Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Geography lesson

Ever since the LH and I moved to Arizona, I have obsessed over maps, especially topos. A good map is one of the coolest ways known to man to convey huge amounts of information on a single page. And so I have been wearing out the dotter/SIL's topo book of Alaska.

In the process of poring over the maps, I discovered many un-maplike names for features such as mountain tops and glaciers. As Exhibit 1, above, I present the Five Bs: peaks named, in order,
Bold, Bashful, Baleful, Benign, and Bellicose, with Peril Peak close by.

Maybe you'd like a quick visit to Scandanavia -- here's an easy way to see every place from Denmark to Finland, if you are equipped for glacier climbing. Nearby, also in the Chugach mountains you could continue your Nordic adventure by climbing Thor, Valhalla, Siegfried -- or even Fafnir (below). These mountains are near the science cluster, which includes Fermi Peak, Mount Edison and Mount Halley plus the namesake, Science Glacier.

If you looked carefully at the picture atop this photo, you may have noted Columbia Glacier. While it's a really major one that doesn't empty into College Fjord, you will find most of the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters moving ice to the sea though this outlet. Take your pick of the larger Harvard and Yale ice streams or smaller Dartmouth, Amherst or Williams. As for the Seven Sisters (minus one), they are all short steep glaciers across the fjord: Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Vassar, Barnard, Radcliffe and Smith. Why such oddball names (and there are more)? My guess would be that Alaska is so immense (20% of the land area of the Lower 48) that settlers really had to stretch to name just some of the many geographic features.

And, by the way, you may have been noting all the glaciers -- these are quite near Anchorage, which has a maritime climate. All the ice fields are near the Gulf of Alaska, starting only as far north as the Alaska Range and hugging the seacoast further south. The country inland above Denali is in the rain shadow and comparatively dry, with no glaciers -- much to my surprise. Apparently this included the Bering Strait land bridge across which the first American settlers arrived during the Ice Age, according to the SIL


Antipodean Curmudgeon said...

I didn't note 'Gobblers Nob' or 'Mamie's Tits' on any of the maps.


Anonymous said...

Maps are interesting. Your post is interesting.

Anonymous said...

No names from the southwest?

Nothing in Spanish? No saint names?

Did they leave us out? :-(

~Anon in AV.

(Native of the southwest.)

GrannyJ said...

bro-- nope, nor the Seven Dwarfs, either, though that wouldn't have surprised me.I think that there was one mountain named somebody's tits, however.

steve -- If I am going to be flying, I love to study the topos of the ground and then compare the map with the territory, to use old Mad Alfred's phrase.

anon -- the second language of Alaska is not spanish, but Russian. The few saints that were honored by place names were primarily Russian saints. I've put together a bunch of Alaska-ish names that I'll be writing about one of these days.

Dave in Havasu said...


Really enjoyed your entries about Alaska. I had the good fortune to live there for 2 years in the late 70's. Loved the time I was there but the Mrs. didn't find the charm Alaska has. You mention maps - I'm suprised that you didn't mention everyone's favorite "goggle earth". There was a nice writeup in Kevin Kelly's Blog
about Topo Map overlays. Pretty interesting. Perhaps when I have the time, I will get back to Alaska.

Dave in Havasu

Granny J said...

dinh -- that's a cool idea, overlaying a topo. I didn't know you could do it! The SIL loves almost everything about Alaska; the dotter enjoys everything except for the grey and the dark.

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