Weather or Not

On August 25, 2016 · 2 Comments

Several places named Hurricane — all found far from a coastline — interested me a few weeks ago. From there I wrote a simple article I called Inland Hurricane. I also wondered if the same peculiarity extended to other weather phenomena so I began to search for more. I found mixed results. Even so I still uncovered some interesting stories so I considered the effort a success.

Tornado


Coal River
Coal River. Photo by Random Michelle on Flickr (cc)

The Hurricane article mentioned a town in West Virginia. It didn’t surprise me to see a Tornado included within the same state (map). I love West Virginia for its awesome names. Kentucky too. Those two seem to compete with each other for the most outlandishly creative place names.

Tornado ceased to be Tornado for several years. According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, an unnamed local resident complained about the name and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed it to Upper Falls in 2010. This referenced a series of small rapids along the Coal River just outside of town. However nobody bothered to check with the rest of the community. They preferred the original Tornado by a wide margin, a name used since 1881. That began a big kerfuffle involving lots of local politicians and the name reverted back to Tornado in 2013.

I never did discover why Tornado became Tornado back in 1881. It could have come from the whirling water of the nearby rapids. Maybe an actual tornado blew through there long ago. Who knows?


Rain



Rain am Lech, Germany, at night

Imagine the difficulty of finding information about a German town called Rain (map). Nearly all of my searches ran into stories and photos of actual heavy precipitation in Germany and precious little information about the town sharing the name. Finally I learned through trial and error that I could search for "Rain am Lech" and get decent results. The River Lech ran through Rain just before its confluence with the Danube.

The biggest thing to happen in Rain probably occurred in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. This conflict pitted Protestant against Catholic forces as the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. War raged for more than a decade across central Europe before Swedish general Gustavus Adolphus pushed towards Bavaria and up to the banks of the River Lech. His opponent, Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly and the Catholic League occupied the opposite bank in a defensive position. Gustavus Adolphus used withering artillery and superior tactics to breach the river, and pushed into Bavaria to threaten Austria. Tilly died of wounds a few days later. War would continue for many more years.

Unfortunately I didn’t understand German well enough to find the etymology of Rain. I started sensing a pattern with my second failure.


Hail


Hail - Sho6 Sunset
Hail – Sho6 Sunset. Photo by shagra4ever on Flickr (cc)

I felt certain however that Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il (%u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644) didn’t get its name from falling ice. Ha’il was both a region and a town (map), with more than a half-million people in its larger area. I thought I’d find a lot more information about a place with so many inhabitants and yet little existed even on Arabic language sites. It had some old castles, lots of wheat fields and a university. The Saudi tourism site included an overview:

When visiting Ha’il you can travel through the countryside in 4x4s, mountain climb in Nafud Al Kabir, or head west of the city to explore the mountaintops of Aja… It is a beautiful setting where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and take memorable photos, climb mountains, take hikes and enjoy nature and animals in a natural environment.

Google Translate suggested that the English equivalent of %u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644 might be something like obstacle or barrier. The town began as a fortress along an important caravan route. Could that have been the origin of its name?


Earthquake


Quake Lake
Quake Lake. Photo by stpaulgirl on Flickr (cc)

Finally, I found a place with a clear, unambiguous origin. Officially a body of water in southwestern Montana went by the name Earthquake Lake (map). Most people shortened it to Quake Lake. I loved that rhyming name; it had a certain poetic style. An actual, genuine earthquake formed this lake too. According to the US Forest Service,

It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide… over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century.

The lake’s formation came with a sad price. Twenty-eight people died during the quake that created it.

Naviduct

On February 7, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle decided to stick with the aqueduct theme once again after the recent discussion of England’s Barton Swing Aqueduct. There were other structures, equally fascinating in their own distinct ways. Some were large, some were unusual, and some offered elements of both. Many of those innovative structures seemed to concentrate in western Europe, an obvious leader in navigable inland waterways.

Longest Navigable Aqueduct


Magdeburg Water Bridge seen from a kite
Magdeburg Water Bridge seen from a kite by Pierre Lesage on Flickr (cc)

Aqueducts designed simply to move water were interesting by themselves, however I was considerably more fascinating by those designed to carry boat traffic above the surrounding terrain, akin to a bridge for boats for a lack of better words. For more than a century the title of longest navigable aqueduct had been held by the Briare aqueduct of the Canal latéral à la Loire, the canal over the Loire River in France (map). It was a magnificent masonry structure with a steel trough stretching 662 metres (0.4 miles). Then came Germany’s Kanalbrücke Magdeburg, or Magdeburg Water Bridge in 2003 (map), considerably longer at 918 metres (0.6 miles) albeit more utilitarian than beautiful.

Upon it’s opening, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle proclaimed,

In what’s being hailed as an engineering masterpiece, two important German shipping canals have been joined by a giant kilometer-long concrete bathtub… The water bridge will enable river barges to avoid a lengthy and sometimes unreliable passage along the Elbe. Shipping can often come to a halt on the stretch if the river’s water mark falls to unacceptably low levels.

The Magdeburg Water Bridge provided a vital direct connection between two separate canals on either side of the River Elbe, the Mittellandkanal and the Elbe-Havel, essentially connecting eastern and western Germany directly by water as well as to nations beyond its borders from Poland to France and the Benelux region. The possibility had been envisioned at the turn of the last century when construction first began. Two World Wars and the politics of a protracted Cold War completely halted the dream. German reunification provided an impetus to renew and complete this effort, nearly a century after initial construction first began. Now it’s a reality.


Largest Lock



Zandvlietsluis & Berendrechtsluis; Antwerp, Belgium

Belgium’s Port of Antwerp locked-up (pun alert) the title for the world’s largest canal lock. It handled 200 million tonnes of cargo in 2015, enough to make Antwerp one of the Top 20 busiest ports in the world, and it "aims to keep growing," Locks were necessary to protect the port from strong tidal actions pushing in and out along the Scheldt River. The locks kept water levels constant on the port side of the structures. Oceangoing cargo container ships kept growing larger so the locks had to follow suit in a continual game of catch-up. They became truly mammoth.

Antwerp first claimed the largest lock title with the construction of the Zandvlietsluis, or Zandvliet Lock, in 1967. That remained sufficient for a solid three decades until a new class of larger ships threatened to diminish the port’s usefulness. The port authority responded by opening a new lock parallel to the Zandvlietsluis in 1989, the Berendrechtsluis, or Berendrecht Lock. It was great enough to accommodate Post Panamax container ships (Panamax being an official set of dimensions for the largest ships that can navigate the Panama Canal). The Berendrecht Lock, currently the largest lock in the world, is 68 metres (223 ft) wide, about 11 metres (36 ft) wider than the Zandvliet Lock.

Right on schedule, however, container ships grew once again to an even larger behemoth class called New Panamax. Elsewhere in the Port of Antwerp, engineers are building the Deurganckdoksluis, or the Deurganckdok Lock. It will encompass the same length and width as Berendrecht, and in addition it will be four metres deeper to accommodate the extra draft of New Panamax ships. The Deurganckdok Lock was undergoing testing at the time I posted this article and was expected to open in April 2016.


The Naviduct



Obviously Twelve Mile Circle fixated on superlatives like the world’s longest navigable aqueduct and the world’s largest lock, although the real reason for this article centered on a combination of the two: the worlds longest/largest aqueduct with a built-in lock. Actually there was but a single example of such an unusual structure currently, the Netherlands’ Naviduct. The concept was so new that the term stood on its own. THE Naviduct.



Naviduct on Houtribdijk

The whole situation seemed odd. The Netherlands was renowned for land reclamation and that figured indirectly into the creation of the Naviduct. The nation planned to drain a 410 km2 (158 mi2) polder — about the size of the Caribbean island of Barbados — to be called Markerwaard. It went so far as to create a 27 km (17 mi) dike between Enkhuizen and Lelystad that it completed in 1975 and called the Houtribdijk, resulting in two large lakes, Markermeer and IJsselmeer. However the project stalled and the Netherlands abandoned its plan altogether a couple of decades later. Nonetheless the nation still had a long dike which, by that time, carried the new N302 Motorway that separated two large lakes. Authorities also built a lock between the two lakes, a necessary step because prevailing winds affected the lakes differently even though they were at the same elevation. However ships and cars couldn’t cross the point at the same time. It created a transportation mess.

Thus, Dutch officials faces simultaneous dilemmas of their own creation: a problematic connection between two bodies of water; and a transportation bottleneck impacting maritime and automotive traffic. They responded by designing an aqueduct with a lock built within it, the Naviduct. Motorway traffic flowed below the aqueduct while ships sailed across it. I don’t know why they didn’t simply build either a tunnel or a bridge for the motorway. Regardless, their preferred solution was infinitely more interesting and it went into service in 2003. The structure remains the only Naviduct for the time being although it has been considered as a possible solution for other locations in the Netherlands. It would be hard to imagine its usefulness elsewhere since few other places face the same set of extreme geographic challenges. We should simply enjoy its existence.

End of the Line

On June 10, 2015 · 15 Comments

Many longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already guessed that this article that would come next. Immediately after a story about the beginning of the alphabet, naturally one would expect to find one about the end. It became an equally difficult task too, except for the most notable location.

Take a moment to ponder this insect.


Zyzzyx chilensis
Zyzzyx chilensis by Pato Novoa, on Flickr (cc)

Zyzzyx chilensis, a type of sand wasp native to Argentina, Chile, and Peru, gained its name in the 1930’s. Flies would view this creature as particularly nasty and formidable. This wasp had a peculiar habit of laying its eggs on flies, which then hatched and consumed its host parasitically as larvae grew. I thought it sounded pretty gruesome.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely off the deep end just yet. What may seem completely irrelevant actually helps establish context. Every site I examined included Zzyzx (spelled slightly differently than the name of the wasp) as the final entry on any alphabetical list of place names. Actually, it was the only entry. Like Zyzzyx chilensis, it preyed upon the weak and helpless in a parasitic manner as readers will soon see.

Zzyzx, California, USA


Zzyzx
Zzyzx by Leif Harboe, on Flickr (cc)

I couldn’t find a definite connection between Zyzzyx chilensis and the settlement of Zzyzx (map) although the timing seemed oddly coincidental. The former Soda Springs became Zzyzx in the 1940’s, during the same basic time period. However I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it for a couple of reasons. First, every oddball website mentioned Zzyzx so I didn’t have anything new to add. Second, it was a contrived name designed specifically to place it at the end of any alphabetical list. Zzyzx cheated.

A self-proclaimed minister-slash-doctor named Curtis Springer created Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on the western edge of the Mohave desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He promised all sorts of miracle cures and made piles of money. It was a complete fraud including the alleged "hot springs" he heated with a boiler. Springer didn’t even own the land. The government removed him from his desert domain in the 1970’s. After that Zzyzx became the Desert Studies Center for California State University, Fullerton so at least some good came from it. Roadside America had a particularly nice summary.

Everything about Zzyzx was fake including its name. Nonetheless, I couldn’t find any other place that began with a Double-Z, and it will likely remain alone until someone decides to honor ZZ Top.


Beginning with ZY


Żywiec polish beer in Warsaw (Warszawa)
Żywiec polish beer in Warsaw (Warszawa) by Ulf Liljankoski, on Flickr (cc)

I jumped farther down the alphabet for places beginning with ZY. There were several waiting to be found. Żywiec, Poland seemed to be the most significant. It had a population of a little more than thirty thousand and its own brand of beer. The Żywiec Brewery had a nice range of beverages although I couldn’t figure out much because the website was entirely in Polish — not that I’m complaining since it should be in Polish — just that my navigation was less than elegant as I guessed randomly and hoped for cognates.

Zyryanka (map) in the Sakha Republic of Russia also deserved a mention primarily because the 12MC Complete Index Map lacked decent coverage of Russia. I didn’t even know if the Russian name (Зырянка) would be remarkable in its native language or not. Anyway, the settlement apparently dated back to the 1930’s to serve local coal mines, and other than that was probably more notable for its remoteness and frigid temperatures.


Beginning with ZW


Beautiful view of Zwolle at night
Beautiful view of Zwolle at night by Ley, on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t find any ZX places although there were plenty of ZW’s as I worked my way back down the alphabet. There were too many to discuss although here’s a small sampling:

  • Zwönitz, Germany (map): a smallish town in Saxony founding nearly a thousand years ago.
  • Zwolle, Netherlands (map): the Province of Overijssel’s capital city, perhaps the most predominant ZW location with more than 125 thousand residents.
  • Zwicky, Canada (map): an unincorporated area (railway point) in Kootenay Land District, British Columbia

Feel free to nominate your favorites.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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