Reader Joel expressed mild surprise at a Hawaiian-inspired spot in Utah that I’d referenced, the town of Loa named by a former resident of Hawaii honoring the towering mountain Mauna Loa. He wondered about "names out of place" in general while I continued to fixate on Hawaii. I complemented his comment with Diamondhead, Mississippi, a locale that had a history of creeping into articles such as Just Keep Turning and Residential Airparks because I have family living there.
A maze of waterways on the Mississippi Coast… by Frank Kovalchek
Nobody would ever confuse the bayous and tidal estuaries of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with any part in Hawaii. Diamondhead (the Mississippi city) certainly looked nothing like Diamond Head (the iconic volcanic cone in Honolulu spelled with a space between Diamond and Head). First of all Mississippi was flat along the shoreline giving way to gentle rolling hills farther inland at Diamondhead. That’s why Hurricane Katrine gave it such a wallop during its epic storm surge (my family remembrances).
One needed to understand that Diamondhead was a recent construct envisioned by developers hoping to attract retirees to the Gulf Coast. The theme was a marketing gimmick by a company with the same name. They weren’t going to call it Mudbug or Mosquito even though the coast had both in abundance. No, they wanted it to sound like a tropical resort. As the Hancock County Historical Society explained,
The Federal Highway Act of 1956 created the interstate highway system, and construction began on I-10 through the Mississippi Gulf Coast making Hancock County accessible to people from a wide area… It was in this environment that the Diamondhead Corporation, a large corporation with resort developments in several states, began development operations in coastal Mississippi. It purchased six thousand acres of property adjacent to I-10… The first land sales [in Diamondhead] were recorded in 1970.
Diamondhead has been an incorporated city only since 2012.
Right around the same time of my initial Hawaiian fixation I spotted a 12MC viewer who dropped onto the site from Aloha, Oregon. That’s when I decided I needed to create an article. Aloha was an area of approximately fifty-thousand residents just west of Beaverton, which in turn was just west of Portland. Yet, in spite of its size and population I found precious little information to explain the name except for a brief mention on Wikipedia.
According to Oregon Geographic Names, the origin of the name Aloha is disputed. Some sources say it was named by Robert Caples, a railroad worker, but it is unknown why the name was chosen. In 1983 Joseph H. Buck claimed that his uncle, the first postmaster, Julius Buck, named the office "Aloah" after a small resort on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.
Indeed, I found an Aloah Beach on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. I felt disillusioned, as if maybe Oregon’s Aloha didn’t have anything to do with Hawaii after all.
Honolulu, North Carolina
Honolulu, North Carolina
via Google Street View, June 2013
Honolulu, North Carolina (map) made me feel better. At least it was named for something Hawaiian sort of, although based on a whim. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, the newspaper for the "real" Honolulu highlighted its North Carolina cousin in a feature article in 2002.
The hamlet got its name in 1900 when James Witherington, Selba’s husband’s granddad, got the permit to set up a post office. "They asked what did they want to call it, and on the spur of the moment, he said, ‘We’ll just call it Honolulu.’" Witherington said. The family has no idea why the name of a place 4,872 miles away popped into James Witherington’s head more than 100 years ago. No one in the family has ever been to Hawaii, Witherington said. "They hardly ever got out of the county."
Sometimes I think we wouldn’t have any weird town names without the Post Office.
Kanaka in the Northwestern US
Kanaka Falls, Middle Fork American River
Sometimes Hawaiian names on the mainland were inspired by actual Hawaiians. Although generally not well know, people from Hawaii worked and settled on the western coast of North America beginning in the early 19th Century. They were employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in present-day British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. They also caught "Gold Fever" along with the rest of the world and flocked to California to make their fortunes. Hawaiians had a distinct advantage because stories of gold hit Hawaii faster than anywhere else, as early as June 1848. They could also sail to California a lot faster than easterners could cross prairie and mountain on foot. Many Hawaiians beat the crowds heading to California to stake their claims so they might more properly be Forty-Eighters instead of Forty-Niners.
Various geographic features in the central California goldfields earned Hawaiian names. One term, Kanaka, a Polynesian word for the native people of Hawaii was particularly popular. Prospectors attached it to mountains, streams, mines, valleys and populated places. The Geographic Names Information System referenced 25 different Kanaka occurrences in California. For example, Kanaka Falls on the Middle Fork of the American River is a well-regarded Class IV rapids for whitewater rafting (videos). Some of the Hawaiians remained in California. Many returned home after experiencing their first mainland winter, poorer although wiser.
I’m sure there were other Hawaiian place names on the mainland. I didn’t have any trouble finding the ones I featured.
The second part of my quick southern trip moved west. We began in St. Augustine, Florida a couple of days earlier and now it was time to move on to family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This transformed into an exercise in county counting. My completion map of Florida counties changed dramatically for the better as we proceeded farther west along Interstate 10.
Florida Counties Visited, produced using Mob Rule
I grabbed an entire northern tier of Florida counties crossed by I-10, capturing new ones from Baker to Okaloosa. This added a dozen to my list: Baker, Columbia Suwannee, Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Walton and Okaloosa. I’d also visited one additional Florida county a couple of days earlier. I got out of bed at 5 a.m. one morning and snagged Clay County since it was only about a thirty minute round-trip. I returned to the hotel before anyone else in the family even woke up. They were never the wiser. That made the complete collection of new counties a nice Lucky 13 for the trip.
The northern tier of Florida felt unlike any of my earlier Florida experiences. It was a lot more hilly than I expected; the hills weren’t large although the terrain had a definite roll. Also pine trees dominated the landscape instead of palm trees, and of course there were no ocean views. Few people lived along the route except for those near Tallahassee and Pensacola. I put the car on cruise control and piled on the miles. It took most of a day just to get out of Florida before hitting Alabama briefly and then crossing into Mississippi.
I’ve been to Southern Mississippi many times. The challenge of writing this article would be avoiding places I’ve discussed before, or at least finding a new angle.
John C. Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center
Anyone traveling through Mississippi on I-10 will drive right through the buffer zone of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) John C. Stennis Space Center. NASA designated 125,000 acres (195 square miles / 500 square kilometres) around the Center as a noise abatement area to dampen the deafening sounds of rocket engine testing. Private citizens still own land there and can have access to it although they cannot build homes upon it. The base itself is considerably smaller, 13,500 acres (21 mi2 / 55 km2). That space is tightly controlled and requires access through guarded gates.
I’ve watched the security evolve over the years. Anyone could drive onto the base and visit the StenniSphere, NASA’s visitor center, without any special permission prior to September 11, 2001. Of course the world changed after 9-11. NASA moved its visitor staging area to a nearby rest stop adjacent to Interstate 10. From there, tourists caught a shuttle bus which brought them onto the base and unloaded them at the StenniSphere. I guess that wasn’t secure enough or maybe it was simply an interim measure. Now, probably within the last few months, NASA opened a new visitor center next to the rest stop. It was completely outside of the base in a public area that they’ve named the INFINITY Science Center (map). Tourists can still hop on a shuttle bus for a driving tour of the large rocket testing platforms although they don’t have quite the level of freedom to roam around as before.
I’ve never been lucky enough to visit Stennis during an engine test. Testing is a bit random and isn’t announced ahead of time for security reasons. Nonetheless, the guides said any shuttle buses driving past the platforms at the right moment will stop at a safe spot to enjoy the show. Maybe next time.
Down the road a bit in Louisiana, we stopped at the Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery near Abita Springs (map). I’d never been there before so that was a new experience. They raise alligators commercially to be turned into handbags, wallets, boots, belts and other accessories. The entire industry was overseen by the State of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Alligator Program.
Since the inception of the Department’s program in 1972, over 810,000 wild alligators have been harvested, over 6.5 million alligator eggs have been collected, and over 3.5 million farm raised alligators have been sold bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to landowners, trappers and farmers.
Alligators were an endangered species in Louisiana prior to the program. The population rebounded dramatically. Each commercial rancher continues to return a certain percentage of its adult alligators to the wild as a condition of the program. Four year old alligators are large enough to avoid predation so they have a very high survival rate, leading to more eggs and more alligators. Eggs are laid only once per year and they hatch in late August-ish. Ranchers from Insta-Gator fly ultralight aircraft over the marshes and swamps to spot the nests, mark them with a flag, and return to collect eggs. They then raise hatchlings to adulthood, some destined to become handbags and some destined for freedom. I’ll offer some advise for any alligators being raised commercially: get a nick or scar on your belly because that gives you an imperfection and you’ll probably be freed. Nobody wants a handbag with a blemish.
The ranch had several alligators much older and larger than the rest. Those were used for movies, television and advertisements. It burst my bubble just a bit when I learned that many of those "reality" TV shows set in swamps and bayous use farm-raised gators. The scenes are staged.
Laurel & Hardy
Laurel and Hardy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
via Google Street View, July 2014
This one is a bit of a non sequitur. Does anyone remember back in 2013 when I featured intersecting streets that formed the names of Comedy Duos? Like, someone in
Washington , Kansas lives at the corner of Abbot & Costello? It’s not that important so don’t worry about it if you don’t.
Anyway, I spotted this road sign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and didn’t have enough time to pull out my camera so I’ve borrowed a Google Street View image. It wasn’t quite a crossroads like in the earlier article. Laurel, in this case, was a nearby town. Hardy was one of the primary streets in Hattiesburg; it went directly past the University of Southern Mississippi. I still laughed a little when I saw the unintentional reference to Laurel & Hardy.
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 imagine the actual worry may have been the folks at the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo.
The Riverboat Adventure articles: