Western North Carolina, Part 2 (Blue Ridge Parkway Loop)

On August 2, 2015 · 0 Comments

I’m going to take a little bit of a departure from the usual Twelve Mile Circle travelogue format and actually suggest a couple of simple one-day itineraries. They mirror actual trips starting from our home base for the week in Asheville, North Carolina. Readers should feel free to customize them at their discretion because they reflect my peculiar interests and geo-geek desires. I’d love to hear if anyone actually follows the path.



The first loop involved a lovely jaunt on and near a segment of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville. The parkway included numerous mountaintop pull-offs where one could enjoy magnificent views in addition to the sites I’ve highlighted. Those went without saying so take a scenic break whenever it seems right. This was a route to be savored slowly. We chose to drive in a counterclockwise or anticlockwise direction although it could be adapted easily to a clockwise route or even a pure out-and-back depending on time constraints and sightseeing preferences.


Linville Caverns


Linville Caverns

I love caves and my kids love them too, maybe even more that I love them. We’ve taken tours of several caves during our wanderings to places like Idaho, Utah, Texas, Oregon, Kentucky and even Ireland. Naturally, Linville Caverns — which bills itself as North Carolina’s "Only Show Cavern" (and I have no way to verify that so I’ll take it at face value) — would have to be on our itinerary seeing how it fell directly along our desired path (map).

There were several interesting formations worth viewing although frankly I’ve seen more spectacular caverns elsewhere. The guides also went through the obligatory "turn out the lights and show everyone how dark it was" demonstration so it seemed to follow the usual script. The cave was a nice enough diversion and the tour took only about a half-hour so it didn’t gobble up too much of the day either. The passageways were also a cool, refreshing 53° Fahrenheit (12° C) on a day when the outdoor temperature was above 90° (32° C) with matching humidity. That almost made it worth the price of admission right there. I’d go back if I were driving through the area again.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission recently discovered several bats in Linville Caverns with White-Nose Syndrome. That meant that anything I brought into the cave will never be allowed within another cave. That’s why I used my mobile phone camera instead of my nice one, and the lower-quality photos reflected that decision.


Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant


Famous Louise's Rock House Restaurant

The 12MC audience would be right to wonder why I visited a restaurant that wasn’t a brewpub given my past history of articles. Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant deserved an exception because I featured it on these very pages in 2009. At the time I explained, "This is now included on my extensive list of places I need to visit someday." Well, someday finally arrived and I did indeed visit. Famous Louise’s was famous because it sat atop a county tripoint. One could walk between Avery, Burke and McDowell Counties, or stand in all three at the same time if one desired, all within the walls of a single restaurant (map).

Famous Louise’s got mixed reviews on various restaurant and travel rating websites. We arrived for lunch on the early end, around 11:30, and it was mostly empty. The opposite was the case when we left so perhaps that made the difference and for that reason I’d recommend arriving a little early for mealtime. We had great service and even got a wonderful tip about the homemade baked apples. The food was decent and a solid value. Plus we had the whole county tripoint thing going on in there, with each county line labeled on individual signs hanging from the ceiling. I love it when I can visit places in person that I’ve mentioned on 12MC beforehand.

There was some debate about whether the tripoint actually fell within the restaurant or not. Maps I consulted insinuated that the true tripoint might be found just outside along a gravel road. I got as close as I could get to take a photo and cover my bases, while respecting the no trespassing sign that had been placed there. Perhaps I wasn’t the first geo-geek trying to find the true magic spot. Who am I kidding? Nobody else has ever done that.


Linville Falls


Linville Falls

Linville Caverns, Famous Louise’s and Linville Falls were all located near each other in one convenient cluster. The falls were one of those iconic features along this stretch of the Blue Ridge that really shouldn’t be missed (map). Access required a fifteen minute hike from the visitor center although nothing too strenuous. There were various other hiking options available depending on whether one wished to view the falls from above or below. We didn’t have time to do both so we selected the first option. It was hard to tell if the view would have been better from ground level. That provided an excuse to come back again someday.


Mount Mitchell


Mount Mitchell

I’m not a traditional state highpointer. I don’t have a desire to highpoint all 50 states because, well, I’m lazy. I don’t ever expect to get to the top of Denali in Alaska and I hate to leave an open list, so I decided long ago to cherry-pick the easy ones and ignore the rest. The only highpoint where I expended any significant effort was Mount Frissell in Connecticticut, and that was only because Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest shamed me into it. Otherwise I like the kind where I drive all the way up to the top and claim the honor simply by walking a few feet, like New Jersey. Better yet, how about the little bump-out by the side of the road in Delaware? Or the subway ride to the District of Columbia highpoint even though it’s not actually a state? Those are more my style.

The North Carolina highpoint fit perfectly within that same low-effort mountaineering philosophy. It differed, however, because it was a "real" mountain. Mount Mitchell wasn’t a poseur, rather it was the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet (2,037 metres) (map). The good people of North Carolina had the courtesy to pave a road almost all the way to the top of the summit, bless their hearts. From the final base camp to the top, oh it was maybe a ten minute walk. There was one single hardship, and readers can sense it in the form of little black specs on the photograph — the huge swarms of insects at the summit. Your screen doesn’t need to be cleaned. Each of those dots was a bug.

Loyal 12MC reader and Twitter follower @thegreatzo diagnosed this as a particularly large outbreak of the Yellow Poplar Weevil. They were harmless to humans although nobody really likes the feeling of hundreds of insects crawling on them. Lots of people on the mountain thought they were ticks so it was pretty amusing to watch them freak out.

I’ll talk about a second day-trip loop in the next article.


Western North Carolina articles:

Head of the Class

On June 7, 2015 · 7 Comments

I thought back to my school days when a teacher would call roll alphabetically. Naturally people with surnames like Anderson would be called upon first. Mine fell somewhere in the middle so I had to pay attention for a little while and then I could daydream for the rest of the drill. I always felt sorry for people named Zimmerman or such who had to remain on their toes the entire time. Those lucky Andersons, though. They could kick-back and relax, their jobs completed immediately thanks to a simple quirk of alphabetical order. The same thing could probably be said of countries. Imagine Afghanistan at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, first in line and grabbing a big dose of attention. Compare that to Zimbabwe. Most viewers are probably tuned out mentally by the time Zimbabwe strolls along.

That got me wondering about which city, town, or village might grab the very first spot in an alphabetical line. Sure, it would vary based upon the language used to sort through the list although I didn’t let that spoil my fun. Research appeared to be amazingly deficient though. I figured I’d find a ready list somewhere on the Intertubes and it would be easy. Perhaps that existed somewhere even though I checked — which meant I searched for a maximum of about 30 seconds — and I couldn’t find one. I did uncover the next best thing, Wikipedia’s List of towns and cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants.

A Coruña, Spain


A Coruña - Palacio Municipal
A Coruña – Palacio Municipal by Pepe Martin (Mário José Martins), on Flickr (cc)

A Coruña in Spain rose to the very top of that list (map). That was its officially-recognized name in the Galician language, prevalent in the northwestern corner of Spain that was once part of the Kingdom of Galicia. In Spanish it was La Coruña and in English sometimes Corunna. According to the rules of alphabetization, nothing came before something so the single letter A followed by a space came before A followed by additional letters. A Coruña was the only city with a single letter A so Wikipedia placed it first.

I had a bit of a quibble with A Coruña. The letter A was used as a definite article. There was a school of thought that the definite article should be disregarded in an alphabetical list. Certainly that was common with geographic place names, e.g., The Bahamas was generally listed as Bahamas, The and The Gambia transformed into Gambia, The. I’m sure there were plenty of learned people who could debate those finer points back-and-forth indefinitely although I didn’t want to get involved. Nonetheless, for me, placing A Coruña at the head of the line felt like cheating.


Aachen, Germany


Aachen Skyline
Aachen Skyline by Stephen Downes, on Flickr (cc)

Aachen seemed to align more properly with the spirit of the contest, beginning with a double-A followed immediately by another letter near the start of the alphabet in the third position. AAC would be a hard combination to beat. People have lived in the Aachen area (map) since neolithic times, drawn there by its warm spring-fed waters. It became a spa town during Roman times and then a favored place of kings such as Charlemagne. Modern aficionados of geo-oddities also appreciated Aachen for its placement on the German side of the Belgium – Netherlands – Germany (BEDENL) tripoint, and prior to that as part of the quadripoint with the bizarre Neutral Moresnet "no man’s land" condominium.


Aaron, USA



Aaron, Indiana, USA

That still left a lot of white space between cities of a hundred thousand residents or more and the untold multitude of places with smaller populations. I continued to be hampered by a lack of prior research so I turned to the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. It included a bunch of AAA stuff, primarily several small reservoirs called tanks in New Mexico, which I discounted. It also included an Aaberg School in South Dakota and the Aaberlite Mines in Colorado. Still, I couldn’t find a populated place that would come before Aachen in an alphabetical list.

I didn’t feel like running a bunch of separate queries because GNIS required a minimum of three letters when using a wildcard (e.g., I would have to search aaa*, aab*, aac* and so on if I wanted to check every combination starting with double-a). I took the easy route and figured there must be some place called Aaron. Sure enough, Aaron existed in four states, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. Only Aaron, Indiana had a Wikipedia entry and even that was limited to two simple sentences ("Aaron is an unincorporated community in Switzerland County, Indiana, in the United States. A post office was established at Aaron in 1871, and remained in operation until it was discontinued in 1907").

That was a long way of saying I was too lazy to figure out a location that would appear first on a list of populated places in the United States. I’ll throw Aaron out there as my guess and let someone else challenge it if so inclined.


Aasiwaskwasich, Québec, Canada



Aasiwaskwasich

Natural Resources Canada actually provided an alphabetic list of place names, bless their hearts. I supposed that was feasible because there were fewer places named in Canada due to large swaths of lightly-populated territory. Canada included a former First Nation Village named Aa-at-sow-is in British Columbia, and that would have been a top contender, however I wanted to find an inhabited place, not something abandoned. The best I could find was Aasiwaskwasich, completely in the middle of nowhere near the eastern side of Hudson Bay.

But wait, the next entry was amusing even if it wasn’t a populated locality: Aass Indian Reserve 3 (map) in the Nootka Land District, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Interestingly, there were no signs of Aass Indian Reserves 1 or 2. Nor did there appear to be a tribe of Aass Indians. Don’t check a search engine for Aass Indians, though. I did that and let’s just say one cannot unsee things once they’ve been revealed.


Completely Unrelated

Twelve Mile Circle received its first visit ever from Wallis and Futuna yesterday! I thought it would be nearly impossible and was genuinely surprised when it appeared. It’s a French collectivity in the South Pacific with only about 15,000 residents and most of them speak Polynesian languages or French. I’m not sure why they wanted to know more about Smokey and the Bandit’s Route although I will note that this page seems to attract a fairly steady stream of visitors for some unknown reason.

Ireland, Part 6 (Obscure Geography)

On July 31, 2014 · 4 Comments

Don’t worry, this will be the final installment of the Ireland odyssey. I appreciated everyone wading through my personal indulgences so I saved the best for last, the Irish adventures that came closest to standard 12MC content. A couple of them are genuine geo-oddities.

Inch Beach



I mentioned Inch Beach (map) a few weeks ago in an article about sand spits, and I even threatened to visit the strand for a photo. That’s exactly how it unfolded as I drove onto the Dingle Peninsula, and then to Inch Beach, the Dangle of Dingle.

Longtime reader "wangi" commented on that earlier article, noting "One of the Scots Gaelic terms for an island, innis, is frequently Anglicised as inch in Scottish place-names. I imagine same is true in Ireland." I developed an alternate theory during my personal visit. Inch Beach was literally an inch wide. I captured photographic evidence.

Well, maybe it’s an inch and a half.


Tripoint



Tripointing didn’t seem to be much of a "thing" in Ireland. I could be wrong although I failed to find any Internet coverage of places where three Irish counties joined together at a common point. I did notice, however, that my great-grandfather’s boyhood home in Mountcollins fell remarkably close to the Cork, Kerry, Limerick tripoint, which I dubbed COKELI in the normal naming convention. Paradoxically, this appeared to be the first time COKELI had ever been used in that context at least according to Google. I did learn that Cokeli was a mans’ name, a variant of Coakley, meaning "from the charcoal meadow." That was an interesting etymology although it had nothing to do with tripointing, of course.

Yes, after spending a long day touring family history sites with distant relatives, I diverted my wife, kids and father slightly out of our way to find the COKELI tripoint (map). Not only did local jurisdictions mark the point, they’d reserved a small adjoining greenspace with a picnic table and a thatched-roof shelter dubbed Three Counties Park. Go up to that Flickr photo and click the left and right arrows to see more. Just don’t mess with the thatch. They don’t like that.

The marker on an old piling also implied that there was a bridge once that crossed directly over the tripoint on the River Feale (the current bridge crossed only between Counties Cork and Kerry a few metres farther south). I was surprised. Maybe Ireland contained more tripoint treasures? It also dawned on me that maybe my geo-oddity fascination might have been ancestral. Perhaps some ancient family legend or memory of this spot somehow sparked my appreciation of geographic anomalies.


County Counting


Counties of Ireland
Underlying copyrighted image used in compliance with d-maps.com terms and conditions.
12MC’s County Counting Map of Ireland

I didn’t find any Irish county counting sites, either. Maybe that’s because it wouldn’t be a difficult challenge. Notice my personal county counting map of Ireland after two weeks. I wasn’t even trying, really. A more conscientious effort certainly would have eliminated the Cork City and Co. Offaly doughnuts.

My tally: Clare; Cork; Dublin; Fingal; Galway; Galway City; Kerry; Kildare; Kilkenny; Laois; Limerick; Limerick City; Longford; Mayo; Meath; North Tipperary; Roscommon; South Dublin; South Tipperary; Westmeath.

Incidentally, it was pretty difficult to find a decent outline map that included Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin, all carved from the former County Dublin in 1994. Come on Intertubes, I expect more up-to-date stuff even though I’m not willing to pay anything for it. Isn’t that how it works?


Gaeltacht


Gaeltachtai le hainmneacha2.svg
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons attribution share-alike license version 2.5

The Gaeltacht fascinated me, the small portions of Ireland recognized as Irish-speaking regions. I spent considerable time in the Gaeltacht while on Achill Island and lesser time on the western half of the Dingle Peninsula. My relatives in Limerick also spoke Gaelic fluently. It was the daily household language of older members of the family as they grew-up. One of my relatives even taught Gaelic. I wondered about that situation and they explained that my 3rd-Great Grandfather came originally from the Dingle Peninsula, from an area still in the Gaeltacht.



Seemingly everyone in the Gaeltacht also spoke English fluently so I never encountered a language barrier other than trying to interpret a thick Irish brogue, and them dealing with my insufferable American accent. The noticeable differences involved road signs as they switched from English to Irish. Still, one could assume rather easily that géill slí meant the same thing as "yield" (or give way) from the shape and colors of the sign. It never became an issue. Sometimes Gaelic road signs appeared randomly outside of the Gaeltacht too, as in this example I found near the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary.


Driving



The End

On a tangent, I think I’ll end the series with a comment about driving in Ireland. Every stereotype about renting automobiles and driving in Ireland is true: lanes were narrower; rarely did they have shoulders; roads twisted preciously; animals or farm tractors appeared at inopportune times; cars parked anywhere they wanted and in either direction; progress was always slower than expected; and as a result, car hires came with astronomically expensive and all-but-mandatory insurance. Let’s start with the assumption that nobody wants to get into an accident — I didn’t think Irish drivers were necessarily any better or worse than elsewhere else. The road network itself created dangerous situations. I’ll never complain about US roadways again.

Thanks for reading along with my journey.


The Ireland articles:

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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