Reflecting on 2011

On December 28, 2011 · 5 Comments

I’m progressing better than I expected with my off-season website maintenance plan. It has provided an unexpected opportunity to hammer-out one final post in 2011. I’ve decided to use the downtime to reflect on accomplishments at the Twelve Mile Circle during the last year. I posted 156 articles over the year — generally three per week — and I never seemed to lack for new material. Some articles were more memorable than others for various reasons and this is my "greatest hits" compilation.

The blog continued to evolve. Every article centered on pure geo-oddities four years ago. Today, other facets of my personality interweave into the narrative in interesting and often subconscious ways. I have no way of knowing if my efforts attract or repel readers over time although I seem to have a loyal core that’s stuck with me since the beginning. I’ve never worried much about popularity either; I just write what I write and people are welcome to tag along if it suits their purpose. I’d focus on political polarization or celebrity gossip if I really cared about numbers. Seriously, what percentage of the population really cares about Google’s efforts to add county lines to its maps?

I tried to determine my Top 10 articles for 2011 although it didn’t quite turn out that way. I did narrow it down to 10 Categories with 25 links, so that seems good enough. I won’t feel insulted if you skip past my list of recycled trash and wait for fresh material to arrive in the new year.

Extraordinary Reader Contributions

I like to pretend that I write solely for myself although reader affirmation creates abundant motivation especially on those days when I’m feeling lazy. I love receiving comments even though they’re sometimes a double-edged sword. Some of it is amazing and leads to great articles. Other times I slog through messages from school kids or conspiracy theorists looking for me to handle their research, which I promptly delete.

Mostly it’s good. I got to meet a County Counter Extraordinaire and experience an insider’s view of Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. Then I received evidence of an extremely rare continental U.S. West Coast Sunrise over Water. Finally, I learned about what may arguably be the Shortest International Bridge.

There were many other wonderful adventures shared by 12MC readers. All of them were appreciated even if they didn’t make it onto the list today. Please keep those comments and suggestions coming.

Personal Travel

It’s natural that a geo-enthusiast would like to explore new places in person. Occasionally 12MC imitates a travelogue. Those pages don’t seem to be as popular with the audience for some unknown reason although I’m rather fond of them so they will continue. You either enjoyed or suffered through — depending on your outlook — a visit to the international Borders and Boundaries of Saint Martin, a backstage peek at Disney World, or a family vacation in Utah.

Travel in My Own Backyard

I’ve stated many times that geo-oddities can be discovered everywhere, even in those places closest to home. The 12MC audience got a flavor throughout the year as I continued to explore various nooks in my little corner of the world. I had a great time Circling the MDVAWV Tripoint and tagging along on a Jamestown Field Trip with a busload of fourth grade schoolchildren.

Puzzles

Regular readers may not appreciate the travelogue aspect as much as I do but they’re crazy about the puzzles. They create great audience interaction and people seem to respond to them. They follow a simple formula: I’ll offer a peculiar example and invite people to find better ones. These articles require the least amount of effort on my part and yet they still generate the most audience interest. I feel like I’m being lazy. I have a bit more respect for the ones that actually require me to do something, like the recent Most Landlocked State and Alphabetical Circle. Expect to see more of these in coming months even though I’m a bit puzzled by the reaction to these puzzles.

History

I’ve noted upfront on several occasions that I am an historian by education, not a geographer. I also don’t pursue either of those interestrs professionally because life has a way of moving in directions that one can’t anticipate. 12MC is the vehicle for this pseudo-historian-geographer to dabble in topics as a hobby and have fun. That probably explains a lot. It’s not surprising then that historical themes weave themselves into articles with regularity. The Twelve Mile Circle could have been an odd history blog interspersed with geography topics just as easily as could have taken its chosen direction. Then, articles such as Erasing Van Buren and Penciling-In Reagan would have been the norm rather than the exception.

Next Generation

I’m happy to watch my older son gain geographic awareness as he progresses towards becoming geo-geek. I saw that when he cataloged All Those Modes of Transportation and when he designed his own town, Oreton. That’s a good thing.

Popular Culture

I’ve said it before and it deserves repeating: I’m high-brow and low-brow simultaneously with nothing in between. I had a fun time with Looney Tunes Geography and then trying to locate 132 and Bush from the television show COPS. I also did my best curmudgeon impression when I complained about What’s Almost Heaven? I suffered through a weekend of Thelma and Louise practically frame-by-frame so that I could recreate their route. Nobody seemed to appreciate that last sacrifice as much as I did, but that’s fine. I get a ton of random hits on that page from various search engines.

Observations

Inspiration will come from odd sources. Sometimes I’ll simply stare at an object or a place and an overlooked aspect will come into focus. It’s probably unnatural for anyone to think too deeply about the My Little Poni paradox or the people who live above a church in Divine Apartments, or even some random Stair Step Border. Maybe they exist solely to make the world a tiny bit more interesting.

Confusion

We all get confused from time-to-time and it provides great material when handled in a good-natured way. Several examples came to light in a series of three Mistaken Identity articles. Sometimes it an intentional act: " Not Fusion, CONfusion." I still chuckle every time I drive by that Salvadorean-Mexican-Chinese Restaurant.

Fixation

I can’t take my eye off that border war between Bibb and Monroe Counties in Georgia. It’s a zombie topic that refuses to die. I thought it was finally going to be resolved but it sputtered back to life almost immediately. The Governor of Georgia has been asked to get involved again even during the last few days.

Those are my personal choices from 2011. Are there any audience favorites that I missed? You can always check the Complete Index. The 2011 articles start with Coteau des Prairies.

I’ll be back with new material and a normal publication schedule on January 1.

Most Landlocked State

On November 29, 2011 · 13 Comments

The query simply said, "Most Landlocked State." It seemed innocent enough as I pondered it. I believed it would have a simple solution. However, the more I considered it the more I figured the answer could vary based upon one’s definition of landlocked. I wish I could ask the anonymous searcher what he (or she) meant but that’s not possible. I’ll throw out a few alternatives and let the Intertubes decide.

At a fundamental level, does he mean "state" as in an independent nation or as part of a larger entity such as one of the fifty United States? If it’s nation then I’d propose Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein. They are both Doubly Landlocked, meaning they are landlocked nations completely surrounded by other landlocked nations. Thus, Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein are probably as good a choice as any.


However I’m going to examine the other alternative in a bit more detail by bringing the discussion to the United States. I’m also considering the possibility that states bordering the Great Lakes aren’t truly landlocked: massive ships can navigate a full 2,300 miles (3,700 km) from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minnesota. Some of the 12MC audience may disagree with that premise and that’s fine. I’m going to run with it.

Given that assumption, there are two U.S. states that are double landlocked: Kansas and Nebraska. Perhaps those are the most landlocked states?

I defined a concept I termed "borderlocking" in an article I posted nearly two years ago: Layers of Borderlocking. It was a similar exercise although I focused my efforts at one level below the states, down at the county level. This created a rather colorful map with seventeen layers of borderlocking. Feel free to go back to the original article if you’d like a better description of what you’re seeing below.


Level of County Landlocking in the United States

The full seventeen layers happens in a handful of counties in Kansas and in a single county in Nebraska. Interesting. That method also seems to favor Kansas and Nebraska as the most landlocked states, with a slight nod to Kansas.


One might also consider the point of land within the United States that’s the farthest away from a coastline. That pole of inaccessibility, not only for the USA but for the entirety of North America, falls in southwest South Dakota. One would have to travel 1,030 miles (1,650 km) to reach the nearest coastline from that point.



View Larger Map

Now that seems truly landlocked! So is the answer South Dakota?


I considered one other possibility. I already allowed an exception for Great Lake states because they’re water accessible. What if I took that concept one step further and defined landlocked as only those places where water could not escape to an ocean (eventually)? Which state has the most acreage within endorheic watersheds?


Greatbasinmap
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Great Basin would be an obvious choice to investigate further. It covers most of Nevada and much of Utah, plus portions of several other states although to considerably lesser degrees. Water falls into the Basin but it doesn’t flow outward, leading to amazing oddities such as the Bonneville Salt Flats that I was lucky enough to visit last summer.

I’d propose Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Nevada as feasible options for the most landlocked state, but I still don’t feel completely comfortable with any of those answers. Are there other ways we can consider this phenomenon and help out our anonymous reader?

Bolivia’s Landlocked Navy

On January 25, 2009 · 2 Comments

Bolivia’s is landlocked. It is hemmed in from every side within the South American continent by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Perú. There is no way for Bolivia to reach the sea without crossing through the territory of one of its neighbors. Yet, somewhat inexplicably, Bolivia has a robust Navy with upwards of 5,000 sailors.



View Larger Map


It’s not all that uncommon for a landlocked country to have a navy even though it sounds like a bad punchline to a stale joke. Generally these forces use smaller boats to patrol rivers or lakes, similar to how the United States assigns Coast Guard vessels to the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River. These forces can play a vital role in public safety, border patrol or smuggling abatement where roads may be uncommon or unavailable. What sets Bolivia apart, however is the oversized scale and aspirations of its naval forces.


Bolivia Wasn't Always Landlocked
SOURCE: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Guerra-del-pacifico-01-a.svg under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version


Bolivia hasn’t always been landlocked. It lost a coastline as a result of the 1879-1883 "War of the Pacific" and through ensuing treaties and negotiations. Bolivia found itself on the losing side of the conflict, and as a result lost sovereignty over large chunks of its former territory. This has been a sore spot and a thorn in their national pride ever since.

Bolivia is not a wealthy country and their is a general belief that prosperity might be just around the corner if only they could regain their seacoast. It is a nationalistic theme that remains a permanent fixture of its political system. Bolivia even holds an annual Dia Del Mar (Day of the Sea) where they ask Chile to return the coastline. Their Navy figures into this equation. It’s not an artifact or a holdover from the nineteenth century however, rather, it came into existence in 1963 both as a symbol of territorial aspirations and as an actual patrolling force.



View Larger Map


The Navy operates primarily out of their base at Copacabana on Lake Titicaca (interestingly this is situated on a peninsula separated from the rest of Bolivia and can be approached over land only through Perú). It’s a worthy body of water that would justify a patrolling force regardless — the largest lake in South America by volume — but it’s not the ocean.

No, Bolivia’s aspirations go much further. Interestingly the home port of one of their ships is Rosario, Argentina, nearly 200 miles upriver from Buenos Aires. Additionally Bolivia participates in international naval exercises, with their sailors training side-by-side with those of more traditional seafaring nations. They await the day they can return to open water, and feel they need to be ready for the eventual return of their coastline.

The Bolivian Navy gets a surprising amount of mainstream press attention both in the UK and the USA, probably because the thought of such a thing sounds like such a contradiction. Here are a few fairly recent articles on the subject if you’d like go into more depth:

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