Newsworthy River Cutoffs

On December 1, 2016 · 4 Comments

Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.

Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.

The Red River



Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.

Fixing the Border


Bend in Red River, Texas
Bend in Red River, Texas. Photo by brewbooks on Flickr (cc)

I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.

The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.

… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.

The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.

The Current Dispute

Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.


The River Meuse


Netherlands Belgium Border Adjustment
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment
Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap

Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).

The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.

In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.

Venice of Whatever

On September 4, 2016 · 5 Comments

I kept running into places that compared themselves to Venice as I uncovered canal superlatives. Literally dozens of places described themselves that way. It made things easy for Twelve Mile Circle too. I could select whatever examples I wanted today because I couldn’t possibly cover them all. That seemed like an excellent opportunity to create some push-pins in lower density areas of the 12MC Complete Index Map. Right, India?


Gondolas, Venice
Gondolas, Venice. Photo by Kevin Gibbons on Flickr (cc)

Realizing all these claimants existed, of course only one true Venice prevailed amongst the poseurs, the deservedly famous one in Italy (map). It seemed like an odd location for a city, scattered along a string of islands in a marshy lagoon at the mouth of a couple of rivers. The founders selected this unlikely site intentionally. The marsh offered refuge to Christians fleeing southward away from Germanic tribes as the Roman Empire crumbled. Their city grew over the centuries. Eventually it became an important economic hub and a naval power. Venice only had so much land however, and an overabundance of water, leading to the beautiful canals that visitors treasure today.


Kashmiri Venice


India - Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
India – Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. Photo by sandeepachetan.com travel photography on Flickr (cc)

I decided to completely side-step the ongoing geopolitical situation of the Kashmir conflict. The focus remained on a city with an alleged resemblance to Venice contained within its larger borders. Srinagar (map) came under Indian control and that seemed alright for my purposes. The city claimed to be a "Kashmiri Venice" or even more boldly the "Venice of the East." At least a dozen other places also proclaimed themselves to be the true Venice of the East. I didn’t know how to rank them although I felt secure that Srinagar should be considered at least the Kashmiri Venice. That felt safe.

Srinagar fell within the Jammu and Kashmir state at the very northern tip of India. Jammu and Kashmir itself included an interesting geo-oddity. It had both a summer and a winter capital. Srinagar served as the capital during the warmer months and then it jumped to Jammu for the winter. I couldn’t figure why or how that worked. It seemed strange to move the capital nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) twice a year. And I’ve complained about moving the hands of a clock twice a year. That little tangent had nothing to do with canals in Srinagar so I supposed I need to get back on track.

The Jhelum River ran through Srinagar on its way to the Indus River. A series of canals, both current and historical, prevented flooding and regulated water levels. They also connected two large bodies of water, Dal Lake and Anchar Lake, as well as several smaller ones. The city became known for its majestic waterside Mughal architecture, its wonderful parks and its iconic houseboats. All of those conditions underlied its claim.


Venice of the Netherlands



Giethoorn in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands also featured a network of interlaced canals and an abundance of water.

It is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real – gently gliding along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses… Giethoorn is at the centre of Overijssel’s canal system. Indeed, the little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by punt.

Giethoorn made some pretty bold claims too. Some called Giethoorn (map) the "Venice of the Netherlands" and others extended it even farther to "Venice of the North." I think the fine folks in Amsterdam might question either claim although that hardly seemed to stop little Giethoorn from drawing its line in the sand.

It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Were there any trolls under those bridges?


Venice of America


Venice? In America?
Venice? In America?. Photo by Landon on Flickr (cc)

Florida featured an entire city of Venice although nobody called it the "Venice of America," or even the "Venice of Florida." It got its name in the 1880’s and even the city itself admitted that a couple of early settlers simply picked the name. Venice didn’t have any more or any fewer canals than other coastal cities in Florida. A completely different Florida location claimed to be the Venice of America; Fort Lauderdale (map). The city featured "65 miles of interconnected canals" spanned by 52 separate bridges. Cruises and water taxis delighted many tourists who flocked there.


A Special Note

The nation of Venezuela might be the most significant Venetian namesake. Most sources agreed that Amerigo Vespucci, navigator for the Alonso de Ojeda expedition of 1499 bestowed the name. Supposedly he noticed stilt houses built upon Lake Maracaibo that reminded him of the Italian City so he named it Veneziola ("Little Venice"). This became Venezuela when filtered through Spanish. Amerigo fared even better however, with a little corner of the world known as America named in his honor.

Michigan, Part 4 (Above and Below)

On July 27, 2016 · Comments Off on Michigan, Part 4 (Above and Below)

It wasn’t always easy finding sites that appealed to every member of the family during our Michigan trip. I searched high and low, from way up in the sky to deep undersea, for our little day trips during our week away from home. Local roads took us to three different places in three distinct directions all within close range of our temporary base in Grand Rapids. Each of the sites featured a connection to the Second World War, coincidentally enough.

Kalamazoo Air Zoo


Kalamazoo Air Zoo

An hour drive due south brought us to Kalamazoo and its wonderfully named Kalamazoo Air Zoo. I hoped my frequent visits to Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum wouldn’t taint my perception so I tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t worry. The Air Zoo held its own. Incredibly, a government did not operate or fund this museum. It sprang from the collection of private citizens, Sue and Pete Parish. They started small with just a few planes in the 1960’s.

It was becoming clear that Sue and Pete wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with people who enjoyed these historic flying machines. Then a friend made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: start a museum, and he would give them his Grumman Bearcat.

The building on the edge of Kalamazoo’s airport eventually filled with exhibits, leading to another building and then an annex (map). It took most of a day for us to tour everything in depth. This would also be a great $100 hamburger for people into such things. The Air Zoo website included fly-in directions.


Holland’s Windmill


Windmill Island

An easy half-hour drive southwest of Grand Rapids brought us to the city of Holland. The name reflected the expected immigrant story.

Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. VanRaalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. VanRaalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, VanRaalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake — today’s Lake Macatawa.

One couldn’t blame the town for capitalizing on on its heritage by creating Windmill Island Gardens. This well-manicured park featured a 1761 windmill called De Zwaan (the Swan), moved from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1964 (map). Many Dutch windmills fell into disrepair especially during World War 2 when they often served as signal towers, drawing enemy fire. The town acquired a particularly dilapidated specimen from Vinkel in Noord Brabant and restored it to its original condition. The Netherlands would never allow such a valuable cultural icon like this to escape its territory today.

De Zwaan functioned perfectly on a wind-swept plain along the Macatawa River, on the edge of town. A local resident, Alisa Crawford, then learned how to operate the windmill. She finished her training in the Netherlands and "is the only female member of the Dutch milling guild, Ambachtelijk Korenmolenaars Gilde." She grinds white winter wheat grown in western Michigan and offers it for sale at Windmill Island.

Visitors also get an opportunity to walk to the top of the Windmill with great views in all directions.


USS Silversides


Silversides Museum

Another day we drove to Muskegon, also nearby heading northwest this time for about forty minutes (map). Here we found the Silversides Museum. It seemed like a strange name for a submarine until I saw that it came from a certain type of fish resembling a smelt. Then it made perfect sense. The USS Silversides served with distinction during World War 2. She launched and received her commission just a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served through the entire war. Her crew earned numerous distinctions,

Silversides received twelve battle stars for World War II service and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.

It seemed incomprehensible for me to imagine that sixty people lived aboard this vessel. I pushed my way through its length into increasingly claustrophobic quarters, through tiny hatches between watertight compartments. Bunks stacked atop bunks in ever corner and crevice. Privacy simply did not exist aboard a Gato-Class submarine. Submariners also faced horrific survival rates throughout the war although only a single crew member died in combat on the Silversides. She earned a nickname, the Lucky Boat.

The museum included more than just the submarine. It also featured a US Coast Guard Cutter, the McLane plus an entire museum building filled with exhibits.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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