On January 2, 2014 · 1 Comments

The trails and breadcrumbs left behind by random one-time electronic visitors sometimes remind me of interesting things I’ve discussed previously and forgotten. Witness the recent query "boomerang" that led one anonymous reader to Fraser Island in Australia, the world’s largest sand island, and its amazing perched dune lakes. As I noted when I drafted the article back in the earliest days of 12MC,

A perched dune lake forms when wind blows an indentation in the sand that then gradually fills with decaying vegetation. Over time the decaying organic matter creates a watertight mat that eventually permeates the sand to form something similar to concrete, almost like a swimming pool… on Frasier Island can be found Boomerang Lake, the world’s highest perched dune lake at 130m above sea level.

The person wanted a boomerang and 12MC delivered a boomerang. Now it was time for a bit of fun and a little boomerang overkill. Were there other boomerangs, I wondered?

In Australia, yes of course, there was a stupendous overindulgence of boomerang hills, streams, islands, lagoons, lakes and anything else geographic that one could possibly imagine. The device was a hunting tool and weapon for many Australian Aboriginal groups so of course occurrences there should be expected. The most significant, or at least most populous example, might very well be Boomerang Beach in the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. Even one of its primary roads, Boomerang Drive, displayed a roughly boomerang shape.

Boomerang Beach, New South Wales, Australia

Boomerang Beach bordered on Booti Booti, an Australian national park. So many awful puns came to mind at that moment although I promised myself that I would behave. It became even more difficult when I learned that the "name comes from ‘butibuti,’ the local Worimi Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty of honey.’" Must… resist… Booty… jokes.

Setting aside Australia — where boomerangs were entirely too pedestrian — I focused my attention farther away in order to see if the theme had spread elsewhere. Well of course it had or I would have stopped typing right here.

Some Reasons Were Obvious

Boomerang Lake, Runnymede, Saskatchewan, Canada

Plenty of features actually resembled boomerangs. I spotted this great example, Boomerang Lake, on the far eastern edge of Saskatchewan. Actually I was hoping the provincial border might split through the lake as I zoomed-in. That was not the case once I looked closer. Nonetheless, it was a nicely representative instance of boomerang-shaped geography.

Other Reasons Were Enigmatic

Boomerang Hotel
Hotel Boomerang, Bagni di Tabiano, Parma, Italy
via Google Street View, November 2010

I scratched my head as I pondered Hotel Boomerang in Parma, Italy. They certainly seemed enamored of their boomerangs. I figured maybe they hoped to focus attention on the physics of a properly-thrown boomerang. Perhaps, using that logic, guests would enjoy their lodging and someday "return" to the hotel?

And I Filled In a Hole

Boomerang Run, Red Lodge Mountain, Montana, USA

I saw plenty of boomerangs in the United States. This one was a little different, a black diamond ski run at the Red Lodge Mountain Resort and roughly boomerang-shaped I guess although maybe they were talking about bouncing off trees or something. I didn’t realize Google Maps included ski trails. That reminded me — I also noticed traffic lights on one map I saw recently (for example). Maybe they’re rolling out some new features?

The primary reason for including this boomerang instead of other instnaces in the United States was to fill an empty space on my Complete Index map. There, I admit it. I need to spread the geo-oddity love around.

Portage in Canada

On October 8, 2013 · 4 Comments

The United States Geological Survey is a Federal government agency. It has been impacted by the government budget impasse that exists as I write this article in October 2013. Guess what? It also means that the Geographical Names Information System was turned off. Only websites "necessary to protect lives and property" are running at the moment; you know, things like earthquake information and disease maps. A database of weird town names intended to seed 12MC articles apparently didn’t make the cut.(¹)

That’s fine, I’m flexible. I turned my attention northward and focused my geo-oddity love entirely upon Canada instead, where they’ve managed to establish a functional government. The Canadian geographical names search worked just fine. That allowed me to get back to my current target of curiosity, the actual portages referenced by places named Portage.

Numerous examples existed in Canada, neatly categorized by the geographical database, with a city, a town, a village and a hamlet. I’ll deal with them in order. It also generated a large pile of "unincorporated areas" that I didn’t have time to explore.

Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Portage la Prairie

Portage la Prairie was the city, and rightly so with nearly 13,000 residents. The portage referenced an overland route connecting Lake Manitoba to the Assiniboine River. The portage cut across the prairie and in turn an appropriately-named town formed at this vital crossroad.

I’ll sidestep the city’s abundant history and focus on current curiosities instead. First, notice the body of water that the city calls Crescent Lake. That’s no simple crescent of course, it’s an oxbow. Longtime 12MC readers know how much I enjoy oxbow lakes and this one is a particularly fine specimen. Next, Portage la Prairie was reputed to have the world’s largest Coca-Cola can. I don’t make this stuff up. Readers can confirm its existence in Street View. I can’t confirm whether this one is truly the largest coke or why it would happen to be located in Portage la Prairie. It seemed to be a convenient way to recycle an old water tower.

Portage-du-Fort, Québec


Following the same logic, would Portage-du-Fort be the portage of the fort? That portage wasn’t in question; it was a path around a series of rapids on the Ottawa River. The fort, well, that was a different issue. Outaouais Heritage claimed,

In 1611, Nicolas Vignau, a white scout, landed at what is now Portage du Fort with a party of Algonquins. On their way to tribal headquarters at Allumettes Island, they had to portage overland for the first of a series of five difficult cataracts. In 1694, the famous military engineer Louis d’Ailleboust, Sieur de Coulonge, established a fur trading post near the mouth of the Coulonge River. The stretch of cataracts that led to Fort Coulonge became known as “le portage du fort” and this is how the settlement at the foot of the rapids got its name.

Competing theories also existed so nobody really knows.

Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Québec


Our Lady of the Portage? It makes more sense after one reviews the Notre-Dame-du-Portage Histoire de la municipalité. Let’s start by identifying the portage as auto-translated from French, in typical mangled fashion:

For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in North America, Indians (Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki and Montagnais) borrowed the “portage boaters.” This ancient way of communication, made of water paths and dirt roads, allowing them to move between the St. Lawrence and the St. John River Témiscouata… To communicate between Acadia and Quebec, the capital of New France, the French borrowed this portage. A few years before the conquest of England, they decided to establish a permanent channel of communication by land between the St. Lawrence and Acadia. In 1746, construction began on the “path of the Grand Portage,” a path three feet (, 91 m) wide starting at the same place as the old port.

So the portage extended between the St.Lawrence River and Lac Témiscouata. From there a waterway extended down the St. John River and all the way to the Bay of Fundy.

The Notre Dame part came much later. It was a parish established in 1856, and a church of the same name grew soon thereafter.

Camsell Portage, Saskatchewan

camsell portage saskatchewan
camsell portage saskatchewan by Kristin Marie Enns-Kavanagh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

I found very little on Camsell Portage other than it was located about as far north in Saskatchewan as one could possibly travel (map). One can’t simply drive to Camsell Portage either, it’s a fly-in community, and barely a handful of people live there anymore.

I wondered what the portage might be. The hamlet can be found at the northernmost extreme of Lake Athabasca so that would be a starting point, but to where? Tazin Lake? Some other body of water? The nearby Alberta-Northwest Territories-Saskatchewan tripoint?

It took some persistence and I finally found my answer in a book, "Our Towns: Saskatchewan Communities from Abbey to Zenon Park"

The community developed as a trappers’ settlement in the early 1900′s and is named for a nearby historic portage which connects Lake Athabasca to the great lakes of the Northwest Territories. The portage itself was named after Dr. Charles Camsell (1875-1958), the son of a Hudson Bay Company factor who became recognized as a visionary geologist, map-maker and explorer.

Mystery solved.

(¹) Sure I could use any of several Internet search engines instead. However the USGS database makes it a lot easier to uncover the true oddities without the clutter. Maybe I’ll create a U.S.-centric version of this article after the current fiscal mess dissipates.

Airports Named after Fictional Characters

On June 27, 2013 · 4 Comments

Every once in awhile I post an article not necessarily for the 12MC audience, intended more as a public service to people who might come to the site for a highly specific purpose only a single time. I’m not always sure why I receive sudden website traffic surges, however I try to be accommodating. Often it’s because of an Internet quiz or a crossword puzzle, or even a classroom homework assignment. This time the query related to airports named after fictional characters.

Currently — and this could change at any moment or differ from person-to-person — an article from the Twelve Mile Circle occupies the top result for a Google search on that phrase. We should thank loyal reader Peter for our fortunate result since it was his comment that generated this recent round of hits.

The original article, Studios to Towns, was all about places related to the movie industry. That led to comments about airports named after Bob Hope, John Wayne, and various other showbiz personalities, and then segued to fictional characters after meandering a bit. Peter mentioned Robin Hood and Don Quijote (or the more familiar Quixote in the English version).

If you’ve arrived on the website looking for "Airports Named after Fictional Characters" the answer is probably Robin Hood. Feel free to move away from the website and go to the next question if you like. I won’t take it personally. If you want to explore the possibilities in a little more detail including a coupe of surprises, then pull up a seat and stick around for awhile.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield

I thought the best answer was Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield because it had considerably more passenger traffic than any other alternative. Doncaster sits practically on its doorstep and Sheffield is less than twenty miles away. Robin Hood handled 700,000 passengers in 2012 with several regular international flights to places like Spain, Poland and Egypt.

The name came with a minor controversy. Some people in Nottingham complained that Robin Hood belonged to them, not to Doncaster farther north. Doncaster advocates countered that their city aligned more closely with the geographic placement of Sherwood Forest. The official 12MC position: it doesn’t matter, he wasn’t a real person. At best, he was a composite of many different outlaws.

Don Quijote

Aeropuerto Ciudad Real Central (aka. Aeropuerto Don Quijote)

Aeropuerto Don Quijote in Spain presented a seriously messed-up situation. Officially it was called Ciudad Real Central Airport. That caveat made it difficult to consider it an airport named for a fictional character. The second issue was tremendously more problematic. The airport closed in 2012 after only three years of operation. It went into bankruptcy. That made the question of its name completely moot.

Huffington Post noted in Ciudad Real International Airport Sits Abandoned In Central Spain (July 2012) that airport construction cost 1.1 billion Euros, "offered a high-speed rail connection to Madrid some 150 miles away and was meant to handle roughly 600,000 passengers annually." BBC reported on speculation that the airport was actually designed to fail from the beginning.

When a local construction magnate came up with the idea of an airport in Ciudad Real, money was sloshing around Spain for public works… “You might think the airport failed because of the crisis, but I am convinced that the shareholders never thought it (the airport) would work. The only profit in this airport was the building of it,” says local investigative journalist Carlos Otto. “The construction itself of the airport provided the first profit for the investors because they signed contracts with their own construction companies.”

Aeropuerto Don Quijote doesn’t quality for the list at the moment. Perhaps it could be reopened someday and we might be able to look at it again.

Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin

Flin Flon Airport

I found a couple of airports on my own.

The first one was named for the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. Actually, it was named for the nearby town that was named for Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. Longtime 12MC readers are already familiar with the story. The Canadian town and its airport are both named Flin Flon after the title character of a particularly dreadful 1905 pulp-fiction novel. Flin Flon, the town, straddles the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Flin Flon, the airport, falls completely within Manitoba.

Two airlines serve Flin Flon Airport, Calm Air and Bearskin, with regular passenger service to Winnipeg. The city said their runway could accommodate a Boeing 737. I don’t know how many jets of that size need to land near a town of fewer than 6,000 residents, however, the runway is available should passenger demand require it.


Ajax Heliport

The last one was a stretch. It’s a heliport. At a hospital. It has a Canadian Location Identifier (CPE2) although it does not have an International Air Transport Association airport code. That makes sense as I think about it some more. Nobody will need to check luggage to their final destination for any of these flights.

Ajax Heliport serves Rouge Valley Ajax and Pickering Hospital in Ontario. The heliport was named for the nearby Town of Ajax, which in turn was named for the HMS Ajax, a light cruiser that saw service in the Second World War. Going back farther, the HMS Ajax was named for a hero of Greek mythology that appeared in the Iliad. Got all that? Ajax, the heliport, for Ajax, the hospital, for Ajax the town, for Ajax the ship, for Ajax the fictional Greek hero.

I welcome additions to the list.

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