It’s a Mystery to Me

On July 27, 2017 · Comments Off on It’s a Mystery to Me

I felt like a good mystery. People named a number of geographic features Mystery something-or-another. Most of them seemed to be Mystery Lake for some mysterious reason. Generally I couldn’t find much because they were often small, existed in abundance and fell across many different English speaking countries. I discarded them. Instead I found a few spots where I could actually unlock the mystery.

Mystery Bay, New South Wales


Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay. Photo by Tim Riley on Flickr (cc)

Mystery Bay sat on the Tasman Sea, near the southeastern corner of New South Wales. It also offered a double bonus from my perspective. Two things bore the Mystery Bay name, an actual bay and an adjacent town. Not a lot of people lived there, maybe a couple of hundred, although the seaside setting seemed nice.

The mystery traced back to 1880. Five men left Bermagui in a small boat, led by a geologist employed by the Mines Department. The government wanted him to inspect new goldfields a few kilometres farther north along the coast. Everyone on the expedition completely disappeared. A search party discovered the boat although the men vanished. A memorial at Mystery Bay offered additional details (map).

The boat… had been carefully steered through about 70 metres of jagged rocks… On the seats were bait, a pocket knife, pipe and tobacco, crumbs and other food. There was a bag of potatoes and a bag of mixed personal articles like clothing, bedding, tools and sundries.

The searchers found additional items on the beach, although nothing unusual or out of place. The ultimate fate of the men continues to baffle those who still try to unravel the secret.


Mystery Island, Vanuatu


Mystery Island - Vanuatu
Mystery Island – Vanuatu. Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr (cc)

Cruise ships dock regularly at Vanuatu’s Mystery Island (map). People traveling to nearby Aneityum Island have to land at an airstrip on Mystery Island, too. The island is so well known that Vanuatu’s postal service issued commemorative stamps to highlight it in 2009. How could anyone consider it a mystery? It sat there as bright as day with abundant visitors next to a large populated island almost within touching distance. Sure, it didn’t cover much territory, just one kilometre by a few hundred metres. Nobody lived on it permanently either; Vanuatu wanted to keep the beaches pristine. Nonetheless, it got plenty of attention.

That Vanuatu Post page actually offered an explanation.

During World War II, this small, uninhabited island was used as a landing strip for the allied forces… The "mystery" is said to have derived from the fact that the air strip is impossible to see from the sea and therefore it took some time for the Japanese to determine where all the planes were coming from.

The island went by a different name officially, Inyeug.


Another Mystery Bay; This One in Washington State


Marrowstone
Marrowstone. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)

The U.S state of Washington also contained a Mystery Bay, just off of the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The bay formed a hooked inlet on the western side of Marrowstone Island. The state created Mystery Bay State Park there (map) along its shoreline. Historically a band of Native Americans called the Chemakum lived on the island. They disappeared suddenly in the early 19th Century to be replaced by the Klallum. Nobody really knew what happened to them although the mystery actually referred to something else.

Canada sat tantalizingly close, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A motorized boat could easily make a quick run to Victoria and back. From 1920 to 1933, the United States enforced alcohol prohibition. No such prohibition existed in Canada. See where this is heading? Smugglers would sneak alcohol from Canada into the US by boat and hide amongst all those tiny islands conveniently close to Seattle. Marrowstone Island seemed to be a particularly good choice, especially the little inlet on its western side. Bootleggers could practically vanish into the slot. Coast Guard crews trying to intercept smugglers referred to their regular disappearances as a mystery. This, supposedly, provided the bay its name.


Plenty of Mysteries in New Zealand, Too

New Zealand contained a number of Mystery places although none of them amounted to much in the way of a good story. I couldn’t find any useful information. However, I did learn a couple of new words. I’ve been on a streak lately so it seemed fine to continue it.

Mystery Tarn (map): I learned that Tarn meant pond. It derived from tjörn, the Old Norse word for pond. That made perfect sense once I saw it. When I visited Iceland in 1999 I remembered seeing the scenic pond in central Reykjavík, also called Tjörn.

Mystery Burn (map): Burn seemed a little more unusual although it referred to a stream. Some digging uncovered a Scottish Gaelic origin that meant something like "fresh water."

Neither of these New Zealand examples served as great revelations although I enjoyed the pursuit.

Boring, Dull and Bland

On July 6, 2017 · 3 Comments

Boring, Dull and Bland didn’t describe Twelve Mile Circle or my social life although maybe observers would disagree. It referenced a unique relationship between three very special communities. A Scottish bicyclist took a scenic ride through Clackamas County, Oregon just outside of Portland. She passed through the unincorporated community of Boring and thought it should be twinned with Dull in her native land. The two communities agreed and formed "A Pair for the Ages" in 2012. Not wanting to be left behind, Bland Shire in Australia petitioned to join the arrangement. The triad created a "League of Extraordinary Communities" in 2014.

This would have been wonderful for 12MC’s Better Sister Cities list. Too bad I wrote it before the trio got together. Nonetheless, they should still get some credit for their creativity and marketing savvy.


Boring, Oregon, USA


Boring Oregon
Boring Oregon. Photo by Jeff Hitchcock on Flickr (cc)

More people lived in Boring (map) than the other two, with a population approaching eight thousand. The Boring part came from its namesake, William Boring, a Civil War veteran who moved there in the 1870’s. Residents took a lighthearted approach to their settlement’s name. They proclaimed it to be "the most existing place to see" and "an exiting place to call home." One local business called itself The Not So Boring Bar and Grill. They were already predisposed to use their name creatively when Dull came calling.

According to the Boring Community Planning Organization, a 2013 Oregon law legitimized the relationship with Dull. It said "every August 9th will be Boring & Dull Day." I couldn’t determine why August 9 seemed particularly suitable although they chose it so it must have had some special meaning. Boring & Dull Day offered a chance to "join your Boring neighbors" at Boring Station Trailhead Park for an evening of music and ice cream. Feel free to stop by if you’re in the area. Mark your calendar. You won’t be bored.


Dull, Perth and Kinross, Scotland


Dull, Perth and Kinross, Scotland
Dull, Perth and Kinross, Scotland
via Google Street View, August 2016

Dull barely existed (map), a few houses scattered along an unnamed single-track lane. Maybe eighty people lived there. Nobody knew for certain how Dull got its name either. It might have derived from Gaelic or Pictish for meadow or field. The Dull and Boring Facebook Page included an old article recounting the aftermath of the death of St. Adamnan in 704:

… as he lay dying in his cell at Milton Eonan he told his men to place his body upon a stretcher whose poles were to be held in place by loops made of whithies or duls. They were to bury him where the first dul broke. This happened on the hill near his monastery, and there they buried him and called the place Dull

Regardless of origin, the name went way back into the Middle Ages. Dull covered a much larger territory back then, with a monastery and a parish, becoming just a fragment of its former self in recent centuries. Dull hoped that tourists would visit their hamlet once it paired with Boring. Indeed, sightseers started arriving to photograph a sign noting the special relationship.


Bland Shire, New South Wales, Australia


Globe Hotel, West Wyalong
Globe Hotel, West Wyalong. Photo by Matt on Flickr (cc)

Bland (map), a shire in New South Wales, learned of Boring and Dull through media reports. The mayor reached-out to the two. Later the Bland Shire Council in West Wyalong endorsed the partnership. However, it wasn’t completely without controversy. Some of the six thousand residents felt it disrespected the Bland name. The namesake, William Bland, came to Australia after a murder conviction. He killed a man in Bombay, India in a pistol feud in 1813. That hardly seemed bland so maybe those doubters had a point.

Boring, Dull and Bland. What a great combination. I can hardly wait to see what other places will join the League of Extraordinary Communities. One of the several Polish villages called Łazy, perhaps? Maybe Quiet Dell, West Virginia? How about Sleepy Eye, Minnesota?

Odds and Ends 13

On June 4, 2017 · Comments Off on Odds and Ends 13

Twelve Mile Circle occasionally features topics that don’t warrant an entire article. I collect these items in a spreadsheet and present them all together every once in awhile. However I hadn’t done one of those in awhile and the topics began to pile-up on my list. Odds and Ends 12 appeared all the way back in March 2016! That surprised me a little. I needed to do some spring cleaning so I hopped to it.


An Island Apart


Malabo
Malabo. Photo by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea on Flickr (cc)

The small African nation of Equatorial Guinea featured an odd geographic arrangement. Most of the nation occupied a rectangle of land bordering the western continental coastline. As well, it included an island quite a bit removed towards the northwest, directly off of the coast of Cameroon. Yet, Equatorial Guinea placed its capital on that island and not on the mainland. The island went by the name of Bioko and the city Malabo (map).

That arrangement existed as a relic of colonialism. Europeans first encountered this corner of Africa when Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó landed on Bioko in 1472. That effort didn’t stick so Portugal traded the island to Spain in 1777. Spain didn’t do much with it either so the British came along and squatted on it in the 1820’s when they found nobody from Spain occupying it. Spain got around to reasserting sovereignty in 1844 and the island remained in Spanish control until Equatorial Guinea gained its independence in 1968. Malabo became the capital by default because it was the oldest and most developed city in the new nation.

Malobo won’t be the capital much longer, however. Equatorial Guinea plans a new capital deep within its mainland jungle interior. Construction began several years ago and government function started moving to the new city, Oyala (map), in February 2017. This completely planned community may someday hold up to two hundred thousand residents, nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. The BBC explained at least one motivation. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema survived several coup attempts and he wanted a more secure location. Oil revenues fund its construction.


What a Mistake


2007-09-10-16-08-59
Rainy Lake. Photo by d Wang on Flickr (cc)

An oddly named geographic feature appeared as I researched the Pub with No Beer. There, just to the northwest of Taylors Arm, I spotted Mistake State Forest (map). I never did find the mistake that led to its name. However, I did learn that it covered 5,638 hectares (~14,000 acres) managed by the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales. I think I made a mistake when I tried to investigate Mistake State Forest.

Fortunately I ran across something completely unexpected and infinitely more interesting. Minnesota’s Star Tribune covered a situation where an 80-year-old error in land records wiped out a popular state trail. Minnesota sold some surplus acreage to a private landowner near International Falls in 1935 and forgot to record its sale. "And the buyer, a prominent International Falls businessman, apparently lost track of the purchase amid all his wheeling and dealing." The spot subsequently became a popular recreational area (map) on Rainy Lake. It might have a generally happy ending though. The heirs seemed willing to gift much of the land back to the state, although retaining acreage with prime views.


A Literal Name


Colstrip Montana
Colstrip Montana. Photo by Spot Us on Flickr (cc)

I noticed that a user landed on 12MC from a remote corner of Montana, so I took a closer look. The spot said Colstrip (map), which I considered a rather strange name. Wouldn’t it be funny, I though, if the name came from an actual strip of coal. Well it did actually, as the city confirmed.

Colstrip was established by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 as a company town to provide coal for their steam locomotives. The mining is open pit strip mining, where draglines remove soil above the layer of bituminous coal from the Fort Union Formation.

The coal mining tradition continued to the present day, with the nearby Rosebud mine being one of the largest in the state. Later, a large power plant opened up nearby to generate electricity for a huge territory surrounding it. However, Colstrip residents face an uncertain future as pressures build on coal. Nearly everyone in town worked either at the mine or at the power plant. Meanwhile coal begins to fall out of favor. It probably won’t be worth renovating the plant to make it more efficient. It’s too outdated. The plant was built forty years ago and is now considered "the nation’s 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases."


First Name, Last Name


Welcome to Clinton, Iowa
Welcome to Clinton, Iowa. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an additional example of First Name, Surname Symmetry recently. This one involved an historical figure named DeWitt Clinton. He dominated New York politics during the early part of the Nineteenth Century. His service included mayor of New York City and multiple terms as Governor. He nearly became President of the United States with a respectable showing against the eventual winner, James Madison. Clinton’s crowning achievement may have been his pivotal role in promoting and building the Erie Canal. This opened a vitally important trade route to the growing interior of the nation. This singular achievement led to dozens of places named in his honor throughout the American Midwest.

They must have really loved DeWitt Clinton in Iowa, though. The state (then a territory) named one of its counties Clinton in 1837 (map). However the county took it one step further. Two of the towns that formed within its boundaries became DeWitt and Clinton, located about 20 miles (32 kilometres) apart (map). That formed an excellent First Name, Surname Symmetry.

Some astute readers may have already figured out how I discovered this happy confluence, especially the people who follow my 12MC Twitter account. I was in Clinton, Iowa three days ago although I’m back home now. Take that as a little foreshadowing of articles soon to come.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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