I’ve expressed my enjoyment of geographic portmanteaus previously. These are place names created by mashing together two or more other place names. Delmarva is a perfect example. The Delmarva Peninsula on the east coast of the United States is bound on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware River and on the west by the Chesapeake Bay.
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The Delmarva includes most of the U.S. state of Delaware along with chunks of Maryland and Virginia, thus Del+Mar+Va. The peninsula contains several towns with similarly-influenced portmanteau names such as Mardela Springs, Delmar and Marydel. 12MC readers have been kind enough to mention these inspired locations in various comments over the years. This series has long been on my list of places I’d love to visit in person. I had a chance to experience two of the three last weekend.
I’d like to propose a wonderful, low-hassle road trip for readers who live in the Washington, DC or Baltimore, MD metropolitan areas who travel to Maryland’s Atlantic beaches during the summer weekends. This requires a tiny detour from U.S. Route 50, the "Ocean Gateway, " while delivering multiple geo-oddities in quick succession. It adds less than two miles to the overall length of a beach trip.
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Mardela Springs, Maryland
The portmanteau town of Mardela Springs requires almost no detour whatsoever. Turn right off of Route 50 and drive a single block to arrive at the Mardela Town Hall, pictured above. Go another block, turn left on Main Street for maybe three more blocks and it will position a visitor perfectly to continue on Delmar Road for the next oddity, which appears about three miles later. It’s not a portmanteau but it might be even better.
Delaware’s Southwestern Corner
Delaware features a sharp angle that is slightly larger than 90°. This is the state’s southwestern corner. More precisely, it’s the intersection of the southern terminus of Mason-Dixon Line with the Transpeninsular Line. I visited the eastern end of the Transpeninsular Line previously. This was my first time at this place, however, which is the approximate midpoint of the Transpeninsular Line (i.e., half way across the Delmarva Peninsula). That’s almost too much compact geographic craziness for one person to comprehend. I was giddy.
The two states have cooperated nicely to protect multiple boundary stones set into the ground here. They’ve erected a protective pavilion with a brick walkway leading from a small semicircle parking area directly off the roadway. I selected a photograph taken from the north side on the Mason-Dixon line looking south in order to show the walkway and parking. The left side of my body was in Delaware and the right side was in Maryland. I’ve been to lots of boundary stones and markers during my adventures. Rarely have I seen a location so well maintained and truly convenient.
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Another seven miles brings one to Delmar and a rather peculiar situation, the "Little Town Too Big for One State." Delmar’s primary road, State Street, straddles the border between Delaware and Maryland with sizable portions on both sides of the line.
Delmar is two incorporated towns: Delmar, Delaware, governed by a Mayor and four council members is located in Sussex County and Delmar, Maryland, governed by a Mayor and four commissioners, is located in Wicomico County. The Towns share a central administration, police department, public works department, and sewer/water facilities that are jointly owned and operated.
How’s that for unusual?
I drove the length of State Street and it’s fairly busy. I wanted a border-straddling photo so I went just west of town a couple of hundred feet down Line Road, which also follows the border. That way, I figured, I might be able to reduce the chance of hit-and-run accident while I foolishly stood in the middle of the street with a camera. Delaware is on the left and Maryland is on the right, with the Transpeninsular Line cutting directly through me.
The final portmanteau town, Marydel, will have to wait for another day. It was too far away.
It would be very easy to cut directly south towards Route 50 from here, and continue onward towards the beach.
I continued south however, another few miles into Salisbury, Maryland. I topped-off my portmanteau and border hunting adventures by stopping at the new Evolution Craft Brewing tasting room. Completely relaxed, I continued with the rest of my journey.
This has to be the easiest geo-oddity tour I’ve ever experienced.
What is the "Loneliest Road in America?" Life Magazine claimed that it was that stretch of U.S. Route 50 running through Nevada, in a 1986 article. I don’t know if anyone still claims that today, or if it was actually true twenty-five years ago for that matter, and there are probably lonelier roads in Australia and Canada but so be it. I still have lonely roads on my mind after my recent journey to the desert and I’m going to talk about the one in Nevada.
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It’s not lonely along the great length of Route 50, ubiquitously. Where I live on the east coast in Virginia, in fact, it’s rather busy. Indeed, the same road passing near my home proceeds to then cross the preponderance of the North American Continent, including Nevada.
Thus, it’s one of the longest roads and it already made an appearance in the 12MC comments for that very reason, specifically for the obnoxious sign at the beginning of the route in Ocean City, Maryland where they brag about a terminus in Sacramento, California some 3,073 miles (4,946 kilometres) away. A guy drove the length of it a few years ago and wrote a book, including a chapter on the Nevada segment. He remarked of one stretch, "very seldom do we meet an oncoming vehicle and there is virtually nothing along the road." That’s pretty grim.
The route through Nevada isn’t entirely devoid of life or attractions, of course. It’s just that what a driver can see besides the haunting terrain itself is scattered and infrequent. America’s Byways says,
Far from lonely, Highway 50 actually has a number of attractions that make traveling the byway a worthwhile trip. Many ghost towns and historical cemeteries dot the area. Fishing abounds at Iliapah Reservoir, Cave Lake State Park, and Comins Lake. Travelers will not want to miss the variety of unusual sites such as the Charcoal Ovens State Park or Hickison Summit Petroglyphs. Beautiful historic mining towns are scattered across the byway.
The downside: this will require a journey of 400 miles (645 km).
I started wondering about superlatives. Every mile can’t possibly be exactly the same; some miles have to be more extreme than others. What might be the loneliest segment on the loneliest road in the United States?
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A good candidate might be somewhere in the vicinity of the turnoff to Duckworth. Only 530 vehicles per day pass this point, the lowest traffic volume anywhere along Nevada’s Route 50.
Then I flipped towards the opposite direction and wondered about segments that couldn’t possibly be considered lonely. One could make a strong case that it falls within Carson City, perhaps where the road runs directly past the Nevada State Capitol building. I picked a different location though.
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I love the way casinos here jut magically from the asphalt in Stateline, NV, directly across the border from better-known South Lake Tahoe, California. I have an odd fascination with casinos placed strategically along borders, as those who have read the Twelve Mile Circle for awhile undoubtedly know, so my choice isn’t surprising.
Then, just for the heck of it, I decided to find the highest point of elevation along the highway.
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That occurs east of Ely, at Connors Pass where the road rises to an elevation of 7,729 feet (2,356 m), requiring 8% grades and numerous switchbacks.
Historically the corridor across Nevada follows the famous Pony Express route, portions of the old California trail used by pioneers traveling west through relentless terrain, and the Lincoln Highway from early automotive days. It crosses mountains, flats, forests and deserts. Loneliest place in America? Far from it. I’d love to drive its length someday.
Where, really, is the loneliest spot?
Continuing on the theme from the previous post, I have another example of a very local anomaly in Arlington County, Virginia. Hopefully you will enjoy this one too. I encourage you to check around your neighborhood and see if you can find your own strange situations. I’d be glad to feature any that you might uncover.
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Arlington County addresses are divided into North and South. Generally speaking, the dividing line is Arlington Boulevard, or U.S. Route 50. Anything north of Route 50 has a north Arlington street address. Anything south of Route 50 has a south Arlington address except for this one little chunk near the Potomac River. The Radnor Heights neighborhood serves as a capstone atop Fort Myer and Arlington National Cemetery. It is clearly south of Route 50, yet look closely at the map and you’ll see streets with names like North Nash St., North 14th St., etc.
So what happened here? Did urban planning run amok? Actually, no. Arlington Boulevard wasn’t finished when the county developed its new street naming and numbering scheme in the mid-1930′s. Planners guessed where the last segment of Route 50 might go and designated the streets accordingly. They should get credit for being close, but the actual segment was constructed just to the north, leaving Radnor Heights with its "northern" addresses stranded on the southern side.
Source of Image: Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version
OK, so why should you care? Because if you’ve ever been a tourist in Washington, DC you’ve probably stood in this very anomaly and never knew it. The Marine Corps War Memorial, often called the "Iwo Jima" memorial, resides neatly within its boundaries. The next time you are there be sure to pay your proper respects to the people who keep our nation free, and then turn to someone next to you and say,
Did you know that you’re standing in the only part of North Arlington that is south of Route 50?
I visited this area for a different purpose a couple of years ago. My genealogy research took me to the home of Charles and Marie (Howder) Steele who lived at what is now 1509 N. 12th Street. They and their six daughters shared this house in the early 1930′s. The Steeles didn’t know they were living within an anomaly because in 1930 it was still "Whipple Street" and the anomaly didn’t exist. And if by chance they had known they probably wouldn’t have cared. It takes an odd, er… discriminating individual to appreciate a nuance of this subtlety.
Twelve Mile Circle is all about the appreciation of unusual places, but sometimes those places are are the back corners of ones own mind.