At the far northwestern corner of North Dakota, right up next to Canada and Montana sits a county with a curious name, Divide. It looked somewhat rectangular like many other counties on the sparsely-populated Great Plains where few natural features could take the place of arbitrary straight lines.
Canadian-US Boundary by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
I’d encountered Divide County vicariously one time before without even realizing it as I researched infrequent border crossings between the United States and Canada a couple of years ago. The Noonan border station in Divide County was so lonely and isolated that it had only a single pedestrian crossing during 2011 (the most current data available at the time), although it also had motor vehicle crossings of course. This photo was actually another nearby crossing in Divide — I couldn’t fine one of Noonan — although notice the obelisk marker placed by the International Boundary Commission. I don’t know where I’m going with that. I simply liked the image and it probably looked a lot like the one at Noonan so feel free to use your imagination.
The international border probably wasn’t the divide that inspired a county’s name however, in spite of modern theories like that described by Dakota Datebook in 2007:
This time a name for the new county would be determined through a contest. The winning entry came from George Gilmore, a Williston attorney. Gilmore proposed the name Divide County. The Northern Continental Divide runs through the region. The county divides the United States from Canada. It divides North Dakota from Montana. And most importantly, the new county was a product of its division.
Divide County Courthouse by jeremiah.andrick, on Flickr (cc)
The part about the contest was true enough. Both Divide County and the Town of Crosby (the seat of county government) confirmed the story. It happened in 1910. Homesteaders were just then migrating into the area. There were just enough people to warrant a new county, thus dividing Divide from larger Williams County. The contest commenced, Gilmore won $5 for his efforts, and the name stuck. The preponderance of sources I consulted mentioned two divisions as the basis for the name, the divide from Williams County, and the continental divide. The notion of state and international borders inspiring a name were apparently modern contrivances.
Divide County North Dakota
Created Using USGS’s National Map Viewer
The continental divide fascinated me more in this instance so I went into the National Map Viewer and selected the watershed layer. Notice the dark purple line that marked the continental divide. Many people see "continental divide" and think reflexively of the Great Divide that separated west from east, the Pacific drainage area from the Gulf of Mexico. This wasn’t that divide. Rather this was the Laurentian Divide or the Northern Divide that separated water bound for Hudson Bay from that heading down towards the Gulf of Mexico.
Divide County’s northeastern quadrant and its county seat at Crosby fell within the Souris River watershed, which flowed into the Assiniboine River River then to the Red River of the North into Lake Winnipeg, then to the Nelson River and finally into Hudson Bay. Divide’s southeastern quadrant flowed a long distance too albeit with a more familiar set of names, from local tributaries to the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, and then to the Gulf of Mexico.
What about that curious notation on the map? The Brush Lake Closed Basin? Indeed, the western part of Divide County flowed just a few miles farther west and barely crossed the border into Montana before stopping at Brush Lake where it remained. A good 20% of Divide wasn’t part of either side of the continental divide, it fell within an endorheic basin created at the tail-end of the last Ice Age as glaciers gouged the plains.
The buried outwash gravels and the deeper river terrace gravels are very porous and support a controlled groundwater irrigation area, as well as supplying Brush Lake with a continuous flow of water through large springs in the lake. Being in a closed basin, summer evaporation serves as a pump to keep groundwater flowing into the lake. And since evaporation only takes pure water out, the minerals leached from the glacial gravels remain dissolved in the lake and accumulate, giving the lake its distinct color.
Brush Lake, Montana
Maybe we should track down Gilmore’s heirs and ask for the $5 back?
We’ve all seen lists created from Google’s unusual auto-search recommendations. I noticed a few entertaining results while I was looking for Streets Named After… well, I forget what I was searching for exactly because I was so enthralled by the false positives. Some were mundane. I expected streets named after celebrities, trees, birds, presidents and such, and of course all of those were suggested. Others seemed downright odd. I’m not sure what Google thinks of me due to the wide array of subject matter I pour into its maw as I research articles for Twelve Mile Circle. Maybe my results were atypical although I have no way of knowing that for certain. It might be interesting to run this same experiment again in a different physical location or several months from now and see if anything changed.
Streets Named After Harry Potter
Muggle Lane, Missoula, Montana, USA
I’m guessing lots of people searched for streets named after Harry Potter and that’s why it came up as one of the top suggestions. I can’t recall focusing an inordinate amount of attention on Harry Potter in 12MC so I don’t think my search habits resulted in the hit. It led me to a BuzzFeed article, There’s A City In Montana With A Neighborhood Full Of Harry Potter-Themed Street Names. Sure enough someone could live at the intersection of Muggle Lane and Potter Park Loop in Missoula, Montana if one found that notion appealing.
Streets Named After Obama
Obama and the Pope: a mural in Arusha, Tanzania by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
It somehow seemed more natural to have streets named after Barack Obama and indeed I found quite a nice list. The most far-flung instance occurred in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. President Obama visited several African nations including Tanzania in July 2013 to meet with business leaders and "demonstrate the U.S. interest in trade and investment." As a result the government of Tanzania renamed one of its primary streets, the road leading to its State House no less, as Barack Obama Drive. Imagine changing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to Jakaya Kikwete Drive!
The name change was reflected accurately in Google Maps. It was still listed by its previous name, Ocean Road, in OpenStreet Map at the time of publication (November 2014).
Streets Named After Packers
Trip to Green Bay by Santiago Bilinkis
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
On the other hand, I had no clue why Google thought I’d want to search for streets named after Packers, as in the Green Bay Packers of American Football fame. It did lead to a Wall Street Journal article, "More Legends Than Streets: Green Bay Is Running Out of Roads to Name After Packer Legends." That seemed to be quite a conundrum in a "first world problem" sort of way. Green Bay wasn’t a large place. Barely a hundred thousand people lived there, making it the smallest U.S. city with a National Football League team. There were only a handful of suitably grand streets for residents to name for their gridiron stars.
Green Bay football quarterback legend Brett Favre garnered only a short block. Granted it was practically next door to Lambeau Field and it led directly to the eponymous Brett Favre’s Steakhouse (3.5 stars on Yelp) so that counted for something. The name of the street? Brett Favre Pass. That created a certain poetic sense because Favre currently holds the record for most career passing yards in the National Football League (71,838).
Streets Named After Rizal
Rizal Monument by Benson Kua, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Streets named after Rizal was a fascinating suggestion. José Rizal was a 19th Century nationalist and intellectual in the Philippines who sought a peaceful end to Spanish colonial rule. In return, Spain sentenced him to death and executed him by firing squad in 1896. He became a Filipino national hero and he was widely regarded as an early powerful force in the independence movement. His body now rests in the Rizal Monument in Manilla, complete with an honor guard offering symbolic protection around the clock.
I believe this came up because his 150th birthday celebration happened a couple of years ago. One site offered A José Rizal @150 Tribute and included a list places named for him. I expected numerous honors and commemorations in the Philippines. It was a little more unusual to see a park in Seattle, Washington (map). Apparently Seattle had a large, active Filipino community. Also there was a José-Rizal-Straße in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany (map). It turned out Rizal had lived nearby while he attended medical training in Heidelberg.
Streets Named After Lord of the Rings
Laan van Tolkien, Geldrop, The Netherlands
If Harry Potter can have streets, so can Lord of the Rings. A housing development in Geldrop, The Netherlands borrowed that theme. I noticed that many of the streets seemed to have been constructed on Woonerf design principles. I’ve been wanting to use my newfound favorite word Woonerf again in context, and there was my chance.
Streets Named After Countries in Glasgow
India Street, Glasgow, Scotland
Apparently there are fourteen streets named after countries in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m not sure why anyone would want or need to know that, and none of the streets seemed all that remarkable. Nonetheless, it came up on the list and who am I to judge?
The trails and breadcrumbs left behind by random one-time electronic visitors sometimes remind me of interesting things I’ve discussed previously and forgotten. Witness the recent query "boomerang" that led one anonymous reader to Fraser Island in Australia, the world’s largest sand island, and its amazing perched dune lakes. As I noted when I drafted the article back in the earliest days of 12MC,
A perched dune lake forms when wind blows an indentation in the sand that then gradually fills with decaying vegetation. Over time the decaying organic matter creates a watertight mat that eventually permeates the sand to form something similar to concrete, almost like a swimming pool… on Frasier Island can be found Boomerang Lake, the world’s highest perched dune lake at 130m above sea level.
The person wanted a boomerang and 12MC delivered a boomerang. Now it was time for a bit of fun and a little boomerang overkill. Were there other boomerangs, I wondered?
In Australia, yes of course, there was a stupendous overindulgence of boomerang hills, streams, islands, lagoons, lakes and anything else geographic that one could possibly imagine. The device was a hunting tool and weapon for many Australian Aboriginal groups so of course occurrences there should be expected. The most significant, or at least most populous example, might very well be Boomerang Beach in the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. Even one of its primary roads, Boomerang Drive, displayed a roughly boomerang shape.
Boomerang Beach, New South Wales, Australia
Boomerang Beach bordered on Booti Booti, an Australian national park. So many awful puns came to mind at that moment although I promised myself that I would behave. It became even more difficult when I learned that the "name comes from ‘butibuti,’ the local Worimi Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty of honey.’" Must… resist… Booty… jokes.
Setting aside Australia — where boomerangs were entirely too pedestrian — I focused my attention farther away in order to see if the theme had spread elsewhere. Well of course it had or I would have stopped typing right here.
Some Reasons Were Obvious
Boomerang Lake, Runnymede, Saskatchewan, Canada
Plenty of features actually resembled boomerangs. I spotted this great example, Boomerang Lake, on the far eastern edge of Saskatchewan. Actually I was hoping the provincial border might split through the lake as I zoomed-in. That was not the case once I looked closer. Nonetheless, it was a nicely representative instance of boomerang-shaped geography.
Other Reasons Were Enigmatic
Hotel Boomerang, Bagni di Tabiano, Parma, Italy
via Google Street View, November 2010
I scratched my head as I pondered Hotel Boomerang in Parma, Italy. They certainly seemed enamored of their boomerangs. I figured maybe they hoped to focus attention on the physics of a properly-thrown boomerang. Perhaps, using that logic, guests would enjoy their lodging and someday "return" to the hotel?
And I Filled In a Hole
Boomerang Run, Red Lodge Mountain, Montana, USA
I saw plenty of boomerangs in the United States. This one was a little different, a black diamond ski run at the Red Lodge Mountain Resort and roughly boomerang-shaped I guess although maybe they were talking about bouncing off trees or something. I didn’t realize Google Maps included ski trails. That reminded me — I also noticed traffic lights on one map I saw recently (for example). Maybe they’re rolling out some new features?
The primary reason for including this boomerang instead of other instnaces in the United States was to fill an empty space on my Complete Index map. There, I admit it. I need to spread the geo-oddity love around.