Gibraltaresque

On May 21, 2017 · 2 Comments

I didn’t intent to feature Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. I talked about that one before. For example, a major road crossed its airport runway. Fun stuff!


The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar. Photo by Stian Olsen on Flickr (cc)

One other little tidbit interested me too, its etymology. Gibraltar came from the name of an Arab or Berber military leader, a Muslim, who crossed the straight and invaded Visigothic Hispania sometime around the year 710. They called him Tariq ibn Ziyad and the place where he crossed into Europe became Jebel el Tarik, the mountain of Tarik. Somehow Spanish speakers converted Jebel el Tarik into Gibraltar.

Interesting tangent aside, I actually wanted to focus on places named Gibraltar other than the famous Gibraltar. Longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably noticed how one article often led to additional articles. That happened here too. Remember Borders of Lago de Maracaibo? Well, I noticed that the Sucre exclave in Venezuela’s Zulia state also contained a town called Gibraltar.


Gibraltar in Venezuela


Cristo Negro
Cristo Negro on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Once this smallish town of 4,000 residents held an exalted position in Spain’s colonial dominion. The empire needed a trade route into the continental interior from the north. Lake Maracaibo provided a means to penetrate deep into South America from the proper direction. The southern tip of the lake offered the nearest access to the settlement of Mérida in the Andes Mountains. A harbor would be really useful right there, and that led to the founding of San Antonio de Gibraltar in 1592 (map). Spain sent Gonzalo Piña Ludueña to the New World to make it happen and he came from Gibraltar. Thus, he provided a name for the new port. Agricultural products could now be extracted from the area to help feed the rest of Spain’s Caribbean possessions.

That didn’t mean Gibraltar existed peacefully. Pirates attacked incessantly for much of the Seventeenth Century. They sacked and looted Gibraltar at least a half dozen times between 1642 and 1678.

Native inhabitants also took their toll on Gibraltar. They attacked several times, the worst occurring in 1600. In that raid they tried to burn a large crucifix hanging in the local church. It would not burn and it became a revered object, the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) of Gibraltar. Officials moved their relic to Maracaibo for safekeeping until Gibraltar could be rebuilt. Unfortunately for Gibraltar, the residents of Maracaibo took a liking to the Cristo Negro and didn’t want to return it. Then the local council decided on a solution. They placed the crucifix on a boat without a crew and let God’s will determine where it should go. The wind blew it back to Maracaibo where it remains in its cathedral to this day, now called the Cristo Negro de Maracaibo.


Gibraltar in Australia


Gibraltar Rocks
Gibraltar Rocks. Photo by jennofarc on Flickr (cc)

I saw Gibraltar in Australia too. First I noticed Gibraltar Peak near Canberra (map). I liked that it fell within the confines of the Australian Capital Territory. Nothing more. Lots of peaks in the ACT towered above its 1,038 metre (3,406 ft) summit. Given that, I wondered why they named it Gibraltar. It did include some cliffs and a geological feature called the "Gibraltar Rocks" near its summit. Maybe it had a slight resemblance to the original. I couldn’t tell. It seemed like a nice area to visit either way. Gibraltar and other parts of the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve hosted tons of hiking and climbing trails.

Australia also contained an entire Gibraltar Range of mountains (map) in New South Wales within a national park of the same name. However none of the individual peaks appeared to be named Gibraltar, just the collective. The Gibraltar Range summit reached 1,106 metres (3,600 feet).

Other Gibraltar promontories existed elsewhere in Australia.


Gibraltar in Canada



The Geographic Board of Canada said that Alberta’s Gibraltar Mountain got its name because of its "fancied resemblance to the famous rock." It reached an altitude of 2,665 meters (8,743 feet), a part of the Canadian Rockies. The bivouac.com website included a photograph and offered additional information,

It was named in 1928 because some thought it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea. In the summer of 1918 three young men working at the Burns coal mine ascended the mountain. While on the summit one of them was near the edge of the cliff when wind gusts pushed one of them over the edge and the body was never found. 40 years later when the buildings of the old Burns mine were about to be razed, a trunk with some of the victims belongings was found.

I agreed, I could see a passing resemblance between the mountain in Alberta and the actual Gibraltar. Also, people should stay away from the edges of cliffs. Wind gusts and such.


Gibraltar in the United States


Gibraltar, Michigan
Gibraltar, Michigan. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)

Lots of Gibraltar places and geographic features existed within the United States too. I chose to focus on the City of Gibraltar mostly because it seemed to have the best online presence (map). The name clearly referred to the original in Europe, however it didn’t have any meaningful promontories. No rock towered above the rest. In fact it looked basically featureless, almost completely flat. I guessed the name referred to the city’s geographic position on the Detroit River instead. At Gibraltar the river flowed into Lake Erie, directly across from Canada. It seemed to be something akin to the strategic placement of the more famous Gibraltar.

Too bad I didn’t notice this place when I posted Venice of Whatever. A book written for the Gibraltar Historical Museum described Gibraltar as the "Venice of Michigan." Several canals ringed the islands forming much of the eastern side of town. Many of its five thousand residents lived on those islands with instant access to lake Erie. Clearly the inhabitants of Michigan’s Gibraltar loved their European analogies.

Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

On July 31, 2016 · Comments Off on Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

A Simple Observation

I checked the Twelve Mile Circle dashboard this morning. The 1,276th article posted on Wednesday. I still cannot believe I came up with so many different topics. I do know that my writing evolved since that initial post on November 6, 2007. Early articles contained few words. Now I delve farther into the details and average closer to a thousand words an article, although I post a little less frequently. Even so, I think the 12MC audience gets more writing from me at least by total word count.

As I look back nearly nine years, I sometimes regret that I covered many of the most amazing geo-oddities with so little explanation. The world held only so many truly weird geographic bits, probably a lot fewer than 1,276, and I explored them with barely a couple of hundred words. Sometimes I wish I could take a "do over," and erase what I wrote years ago, and replace it with something more deserving of the subject matter. However that wouldn’t be fair so I won’t try to change the past. On the other hand, the Michigan trip offered a great opportunity to create an addendum for the very oldest 12MC articles.


Lost Peninsula


Lost Peninsula

Michigan’s Lost Peninsula (map) appeared as the first real article on Twelve Mile Circle, one day after I posted a simple Introduction and Purpose. I don’t remember why I selected the peninsula for such a prominent position. I doubt I gave it much thought because I felt pretty skeptical that 12MC would last more than a few weeks. Exclaves always fascinated me and there stood an example of a chunk of Michigan that could only be approached by land from Ohio. Reader "Jim C." later visited the Lost Peninsula and provided a bunch of photos in 2009. I posted those in a follow-up article called Lost Again.

Briefly, the anomaly existed as a result of the bloodless Toledo War. Ohio and Michigan disagreed on their border because of conflicting legislation passed by the Federal government. They both claimed a narrow strip, although it covered 468 square mile (1,210 square kilometres) when measured across the length of their disputed border. Ohio blocked Michigan’s attempts to become a state because of their unresolved issue. The two rallied their militias and faced-off in what might best be described as a yelling match. Nobody fired a shot. President Andrew Jackson and Congress eventually sided with Ohio. Michigan ceded the Toledo Strip in 1836 and received the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize; land considered basically worthless at the time. History proved that Michigan probably got the better end of the bargain.

I finally made it to the Lost Peninsula in person on the way to our ultimate destination in Grand Rapids. It seemed busier than I expected until I considered we’d arrived on the Fourth of July weekend. The peninsula included a large marina and I guess everyone wanted to get onto Lake Erie for the day. A gate separated the marina from the rest of the peninsula. A separate gate blocked access to its residential area. Normal visitors could cross the border, take a photo of the sign, eat at a waterfront restaurant and that was about it. Otherwise it was rather unremarkable.

They needed to trim the shrubs. The signs and markers will be unreadable in a couple of years.


Howder Street


Howder Street

I knew exactly why Howder Street (map) appeared as the third article on 12MC. No other street with my surname existed anywhere in the world, or so I thought. Years later I also found Dr. Howder Road in Pennsylvania. However, even then, Howder Street in Hillsdale, Michigan remained the only one named for someone verifiably related to me.

That article also received the very first comment on Twelve Mile Circle. It dropped onto the page barely three hours after I posted my story. I don’t know how the guy found it because I certainly didn’t have an audience then. He must have had an alert set to Hillsdale College on his newsreader or something like that. Even so I remember thinking that this was going to be easy. I’d write articles and comments would magically appear without any other special effort on my part. What blissful naïveté. Many of you write your own blogs (or used to) and would probably agree that it’s hard work. Right? If I only knew that then. It wouldn’t have stopped me from writing although maybe it would have softened the blow when the next batch of articles got little attention.

Today I’m used to the complete obscurity of 12MC so it doesn’t phase me. I write for myself on my own personal journey of learning and discovery. Visitors are always welcome.


A Little Tangent

Howder Street wasn’t the only bit of family history during my Michigan visit. My great-great grandfather John Howder died in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. He led a difficult life, including two enlistments in the Union army during the Civil War. He survived some pretty brutal combat at the siege of Petersburg and in the Appomattox campaigns during his second enlistment. From research I conducted it seemed he abandoned his family after the war and headed to Michigan to become a lumberjack. We’ll never know if he experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or if he was simply a jerk.

During his final years he suffered from dementia amongst other ailments, and died destitute at the Home in 1903 (map). It felt strange to walk down some of the same streets, looking at some of the same 19th Century buildings, that John Howder would have observed during his years there. I didn’t feel any need to search for his gravesite, although maybe I should have made more of an effort in retrospect. Maybe next time. Maybe another do over.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Sunrise and Sunset over Water

On February 21, 2010 · 15 Comments

I posted an article on east coast sunsets over water nearly a lifetime ago in Internet time, way back in November 2008. I described peculiar instances where observers could experience sunsets totally over water on the eastern coast of the United States.

Think about it. People on the eastern side of any landmass don’t have many opportunities to view sunsets over water. Sure, they’re offered opportunities to observe sunrises over water just about anywhere but sunsets are another matter entirely. Those places do exist in a few lucky spots under optimal geographic conditions, and we had lots of fun exploring them vicariously.

Next we flipped the concept over to its opposite side and searched for west coast sunrises totally over water. We proved that it sometimes happens in the United States. However it occurs much less frequently than their eastern counterparts due to coastal mountains interfering with the line of sight and other factors. Once again we had a great time in the process.


Port Angeles Eastern Horizon
Theoretical west coast sunrise over water at Port Angeles, Washington, created in Google Earth


This has entertained me ever since. I’ve searched maps for variations on these phenomena, not obsessively but from occasionally as the notion struck me. I’ve been trying to discover spots – anywhere, not just the United States – where it should be possible to observe both a sunrise and a sunset totally over water from the same position each day.

This requires an alignment of somewhat unusual and specific conditions. The landform needs to be extremely narrow, maybe a needle-like peninsula, a razor-thin isthmus, the sandspit of a tombolo or something of that nature. This geographic feature needs to be aligned roughly North-South and with consideration to axial tilt. Finally any other landform either east or west needs to be at least several kilometres away to remain beyond the sight horizon.

Under these ideal conditions, hypothetically, I should be able to observe the rising sun float from the waters each morning as I sipped my coffee and follow the setting sun as it dipped back into the sea in the evening while I enjoyed a cocktail, all from the lovely deck of my fictional beach home that I’d construct specifically for this purpose. This will take place after I win the lotto of course.

I’ve found many places where this phenomenon might exist, at least theoretically. Squiggly shorelines with lots of peninsulas are a good bet. I’ve compiled a few promising spots.

My most promising candidate, however, is Point Pelee in Ontario, Canada. Does that place sound familiar? Why yes, of course, it’s the southernmost point on mainland Canada. It also represents a rare double geo-anomaly, which means that I really need to add this feature to my travel wish list.



View Larger Map

Let’s bounce Point Pelee against the criteria: Needle-like peninsula; north-south configuration; and distant landforms well beyond the horizon both east and west. Point Pelee matches these perfectly, almost like someone designed it for this purpose. It’s an amazingly triangular landform jutting directly into Lake Erie due south from mainland Ontario with nothing else close enough nearby to obscure the daily path of the sun at any time of the year.

Let’s double check with an image. Street View doesn’t enter the park currently but it does go right up to the entrance. I see nothing but water due west. The eastern shore of Lake Erie is even further away.



View Larger Map

Ample evidence also exists on the various photo sharing websites. Here’s a recent example from the tip of the point looking north on Flickr. Set a house right at the base of the treeline and it will be perfectly situated to experience daily sunrises and sunsets over water.

Perfect. I’ve found no other place on the planet better situated geographically to take advantage of a sunrise and sunset over water from the same spot. There’s only one problem: it’s a National Park. I don’t think they’ll let me build my beach house here. Also biting flies live here. Lots of them. I take heed when the second item on the Park’s Frequently Asked Questions page says, "What are those biting flies?"

They are called stable flies and they look a lot like a housefly in size and colour. In order for the females to lay eggs, they feed on the blood of animals and humans. Since insect repellent is not effective against stable flies because they hunt by sight versus by smell like mosquitoes, to protect yourself and still have an enjoyable experience at the park, wear loose light-coloured clothing, long pants and closed toed shoes.

Lovely. That plus the mosquitoes would definitely put a damper on cocktail hour.

Post a comment with lat/long coordinates or a Google Map link if you know of a similarly-situated spot. You might even see it turned into an article on the Twelve Mile Circle!

Meanwhile, the search continues.

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