2015 Travel Plans

On January 28, 2015 · 3 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has some bold travel plans for 2015 if I do say so myself. I’ll keep it domestic this year unlike 2014 although I might cross the border into Canada briefly during one of the trips. As always, I welcome assistance as I begin my initial planning. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions if any of my upcoming targets match your vast travel experiences. You all know what I like: weird geography; obscure parks; quirky roadside attractions; unusual boundaries and easy highpoints. The usual stuff. I’ve been able to visit several places suggested by users that I didn’t know about previously (e.g., Capulin Volcano National Monument) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.


Great Allegheny Passage



My travel season will begin with the Great Allegheny Passage. This trail was cobbled together from several abandoned railroad lines formerly operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. Now the GAP is a 150 mile (240 kilometre) hiking and biking trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. I plan to bike the length of the GAP on a long weekend sometime in mid/late April with a friend, the exact date depending on when the Big Savage Tunnel opens for the season.

The GAP should offer riverside passages, amazing tunnels and bridges, and wonderful scenery. I also hope to stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater as well as the town of Confluence, which was featured on 12MC awhile ago.


Cape Cod


Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr (cc)

Cape Cod will happen in mid-May. I’ve never been to the cape before so that’s sufficient justification right there. It will also coincide with a significant wedding anniversary so that actually provides the real impetus. With luck, I might also be able to pick up Dukes and/or Nantucket Counties. Those are two difficult pickups and I’d love to add them to my county counting list. I also hope to add to my lighthouse and ferry lists.


Thousand Islands


IMG40D_0811-1
Zavikon Island by Sergio, on Flickr (cc)

This one is less definite than the others. We’re thinking seriously about touring the Thousand Islands region between New York and Ontario, sometime in mid-July. The early plan was to find a spot within a day’s drive of Washington, DC and this seemed like an interesting place that I’d never explored before. This trip could just as easily switch to New York’s Lake Erie coastline or perhaps to one of the Finger Lakes we’ve not seen before, instead. It depends on what we find during our research and what seems most interesting.


Center of the Nation



This trip will follow the path designated by Mainly Marathons, specifically their Center of the Nation Series in September. Previously 12MC covered my adventures during their Dust Bowl series and their Riverboat series, plus two races at their Appalachian series. Once again I will stress that I am not a runner, I am the driver who transports a runner from one location to another. I would never imply or pretend that I had the stamina for something this extreme. However, rumor has it that I might partake in the 5K option each day during the series this time. That way I won’t feel guilty about snacking on all of their goodies at the start/finish line like I’ve been doing at previous races.

This time it’s six races in six states in six days. My driving duties will add an entire raft of new counties in some rather obscure areas of the United States to my lifetime list. The races will be held at,

  • Day 1 (Sept. 14): Baker, Montana
  • Day 2 (Sept. 15): Bowman, North Dakota
  • Day 3 (Sept. 16): Belle Fourche, South Dakota
  • Day 4 (Sept. 17): Sundance, Wyoming
  • Day 5 (Sept. 18): Chadron, Nebraska
  • Day 6 (Sept. 19): Sterling, Colorado

I can’t say enough good things about Mainly Marathons or its participants. It’s a great group of people albeit with one very unusual hobby.

Anyway that’s what I have planned over the next several months. Let me know if there are sights along the way I shouldn’t miss.

Undignified Floods

On January 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

Floods are awful in any form and I don’t wish to diminish or make light of that one overriding consideration. However there are floods of a "normal" variety — if an event so awful can be referred to so cavalierly — and then there are truly bizarre floods. Either way, lives are lost, property is damaged, and communities are disrupted. Things seem to be a little different and particularly undignified in certain circumstances though, for example when the flood is a raging torrent of molasses.

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919


Fire House no. 31 damaged, Molasses Disaster. 1:00pm
Fire House no. 31 damaged, Molasses Disaster. 1:00pm by Boston Public Library, on Flickr (cc)

A large storage tank of molasses filled by the Purity Distilling Company burst in Boston’s North End in January 1919. An official inquiry failed to establish a definitive reason, ascribing it to an "Act of God." Several theories were offered over the years including a buildup of carbon dioxide that may have been caused by an unusually warm winter day. Very recently the Boston Globe reported another possibility:

Now, a study has shed new light on the cause of the collapse, finding that the tank was stressed well beyond capacity and made from a steel susceptible to fracture — the same type used on the Titanic… The steel was too thin to withstand the enormous stress of 2.3 million gallons of molasses, a weakness builders should have known at the time… What builders at the time could not have known was that the type of steel used for the tank was brittle because it contained a low amount of the chemical element manganese, making it more likely to crack.

The bursting tank sent a huge wave of molasses into the neighborhood. Different sources pegged the wave at between 25 and 40 feet (8-12 metres) high. It slammed into homes, twisted an elevated railroad track, knocked a firehouse off of its foundation, and killed 21 people in its sticky wake. Another 150 people were injured. Local residents swore they could still smell a hint of molasses on particularly hot summer days for years afterwards.

The Commercial Street location where the tank once stood eventually became the infield of a baseball diamond at Langone Park (map). A small plaque reminds Little Leaguers® of the molasses tragedy.


The London Beer Flood of 1814


Dominion Theatre, London West End
Dominion Theatre, London West End by Ian Nichol, on Flickr (cc)

How did I miss the 200th anniversary of London’s beer flood? The Independent knew about it and commemorated it though:

An unlimited, free supply of beer – it sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But when it is over one million litres in volume and in a tidal wave at least 15 feet high, as it was in the London Beer Flood on 17 October 1814, the prospect seems less appealing… a broken vat at the Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road flooded the local area with porter, a dark beer native to the capital, killing eight people and demolishing a pair of homes.

The brewery had been set in an underprivileged neighborhood, a slum called St. Giles Rookery. The flimsy buildings couldn’t withstand the onslaught of beer. People were crammed into the tenements all the way down to the cellars, and that’s where much of the tragedy occurred. Those in cellars were trapped as beer poured in and filled to ground level.

This accident was also ascribed to an Act of God even though witnesses had reported signs of an impending rupture earlier in the day. The owner, Henry Meux, even managed to get a favorable ruling that allowed him to get a refund on the taxes he’d paid on the beer. Negligence had much different standards back in those days.

The Horse Shoe Brewery (image) had been founded in 1764. One might think that perhaps this tragedy would have closed the brewery. It didn’t. Horse Shoe hummed along for another century and more, all the way until 1921. Upon closing, the land was put to a completely different use. It became the site of the Dominion Theatre, built in 1928-29 (map).


The Swine Sewage Flood of 1999


The Swine Ballet
The Swine Ballet by Kiesha Jean, on Flickr (cc)

Conditions in tidal North Carolina were favorable for hog farming. However, this industry also had a dirty underside, the bodily wastes of millions of pigs:

North Carolina’s 10 million hogs produce 40 million gallons of manure each day — that’s more than the number of people in the state. In Duplin County alone, 2.2 million hogs produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City metro area.

These wastes were stored in manure lagoons, essentially open pits "operated to encourage anaerobic digestion of organic material while it is being stored." They can be susceptible to spills if not constructed and maintained properly.

Hurricanes do hit North Carolina periodically and that’s what happened with Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. The same area had already been hit by the much weaker Hurricane Dennis less than two weeks earlier so the water table was up and the ground saturated. Floyd slammed into the coast right at North Carolina’s Cape Fear region before moving into the Mid-Atlantic and up into New England. It doused eastern North Carolina with tremendous rainfall as it passed, leading to widespread flooding throughout the area. According to the North Carolina Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance:

Waterkeepers and other environmental leaders in this state had been warning the Governor and members of the NC legislature for years about the destruction that would accompany a storm like Floyd. Thousands of huge cesspools, called "lagoons," filled with feces, urine and other toxins, blanketed the flood prone area. Many were located in the worst possible area, the floodplain itself.

The noxious sewage deluge polluted many of the local rivers and estuaries, spreading fecal coliform bacteria, polluting wells and creating dead zones were much aquatic life could not survive. The New River (map) was hit especially hard all along its fifty mile course that took it directly past US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune before flushing into the Atlantic Ocean.

The one thing all of these undignified floods had in common was that they could have been prevented.

Particularly Possessive

On December 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

I noticed that Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County and St. Mary’s County — all in Maryland — included the genitive apostrophe to form their possessive constructions. I’d always taken it on faith that the United States Board on Geographic Names disallowed apostrophes for that specific purpose. That’s how we ended-up with Harpers Ferry and other odd conglomerations. The possessive remained albeit awkwardly without an apostrophe. I wondered how Maryland got away with it.

A little checking revealed a probable answer in the Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page: "certain categories—broadly determined to be ‘administrative’—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc." In those cases (and apparently counties were considered part of "etc."), possessives formed by an apostrophe-s were allowed although discouraged. Maryland felt that a prince, a queen and a saint would all deserve an apostrophe.

For names not considered broadly administrative, however, exceptions with the genitive apostrophe were extremely rare. The Board authorized apostrophes for that specific purpose only five times since its creation in 1890. Lots of theories and folklore attempted to explain that odd disdain for apostrophes although the FAQ proclaimed: "The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy." Someone a century ago apparently had a preference, made a bold decision and it stuck.

Each of the five exceptions merited further examination. Most were obscure. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System included additional justification for these deviations and I could use them to tell their stories.


Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (approved 1933)


Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs
Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Martha’s Vineyard (map) would be the prime example. I won’t spend any time talking about it because I’d like to save that for another day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s foreshadowing. I’ll simply note that if I ever want to tally Dukes County on my county-counting list I’ll need to travel to Martha’s Vineyard (or one of several smaller islands nearby).


Ike’s Point, New Jersey (approved 1944)



Ike’s Point

GNIS described Ike’s Point as "a swamp point on the western side of Jenkins Sound about 0.4 km (0.25 mi) south of Shellbed Landing." It was named for a local family and it had been in common usage for at least 60 years when evaluated in the 1940’s. The Board decided to keep the apostrophe to clarify pronunciation. Otherwise it would have been Ikes Point and subject to interpretation. Surprisingly, Google Street View coverage went all the way to Shellbed Landing. It’s possible to sort-of see Ike’s Point.


John E’s Pond, Rhode Island (approved 1963)


Block Island Southeast Lighthouse
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse by Heather Katsoulis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The same issue pertained to John E’s Pond on Block Island, RI, not far from the Southeast Lighthouse (map). Otherwise it would have been John Es Pond. Originally the Board named this tiny pool of water something else, Milliken Pond. The decision was reversed in 1963 citing "apparent persistence in local usage, recently verified by GS field workers" that dated back to 1886. Actually, further statements in the record implied that another variation may have been more common, John E’s Tug Hole. Some 12MC Intertubes sleuthing found several other "tug holes" on Block Island: Dees Tug Hole (included in GNIS – map); Ames Tug Hole and Elija Tug Hole. Tug hole appeared to be a very localized term for a pond.


Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona (approved 1995)


Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees by Melanie J Watts, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (map) certainly seemed to be a mouthful for an isolated slope in Arizona. The problem was that Carlos, Elmer and Joshua might confuse readers because all of them could be construed as first names. The place wouldn’t make any sense without the apostrophe. From the minutes of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names, January 11, 1995:

Booth, Arizona Board member and proposer of the name, provided a brief biographical sketch of Carlos Elmer, long time Arizona photographer published in Arizona Highways Magazine. Booth commented that he had consulted with Elmer’s widow in trying to locate an area that he loved and to establish a name in memory of him, and together they pinpointed a mountain slope that is very dense with Joshua trees, a subject of many of Elmer’s photos… removing the word Joshua from the title would be inappropriate, because Joshua trees were the subject of the area that Carlos Elmer photographed.

The United States Board on Geographic Names concurred with the Arizona Board’s recommendation.


Clark’s Mountain, Oregon (approved 2002)



Clark’s Mountain

Clark’s Mountain retained its apostrophe for historical reasons. The name came about as part of events commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark likely admired the view from this eponymous mountain as told in the journal of Meriwether Lewis on January 10th, 1806.

Capt. C. found the road along the coast extreemly difficult of axcess, lying over some high rough and stoney hills, one of which he discribes as being much higher than the others, having it’s base washed by the Ocea[n] over which it rares it’s towering summit perpendicularly to the hight of 1500 feet; from this summit Capt. C. informed me that there was a delightfull and most extensive view of the Ocean, the coast and adjacent country; this Mout. I have taken the liberty of naming Clark’s Mountain and point of view; it is situated about 30 M. S. E. of Point (Adams) and projects about 2 1/2 miles into the Ocean…

Meriwether Lewis named the vantage point Clark’s Mountain — with an apostrophe — for his co-leader while the famed Corps of Discovery explored overland to the Pacific Ocean and back. The Board decided to honor his choice.

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