Body Parts

On October 5, 2017 · 2 Comments

The more I thought about it, apparently body parts influenced an awful lot of geographic names. It seemed natural though. People liked to name things after familiar objects. What could be more familiar than the flesh right there in front of them? From head to feet and practically everywhere in between, I found spots on the map that shared those names. I focused on a small sample of some of the more interesting references.

Foot


A Portage to Freedom
A Portage to Freedom via TradingCardsNPS on Flickr (cc)

The name that began this latest search appeared in Pennsylvania. Imagine living in a place called Foot of Ten (map). Within this unincorporated village stood the Foot of Ten Independent Baptist Church. Its website solved the mystery.

The Pennsylvania Legislature authorized construction of a canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in 1826. This would do more than simply connect two cities, it would open a trade route between the eastern seaboard and the frontier. Pittsburgh offered direct access to the Ohio and Mississippi River watersheds. However, builders faced a problem, the Eastern Continental Divide atop the Allegheny Mountains. Tunnels or locks would not be feasible on such a massive scale.

Instead, the builders borrowed an idea from England, the use of inclined planes. I mentioned such structures in Tunnels, Bridges, Lifts and Inclines a few years ago. Here the solution became the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Barges loaded onto rail cars and went through a series of ten inclined planes; five uphill and five downhill. Then they resumed their canal ride on the other side. Pulleys and ropes helped move loaded rail cars between inclines, up and over the ridge. They named each incline numerically, from one to ten. A little village sprouted at the foot of Incline Ten. Not being terribly original, the village became Foot of Ten.


Knee


Wounded Knee South Dakota
Wounded Knee South Dakota. Photo by Adam Singer on Flickr (cc)

Wounded Knee leapt immediately to mind as I considered noteworthy examples. Wounded Knee Creek flowed into the White River in southwestern South Dakota (map). The name originated exactly as I thought. Rival groups of Native Americans clashed at that spot somewhere in the long forgotten past and one of the men suffered a wound to his knee. Thus, Wounded Knee. Those events happened well before Wounded Knee entered the lexicon for an entirely different reason.

Historians used to call an infamous 1890 incident the "Battle of Wounded Knee." More contemporary interpretations labeled it the "Wounded Knee Massacre." The exact sequence of events will likely never be known. By one account it began when U.S. Cavalry soldiers attempted to disarm members of the Lakota tribe at their encampment. One member of the tribe, being deaf, did not understand the soldiers’ intent. A struggle for his rifle and a possible accidental discharge began a shooting spree on both sides. The soldiers didn’t stop firing until 150 Lakota, including unarmed women and children, lay dead upon the frozen ground.


Backbone


Devils Backbone - Outpost
Devils Backbone – Outpost. My own Photo.

In Virginia, the small Devils Backbone brewery grew quickly, eventually large enough to be purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016. I’ve been to both their original brewpub location in Roseland and their "Outpost" production brewery outside of Lexington during my beer wanderings. Naturally I wondered about the unusual name. Did it come from the geography of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains?


JeffFryDetail
Fry-Jefferson map” of Virginia (1751) via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Actually, the name did indeed and it tied to a rather notable colonial-era accomplishment. The brewery’s website explained further.

On September 25, 1746, eight years before the French and Indian War, a party of forty set out from Bear Fence Mountain in the Blue Ridge on one of the most legendary land surveys in American history… Their task was to carve and measure a straight line, eighty-miles long through the wilderness, connecting the sources of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. This line was known as "The Fairfax Line."

I visited the northwestern terminus of that line at the Fairfax Stone last year.

The Geographic Names Information System listed several different Devils Backbones just in Virginia alone. Looking at the Fry-Jefferson Map of 1751, the one inspiring the brewery seemed to be the ridge on the western flank of the Shenandoah Valley (map). The survey line crossed what they called "The North Ridge alias the Devil’s Back Bone." not too far west of current Mount Jackson, the town with the awesome water tower.


Finger


Cayuga Lake
Cayuga Lake. My own photo.

So many interesting places existed throughout the world that I generally don’t travel to the same place more than once. I’ve made an exception for the Finger Lakes of New York. I’ve explored the region twice and I’d love to get there a third time. It’s that beautiful. These lakes earned their name for their appearance, like fingers pressed upon the earth.



Glaciation, as one might expect, created these lakes. Glaciers during the most recent ice age pushed down through north-south valleys. Their southward flow accentuated these valleys and left deep, broad troughs behind. They also pushed debris to their farthest extremes. When the glaciers retreated, those large debris moraines became natural dams. Water filled the troughs, and behold, the Finger Lakes appeared. Creeks and rivers left hanging after ice retreated created amazing waterfalls like Taughannock Falls, Watkins Glen and Buttermilk Falls.


So Many More

I could go on-and-on although it’s probably time to stop. Heads, teeth, mouths, elbows and lots of other body parts appeared across the landscape. I so wanted to add Liverpool. Unfortunately, Liverpool was not named for the liver. It came from the Old English word "lifer," meaning "thick, clotted water." Yuk. Even a liver sounded more attractive.

What the Hill

On September 28, 2017 · 3 Comments

My wife keeps signing me up for running races. I guess she wants some company during her crazy pursuits. It seems harmless enough so I join her even if I’d rather be doing something less competitive. Those are the kinds of compromises one makes to keep peace in the house, and we’ve been together a long time so something must be working. Anyway she got a great discount on a whole series of races sponsored by a local running store because she bought them as a set. Wait, is this a geography blog or a running blog? Don’t worry, I’ll work geography into this. They’ll share equal billing while I examine an interesting overlap.

Clarendon Day


Clarendon Day 5K
Clarendon Day 5K. Photo by John Sonderman on Flickr (cc)

The Clarendon Day 5K in Arlington, Virginia came next in the series (map). My wife actually ran both the 5K and the 10K back-to-back, although as I mentioned, sometimes I question her sanity. Nonetheless, 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) seemed quite enough for me on Sunday. We could walk to the starting line from our house so I couldn’t find a reasonable excuse to skip it even if I tried.

Running came to me only recently — really the last couple of years — although I enjoyed hiking, biking and other outdoor activities well before that. I discovered pretty quickly that I could run decently well, at a respectable pace although not spectacularly, and I generally finished just barely within the top ten percent for my age group. Ditto for Clarendon Day, 4th out of 48 in the geezer man category.

I got a great time, shaving almost a full minute from my Personal Record, finishing in 20:46 with a 6:41 mile pace. I’d never completed a 5K with a time of 20 minutes in front of it nor managed to keep a pace with a 6 in front of it until then. How was that even possible? Gravity.


Clarendon Day Elevation
Clarendon Day 5K Elevation Elevation
via Pacers Running

Some readers might remember the race I described in Regurgitated. I ran down that same steep hill and then back up! This time the course only went down the hill. I wanted to finish with a sub-20 which is one of those iconic 5K milestone times. Sadly, I think I left any possibility of that behind me long before I took up running. I’ll have to be content with those age adjusting calculators. They said I might have finished sub-20 if only I ran a couple of decades ago.


St. George Marathon


Finish Line
Finish Line. Photo by Nate Grigg on Flickr (cc)

Using gravity seemed almost like cheating. However, those times counted just like any others certified by USA Track and Field and other organizations. People have long used terrain to boost their PR’s especially for marathons. I heard of a race awhile ago that went almost completely downhill, the St. George Marathon. This point-to-point race (map) ran from the Pine Valley mountains into the city of St. George, Utah. In this marathon, runners began at an elevation of 5,240 feet (1,600 metres) and finished at 2,680 feet (815 metres). Nearly eight thousand runners signed up for this event held each October.

I don’t know how they could do it. My quads felt tight after the steep mile of my little neighborhood 5K. I couldn’t imagine how one would feel after running downhill for a full marathon. They probably couldn’t walk for a week.


Mount Charleston Marathon


Mount Charleston, Nevada (35)
Mount Charleston, Nevada. Photo by billy kerr on flickr (cc)

Just a couple of weeks ago, someone I know told me he intended to run the REVEL Mt Charleston marathon next April in Las Vegas, Nevada. This one descended even more rapidly than St. George on its path from mountaintop to city streets (map). Runners began at 7,633 feet (2,325 metres) and finished at 2,507 feet (765 metres), dropping nearly a mile in elevation. Race organizers described it as "incredibly fast and remarkably beautiful."

Why would people subject themselves to such a sustained and drastic 4% downhill? The organizers left no doubt.

Featuring a smooth downhill slope and spectacular scenery in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, this race will be sure to help you set your PR and finally hit that Boston Qualifying time

They even offered a helpful chart that showed finishers at Mt. Charleston averaged 3:57:26 versus 4:28:54 for those at St. George. This race was all about people wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That was the exact reason why my acquaintance will head to Las Vegas too. His current times fell just shy of BQ and he needed that extra boost.


Apparently This is a Thing

Plenty of other downhill marathons hoped to scratch that same itch. It’s quite an honor to qualify for Boston and BQ times are brutal. A simple understanding of geography and terrain could make all the difference between running Boston next year or watching from the sidelines. Just the first page of search engine results produced a long list of possibilities.

I don’t have a burning desire to run a marathon. However, if I do someday, I doubt I could ever achieve a BQ time even with a sharply downhill course. Maybe I could age into it though. The 80 and Over BQ seemed reasonable if I can hold things together long enough.

Recent NIMBY

On May 28, 2017 · 4 Comments

The topic became my white whale. I came close to conquering it when I wrote Nimby Lane in 2015. Even then I joked about my problem, my seeming inability to write an article about the NIMBY phenomenon even after several attempts. NIMBY stood for "not in my back yard." In that earlier article we established that the acronym even appeared outside of the United States. Subsequent research also showed that it seemed to be transitioning from an all-caps NIMBY to a lowercase nimby. I think I’ll make that adjustment too.

It might be worth repeating the definition as listed in Dictionary.com. That could be helpful to readers who don’t speak English natively. It’s used to describe:

… opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

Anyway, the day finally arrived! Today I offer my nimby article at long last. The solution, once I discovered it, came easy. I simply typed nimby into Google and selected news. I chose examples only from the initial page of results as they appeared in front of me. Your results will vary.

I don’t mean to imply that any of these stories actually qualified as examples of nimby behavior. I’m not making value judgments. However, somebody though they did or the news articles never would have been published.


Falls Church, Virginia


Railroad Cottages
No to Railroad Cottages. My own photo.

Actually I noticed the first example in person before I ever saw it online. I spotted little placards stuck along the side of the Washington & Old Dominion trail as I biked through Falls Church a few days ago. They read, "No to Railroad Cottages." I didn’t give them another thought until my recent search results popped-up some commentary about them, Cottage Criticism is Just More NIMBY Opposition. I think Google fed it to me because of my geographic proximity.

The City of Falls Church provided more detail about the Railroad Cottages Project. Ten small standalone houses would cluster closely together around common open space and a social interaction building. It would cater to residents aged 55 years and older. The 1.3 acre triangular lot sat at the eastern end of Railroad Avenue, hugging the W&OD trail (map). Supporters cited it as an example of smart growth that also allowed city residents to downsize as they aged. Opponents worried about traffic, parking, density, noise, emergency response, displacement of flora and fauna, and diminished property values.

The lot also hid an interesting history. An African-American family purchased it just after the Civil War and retained ownership for the next 150 years. The man who sold the lot to developers was the great-great-great grandson of the person who first bought it for $75 in 1865.


Snow River, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska


Moose Pass
Moose Pass. My own photo.

Next I came across The NIMBY state on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Twelve Mile Circle visited the area back in 2010 so I paid particular attention. Huge numbers of people traveled down to the Kenai each summer for salmon fishing. Fishermen needed guides, equipment, food and places to stay, so tourism dollars fueled a huge part of the local economy.

People got angry when they heard that the Chugach Electric Association wanted to consider damming the Snow River (map) near Moose Pass. As the article noted, "Dam is a four-letter word worse than the f-word in that community." This one would reach 300 feet high and 700 feet across, too. Chugach Electric hoped to figure out whether a dam might actually increase salmon along the Snow River. Theoretically a better controlled river could improve spawning channels. However, that question will always remain a mystery. The public outcry forced Chugach Electric to abandon its effort. Citizens felt the risk to the local economy was too great.


Rainford, St Helens, Merseyside, England


Rainford - farm in the snow
Rainford – farm in the snow. Photo by Ian McFegan on Flickr (cc)

One person at least proclaimed she was Proud to be a Nimby in Rainford, England (map). This came in response to social media statements made by a member of the St. Helens Council. The Councillor remarked, "As I say you are nimby’s," referring to members of the Rainford Action Group. The group opposed turning over some of the village’s green belt to developers to build more than a thousand homes. It cited loss of agricultural land and jobs, as well as "extra pressure on our roads, surgeries, dentists, drains, or schools." The battle raged on.


Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand


Aukland from Across the Bay
Auckland seen from Devonport. Photo by Jeremy Oakley on Flickr (cc)

The nimby phenomenon existed in New Zealand too. There I found Nimby wars: everyone’s a winner in Devonport, or are they? Ryman Healthcare wanted to build a retirement village on a vacant parcel in suburban Aukland, along the scenic Ngataringa Bay (map). Opponents didn’t so much care for the design aesthetics, and they also feared the impact on endangered plants. Plus they claimed it would cut the neighborhood in half. This situation seemed to have resulted in a happier ending than most. Ryman Healthcare agreed to a number of design changes that pleased most, although not all local residents.

Maybe I’ll run this experiment again in a few months and see how much the results change. Maybe I won’t.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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