Friday, March 15, 2013


Geography is a discipline that can be easily consumed by the layperson. And you can easily construct plenty of lists to devour later. The longest rivers, state capitals, countries, highest peaks. Who doesn't have their own lists of geographical places? The lists can go on and on with the topics and depth only limited by the interests of each person. When I was younger, I spent many hours compiling in my memory lists of all of the countries and all of the states and their capitals and soon more memories of the earth’s geographical orders.  A skill not much in demand in the working world, but those memories concreted my interest in geography which eventually led me to my profession as a town planner.

A souvenir of Arkansas's highpoint
A fun part of travel is to check off or collect places from your own personal lists. When I was a child, I would mentally count and list the states my family traveled across during our moving junkets between Air Force assignments. (17 - California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, slivers of West Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, a quick airplane touchdown and transfer in New York, Florida, the boot-heels of Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana.)

Some of these lists are shared by multitudes of people, and the highest points in each of the United States is one such shared list. So many people dream of climbing to the tops of these points that there is are support groups dedicated to the task. The group of people have been called peakbaggers and highpointers and other names, and their dreams also include those who yearn to climb the Seven Summits of the World, the highest points in the 58 counties of California, or any other list of highpoints you can compose.

I have never had the urge or even an inkling to tackle the list of highest state elevations. I know, regardless of how much time and effort in bagging these peaks, that Mount McKinley / Denali in Alaska would be a 20,320 foot high wall that I would or could never climb. However, I have had some recent and easy opportunities to arrive at the highest elevation of four states. Of course these highpoints are considered some of the easiest ones to reach, and that’s why I had the opportunities to check them off my personal list.

Will I continue to seek the top of highpoints of even more states? Of course, the geographer inside of me says.

Web Links

For more information on the highest points in each state and an organization of folks dedicated to the climbing of highpoints, visit the website of

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wheres Pikes Apostrophe?

Pikes Peak, Colorado
April 30, 2001
Pikes Peak postcard from the 1930s

There are nearly two dozen places in the United States that are officially named Devils Punchbowl. You will not, however, find a single apostrophe in any of those names. Although placenamers may have thought the devil possessed these places, the United States Board on Geographic Names has determined otherwise. Since 1890, the Board on Geographic Names has discouraged the possessiveness of places by not allowing the genitive apostrophe and the “s”. In fact, the Board has actually removed the apostrophe from geographic names for natural features although they allowed the “s” to remain. Five natural features have been able to keep their apostrophe thanks to official decisions of the Board:  Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Ike’s Point in New Jersey, John E’s Pond in Rhode Island, Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View in Arizona, and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Devils Punchbowl

Dianas Punchbowl
aka Devils Punchbowl
Nye County, Nevada
Los Angeles County, California   May 29, 2000
Nye County, Nevada   May 24, 2009
Montgomery County, Indiana   July 3, 2011

The Devil has quite a number of punchbowls in the United States. Over 20 places in more than a dozen states have been called the Devil's Punchbowl or Punch Bowl. The Devils Punchbowl is also found in other English-speaking countries including Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, England, and Wales. Since the devil is known in other languages, his punchbowls are also found elsewhere in the world. In Ecuador at the Rio Verde it is called La Ponchera del Diablo.

We are not talking about a large bowl from which a beverage such as punch is served. Rather, these punchbowls are unique geologic or topographic features which to an explorer's eye may look like a bowl-like depression. These features include basins, springs, lakes, and waterfalls. The devil's ownership to the punchbowls has been usurped by man, but the devil's presence at one time or another engulfed these places. The anxiety of a placenamer who came upon one of these punchbowls may have spawned a fright that only the devil can bring. A legend telling of the devil haunting, causing mischief, or bargaining for a soul at the punchbowl may have evoked anxiety and fright in the placenamer. Or it may have just been a shiver down the back of the placenamer as the punchbowl brought visions of the devil's dwelling.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Where Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio Come to Meet

Steuben County, Indiana   
January 6, 2012

In three states at the same time
Borders are made for snuggling, and some states snuggle for quite some distance. (The nation’s longest border between two states is the Texas-Oklahoma border at 715 miles.) This snuggling can be informal in some border areas where the locale blends the traits of both states into something that can’t be matched elsewhere such as Texarkana and Michiana. However, when three or more states come together, they must meet in a more formal place that comes down to a point.  
Where the borders of three states converge into each other, a tripoint, trijunction, triple point, or trifinium (take your pick) is created. There are 62 state tripoints in the United States with 35 on top of land, 24 walking on water, and three somewhere between water and land. Like visiting as many countries as you can or walking to the top of the highest point in every state, there is a certain allure to standing in three states at the same time. Although they may not number as many as the country baggers or peakbaggers, tripoint baggers have a passion to travel and visit each and every trio of states that come together to meet. Jack Parsell is considered one of the first persons to visit all 38 tripoints located on land, and he even wrote a guidebook called “Tri-State Corners in the United States” to help others who share his passion. No news yet on whether Mr. Parsell has navigated by boat to visit the other 24 tripoints located on water. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Where the Palm Meets the Pine

Madera County, California
February 27, 2010

If you travel along Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley of California, you may notice an odd couple squeezed into the median of this heavily-traveled road. A pine tree and palm tree stand above the line of cars which travel between Fresno and Madera. Each tree appears to be the only friend to the other, and this friendship has kept this pair together where otherwise they may have been long gone.

No one really knows how the palm and pine originally got here. Madera County historian Bill Coate believes the trees were there before the construction of Highway 99, being part of the improvements of the Leyh family's store and rental cabins, but Mr. Coate could not find any documentation on this story.[1] Locals with deep family roots in this area have also handed down this story from generation to generation. Bob Thomason from the local district of CalTrans, the California Department of Transportation, went through their files, documents, and images, dating all the way back to the beginning of the highway, and did not find even a brief mention of the trees.[2] Some say the trees were planted by agricultural students from Fresno Normal School (now California State University Fresno) in 1915 and Highway 99 was built around the trees. Alas, nothing in the printed record to document this tale. As Mr. Coate and Mr. Thomason and countless others have learned, there is an abysmal lack of information on the birth of the palm and the pine.