Western North Carolina, Part 2 (Blue Ridge Parkway Loop)

On August 2, 2015 · 0 Comments

I’m going to take a little bit of a departure from the usual Twelve Mile Circle travelogue format and actually suggest a couple of simple one-day itineraries. They mirror actual trips starting from our home base for the week in Asheville, North Carolina. Readers should feel free to customize them at their discretion because they reflect my peculiar interests and geo-geek desires. I’d love to hear if anyone actually follows the path.



The first loop involved a lovely jaunt on and near a segment of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville. The parkway included numerous mountaintop pull-offs where one could enjoy magnificent views in addition to the sites I’ve highlighted. Those went without saying so take a scenic break whenever it seems right. This was a route to be savored slowly. We chose to drive in a counterclockwise or anticlockwise direction although it could be adapted easily to a clockwise route or even a pure out-and-back depending on time constraints and sightseeing preferences.


Linville Caverns


Linville Caverns

I love caves and my kids love them too, maybe even more that I love them. We’ve taken tours of several caves during our wanderings to places like Idaho, Utah, Texas, Oregon, Kentucky and even Ireland. Naturally, Linville Caverns — which bills itself as North Carolina’s "Only Show Cavern" (and I have no way to verify that so I’ll take it at face value) — would have to be on our itinerary seeing how it fell directly along our desired path (map).

There were several interesting formations worth viewing although frankly I’ve seen more spectacular caverns elsewhere. The guides also went through the obligatory "turn out the lights and show everyone how dark it was" demonstration so it seemed to follow the usual script. The cave was a nice enough diversion and the tour took only about a half-hour so it didn’t gobble up too much of the day either. The passageways were also a cool, refreshing 53° Fahrenheit (12° C) on a day when the outdoor temperature was above 90° (32° C) with matching humidity. That almost made it worth the price of admission right there. I’d go back if I were driving through the area again.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission recently discovered several bats in Linville Caverns with White-Nose Syndrome. That meant that anything I brought into the cave will never be allowed within another cave. That’s why I used my mobile phone camera instead of my nice one, and the lower-quality photos reflected that decision.


Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant


Famous Louise's Rock House Restaurant

The 12MC audience would be right to wonder why I visited a restaurant that wasn’t a brewpub given my past history of articles. Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant deserved an exception because I featured it on these very pages in 2009. At the time I explained, "This is now included on my extensive list of places I need to visit someday." Well, someday finally arrived and I did indeed visit. Famous Louise’s was famous because it sat atop a county tripoint. One could walk between Avery, Burke and McDowell Counties, or stand in all three at the same time if one desired, all within the walls of a single restaurant (map).

Famous Louise’s got mixed reviews on various restaurant and travel rating websites. We arrived for lunch on the early end, around 11:30, and it was mostly empty. The opposite was the case when we left so perhaps that made the difference and for that reason I’d recommend arriving a little early for mealtime. We had great service and even got a wonderful tip about the homemade baked apples. The food was decent and a solid value. Plus we had the whole county tripoint thing going on in there, with each county line labeled on individual signs hanging from the ceiling. I love it when I can visit places in person that I’ve mentioned on 12MC beforehand.

There was some debate about whether the tripoint actually fell within the restaurant or not. Maps I consulted insinuated that the true tripoint might be found just outside along a gravel road. I got as close as I could get to take a photo and cover my bases, while respecting the no trespassing sign that had been placed there. Perhaps I wasn’t the first geo-geek trying to find the true magic spot. Who am I kidding? Nobody else has ever done that.


Linville Falls


Linville Falls

Linville Caverns, Famous Louise’s and Linville Falls were all located near each other in one convenient cluster. The falls were one of those iconic features along this stretch of the Blue Ridge that really shouldn’t be missed (map). Access required a fifteen minute hike from the visitor center although nothing too strenuous. There were various other hiking options available depending on whether one wished to view the falls from above or below. We didn’t have time to do both so we selected the first option. It was hard to tell if the view would have been better from ground level. That provided an excuse to come back again someday.


Mount Mitchell


Mount Mitchell

I’m not a traditional state highpointer. I don’t have a desire to highpoint all 50 states because, well, I’m lazy. I don’t ever expect to get to the top of Denali in Alaska and I hate to leave an open list, so I decided long ago to cherry-pick the easy ones and ignore the rest. The only highpoint where I expended any significant effort was Mount Frissell in Connecticticut, and that was only because Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest shamed me into it. Otherwise I like the kind where I drive all the way up to the top and claim the honor simply by walking a few feet, like New Jersey. Better yet, how about the little bump-out by the side of the road in Delaware? Or the subway ride to the District of Columbia highpoint even though it’s not actually a state? Those are more my style.

The North Carolina highpoint fit perfectly within that same low-effort mountaineering philosophy. It differed, however, because it was a "real" mountain. Mount Mitchell wasn’t a poseur, rather it was the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet (2,037 metres) (map). The good people of North Carolina had the courtesy to pave a road almost all the way to the top of the summit, bless their hearts. From the final base camp to the top, oh it was maybe a ten minute walk. There was one single hardship, and readers can sense it in the form of little black specs on the photograph — the huge swarms of insects at the summit. Your screen doesn’t need to be cleaned. Each of those dots was a bug.

Loyal 12MC reader and Twitter follower @thegreatzo diagnosed this as a particularly large outbreak of the Yellow Poplar Weevil. They were harmless to humans although nobody really likes the feeling of hundreds of insects crawling on them. Lots of people on the mountain thought they were ticks so it was pretty amusing to watch them freak out.

I’ll talk about a second day-trip loop in the next article.

Reader Mailbag 3

On July 12, 2015 · 6 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle finds itself with an overflowing mailbag once again with lots of intriguing readers suggestions. Each one of these could probably form an entire article although I’ll provide the short versions today to try to clear a backlog. Once again, I’ll say gladly that 12MC has the best readers. I really appreciate learning about news things that I can now share with a broader audience.



Delaware Highpoint
Ebright Azimuth (Delaware Highpoint) — my own photo

I heard from reader "Joe" that a brother and sister were looking to break the record for climbing the highest points in each of the lower 48 states in the shortest amount of time. They were surprised to learn that the current records was held by someone from Britain at 23 days 19 hours and 31 minutes. That simply could not be allowed to stand unchallenged. They were on track to beat the record today, and will probably be done by the time you read this.


Dall Island, Alaska



I wasn’t familiar with Dall Island, however it formed a miniscule part of the border between the United States and Canada, as mentioned by reader "A.J." and as noted by Wikipedia:

Cape Muzon, the southernmost point of the island, is the western terminus, known as Point A, of the A-B Line, which marks the marine boundary between the state of Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia as defined by the Alaska Boundary Treaty of 1903. This line is also the northern boundary of the waters known as the Dixon Entrance.

A.J. thought it interesting that Dall Island was listed as internationally divided with 100% of the landmass in the United States and 0% within Canada. The boundary just touched the tip of the island so the portion within Canada would be infinitesimally small, literally only at the so-called Point A (map). How could the United States own all of an island but not really all of an island? It brought a lot of questions to my mind, too: Was there a border monument? Did the border change with the tides? Would someone get in trouble for touching Point A without reporting to immigrations and customs?


A Capital City


Liberty Bell
Photo by Chris Brown, on Flickr (cc)

12MC received a bit of a riddle from reader "Brian" that amused me. Everyone educated in the United States should be able to get the answer although apparently it fools a lot people. I’ll go ahead and post the question and then leave a little space so it doesn’t spoil the answer. "Name the City: Of the 50 US capitol cities, this one has the largest population AND falls alphabetically between Olympia (Washington) and Pierre (South Dakota)."

Feel free to scroll down when you’re ready.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
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It’s Phoenix, Arizona.

I almost fell into the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania trap until I remembered that Harrisburg is the capital city of Pennsylvania. That may be just an instinctual thing showing nothing more than I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic my whole life. I’m sure people in Arizona wouldn’t have a problem with this one. It would be interesting to know if the incorrect "answer" varied by geography.

Yes, I realize it was horribly unfair of me to use an image of the Liberty Bell to further confuse the issue.


Maldives


Maldives
photo courtesy of reader Lyn; used with permission

Lyn, who’s frequent contributions has earned the exalted title "Loyal Reader Lyn" struck again with a trip to the Maldives (map). Lyn learned long ago that I love getting website hits from obscure locations and has a job that goes to interesting places such as Douala in Cameroon. I wish my job took me to equally fascinating places. Sadly, it does not. I’m more likely to travel to exotic spots like Atlanta or Boston — nice places for sure although nothing in comparison to the Maldives or Cameroon. Lyn should start a travel website. I’d subscribe!


Stewart Granger


Stewart Granger
photo courtesy of reader Bob; used with permission

Bob spotted an interesting intersection while wandering about Waterbury, Connecticut: Stewart Avenue & Granger Street (map). Stewart Granger was a British actor active primarily in the 1940’s through 1960’s (e.g., starring with John Wayne in North to Alaska).

It had been a long time since 12MC had done an article on street names and intersections, and this topic looked particularly promising. I thought off the top of my head that someone else from that era would be a good possibility, Errol Flynn. In more modern terms, maybe Taylor Swift? I’ll bet there’s a Taylor St. intersecting with a Swift St. somewhere. Unfortunately the latest version of Google Maps wouldn’t accommodate this type of searching as elegantly as its predecessor so I had to abandon the search.


Wade Hampton Sacked


Wade Hampton

The last one came from reader, well, me. This time I actually caught a county change as it happened for once instead of finding out about it a year or two later. A county equivalent unit in Alaska, the Wade Hampton Census Area is in the process of being renamed the Kusilvak Census Area. It was all over the Alaska media this week (Wade Hampton no more: Alaska census area honoring Confederate officer is renamed) and Wikipedia has already made the change.

This may be the largest geographic area affected by the recent renaming of things associated with the old Confederacy. I always thought it was a tad strange that an area of Alaska was named for a Confederate cavalry officer.

Highpoint to Lowpoint Revisited

On March 29, 2015 · 2 Comments

The recent Highpoint to Lowpoint article generated some interest. I wanted to go into more detail when I wrote it and I didn’t get an opportunity due to various time constraints. The details would have required a lot of manual effort. Nonetheless, readers seemed to crave more so I bit the bullet and examined every state highpoint and lowpoint, the distances between them and their resulting slopes. I estimated these values in two major systems of measurement, feet per mile and metres per kilometre using a Great Circle distance calculator on the Movable Type Scripts website. The results may be examined in a shared Google Spreadsheet. Feel free to sort it any way you like. You won’t break it.

I’ll begin with a few caveats. The latitudes and longitudes for state highpoints were rather straightforward and easy to obtain from numerous sources, so no issues there. The same could not be said for lowpoints. What exact point along a seacoast should I use? Where within Death Valley’s Badwater Basin should I plant the flag? How far up a tidal estuary for several eastern states did the water remain at sea level? I made a lot of best guesses without complete precision so readers should view data as approximate and relative. Others might run the same exercise and come up with figures slightly different although general rankings should remain similar. That’s a long way of saying you shouldn’t get too hung up on the implied precision of the spreadsheet.


State Highpoint Lowpoint Distance Differences

I took that same data from the spreadsheet and created a graph. I had to reduce the image to fit into the article, however. The actual image was larger. Readers can open it in another tab or window if it’s too difficult to read.

Hawaii (overwhelmingly) and Washington demonstrated the greatest slope between highpoint and lowpoint, as referenced by reader Michael. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was only about 17 miles (28 kilometers) from the ocean so it had an amazing downward slope of nearly 800 feet per mile (150 m/km) from mountaintop to sea. That more than doubled the result created by Washington’s Mount Rainer to Puget Sound. Reader Scott offered that Vermont probably came in third place and my calculations confirmed his suggestion. Mount Mansfield to Lake Champlain descended at 230 ft/mi (44 m/km).

Reader Jacob wondered about the farthest absolute distances between state highpoint and lowpoint, as well as the opposite of what was just discussed, the smallest slope between the two points. Both were easy to discern once I created the spreadsheet.


Black Mesa Trailhead
Black Mesa Trailhead — Leading to the Oklahoma Highpoint; my own photo

I calculated the farthest distances in Texas and Oklahoma. Both extended greater than 500 miles (800 km). Interestingly, or possibly of interest only to me, Texas was the second largest state and had the longest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. In the earlier article I discovered that Delaware, the second smallest state, had the smallest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. That was an odd coincidence, as if being in second place wasn’t good enough for either of them and they had to concoct different superlatives.

Nonetheless, I found Oklahoma more impressive than Texas for purposes of this exercise. The distances were nearly identical and yet Oklahoma was a much smaller state. Plus, I’ve actually been within close proximity to Oklahoma’s highpoint at Black Mesa when I undertook the Dust Bowl trip a couple of years ago so I had a nice photo to illustrate the point.


Fort Defiance
Fort Defiance — Illinois Lowpoint; my own photo

The smallest slope actually surprised me. Louisiana won. The angle was created by an unusual situation; the state’s lowpoint was below sea level in New Orleans so the regular method of drawing a line to the nearest seacoast wouldn’t work. Simultaneously the highpoint at Driskill Mountain wasn’t particularly high and it was located near the northwestern corner of the state, diagonally opposite of the lowpoint to maximized the distance. The downward slope equaled about 2.3 ft/mi (0.4 m/km). Two other states demonstrated slopes of less than 3 ft/mi: Illinois (I’ve been to that lowpoint) and Mississippi (been to that lowpoint too, it’s anywhere along its Gulf of Mexico shoreline).

Michigan came next at 3.5 ft/mi (0.7 m/km). I found that situation particularly fascinating in the context of the previous article where I noted the difference between the geographic placement of Minnesota and Michigan. Minnesota’s highpoint was located near Lake Superior, putting its highpoint and lowpoint in very close proximity. Michigan’s highpoint was also located near Lake Superior. However, the state of Michigan extended all the way down to Lake Erie, making the distance between high and low 400+ miles (650 km) and placing it near the bottom of the slope list.


Projects for Another Day

Other readers came up with great ideas too. Peter suggested that I run a similar analysis for nations of the world. Rob wondered about the highpoints of one state that appeared to fall in close proximity to the lowpoints of another state. I didn’t have time to explore either of these today although I might if time permits or people seem interested.

Thank you all for the thoughts and suggestions.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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