U.S. States’ Lowest County Highpoints

On August 24, 2014 · 3 Comments

The setup might take a little explanation. I wanted to find the lowest county highpoint in each of the fifty United States. There would only be one per state based upon a series of lists provided by Peakbagger.com. That might lead to speculation that a better solution would involve examining all county highpoints regardless of state and rank them accordingly. I’d consider that fair criticism and maybe I’ll draft a Part 2 where I do that someday. However, just for today, I found it a lot easier to deal with a sample of 50 data points rather than 3,142 because I had to transcribe everything by hand. That was the real explanation.

I’ve shared the resulting Google spreadsheet with the 12MC audience, featuring one single lowest county highpoint per state. Can you guess which states had the lowest county highpoints? I knew most of them although the order surprised me.


Virginia


060314-A-5177B-035
060314-A-5177B-035 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Virginia provided the overall lowest county highpoint with the independent city of Poquoson (map), which was considered a "county equivalent" for census and other statistical purposes. Poquoson’s peak elevation hit only 10 feet (3 metres) in several different places, just a storm surge away from complete nonexistence. It certainly seemed flat enough judging by the image published by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Plum Tree Island. Those holes might be bomb craters by the way. The Corps explained that Plum Tree served as a bombing and artillery range before it became a wildlife refuge.

I agree, a "county equivalent" with only 15 square miles (40 square kilometres) of dry land felt like cheating. Virginia and its wacky independent cities always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into county comparisons. Looking solely at Virginia COUNTIES, the lowest highpoint would be Accomack on the eastern shore with a summit of 60 ft. (18 m.). That exalted elevation would knock Virginia several notches down the list.


Louisiana


road to cocodrie, la
road to cocodrie, la by Gerald McCollam, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

No state suffered more from my arbitrary set of rules than Louisiana. I don’t think any other state had anywhere near the sheer number of low-elevation counties than Louisiana, where of course they were called parishes. I counted 25 parishes with a peak elevation of 100 ft. (30 m.) or less, including 7 parishes at 20 ft. (6 m.) or less. Louisiana’s issues with erosion were well understood. The southern end of the state continued to wash into the Gulf of Mexico as each big storm passed.

Terrebonne Parish climbed to only 13 ft. (4 m.), and barely resembled dry land at all with its endemic pockmarks clawed by hurricanes (map). Jefferson Parish, a west bank and east bank suburb of New Orleans, ranked a close second at 15 ft. (5 m.). One of my family members lived in Jefferson Parish during Hurricane Katrina and the elevation was just high enough to keep the house from flooding.


North Carolina


Potato plants in a Gum Neck field
Potato plants in a Gum Neck field by Tony Pelliccio, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Conventional wisdom led me to believe that the lowest county highpoint of North Carolina would be found on the sandy barrier islands and ridges of the Outer Banks. That would be wrong. I should have remembered that the Wright Brothers chose Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks for gliding experiments prior to the first airplane flight precisely because it was a hill.

The actual lowest county highpoint triangulated to a spot on the mainland nearby in Tyrrell County, a place without sand dunes (map). Tyrrell’s highest summit hit 17 ft. (5 m.).


Other Notable Highpoints


Brooklyn - Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty
Brooklyn – Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty by Wally Gobetz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I’ll mention a few more locations briefly.

Perhaps I could be excused for thinking Monroe County, Florida — the county of the Florida Keys — would have been the winner. It wasn’t. Monroe County had a highpoint on Lignumvitae Key at 19 ft. (6 m.), the site of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. It wasn’t accessible by road so maybe that’s why I never noticed it during my many drives along the Keys.

Much farther down the list, New York featured Battle Hill (map) as its lowest county highpoint. That was in Kings County, a place known better as Brooklyn. It led me to wonder about the namesake battle of said hill. Fighting took place on the hill at the site of the current Green-Wood Cemetery during the early phase of American Revolutionary War, August 1776, a part of the larger Battle of Long Island. American forces inflicted heavy losses on British troops who attempted and failed to capture the hill. Shortly thereafter, George Washington evacuated all of his troops from New York City anyway because he was badly outmatched.

A final nod should go to Utah with the highest of lowest county highpoints. That was a rather impressive 9,255 ft. (2,821 m.) at Rich County’s Bridger Peak (map).


Completely Different Topic: Welcome Manaus!



Manaus

Twelve Mile Circle seems to have attracted a regular reader from Manaus, in the Amazonas state of Brazil. I first noticed the anomaly during the World Cup when the United States played in Manuas and I figured it was an US reader who traveled down for the game (even mentioned it on the 12MC Twitter). However I continue to notice hits from Manaus at a regular pace. This counts as my official welcome. Thank you for coming to the site!

Confluence of Confluences

On February 6, 2014 · 3 Comments

I began to consider confluences while pondering the Confluence Brewing Company during my recent Geo-BREWities exercise. Maybe I should credit Google Map’s auto-completion function for the suggestion after I typed the brewery name into an address bar. It noted that at least one town of Confluence existed. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered two more although the occurrences in Kentucky (map) and Alabama (map) barely registered as pinpricks.

By comparison, Pennsylvania’s Confluence was a veritable metropolis, and home to several hundred residents nestled in the hills of the southwestern corner. Confluence was even large enough to justify its own Tourism Association.



The Confluences of Confluence, Pennsylvania, USA

Confluence, the town, recognized a couple of distinct riverine confluences. First, Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman River. A few hundred feet later a slightly-enlarged Casselman River flowed into the Youghiogheny River. Truly this Confluence represented the facts on the ground. Abundant water descended from neighboring hillsides and joined near a common spot where a settlement sprouted.



(A) Fallingwater (B) Kentucky Knob (C) Town of Confluence (D) MDPAWV Tripoint (E) PA Highpoint

The situation went beyond those literal confluences as I considered the surrounding landscape. Confluence, the village, offered a gateway to a confluence of interesting historic and geographic features within remarkably close proximity.


Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob



Fallingwater, photographed by Chun-Hung Eric Cheng on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Fallingwater (aka the Kaufmann Residence) — Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 architectural masterpiece — perched on a hillside nearby. This was arguably one of the most visually recognizable homes ever built, an iconic symbol certainly within the United States and perhaps beyond. The unusual cantilever design constructed over a natural waterfall has been hailed as a masterpiece.

Lesser known, Wright designed another home only seven miles (11 km) away, Kentuck Knob (aka the Hagan House). This property remains a private home, owned by Lord and Lady Palumbo of the United Kingdom who reside there part of the year. It has become available for limited tours only recently.


Great Allegheny Passage



Great Allegheny Passage Trail Outside of Confluence

The Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail blazed directly through Confluence. This Rails-to-Trails project followed the path of several lines abandoned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and Western Maryland Railway. Someone could bike 150 miles (240 km) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland on the Great Allegheny Passage, and from there pick-up the C&O Canal Towpath all the way to Washington, DC, stretching the ride to more than 330 miles (530 km).


Maryland-Pennsylvania-West Virginia Tripoint



Confluence and the MDPAWV Tripoint

Government officials drew artificial lines all over the eastern side of the continent during Colonial times and tweaked those boundaries in the early years of the newly-independent United States. That resulted in a tripoint for the current states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia very near where Confluence later grew. The MDPAWV Tripoint should be a readily-approachable waypoint for those fascinated by borders and boundaries. It maintained additional historic significance as a marker along the famed Mason-Dixon Line.


Pennsylvania Highpoint



Mount Davis Observation deck by David Fulmer on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

As an added bonus, nearby Mount Davis marked the highest point of elevation for Pennsylvania at 3213 feet (979 m). Summit Post said,

Views from the top are nice, especially with the very tall observation tower, that allows for expansive views in all directions. You are surrounded by mountains, and you can also see modern wind turbines on a nearby ridge.

For a lazy highpointer such as myself, I noticed that a visitor could drive almost all the way to the very top and reach the summit with a short, easy hike.

Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience.

Geography

Capital Highpoints

On October 22, 2013 · 4 Comments

I once climbed to the top of the not-too-impressive highpoint of the District of Columbia, which in fact is subway accessible. I’m all about easy highpointing. The District highpoint is kind-of equivalent to a state highpoint — some lists include it and others do not — so that was a convenient loophole to add another location to my list. I thought about that recently and wondered whether it might be possible to replicate my feat in another nation with a similar capital district.

That required a mashup of two separate lists. There weren’t very many situations like DC although a few were included in Wikipedia’s List of Federal Capitals. I cross-referenced that to the peak lists available on Peakbagger.com. It was sort-of hit or miss since most nations did not have a separate list of state, provincial and/or territorial highpoints. The lists depended upon the good graces of individual contributors to develop them. For example Abuja, Nigeria was a Federal district although nobody posted a list of individual Nigerian states so I couldn’t feature it. I wouldn’t be able to do that for Russia either unless loyal 12MC reader "January First-of-May" just happened to have the highpoint coordinates available for the Federal City of Moscow. I don’t have the data to determine these places on my own.

I found online information about several places though and I’ll list them from lowest to highest elevation.

Argentina


El Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, Buenos Aires
El Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, Buenos Aires by pandrcutts, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

The summit of the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires might be a fair comparison to Washington’s highpoint at a diminutive 38 meters (125 feet) in an urban area. Buenos Aires had a much more impressive water tower, though. The summit was crowned by the impressive Palacio de Aguas Corrientes — the Palace of Flowing Waters — a garish structure that contained a pumping station, water company offices, and even a museum dedicated to water and sanitation. As described by Welcome Argentina,

Down Córdoba Avenue, those who catch a glimpse of this building realize at once that it belongs to another time. Extravagant and ridiculous for some, fascinating for others, the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes… has been a symbol of the pomp of the generation of 1880 and at the same time a key piece for the health of a developing city.

Peakbagger even included an Ascent Trip Report, albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek.


Brazil



Pico do Roncador

The Distrito Federal in Brazil included Brasília, and of course a highpoint summit which in this instance fell within a rural area of the northwest corner. Various online sources called it Pico do Roncador. Translation software told me that Roncador meant "Snorer." A little digging uncovered a species of fish called Umbrina Roncador or Yellowfin Croaker, and croakers do make a grunting noise that I guess might sound something like snoring (listen).

Was Pico do Roncador named for the fish or was it given the name because it was really boring to the point where it might put someone to sleep? Because I’m thinking the latter. The highpoint fell on a plateau at 1,341 meters (4,400 feet), hardly distinguishable from the surrounding terrain except for the presence of a communications tower visible in the distance on Google Street View.

Snore.


Australia



I felt a little better when I noticed the summit of Bimberi Peak, the highpoint of the Australian Capital Territory. At least it resembled a mountain, and actually a pretty notable one for the area at 1,913 meters (6,276 feet). It’s part of the Brindabella Ranges and straddled the border between ACT and New South Wales in Namadgi National Park. The park’s website claims that the park covered "46 per cent of the Australian Capital Territory" which was an interesting point. Is there any other Federal district covered by national parkland to a greater degree?

Bimberi isn’t supposed to be a particularly technical climb although the peak does extend high enough to make vegetation sparse and it can be covered by snow in the winter.


México


ajusco en blanco
ajusco en blanco by Señor Lebowski, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

México won the 12MC award for most extreme federal capital summit, with Cerro Ajusco in the Distrito Federal rising to 3,937 meters (12,917 feet). Like many other mountains nearby, Ajusco had a volcanic origin and was formed as part of a lava dome. One might think the altitude would be daunting however Ajusco may be the most commonly climbed summit in the nation. Why? Because something like 20 million people live within the greater Mexico City metropolitan area, and the heart of the city is only like 40 kilometres away from Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco. Crazy!

Summit Post provided advice to prospective climbers.

… droves of Mexicans flock to its slopes on holidays and on weekends to escape the press of the most populated city on earth… I would suggest the best time to climb Ajusco would be early on a weekday morning so one could enjoy the peak with a degree of tranquility… it should take no more than 2-4 hours (depending on one’s level of fitness) roundtrip to complete.

That’s a little more complicated than the Washington, DC highpoint.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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