Tag: Exploration

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History


“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.


Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 608: Who Knocked On Our Door First?


Yesterday I marveled at the frantic scramble (or, ‘framble’) to be the first to fly across the Atlantic. It seems only right that I dial back the clock and look at the previous trans-ocean pioneers, those who packed their loved ones and a whole wack o’ pestilence onto rickety wooden boats and set their course for the new world, hoping not to fall off the edge of the old one.

We all know the story of Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 steered three vessels from Europe to Nebraska, trying to prove to the girl he loved that he was more bad-ass than Reggie the blacksmith, and also that he looked good in a buckled hat. Or something. It doesn’t matter – this isn’t about him.

I’m interested in peeling back the known history. Our Native population has been calling this particular chunk of rock home since around 10,000 BC, but I’m more interested in the rumored appearance of other peoples. I’m talking about those who didn’t saunter across the Bering Strait back before it dipped its nose into the sea, never to return. These are the ones we can’t quite confirm – the debated pre-Columbian pioneers.

We'll skip right over Space-Jesus.

We’ll skip right over Space-Jesus.

Let’s start with what we know. The Norsemen (also known as Vikings, but without the horns – we have learned those helmet-horns are a myth) set up shop on Greenland back in the 10th century, and they hung around until sometime in the 15th century, even venturing into Canada where they dropped off some archeological evidence for us to scoop up a few centuries later. Read more…

Day 414: Spelunking For Dollars


If you’re a fan of the earth, so much so that you enjoy being completely ensconced in it, do I have some vacation spots for you. You see, ever since humankind moved out of caves into 4-level split duplex suburbia, we have been fascinated with returning to caves, shining lights on walls and marveling at the twists and turns inside.

I’m sure some psychologist would point out the phallic imagery of poking our noses into Mother Nature’s forbidden crevasses; I’m not quite bold enough to spend a kilograph juggling those cerebral chainsaws like an amateur. I’d like to hang out with that guy though. I bet he’s a riot at parties.

"That tree over there? Also signifies a penis."

“That tree over there? Also signifies a penis.”

Fortunately, nature has given us a number of show caves, dank troughs of murky curiosity, ready to accept your tourist dollars. Also fortunately, some of them are endowed with an interesting backstory. Read more…

Day 265: Marking The Confluences

One of the greatest things about the Internet is its vast repository of seemingly inane and/or insane projects. I tell myself this in the mirror every morning; sometimes this is the only way I can get through the day.

There is a metaphorical plate of warm, crispy bacon in my soul for the insane – yet in a way necessary – online Curators With A Mission, whether it be one man’s quest to torture his neighbor with rotting meat, a musician’s aim to cover the songs of the Beatles with the ukulele in the forefront, or some schmuck who wants to see if he can write a thousand words a day for a thousand straight days (no link needed for that one).

It is with this toasty dish of affection that I happily embrace the existence of the Degree Confluence Project, a concept which was created for the simple reason of why the hell not. It’s a brilliant idea, and with well over fifteen years of mileage behind it, the project has turned into a masterpiece of because-it’s-there-ness.

Here’s the idea: the world is, as you have probably heard, divided by latitude and longitude. There are 64,442 intersections of integer (meaning no decimals) latitude and longitudes around the world, where the invisible lines cross. Ruling out the scads of intersections around the poles, where you can cross ten degrees of longitude in a single stride, and eliminating all the ocean intersections, there are over 16,000 intersections which meet the site’s requirements.

Including this one in Lincolnshire, England – a region that appeared in yesterday’s column. No one else would remember this, but hey, I do.

The Project aims to capture photos, along with a brief narrative by the visitor, of every applicable intersection of latitude and longitude around the world. The site presently hosts almost 100,000 photos, despite still missing visits to about 10,000 of the available intersections around the globe.

So why bother with this? What’s the point?

The site offers a few answers to this: “randomness that emerges from strict order”, a connection to the heart of a given region, a desire to watch a given point in space evolve over time…

I don’t really see the need for a reason. Anybody who has devoted the most passing of morsels of their time looking at a globe has probably wondered – consciously or unconsciously – what it looks like where any two of those invisible lines meet. This is a snippet of history, of past and present. Not a lot of these sites are found in metropolitan areas; some are on private property, and a lot of them are in the wilderness. Read more…