I was reminded recently, as I updated an old page, that not every U.S. state highpoint can be found on the summit of its parent landform. Boundaries don’t always follow geographic contours like rivers or ridges. Oftentimes segments are composed of straight lines determined by agreement or treaty or negotiation regardless of the underlying terrain. Sometimes, by random chance a state line crosses the shoulder of a mountain, and not its summit. Much more rarely, the line crossing at that spot will be the highest point of elevation in the state, while the higher-elevated mountain summit will be found in a neighboring state.
Connecticut Highpoint Marker by howderfamily.com
The most well-known example appears along the border between Connecticut and Massachusetts. Connecticut’s highpoint can be found at the far northwestern corner of the state (map), just a short walk from the CTMANY tripoint. As Summit Post described it,
Mt. Frissell’s southwest shoulder is the highest point in Connecticut at 2,380 feet [725 metres] above sea level. It is one of only three US state highpoints that are the highest point in a state but not technically the summit of the hill or mountain.
The highpoint is sometimes described as located on Mt. Frissell’s southwest shoulder, other times its southwest slope, and it’s an otherwise unremarkable outcrop. The nearby summit in Massachusetts rises a bit higher, to 2,454 feet (748 metres). I was fortunate enough to visit the state highpoint during the Connecticut Extremes trip in 2012. The diminutive green rod was marginally more exciting than the District of Columbia highpoint disc, and fell considerably short of New Jersey’s impressive highpoint tower. The scenery was nice, though.
What caught my eye was the reference to "three US state highpoints that are the highest point in a state but not technically the summit…" I thought I knew the second one. I had no idea about the third, and I’m still not convinced I confirmed it.
Black Mesa Trailhead by howderfamily.com
I was pretty sure about the status of Black Mesa (map), or at least I seemed to recall something about it when I researched the feature during my Dust Bowl trip. I never actually made it up to the Oklahoma highpoint though. That would have entailed effort. I got as close as the iron fence at the trailhead and opted for the nearby CONMOK tripoint and the fossilized dinosaur tracks instead.
Sure enough, Wikipedia mentioned Black Mesa’s unusual situation:
Its highest elevation is 5,712 feet (1,741 m) in Colorado. The highest point of Black Mesa within New Mexico is 5,266 feet (1,605 m). In northwestern Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Black Mesa reaches 4,973 feet (1,516 m), the highest point in the state of Oklahoma.
I don’t know if it makes sense to say that a mesa has a "summit" although whatever one calls its highest point, Black Mesa would have one located in Colorado. Even spots in New Mexico’s portion are higher than the Oklahoma highpoint. Thus, Oklahoma earned the dubious honor of having a highpoint located on a geographic feature with higher elevations in two neighboring states.
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Was Nevada the third state referenced by the claim? Maybe. Undoubtedly, its highest elevation is Boundary Peak. The controversy centers on whether Boundary Peak counts as a distinct summit or whether it’s merely a bump on the way to Montgomery Peak on the California side of the border. They’re twin peaks, with Boundary at 13,140 feet (4,005 m) and Montgomery at 13,441 feet (4097 m). I figure it has its own name — Boundary Peak — so I’m not sure it belongs on the same list as Mt. Frissell and Black Mesa.
Could some other state contain the remaining elusive highpoint that wasn’t a summit? I examined every state highpoint that fell near a border and couldn’t find another one. Perhaps I’m overlooking something obvious, in which case I’m sure the 12MC community will let me know.
I thought about repeating this exercise at the international level, and maybe someday I will. I started getting little frustrated with the U.S. state search and stopped for now.
I have a slew of short topics not befitting an entire article on their own. That means it’s time for another installment of Odds and Ends.
Non-Native English Readers of 12MC
Breakdown of 12MC’s Audience from Non-English Speaking Nations
The Twelve Mile Circle receives a robust amount of website traffic from readers in nations where English is neither a predominant nor an official language. It doesn’t come close to the number of visitors from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and the like, however it’s more than I’d generally expect. I have a hard enough time writing for an English-speaking audience so people from other nations have a double handicap — my trouble stringing together an intelligible sentence along with reading my gibberish in a foreign language.
I examined statistics generated by readers since the beginning of 2013 and recorded the following Top 10 non-English language reader nations: Germany, France, Russia, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Japan. Those ten comprised a little more than half of the set with another 150-or-so nations taking up the rest. I don’t have a point to make with this compilation, I just found it interesting. That’s all.
Loyal reader "January First-of-May" probably pushes Russia up as high as it is. Russia would still be in the Top 10 although a few slots lower, otherwise.
Metropolitan Area Pattern Game
U.S. Metro Areas with 12MC visitors on August 10, 2013
I based the article "Room to Grow" on the metropolitan area tab in Google Analytics, last November. I mentioned at the time that I hadn’t used that tab much before. I’ve kind-of grown fond of it since then. It doesn’t tell me anything useful that I don’t already know, however I’ve turned it into a little game. Each day I check to see if I can trace a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean following a contiguous trail of 12MC readers. I award myself double points if I can also connect to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. I completed a route and nearly won double points from yesterday’s example.
No, I don’t actually track the points or anything like that. It’s a fun little mindless activity when I open Analytics each morning, like pulling the lever on a slot machine. I can’t trace a path as often as one might think.
Photo by Brandon M.; used by permission
I’m not sure how many readers went back and noticed the comment from "Brandon M." or saw my recent tweet (a good reason to subscribe to the 12MC Twitter feed) so I’ll repost his photo. Brandon read Order in the Court and noticed he’d be near one of the streets called Supreme Court, this one located in Gaithersburg, Maryland (map). He also said he checks the 12MC Complete Index Map for local geo-oddities when he travels. I thought I was the only one who did that so it’s nice to hear the index provided a useful purpose for someone other than myself.
Tripoint House for Sale
Wouldn’t you like to own a state tripoint? Longtime reader Bill forwarded an article link recently: "Delaware Spaces: Three states in the backyard, near Newark." It talked about homeowners who generously allow people to access the Delaware-Maryland-Pennsylvania (DEMDPA) tripoint, even though it’s located on private property. The article included an additional surprise, though. The property is for sale and can be yours for only $525,000!
I thought briefly about snapping it up and doing like Joe Biden used to do when he served in the U.S. Senate: commute daily from Wilmington, DE to Washington’s Union Station by Amtrak train. I certainly knew the route. I guess it was probably after the third or fourth time I mentioned this to my wife, ignoring her eye-rolls and icy glares, when she finally said, "It’s a good thing I love you." My tripoint dreams were dashed. That’s good news for the rest of you, though. You’ll have one less person to outbid if you want to own DEMDPA.
Great Captain Island
The same correspondence that inspired my Tombolo(s) of Connecticut article the other day also inspired Steve of Connecticut Museum Quest to finally complete his Southernmost Point in Connecticut page (subtitled "Then Things Really Went South"). This is the true, untold story of our visit to the island last summer with a modicum of embellishment for amusement’s sake. Visit Steve’s page — you’ll find it entertaining.
Great Taste of the Midwest
12MC Visits Madison, Wisconsin
Saturday was my annual pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. This is one of the best beer events in the nation in my opinion, which I know is a bold claim. It’s casual although exceptionally well-run, and it’s hard to beat the lineup of breweries represented. I’ll mark my calendar and hope to return again. 12MC readers in the Midwest should feel free to let me know if they’re one of the lucky few to get their hands on tickets next year.
The Cumberland Gap is one of those places every schoolchild in the United States learned about during history class. The Appalachian Mountains formed a natural barrier to western expansion during the colonial era. The lower section, however, contained a natural gap that had long been exploited by Native Americans. Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer, recorded the gap in 1750 and brought it to the attention and imagination of the colonists. Daniel Boone widened the trail through the gap a quarter century latter as the key element of the Wilderness Road. Settlers streamed through the passageway and into the Ohio Valley by the tens of thousands during the earliest years of the nascent United States.
I’d long been captivated by that geographic and historical artifact and had wanted to go there for many years.
Tri-State Trail Area
The Weekend Roady gave added incentive in So Close, Yet So Remote (Lee County, VA) a couple of year ago. He flagged a particular local geo-oddity at the trailhead:
At the very end is a parking lot – situated, yes, in Virginia territory! This little lot represents the furthest west you can drive a car around in Virginia (so, of course, I had to take a photo of my car parked there – at that moment I was the westernmost vehicle in Virginia – that’s ‘geekspeak’ for cool.)
So I drove my car from our hotel in Middlesboro, Kentucky a couple of miles to the Cumberland Gap Tunnel where I entered Tennessee, then a couple more miles to the outskirts of the town of Cumberland Gap where I clipped the Virginia border, then back into Tennessee through the town proper, and finally into the same parking lot mentioned by Weekend Roady on the Virginia side of the boundary. That’s how the day went, crossing state lines frequently and unexpectedly.
We planned to hike 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometres) from the trailhead at Virginia’s westernmost parking lot to the Kentucky-Tennessee-Virginia (KYTNVA) Tripoint, and then back down.
The first leg, the Tennessee Road Trail (aka Iron Furnace Trail) lasted 0.3 miles (0.5 km), with the first trail segment leading to the Iron Furnace paved in asphalt and easily accessible. Signage indicated that an iron smelting complex known as the Newlee Iron Furnace operated here from the 1820′s to the 1880′s, using a nearby creek and a waterwheel as its power source. Only the furnace structure remained and it was quite large. Several people could walk into the ruins and stand inside of it simultaneously.
From there, the Tennessee Road Trail left pavement, doglegged once, and then joined the Wilderness Road Trail at a T. We turned left at the T and continued uphill.
The Wilderness Road Trail was a portion of the same pathway used more than two centuries ago by Daniel Boone and the early Kentucky settlers. We had it pretty easy compared to the pioneers and traveled in their footsteps for only another 0.3 miles (0.5 km). We approached the "Saddle of the Gap," and crossed back into Kentucky. This was THE SPOT, a place of stunning historical significance, the point where thousands of people left the eastern side of the settled continent and entered a wild frontier.
It may seem underwhelming on first glance. Here, at this amazingly important point of geography, one could hardly distinguish the Saddle from any other random trail. One should understand that this was an intentional design. Formerly a road cut through this place before being replaced by the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in 1996. Old U.S. 25E linked Cumberland Gap, TN to Middlesboro, KY using the gap, and its gash can still be seen in satellite images. The National Park Service removed asphalt, obscured the roadbed and continues to restore the Cumberland Gap to its original Wilderness Road appearance. Forest will completely obscure the gash within a few decades and the process will then be completed.
One artifact of the old road remained, a large marker placed in commemoration of Daniel Boone and the early pioneers by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1915. Until 1996 it would have been located just south of the paved road over the mountaintop and an easy pull-off for motorists. Today only hikers can reach it.
The marker was located at the Saddle on a side-trail found to the left as one walked up the Wilderness Road Trail from Virginia into Kentucky. That was a convenient waypoint. It also marked the start of the Tri-State Peak Trail and the halfway point of our excursion. It also provided a nice place to stop and rehydrate on a typically humid mid-Summer day in the Appalachians.
The final leg stretched from the DAR’s Daniel Boone marker to the top of Tri-State Peak, a distance of 0.6 miles (0.9 km). It passed the long-ago remnants of a Civil War fortification. Union and Confederate troops traded control of the Gap throughout the war, hauling cannons and supplies to the various mountaintops, although no major battles took place there. We didn’t stop to poke around, however. Our goal was the top.
The trail went through a long switchback and climbed to the crest, where it crossed back into Virginia. Then it pushed up upwards to the summit to a pavilion that marked the KYTNVA tripoint. Each state had its own plaque. Lines marked state boundaries. We stopped for a snack and posed for the obligatory photos of each of us standing in three states simultaneously. That’s what happens on a geo-geek vacation.
It was one of the more nicely marked tripoints I’ve seen.
- Trailhead: Parking lot on VA side of the border at the very end of Pennlyn Ave., in Cumberland Gap, TN.
- Tennessee Road Trail (0.3 miles): Asphalt to Iron Furnace then trail to T intersection with Wilderness Road Trail; turn left onto Wilderness Road Trail
- Wilderness Road Trail (0.3 miles): Hike up to the Saddle of the Gap, then turn left at the sign for Tri-State Peak (Daniel Boone marker will be clearly visible)
- Tri-State Peak Trail (0.6 miles): pass the Daniel Boone marker, pass the remnants of the Civil War fort; switchback, and continue uphill to the Tripoint.
This was a pretty easy climb albeit the entire route pointed uphill. The trails were well marked, they were in good shape, and it never got too rocky or too steep. There were also plenty of historical features spaced appropriately to break up the walk, and hold the attention of our kids.
I’d recommend this short hike for anyone interested in geography or history.
Kentucky Adventure articles: