One of the reasons I enjoyed the various marathon series offered by Mainly Marathons — other than the fact that I didn’t have to run them — was that they provided an opportunity to see parts of the country not normally encountered by casual tourists. I’ve done this twice now, first with the Dustbowl Series and now with the Riverboat Series. I chauffeured a runner from one obscure locale to another, and in return I could tweak the path to count new counties, capture geo-oddities, and experience undiluted Americana. I called that a fair bargain.
Graceland, well Graceland, certainly wasn’t an obscure destination lacking for tourism. I would have gone out of my way to visit Graceland eventually anyway so maybe it wasn’t the best example to begin this article. However it was the complete embodiment of Americana so it had to rise to the top of my list. The Cult of Elvis always fascinated me so Graceland (map) required my careful, respectful attention.
How could I possible choose a single photograph to represent such an astonishing cultural touchstone? Every single item, from the house itself to its outlandish furnishings of the Jungle Room, to the walls of platinum records, to the customized jet airplane with gold bathroom fixtures, simply everything shouted Elvis Presley. I selected the jumpsuits although feel free to scroll back-and-forth for other images. One exhibit included an entire series of jumpsuits and it was fascinating to observe when they first appeared in the early 1970’s as very simple designs, and progressed over the years with Elvis adding ever-increasing amounts of elaborate decorative elements including capes, rhinestones, embroidery and cowboy-sized belt buckles.
Travel Tip: arrive at Graceland just as it opens for the day and purchase Platinum tickets instead of VIP, then board the shuttle for the mansion grounds as the very first activity. This costs about half the price of VIP and an early arrival practically guaranteeing "front of the line" access offered by the VIP tour.
Of course I consulted 12MC’s Complete Index map before I left on my grand adventure. Doesn’t everyone? I wanted to see if I’d written about oddities along my expected path and whether they might merit a personal visit. I noticed a reference to Low Clearance, an article posted in February 2011. The story was all about extremely low overpasses, the kind that might rip the top off of a box truck like a can opener. One such example happened to be found in Henning, Tennessee and I would be driving directly past it (map). Typically I wouldn’t go out of my way just to see an 8’0″ (2.44 m) railroad trestle underpass, however this one involved a measly 30-second detour so why not?
I tweeted the photograph later that day as a victory salute, prompting an even more impressive return tweet from @mapman85 of a better example near Greenfield, Ohio: 7’5″!
I titled this photo, "Random creature made from tires outside of Dumas, Arkansas" (street view) and that pretty much described it. This wasn’t the best of photos although not so bad considering that it was captured from a moving automobile with a mobile phone; notice the side-view mirror in the lower left corner.
I never could understand what an oversized rubber humanoid had to do with a TV Repair business although that didn’t really matter either. That was the kind of whacky non sequitur I’d come to expect in these out-of-the-way places. Some guy wanted a giant tire sculpture in his front yard, and darn it, that’s what he was going to build right there.
Do people still get TV’s repaired anymore? Maybe he had a lot of time on his hands.
Two legendary highways intersected in Clarksdale, Mississippi (map). US Highway 61 ran north-south. We drove it from Vicksburg to Memphis through the heart of the flat, empty floodplain of the Mississippi Delta. This was the storied "Blues Highway," probably second only to Route 66 for its revered place in American nostalgia and culture (e.g., Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited).
US Highway 49 — while not as well known culturally as US 61 — also ran through the Delta. It would have crossed familiar territory to classic Blues musicians such as Big Joe Williams and Howlin’ Wolf who sang about it.
The Clarksdale, Mississippi intersection of these two storied highways came to be known as the Crossroads, and sometimes the Devil’s Crossroads. Legends pointed here as the place where bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical skills, as supposedly referenced in his 1936 recording of "Cross Roads Blues." Of course that assumed one believed in such things, and if so, understanding that there were multiple Delta locations all laying claim to the actual Devil’s Crossroads. Tourism, you know.
Like the Tire Man, this Giant Mailbox didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than standing by the roadside whimsically and entertain passersby. One can appreciate the sense of scale by comparing it to the flagpole and the stop sign. We stumbled upon it unexpectedly as we drove up US Highway 65 in northeastern Louisiana. Well done Ben Burnside of Franklin Plantation, Newellton, Louisiana (street view).
Rest Stop Sundial
I suppose I became sensitized to sundials when I wrote Remarkable Sundials last year. We stopped at an otherwise unremarkable wayside along Interstate 40 in Tennessee as we returned home. I spotted a sculpture with a familiar shape from the corner of my eye, walked over to investigate it, and figured it to be a sundial of a sort (satellite view). I searched for it on the Intertubes when I returned home. It was a work called "Marking Time" by Preston Farabow installed in 2007.
A press release from the Tennessee Arts Commission provided all of the particulars, and noted that it "incorporates markers representing all 95 counties of the state." A county-counting sundial? That practically defined perfection in the Twelve Mile Circle universe.
The Riverboat Adventure articles:
I’ve had a bit of a sundial fixation since stumbling across the dueling Dodge City railroad time zone sundials during Kansas Mountain Time. I don’t think I’ll reach a point where I’m compelled to compile a list and go out of my way to visit them (as I do with lighthouses, fortifications and breweries), however I’d probably take a look if I found myself in the vicinity of a particularly remarkable specimen.
There are people infinitely more interested in sundials, and I certainly understand their passion for an esoteric topic considering my similar tendencies related to other objects. I found a couple of organizations where like-minded individuals can share their discoveries and promote their hobby, the North American Sundial Society (mentioned in the earlier article) and the British Sundial Society. There are other societies in different parts of the world although I didn’t have an opportunity to visit their sites. I also learned a new word: Gnomon. It has nothing to do with gnomes. It’s the part of a sundial that casts a shadow.
The world’s largest sundial is probably in Jaipur, India. I won’t focus much attention on it because Google Sightseeing already discussed it. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested. I’ll wait until you come back.
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I discovered a particularly elegant example in Redding, California. A bridge shaped in the manner of a sundial spans the Sacramento River, joining the north and south campuses of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The operative word is "shaped" like a sundial since it’s not actually functional. As the North American Sundial Society explains,
When is a bridge not a bridge? When it’s almost a sundial. The 217 foot high suspension span called Sundial Bridge wants to be a sundial, and has come very close. The suspension pylon is aligned true north, but unfortunately performs as an inaccurate gnomon with an inclination of 49 deg (for bridge functionality) rather than for the 40.6 deg latitude of the site.
If we moved the bridge due-north to make it functional, changing its location to 49° latitude without changing the longitude (map) it would serve a bridge between the United States and Canada at O Avenue, a spot mentioned previously in Big Zero. I love life’s little coincidences.
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Maybe I just like the name. Carefree Sundial sounds, well, so very carefree. The dial is found in a town of the same name outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Carefree is one of those upscale planned communities that sprouted from the desert for the benefit of snowbirds and retirees in the 1950’s. Residents live along Nonchalant Avenue, Never Mind Trail, Happy Hollow Drive, Lazy Lane, Dream Street, Ho Road, Hum Road, and Ho Hum Drive.
A shopping center within the development includes a large sundial centerpiece to accent a partial roundabout. From the North American Sundial Society, again:
A 90 ft. diameter horizontal dial with a large reflecting pool beneath the gnomon designed by John Yellott. The hour markers are 4 ft. diameter concrete circles. The dial is designed to show solar time corrected for the time zone offset. Thus the hour markers have been moved ahead of the solar time position. The hour lines are separated by alternating dark and light colored stones. The gnomon itself is 4 ft. wide, 62 ft. long and the tip is 35 ft. high. A pilot dial at a scale of 1/4 in. = 1ft. is at the South end of the large dial. It is constructed of gold-anodized aluminum with time lines at 10 minute intervals.
Actually Carefree seems a bit schizophrenic. Other roads within the community include Bloody Basin Road, Long Rifle Road and Sidewinder Road. Imagine living at the corner of Nonchalant and Bloody Basin (like this guy). It’s an odd juxtaposition.
Falcon Square Sundial
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I found this beauty listed as a Dial of the Month by the British Sundial Society. This is Falcon Square in Inverness, Scotland.
Four scaphe dials are located around the base of a 27-foot Mercat Cross in Falcon Square, Inverness. The obelisk is topped by a bronze unicorn, and decorated with four flying falcons. The dials are robustly designed by Emma Lavender, and show BST with declination lines marked by their zodiac symbols.
Got that? The small sundials are located on the base. I enjoyed the unicorn even more, though. It’s not everyday that one has an opportunity to view a unicorn high atop a column unless one lives in Scotland, where the royal unicorn is a symbol of the Scottish monarchy. We need more unicorn sundials.
Museum Puspa Iptek Bandung, Indonesia
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This single object explains why the vast preponderance of 12MC content focuses on English-speaking locations. It’s not because I don’t care about the rest of the world because I most certainly do, it’s because my comprehension of any language other than English falls terribly short of any level of usefulness. Google offered a very tantalizing option: thebiggestsundial.com only to lead me to a site written primarily in an Indonesian language. "The biggest sundial" seemed really specific and sounded like it was going to be English-friendly. I could recognize only a couple of words: "Sundial (Jam Matahari) adalah seperangkat alat yang digunakan sebagai petunjuk waktu semu lokal (local apparent time) dengan memanfaatkan MATAHARI yang menghasilkan bayang-bayang sebuah gnomon (batang atau lempengan yang bayang-bayangnya digunakan sebagai petunjuk waktu)."
Let me see: sundial… local apparent time… gnomon… and it went downhill from there.
Google Translate helped with basic meanings. It was still ridiculously difficult to uncover the actual location of the sundial. Eventually I found it but only because several visitors had posted on foursquare. The sundial was incorporated into the design of a building that houses the Puspa Iptek museum, a facility that focuses on science and technology.
Best Product I’ve Seen in a Long Time
I wish, I so wish I lived on the 51st latitude, north. Then I could purchase the Sundial Glass. I could combine my neurotic fixation on punctuality with my abundant appreciation of craft beers into one convenient package.
It’s an over-sized pint glass. It’s a sundial. It actually tells time! Unfortunately it was designed for Brighton, England although the website does explain that it will work anywhere along the same basic latitude. Kyle, the Basement Geographer, in British Columbia might be able to use it. Me? I’m out of luck until someone invents one for 39° north.
Loyal reader Mr. Burns pointed out that my intended Dust Bowl route will traverse a psuedo-geo-oddity, moving from Central Time to Mountain time heading due north. That happens in other places sporadically, although not as rarely as moving east from Mountain Time into Pacific Time for example. One can’t be too choosy in this depopulated corner of the nation so I will take what I can get. Mildly unusual works for me.
The whole concept of Mountain Time in Kansas feels strange. Maybe it’s the name. The thought of referencing jagged peaks to a Great Plains state like Kansas seemed alien and out of place. Nonetheless, four of Kansas’ 105 counties on its westernmost edge do in fact observe Mountain Time, and there were many others that did the same in previous decades.
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Most interstate travelers probably enter Mountain Time in Kansas while driving along Interstate 70, about 35 miles before they hit Colorado. Look closely at the image and notice the green sign announcing the change. Mountain Time intrudes into Sherman, Wallace, Greeley and Hamilton Counties. I will likely clip only the southernmost of those counties, namely Hamilton. Even the small rural road I plan to use appears to have a time zone notice (street view) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Time Zones are defined in Title 49 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations, which deals with Transportation. That’s an historical artifact reaching back to the rise of railroads dependent upon standard times to define passenger and freight schedules. According to the Department of Transportation, standard times were created in 1883 (and each location could select its preferred time), then switched to Federal oversight in 1918 via the Interstate Commerce Commission, and finally shifted to the Department of Transportation in 1966 upon its creation.
49 CFR 71.1 clearly defines the Kansan portion of Mountain Time for those who simply must know the pertinent details.
(d) Kansas-Colorado. From the junction of the west line of Hitchcock County, Nebraska, with the Nebraska-Kansas boundary westerly along that boundary to the northwest corner of the State of Kansas; thence southerly along Kansas-Colorado boundary to the north line of Sherman County, Kansas; thence easterly along the north line of Sherman County to the east line of Sherman County; thence southerly along the east line of Sherman County to the north line of Logan County; thence westerly along the north line of Logan County to the east line of Wallace County; thence southerly along the east line of Wallace County to the north line Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County to the east line of Greeley County; thence southerly along the east lines of Greeley County and Hamilton Counties; thence westerly along the south line of Hamilton County to the Kansas-Colorado boundary; thence southerly along the Kansas Colorado boundary to the junction of that boundary with the north boundary of the State of Oklahoma.
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Consult a map and it’s easy to understand why a few Kansas counties continue to cling to mountain time.
Goodland, Kansas, a town within Mountain Time and sitting astride I-70 is located 200 miles (322 km) east of Denver, the capital of neighboring Colorado. Likewise, Goodland is 344 miles (554 km) west of Topeka, the capital of Kansas, and 406 miles (653 km) from the state’s largest metropolitan area, Kansas City. Clearly Goodland had an incentive to skew towards Denver rather than Kansas City. Nonetheless the bump can lead to time confusion. The best, in fact the only article I found that addressed this situation came from the Rocky Mountain News in 2008 — "Clock Change a Daily Challenge in Part of Kansas." It’s worth a read.
View Mountain Time in Kansas in a larger map
Mountain Time in Kansas shifted farther west over the past century. It used to run much closer to the 100th Meridian, a traditional division between east and west not only in the United States but also in Canada. Notice the current area of Kansas in Mountain Time (shaded) versus the boundaries recognized by various railroads in 1908, the black lines. Railroads focused on their tracks and not on the surrounding countryside so it’s difficult to reconstruct an exact historical time zone boundary line. The dark horizontal lines should be viewed as rough approximations exaggerated in length to enhance visibility.
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Dodge City was one of those places on the boundary a hundred years ago. The town and its residents observed Central Time, which was their prerogative during the period before Federal oversight. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad defined time a little differently. They drew a line precisely through the Dodge City railway station. Trains heading east from this point recognized Central Time. Trains heading west recognized Mountain Time. The railroad constructed two large decorative sundials on either side of the figurative line to recognize the distinction, a visual reminder to passengers and crew alike. Those some sundials still stand at the station today, recently restored, a relic of a period when Mountain Time cut much deeper into Kansas. Both sundials appear in the satellite image.
I couldn’t find a photo with a Creative Commons license to embed on this page so feel free to open a new tab to view one on Flickr. They wanted to charge $35 for a license to embed it here. Sheesh!
The momentum is pushing all of Kansas into Central Time although the four holdout counties don’t seem to be in much of a hurry.
I know there are a couple of beer geeks in the audience. You may want to check out my Findery post about my recent visit to the smallest brewery I’ve ever seen.