Highpoints – Seismic, Cultural & Topographic
The Southern Highpoint Tour of 2012
Seismic Highpoint, New Madrid MO.
8.2 Richter Scale – Dec. 16, 1811,
Cultural Highpoint, Graceland
Home of Elvis Presley
Topographic Highpoint, Woodall Mt., MS, 807 ft.
May 4th, 2012
New Madrid MO, Site of largest Earthquake in North America
Coming down off mighty Taum Sauk Mt., we rolled to the edge of the Mississippi River, and came to rest in the town of Cape Girardeau MO. This old river town is delightful and old by the water, and new and horrific up by the highway. We had a nice meal and enjoyed the view of the river – simply wonderful.
Cape Girardeau by night
Up to date advertising in Cape Girardeau
The next day we hit New Madrid Mo – home of the largest (8.2) and longest (approximately 4 months) earthquake in North American history. I had read about this earthquake in College, but never realized the amazing impact that such a huge earthquake can have when unleashed on deep, wet alluvial soils. The entire lower Mississippi River follows a giant series of intra-plate faults caused by the Reelfoot Rift Zone. Rifts occur where plates pull apart – with the best known being the Great Rift Valley in Africa.
The Reelfoot Rift – the cause of all the trouble
The North American continent moves to the West at 1-3 cm per year – pulled by subduction in the west and pushed by spreading via the Mid-Atlantic Ridge under the Atlantic. From a practical perspective, it is like an irregular brick walkway, 2-15 layers deep, the size of a football field, gliding very slowly over a field covered with peanut butter. Imagine further, that it is pushed and pulled with irregular tugs to keep it moving – much like you would fitting a sheet to a bed. Needless to say, the bricks break apart from time to time, and typically where the layers are thinnest (like the Mississippi Valley) and/or the rock most brittle. While the cause is cool, the results are devastating when unleashed as an earthquake.
Earthquakes generate a large number of wave types, including P and S waves, which are fast and not so troublesome, and the more vexatious (and colorfully named) Love and Raleigh waves, which propagate on the surface and are particularly bad actors in semi-solid mediums like the water drenched soils of the Mississippi Valley. Love waves cause undulating motion and sheer; Raleigh Waves generate undulations and a peculiar circular particulate motion – Yipes!
The first shock on December 16, 1811, actually caused the Mississippi to flow backwards, produced thousands of sand geysers (shooting sand up to 100 feet in the air) and generated a wave that liquefied the soil under the town of Little Prairie, actually swallowing it. The quake generated damaged property over 1,000,000 sq. mi., and caused ringing of church bells as far away as Boston. This was the great Mother of all Earthquakes, caused by an active fault system lying directly under the Father of all Waters. When they mix it up – watch out.
Alluvial soils really spread the Love Waves
Martha on the River in New Madrid – Love Wave spotting
Graceland – A cultural Mecca
We came to Graceland on a cultural Hajj, answering the Sirens of our generation. Elvis was a uniquely American post-war phenomenon, mixing sacred and salacious, gospel and rock, North and South, white and black. He lived hard, died young (42) and left them all guessing what it all meant. Graceland is surprisingly small when viewed from the lens of the McMansion generation – much like the antics which got Elvis banned from the Ed Sullivan Show, when compared to any rock act today. If Graceland doesn’t move you, then you probably haven’t been paying attention. I’ll let a few photos speak for themselves.
Martha on the Hajj
Graceland and the signature pink Caddy
The Jungle Room – with shag carpet on the floor and ceiling
The Music Room
Meditation Garden – a showman to the end
Woodall Mountain and Shiloh
Woodall Mountain is most notable for what is around it – not for itself. This area is home to two great Civil War battles, which really sealed the fate of the Confederacy in April and May of 1862 – Corinth, MS and Shiloh, TN.
Martha triumphant at the summit of Woodall Mt, MS
Woodall, being the highest point of land in the area was used extensively by both sides in the fighting for nearby Corinth.
The combat in the area started in Shiloh, where confederate troops under Generals Johnston and Beauregard attached the Armies of Grant and Sherman, before they were joined by The Army of Ohio under the colorfully named General Don Carlos Buell. The Confederates, as always were significantly outnumbered and outgunned, but hoped that the element of surprise would carry the day and drive out the Union troops. The terrain at Shiloh is heavily wooded, favoring a surprise attack, but also aiding in defensive positions. The result was carnage not previously seen in the war, with casualties of 23,000 out of 100,000 combatants. This was the first time in the war that repeated massed infantry assaults were made against entrenched artillery position, supported by infantry. This took place by Confederate troops at a place called the Hornet’s Nest. The results were horrific, which did not prevent the use of this tactic throughout the rest of the war.
Union Battery near the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh
As was the case throughout the War, technology and tactics favored defense, and the Union carried the battle, which was pressed on to Corinth and its vital railroad assets. By the time of the battle of Corinth, the Union strength had swollen to 120,000 men, and the confederate force was doomed. They beat a strategic (and brilliantly executed) retreat saving the Army, but dooming the Confederacy through the loss of strategic transportation assets.
Adios from Shiloh
The End of the Great Southern Tour of 2012