia that became a major tourist attraction based on its favorable geological placement (map) within the plateau.

Obviously an area rich with caves, a typical feature of karst topography, offered numerous opportunities for water to disappear from the surface and reappear elsewhere at a lower elevation. Karst areas were widespread and so were the prospects for partially subterranean rivers. I found a few illustrative examples in the United States.


Santa Fe River, Florida


O'Leno State Park: Sante Fe River Sink
O'Leno State Park: Sante Fe River Sink by Phil's 1stPix, on Flickr
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Florida’s Santa Fe River wasn’t huge, stretching only about 75 miles (121 kilometres), however what it lacked in length it made up for in wonder at what happened at O’Leno State Park:

Located along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River, the park features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps, and sandhills. As the river courses through the park, it disappears underground and reemerges over three miles away in the River Rise State Preserve.

I thought it was great that the reemergence had such a completely descriptive name, "River Rise." There, the Santa Fe River reappeared "as a circular pool before resuming its journey to the Suwannee River." The gap was also clearly visible on Google Map’s Satellite View (map).


Lost River, Indiana


Water Dripping
Water Dripping by Cindy Cornett Seigle, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Indiana’s Lost River was another short river, flowing about 87 miles (140 km), while disappearing for as much as 25 miles (40 km) of that distance. The hydrology was different than the Santa Fe River, though. There wasn’t a single sinkhole or rise. Rather, the Lost River began normally enough until flowing onto a karst plateau where it disappeared into numerous distinct sinkholes and circulated through untold individual and interlocking channels before reemerging in at least a couple of different places. Furthermore, the sinkholes couldn’t drain the entire flow during wetter times of the year and the river would return to the surface in places. It followed a Swiss Cheese drainage pattern. This feature of the Hoosier National Forest was rather unusual,

The system can be thought of as a three-dimensional river delta. Depending upon how much water is moving through the system, you could have water in all of the levels. There is no other site in Indiana that matches the Lost River system in terms of the dynamic subterranean hydrology (water movement)… The Lost River is one of the largest sinking streams in the country. The watershed is over 200 square miles.

The Lost River reemerged permanently and primarily at a place known as the True Rise. Previously it was thought to be the Rise at Orangeville (map), pictured above, which was also supposed to be more picturesque. Orangeville was "the clearest illustration of subterranean stream resurgence in the famed Lost River karst area."

I also discovered additional occurrences such as the Mojave River in California and the Little Ocqueoc River in Michigan.


A Most Unexpected Example


Donauversickerung
Donauversickerung by Reisen aus Leidenschaft, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Remarkably, I discovered that the mighty Danube River, the second longest in Europe flowing 1,785 miles (2,872 km) included an underground segment, albeit early in its watercourse while still rather diminutive. The Danube Sinkhole, or Donauversickerung, once again on a karst plateau allowed the Danube to disappear for several miles within Germany before resurfacing at the Aachtopf Spring (map). It was intermittent phenomenon. Much of the time the Danube had sufficient volume to overcome the drainage and continued flowing across the surface in a defined channel as well.

Sunrise

On August 21, 2014 · 3 Comments

Strange queries land on Twelve Mile Circle. Recently I noticed search engines referencing questions in the form of "does the sun rise (or set) in [name a location]." and sending them to the site. Since I’m pretty sure those were daily events for most of us except perhaps at extreme latitudes during very specific times of the year, I wondered what the queries actually meant. People didn’t seem to be searching for a trick question or answer. Seriously, some of them were like, "Does the sun rise in Chicago." I wanted to scream, YES OF COURSE THE SUN RISES IN CHICAGO! WHY WOULDN’T THE SUN RISE IN CHICAGO?!? I may, in fact, have said it out loud, or at least muttered it.

Maybe they really wanted to know the time of sunrise? Maybe it was an over-the-water thing, which is where the queries landed on 12MC? Maybe I somehow missed a grand catastrophe this morning and the sun won’t actually rise in Chicago tomorrow?

That was an awfully long tangent to explain that the sequence made me start thinking about places called Sunrise.

Sunrise, Florida


View from our seats at BankAtlantic Center
View from our seats at BankAtlantic Center by Elliot, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

I recalled the existence of Sunrise from a time when I had family in South Florida and I would travel down there to visit occasionally. I didn’t remember anything other than the name; I knew nothing of Sunrise specifically. Nevertheless it came to mind during this exercise so it merited further exploration.

Why the hockey stadium? It turned out that the Florida Panthers National Hockey League team used Sunrise as its home base, at the BB&T Center in particular (formerly the BankAtlantic Center, and before that the Office Depot Center, and even earlier the National Car Rental Center and the Broward County Civic Arena, and probably something else completely different if someone reads this page a year from now). I know the Florida Panthers joined the NHL more than twenty years ago, and yet, hockey in Florida just seemed wrong. It didn’t hit the level of weirdness of the curling club that played at the Panther’s practice facility in nearby Coral Spring that I discussed in Sports Facilities I Never Imagined. Still, it was odd. Who knew South Florida was such a hotbed for winter sports? Maybe that was the point. People get tired of endless heat and sunshine.


Sunrise, Minnesota



Multiple Sunrises

Few things in life could be better than a quadruple sunrise. It would be a wonderful way to start each and every day. In eastern Minnesota, the Township of Sunrise had a village of Sunrise, located on Sunrise Road next to the Sunrise River. Paradise.

Step a block away from Sunrise Road, and one could experience quintuple sunrise by going to the Sunrise Community Museum. Of course a motivated traveler could go even more extreme by visiting the museum at dawn, at the actual sunrise, and I guess that would make it a sextuple sunrise.

I think I’m getting a headache. Maybe I need to get out of the sun.


Sunrise Beach, Missouri


Lake Sunset - Lake of the Ozarks
Lake Sunset – Lake of the Ozarks by Phil Roussin, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Sunrise Beach seemed to be a nice little resort community found at Lake of the Ozarks, according to my quick search of the Intertubes.

In the 1920’s and early 1930’s, Sunrise Beach and surrounding communities consisted of nothing more than vast areas of timber and brush. After the construction of Bagnell Dam by Union Electric, several communities sprang up around the lake, primarily due to the beauty inherent in this area. Sunrise Beach, located on the west side of the lake, was one of those communities…

Ironically, the best photograph I could find of Sunrise Beach was taken at sunSET.

I discovered additional English-languages Sunrises in other parts of the world, although little practical information about them.


Sunrise Beach in Queensland, Australia
Sunrise Beach, Queensland, Australia
Photo courtesy of "John of Sydney" (see comment below)

  • Taman Sunrise, Kluang Johor, Malaysia (map)
  • Sunrise-On-Sea, Eastern Cape, South Africa (map)
  • Sunrise Beach, Queensland, Australia (map)

Too bad I didn’t know how to say sunrise in other languages. I’m sure I could have found more.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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