Recently, our friend Mark entertained us with tales of the experiences he had on an extensive cross-country motor trip. Traveling on the back roads from East to West and back again, he had come across many friendly little out-of-the-way communities stitched into the vast tapestry that makes up these United States.
Mark’s stories were so entertaining, they stirred my curiosity to learn more. When I got home, I took down our dog-eared Rand McNally road atlas to trace his meandering journey.
While studying the path of his around-the-country tour, I found many of the little places he had told us about. And I also became fascinated once again by the dozens of unexpected names of little tucked away villages and towns that dot the map of the nation.
For every well-known place name like Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix and Chicago, there are dozens of where-did-that-come-from designations like Hungry Horse, Mont.; Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ariz.; Toad Suck, Ark.; and Zap, N.D.
Apparently, as the nation developed, small groups of settlers who gathered in one area, used their imaginations and common experiences to label their unique corner of the country with what they considered a memorable title.
Lost in local history are the backgrounds for such place names as Ninety Six, S.C.; Peculiar, Mo.;Waterproof, La.; and Hot Coffee, Miss.
In addition to the unusual, many towns and cities were given names that reflected the past homes of those who had settled there. Thus the map is dotted with such locales as Cuba. N.Y.; Mexico, Mo.; England, Ark.; and Norway, Maine.
And, many place names were intended to send a positive message for those passing through or settling in. The results include such upbeat designations as Inspiration, Ariz; Opportunity, Mont.; Security, Colo.; and Peace, Ala.
Another curiosity I came across in searching the atlas was the number of confusing cities sprinkled across the map. For instance, you’ll find Kansas City in Missouri, New York in Kentucky, Michigan in Vermont and Indiana in Pennsylvania.
Then there’s the ongoing discussion of which is our biggest state. Until I did my road atlas study, I was sure the answer was Alaska. But I discovered that Pennsylvania contains Washington, California, Oklahoma and Wyoming, as well as Holland and Yukon. That certainly qualifies Pennsylvania as the largest in square miles. Right?
Not so fast.
Take into consideration that there’s China in Maine and Canada in Kentucky.
But the residents of the great state of Texas, who continue to stress that everything is bigger there, came up with a town named Earth. So once again it appears Texas wins its claim to fame as the biggest.
Taking the long and winding roads like our pal, Mark, can certainly open your eyes to the vast variety contained in these United States of America.
But spending some quality time with the road atlas can be eye-opening, too. And, given the cost of gasoline, it’s far easier on the budget.