Going in Circles

On July 13, 2016 · 0 Comments

For the obvious reason, any geographic feature related to circles will make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle eventually. I collect examples as I encounter them until I have enough to write an entire article. This is the latest batch.

Circle, Montana


MappingMainStreet_CircleMT-7
MappingMainStreet_CircleMT-7 by Kara Oehler on Flickr (cc)

Circle, Montana proclaimed itself to be "A Great Place to be Around" although it lacked a circle. The town followed a typical grid pattern of squares and rectangles with its boundaries aligned to cardinal directions (map). It didn’t appear to represent a case of squaring the circle either. Did the circle represent something other than a geographic designation? Of course it did, as the town explained,

… inherited its name from the brand of the Mabry Cattle Corporation who came here in 1884. It was common at that time for a ranch to be known by its brand rather than the company or major owner’s name. In 1905 Peter Rorvik started a store and post office in the old ranch house and naturally name the Post Office "Circle". The little town catered to ranchers and farmers. When McCone County was formed in 1919 Circle won the county seat, an important factor in the towns growth.

The town grew until 1960 when its population peaked at a little more than eleven hundred residents. It hemorrhaged population every census afterwards and housed barely six hundred residents by the 2010 Census. It seemed to suffer from a lack of opportunity, a common fate for isolated villages located far away from the cities. Circle even gained some minor media attention for its remoteness. The website Quartz described it as "the spot that is the farthest from any Starbucks in the continental United States—more than 192 miles from the nearest green-aproned barista."


Atlanta’s Original 1-Mile Circle



Twelve Mile Circle once discussed the odd circular layout of numerous Georgia towns founded in the Nineteenth Century. The notion appeared in articles such as Shaped Like it Sounds and Georgia’s Enigma. I didn’t realize the same situation also applied to Georgia’s powerhouse capital, Atlanta. Multiple annexations and decades of sprawl obliterated all evidence of its original circle long before any of us lived. I credited reader "Bo" for bringing this curious footnote to my attention a few months ago. He found a tantalizing reference to its original one-mile radius in Wikipedia’s Atlanta Annexations and Wards page.

The roots of Atlanta extended back to a settlement called Terminus, so named because it marked the southeastern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1837. The railroad marked this spot with a stone Zero Mile Post bearing an appropriate inscription. Georgia also used the marker to anchor a transportation hub for railroads converging from multiple directions. Subsequent planning led to a slight realignment of the Zero Mile Post to its present location in 1842 (map) and the town became Atlanta. Indeed, Atlanta began with a radius of a single mile that later expanded to 1.5 miles in 1866, then 1.75 miles in 1889, then finally ignored the premise of a circle altogether and it grew wherever it wanted.

The marker still existed at its 1842 location although its placement became quite unusual. A modern building covered the geographic footprint of the Zero Mile Post so the city moved the marker underground, into the building’s basement. Various websites including one provided by the National Park Service described how to find it.

The Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Milepost, within the Underground Atlanta Historic District, is located under the Central Ave. viaduct, between Alabama and Wall sts. It is inside a building that currently houses the Georgia State University Security Office. To reach this site, enter the parking garage at the corner of Central Ave. and Alabama St., take the elevator to the basement, and ask for directions to the Security Office.

A June 2016 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution provided updated information and a dose of bad news. The Georgia Building Authority owned the now vacant building. That placed the marker off limits and closed to the public. Maybe that will change when tenants reoccupy the space.


Teapot Dome


Teapot WY 1
Teapot WY on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

I considered a dome somewhat circular so it seemed to fit the theme. I noticed a reference to the Teapot Dome Scandal and decided to find the alleged dome. A little context may be in order for the 12MC audience. I always considered Teapot Dome to be such a ridiculous name for a scandal, like it couldn’t have been all that serious given its silly title. However, it came to signify the single greatest act of political corruption in United States history when it happened in 1922. It was the Watergate of the early Twentieth Century.

The U.S. Navy began shifting fuel for its ships from coal to oil, making oil a strategic asset. The government set aside several reserves so it would always have enough oil for its vessels should a hostile nation ever cut-off the supply. It designated one of the reserves at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome (map) and commercial oil companies could not drill there.

Warren Harding then became President in 1921 and appointed a bunch of his cronies to powerful government jobs. This including Albert Fall who became Secretary of the Interior. Fall then convinced Harding to transfer responsibilities for the reserves from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. Fall also took bribes from a couple of his oil baron friends and allowed them to drill within the reserves. Wyoming officials blew the whistle on Fall and the story caught fire in the newspapers. Fall went to prison for accepting bribes, a first for a sitting Cabinet-level official. Harding also probably would have been impeached if he hadn’t died in office. Oddly, those who bribed Fall escaped convictions.

Teapot Dome used to look a lot more like a teapot before its "spout" broke off.

Rock Cut, Part 2

On May 11, 2016 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled across the existence of an entire genre of structural design known as Rock Cut Architecture, described in the previous article. I could hardly contain my glee although there was still a lot of work to be done. There were so many examples from widely varied parts of the world that I couldn’t fit them all into a single article. That made this follow-on post necessary, with additional illustrations from several more nations.

Ellora Caves, India


Great Kailasa From Above
Great Kailasa From Above by Craig Moe on Flickr (cc)

India became such an epicenter for buildings and rooms carved from stone that it had its own distinct subcategory, Indian Rock Cut Architecture. It wasn’t just one culture or religion either. Followers of several beliefs and faiths practiced and perfected this art. These structures rose in numerous places. One of the best was the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.

A Hindu Structure known as Cave 16 or the Kailasa temple (map) was particularly impressive. This massive structure unfolded on multiple levels, so large and complex that it had to be carved from the top down. It dated to the reign of Krishna I in the Eight Century.


Yungang Grottoes, China


Yungang Grottoes
Yungang Grottoes by Olga on Flickr (cc)

Sites featuring rock cut architecture in India were often called Caves by English speakers, and in China they were Grottoes. I didn’t know why. I simply observed that China placed a close second to India in terms of rock cut prevalence and impressiveness. There were several expansive sites, notably the Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province (map). These were Buddhist structures from the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. Buddhism moved north from India as did a penchant for rock cut architecture. At Yungang, devotees carved more than 250 openings and 50,000 statues into the Wuzhou Shan mountains, "a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art."


Vardzia Monastery, Georgia


Vardzia
Vardzia by Tony Bowden on Flickr (cc)

Vardzia in Georgia (map) represented an instance of carving into stone for protection as much using it as a convenient building material.

In desperate circumstances people are often driven to perform feats of mythical proportions. In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, the most devastating force Europe had ever seen. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185, and the digging began, carving into the side of the Erusheli mountain, located in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza.

Once completed, the Vardzia Monastery contained multiple levels and thousands of rooms, stretching over a half kilometre of mountainside. Invaders weren’t a problem although natural forces took a heavy toll. An earthquake caused many of the cells to collapse after only a century.


Coober Pedy, Australia


Underground House at Coober Pedy
Underground House at Coober Pedy by Matthew Klein on Flickr (cc)

The popularity of rock-cut architecture faded many centuries ago. The technique was incredibly labor intensive. In the meantime, other building techniques and materials continued to improve. Nonetheless, this distinctive style survive into the modern era although generally during unusual circumstances such as those found at Coober Pedy in South Australia (map).

Coober Pedy was one of those places that probably had no reason to exist except that it happened to sit atop enough gemstones to crown itself "Opal Capital of the World." Otherwise it was a harsh desert climate not particularly conducive to civilization. For one, there weren’t any local material available to build anything to shelter those who mined for opals. However, the surrounding bedrock was perfect for digging into so local inhabitants did just that and created what were known as dugouts. People simply carved into hillsides.

The early Coober Pedy dugouts were indeed the holes that had been dug in search for opal. Today opal mining in the town area of Coober Pedy is not allowed any more. But hey, you can always renovate or expand, Need another shelf? Dig a hole in the wall. Shelf not big enough for the new stereo? Dig a bit deeper. A walk in robe? Dig a big hole. Another bed room? Not a problem! And always the off chance of finding some opal… In reality nobody digs by hand any more. Any new building work is done by modern tunneling machines.

Many homes and businesses in the area were created as dugouts, as were two churches, one Catholic and the other Serbian Orthodox. Residents of these structures also benefited from a constant comfortable temperature. Whether the desert at the surface hit scorching hot or freezing cold, it always remained nice underground. Rock cut architecture might not be an optimal choice in most places today although it seemed to be a great solution for Coober Pedy.

Literal Roads to Nowhere

On May 4, 2016 · 4 Comments

Nowhere appeared on Twelve Mile Circle before. I guess I liked the underlying concept of a place of nowhere, which by definition had to be somewhere. I mined this topic pretty hard with articles like Middle of Nowhere and X to Nowhere. I referenced it more recently in the latest Odds and Ends article. That one featured a road in Iqaluit, Nunavut named, literally, Road to Nowhere. People in Nunavut seemed amused by its existence and took photographs that they posted all over the Intertubes. I was amused too, amused enough to wonder if there were other roads to nowhere actually called Road to Nowhere, literally.



I ran into an immediate issue, the overwhelming figurative usage of Road to Nowhere describing journeys to extremely remote places or as a metaphor representing life’s unproductive tangents. Atop that layered several songs titled Road to Nowhere, like the one from Talking Heads released in 1985 or a completely different one from Ozzy Osbourne in 1991. Then there were two or three films with the title. Abundant pop culture references made it difficult to find any actual roads called Road to Nowhere. Nonetheless, I scrounged through my online sources and discovered a small handful.

  • Road to Nowhere, Hartney, MB, Canada (map)
  • Road to Nowhere, Burnet, TX (map)
  • Road to Nowhere, Irvington, VA (map)

Then I shifted gears a bit and tried another approach. If Road to Nowhere might be a problem then perhaps Nowhere Road might offer a solution. No dice. There were just as many songs and movies about Nowhere Roads as there were Roads to Nowhere. Eventually I found a decent, real world Nowhere Road outside of Athens, Georgia. It was pretty significant too, stretching a little more than 9 miles (14.5 kilometres). Best of all it included the glorious intersection of Nowhere Road and Nowhere Lane (map)! That spot might be able to make a legitimate claim to being the best middle of nowhere anywhere, or at least the crossroads of nowhere, even though it didn’t necessarily seem to be all that nowhere.


Nowhere Road at Nowhere Lane
Nowhere Road & Nowhere Lane; Athens, GA
via Google Street View, May 2014

It featured numerous homes and businesses along its multi-mile length, including Big Tom’s Christmas Trees.



Did I mention the boiled peanuts? — I guess you didn’t watch the video, right?

I never developed a taste for boiled peanuts despite growing up in the South. They always seemed much too salty and mushy to me. Maybe I’ve never had a good batch. In my experience they were also far more common much further south than where I lived so that’s probably why I never got used to them as a delicacy. I typically thought of Georgia as the home of boiled peanuts when they came to mind so its prominent placement in the video made perfect sense.


A Change of Direction

Then I threw in the towel. I had to go figurative because the literal examples simply weren’t cutting it and I still had a lot of space to fill in the article. Fortunately there were still decent occurrences in the wild that hadn’t made it onto the pages of 12MC yet. The most commonly referenced Road to Nowhere seemed to be one in Great Smokey Mountains National Park (map).


Road To Nowhere
Road To Nowhere by Smoky Dan on Flickr (cc)

The Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road. Lakeview Drive was to have stretched along the north shore of Fontana Lake, from Bryson City to Fontana, 30 miles to the west… But Lakeview Drive fell victim to an environmental issue and construction was stopped, with the road ending at a tunnel, about six miles into the park… The legal issue of whether to build the road was finally resolved in February, 2010 when the US Department of Interior signed a settlement agreement to pay Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the road.

I found another one. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere in Ketchikan, Alaska? A few years ago I said,

It was portrayed in the media as a bridge for the 50 residents of Gravina Island. That’s a bit simplified. Actually it was intended to replace the ferry and connect Ketchikan to its airport. That would have benefited 8,000 residents rather than 50. Still, it works out to about $50,000 per resident.

Well, it turned out that the State of Alaska started building highway infrastructure on Gravina Island in anticipation of the bridge, before money had actually been secured for it. Funding for the bridge famously dissipated after it became a public symbol of pork barrel politics. Its construction never happened. This left Gravina Island with a beautiful $28 million, 3.2 mile (5 km) high-capacity road from nowhere to nowhere; "the road now ends, as it has since it was completed years ago, amid nothing but muskeg and scrub forest." (map)

This article, more than just about any other, led truly nowhere.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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