Focused on Counties

On March 9, 2017 · 8 Comments

I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.

Square Miles (land area only)


Georgia Counties
Georgia Counties
via Mob Rule

Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.

Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.

I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.


Population (2016 estimates)


Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.

I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?

South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.

California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.

I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.


The Complete Oddball


4th of July 2009
Washington Monument on the 4th of July. My Own Photo.

What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.

I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.

Time Zone Dams

On March 5, 2017 · 1 Comments

Time continued to play on my mind. This time it came courtesy of a random search engine query that landed on 12MC for some unknown reason. However, the notion implied by this wayward message intrigued me much more than the average query. I’ve focused on structures split by borders before although this one had an unusual twist. The border in question also served as a Time Zone boundary. Theoretically, then, not only did the structure exist in two different states, it existed in two different times. It was also a really big structure.

Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam. Photo by Ralph Arvesen on Flickr (cc)

The question focused specifically on the Time Zone of the Hoover dam (map). I’d never considered that possibility before although it seemed obvious once it came to my attention. The Colorado River marked the boundary between Nevada and Arizona. Nevada fell within the Pacific Time Zone (except for the city of West Wendover, a place that I visited a few years ago). Time in Arizona followed its own unique beat. If fell within the Mountain Time Zone although it also did not observe Daylight Saving Time (plus the whole Navajo and Hopi conundrum).

I discarded the anomalies and focused on time as it might be observed along the Colorado River. No time difference existed during DST. However, in the winter months during Standard Time, those living on the Nevada side of the border set their watches an hour earlier than those in Arizona. That time difference split directly through the Hoover Dam. Do workers at the Hoover Dam have to adjust their watches several times a day based on location? No, actually they do not. The Bureau of Reclamation solved the problem for them. The facility followed Pacific Time for its hours of operation.


Elsewhere Along the Colorado River


Parker Dam, Colorado River
Parker Dam, Colorado River. Photo by Don Barrett on Flickr (cc)

This made me wonder whether Time Zones split any other dams. It seemed logical to look farther downstream along the Colorado River for other examples. A similar condition prevailed at the Parker Dam (map) that created Lake Havasu. This dam fell along the border between California and Arizona although the same basic condition existed. In this instance California fell within the Pacific Time Zone.


Farther East


Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama
Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama.
Photo by Mr Seb on Flickr (cc)

Something similar happened between Alabama in the Central Time Zone and Georgia in the Eastern Time Zone, albeit with its own twist. The Walter F. George Lock and Dam (map) stood on the Chattahoochee River, forming a large reservoir behind it. Georgia controlled the river which remained within the state up to the mean high water mark. However, water behind this dam spread beyond the original riverbank that formed the boundary, crossing onto Alabama land so part of the lake belonged to Alabama too. The name of the dam and the lake honored Walter F. George, who served as a distinguished Senator from Georgia for many years. George died in 1957 so it seemed like a good idea to name the dam for him when construction finished in 1962, at least to the citizens of Georgia. That still left the lake without an official name so politicians in Alabama made their move.

On June 25, 1963, both Houses of the Alabama Legislature signed off on Act No. 60 (sponsored by Senator Jimmy Clark of Eufaula) which endorsed the name, Lake Eufaula, in honor of the Creek Indians who once lived throughout the Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia… Not to be outdone, House Resolution 268 was adopted by the Georgia House of Representatives on March 12, 1965 to designate the reservoir as "Lake Chattahoochee."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noting a lack of consensus, stuck with the simple name Walter F. George Lake. That also became its official name. The name Lake Chattahoochee fell by the wayside although usage of Lake Eufaula on the Alabama side of the border continues to be popular.

Lickety-Split

On February 26, 2017 · 4 Comments

I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.

French Lick


French Lick Springs
French Lick Springs. Photo by Dan Perry on Flickr (cc)

The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.

I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."

The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).


Licks of Kentucky


Places with a Lick Suffix
Place Names Ending in Lick
via GeoNames

There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.

The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.

Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.


Big Bone Lick


big bone lick state park
big bone lick state park. Photo by Joel on Flickr (cc)

Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.

Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.


Young Lick Knob


Young Lick viewed from Brasstown Bald
Young Lick viewed from Brasstown Bald via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."

That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.

If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.

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