Boomerang

On January 2, 2014 · 1 Comments

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


Boomerang Hotel
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.

Extreme Differences of Extremes

On October 13, 2013 · 7 Comments

I was encouraged to see that I wasn’t the only person fascinated by weather extremes in So Hot, So Cold. Reader "zxo" had been thinking along similar lines a few months ago and created a series of related maps. One of those compared the differences between the highest and lowest temperatures recorded in each state. Check it out. It even showed the approximate location where each state record was set. I’ll use that as the basis for the remainder of this article. Thanks for the inspiration, zxo.

The Weather Channel took a similar tack in July 2013. They had the ability to produce prettier graphics with professional equipment although I still find zxo’s all-encompassing map more useful than trying to scroll through a strip of fifty images. However the Weather Channel did provide three fairly intuitive reasons to account for states with the most extreme differences of extremes:

  • A wide range of elevations, e.g., "California… with Death Valley sitting 282 feet below sea level while 14,000-foot mountain peaks sit less than 100 miles away"
  • A long distance from large bodies of water that "heat and cool slowly, keeping adjacent land areas milder in winter and cooler in summer"
  • Latitude. Variability increases as one moves away from the equator, with additional hours of sunlight in summer and longer nighttimes in winter

As before, I’ll use Wikipedia’s chart of U.S. state temperature extremes. I’ve noticed slight variations between this list and some others I’ve consulted on the Intertubes. I’m not able to compare these against the official list at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration due to the government shutdown (October 2013) so I’ll have to consider Wikipedia close enough as a proxy and plow forward.


Fort Yukon Sign
Fort Yukon Sign by Mozul, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

My rule of thumb is to begin with Alaska reflexively whenever I play "guess the state." It seems to be the one that provides the geo-oddity answer more often than not. It would appear to score very high on all three factors for this exercise too, ranging from sea level to 20,237 ft (6,168 m) at Denali; having parts of the state hundreds of miles distant from the nearest shoreline due to its immense size; and featuring latitudes farther removed from the equator than anywhere else in the nation. As expected, Alaska scored very well with an extreme temperature range of 180°F (100°F / 38°C at Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915 and -80°F / -62°C at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971). However it’s not the champion, nor does it even capture second place.



(A) Medicine Lake to (B) Rogers Pass

Would you believe… Montana? I was surprised. Sure, one would expect it to score high on all three criteria although I didn’t expect it to beat Alaska, and rather convincingly too. Montana’s difference of extremes was an astounding 187°F. The mercury rose to 117°F / 47°C most recently on July 5, 1937, at Medicine Lake, and previously at Glendive in July 1893. Both of those places are found at the far eastern edge of the state, a semi-arid extension of the Great Plains baked by searing summer heat.


Medicine Lake
Medicine Lake by cm195902, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

The etymology of Montana traces to the Spanish word Montaña referring to a mountainous area, and there are plenty of higher elevations on the western side of the state. It was at Rogers Pass where Montana set its lowest temperature extreme on January 20, 1954, a bone-chilling -70°F / -57°C. Rogers Pass is actually one of the lower elevations through Montana’s mountains and over the Continental Divide (5,610 ft / 1,710 m) — after all that’s why it’s called a pass — so one can only imagine what the temperature would have hit had it been recorded on any of the nearby summits another thousand feet up, instead.

North Dakota scored higher than Alaska too, at "only" 181°F difference. The state recorded 121°F / 49°C on July 6, 1936 at Steele and -60°F / -51°C on February 15, 1936 at Parshall. Hawaii, perhaps more obviously, recorded the least amount of difference, a mere 83°F. Hawaii was also the only state that had never recorded a temperature below zero on the Fahrenheit scale.

All of these extreme thoughts led me to wonder about the maximum difference for a single location. Unfortunately there aren’t handy lists of such things available. My initial guess would be Fairbanks, Alaska, with a difference of 159°F (99°F / 37°C and -60°F / -51°C). Another site said 96°F and -62°F so who knows? It’s a big difference, whichever source happens to be correct. Perhaps there are location even more extreme found elsewhere in Alaska, or maybe in Siberia or the Canadian Arctic?

Longest Distance – Simplest Directions

On September 29, 2013 · 7 Comments

It’s Sunday, a day to relax, so I thought I’d dispense with an article that required actual research and focused on something that might exercise a different part of the brain. It’s kind-of silly and pointless although it offered an opportunity for plenty of 12MC audience participation. I wondered, as I drove to my destination, about the longest distance I could drive without a GPS talking to me. For some of you that would be infinite because you don’t use a GPS on principal, and I respect that. I still find the device useful as a companion to a range of the other tools including my own common sense. For those who choose to use a GPS then, about how long could one drive without hearing a single voice command? I know I’ve seen instructions that said something like "continue on Route XYZ" for greater than a hundred miles on my various road trips.

That can’t be the longest. Obviously I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to test a solution in the wild so I decided to use Google Maps as a proxy. The rules would be simple. In fact, there would be only one rule: the written directions must have a single command equivalent to keep on truckin’. Point your vehicle, don’t turn, don’t deviate, don’t stop, don’t bear right or left, don’t drive aboard a ferry, don’t negotiate a roundabout, just continue to follow the single line of instruction.



I-40 Between Barstow, CA and Oklahoma City, OK, USA

Google Maps reserved its craziest distances for the United States. I didn’t know if that was a Google thing or if it was a characteristic of the U.S. interstate highway system of very well-developed motorways through extremely depopulated areas. Interstate 40 turned out to be the grand champion for a segment between Barstow, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here were the complete Google driving instructions:

  • 1. Head east on I-40

That’s all. For 1,215 miles — 1,953 kilometres (¹), head east. Well, it also noted helpfully that one would pass through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas before entering Oklahoma. However that didn’t change the basic premise. Assuming one never had to stop for gasoline, for rest or for a biological imperative, the GPS unit would remain silent for more than twelve hundred miles and nearly nineteen hours at normal highway speeds. Theoretically.

There were numerous extreme occurrences in the United States with a single written instruction provided in Google Maps. All of them were longer than 621 miles — 1,000 kilometres. The segments are a bit of a pain to isolate so you can either take my word for it or go into Google Maps and tease them out yourself. Remember, Google seems to offer slightly different results to different people as well as changing conclusions over time so your results may vary.

  • I-40: 1,215 miles (1,953 km)
  • I-90: 1,135 miles (1,827 km)
  • I-70: 1,105 miles (1,778 km)
  • I-80: 1,053 miles (1,695 km)
  • I-10: 974 miles (1,568 km)
  • I-5: 855 miles (1,376 km)
  • I-90 + I-94: 824 miles (1,326 km) followed by 823 miles (1,325 km)
  • I-94: 824 miles (1,326 km)
  • I-81: 682 miles (1,098 km)
  • I-26: 649 miles (1,044 km)
  • I-15: 647 miles (1,041 km)

The Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 discovery was particularly interesting, with back-to-back 800+ mile segments. It would have stretched 1,647 miles (2,651 km) if it weren’t for an instruction to "keep left to continue on I-94 E" outside of Billings, Montana. That last item brought up a good point. I’ve only checked these distances going in one direction, generally west to east or north to south. Distances could vary if one flipped directions. I’ll leave those stones to be turned by the 12MC audience. Maybe someone will discover a result that blows my findings out of the water.


Russia



M58 Between Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai and Uglegorsk, Amur Oblast, Russia

I figured, the larger the nation the greater the probability of a single road stretching the farthest, right? What better place to start than Russia? The best example I uncovered occurred between Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai and Uglegorsk, Amur Oblast, on Highway M58, a part of the Trans-Siberian Highway.

  • 1. Head east on Amyp/M58. Continue to follow M58

That was the single line of driving instruction for a distance of 1,337 kilometres (831 miles). It seemed like a glitch, though. Why would Google specify an odd rectangular gyration on an otherwise clear stretch of road that would require one to turn at Uglegorsk?

I had to turn to Yandex for a decent satellite image. Further research indicated that Uglegorsk was a closed urban settlement that was originally constructed to serve a nearby base for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. It’s also the future site of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, now under construction. It would make sense to create a checkpoint on the M58 highway right at that spot.

Russian route M58, the Amur Highway, would continue uninterrupted for another 754 kilometres (469 mi) without the unusual detour at Uglegorsk, and the combined length would become 2,091 kilometres (1,300 mi). That would make it longer than the I-40 stretch in the United States. I’ll assume that the Russian space program is slightly more important than the nation being crowned a grand champion of silent GPS driving distances.

An interesting bit of trivia about M58; it wasn’t completed until 2010. As noted in the St. Petersburg Times,

It is the last link in a road system that stretches from Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle on the Barents Sea, and Kaliningrad, on the border with Poland, to Vladivostok, on the Pacific Ocean… Services — filling stations, hotels and auto repair shops — are rare on the highway, and lengthy sections do not have access to electricity.


Australia



Great Northern Highway Between Wubin and Port Hedland, WA, Australia

I turned to another large nation with wide open spaces for the next example and found a decent example on Australia’s Great Northern Highway.

  • 1. Head north-east on Great Northern Hwy/National Highway 95. Continue to follow Great Northern Hwy

The directions continued that way for another 1,323 kilometres (822 mi) through Western Australia, from Wubin to an intersection with the North West Coastal Highway south of Port Hedland, near the Indian Ocean coastline. I knew that Australia had some amazing road distances so I wasn’t surprised at all by this result.

Other Contenders

My unscientific examination of other nations yielded additional single instruction driving distances extending more than a thousand kilometres.

  • Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway: 1,301 kilometres (808 mi)
  • China’s G45: 1,078 kilometres (670 mi)
  • Algeria’s N1: 1,044 kilometres (649 mi)

Feel free to try different locations, or flip-flop directions, or use other online map sites.


Completely Unrelated

Here we go again, facing a U.S. government shutdown because of political failures to approve a budget. I reviewed what I wrote in March 2011, Tourist Options During a Government Shutdown, and found it to be up-to-date for the most part. Sadly, baseball won’t be an option in Washington this October however I’m sure there are plenty of other recreational or entertainment possibilities.


(¹) I’ll reference miles first for distances in the United States since that’s the measure used there, and flip to kilometres for locations where that’s the standard. As I’ve noted before, I don’t know why the U.S. won’t switch to the metric system. No and I don’t understand why the U.S continues to have a unit of currency that’s one-hundredth of a dollar either. What can I say?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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