The overuse of castle-centric Medieval design

If there is one aspect of classic architecture that does not appear to transfer well into many modern land use applications, it’s the Medieval castle. All too often, at least here in the United States, castle-oriented architecture is the only design that is employed from this era, which can result in imposing, out-of-character, and/or oversized buildings. One only need to view images of or travel to York, England or Bruges, Belgium to note that castles are just one part of this architectural style (see photos below). In fact, it’s the smaller structures like dwellings and shops that demonstrate the many of the most appealing aspects of Medieval architecture.

Lovely Medieval-era street in York, England – Source:’VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett’
Bruges, Belgium – Source:

There are some applications where Medieval architecture can be quite pleasing outside of Europe. These include religious and educational institutions, as well as museums. In some instances, Medieval-styled dwellings may also be appropriate. However, as the images below indicate, focusing strictly on the castle itself does not seem to work well in many modern land use situations.

  • North Webster, Indiana

Back in the 1970s and 80s local businesses in North Webster were encouraged to incorporate some form of a pseudo-Medieval architectural theme throughout town as a way to attract more tourism. Overall, the effort did not fare well, nor has it aged well. One of the more unfortunate aspects was the overuse of concrete cinder blocks to create this historical illusion. There was also an over-reliance on employing castle-like features on multiple buildings instead of utilizing the subtle elements of Medieval architecture that make York and Bruges so unique and special.

Even today, one can spy a few remnants of this effort throughout town, the most obvious of which is the former International Palace of Sports (see photos above and below). The palace closed in 1989 and is now occupied by a shoe store and other small businesses.

  • Other Northeast Indiana locations

Once North Webster started the pseudo-Medieval design craze, a few other businesses/communities in Northeast Indiana seemed to tag along. Below, is a 2021 photo of a building in downtown Cromwell, Indiana that still reflects that time period. Another example has been observed in Middlebury, Indiana, while two additional structures are depicted later in this post. Each of these has over-emphasized castle elements.

  • Burger King in Buena Park, California

The Burger King shown above from California no longer exists. It was located across the street from a Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament location which likely explains the restaurant’s architecture. Once again, the building uses bulky castle-like elements instead of those finer aspects of Medieval architecture that would have given the building more grace and style.

  • Truck stops in Goshen and Kendallville, Indiana

Medieval castle-themed truck stops/convenience stores have opened over the past few years in Goshen and Kendallville, Indiana. As the photo above indicates, there is virtually zero landscaping on the site or surrounding the castle-like structure. As a result, the visual aesthetics are rather bland. From a marketing and advertising standpoint, the building simply gets lost in its own physical setting. When skies are cloudy it nearly blends into the gray parking lot surface due to the lack of suitable greenery or architectural features to accent and soften the structure.

Another unfortunate aspect is that these buildings do not appear to be actually using natural masonry, stone, or similar materials. From a distance, the exterior facades appear to be some type of composite or resin based on the photo below.

  • High-rise apartments in Grandville, Michigan

A massive 522 unit apartment complex was completed in 2018 in Grandville, Michigan, located just a few miles southwest of Grand Rapids. Unlike the previously truck stop locations, this enormous building appears to employ brick and masonry products. Despite its riverside setting, the building’s sheer size and scale feel out-of-place with its surroundings. Perhaps more rural location with a scenic backdrop and lush landscaping would be more pleasing.


As these examples show, the use of castle-centric Medieval architecture is not necessarily appropriate for many modern scenarios. Furthermore, how the structure is presented and where it is located can play a big role on whether it is suitable. If the high-rise apartment structure was more isolated from the surrounding suburbanization, then it might work very well. On the other hand, trying to “Disneyfy” an entire American town into something that it is not, is risky at best, particularly if its done haphazardly or without employing the finer elements of Medieval architecture.

Lastly, the context of the use is important when incorporating Medieval architecture. When utilized in an elegant, context-sensitive setting like a religious institution, college, or museum, Medieval architecture can be quite stunning. Meanwhile, in other uses the scale of a castle may appear out-of-place or out-of-context.

In conclusion, since beauty and aesthetics are most often gauged by the eye of the beholder, without a clear community consensus it can be difficult to account for varied tastes when developing plans or writing zoning regulations. Therefore, readers may have a variety of differing viewpoints on the building images shown above. That is perfectly fine. An entire nation of matching buildings and structures would most certainly be monotonous.


If the lovely architecture of York and Bruges impresses you, as much as it does me, check out these two books that are available through*

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using this link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



Posted in advertising, architecture, art, branding, business, cities, civics, commerce, consumerism, culture, downtown, economic development, education, entertainment, entrepreneurship, Europe, geography, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, landscape architecture, marketing, opinion, pictures, placemaking, planning, product design, revitalization, shopping, spatial design, sustainability, tourism, transportation, Travel, trucking, UK, urban design, urban planning, visual pollution, zoning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cities/towns with rude and crude names – NSFW

Below is a list of just some of the rudest, crudest, and socially unacceptable town names around the world, particularly when they are pronounced in English or translated. It’s hard to believe that these are just the tip of the iceberg.


Anus, France

Assloss, Scotland, UK

Bachelors Bump, England, UK

Bangkok, Thailand

Bastardo, Italy

Bastardstown, Ireland

Bitchfield, England, UK

Booger Hole, WV, USA

Bra, Italy

Brest, France

Brokenwind, Scotland, UK

Brown Willy, England, UK

Bumpass, VA, USA

Climax, MI, USA – plus there are 13 other towns named Climax in the USA

Climax, SK, Canada

Cockermouth, England, UK

Cock Hill, Ireland

Cocks, England, UK

Condom, France

Crapstone, England, UK – I’ve heard of kidney stones, but these must be awful

Dicktown, NY, USA – would not be a ghost town if Prozac had been invented sooner

Dildo, NL, Canada

El Pito, Spain – look up the slang translation

Erect, NC, USA

Fingringhoe, England, UK

Fucking, Austria

Fuchu, Japan

Hooker, OK, USA

Horetown, Ireland

Humptulips, WA, USA – this should be outlawed!

Intercourse, PA, USA

Kilcock, Ireland

Kissing, Germany

Mesick, MI, USA – no, me not sick. It’s pronounced like Mezick.

Middelfart, Denmark – one must assume that there’s also an Upper and Lowerfart

Morón, Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela

Moron, Haiti

Mörön, Mongolia

Netherthong, England, UK

Nobber, Ireland

Pee Pee Township, OH, USA

Poo, India

Poop, Mexico

Sausage Gully, Victoria, Australia

Sexi District, Peru

Shag Harbor, NS, Canada

Shitterton, England, UK

Stranagalwilly, Northern Ireland, UK

Sweet Lips, TN, USA

Titty Hill, England, UK

Upperthong, England UK

Urin, SK, Canada

Villapene, Spain – yes it does translate to what you think it does

Wetwang, England, UK



If you want to learn more about crude and rude place names in Great Britain, here’s a book on the topic that’s available via*

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using this link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Posted in branding, cities, civility, Communications, culture, fun, Language, place names, satire, toponymy, tourism, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World’s largest “mouth” cities and towns

The following is a list of the largest cities and towns that contain the word “mouth” in their name. Most often, these places are situated at the mouth of a river, but a number of them are simply named for historical places or there city/town where the founders emigrated from. Plymouth is the best example of this as there are a number of “Plymouths” on the list, of which many of them were named in honor of Plymouth, Massachusetts and have no river mouth or outlet of significance. Nine (9) places named Plymouth are contained on the list, along with four (4) named Portsmouth, and three (3) named either Yarmouth or Falmouth.

  1. Dortmund, Germany = 587,696 (2020)
  2. Plymouth, England, UK = 256,384 (2011)
  3. Portsmouth, England, UK = 205,056 (2011)
  4. Bournemouth, England, UK = 183,491 (2011)
  5. Boca del Rio (Mouth of River), Mexico = 138,058 (2010)
  6. Boca Chica (Small Mouth), Dominican Republic = 123,510 (2012)
  7. Boca Raton (Rat’s Mouth), Florida = 99,805 (2019 est.)
  8. Portsmouth, Virginia = 94,398 (2019 est.)
  9. Plymouth, Minnesota = 79,768 (2019 est.)
  10. Tynemouth, England, UK = 67,519 (2011)
  11. Plymouth, Massachusetts = 56,468 (2010)
  12. Weymouth, Massachusetts = 53,743 (2010)
  13. Weymouth, England, UK = 53,068 (2011)
  14. Exmouth, England, UK =- 34,432 (2011)
  15. Dartmouth, Massachusetts = 34,032 (2010)
  16. Falmouth, Massachusetts = 31,531 (2010)
  17. Yarmouth, Massachusetts = 23,793 (2010)
  18. Portsmouth, New Hampshire = 21,927 (2019 est.)
  19. Falmouth, England, UK = 21,797 (2011)
  20. Wittmund, Germany = 20,405 (2020)
  21. Portsmouth, Ohio = 20,158 (2019 est.)
  22. Grangemouth, Scotland, UK = 16,650 (2016 est.)
  23. Teignmouth, England, UK = 15,129 (2011)
  24. Falmouth, Maine = 11,399 (2012 est.)
  25. Monmouth, Wales, UK = 10,508 (2011)
  26. Tangermünde, Germany = 10,299 (2020)
  27. Plymouth, Indiana = 9,982 (2019 est.)
  28. Plymouth, Michigan = 9,154 (2019 est.)
  29. Monmouth, Illinois = 8.886 (2019 est.)
  30. Cockermouth, England, UK = 8,761 (2011)
  31. Plymouth, Wisconsin = 8,731 (2019 est.)
  32. Yarmouth, Maine = 8,518 (2018 est.)
  33. Ueckermünde, Germany = 8,472 (2020)
  34. Plymouth, New Hampshire = 6,990 (2010)
  35. Yarmouth, NS, Canada = 6,518 (2016)
  36. Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania = 6,177 (2010)
  37. Plymouth, Pennsylvania = 5,794 (2019 est.)
  38. Dartmouth, England, UK = 5,064 (2011)


  • for cities and towns in each nation
Posted in cities, civics, environment, geography, history, Nature, place names, placemaking, rivers/watersheds, Statistics, topography, toponymy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Project Hail Mary” – Science fiction at its very best!

Andy Weir – Source:

I cannot express enough accolades about Andy Weir’s newest novel, Project Hail Mary. The book is simply outstanding. It’s one of those books that is hard to put down and you never want to end. I don’t want to give away any aspects of the story, so I’m not going go beyond praising the book and its author. Just be sure to read this fantastic tale! Even if you are not “into” science fiction, you will still likely enjoy this book and the wonderful story Mr. Weir shares with us all. Peace!


If you enjoy reading science fiction novels, particularly those written by Andy Weir, as much as I do, below’s a short link to Project Hail Mary available through*

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Posted in aerospace, art, Astronomy, aviation, book reviews, books, Communications, culture, entertainment, environment, fun, futurism, geography, Geology, humanity, inclusiveness, literature, nature, Outer Space, place names, product design, reading, Science, Science fiction, Statistics, technology, transportation, Travel, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s highest altitude commercial passenger airports

Aerial view of Aspen-Pitkin County airport – Source:

The following list identifies the loftiest airports in the United States with current commercial passenger air service. Eight (8) states are represented on the list – none located east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Colorado leads the way with 13 airports on the list, followed by Wyoming with seven (7) and Utah with six (6). A minimum elevation of 4,000 feet was required for inclusion. As always, any additions, corrections, or suggestions to the list are most welcome.

Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport – Source:

1. Telluride Regional Airport (CO) = 9,078 feet – added 7/19/21 – thanks, Sabrina!

2. Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (CO) = 7,820 feet

3. Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport (CO) = 7,680 feet

4. Alamosa-San Luis Valley Regional Airport (CO) = 7,539 feet – added 7/19/21

5. Laramie Regional Airport (WY) = 7,284 feet

6. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (AZ) = 7,014 feet

7. Steamboat Springs Airport (CO) = 6,882 feet

8. Rock Springs/SW Wyoming Regional Airport (WY) = 6,765 feet

9. Durango-La Plata County Airport (CO) = 6,685 feet

10. Vail-Eagle County Regional Airport (CO) = 6,547 feet

11. Jackson Hole Airport (WY) = 6,455 feet

12. Santa Fe Regional Airport (NM) = 6,358 feet

13. Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (CO) = 6,187 feet

14. Cheyenne Regional Airport (WY) = 6,160 feet

15. Cortez Municipal Airport (CO) = 5,918 feet – added 7/19/21

16. Montrose Regional Airport (CO) = 5,759 feet

17. Cedar City Regional Airport (UT) = 5,622 feet

18. Butte/Bert Mooney Airport (MT) = 5,550 feet

19. Farmington Four Corners Regional Airpot (NM) = 5,506 feet

20. Denver International Airport (CO) = 5,434 feet

21. Albuquerque International Sunport (NM) = 5,355 feet

22. Casper-Natrona County International Airport (WY) = 5,345 feet

23. Ketchum/Friedman Memorial Airport (ID) = 5,318 feet

24. Vernal Regional Airport (UT) = 5,280 feet

25. Elko Regional Airport (NV) = 5,140 feet

26. Cody/Yellowstone Regional Airport (WY) = 5,102 feet

27. Prescott Regional Airport (AZ) = 5,045 feet

28. Grand Junction Regional Airport (CO) = 4,858 feet

29. Idaho Falls Regional Airport (ID) = 4,744 feet

30. Pueblo Memorial Airport (CO) = 4,729 feet

31. Moab/Canyonlands Field (UT) = 4,590 feet

32. Provo Municipal Airport (UT) = 4,497 feet

33-34.– tie Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (MT) and Ogden-Hinckley Airpot (UT)= 4,473 feet

35. Pocatello Regional Airport (ID ) = 4,452 feet

36. Reno-Tahoe International Airport (NV) = 4,415 feet

37. Gillette/NE Wyoming Regional Airport (WY) = 4,364 feet

38. Page Municipal Airport (AZ) = 4,313 feet

39. Salt Lake City International Airport (UT) = 4,226 feet

40. Twin Falls/Magic Valley Regional Airport (ID) = 4,154 feet


  • for each airport

Posted in aerospace, air travel, airport planning, airports, aviation, business, cities, commerce, economic development, Economy, geography, history, infrastructure, land use, logistics, nature, planning, spatial design, Statistics, topography, tourism, Trade, transportation, Travel, urban planning | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Favorite scenic byways and roadways traveled

Going to the Sun Road in Montana – Source:

Below, listed in alphabetical order, are my favorite scenic byways and highways that I’ve traveled from across the United States. Those shown in bold would be at the top of my list. No freeways, toll roads, or interstate highways allowed on this list. States with the most appearances on this list include Colorado and New Mexico with five (5) routes each and then Michigan with three (3). Multiple other states have two (2) routes, including Arizona, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia. Enjoy!

Acadia National Park All-American Road – Maine

Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway – South Dakota

Big Thompson River Scenic Corridor – Colorado (unbelievably not listed as a state or national scenic byway!)

Big Thompson River Scenic Corridor (along US 34) in Colorado

Blue Ridge Parkway – North Carolina and Virginia

Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway – Colorado

Colonial Parkway – Virginia

Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway – Colorado

El Camino Real National Scenic Byway – New Mexico

Along the El Camino Real in New Mexico

Flathead Valley Scenic Drive – Montana

Going to the Sun Road/Glacier National Park – Montana

Granville Scenic Byway – Ohio

Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway – New Mexico

M-22 Scenic Byway – Michigan

M-37/Old Mission Peninsula Scenic Byway – Michigan

Natchez Trace Parkway – Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee

Outer Banks National Scenic Byway – North Carolina

Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway – South Dakota

Pierce Stock Drive/Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Michigan

Historic Route 66 Scenic Byway – multiple states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California)

Sedona/Oak Creek Road Scenic Byway – Arizona

Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway – Colorado

Trail Ridge Road/Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado

View from Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

M-119/Tunnel of Trees Scenic Byway – Michigan

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway – New Mexico

Along the Turquoise Trail in New Mexico

White Pole Road Scenic Byway – Iowa

White Pole Road in Iowa

Wild Rivers Scenic Byway – New Mexico

Zion National Park Scenic Byway – Utah



If you enjoy the call of the open road and traveling our nation’s lovely scenic byways as much as I do, these two (2) guidebooks are available through* *A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Posted in archaeology, architecture, art, Biking, Cars, culture, deserts, ecosystems, entertainment, environment, Food, fun, geography, Geology, Great Lakes, highways, hiking, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, nature, peace, pictures, placemaking, planning, rivers/watersheds, scenic byways, spatial design, sustainability, topography, tourism, trails, transportation, Travel, walking, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the love of New Mexico’s historic plazas

As a Midwesterner born in Indiana and currently residing in Michigan, I have been long accustomed to the traditional courthouse (or town) squares found in communities across the region. In most cases the square is dominated by an historic county courthouse with a variety of statues and monuments adorning the grounds. While such a design can be impressive, it often leaves little public space for gatherings, activities, and events. Furthermore, the streets surrounding the square are almost always maximized for motor vehicle purpose.

Consider the historic plazas of New Mexico as an alternative. Their design came courtesy of the Spain and later Mexico and lovingly adorn a number of communities in the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico.

Historic Old Mesilla Plaza with basilica – Source:

Unlike the courthouse square, the central portion of the plaza is an open space that is designed with the public in mind often including gazebos, gardens, shade trees, a farmers market, amphitheaters, and the like. These historic plazas are also much more pedestrian-friendly and human-scaled than the typical courthouse square.

Basilica bordering Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza – photo by author (Sept. 2019)

In some cases, a cathedral or basilica dominates one side of the outer periphery of the plaza, while the balance of the plaza is surrounded with a variety of shops, services, and sometimes a government building. In the past, these outer buildings also served as a protective defensive perimeter from potential attacks.

Hotel on Historic Taos Plaza – photo by author (June 2021)

To this retired planner, the Spanish town plaza design found primarily in the Southwest easily surpasses the courthouse square as an excellent placemaking attribute for a community. The village greens of New England are the probably closest equivalent to plazas found east of the Mississippi River.

Old Mesilla Plaza at dusk – by author (Jan. 2020)

Communities where you can visit town plazas in New Mexico include (all aerial photos courtesy of

  • Albuquerque (Old Town), NM
Historic Old Town Albuquerque Plaza
  • Carrizozo, NM
Historic Carrizozo, NM Plaza
  • Costilla, NM – historic, though now bisected by NM-196
Remants of Historic Costilla Plaza
  • La Luz, NM – added to this post on 7/12/21
Historic Presidio Parque Plaza in La Luz
  • Las Vegas, NM – a lovely oval design
Historic Las Vegas, NM Plaza
  • Mesilla, NM
Historic Old Mesiila Plaza
  • Santa Fe, NM – Palace of the Governors occupies the northern periphery of the plaza
Historic Santa Fe Plaza
  • Socorro, NM – lovely design that incorporates boulevards leading to it from the north and south
Historic Socorro Plaza
  • Taos, NM
Historic Taos Plaza

Historic plazas may also be found in San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma, California; St. Augustine, Florida; as well as in El Paso; Laredo; San Antonio; and San Elazario, Texas. (added Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, Sonoma and Laredo to this post on 7/12/21)

Given their positive placemaking and community-building attributes, this retired planner is rather surprised that plazas have not been more often incorporated into master plans or redevelopment efforts across the Southwest, including in those places that were not necessarily founded under Spain or Mexico. A town plaza such as those depicted above in the photographs also seems like a logical addition to rapidly growing and/or newly planned cities/towns that would help establish a “there” there. Frankly, I cannot think of a better way to coalesce the citizenry and forge an identity.

Posted in adaptive reuse, archaeology, architecture, art, cities, civics, commerce, culture, downtown, entertainment, fun, geography, government, health, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, landscape architecture, Mexico, pictures, placemaking, planning, recreation, Religion, revitalization, shopping, spatial design, third places, tourism, Trade, Travel, urban design, urban planning, walking, zoning | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten planning lessons from “Unsinkable” Leadville, CO

The historic hometown of the Unsinkable Molly Brown is a scenic gem set high in the Colorado Rockies. Leadville happens to be the highest elevation city in the United States at officially 10,152 feet above sea level. This historic mining city contains many secrets for overcoming adversity and charting a new future. Here are my ten planning lessons from charming and dynamic Leadville, Colorado.

Delaware Hotel in downtown Leadville
  • With tenacity, grit, and determination, a community can recover from economic decline and forge itself a new and vibrant future. Leadville’s population peaked at 14,820 in 1880. After decades of population losses, the city is again growing due to factors including its breathtaking scenic location, its easy access to a myriad of year-round outdoor recreational activities, and its small town charm that hasn’t been overwhelmed by rampant growth and sprawl.
Tabor Grand Hotel building
  • Few inland places on Earth reside in a setting of such immense and unparalleled visual beauty. Numerous fourteeners (14,000+ foot mountains) are visible from this lofty community nestled amid the surrounding peaks.
Mountains as seen from the Mineral Belt Trail
  • Both Marquette, Michigan and Leadville, Colorado have shown that a mining legacy can be successfully transformed into a cultural and historical asset.
Mining-related archaeology along the Mineral Belt Trail
  • The Mineral Belt Trail is the most impressive fully paved multi-modal trail (loop or otherwise) that this retired planner has ever seen or ridden. One could spend an entire day, if not more time, exploring this incredible 11.7 mile loop and all the visual/cultural/historic wonders along it.
Approaching downtown Leadville
  • The company-built miner homes that dominate the housing stock in the historic parts of Leadville would be perfectly sized and designed for filling the missing middle of housing. Unfortunately, as is the situation in so many places, speculation, limited housing stock, short-term rentals, and population growth have lead to prices becoming out-of-reach for many.
Historic housing
  • The scalable differences between the environment impacts of 19th and early 20th-century mining techniques and the mass industrial operations of today are mind-blowing. One just needs to drive 20 minutes northeast of Leadville along CO-91 to the Climax Molybdenum Mine to see the extent of ruinous alteration to mountain landscapes that occurs from modern mining.
Aerial image of the Climax Mine – Source:
  • Leadville is a excellent example of how a city does not need to be sliced and diced by expressways, nor be beholding to the automobile. The mere lack of being overwhelmed by traffic is one of the city’s most appealing features. Its also pleasing to see the city has adopted a corridors plan (see below) that considers the needs of both pedestrians and bicyclists. More communities nationwide should consider adopting such a framework.
  • Leadville is one of those places where the rigorous geography and climate have created a strong, genuine, and unifying self-sufficiency among its residents and the community at large.
Overlooking the city from the Mineral Belt Trail
  • One hopes that Leadville will remain a hidden gem that stays largely undiscovered (despite this post) so that it doesn’t become deluged by 21st-century prospectors seeking their own fortunes, nor by hoards of tourists who would forever alter the beauty, size, scope, scale, and personality of this unsinkable high-altitude treasure. Leadville is set so majestically against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, that one feels as if they could literally reach out and embrace the passing clouds.

Posted in Active transportation, adaptive reuse, Alternative transportation, archaeology, architecture, art, bicycling, bike sharing, Biking, branding, cities, civics, commerce, culture, downtown, economic development, entertainment, environment, fitness, fun, geography, Geology, health, highways, hiking, historic preservation, history, Housing, humanity, industry, infrastructure, land use, Maps, Mining, nature, pictures, place names, placemaking, pollution, recreation, revitalization, spatial design, Statistics, third places, topography, tourism, traffic, trails, Travel, urban design, urban planning, walking, weather, Wildlife, zoning | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My feet were ice blocks, but seeing Zapata Falls is so worth it!

Zapata Falls

While visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado we learned about a unique nearby waterfall that is largely hidden from view by solid rock. The catch is you have to drive three miles up a rugged mountain road on the west slope of 14,351 foot Blanca Peak, hike a half-mile on rocky terrain at 9,000+ feet in elevation, and walk gingerly through fast flowing icy cold stream to reach the roaring cascade. Oh, what the hell!

Looking back to when we started traversing the icy waters of South Zapata Creek.

Zapata Falls is the most exciting, bone-chilling (literally), and rewarding waterfall adventure we’ve ever undertaken. The most challenging part was trekking through the icy cold waters of South Zapata Creek for more more than 50 yards (each way) to see the impressive 30-foot high gem pouring through a narrow rock chasm.

Moving slowly through the icy stream to the falls

My sandaled feet were almost instantaneously numbed by the snowmelt fed steam. By the time we reached the falls, both of my feet felt like frozen ice blocks. Needless to say, it took some time to thaw them out afterwards while hiking back to the car. Others risked the cold in bare feet, water shoes, and hiking boots. Everyone had frozen feet and nobody seemed to mind.

Entering the crevasse

Zapata Falls was worth every tenuous and labored step through the freezing torrent of water. It is simply magnificent! To see Mother Nature at her very finest on a glorious Rocky Mountain summer day (air temp of 67°) at 9,250 feet above sea level was a treat to behold.

Getting closer to the hidden falls

It’s funny how the unexpected adventures are often the ones you enjoy the most and forever hold in your memory with great fondness. Zapata Falls is one of those lasting memories that you’ll never forget…and rightfully so. Peace!

Posted in Environment, fun, geography, Geology, hiking, Nature, pictures, rivers/watersheds, topography, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized, walking, waterfalls | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Paso’s impressive Loop 375 bypass could be extraordinary

Transmountain Freeway near the summit in El Paso, Texas – Source:

It’s not often that one comments about a specific freeway, but the Texas Loop 375 bypass of El Paso is not your typical highway. The freeway connects the central city with Interstate 10 southeast of town, then to US 62 to the east, US 54 to the north, and finally reconnecting back to Interstate 10 in the northwest corner of the city. Loop 375 is a limited-access bypass for those who are impressed by modern engineering paralleled with dramatic geography. Some sections of the freeway are still being improved and upgraded through the Franklin Mountains as can be seen in the photo below.

Passing westbound thru the Franklin Mountains – eastbound lanes being improved

What makes Loop 375 so fascinating are the wide-range of land uses and the radically varied landscapes it passes through along its 49-mile course. Starting adjacent to the Rio Grande River near the heart of El Paso, it first serves as a commuter corridor by traveling southeast and paralleling the great river/international border. Then the freeway abruptly turns northeast and northward amidst the sprawling Chihuahuan desert-edge suburbs located to the south and east of town. Loop 375 proceeds to pass through active military bases (no wandering off the freeway here), commercial corridors, rugged mountains, a state park, and upstream river valley suburbs before concluding at Interstate 10 just a few miles from the New Mexico state line.


The terrain and elevation changes are dramatic as the highway climbs, traverses, and then rapidly descends the Franklin Mountains. This particular segment of Loop 375 is aptly named the Transmountain Expressway.

Another view while climbing the mountains

Outstanding views of this multi-state and international metropolitan area are part of the package. I just wish I had taken more photos along the route from my navigator position in the front passenger seat. Below are a couple of other photos found on the internet, but none of them do the spectacular views enough justice.


However, one design variation that might have reduced impacts to the natural terrain and wildlife movement within the mountains/state park would have been if Texas had constructed a tunnel beneath Smuggler’s Gap instead of a cut through it (see photo below). Thankfully, a wildlife and pedestrian underpass has been included on the Transmontain Corridor, though given the nature and topography of this area, more are likely needed.

Cut through Smuggler’s Gap at 5,250 feet – Source:

Hopefully, Texas will soon construct more animal and/or pedestrian crossings to help reduce potential for tragic impacts from the highway upgrade and to facilitate both safe animal and human movement within this ruggedly scenic mountain range. Otherwise, the considerable effort that went into the design and engineering for building the Loop 375 freeway bypass will have been tragically shortsighted…and much too ordinary for 21st century demands.

Posted in Cars, cities, commerce, economic development, geography, Highway displacement, highways, hiking, history, infrastructure, land use, logistics, pictures, planning, spatial design, sprawl, topography, tourism, Trade, traffic, trails, transportation, Transportation, Travel, urban planning, walking, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment