Heartland, Part 1 (Why, oh Why?)

On June 8, 2017 · 2 Comments

Here we go again! I just finished a drive through the Midwest, all the way out to Iowa and back, and returned on Saturday. We didn’t stay anywhere for very long and kept moving most of the time. We also stayed in different hotels seven of the eight nights, and covered about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) all told. Readers who enjoy Twelve Mile Circle’s road trip adventures will like the next several articles. The rest of you may want to return in a couple of weeks instead.

The Route and the Count


Route Into the Heartland
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

A simple map might be the easiest way to describe my trip. It seemed like a fairly straightforward route although I threw in a few twists to increase county counting opportunities. Light blue counties represented those I’d visited before. Readers with discerning eyes probably figured out the rationale of those earlier visits already. Major interstate highways ran through them, specifically the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes. My new captures, those marked in dark blue, represented efforts to shave off the next level of counties towards the south as well as fill in a couple of troublesome doughnut holes.

The revised tally reached 1,416 counties as I finished the trip. I also broke the 45% barrier of United States counties visited. I’m not sure if the results encouraged or depressed me though. I started doing a little math. My 1,000th county visit happened in June 2009 during a trip along the Great River Road. That’s when I crossed the border into Crawford County, Wisconsin. I should finish in about 35 years if I keep going at that pace. It’s doable although I’ll be really old when I’m done. I think I need to speed it up. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up 26 new counties on this trip and I’m proud of my effort.


There for the Races


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

New county captures served as a nice side benefit although they weren’t the primary purpose of my drive. Once again, the trip involved a Mainly Marathons event, this time the Heartland Series. We’ve done several of these before as I’ve recounted in previous 12MC articles (i.e., Dust Bowl, Riverboat, Center of the Nation, New England). This time things went a little differently. We participated in only four of the seven races because my runner didn’t need the other three states on a quest to finish a race in all 50. That’s how we found ourselves in Bryan, Ohio; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; and Clinton, Iowa. We skipped the Michigan race and headed into Indiana to capture more counties instead, and later went home after the Iowa race, missing events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I did things a little differently too. In the past I’d often been happy to stand on the sidelines while my runner finished a half-marathon each day. Most people selected the full marathon option and a few hearty soles selected the ultra-marathon. That made me feel downright lazy so I started doing some of the 5k’s. I did that again during most of the Heartland series. However, I also got talked into running a half-marathon for the Illinois race. I did pretty good for an old guy and I finished my first ever half-marathon at 1:53:29.

Now, however, I knew I could do better because I used all of the excuses. I’d never run that distance before, I had tired legs from races over several previous days, the course included a lot of hills, the wind blew pretty hard, and so on. Is this how addictions begin? I may try the occasional half-marathon in the future although I don’t have any plans to go overboard with the seven races in seven states in seven days thing.


Experiencing Nowhere



The drive didn’t follow a straight line all of the time. I also deviated for specific geo-oddities. For example I got to experience the Highway to Nowhere in person. I stumbled across a reference to it several years ago and featured it in a 12MC article. Feel free to check that one out if you want to learn how a town with fewer than 800 residents got its own interstate highway to its doorstep. The map showed it clearly; Interstate 180 appeared as an L-shaped spur south of Interstate 80 in central Illinois. Supposedly fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day used this highway. I drove its full length of course.

On my side of the road, along the entire distance, I saw only one car and one truck. The car passed me, doing something considerably faster than the posted 70 miles per hour.


A Tripoint Too

I also wanted to go a little out of my way for a state tripoint. It would be such a tragedy to drive within a few miles of such a spot and fail to reach it. So we deviated down a gravel road for this important oddity and stopped there for a few moments. It seemed only fitting to stand upon the singular spot where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all joined together (map). Tripointers called the marker INMIOH in the naming shorthand they liked to use.

Although where might it be, exactly?


INMIOH Tripoint

There seemed to be some controversy on the Intertubes. Did it fall within the middle of the road or off to the side a few feet farther east? Adherents seemed to take sides. I decided to go with Jack Parsell’s Tri State Corners in the United States. I’ve used that source plenty of times before and it generally seemed to be the most accurate. It stated that surveyors in 1999 placed a commemorative metal plate within a small crypt about a foot below the road surface, covered by a protective steel cover. Dutifully, I put my foot up to the cover to touch all three states simultaneously.


INMIOH Tripoint

Then, to hedge my bets, I also found the broken stone marker on the downward-sloping eastern embankment. Some people said that this spot actually marked INMIOH. However Parsell and others claimed that it was merely a witness post. Before something cut it down to a nub it once said something like, hey the tripoint is in the middle of the road. Anyway that’s what the old-timers said. I found those explanation more convincing than the counterarguments. That didn’t stop my from taking a picture of it anyway "just in case."

This seemed to be one of the lamer tripoint I’ve seen during my wanderings. I’ve hiked to other tripoints in much more obscure locations that put this one to shame. Sure, it fell within the middle of the road although someone should make a nice roundabout there with a better marker as its centerpiece.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Directional South Africa

On March 16, 2017 · 4 Comments

A few months ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured Directional West Virginia. It focused on the situation of a state with a direction in its name, as well as various places within the state that also featured directions. Why should some random corner of the United States have all of the fun? Entire countries featured directional prefixes. I could play the same game on a national level. That thought struck me when I noticed a visitor landing on 12MC from the city of East London in South Africa.

East London


East London, Undated
City Hall of East London, South Africa. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton on Flickr (cc)

East London hugged the South African coastline on the southeastern side of the nation (map). A respectable number of people lived there too, about a quarter million in the city proper and nearing eight hundred thousand in its larger metropolitan area. It also occupied a strategic spot, the site of the only river port in South Africa. Because of that, Governor, Sir Harry Smith annexed this area at the mouth of the Buffalo River on behalf of the Cape Colony in 1848. He called it East London.

I wondered about the name. The London part seemed obvious. Why East, though? Using Great Circle distances and simple mathematics, it seemed that East London fell nearly 5 times farther south of its namesake than east of it. Logically, shouldn’t it be South London? Maybe Governor Smith named it for the East London section of London, or perhaps its smaller subset, the East End of London. I don’t know.

Nonetheless, a lot of people lived in East London, South Africa, a name referencing two distinct directions.


Cape Tripoint



A large area abutting the Cape of Good Hope traded hands between Dutch and British interests several times between the late Seventeenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, before Britain established stable control. It became a self-governing part of the British Empire and then became a large section of South Africa as it formed. The Cape Colony changed its name to Cape Province upon South African independence. Then in 1994, after the end of Apartheid, it split into three provinces. Each part featured a different directional prefix: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Northern Cape.

I couldn’t figure out the basis of the split. The borders didn’t seem to follow geographic features like rivers or ridges. Nonetheless they also seemed jagged. While I found numerous sources that explained that the split happened in 1994, none of them discussed why officials drew the lines as they came to pass. I assumed it must have been based on cultural divisions.

Even so, and while I hated not being able to solve the riddle, the split created a wonderful tripoint. Visitors to that spot could stand on three different directional provinces at the same time, the exact place where Eastern, Western and Northern points all came together. I would love to know if people in South Africa visited the tripoint and appreciated it. The Intertubes didn’t solve the mystery. Two clusters of stone appeared as I drilled down on the satellite image. One seemed to be too large, very likely a natural feature. The other, well, it might have been a rock or it might have been a boundary marker. Google Map’s boundary lines are often off by a few metres so it’s possible.

It certainly deserved a marker!


East to West



Lord Charles Somerset ruled as Cape Colony governor for several years, from 1814 to 1826. Naturally, his fingerprints appeared upon various features of the colonial landscape due to his influential position. For instance, a settlement grew near Cape Town beginning in 1822 and it became Somerset. A few years later, Lord Somerset founded a town farther to the east that he decided to name for himself. That might have caused some confusion so the original Somerset became Somerset West (map) and the new town became Somerset East (map). I’m not sure how much of a problem it really would have caused, actually. Quite a long distance separated them. Still, they both fell within the Cape Colony so I guess it made good sense to differentiate them.

After the 1994 split of Cape Province, Somerset West became part of Western Cape and Somerset East became part of Eastern Cape. They could both become Somerset without a prefix now if someone cared enough to change the names.


A Place with Every Direction


Sea of Gold
Sea of Gold: Match 24 – 2010 FIFA World Cup
Photo by Drew Douglas on Flickr (cc)

The name Rustenburg came from Afrikaans/Dutch, meaning the Town of Rest. It became one of the Boer’s earliest northern settlements. The town didn’t stay restful for long, however. Lands near Rustenburg became battlefields in 1899 during the Second Boer War. In more recent history, Rustenburg served as one of the host cities during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Several matches took place at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Why did any of that matter? Only because I discovered what might be the most directional place in the entire country. Someone could live on East Street (map) in Rustenburg Oos-Einde (East End), in the North West Province of South Africa. That made it East-East-North-West-South, for those of you keeping score at home.

Lickety-Split

On February 26, 2017 · 4 Comments

I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.

French Lick


French Lick Springs
French Lick Springs. Photo by Dan Perry on Flickr (cc)

The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.

I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."

The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).


Licks of Kentucky


Places with a Lick Suffix
Place Names Ending in Lick
via GeoNames

There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.

The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.

Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.


Big Bone Lick


big bone lick state park
big bone lick state park. Photo by Joel on Flickr (cc)

Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.

Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.


Young Lick Knob


Young Lick viewed from Brasstown Bald
Young Lick viewed from Brasstown Bald via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."

That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.

If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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