Supai: An Isolated Indian Village Inside the Grand Canyon

Despite being one of the most visited places in the United States, the Grand Canyon area in Arizona, still holds secrets. One of these is the Indian village of Supai located at the bottom of Havasu Canyon also known as Cataract Canyon, a side branch of the Grand Canyon, on the Havasupai Nation reservation. Home to the Havasupai tribe who have been living in the Grand Canyon for at least the past 800 years, Supai is perhaps the most isolated village in the United States. Although its just 13 km from the nearest road, no cars can reach it. The only way to get to it is to take a helicopter or to hike or ride a mule along the Havasupai Trail. Supai is the only place in the United States where mail is still carried out by mules.


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Gravity Train as Energy Storage

Energy grids running on renewable energy sources need storage. The most common way to store energy on a grid scale is through “pumped” hydropower, where the excess energy available during off-peak is used to pump and store water at a higher elevation, which can then be released to produce electricity as gravity pulls it down to a lower elevation again. The Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station in Missouri works exclusively on pumped-storage. Pumped hydro is effective, but needs lot of water and a suitable site for storage. Can the same principles be applied without using water as the prime mover?

A California-based company called Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES) has come up with a unique land-based alternative that could provide grid scale energy storage using electric locomotives.


John Bramblitt, The Blind Painter

These bright and colorful paintings were made by American artist John Bramblitt who lost his eye sight at the age of 30 as a result of complications from epilepsy that he was suffering since the age of 2. As he grew older, the seizures became more and more frequent and more violent. At first, his vision would become blurry but eventually clear up. With time, however, his vision got worse and worse after each episode, until he could no longer see. Curiously, it wasn’t until John Bramblitt went completely blind that he started to paint.

Bramblitt learned to distinguish between different coloured paints by feeling their textures with his fingers. He also learned how to apply paint by outlining an image and using his fingers to guide the brush strokes. While many of his portraits are taken from events in his life he experienced while sighted, he has also produced life-like paintings of people by simply feeling their face with his fingers. Bramblitt has never seen his wife or his son but has painted remarkable portraits of them.


Hiljainen Kansa: The Silent People of Suomussalmi, Finland

Motorists driving along Highway 5, about 30 km north of the small town of Suomussalmi, in north-eastern Finland, are greeted by a peculiar sight. A crowd of almost a thousand figures stand silently on a field near the road. In the morning with light behind them, this motionless army appears morose, even menacing. But when a light breeze picks up their colorful dresses and blows them around their still bodies, they appear to have sprung into life.

This army of scarecrow-like figures called “the Silent People” or “Hiljainen kansa” in Finnish, were the creation of local artist Reijo Kela. They were first displayed in 1988 in a field in Lassila, a neighbourhood of Helsinki. Later in 1994 these were on display in the Market Place of Helsinki's Senate Square, then on the banks of the river Jalonuoma, Ämmänsaari and finally moved to this location in 1994 itself.


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Ämari Air Force Cemetery

The Ämari Air Force Cemetery is located in the small borough of Ämari, in Harju County, in northern Estonia, near the Ämari Air Base. The cemetery contains the graves of Soviet pilots killed in action during the Soviet occupation of Estonia; their graves adorned with tail fins of Russian-built combat aircraft. Some say, the airplane parts were taken from the actual aircraft involved in the accident but that’s difficult to prove. The parts could have easily be taken from other planes.

The cemetery was established probably after 1945. According to a badly translated Wikipedia article, the cemetery was built at the site of a former cemetery for burying casualties of the war. When the air force camp was liquidated, the cemetery was leveled and houses were built over it, but not before the graves of the old cemetery were moved to a new location. Although Estonia is now an independent democracy, this Soviet cemetery, now surrounded by deep woods, is still well maintained.


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Felicity, California: The Center of The World

Does the word “world” represent the earth in its spherical sense, or the surface of the sphere where all living and non-living entities live on? If you chose the former, than the center lies in an incredibly dense, hot core thousands of kilometres below the planet’s surface. If you chose the later, than any place on the surface can logically be the center. At least, this is what many towns, especially around North America, believe in.

One of the serious contender to the title of the “Center of the World” is Felicity, a small town in Imperial County, in California. It’s hard to refute the claim, especially when California’s Imperial County and the French government both recognize the site as the official center of the world. To prevent you from further questioning the claim, the town’s founder and mayor, Jacques-André Istel, had a 21-foot tall pyramid build on the exact spot marked by a bronze disk set into the pyramid's floor. A visit to the place and standing on the spot will earn you a certificate signed by Mayor Istel himself.


The pyramid that houses the official center point. Photo credit

Laerdal Tunnel: The World’s Longest Road Tunnel

In Norway, it’s practically impossible to drive from one place to another without making a mountain crossing or riding on a ferry across a fjord. It’s a beautiful country but its intricate geography created by a maze of fjords, glaciers, and mountains meant that many Norwegian communities remain isolated from one each other during the long winter months. Neighbors may live less than a mile from one another, but on opposite sides of the fjord or mountain, and that’s a world apart. That was before Norway started building an extensive network of tunnels. If a mountain stands on the way, they will drill through it. A fjord is too long to build a bridge? Go under. Tunnels make driving through the country much more easier than taking circuitous routes along mountains or ferry hopping.

There are over 900 road tunnels in Norway with total length exceeding 750 km, and at least 33 undersea tunnels. According to one source, the count is even higher – above one thousand. For a country the size of Norway, that’s an awfully lot of tunnels.


The Laerdal Tunnel. Photo credit

A Town Named ‘Zzyzx’ in California

About half way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as you drive along Interstate 15 through the lonely Mojave Desert, you’ll come across an unusual exit sign directing you towards a rather oddly-spelled “Zzyzx Road” (pronounced “Zye-Zex” and rhymes with “Isaacs”). The 4.5 mile-long, part paved and part dirt road leads you to an old health resort, now abandoned, called Zzyzx Springs, started by a self-proclaimed minister and quack named Curtis Howe Springer in the 1940s. Today, it’s home to the Desert Studies Center, and the artificial Lake Tuendae that the pseudo-doctor built is now a refuge habitat of the endangered Mohave tui chub, a kind of fish.

Before Zzyzx became Zzyzx, it was called the Soda Springs, because of the presence of a natural spring, and was a popular stop for Indians in search of fresh water. The area had prehistoric quarry which later became a mining site. In 1944, Curtis Howe Springer, who had made a name for himself as a Los Angeles radio personality, purchased a mining claim on 12,800 acres of land surrounding the springs with the intention of building a Mineral Springs and Health Spa. He called the area Zzyzx, a name he had invented himself claiming it to be “the last word in the English language.”


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The Boy And His Leaking Boot

The Boy with the Leaking Boot is a recurring theme of statues that appear throughout the United States. The life-sized statue, often about 4 feet tall, depicts a young boy with a bare right foot, holding up and inspecting the leaks on his right boot. The statue isn’t complete with an actual leaky boot, hence the statue is almost always a fountain with water emerging from numerous holes on the toe of the boot. There are at least 25 documented examples, and probably hundreds more. Yet, nobody knows who the boy is, and why does he hold aloft his leaking boot.

Some believed that the boy was a real Italian newspaper seller who drowned. Others said he was a Civil War drummer boy who brought water to wounded men in his leaky boot. Still others thought he was a brave little fireman who used his boot in a bucket brigade when there weren't enough buckets to go around.


An old postcard shows the Boy and the Boot, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Ancient Tsunami Warnings Carved in Stones in Japan

"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point," reads a four-foot high stone slab in the hamlet of Aneyoshi, in the Iwate Prefecture, in Japan. Residents who heeded the advice from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami that stuck Japanese coast in 2011. The waves stopped just 300 feet below the stone.

All over the coast of Japan, there are hundreds of so called Tsunami Stones with warning messages and advice, some more than 600 years old. These flat stones, some standing up to 10 feet tall, collectively form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries. Many carry simple warnings to drop everything and seek higher ground after a strong earthquake. Others, such as the ones in Aneyoshi, specifically instruct where to build homes and where not to. Many stones lists names of the dead or past death tolls as a grim reminders of the waves’ destructive force. Unfortunately, in the bustle of modern life, many of these ancient warnings were forgotten or simply ignored.


A tsunami warning stone tablet erected in 1933 on a hillside in Aneyoshi in Japan’s Iwate prefecture. Photo credit