I thought I’d focus the final installment of the Riverboat Adventure on something a little more whimsical. Sometimes I have trouble remembering facts for a given place so I take photographs of informational signs. Usually this happens at historical sites. Sometimes signs provide greater explanation or context than what’s available on Internet pages. They serve as a great memory jog and starting point when I’m writing articles.
From there I branched out to images of signs less informational as amusing, or thought-provoking, or capturing memories of good times, and that’s what I decided to feature for the Riverboat wrap-up. Yes, this will be the end. Much of the 12MC audience will be grateful for the return of geo-oddities with the next article.
The Riverboat Series banner appeared faithfully at each race, reminding me daily why I’d undertaken this extended roadtrip along the Lower Mississippi in the first place. Places like Columbus, Kentucky; Millington, Tennessee; Lake Village, Arkansas; Greenville, Mississippi and Winnsboro, Louisiana probably wouldn’t have made it onto my list of personal travel destinations otherwise. I was grateful for a plausible excuse to travel through the region, and I treasured friendships we made with the rest of the traveling sideshow of runners and their supporters.
Once again I’ll note that I wasn’t a runner. I kind of felt like a poseur because all I did was drive from one small town to another, hang-out at the finish line (nibbling snacks intended for the runners), and visit geo-oddities along the way.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of "Hoodies must be removed before entering the Hotel Lobby." Did it mean that hoodie-wearers had to remove only the hood from one’s head or remove the hoodie entirely? And what set of events led the hotel to consider that it maybe needed to institute such a protocol? Did something specific happen, was it stereotyping, or maybe an overreaction to the tragic Trayvon Martin incident? I just couldn’t know. I found it unsettling.
I wanted gators! The logo of the Riverboat Series promised gators chasing runners! Alas, we encountered a rather unseasonable cold snap as we headed into alligator country. Typically, gators don’t bask in the sun until the temperature gets to around 80°f (27°c). We were far below that.
The sign may have said "Caution Gator Area," and much of the year it would have been accurate, however not in Leroy Percy State Park (map) on that day in Mississippi.
There weren’t any turtles the next day in Louisiana, either (map).
I’m not sure what possessed me to scratch FROST! into the roof of our rental car, other than my complete dismay at experiencing a hard frost in Louisiana in the middle of April. No gators, no turtles, and a hard frost; when would this winter end?
There certainly were farmers though. Everywhere. I can’t recall dodging more rolling farm equipment on highways on any of my prior roadtrips. It seemed to be the right time of year for that, with fields just under plow and platoons of highly-specialized, oddly-constructed contraptions of unusual shapes and designs. Some rolled on massive wheels, others sported extendable arms of multiple joints, still others included a driver’s cab fifteen feet above the ground, like Dr. Seuss himself switched to farming and drafted all of their designs. This was a farming economy and farmers were king.
The flatness and emptiness of the Mississippi Delta surprised me. We rolled north out of Vicksburg on Route 61, expecting to stop at the next town for lunch. We drove for nearly an hour before finding a suitable spot in a town too small for stoplights, Rolling Fork (map). It was a Mexican restaurant, I suppose a reflection of changing demographics in the Delta, and we were happy to encounter it too. There was also a Subway restaurant nearby (you can see a sign for it in the reflection along with my torso) although we’d done Subway a couple of times already so that was an easy choice.
I already mentioned Graceland in the previous installment so I won’t go into a lot of detail. The entrance sign fascinated me because it proclaimed "The Home of Elvis Presley®" Yes, with a registered trademark symbol. That amused me. Like, imagine someone living at some other house might decide to start calling his suburban rambler The Home of Elvis Presley, so the Presley estate felt it needed to mitigate that eventuality by registering the phrase for Graceland specifically. Certainly I would never say: Twelve Mile Circle — The Home of Elvis Presley because that would be a trademark violation, because you know, someone might actually confuse 12MC with Graceland.
I discussed the easternmost and southernmost United States county with fewer than a single resident per square mile in the first installment. That was Kenedy County, Texas. Now, let’s review the map of fractional county population densities once again and take a closer look. There aren’t very many; only 63 out of 3,143 counties or equivalents fall into that category. I’ve provided a complete list at the bottom of this post for those who want the full set of details.
First, I’m impressed by the complete lack of representation throughout the entire eastern half of the nation. A line begins to emerge along the western edge of the Great Plains with clusters in eastern Montana, western Nebraska, southeastern Oregon plus smatterings in various other western states. Alaska, as expected, contributes the bulk of empty acreage.
Texas certainly lays claim a number of counties. Not far from Kenedy, McMullen Co. represents the second easternmost and second southernmost on the list. I feel sorry for McMullen, an also-ran in two different ways.
Then things get interesting. What is the third easternmost county? It’s Blaine Co., Nebraska by my estimates. That’s the little nob sticking out from the Nebraska cluster. However it’s further east than Edwards or King Counties in Texas by maybe two or three miles at most. I like Blaine because Weed Superintendent is an elected office. I’m going to assume it has to do with the abatement of invasive plants in an area dependent upon agriculture but it still sounds really funny. No disrespect to Carol Conard, Weed Superintendent for Blaine Co. is intended. I’m sure she does a fine job.
The Bethel Census Area in Alaska provides another fascinating point of trivia. It’s the only county equivalent with a population density below one that also has a total population above 10,000. It’s not even close. Bethel had 17,013 residents in 2010. However that doesn’t do much good in an area of forty thousand square miles.
Garfield Co., Utah barely squeaks by with 5,172 people on 5,175 square miles. A single family could move here over the next decade and it push it off my density map. That’s likely to happen. Garfield has gained population for the last forty years and it’s about to pass its historic high established all the way back in 1940. Nobody know how that may impact the Miss Garfield County contest.
Of course there also has to be a "biggest loser," a county that comes closest to making the list but falls just barely short. That dubious distinction goes to Roberts Co., Texas with 929 residents on 924 square miles. It’s a dry county so they can’t even console themselves. It’s tough to say if Roberts Co. will rejoin the list or not. It’s would have been on the list in 2000 and it’s lost population historically. However Roberts gained forty-something people over the last decade which pushed it back over the line. The county economy depends heavily upon oil and natural gas extraction and we’re in a boom right now so their status could change as prices fluctuation.
One other county that did not make the list deserves a mention: Issaquena Co., Mississippi. It is a complete outlier in that part of the nation. One might think it would be unusual to consider a county with 1,406 people on 413 square miles — all the way down at number 259 on my list — but this poor Mississippi Delta county bled people at an astounding rate. More than 10,000 people lived here a century ago. It lost another 40% of its population just over the last decade. I don’t think it will happen in 2020, however it’s possible a little red dot may jump all the way over to Mississippi someday.
Remember in the last installment that I mentioned a trendsetting musician born in Kenedy County? Apparently isolated, impoverished counties have a way of doing that. Issaquena was the birthplace of an even more famous musician: McKinley Morganfield. He was known better as Muddy Waters.