Last Chance

On November 2, 2017 · Comments Off on Last Chance

Speaking of odd town names (we were just speaking of those, weren’t we?), what about Last Chance? Every place deserved a last chance, I supposed. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed more than three hundred of them. Many — no surprise — aligned with mining claims. Also they frequently referenced ditches, streams and gulches, probably running near those old mines. However that wasn’t always the case. A handful of populated places rose to the top of the list too. It took an unusual outlook on life, I figured, for someone to name a settlement Last Chance.

Last Chance, Colorado


Last Chance, CO (0)
Last Chance, CO. Photo by Michael Sauers on Flickr (cc).

Colorado’s Last Chance clung to life, just barely. It sat about 80 miles (130 kilometres) due east of Denver (map). Truly, a straight shot. Head straight north of Denver and hit Fort Collins, or straight south and hit Colorado Springs, or straight west and, well, hit a wall of mountains. Straight east should hit something more important than a hamlet on life support.

The original settlers of Last Chance probably felt the same way. Travelers driving through Colorado’s empty eastern plains to and from Denver took the straightest possible path during the early automotive period. Back then, Last Chance served as a literal last chance for motorists to refuel, grab a meal, or sleep in an actual bed anywhere between Denver and a vast nothingness. The town’s name became a marketing tool and a warning. Stop there or suffer the consequences.

The Ghost Town website summarized the rise and fall of Last Chance quite succinctly.

Last Chance was a town that grew up with the automobile and died when the interstate took the traffic south to I-70. It was a busy center for travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, and probably earlier than that.

Indeed, Interstate 70 heading east from Denver took a distinct southeastern curve about 30 miles (50 km) short of Last Chance before turning east again. Last Chance couldn’t survive that cruel routing.


Last Chance, Oklahoma


Last Chance Baptist Church
Last Chance Baptist Church
via Google Street View, July 2016

I couldn’t find any information about how the Last Chance in Oklahoma earned its name (map). The settlement seemed to simply vanish. It wouldn’t surprise me if the US Geological Survey dropped it from the database entirely someday. Only the Last Chance Baptist Church remained behind as a reminder. By the way, Last Chance might be the best church name ever. That choice positioned it perfectly as the final opportunity for redemption before banishment to the fiery pits of Hell. It gave sinners one last chance.

A post office didn’t exist in Last Chance as far as I could tell, if indeed one ever existed there. Addresses in Last Chance bore the postmark of nearby Okemah. Nothing much important happened in Last Chance although Okemah registered a minor brush with fame. Okemah had a famous native son, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie born there in 1912. An oil boom began around that time in the same general area, leading me to wonder if perhaps Last Chance got its name from the boom somehow?


Last Chance, Iowa



The Last Chance of Iowa fared about as well as its counterpart in Oklahoma. Here, the sole remaining sign of its existence was a cemetery. While I liked Last Chance as the name of a church I disliked it as a cemetery (map). A final resting place seemed to signify the end of any remaining chances. Last chance? More like no chance. At least I learned how it got its name, though. I found a website about cemeteries in Lucas County that offered a surprising amount of information. I was really impressed by the detail it presented about such an obscure location.

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after it occurred to him that he was living in a place that didn’t yet have a name… he said, "Let’s call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest…

Last Chance sat favorably along the Mormon Trail. Thousands of Mormon emigrants and many others walked the trail during the middle of the 19th Century. Some travelers moved their households without any pack animals, becoming a special category of Mormons called the Handcart Pioneers. Then the transcontinental railroad opened. Last Chance disappeared because of the railroads. The typical story prevailed. Railroads, long the lifeblood of small rural villages in the Heartland, all bypassed Last Chance. Decline later led to collapse.

I found additional Last Chance settlements in Idaho, California and North Carolina. However, even less information existed about any of them. It seemed that every Last Chance was down to its last chance if any of them ever had a chance at all.

Biggest Unvisited

On October 22, 2017 · 5 Comments

A couple of years ago I wrote about my Airport Visits. At that time I came oh-so-close to capturing Love Field in Dallas, Texas. A weather delay and a change of route dashed that achievement. However a work trip to Dallas last week finally righted that wrong. I flew down there on Southwest Airlines and naturally landed at and later departed from Love Field. It didn’t change anything in the earlier article, I figured. Houston’s Hobby Airport remained the largest airport in the United States I’d yet to use. Although something did change, something subtle.

Since that last article, Love Field surpassed Hobby in passenger counts. Unbeknownst to me, Love Field became my largest unvisited airport for awhile, although my recent visit corrected the situation. I’ve now traveled through the top 32 largest airports in the U.S., with Hobby dropping one spot to 33rd. It remained unvisited.

Houston’s Hobby Airport


Old Terminal at Hobby Airport
Old Terminal at Hobby Airport. Photo by BFS Man on Flickr (cc)

Actually, I’m not sure I will ever set foot in Hobby (map). I used to have a reason to go to Houston when family lived nearby. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away a few years ago at the age of 102. Then remaining family members moved to New Mexico for their retirement years. I just don’t see any trips near Houston on the horizon. So progress on this list will probably end. Plus, even if I did return, I’d likely use the much larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Southwest Airlines still uses Hobby extensively although most others focus on the other one.

Hobby began as Houston’s original commercial airport in the 1920’s albeit with a different name and under private ownership. It didn’t become Hobby until the city purchased it in the 1930’s. William P. Hobby, its namesake, had connections both to Texas and to Houston. He served as Governor of Texas in 1917 before his fortieth birthday. Afterwards, I guess because he felt he hadn’t accomplished enough already, he became publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. Naming the local airport for him seemed fitting.


Fresno County, California


The Best Little City in the USA, Plate 3
The Best Little City in the USA. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

That got me thinking about some of the other largest places in the United States I’d never visited. I’ve done a lot of county counting over the years. The total stood at 1,428 as of the time I wrote this, or 45.5% of counties available. However, I’d never considered the largest of the remaining unvisited. I had to actually create a spreadsheet to figure it out. When I sorted the results I learned the answer: Fresno County, California. More than 900 thousand people resided in the county so I’d missed a pretty significant place.

In my defense, there didn’t appear to be a lot of reasons to target Fresno. Sure, a lot of people lived there although it seemed to lack specific attractions unless agriculture in California’s Central Valley seemed exciting. People who are more familiar with the area are free to correct me. I’m sure it’s a nice place and I hate to give it short shrift.

It did have an attraction of a sort, I supposed. As Historic Fresno reported,

The Fresno Sanitary Landfill is the oldest "true" sanitary landfill in the United States, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western United States… [it] is a National Historic Landmark as well as in the National Register of Historic Places.

Someday I’m sure I’ll find myself in the area and of course I’ll capture Fresno. I might just check out the Historic Landfill too (map).


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Oklahoma City National Memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photo by Phil Roeder on Flickr (cc)

The largest unvisited city in the United States on my list was Oklahoma City (map). I liked this place because of the whole nesting of Oklahoma City in Oklahoma County in the state of Oklahoma. It didn’t exist until 1889 when the big "Land Run" commenced and it blossomed overnight. The city grew so quickly that it became the state capital in 1907. Today about 600 thousand people live there.

I’m trying to convince my family that we should go there for our family vacation next summer. I select a different state each year and I’ve already made my initial pitch for Oklahoma. It didn’t generate a lot of interest. I don’t know why. I found a couple of zoos for my older son and some military museums for my younger son. For my wife I compiled a list of breweries and brewpubs I knew she’d enjoy. Still, well, we’ll just have to see. Nobody else suggested a state so I might just win this one by default. I believe we have some Twelve Mile Circle readers from Oklahoma City. Please give me a few good reasons to visit and help me make my case. I think the family would enjoy it.

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.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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