I keep a close eye on the geographic characteristics of Twelve Mile Circle visitors, which seems natural for a geo-oddity website. I also generate article topics from viewer anomalies. For example, I never knew that Mars could be found in Pennsylvania until a Martian visitor, one from a spot north of Pittsburgh as it turned out, hopped onto the site to explore a few pages.
Take Me to Your Leader
Mars, I noticed, included a Mars Picnic Shelter, a Mars Skating Rink, a Mars Athletic Field and a Mars Cemetery, so insert your preferred joke here. I kind of enjoyed the though of a burial on Mars although Martian ice skating seemed promising too.
Naturally if there’s a Mars then there must be a Venus. Colonies of Venusians lived in many places including Texas.
I wondered if I could find a town named for each planet. I managed to get about halfway through my research when I discovered that someone already beat me to it. He turned to the same U.S. Geological Survey database I would have used and completed the effort a year before 12MC even existed. View that website if you’d like a comprehensive list of planetary towns within the United States. Keep reading if you’d like the usual 12MC treatment: examining places in more detail; sprinkling in a few international locations; and lame attempts at entertainment.
Starting closest to the sun (Sun City?) and working outward, the 12MC spaceship landed first on…
Crazy ’bout a Mercury
Notice the grey coloring on the background of this map of Mercury, Nevada. Google Maps uses that particular shade to designate restricted government facilities. Indeed, Mercury is a closed town. You cannot go there. You might be able to go there if you’re a nuclear engineer working for the U.S. Department of Energy although I think it’s still safe to say that "YOU" cannot go there in a general sense.
The government built Mercury to house it workers at its Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were detonated in a controlled manner. DOE provided a fact sheet (pdf) with much more detail if that interests you.
My favorite trivial moments:
- Mercury, being closest to the sun, can be very hot. So can a nuclear explosion. Mercury is an appropriate name for a town at a nuclear test site even though its naming appeared to be coincidental.
- Notice Jackass Flats Road. I don’t have anything more to add; just found it funny. It reminded me of Jackass Junction.
A View from the Surface of Venus (Bay)
I mentioned the Venus located in Texas already. One can also find a Venus, in this case Venus Bay, in Victoria, Australia. It’s a nice weekend getaway for people from Melbourne ("let’s travel to Venus for a little holiday")
Flickr by J. Stephen Conn via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Doesn’t Earth as a placename seem redundant? Apparently that’s not a problem for the residents of Earth City, Missouri (map) or Earth, Texas (map). The Handbook of Texas provided a common excuse, the "name already taken" dilemma, when settlers required a post office. There are three distinct apocryphal explanations. I liked the sandstorm story so let’s use that one.
Originally Halsell called the place Fairlawn or Fairleen, but it was renamed Earth, supposedly for a sandstorm blowing when storekeeper and first postmaster C. H. Reeves had to come up with a name acceptable to postal authorities in Washington.
We already mentioned MARS and there’s a well-known JUPITER with 50,000+ residents exists in Florida, so let’s blast farther into the solar system.
Canadian Mini Solar System
I found several Saturn opportunities although the best choice seemed to be Saturn Lake in Ontario. I didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about the lake itself, however it’s placed within a mini-solar system when paired with Pluto Lake. Another nearby feature was called Juniper Lake, which sounds a lot like Jupiter. I gave this cluster two-and-a-half points even understanding that Pluto was dropped from the planet list in 2006. I won’t mention Pluto again.
*** DANGER: Skip to the next section if you are offended by deliberate mispronunciations and juvenile humor ***
Mianus View Requires No Explanation
I couldn’t find Uranus but I found Mianus. Steve from CTMQ pointed to Mianus during our epic Connecticut Extremes Adventure last summer. In all fairness, we were several hours into the trip and I think fatigue had begun to degrade our conversation. We were amused by Mianus for the next several miles. Yes, I am aware that no less a paragon of wit and sophisticated humor than Jackass (speaking of Jackass) featured Mianus during one of its episodes.
I hereby nominate "Mianus View Terrace" as the most unfortunate street name in the United States.
There is a Neptune Township in New Jersey, however I think I’ll feature the Neptune Island Group in South Australia instead for a couple of reasons:
- It’s supposed to be teeming with Great White Sharks, and that piqued my interest; and
- Wikipedia said there was a ship named Venus that wrecked on Neptune in 1946
I’m sure I could have searched for various other features of our solar system. I’ll leave those for the 12MC audience.
Did anyone else notice the oddly-named park immediately to the east of Social Circle, Georgia when I posted The Chunk that Got Away in December? I did, and I made a record of it intending to return later. Hard Labor Creek had to have a story. Places like that weren’t named accidentally.
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It’s seemed to be a typical case upon closer scrutiny, a name shrouded in legend and lost to history. The Hard Labor Creek State Park focused primarily on its golf course and sidestepped the odd name. An obligatory Wikipedia page stated without any attribution whatsoever, "The creek’s name comes either from slaves who once tilled the summer fields, or from Native Americans who found the area around the stream difficult to ford." Right. The usual antebellum or Native American explanation. I picked the antebellum explanation because of those actually providing the bulk of hard labor in this area during the period. I based that assumption on preconceived notions and nonexistent evidence which should make it perfectly legitimate for the Intertubes. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to fill an entire article.
Wikipedia went on to explain that "Camp Daniel Morgan [ed., which is part of Hard Labor Creek State Park], was the filming location of three well-known ‘camp’ movies, Little Darlings (1980), Poison Ivy (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)." OK then, that’s an interesting little pedigree for a very small segment of the audience.
I still liked the name so I turned to my go-to source for these types of anomalies, the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). There I discovered several other Hard Labor geographic features — concentrated primarily in the American south which lent confirmation bias to my earlier reckless speculation — plus one location in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Actually that last one was Hard Labour, with an "ou" British-style. It didn’t appear to be a populated place anymore, rather more of a wooded hillside. There was something poetic about Hard Labour sandwiched between Anger Ridge and Upper Love. The person naming these places must have had relationship issues.
From there it was easy to follow GNIS to all other Hard places identified within the United States, with implied tales of woe and misery etched upon the landscape, with occasional burst of optimism.
- Hard Bargain Cemetery, Landing, Gas Field, Mine
- Hard Cash Cutoff, Lake, Mine, Spring, and a populated place
- Hard Climb Mine
- Hard Fortune Creek
- Hard Head Mine
- Hard Luck Creek, Tank, Ranch, Mine, Hammock, Well, Crossing, Draw, and a populated place
- Hard scrabble / Hardscrabble Cemetery, Ridge, Hollow, School, Creek, Falls, Farms
- Hard Scratch Hill, and a populated place
- Hard Times Landing, Bend, Plantation, Spring, Mine, Reservoir
- Hard to Beat Mine, Canyon
- Hard to Find Ditch, Mine
- Hard Up Cemetery, Gulch, Point
- Hard Working Lumps
The final spot jumped from the screen. Hard Working Lumps?!? It correlated geographically to a set of small, shifting sandbars at the southern edge of the Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina (map). The USGS called Hard Working Lumps an "island" although I think that may have been overly generous. I did note that a topographic map placed Hard Working Lumps directly next to Bunch of Hair, leading me to wonder whether the mariner naming these features may have been out-to-sea a little too long.
Mines often have the most colorful names and that seemed to hold true for these instances too. Prospectors in the Old West almost never struck it rich, failing repeatedly while enduring personal hardships, and often returned home penniless. The mines reflected their fatalism, perhaps due to past experience or because of superstitious attempts to avoid jinxing their claims. A cluster of Hard Luck Mines dotted the mountains near Helena, Montana, although pragmatism also lurked nearby with Hard Cash Mine. I also enjoyed the Hard to Find Mine northeast of Reno, Nevada although it’s not necessarily accurate anymore with exact lat/long coordinates and satellite imagery.
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An entire mountainside seemed to have been removed for the Hard Time Mine near Battle Mountain, Nevada. It may have lived up to its name, having been located so close to a town dubbed the armpit of America in 2001.
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Cemeteries seemed to be unlikely candidates although several appeared on the list. Could one imagine Hard Bargain Cemetery in Greene Co., Alabama? Death is probably the hardest bargain of them all so the name reflected truth, however, it seemed to be an odd designation. Nobody really wants to be reminded of that eventuality. Even so, it was still preferable to Hard Up Cemetery in Baker Co., GA which was so hard-up that surrounding vegetation overtook it (map).
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Merriam-Wester defines hardscrabble as "being or relating to a place of barren or barely arable soil; getting a meager living from poor soil; or marked by poverty." Life on the Great Plains was tough. Several Hardscrabble or Hard Scrabble Schools existed historically from the settlement period including a now-empty lot in Kansas depicted above. No Hardscrabble Schools exist today although a Hard Elementary School can be found outside of Birmingham, Alabama. In that instance it was named for Charles F. Hard, "the second mayor of Bessemer." Schools have largely transcended beyond hardscrabble.
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Hard-to-get-to Ridge in Garfield Co., Washington was probably accurate when named. Things change. National Forest road NF-4027 terminates within a half-mile of the ridge. I drilled down within the image and noticed a couple of trailers parked there. Maybe they should change the name to Not-so-hard-to-get-to Ridge?
Let’s toast our pessimistic ancestors.
Going out-of-town for the holidays to a small town where temperatures never cracked above freezing provided lots of contemplation time as well as abundant exercise opportunities for my right thumb via a television remote control. I’m an historian by training, so as one might expect I gravitated towards the History Channel and its ilk. Has anyone else noted the preponderance of pseudo-reality television shows clustered therein from Las Vegas, Nevada?
I bet some of you thought I was going to rail against the lack of actual history programming on the History Channel, like Senator Chuck Grassley (of the geo-eponymous Full Grassley). I’ll save that for someone else. I can do mindless TV with the best of them so it doesn’t bother me. I don’t particularly care whether there’s minimal historical content on the History Channel or discovery on the Discovery Channel or learning on the Learning Channel, or most famously to the point of self-parody, music on MTV. Sometimes I simply want to be entertained and that’s enough. I’ll read a book when I’m craving serious history.
No, I had Vegas on my mind. It probably had something to do with my recent Frank Sinatra article. I began to wonder, as the shows blended into each other hour-after-hour, whether I could use Google Maps to find their filming locations. While the episodes were largely contrived, the underlying businesses actually existed so they should be easy to locate.
Cursory research quickly revealed the source of The History Channel cluster, an outfit known as Leftfield Pictures. Their most successful series to-date has been Pawn Stars which launched in 2009. This served as Leftfield’s platform to spin-off various derivative programs. Pawn Stars was set in Las Vegas so the others businesses happened to be nearby. Had Pawn Stars spawned elsewhere then we’d probably have seen a cluster of shows in some other town.
I enjoy Pawn Stars although I’m not a big fan of it’s name. I don’t think of myself as being Puritanical by nature. Still, the name feels gratuitous.
Gold & Silver Pawn: 713 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV
Anyway, the show focused on the daily adventures at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where people came to pawn or sell their wares. The proprietors examined prospective merchandise and talked about objects in an historical context while assessing dollar values, which I guess is sufficient "history" to qualify it for the History Channel. It included the usual reality show stereotypes of inter-generational differences, family strife, financial miscalculations, oddball customers and a village idiot character thrown in for comic relief. It seemed to sidestep the whole down-on-their-luck gambler vibe that undoubtedly drives a lot of Vegas pawnshop business although one could catch just a whiff of desperation in the eyes of some of the customers.
The Google Street View image will seem familiar to anyone who has watched the show even once because the exterior appears frequently. What surprised me was the long queue of tourists waiting outside the shop. Gold & Silver Pawn has apparently become quite an attraction due to the success of the show. Supposedly the pawnshop attracted maybe a hundred visitors per day before the series aired and thousands per day afterwards.
Despite the show’s popularity, one can find a glimpse of the grittier side of Las Vegas through the company it keeps along Las Vegas Boulevard, a sampling of which includes Showgirl Video; Jailbusters Bail Bonds; Graceland Wedding Chapel; Super Bail Bonds; Cupid’s Wedding Chapel; and Nevada Title and Payday Loans. That’s not intended to disparage any of these perfectly legitimate businesses (I was quite pleased with my Elvis renewal of the vows for example). It’s intended to demonstrate that life is a little different just a few blocks away from the glittering casinos of the Strip.
Rick’s Restorations: 1112 S. Commerce St., Las Vegas, NV
Rick Dale of Rick’s Restorations appeared regularly on Pawn Stars to the point that Leftfield Pictures figured he could anchor his own show. American Restoration, known in some markets outside of the United States as Kings of Restoration, debuted in the latter part of 2010. It’s the same basic formula and same guilty pleasure, although a different business model (restoring old metal objects and machines), located just around the corner from Gold & Silver Pawn.
Rick’s Restorations didn’t seem to have achieved the public visibility of Gold & Silver Pawn, at least not by the time Street View last rolled past it. The business is housed within a light industrial area without any clear signage that I could discern. I recognized the restaurant supply shop across the street from one of the episodes so I know it had to be within this general vicinity. I’m not convinced that Google Maps recorded the exact spot either although it must be somewhere nearby.
Similarly, Count’s Kustoms (map) was featured on both shows and served as the inspiration for Counting Cars in autumn 2012. The same winning formula applied once again, albeit focused on the restoration and customization of automobiles and motorcycles.
All of these shows feed off each other and rely upon a common set of experts and appraisers who drop-in randomly for supporting cameo roles. The most unlikely recurring character may have to be Mark Hall-Patton, an administrator and curator for the Clark County Heritage Museum (map) and the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum (map). Even he seemed perplexed by his popularity. You’ll recognize him instantly if you’ve watched even a small number of episodes.
I did stumble across one more (seemingly unrelated) reality show with a similar formula set in Las Vegas. This one appeared on the Animal Planet channel and it was called Tanked. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the success of Pawn Stars or whether it was completely coincidental. Let’s add it as an honorable mention.
Acrylic Tank Manufacturing: 6975 South Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas, NV
Tanked employed basically the same schtick with a company that built custom aquariums. Acrylic Tank Manufacturing created unique installations filled with exotic ocean species for fancy shops, the nouveau riche and B-list celebrities in search of easy publicity, from what I could gather. I guess the fish in the tank were enough to qualify it for Animal Planet status.
Let’s mix all of these programs together to form a Las Vegas tour of business-oriented reality television shows. I’m not much of a gambler so I may have to undertake this in person the next time I travel to Vegas. If I’m feeling lazy I could even take the bus tour instead.
Reality Show Road Trip
It’s an easy drive starting from McCarran International Airport (site of the Aviation Museum) and continuing in fairly linear fashion, ending at the the grand-daddy of them all: Gold & Silver Pawn.
- Point A: Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum; 5757 Wayne Newton Blvd.
- Point B: Acrylic Tank Manufacturing; 6975 South Decatur Blvd.
- Point C: Count’s Kustoms; 2714 S Highland Dr.
- Point D: Rick’s Restorations; 1112 S. Commerce St.
- Point E: Gold & Silver Pawn; 713 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
This 16.3 mile (26 km) road trip should take about 33 minutes. One could shave a few minutes from the travel time by diverting to Interstate 15. I thought that it would be more appropriate to take Frank Sinatra Drive, though.