Select City Highpoints

On May 11, 2017 · 5 Comments

I’m not much of a highpointer, and a begrudging one at best, although I maintain a kinship with those who follow this pursuit. I like the concept of highpointing more than the actual climbing of summits. That’s why I find myself occasionally visiting sites like peakbagger.com and examining things like its Peak Lists. I admit, I lifted many of the ideas for today’s article from its Selected World City High Points, and I’d do it again. City highpoints never got much attention. They fell way down on the pecking order behind national, state and county highpoints. I decided to give a few city highpoints the attention they deserved. I ordered my list from lame to grand.

Unnamed


City of Toronto Highpoint
Toronto, Ontario Highpoint
via Google Maps 3D, 2017

Toronto didn’t appear on that peakbagger list. Nonetheless I felt I should take a look anyway. The Canadian city with its largest population certainly deserved some attention. A great city in a great nation undoubtedly marked its highest elevation with a spectacular monument. Well, no, not really. Toronto’s maximum elevation of 212 meters (696 feet) barely rose above the surrounding terrain. Trip reports described an underwhelming experience, essentially walking onto a field (map) directly across the road from York University. I did notice that a regular Twelve Mile Circle reader posted one of the trip reports so that was a nice bonus.

The generally flat field covered a large reservoir of underground oil tanks. It seemed odd, as I considered it, that sports fields would be built atop oil tanks, although I supposed it must have been safe or they wouldn’t have done it. The fields served as home base for the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club, with the specific highpoint found on what they called the West Fields. I can never remember where people call the sport Soccer and where they call it Football. Apparently Canada went with the soccer variation, or at least one club in Toronto did. I’m sure the Canadian 12MC audience will correct me if I’m wrong.

I doubted that any kids kicking soccer balls across a field atop oil tanks appreciated their exalted location upon Toronto’s summit.


Chancery Lane at High Holborn


City (High Holborn, 22m)
City (High Holborn, 22m) Junction with Chancery Lane. Photo by diamond geezer on Flickr (cc)

Peakbagger suggested a highpoint for London, England although I disagreed. It focused on Greater London and I’ll get to that in a moment. I wanted the actual City of London, a very tiny area of barely more than a square mile. The possibility of an exciting highpoint within such a small urban footprint seemed remote. It met my paltry expectations and nothing more. The actual spot registered maybe a notch better than Toronto only because it fell within a fairly busy, seemingly dynamic area. The highpoint could be discerned on the eastern side of Chancery Lane near its junction with High Holborn (map). It registered a measly elevation of 22 m (72 ft).

People who "climbed" to the summit recorded some interesting trip reports. One person said, "I’d walked across this pavement summit several times whilst working in London, without realising it was a high point." Another offered a recommendation to future climbers, "Suggest you do this one from Chancery Lane tube station, then at least you walk slightly uphill to it." Everyone seemed rather unimpressed.

Westerham Heights appeared as the highpoint on the Peakbagger list (map), at 245 metres (804 ft). However, that applied to Greater London, comprised of all 32 London boroughs plus the City of London. It wasn’t much more spectacular either, at 245 m (804 ft), "A rather unpleasant high point opposite Westerham Heights Farm; on a blind bend, the verge of a fast dangerous road, the A233."


Mount Lukens


Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop
Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop. Photo by Vahe Martirosyan on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared in Los Angeles, California although the highpoint was much more prominent. I didn’t want the Los Angeles county highpoint, Mount San Antonio (aka Mount Baldy) at an impressive 3,068 m (10,064 ft). I wanted the city highpoint. The summit of Mount Lukens (map) reached 1,547 m (5,074 feet). While it didn’t reach quite the same stature as Mount Baldy, it still hit a pretty good altitude. At least it was a real mountain, too. It sounded amazing.

Mount Lukens stands majestically above the Crescenta Valley as the western most peak of the San Gabriel Mountains front range… It’s western flank drops over 3,000 feet affording terrific views of the San Fernando Valley to the southwest and the Verdugo Mountains and the Los Angeles Basin to the south. On exceptional days both the south and west facing beaches can be seen.

That made Los Angeles the city with the highest elevation of the 50 largest cities in the United States.


Montmartre


Montmartre
Montmartre. Photo by heroesbed on Flickr (cc)

However, Montmartre, the highest point of elevation in Paris, France, impressed me the most (map). A highpoint should look like this. It actually fell outside of the city limits until 1860 when it was annexed to become part of the 18th arrondissement. While the summit climbed only 130 m (430 ft), French authorities took full advantage of the situation. What does one do with such a prominent peak? Stick a basilica atop it and make it look even taller! The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, underwent construction on Montmartre between 1875 and 1914. What a lovely setting. No wonder artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet spent time on Montmartre.

Random Islands

On February 19, 2017 · 2 Comments

Something needed to be done about the clutter. My list of potential topics grew to unmanageable proportions once again so I decided to keep pruning. I discovered an island theme as I sorted through the pile so I lumped a few items together. Nothing much unified them except that they involved islands with unusual twists. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t really need any more than that to get things going.

Lord Howe Island Group


Lord Howe Lagoon
Lord Howe Lagoon. Photo by David Stanley on Flickr (cc)

My mental island journey began with the Lord Howe Island Group first (map). They sat within the Tasman Sea off of the eastern coast of Australia, unknown until spotted by Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 as he sailed towards Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. He named the tallest of the islands, a jagged volcanic peak rising mightily into the sky, Ball’s Pyramid. He named one of the more dramatic peaks on the main island Mount Lidgbird. His legacy secured, he decided to suck-up to his superior by naming the main island after Lord Howe. Richard Howe, First Earl Howe, was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.

Ball claimed the island group for Britain. Whalers began using it as a convenient place to replenish provisions. A permanent settlement followed soon thereafter. The group became part of Australia as that nation formed. It’s now an unincorporated area of New South Wales. Few people live there though — only 360 residents as of the 2011 Census — and the government limits tourism because of the fragile ecosystem of such a small place. Given that, a maximum of about 800 people occupy the space at any given time.

The Twist: Lord Howe Island made a credible claim to being located within the world’s least populated time zone. This island group uniquely occupied Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +10.5. Fewer than a thousand people ever set their watches to observe this time zone at any given moment. That contrasted with UTC +8 (the one with China) with a population of 1.7 billion.


Smith Islands


Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP
Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP. Photo by portengaround on Flickr (cc)

I remained in Australia momentarily, focusing on the coast of Queensland near Mackay. There I found the Smith Islands (map), the site of a national park of the same name. Those unspoiled islands offered very few amenities other than their natural beauty. People traveled there by boat, private or charter, for fishing, diving and wildlife excursions. They needed to be self-reliant during these excursions. Visitors might be completely isolated with little help available anywhere around them should any difficulties arise. Nonetheless, the park attracted a certain type of adventurer who relished unspoiled experiences and abundant solitude.

The Twist: While I never discovered who named the islands or how they chose the theme, they did follow a consistent pattern. Imagine every kind of smith — skilled metal workers — and it had its own island named for it. I saw Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Silversmith, Coppersmith, Goldsmith, Anchorsmith and Tinsmith. Some readers may remember the 12MC article I called Ladysmith, and yes that’s how I found this island group. I liked Blacksmith Island most of all, however. Nearby stood Hammer Island, Anvil Reef, Forge Reef and Pincer Island, enough tools to create an entire blacksmith shop. Other features figured into the general theme as well, including Ingot Island and Bullion Rocks.


Ada Kaleh


Ada-Kaleh
Ada-Kaleh on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

Ada Kaleh experienced a convoluted history. This small island sat in the Danube River between modern-day Romania and Serbia, just downstream from Orșova (map). It became a strategic point along the river, a place taken and retaken repeatedly by the Austrian and Ottoman empires starting in the 17th Century. The name of the island itself came from a Turkish word, Adakale, meaning Island Fortress.

The real weirdness started in 1878 when the Ottomans lost control of the surrounding area as a result of losing the Russo-Turkish War. Everyone just sort-of forgot about Ada Kaleh during the peace talks so it became a Turkish exclave. It transformed into something of a lawless territory, a haven for smuggling and other nefarious activities. The situation remained that way for about a half-century when another treaty corrected the error. However, even afterwards it retained its distinct Turkish attributes and culture even though if fell within the physical confines of Romania.

The Twist: Ada Kaleh no longer exists. The waters of the Danube rose considerably along this stretch of the river after construction of the Iron Gates Dam in 1972. Most of the island’s residents chose to relocate to Turkey rather than remain in Romania.


Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom
Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Alvin Leong on Flickr (cc)

In east London the River Thames took quite a curve, enclosing a small area on three sides (map). Technically this wasn’t an island at all so it probably shouldn’t even be on my list. I found it while Marking the Meridian. The Isle of Dogs wasn’t that distant from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the meridian came oh-so-close to crossing through it. Despite its name, somehow it attracted commercial enterprises in the modern era particularly for banking and finance.

The Twist: Well, other than the fact that it wasn’t actually an island, nobody knew how it became the Isle of Dogs. East London History said,

The original name for the island was Stepney Marsh or Stebunheath. It is thought that the Isle of Dogs name originated in the 16th century. Nobody really knows where this name came from, but there are plenty of theories. Some say that the name was given to the area because of the number of dead dogs that washed up on its banks. Others think that the modern name is a variation of other names given to the area, such as the Isle of Dykes or the Isle of Ducks.

Dogs or Dykes or Ducks (or others). Take your pick.

Ghost Signs

On February 9, 2017 · 0 Comments

It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.

Maryland Heights


Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign
Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign. My own photo

This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.

From her house on High Street in 1906, Clara Riley watched as sign painters created a huge advertisement, out of a milk and whitewash mixture, on the side of the mountain. Mrs. Riley remembered the year because she was in labor with her first child while the sign was being painted.

The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.


Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder


Mennen's Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!


A Ghostly Phenomenon


Butte Ghost Sign VI
Butte Ghost Sign VI. Photo by Rex Brown on Flickr (cc)

Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.

Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.

For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.


Black Cat


Black Cat, Dingley Road
Black Cat, Dingley Road. Photo by Caroline on Flickr (cc)

The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.

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12 Mile Circle:
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