Four Corners, Part 3 (Towns)

On August 10, 2017 · 0 Comments

While the great outdoors flavored many of our decisions across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, we also spent some time in "civilization" too. I tied to stay at least two nights in each place to create a little mental anchor. Otherwise we’d feel adrift in a vagabond existence. That offered time to explore a few towns along the way to complement amazing National Park Service properties. Nothing here should be confused with a comprehensive city guide. Sometimes we did the tourist thing and sometimes we avoided it. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t necessarily cling to conventions.

Santa Fe


Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe fell along our direct route. I figured we needed to stay near its historic Plaza (map) rather than a generic chain hotel out by the highway. I don’t mind cookie-cutter hotels ordinarily. It’s just a bed. However, Santa Fe always seemed to be one of those magical places best experienced in person. We needed to nestle near the action, an obvious choice for an extraordinary location.

The Santa Fe Plaza dated back to its earliest days as a Spanish outpost at the farthest reaches of the colonial empire. Don Pedro de Peralta served as governor of New Mexico and founded Santa Fe in 1610. Consider that for a moment. At that same time England barely maintained and nearly lost a foothold on the Atlantic coast at Jamestown. Meanwhile, the Spanish pushed their domain deep into the North American interior.

Santa Fe began as a walled fort to tame New Mexico and protect the Governor’s authority. The Plaza occupied a central space within that original fort. Santa Fe remained tremendously important continuously thereafter, with roads such as the El Camino Real and Santa Fe trail terminating there. It became and remained a capital city for much of its existence, and seemed a natural choice for the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. Albuquerque grew larger although Santa Fe never ceded its crown.

The Plaza didn’t disappoint either. Pueblo-inspired architecture ringed the perimeter, filled with the art galleries and jewelry stores that typified Santa Fe. We didn’t buy anything. We’re cheap. I enjoyed people-watching though. A row of stalls staffed by Native Americans selling traditional crafts defined its northern edge. Buskers of all types filled the square, my favorite being the men beating drums rhythmically accompanied by chants in traditional languages as sundown approached.


Los Alamos


Bathtub Row Brewing

Los Alamos offered a complete contrast to Santa Fe. It didn’t exist on a map until the Second World War ended. Even today only twelve thousand people lived there, many associated in some manner with the nearby National Laboratory. Everything seemed sleek and modern. No patina of age appeared on buildings, streets or landscapes. We didn’t stay overnight in Los Alamos although we stopped for lunch and toured the Bradbury Science Museum. There we saw artifacts from the Manhattan Project and replicas of the atomic bombs created in Los Alamos during the war. We also saw a curiously-named byway in the heart of town, Bathtub Row (map).

The United States government needed a remote, secret location to develop its atomic bomb. New Mexico met the criteria so the government seized the campus of the Los Alamos Ranch School. The most important scientists working on the Manhattan Project occupied homes on the vacated campus that once held the school’s teachers and administrators. Everyone else — the vast preponderance of workers — lived in temporary shacks or barracks. Only the original homes contained bathtubs. Everyone else used showers. Bathtub Row became shorthand for the the street where all of the bigwigs lived.


Durango


Durango, Colorado

Durango seemed a bit of a tourist town although we enjoyed it anyway. Once again, staying at a central location at the heart of town seemed to be the best alternative for us. Most of the action lined a half-mile stretch of Main Avenue east of the Animas River (map). Imagine a stereotypical "Western" town straight out of the old movies and that pretty much described Durango’s appearance. I’m not sure what drew me there other than its proximity to Mesa Verde, not that I regretted the decision. I liked waking up early each morning for a stroll through its quiet residential neighborhoods. It seemed like a well maintained and prosperous place.

Someone will be sure to ask if we rode the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Most people seemed to come to Durango for that express purpose. Our hotel sat within walking distance of the terminal. I’ve even enjoyed tourist trains in the past (e.g., the White River Flyer in Vermont; the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad in Kentucky). Still, we didn’t do it. I think we were all at the point where we’d seen enough scenery for awhile. Our boys also needed some downtime after continuous activity all week long. Plus, I’ll be honest, the six nearby breweries and brewpubs within Durango city limits might have influenced the decision.


Denver


Denver Zoo

I’ve been to Denver more times than I can count. We stopped there so we could spend some time with friends before heading to the airport, not to see anything specific. Our kids behaved themselves so well during the trip that we wanted to do something just for them. My older son in particular loves animals. He decided awhile ago that he wanted to visit every zoo in the United States and collect a map at each one. Hmmm… I wonder where he got that compulsive need to count things and look at maps? That’s how we ended up at the Denver Zoo (map). Our friends seemed up for it so they decided to tag along. I’m not sure they expected to spend six hours viewing, literally, every animal accompanied by a full set of stream of consciousness commentary. However, that’s how my older son roles. He earned it.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Not the Usual State Capital Trivia

On July 1, 2014 · 5 Comments

It was time to clear my list of unwritten articles again and I noticed several of them involved state capitals, or their capitol buildings. I’m not sure what the "usual" State Capital trivia might be much less the unusual, so let’s consider this an article on topics that the average layperson may not know. The always astute 12MC audience probably knows many of these peculiarities already although I’m hoping everyone will walk away with at least one new bit of information.

Highest Altitude State Capital


New Mexico State Capitol
New Mexico State Capitol by Mr.TinDC, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

I would imagine that the preponderance of the general public might think of Denver as the highest state capital as a matter of reflex. After all, Denver has long touted itself as The Mile High City and parts of it do measure up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) above sea level, and in some instances a little higher. Santa Fe, New Mexico blew that figure out of the water with an elevation of 7,199 ft (2,134 m) above sea level. I consulted an altitude calculator and measured the New Mexico capitol building (map) at 7,005 ft (2,135 m) at the actual seat of government. That still bested Denver by a remarkable amount.

If I were to hand out an award for the capitol that looked least like a stereotypical capitol I’d probably have to give it to Santa Fe, understanding that it would be a subjective determination. The capitol didn’t have a dome or many of the traditional architectural flourishes observed elsewhere. It was also the only ROUND capitol building in the United States, "designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above." That was bonus trivia.


A State Capital with Odd Governance


Michigan State Capitol
Michigan State Capitol by Graham Davis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

It would seem to make sense that the seat of any state government would not be beholden to a local government. At the national level in the US, the District of Columbia was created as an independent entity removed from any state for that very reason. In 49 states, the state capital city also served as the local county seat of government. Michigan was the only exception.

Lansing (map), the capital of Michigan fell primarily into Ingham County, with a tiny sliver in Eaton County. Lansing was not the county seat of either county; Mason was the county seat of Ingham and Charlotte of Eaton. It came about as fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to locate the state capital in Mason:

In 1836 Charles Noble knew that Michigan would be seeking a central location for a new capital when it became a state. He purchased an area of forest, cleared 20 acres (81,000 m2), and founded Mason Center. The "Center" was soon dropped. In 1847, however, the state chose Lansing Township 12 miles (19 km) northward to be its capital due its potential for water power. Noble managed to make Mason the county seat instead.

The odd arrangement was a consolation prize for a pioneering settler.


Where the State Capitol is the Tallest Building in the State


West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia State Capitol by Jonathan Rieke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

There was one, maybe two with an asterisk, state capitol buildings that were the tallest buildings in the state. The West Virginia Capitol (map) at 293 ft (89 m) in Charleston was definitely one.

That might also be true for North Dakota:

The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. Locally, we like to think of it as a "mini skyscraper" because of its sleek form and the fact that it happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the area.

However, depending on what one considers a building, the tallest might actually be the Antelope Valley Station power plant rising to 361 feet (110 m) in Beulah, ND. Additionally a real estate developer was hoping to construct the 252 ft (77 m) Dakotah Place tower in Fargo that "…would include a parking ramp, retail and office space, a hotel and high-end condos.."


State Capital on an International Border


State Capitol
State Capitol by cubby_t_bear, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

This was a trick question revealed in a comment on State Capitals Meet Time Zones from August 2009. Juneau, Alaska (map) is the only state capital that borders another nation. The city and borough of Juneau unified in 1970. Naturally the unified entity filled the same physical space including a border with Canada ("The newly created boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau consolidated the City of Douglas, the City of Juneau. and the Greater Juneau Borough."). Good luck trying to climb the mountains and cross into Canada, though.

The Alaska State Capitol building might also be a contender for least like a stereotypical Capitol, now that I think about it.

Named Like a Whole Other Country

On November 19, 2013 · 14 Comments

What if I said that I could drive from Atlanta to Detroit, or Cleveland to Santa Fe, or Miami to Memphis in an hour and a half? How about driving from Jacksonville to Buffalo in an hour? No, I didn’t say fly, I said drive. My apologies in advance to the international audience that may not have an intuitive understanding of distance in the United States. I’ll simply state that road times like these would have to be dismissed immediately as completely insane on their surface. A motorist would serve jail time for attempting any of these suggestions.

That’s if one tried to accomplish those feats between cities most recognizable for those names. However I was intentionally vague as I’m sure the astute 12MC audience already guessed. I’m referring to towns by those same names in Texas, or as they’re fond of saying, It’s Like a Whole Other Country.



Maybe in the Wrong State

I noticed the anomaly as I researched DeKalb. Texas had a DeKalb so I took a closer look. I spotted Atlanta, Boston and Pittsburg (a near match, missing only the final "h" at the end) all within close proximity of DeKalb. That prompted a wider search for additional Texas towns sharing names with other places in the United States more famous and recognizable. I found several.

This likely had to do with the immense size of Texas. Traditionally each post office within a single state had to be given a different name. That might not be a problem in smaller states or those more sparsely settled. However, Texas had 1,490 post offices including historic locations in the latest listing of the Geographic Names Information System. Imagine trying to find unique names for every one of those settlements, and in fact that became a recurring problem as townsites sprouted on the frontier in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century.

I turned to one of my favorite sources, the Handbook of Texas Online from the Texas State Historical Society for explanations. Some towns drew inspiration from better-known namesakes while other chose completely independently. I culled historical origins from the Handbook and present them below.


Bessie Coleman, Waxahachie, Texas Historical Marker
Bessie Coleman, Waxahachie, Texas Historical Marker by fables98, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
"Bessie Coleman — Born in Atlanta, Texas"

All of these places exist in Texas:

  • Atlanta: An 1871 Texas and Pacific Railway town settled by a bunch of people from Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Boston: The man who opened the first store in the area was W. J. Boston.
  • Buffalo: Bison still roamed the range when the railroad arrived in 1872. I’ll pass on the bison aren’t buffalo conversation this time.
  • Cleveland, TX: In 1878 a local land owner, Charles Lander Cleveland, said the East and West Texas Railway had use his name if they wanted a chunk of his land.


Oaks Theater, 715 Walnut St, Columbus, Texas 0410101325
Oaks Theater, 715 Walnut St, Columbus, Texas 0410101325 by Patrick Feller, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

  • Columbus: Someone who once lived in Columbus, Ohio proposed the name (which in turn derived originally from Christopher Columbus of course).
  • Detroit: Town founders needed a name in 1887 and the local railway agent once lived in Detroit. Problem solved.
  • Jacksonville: named for two early settlers — William Jackson and Jackson Smith, one a doctor and the other a blacksmith. The weird first-name, last-name nexus must have made the town seem inevitable I guess.


Western Motel, Memphis, Texas
Western Motel, Memphis, Texas by Boston Public Library, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

  • Memphis: This one was worth quoting directly, "For a time the new town was without a name. Several suggestions were submitted to federal postal authorities but with negative results. Finally, as the story goes, Reverend Brice, while in Austin, happened to see a letter addressed by accident to Memphis, Texas, rather than Tennessee, with the notation ‘no such town in Texas.’ The name was submitted and accepted, and a post office was established…" (the name in turn derived originally from the Memphis in Egypt).
  • Miami: I’m not sure I buy the Handbook explanation. Allegedly a Native American word for "sweetheart?" Really? Even though there was an actual Miami tribe one state over in Oklahoma?


Pittsburg Water Tower
Pittsburg Water Tower by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

  • Pittsburg: An early settler, William Harrison Pitts, came to the area in 1855. The source didn’t explain why founders chose Pittsburg rather than the more expected Pittsburgh with an h.
  • Reno: It was originally the name of a switching station placed along the Texas and Pacific Railway circa 1876. The town came later and adopted the name. I couldn’t find an explanation for the switching station named Reno, though.
  • Santa Fe: In recognition of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway that was built through the area in 1877

I found other themes and variations, like:

  • Colorado: Denver City; Breckenridge and Colorado City
  • My little corner of Northern Virginia: Arlington; Clarendon; Crystal City; Gainesville; Fredericksburg and Mount Vernon
  • International: Paris; London; Palestine; Victoria and Edinburg (again with the missing "h" What’s with Texas hating burghs?)

I wonder how many other coincidental variations can be drawn from the vast Texas town list?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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