Flat as a Pancake

On July 22, 2015 · 1 Comments

The expression "Flat as a Pancake" obviously means that something would be considered extremely flat. There are several U.S. states, led by Florida, that are indeed even flatter than a pancake. That’s not what this article is about. Rather I found a location that may or may not have been flatter than a pancake although it should be flatter if its name did it justice. The Geographic Names Information System identified it as Pancake Flats.



I expected to find virtually nothing about this highly obscure spot northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania that wasn’t even significant enough to be identified on online maps (for example). Yet, people have been there. Lots of them. It was one of the signature features, albeit a relatively flat feature set amongst much rougher terrain, along the Greensprings Trail at Wopsononock (Wopsy) Mountain. The Bureau of Land Management described it as a "2.2 mile loop. Mainly level, low difficulty."

That was the only Pancake Flats listed although there were 48 other entries for various other Pancakes in the United States.


Towns


DSC_9277
Pancake, West Virginia

I found very little information about populated places called Pancake. Locations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas did manage to stand out from the crowd a bit.

Pancake, West Virginia (map) consisted of little more than an abandoned whistle stop along the South Branch Valley Railroad named for the Pancake family. However, nearly everyone bearing the Pancake surname listed in Wikipedia came from West Virginia. The surname clearly signified something significant along the South Branch of the Potomac River.

Pancake, Pennsylvania (map) was a bit more notable. It gained its name in the early 1800’s. I found a Pancake History that included an excerpt from the Saturday, April 2, 1955 edition of The Washington Reporter, of Washington, Pennsylvania.

An air of mystery hovers around the name of George Pancake, one of the early settlers at the little village of that name just east of Washington. Where he came from, when and what became of him are questions that will probably never be answered. He was here for 12 years, and then drifted on west to Ohio… In spite of all efforts to change, the name of Pancake has clung to this village through more than 135 years. First it was Williamsburg, then Martinsburg, and finally Laboratory after Dr. Byron Clark secured a post office for his patent medicine mail order business. But, everyone called it Pancake, and Pancake it still is because it struck the popular fancy as the name of America’s most popular breakfast dish.

Unfortunately, visitors cannot buy pancakes in Pancake, Pennsylvania.

Pancake, Texas (map) didn’t exactly qualify as a booming metropolis either. It was large enough nonetheless, to gain an entry in Texas Online from the Texas State Historical Association.

Pancake is at the intersection of Farm roads 2955 and 217, thirteen miles northwest of Gatesville in northern Coryell County. A post office opened there in 1884 with John R. Pancake as postmaster… The population of Pancake was reported as twenty-five from the 1930s through the 1960s. No further estimates were available until 2000 when the population was eleven.

Interestingly, anytime I uncovered the origins of a town called Pancake it tied back to someone named Pancake. I attempted to find out where the name came from with mixed results. Ancestry.com said it was German: "Translation of German Pfannkuch(e), North German Pannkoke, Pankauke, or Dutch Pannekoek(e), metonymic occupational names for someone who made and sold pancakes." One of those family crest websites — and yes apparently there was a Pancake family crest — said it was Cornish.


Geographic Features

On the other hand, geographic features named pancake seemed to derive from their appearance, said to resemble either a single pancake (i.e., very flat and round) or a stack of pancakes. Pancake Flats was a good example of that principal and I found a couple of others that seemed to qualify likewise.


Pancake Summit sagebrush steppe

There was an entire set of mountains stretching 90 miles (140 kilometres) in the central part of Nevada called the Pancake Range. That was probably the largest geographic pancake feature anywhere. U.S. Route 50, a stretch once dubbed the loneliest road in America, crossed directly over the range. It traveled across Pancake Summit (map) at an elevation of 6,521 feet (1,988 metres).


Pancake Bay Beach

There were pancakes in Canada too! I found a nice one in Ontario called Pancake Bay (map). There was even a Provincial Park located on the bay with "3 km of beautiful sand beach and Caribbean blue water."

Now I’m hungry.

Highpoint to Lowpoint Revisited

On March 29, 2015 · 2 Comments

The recent Highpoint to Lowpoint article generated some interest. I wanted to go into more detail when I wrote it and I didn’t get an opportunity due to various time constraints. The details would have required a lot of manual effort. Nonetheless, readers seemed to crave more so I bit the bullet and examined every state highpoint and lowpoint, the distances between them and their resulting slopes. I estimated these values in two major systems of measurement, feet per mile and metres per kilometre using a Great Circle distance calculator on the Movable Type Scripts website. The results may be examined in a shared Google Spreadsheet. Feel free to sort it any way you like. You won’t break it.

I’ll begin with a few caveats. The latitudes and longitudes for state highpoints were rather straightforward and easy to obtain from numerous sources, so no issues there. The same could not be said for lowpoints. What exact point along a seacoast should I use? Where within Death Valley’s Badwater Basin should I plant the flag? How far up a tidal estuary for several eastern states did the water remain at sea level? I made a lot of best guesses without complete precision so readers should view data as approximate and relative. Others might run the same exercise and come up with figures slightly different although general rankings should remain similar. That’s a long way of saying you shouldn’t get too hung up on the implied precision of the spreadsheet.


State Highpoint Lowpoint Distance Differences

I took that same data from the spreadsheet and created a graph. I had to reduce the image to fit into the article, however. The actual image was larger. Readers can open it in another tab or window if it’s too difficult to read.

Hawaii (overwhelmingly) and Washington demonstrated the greatest slope between highpoint and lowpoint, as referenced by reader Michael. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was only about 17 miles (28 kilometers) from the ocean so it had an amazing downward slope of nearly 800 feet per mile (150 m/km) from mountaintop to sea. That more than doubled the result created by Washington’s Mount Rainer to Puget Sound. Reader Scott offered that Vermont probably came in third place and my calculations confirmed his suggestion. Mount Mansfield to Lake Champlain descended at 230 ft/mi (44 m/km).

Reader Jacob wondered about the farthest absolute distances between state highpoint and lowpoint, as well as the opposite of what was just discussed, the smallest slope between the two points. Both were easy to discern once I created the spreadsheet.


Black Mesa Trailhead
Black Mesa Trailhead — Leading to the Oklahoma Highpoint; my own photo

I calculated the farthest distances in Texas and Oklahoma. Both extended greater than 500 miles (800 km). Interestingly, or possibly of interest only to me, Texas was the second largest state and had the longest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. In the earlier article I discovered that Delaware, the second smallest state, had the smallest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. That was an odd coincidence, as if being in second place wasn’t good enough for either of them and they had to concoct different superlatives.

Nonetheless, I found Oklahoma more impressive than Texas for purposes of this exercise. The distances were nearly identical and yet Oklahoma was a much smaller state. Plus, I’ve actually been within close proximity to Oklahoma’s highpoint at Black Mesa when I undertook the Dust Bowl trip a couple of years ago so I had a nice photo to illustrate the point.


Fort Defiance
Fort Defiance — Illinois Lowpoint; my own photo

The smallest slope actually surprised me. Louisiana won. The angle was created by an unusual situation; the state’s lowpoint was below sea level in New Orleans so the regular method of drawing a line to the nearest seacoast wouldn’t work. Simultaneously the highpoint at Driskill Mountain wasn’t particularly high and it was located near the northwestern corner of the state, diagonally opposite of the lowpoint to maximized the distance. The downward slope equaled about 2.3 ft/mi (0.4 m/km). Two other states demonstrated slopes of less than 3 ft/mi: Illinois (I’ve been to that lowpoint) and Mississippi (been to that lowpoint too, it’s anywhere along its Gulf of Mexico shoreline).

Michigan came next at 3.5 ft/mi (0.7 m/km). I found that situation particularly fascinating in the context of the previous article where I noted the difference between the geographic placement of Minnesota and Michigan. Minnesota’s highpoint was located near Lake Superior, putting its highpoint and lowpoint in very close proximity. Michigan’s highpoint was also located near Lake Superior. However, the state of Michigan extended all the way down to Lake Erie, making the distance between high and low 400+ miles (650 km) and placing it near the bottom of the slope list.


Projects for Another Day

Other readers came up with great ideas too. Peter suggested that I run a similar analysis for nations of the world. Rob wondered about the highpoints of one state that appeared to fall in close proximity to the lowpoints of another state. I didn’t have time to explore either of these today although I might if time permits or people seem interested.

Thank you all for the thoughts and suggestions.

Hairy Man

On January 25, 2015 · 2 Comments

I don’t know why I started wondering about Bigfoot this morning. Yes, the actual Bigfoot, as in Sasquatch the large mysterious cryptid hominid of North America’s Pacific Northwest region. I don’t put much faith in the whole Bigfoot phenomenon because I think one would have been discovered by now if it existed, making it all that more unusual for me to suddenly have this interest in the topic. If folks want to believe in it then I’m happy for them. I hope they find one. I’ll get excited when I can visit one in a zoo.

There was a particularly famous image of a so-called encounter that seeded my thoughts. I think many 12MC readers might be familiar with it. The photo depicted a critter in mid stride, arms swinging, ambling along a creek bed with trees in the background. Some basic checking revealed it as Frame 352 of the Patterson–Gimlin film. I won’t reproduce it here because of potential copyright limitations. Even Wikipedia used the image with some trepidation so curious readers can follow the link and probably come to the instant realization that they’ve seen it before. Go ahead. I’ll wait.



Bigfoot

My actual goal was designed to uncover the exact spot where the Patterson–Gimlin "sighting" occurred. That was relatively easy to find because the notoriety of the image generated a lot of follow-up efforts either to confirm or debunk the story. It was a spot along Bluff Creek in Northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest. Curiosity satisfied, I still faced a quandary. How could I illustrate an event when I couldn’t use a copyrighted image? Let’s just say interesting things happen when one types Bigfoot into the search bar at Flickr. That’s how I got sent down tangents like,


The Hairy Man Festival


Bigfoot / Hairy Man
Bigfoot / Hairy Man by JD Hancock, on Flickr (cc)

The mere existence of Austin Texas’ Hairy Man Festival seemed completely bizarre. The truth behind it was even better.

The legend of the hairy man dates all the way back to the 1800’s, when Hairy Man Road in Round Rock was just a simple dirt path that cut through a dense wooded area parallel to Brushy Creek. Travelers who navigated the route gained convenient passage in and out of Austin, but at a price: They risked angering a territorial hermit who did not take kindly to trespassers.

So about twenty years ago local residents decided to hold a festival with a Hairy Man theme. It featured lots of live music, a 5K race along Hairy Man Road (map) and even a Hairiest Man Contest with a $500 prize. People will find any excuse for a party and that’s what makes things like this wonderful.


Hairy Hill, Alberta, Canada

Canadians could be hairy too in the form of a tiny village, Harry Hill in Alberta (map).



Hairy Hill was too small to have much of anything recorded about it although Twelve Mile Circle did uncover one local source that claimed,

The unusual name of this small community is rooted in history. The buffalo used to sun themselves on these picturesque hills and had rubbing wallows where large amounts of hair would accumulate. In the 1900’s when the Canadian Pacific Railway laid its tracks they found all the buffalo hair on the large hills and named the hamlet Hairy Hill. The original hamlet site was located two miles south of its present location and was relocated to be closer to the railway. The hamlet of Hairy Hill is only 95 km from Edmonton and plays host to the very popular Hairy Hill Rodeo

Somehow I found bison hair much more comforting as a source of legend than either the possibility of Bigfoot running through dense wilderness in California or the mentally unstable man in need of a barber who harassed travelers in Texas. One would need to move to Manitoba for that level of oddity, where Hairy Man Point (map) was named for the supposed spotting of a large hairy man by the Ojibwa sometime in the distant past.


Yowie! It Must Be Australia


Woodburn Yowie
Woodburn Yowie by Sydney Wired, on Flickr (cc)

On a roll, I decided to examine Hairy places in Australia too, encountering both Hairy Mans Rock in New South Wales (map) and Harry Man Creek in Victoria (map). Very little information existed about either place although they both seemed to be related to Yowie stories. I have to admit being ignorant of Yowies until just now. They appeared to be similar to the Bigfoot phenomenon and based upon legends passed down by Aborigines.

That’s enough hair for one day. I think I need a haircut.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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