This has absolutely nothing to do with the Grateful Dead although they were indeed from California and noted for Truckin’. It is literally about trucks in California. Feel free to listen to Truckin’ in the background if that would make you happy though.
It all started out more grandiosely. I recalled a particularly awful drive on Virginia’s Interstate 81 last November where it seemed like every other vehicle on the highway was a truck. Some were driving with extreme aggression and well above the posted speed limit. The rest were poking along well below the limit. I grew increasingly aggravated as I slalomed between them.
That incident later inspired an online quest to find a highway with the highest percentage of trucks primarily so I could forever avoid it. That quest continues. I haven’t given up that search. Meanwhile I do have an answer for California. I found a great page from the California Department of Transportation. I was able to download a spreadsheet of annual average daily truck traffic in 2011, which I then sorted appropriately to determine all California state highways with more trucks than cars. It happens rarely. Only a small handful of places throughout the state met that standard. Imagine the nightmare of routes where more than half of all vehicles are trucks, not "seems like it" but genuinely so, consistently, day after day, forever.
Of course I plotted the offending locations. I found it fascinating that almost all of them happen near borders.
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I examined each area and I tried to determine what might account for an overabundance of truck traffic, paying particular attention to apparent clusters.
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The top spot went to Rt. 115 at its junction with Rt. 78 in Imperial County. Trucks composed an astounding 81.9% of recorded vehicle traffic passing this point in 2011. That is such an amazing statistical outlier — no other point in the California managed to crack even 60% — that I had to wonder if it might have been a typographical error. I checked the math and it seemed to work. Nearby, Route 98 at Cole Road in Calexico also scored high with 56.36% trucks.
All truck traffic crossing from Mexico into the United States along this particular stretch of the border uses the "Calexico East" Port of Entry. That might explain Route 98. I’m not sure it explains Rt. 115. It doesn’t seem to follow a logical path between the port of entry and the outside world. Farms and fields surround the junction. Maybe trucks address some sort of agricultural purpose here instead?
Los Angeles/Long Beach
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This one seemed more straightforward. The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest container ports in the United States. Add their volume together and they handle three times the cargo of the next busiest port, New York/New Jersey.
Two spots nearby both hit 57.52% truck traffic, on Rt. 47 where it crosses the Commodore Heim Lift Bridge and shortly thereafter where Rts. 47 and 103 split. Notice their placement on the map above. They are practically equidistant between two very active ports. A massive volume of containers heads in-and-out at any given time and this route serves a good option. It’s a wonder truck percentages weren’t higher.
Maybe the brief stretch of Interstate 40 from Needles, California to the Arizona state line falls within this same cluster, even though it’s completely across the state? The highway provides a straight shot between the ports and several distant metropolitan areas including Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo and even Oklahoma City. The southeastern interior of California wouldn’t account for much local traffic, and containers originating in Asia would need to roll east in a steady stream to distant inland cities.
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I was going to guess that truck traffic near Bakersfield might be serving agricultural needs until I drilled-down to the exact spot. The junction of Rts. 58 and 33 happens in McKittrick, which falls outside of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The terrain looked rather rough and pretty much dug-up by human activity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and the likely explanation:
The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region in western Kern County. Along State Route 33 to the south of the town is the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the second-largest oil field in the contiguous United States; within the town itself, as well as to the west is the McKittrick Field; to the northwest is the huge Cymric Field; and along Highway 33 beyond Cymric is the large South Belridge Oil Field, run by Aera Energy LLC. East of McKittrick is Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Field, formerly the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.
I don’t know if every truck passing through here serves the oil industry, however it seems like a plausible reason for much of the 55.55% truck volume, absent further evidence.
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Of all roads with greater than 50% truck traffic, only Route 161 in Siskiyou County fell outside of southern California. It’s about as far away from the others as possible. The anomaly recorded 55.25% truck traffic at the far northern extreme of the state. There might be an agricultural reason because of nearby farms. There might also be another reason, forestry: Winema National Forest, Fremont National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Shasta National Forest and Klamath National Forest are nearby as are areas accessible to commercial logging. Maybe the trucks are hauling logs?
Have you ever dropped into Google Street View and found terrain that just didn’t "look right," that differed from your expectations? I think we all have stereotypical preconceptions of how a place is supposed to appear, especially if we’ve never fully explore the area in person. Below is the image that surprised me a few days ago. See if you can guess the location. I guarantee you’re very familiar with its name. One could always hover a cursor over the image and reveal the answer instantaneously, but why spoil the fun? Scroll down when you’re ready for the answer.
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It’s Los Angeles, California. I’ll confess I cheated just a little bit. It’s the county of Los Angeles (map) as oppose to the City of Los Angeles (map) which is also part of the county. Still, a resident of this desert patch in the farthest reaches of northeastern Los Angeles County could say with a half-straight face that she lives in Los Angeles. Those not familiar with the area tend to forget just how far it sprawls, and that it’s not solely oceanfront, palm trees, traffic jams and endless subdivisions. Nearly ten million people live in Los Angeles County, but not in this corner.
Ready from another one? I’ll follow a similar pattern. I’ll post the image first and the answer below it. Scroll past the image when you’re ready and see if your mind took you in the proper direction. Remember, it’s not as it seems. The immediate answer will always be incorrect although other subtle clues may reveal it.
Statue of Liberty
SOURCE: Flickr via Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
I’ll start with an easy one. Let’s begin with the premise that it’s not the real Statue of Liberty. How many fake Statues of Liberty could there be? More than I imagined, actually. I had to use a Flickr photograph instead of Street View because it would have become too obvious (see what I mean?). This version is a half-scale replica standing in front of the New York – New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The U.S. Postal Service admitted that it printed three billion postage stamps with the image of the wrong Statue of Liberty in 2011, the one in Las Vegas instead of the actual Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. An eagle-eyed stamp collector noticed certain differences in facial features and hair style. Linn’s Stamp News broke the story and it spread to the mainstream news media. The New York Times reported,
You might think that the post office would have just gone with the original, the one off the tip of Lower Manhattan that for 125 years has welcomed millions of New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, they accidentally used the 14-year-old statue that presides over thousands of weary gamblers a week.
Context, of course, makes all of the difference. Only an expert can tell the difference when pertinent visual clues have been removed.
A Day in the Park
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What could be nicer than a day in the countryside on a lovely green lawn? Would you believe a lovely lawn in the middle of the inhospitable Australian Outback? One generally considers the Outback to practically define rugged, remote and dry. Nonetheless thirty-thousand people live Alice Springs in the Northern Territory deep within that expanse. They certainly deserve to have an attractive facility like the Jim McConville Oval where they can play "softball, junior baseball, slo-pitch, cricket, football" and the like. It’s odd to see a patch of sod in the desert, and in fact, swing the street view image around and notice how dry it appears elsewhere.
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You’ve probably got the hang of this game now. It’s not China and I’d venture that many of you already concluded that it must be Chinatown. But which one? This one happens to be in Mexico City, which I did not realize had a Chinatown until I wrote this. The arch can be found near Barrio Chino which is centered nearby along Dolores Street. Many Chinese immigrants came to Mexico at the turn of the last century for many of the reasons they also came to the United States: as an abundant labor supply, particularly for railroad construction. The Chinese community has largely assimilated into the larger Mexican population and Chinatown today has been reduced to a couple of blocks.
English Town Square
SOURCE: Flickr via Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
I desperately wanted Google Street View imagery for this location so I could wander through it vicariously but Google doesn’t provide that type of coverage in this country yet (hint). Welcome to Thames Town, not somewhere in England but an area of Songjiang Town near Shanghai, China. That’s nowhere near its namesake but right along the Yangtze River instead. This is a 21st Century housing development built intentionally in an English architectural style. They even have a website which is almost legible when run through translation software.
The Guardian featured Thames Town in an article prior to its construction,
With a fake turreted castle and at least one windmill, there is a danger that the site in Songjiang could turn into a British Disneyland that might serve as a monument to the excesses of Shanghai’s overheated property market. But the architects say they are designing a working community.
That ideal does appear to have been delivered judging by photographs available through the Intertubes.
Where could this be? It’s very clearly a mosque with minarets but it’s not located anywhere near the Middle East. This is the Berlin Mosque (Die Moschee, Berlin), the oldest mosque in Germany and dates to the late 1920′s. It was damaged but not completely destroyed during World War II and renovations are still underway even today.
I’m sure the 12MC audience can find other unusual juxtapositions like the ones I’ve highlighted. Please feel free to post them along with a map links in the comments.
There are people who read the Twelve Mile Circle from places located literally around the globe. It’s hard to believe in an era of instantaneous worldwide communication that pigeons were once considered a viable method to pass information in certain specialized instances. Often these were for military or other governmental purposes although I’m not quite as interested in those applications. Rather, I wondered about civilian applications and postal delivery services. Where did the geography favor bird power over more established means?
I discovered two places that once had formally-established routes intended for civilian communication a century ago. There may be more.
Catalina Island, California, USA
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Santa Catalina Island (commonly shortened to Catalina) isn’t located much more than about twenty miles from the California mainland. That convenient fact attracted wealthy Angelenos who flocked there beginning in the late 19th Century for quick vacation getaways. It was far enough away from the city to relax in peace but close enough to get back-and-forth to conveniently. Vacationers could leave Los Angeles, take a ship across the channel and arrive in Catalina within a few hours.
Powerful businessmen on holiday sometimes faced a dilemma. A telegraph line didn’t stretch across the channel at the turn of the last century. How could they remain in touch with the office? A hand-delivered message took several hours at a minimum and it was expensive. The postal mail took several days. They would certainly favor an alternate means to close the communication gap to something more reasonable.
Two brothers became budding entrepreneurs by identified this need and offering a solution. Otto and Oswald Zahn trained pigeons to fly between Avalon on Catalina Island and Bunker Hill (map) in downtown Los Angeles. Their service ran from 1894 to 1898, charging $.50 to $1.00 per message written on lighweight paper carried in a small tube attached to a pigeon. A contemporary account described the service (includes photos):
A message written on a bit of tissue-paper by one of the fanciers to his brother, who was waiting at home to receive it, was duly attached to the leg of Orlando, a high-class homer… The air-line distance from Avalon to Los Angeles is about fifty miles. The time required by the human animal to make the trip via boat and train is from four to five hours. Orlando accomplished the distance in precisely fifty-four minutes… For several years now the birds have been flown between Avalon and Los Angeles during the Summer months, and their reliability and promptitude have been a revelation even to those persons having some knowledge of the homer’s accomplishments.
Further information can be found in a 1986 article in the Los Angeles Times. Ultimately the venture wasn’t very profitable, and a wireless station established a few years later completely removed any further incentive.
Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
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A journey across water is a common theme here. This time the route involved communication between Great Barrier Island and Auckland, crossing New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf. A pigeon will fly reliably back to its home — thus the name homing pigeons — after undergoing a training regimen that gradually increase the distance flown along an intended route. However it has only one home. One would need twice as many birds for back-and-forth communication so the New Zealand route went in a single direction: from Great Barrier Island to Auckland. Birds had to be delivered back to Great Barrier Island by ship to deliver the next set of messages.
An excellent overview is provided by the Museum of New Zealand, complete with a descriptive video (which I wish I could embed here but can’t find a way to do that) plus images from their collection.
Before the pigeon post service was established the only regular connection between the community on Great Barrier Island (90 kilometres northeast of Auckland) and the mainland was provided by a weekly coastal steamer. The island’s isolation was highlighted when the ship SS Wairarapa was wrecked off its coast in 1894, with the loss of 121 lives, and the news took several days to reach the mainland. The pigeon post service began between the island and Auckland in 1897. Soon there were two rival pigeongram companies, both of which issued distinctive and attractive stamps. The stamps have been eagerly collected for their novelty value, and some have become extremely rare.
Once again, technology soon overtook pigeon power and the service disappeared.
I discovered several examples of pigeons used as a means of civilian communication in the modern world.
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- A white water rafting company in Colorado uses pigeons to fly digital camera memory cards from deep canyons to the home office.
- Some offices in South Africa believe pigeon flights are quicker for transporting encrypted data than the their broadband connections.
- I found a single reference in Yahoo! Answers that claims pigeon posts still exist in Rajasthan, India, citing service to a desert village, Napasar. Anyone can post anything on those pages so I’ll take this claim with a grain of salt until proven otherwise. I’d love for it to be true.
Please let me know if anyone is aware of other civilian pigeon posts now or in the past, especially if it confirms the service in Rajasthan.