On November 11, 2015 · 12 Comments

I thought I’d sliced-and-diced my county counting exploits in every way imaginable by the time I posted Counting Down, my account of barely crossed and airport only captures. Loyal reader and fellow county counter Andy begged to differ. He discovered one more dimension when he noted, "Probably 99% of what you or I color in on the map has been driven over or flown into, even if we got out of the car to touch ground with our own feet. But — have you visited any counties /only/ on foot?" On foot, eh? Now that was something I’d never considered.

I knew it couldn’t be very many instances. I’ve lived a pretty sedentary life devoid of strenuous hikes over vast distances. Friend-of-12MC Steve from (formerly Connecticut Museum Quest and now much more broadly focused) once completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I created an article on counties he’d hiked through hoping he’d pick up the county counting hobby, although it just wasn’t his thing. I’m sure Steve drove through a few of the 87 AT Trail counties on other journeys although I’d also guess that his "only-on-foot" tally would be substantial. Mine, not so much.

San Juan County, Utah

4 Corners
Four Corners – Summer 1992.
Utah, Colorado, New Mexico & Arizona come together at a single point

I think I have two only-on-foot counties. One for sure. That would be San Juan County which was Utah’s contribution to the sole state quadripoint of the United States, Four Corners. Notice my right foot touching said county in the photograph above from a long-ago road trip. I circled around the marker any number of times, traveling through that tiny bit of Utah on foot each time.

Four Corners

I had confidence in my memory although I consulted maps extensively to confirm it. Apparently I drove on all sides of San Juan Co. without actually crossing the border except on foot at the Four Corners marker. Even the road leading up to the marker remained completely outside of Utah. So that’s ONE. Absolutely.

Nantucket County, Massachusetts

Cisco Brewers
Visiting Cisco Brewery.
That is NOT the pedaled vehicle we used.

Might it be possible to bend the rules a little? I’d have a second example from one of my more recent travels if that wish were granted. Massachusetts’ island of Nantucket fell within its own county. I never used a motorized vehicle anywhere on Nantucket. However, we rented bicycles and pedaled a few miles into the countryside to the Cisco Brewery for an afternoon of tastings and entertainment during our stay (map). I think I deserved at least partial credit or an honorable mention for getting everywhere on Nantucket under my own personal muscle power.

Incidentally I couldn’t make the same claim a day earlier in Dukes County (Martha’s Vineyard, primarily). We rented a car in Oak Bluffs and drove all over the island.

Municipio de Juárez, Chihuahua, México

Av Juarez to S El Paso Crossing
Av Juarez to S El Paso Crossing by Aquistbe on Flickr (cc)

I wondered if I could expand the game into foreign countries. I’ve been to México twice, neither time using engine power so I felt I might meet the rules for an entire nation. It involved two separate Mexican states so I should also get credit for Chihuahua and Coahuila. However I decided to focus on counties for this exercise, or in this instance their Mexican equivalents, municipalities (municipios).

Several years ago on a business trip to El Paso, Texas, a group of us decided to walk across the bridge into Juárez (map). The smarter bunch hopped into a taxi as soon as they crossed the border and went to a restaurant in a nicer part of town. Others, myself included, just sort-of milled around the border area checking out the scene. I thought it was pretty seedy, with a bunch of shops selling liquor and discount drugs that would need prescriptions back in the United States. I lasted about ten minutes before I grew bored and walked back into the U.S., although apparently it added Municipio de Juárez to my very short only-on-foot list.

Municipio de Ocampo, Coahuila, México

Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico
Boquillas… and the burro I rode in on

How about an even better rule bender than Nantucket? Several years ago I wrote about my technically illegal (albeit tolerated) dodge across the border into México while visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas. I visited tiny Boquillas del Carmen (map) in Municipio de Ocampo. I never used a motorized vehicle during that visit although I didn’t remain entirely on foot either. I rode a burro into town after disembarking a rowboat that ferried me across the border. Yes, a burro. I’m fairly certain it was the only time I’ve even ridden a burro. I should get double points for that effort.


Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls. My Own Photo.

I couldn’t think of any other examples. I’ve traveled into Canada using seven different border stations. For a moment I thought I might be able to claim the Regional Municipality of Niagara in Ontario because I walked across the border from New York for a better view of the falls. Then I remembered I drove up to Toronto on a different trip and would have passed through the same municipality by automobile. No dice. I also looked at my travels to Europe, Asia and Australia and found nothing.

The final tally in the United States: one county solely on foot; one on foot and bicycle. In México, one municipio solely on foot; one on foot and burro.

What State U

On February 9, 2014 · 15 Comments

I mentioned the University of Idaho in a tangential comment on Résumé Bait and Switch. I focused on its location in Moscow, the city in Idaho not the one in Russia, although I noticed an additional feature I didn’t discuss at the time. The western edge of the university ran amazingly close to the state border between Idaho and Washington.

Western Edge of Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID

The distance from the farthest western extreme of the University of Idaho to the state of Washington measured 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers). I walk farther than than that to get to the nearest subway station in the morning!

It wouldn’t take much effort to expand the university just a sliver and abut a neighboring state. It probably couldn’t go farther — the University of Idaho is a public state institution (i.e., not private or for profit). It’s likely confined within Idaho’s boundaries absent some sort of infinitely complicated sharing agreement with Washington involving taxpayer funding, accreditation, enrollment standards, and so on.

Was there an instance of a state university bordering directly on another state, I wondered? I set a few ground rules, and this is where the 12MC audience can participate too. I tried to limit the search to public universities and land borders; no private schools that were free of direct state control and no rivers intervening to block a leisurely stroll. Those criteria would also eliminate every minor office suite with a University of Phoenix "campus" and its ilk that happened to fall near a state border from consideration as well. True residential universities with dormitories and signs of on-campus student life would be a bonus. Examples from outside of the United States that featured international borders would be fine as well although I didn’t have time to explore them.

The search grew difficult even as I slowly relaxed my standards. In fact, I’m still searching for the elusive major state university on a land border. It may exist, and if so I know the eagle eyes of 12MC readers will discover it. Until then I offer my best imperfect discoveries.

University of Texas – El Paso

SW Side of UTEP, El Paso, Texas

Take a look at the University of Texas – El Paso. It came within a thousand feet (0.3 km) from an international border with México at its closest point according to my eyeball estimate, just across from Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua. It might as well have been located many more miles away though, with an intervening Interstate Highway, railroad track, border patrol agents (see Street View), concrete wall and river standing in the way. It might be easier to break out of a maximum security prison than to walk from UTEP into México following the most direct path.

University of Kansas School of Medicine

KU School of Medicine, Kansas City, Kansas

The University of Kansas — KU — in Lawrence, Kansas didn’t exactly hug the border. However the university placed its School of Medicine in Kansas City and that was a different story. State Line Road ran directly along the eastern edge of the medical center. That was great, however, I wanted to find where a main campus of a university matched the criteria, not just a single department.

Purchase College – State University of New York

NE Corner of Purchase-SUNY, New York

Like the University of Idaho, Purchase College – SUNY seemed to be about 0.3 mi (0.5 km) from the state border at its closest point. I’d call it a tie with credit to Univ. Idaho for being one of the state’s flagship university and also with credit to Purchase College for being located near a genuine geo-oddity, the road that New York stole from Connecticut.

Also, I don’t expect Purchase College to ever change its name to Purchase University because then it would be, well, PU.

John Brown University

Western Edge of John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas

The Oklahoma border fell about 0.2 mi (0.3 km) west of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Also, West University Street seemed to imply future expansion, using that designation from the current campus all the way to the state line. A mostly-vacant lot separated the university from a potential Oklahoma abutment while residential areas and a cemetery constraining the campus from other directions (map). I could happen someday. The catch? John Brown was a private school.

An interesting aside about making assumptions: I figured the school must have been named for John Brown, the abolitionist. No, it was named for its founder, a different person of the same name, an early 20th Century evangelist. JBU is a private, interdenominational, Christian university with about 2,200 students, and its first three presidents were John Brown, John Brown Jr. and John Brown III. None of them, as far as I know, ever raided Harper’s Ferry.

Another Puzzle

When the 12MC audience tires of the previous task, may I suggest another? I also noticed that the University of Idaho was only 6.7 mi (10.7 km) from Washington State University. Can anyone find a shorter driving distance between flagship universities of two different states? I thought I’d cheat with the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia (yes, I know, not a state) and even then I fell short at 8.8 mi (14.3 km).

Universities selected should incorporate the name of the state either as "University of {whatever state}" or as "{whatever state} State" for this puzzle. I’d consider other suffixes for schools with sufficient stature, e.g., Texas A&M or Georgia Tech, although neither of those would score well because they’re too far from a state border. Directional modifiers and/or offshoot campus designations would be less impressive, e.g., "Central Northwest {whatever state} at Stumblebum."

Canada to Mexico

On October 25, 2012 · 9 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle continues to generate all sorts of interesting search engine queries, an endless stream of potential article topics. I remember back in the early days of the blog I had to come up with everything myself. That’s rarely an issue anymore. Case in point, someone wanted to know the shortest way to drive from Canada to Mexico.

I don’t know why someone would necessarily want or need this knowledge. One would have to cross through the United States any which way one slices it. This led me to conclude that perhaps my unknown visitor had an issue with the United States. He didn’t like it for some reason. Maybe he was a wanted criminal or an aging Vietnam War draft-dodger? Are the U.S. military authorities still looking for those guys? Never mind. Let’s just say they are for the sake of this exercise.

Maybe he’s a smuggler concealing something of particular value to people in Mexico but not to people in the United States? The query didn’t provide specifics so I’ll make them up. Let’s help our draft-dodging smuggler of Chinese counterfeit soccer balls make it through the United States as quickly as possible. He’ll have to obey speed limits to avoid police attention and he’ll have to use default routes generated by Google Maps as a proxy because he’s unfamiliar with the dangerous U.S. territory he will cover.

At first I wanted to set up a matrix. I intended to calculate both the distance and time between every U.S. border crossing with Canada and Mexico. I abandoned that when I counted 117 Canadian and 47 Mexican possibilities (117 X 47 = 5,499 combinations, both for time and distance). As much as I enjoy and respect the 12MC audience, it’s not productive for me to calculate 10,998 different numbers simply to determine the absolutely minimal times and distances. I took some educated guesses instead. It’s possible that others may improve upon these marginally, and perhaps even meaninfgully.

View Larger Map

Residents of Vancouver, British Columbia probably have it the best. Traveling via the Douglas, BC crossing to the Tijuana (West) crossing in Baja California would take 22 hours and 43 minutes over a distance of 2,223 kilometres (1,381 miles). That’s less than a day! Also, now that we realize Google Maps overestimates travel times, one could probably shave another hour or two from that figure with continuous driving and make it to the safety of the Mexican border posthaste.

View Larger Map

I wondered if I could discover a shorter Pacific Coastal route. The original one swings out to the west albeit it takes complete advantage of an efficient and swiftly-moving Interstate 5. Would a shorter route, one more closely aligned with a line of longitude make a difference? Actually, no. I replicated the exercise starting from the Paterson, BC border crossing instead. Oddly, it was both longer and less timely. Examining the map (above) it seemed to unfold this way because of the wobbly nature of obscure roads selected for the trip. Notice several jogs east and west that increased the total distance (2,305 km / 1,432 mi) and time (25 hours).

View Larger Map

There was another route. It surprised me how closely it challenged the Pacific Coastal route, although it wouldn’t benefit many Canadians. Maybe residents of Regina, Saskatchewan could use it. Otherwise it’s fairly remote from population centers. This one ran from the Oungre, SK border crossing to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Bridge of the Americas crossing. Google maps predicts that the U.S. transit would cover 2,220 km (1,379 mi), over 23 hours 18 minutes. See what I mean? Three kilometers shorter although 45 minutes longer.

View Larger Map

Finally I attempted a diagonal route, taking advantage of the southern boundary dip following the contours of the Great Lakes. It’s a little longer (2,596 km / 1,402 mi) and couldn’t be done in a single day (27 hours). However, potentially, many more Canadians could take advantage of it due to its relative proximity to Toronto and Montréal. This one goes from Windsor, Ontario to Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

The worst option? It’s probably Campobello Island, NB to Tijuana (West). That’s 5,438 km (3,379 mi) over 55 hours (map).

Hopefully this will offer plenty of options for my Canadian draft-dodging soccer ball smuggler.

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