Skewed Perspective

On September 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

There was a time in the early days of Twelve Mile Circle when I used to devote entire articles to differences in distances that didn’t seem plausible, although of course the actual measurements didn’t lie. For example, sticking with the Twelve theme, the twelfth article I ever posted on 12MC all the way back in November 2007 dealt with a whole list of state capitals located closer to southwestern Virginia than to its own capital in Richmond. I loved those little counterintuitive notions although I haven’t posted any in a long time probably because they’re kind-of mindless.

I recalled some of my Riverboat Adventures the other day while speaking with some friends and remarked how crazy-long it took to drive across the entire length of Tennessee. We drove through only two states on the way back, Tennessee and Virginia, and it took something like thirteen hours. That prompted me to hit the maps and resurrect the long-neglected genre.

Driving from Memphis


Mud Island
Memphis. My own photo.

The Tennessee leg of our return followed Interstate highways from Memphis to Bristol, specifically I-40 and I-81. I used one of my favorite mapping tools to create a circle around Memphis that extended to Bristol. That’s where the fun began. Memphis was closer to Oklahoma City, Dallas, New Orleans or Kansas City than it was to Bristol. It was even closer to Davenport, Iowa!

Two could play at that game so I created a similar circle around Bristol extending to Memphis. Bristol was closer to Detroit and Jacksonville than it was to Memphis, and about the same distance to Chicago or Philadelphia.


Back in Virginia


Casbah, Algiers
Casbah, Algiers by Nick Brooks, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I then drew some latitudes, returning my focus to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I noticed that there were parts of Africa farther north than parts of Virginia. I let that rattle around in by brain for awhile. Sure the overlap wasn’t much although definitely factual. Algiers and Tunis on the African continent were farther north than Danville and Suffolk in Virginia.


Dueling Portlands


Keep Portland Weird
Keep Portland Weird by Christopher Porter, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Again with the latitudes, I compared Portland, Oregon with Portland, Maine. It reminded me of a quote in a guest post that Marc Alifanz contributed to 12MC in March 2011, Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon:

Portland was originally founded by Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Each wanted to name the new town after their place of origin. They flipped a coin, and Portland won. It’s probably a good thing it worked out that way, because two Bostons of very large size would have created more confusion than big Portland, OR and littler Portland, ME do now.

That was an interesting aside, although referring back to the latitudes, Portland in Oregon is actually farther north than Portland in Maine. That seemed odd because Maine bordered Canada and Oregon had an entire state (Washington) between it and Canada. Yet, that’s what the line revealed.

And speaking of Portland, Maine, I drew another circle and examined the results. Portland Maine was closer to Caracas, Venezuela than to Portland, Oregon.


A Canadian Example


old cayenne 6
old cayenne 6 by Nicholas Laughlin, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

All of the results seemed astonishing to me although I recognized that a lot of this had to do with my very specific geographic perspective. I doubt the measurements and observations had anywhere near the same impact for people living elsewhere. So I tried an example in Canada. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador was closer to: Bratislava Slovakia; Murmansk, Russia; Cayenne, French Guiana; or anywhere in Western Sahara as it turned out than it was to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Similar observations could be made about the distance between Vladivostok and Moscow, Russia, I supposed. Ditto for Sydney and Perth, Australia. Have fun and let me know the most counterintuitive observation you discover.

U.S. States’ Lowest County Highpoints

On August 24, 2014 · 3 Comments

The setup might take a little explanation. I wanted to find the lowest county highpoint in each of the fifty United States. There would only be one per state based upon a series of lists provided by Peakbagger.com. That might lead to speculation that a better solution would involve examining all county highpoints regardless of state and rank them accordingly. I’d consider that fair criticism and maybe I’ll draft a Part 2 where I do that someday. However, just for today, I found it a lot easier to deal with a sample of 50 data points rather than 3,142 because I had to transcribe everything by hand. That was the real explanation.

I’ve shared the resulting Google spreadsheet with the 12MC audience, featuring one single lowest county highpoint per state. Can you guess which states had the lowest county highpoints? I knew most of them although the order surprised me.


Virginia


060314-A-5177B-035
060314-A-5177B-035 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Virginia provided the overall lowest county highpoint with the independent city of Poquoson (map), which was considered a "county equivalent" for census and other statistical purposes. Poquoson’s peak elevation hit only 10 feet (3 metres) in several different places, just a storm surge away from complete nonexistence. It certainly seemed flat enough judging by the image published by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Plum Tree Island. Those holes might be bomb craters by the way. The Corps explained that Plum Tree served as a bombing and artillery range before it became a wildlife refuge.

I agree, a "county equivalent" with only 15 square miles (40 square kilometres) of dry land felt like cheating. Virginia and its wacky independent cities always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into county comparisons. Looking solely at Virginia COUNTIES, the lowest highpoint would be Accomack on the eastern shore with a summit of 60 ft. (18 m.). That exalted elevation would knock Virginia several notches down the list.


Louisiana


road to cocodrie, la
road to cocodrie, la by Gerald McCollam, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

No state suffered more from my arbitrary set of rules than Louisiana. I don’t think any other state had anywhere near the sheer number of low-elevation counties than Louisiana, where of course they were called parishes. I counted 25 parishes with a peak elevation of 100 ft. (30 m.) or less, including 7 parishes at 20 ft. (6 m.) or less. Louisiana’s issues with erosion were well understood. The southern end of the state continued to wash into the Gulf of Mexico as each big storm passed.

Terrebonne Parish climbed to only 13 ft. (4 m.), and barely resembled dry land at all with its endemic pockmarks clawed by hurricanes (map). Jefferson Parish, a west bank and east bank suburb of New Orleans, ranked a close second at 15 ft. (5 m.). One of my family members lived in Jefferson Parish during Hurricane Katrina and the elevation was just high enough to keep the house from flooding.


North Carolina


Potato plants in a Gum Neck field
Potato plants in a Gum Neck field by Tony Pelliccio, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Conventional wisdom led me to believe that the lowest county highpoint of North Carolina would be found on the sandy barrier islands and ridges of the Outer Banks. That would be wrong. I should have remembered that the Wright Brothers chose Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks for gliding experiments prior to the first airplane flight precisely because it was a hill.

The actual lowest county highpoint triangulated to a spot on the mainland nearby in Tyrrell County, a place without sand dunes (map). Tyrrell’s highest summit hit 17 ft. (5 m.).


Other Notable Highpoints


Brooklyn - Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty
Brooklyn – Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty by Wally Gobetz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I’ll mention a few more locations briefly.

Perhaps I could be excused for thinking Monroe County, Florida — the county of the Florida Keys — would have been the winner. It wasn’t. Monroe County had a highpoint on Lignumvitae Key at 19 ft. (6 m.), the site of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. It wasn’t accessible by road so maybe that’s why I never noticed it during my many drives along the Keys.

Much farther down the list, New York featured Battle Hill (map) as its lowest county highpoint. That was in Kings County, a place known better as Brooklyn. It led me to wonder about the namesake battle of said hill. Fighting took place on the hill at the site of the current Green-Wood Cemetery during the early phase of American Revolutionary War, August 1776, a part of the larger Battle of Long Island. American forces inflicted heavy losses on British troops who attempted and failed to capture the hill. Shortly thereafter, George Washington evacuated all of his troops from New York City anyway because he was badly outmatched.

A final nod should go to Utah with the highest of lowest county highpoints. That was a rather impressive 9,255 ft. (2,821 m.) at Rich County’s Bridger Peak (map).


Completely Different Topic: Welcome Manaus!



Manaus

Twelve Mile Circle seems to have attracted a regular reader from Manaus, in the Amazonas state of Brazil. I first noticed the anomaly during the World Cup when the United States played in Manuas and I figured it was an US reader who traveled down for the game (even mentioned it on the 12MC Twitter). However I continue to notice hits from Manaus at a regular pace. This counts as my official welcome. Thank you for coming to the site!

My Smallest Park

On August 17, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle published a very rare guest post in March 2011 discussing Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. It featured several unusual items including the famous Mill Ends Park (map). Readers might have been familiar with the spot because it garnered a lot of attention from mainstream sources over the years and has become a stopping point for tourists interested in such things. It might be the world’s smallest municipal park although naysayers questioned whether something the size of a flowerpot could truly qualify as a "park."


Mill Ends Park
Mill Ends Park by Adam Lederer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Regardless, the city of Portland considered Mill Ends a park:

In 1946, Dick Fagan returned from World War II to resume his journalistic career with the Oregon Journal. His office, on the second floor above Front Street (now Naito Parkway), gave him a view of not only the busy street, but also an unused hole in the median where a light pole was to be placed. When no pole arrived to fill in this hole, weeds took over the space. Fagan decided to take matters into his own hands and to plant flowers. Fagan wrote a popular column called Mill Ends (rough, irregular pieces of lumber left over at lumber mills). He used this column to describe the park and the various "events" that occurred there. Fagan billed the space as the "World’s Smallest Park."

That was good enough for me. It was a park.


My Quest

I thought about Mill Ends park from time-to-time for no obvious reason other than this type of minutiae sticks in my mind. I wondered what the smallest park in my community might be, the most diminutive public space in the smallest self-governing county of the United States, Arlington County, Virginia. This overall quest also connected with one of the very earliest concepts discussed on 12MC, Unusual Goes Very Local from June 2008, the simple notion that geo-oddities existed everywhere.

This park idea remained on my notoriously every-growing spreadsheet of potential 12MC topics for several years and I never did anything with it, and never had the heart to delete it either. Then I stumbled upon a sliver of land a couple of weeks ago as I pursued my quixotic Bike Every Street in Arlington project.



Arlington County actually considered this triangle bound by residential streets (map) a park, then covered the mound with attractive landscaping and declared it Nauck Garden. I’d discovered my smallest park, or so I thought, although I didn’t want to celebrate too quickly until I could confirm it. Going online, I learned the county published a Public Spaces Inventory with associated acreage. Unfortunately the file lacked a certain precision for my purpose although it helped me define the possibilities. It listed several sites including Nauck Garden as 0.1 acres.

This narrowed the candidates to:

  • 18th Street North and North Lincoln Street Park
  • 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park
  • Arlington View Park
  • Belvedere Park
  • Cleveland Park
  • Nauck Garden
  • Oakland Street Park

Arlington provided great real estate maps with precise parcel sizes for every privately-owned piece of property. It did not do the same, however, for public lands. Then I turned to the Arlington Parks maps and I did my best to transfer approximations of the seven candidate park boundaries to a mapping application that measured acreage within a polygon. I would have preferred greater precision. That wasn’t available so I made do with what I had at hand. Nonetheless this crude approximation was good enough to demonstrate that Nauck Garden was in fact not the smallest park in Arlington. My renderings pointed to the rectangle known as 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park (map), roughly calculated to ~0.069 acres (e.g., ~3,000 square feet or ~280 square metres).


23rd and Eads Arlington Virginia
Screenprint from Arlington County maps gallery, Parks Map

I used to drive straight down 23rd Street twice each workday for nearly six years when I worked in Crystal City, and yet I had no memory of ever seeing that park. Naturally it became a great excuse to hop on my bike this morning and check it out.



My photo didn’t differ materially from what was available on Street View although now I could say I’d visited Arlington’s smallest park and that was important too. Go ahead and push the arrows on the image to see other pictures I took.

The tiny public space featured a couple of trees, a weird multicolor swirly design on concrete, a trashcan, two metallic tables with matching toadstool chairs complete with evidence that vagrants had been drinking there recently, and an inexplicable mailbox with graffiti. After visiting in person and comparing the space to the Arlington Parks Map, I believe it probably also included the sidewalk plus the landscaping behind the mailbox in order for it to equal 3,000 square feet.

Second place went to Oakland Street Park which was a blocked segment of roadway neatly landscaped and designed to prevent cut-through traffic (map).

Excluding 12MC readers from Portland, Oregon, does anyone have a bona fide public park any smaller than mine?

Geography

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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