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Traveling the 38th Parallel

Traveling the 38th Parallel: A Water Line around the World

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Traveling the 38th Parallel
    Book Description:

    Between extremes of climate farther north and south, the 38th North parallel line marks a temperate, middle latitude where human societies have thrived since the beginning of civilization. It divides North and South Korea, passes through Athens and San Francisco, and bisects Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada, where authors David and Janet Carle make their home. Former park rangers, the authors set out on an around-the-world journey in search of water-related environmental and cultural intersections along the 38th parallel. This book is a chronicle of their adventures as they meet people confronting challenges in water supply, pollution, wetlands loss, and habitat protection. At the heart of the narrative are the riveting stories of the passionate individuals-scientists, educators, and local activists-who are struggling to preserve some of the world's most amazing, yet threatened, landscapes. Traveling largely outside of cities, away from well-beaten tourist tracks, the authors cross Japan, Korea, China, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Greece, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, the Azores Islands, and the United States-from Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco Bay. The stories they gather provide stark contrasts as well as reaffirming similarities across diverse cultures. Generously illustrated with maps and photos,Traveling the 38th Paralleldocuments devastating environmental losses but also inspiring gains made through the efforts of dedicated individuals working against the odds to protect these fragile places.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95455-7
    Subjects: Geography

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Introduction: PARALLEL UNIVERSE 38° NORTH
    (pp. 1-10)

    On June 25, 2010—exactly sixty years after the beginning of the Korean War—we stood at the edge of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 150-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide strip of land on the 38th parallel that spans the Korean Peninsula. A soldier manning a nearby guard tower stared across the water, ready to strike at any threat from the north. An egret at the river stared into the water, ready to strike at fish. With people excluded from the DMZ for so many decades, the wetlands and forests behind barbed wire have become a haven for wildlife and an inadvertent experiment...


    • The Four Rivers “Restoration” Project
      (pp. 13-18)

      Our journey began in Korea. Hundreds of years ago, Seoul, the capital of modern South Korea, was a newly founded village along the banks of a picturesque creek called Chonggyecheon (37°35′N). As the city grew, the creek became a sewer and finally was covered over by concrete and a freeway. Several years ago, Mayor Lee Myung-bak decided to bring the creek back to the daylight. Now, a seminatural river parkway serves the urban residents of the city. We walked there from our lodge, a traditional inn with bamboo walls, sliding doorways, and an Ethernet-connected computer in every room; modern Seoul...

    • Ecological Recovery behind Barbed Wire
      (pp. 19-25)

      On the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Korean War, June 25, 2010, we entered the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. We were with a delegation from Pasadena, California, which has a ʺFriendship Cityʺ relationship with Paju, a booming South Korean city on the edge of the DMZ (37°46′N). Few travelers are allowed inside the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, administered by the United Nations, so this was a unique opportunity for our 38th parallel exploration.

      A strip of land 150 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, the DMZ crosses the Korean Peninsula at...

    • China’s Yellow River Delta
      (pp. 26-32)

      High-speed freeways paralleled the east coast on the long drive from Beijing, China, south toward the city of Dong Ying. Orchards were blooming on this mid-April day, and rows of cottonwood trees along the highway were leafing out, recently planted as part of a massive national campaign to counter climate change by capturing atmospheric carbon and, as we would see in central and western China, to erect a ʺgreen wallʺ against expanding deserts. Many millions of trees had already been planted.

      Our guide and translator across eastern China was Kinder (pronounced ʺkin-durʺ) Jinde Shu, who has a special interest in...

    • The South-North Water Transfer Project
      (pp. 33-37)

      As we drove back toward Beijing, our route crossed the path of a new aqueduct being built to bring water from the Yangtze River to Beijing, but it was underground, out of sight. The first phases of the gigantic South-North Water Transfer Project were being constructed to shift water from southern China, where 80 percent of the nationʹs precipitation falls, to the drier north, particularly to address the thirst generated by industry and population growth near Beijing. While the imbalance between wet regions and human thirst is geographically reversed in California, where north-to-south aqueducts serve Southern California cities and farms,...

    • National Parks of Ningxia
      (pp. 38-45)

      The moment we stepped off the plane in Yinchuan, we were struck by the changed climate: although the sun was about to set, the air was noticeably warmer and drier than it had been in eastern China. We were in Ningxia Autonomous Province, about 600 miles from the east coast of this vast nation and just south of Inner Mongolia (38°30′N; 106°20′E). Annual precipitation there is only about 12 inches. Signs were written in both Chinese characters and Arabic script.

      Yinchuan city sits beside the Yellow River in the shadow of the Helan Mountains. We visited several national parks in...

    • Up the Yellow River to Lanzhou’s Green Camel Bell
      (pp. 46-51)

      The city of Lanzhou was an important Silk Road hub that became a major industrial center for modern China. With 3.2 million people, Lanzhou is the first major city on the Yellow River after it flows out of the mountains. The city is south of the 38th parallel, but just as deserts and mountain ranges once funneled Silk Road caravans, major highways now follow the Yellow River south before continuing westward.

      Blowing sand and dust turned the sky white as we approached Lanzhou. When airborne, sand does not appear light brown, but fills the sky with small haze particles. Major...

    • Qinghai—Blue Lake of the Tibetan Plateau
      (pp. 52-57)

      Xining is the home of the Qinghai (pronounced ʺching-highʺ) Salt Lake Institute. We had seen a news story in the Chinese press in 2008 headlined ʺMassive Program Launched to Save Qinghai Lakeʺ (Xinhua News Agency, 2008). That parallel to the historic efforts to save Mono Lake, plus the fact that Chinaʹs largest saline lake occupies a watershed intersecting the 38th parallel, made Qinghai Lake, east of Xining, a must-see destination.

      A researcher at Mono Lake wrote to introduce us to Professor Fafu Li from the institute, who was our gracious host for several days. Fafu arranged a meeting with institute...

    • Hotan to Kashgar on the Southern Silk Road
      (pp. 58-64)

      The tourist map for Xinjiang states that Urumqi, the transportation hub in northwest China, is the city farthest from any ocean in the world, over 2,000 miles from Beijing and the east coast of China. Our next goal was actually Hotan, one of the oasis towns along the southern Silk Road to Kashgar. Resolving some confusion arising from the Chinese spelling of that city as ʺHetianʺ on airport signs, we made our connection and were happy to see our Uygur guide, Abdul Wayit, and a friend from home, Rick Kattelmann, waiting for us at the Hotan airport. Rick is a...

    • The Edge of China and Turkmenistan
      (pp. 65-74)

      The Karakorum Highway (locals call it the KKH) connects China to Pakistan through the westernmost of the highway passes across the Himalayas. We were eager to compare the high country along Chinaʹs western border to our home in the Sierra Nevada. A challenging barrier for Silk Road traders, the mountains are also the source of the melted snow and glacial ice that descends into the Taklimakan Desert basin to create the oases that made Silk Road travel possible.

      A cutoff to the north from the main highway led to Oytagh Glacier, at the head of a scenic pastoral valley.Oytagh...

    • Hasankeyf in Peril on the Tigris River
      (pp. 75-84)

      Lake Van, in eastern Turkey, was our first stop on a 15-day trip across the width of that vast country, where the national government has built dozens of dams along its major rivers and campaigns have only just begun to modernize wasteful irrigation practices on farms that consume three-quarters of the nationʹs developed water.

      A great inland sea in an enclosed basin, with alkaline water whose strange chemistry produces large calcium carbonate structures underwater, in a dramatic setting with snow-covered volcanic peaks and a lake surface thousands of feet above sea level … all of that sounds exactly like Mono...

    • Fairy Chimneys, Tuz Golu, Travertine, and a City That Lost Its Port
      (pp. 85-94)

      In the Cappadocia region of central Turkey, a full dayʹs ride from Malatya on local buses, volcanic ash hardened into rock and eroded by water through the ages has created a fantasy landscape. We left the high mountains and river canyons behind, dropping down to agricultural valleys before following a twisting road into the fairy chimneys, towers, and mushroom shapes that surround the village of Goreme. In the distance a huge snow-capped volcano stood sentinel.

      The whitish rock formations are locally called tufa. In our many years of telling visitors about Mono Lakeʹs tufa towers—the photogenic limestone formed when...


    • Greek Islands, Athens, and the “Navel of the Earth”
      (pp. 97-106)

      The west coast of Turkey borders the Aegean Sea and Greece, a nation whose boundaries encompass thousands of islands—more water than land. Even on the mainland, one is never farther than one hundred miles from the sea. Ferries are the key transportation mode connecting the Greek islands. Most serve cars and trucks along with passengers and feel like small cruise ships, capable of smoothing out the Mediterraneanʹs wind-tossed waters. High-speed catamarans, solely for passengers, are also available, with indoor seating that resembles the cabin of a very wide airplane.

      As one approaches them on a ferry through the Mediterranean...

    • Saving Migratory Raptors and Drinking Water in Sicily’s Mafia-Dominated Culture
      (pp. 107-114)

      The narrow Strait of Messina funnels raptors seeking the shortest route across the Mediterranean from Africa during their annual migrations. Migrating birds travel south to north and then back again, across lines of latitude to seek ʺendless summer,ʺ breeding in balmy southern locations during harsh northern winters, and returning in the spring and summer to take advantage of vast foraging ranges. The strait is only two miles wide where the birds cross over to the Italian mainland and then spread out toward nesting sites in northern and eastern Europe.

      We volunteered at an annual raptor-counting camp sponsored by the Mediterranean...

    • Spain’s Coastal Lagoons, Water for Growth, and Iberian Lynx
      (pp. 115-123)

      The 38th parallel encounters the Spanish coast at Torrevieja (38°00′N), a town famed for its saltworks and singing competitions. There, at 00°42′W longitude, we were also west of the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude) for the first time. Two immense saline lagoons cradle the town of Torrevieja, one colored green and the other pink. At La Mata, the green lagoon, we saw Brine Flies and bright-red Brine Shrimp (Artemia salina), Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), osprey, and avocets—species common to Mono Lake. But these lagoons were below sea level, the ocean was close by, and there were no snowy mountain peaks...

    • Portugal’s Transported Town, a Solar Donkey, and the Azores
      (pp. 124-132)

      Outside the eastern Portugal town of Moura (38°08′N), where we appeared to be the only tourists, we visited the Alquevabarragem(reservoir) on the Guadiana River. The rolling hills were shaded by olive trees and carpeted with wildflowers of every color. The dam itself is not particularly large, but the reservoir behind it is the largest in Europe. The new reservoir, completed in 2002, filled for the first time during the winter of 2009, a wet season that followed years of drought. When we visited, no water deliveries had yet been made from the reservoir, because distribution canals were still...


    • Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education
      (pp. 135-142)

      Our east-to-west crossing of the United States began at the Atlantic Ocean on Assateague Island. We drove down the peninsula separating the east side of Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, known here as Delmarva, a blending of the names of the three states on the peninsula—Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Chesapeake Bay is 195 miles long and 35 miles at its widest; it makes San Francisco Bay look small by comparison. The watershed has fifty large rivers and thousands of smaller streams and extends north to Cooperstown, New York, and inland into West Virginia across 64,000 square miles. We...

    • The Rappahannock River and Mattawoman Creek
      (pp. 143-148)

      To reach the west side of Chesapeake Bay, we traveled south under its 18-mile mouth through a tunnel. Joelle, the biologist at Chincoteague, had suggested we visit a hawk-surveying and songbird-banding site along that route, near the end of the peninsula. Just as the Strait of Messina in Sicily funnels migratory birds, the Delmarva peninsula leads raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, some waterfowl, and even butterflies toward the bayʹs mouth on their seasonal migrations. The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory staff and volunteers have counted birds there since 1963.

      On a calm, sunny morning at Kiptopeke State Park, near Cape Charles, we walked...

    • Mountaintop Removal Coal Mines in West Virginia
      (pp. 149-158)

      Pocahontas County, West Virginia, straddles one of the continentʹs water divides and is known as the ʺBirthplace of Eight Rivers,ʺ streams that send water either back down to the Chesapeake Bay or westward to the Ohio River, part of the vast Mississippi River watershed that drains the middle of the continent. At a festival in Hillsboro, West Virginia, at the historic birth home of author Pearl S. Buck, several volunteers enthusiastically named the eight rivers for us: the Greenbrier, Elk, Williams, Cherry, Cranberry, North Fork of the Cheat, Tygart, and Gauley.

      That same day found us at the Cranberry Glades...

    • Midwestern Rivers and the Population Center of the United States
      (pp. 159-165)

      Coal was not yet done with us as we entered eastern Kentucky. One of the worst coal industry disasters occurred on October 11, 2000, when a dam storing toxic slurry (on an MTR site operated by Massey Energy) gave way and sent 300 million gallons (twenty-five times the volume of the Exxon Valdez oil spill) of black goo downstream through the community of Inez (37°52′N). The sludge moved down Coldwater and Wolf Creeks to the Tug Fork, and some material reached the Ohio River. No human lives were lost, but the EPA called it ʺthe largest environmental catastrophe in the...

    • Seagulls in Kansas and the Santa Fe Trail
      (pp. 166-170)

      The Kansas prairie is, despite first impressions, not perfectly flat, but features low, undulating hills. Prairie grasses, gone dry in early autumn, replaced the green of the Midwest heartland. In eastern Kansas, where 30 to 35 inches of rain fall every year, grasses often grow about five feet tall, though some species send stalks over eight feet high. As we would see, drier conditions in western Kansas bring a shift to shortgrass prairie species better adapted to 10 to 12 inches of annual precipitation. Periodic fires were a key ecological force shaping the evolution of prairie habitat; another force was...

    • Mining the Ogallala Aquifer
      (pp. 171-177)

      The Ogallala Aquifer extends from Nebraska down to Texas. This enormous source of deep groundwater allows the region to grow corn and grain and raise most of the nationʹs cattle on high plains that became highly productive only after efficient groundwater pumps and center-pivot irrigation sprinklers were invented.

      At the Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 in Garden City, Executive Director Mark Rude, dressed casually in blue jeans and a plaid shirt, somehow stays upbeat as he faces undeniable facts: there is less than an inch of recharge into the aquifer each year, but in places withdrawal is happening hundreds...

    • Colorado, the Headwaters State
      (pp. 178-183)

      The Arkansas Riverʹs headwaters are within Colorado, named the ʺHeadwaters Stateʺ because so many rivers originate from the stateʹs mountains. Water from Colorado reaches into eighteen states and Mexico. Some snow that melts west of the Continental Divide, after passing through dams and aqueducts, emerges from faucets in Los Angeles.

      The southern Rocky Mountains divide into a complex series of ranges with 14,000-foot peaks that made it impossible to stick closely to the 38th parallel as we headed west. In the following days we swooped north and south and north again through the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains,...

    • Colorado River Cleanup and Groundwater for Las Vegas
      (pp. 184-192)

      Entering Utah, we came downhill to the Colorado River at Moab, Utah (38°34′N), famous for mountain biking on slickrock trails and as a place to start river trips. The Colorado River watershed covers one-twelfth of the area in the Lower Forty-Eight, running through parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, on a 1,440-mile trip to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Like the Yellow River, heavy loads of silt gave the river its name, the Spanishcolorado, for the reddish color of its water.

      Where reservoirs restrain the modern Colorado, the silt becomes trapped behind dams, and...


    • Mono Lake to the Sierra Crest
      (pp. 195-201)

      We were camped at 10,430 feet above sea level, just east of the Sierra crest, looking at small glaciers clinging to the north slopes of Mt. Conness and North Peak. Wispy clouds turned pink, and there was the beginning of alpenglow overhead. It was our first evening on a 17-day trek across California, continuing along the 38th parallel from Mono Lake to the Pacific Ocean, exploring the mountains-to-the-sea watershed that sends water to San Francisco Bay and, finally, out to sea.

      We approached the California segment differently than elsewhere in the world. At the slow pace dictated by travel on...

    • Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to Hetch Hetchy
      (pp. 202-207)

      Loaded with heavy backpacks, we slipped and slid down a rough trail to the McCabe Lakes, where we found fishnets stretched out across the water. The national park was two years into a five-year project to clean fish out and improve conditions for native Yellow-Legged Frogs. We saw no fish, but also no polliwogs or adult frogs, yet. It is easy to introduce fish into a lake, but very hard to get them out.

      Sierra Nevada frogs are beleaguered not only by trout predation but also by a fungus that is infecting amphibians all over the world and has spread...

    • Friends of the River and New Melones Reservoir
      (pp. 208-213)

      On the autumn equinox, we bicycled down through the Stanislaus National Forest, aware that all of us on the 38°N latitude line around the world saw the noon sun that day at 52° above the horizon (90° minus 38°). Our 40-mile ride to Sonora was an extremely hilly, forested, and scenic route. At one point we were pedaling so slowly uphill that a butterfly heading the same direction passed us by.

      One of the canyons bottomed out at the Clavey River, an unusual water body in that it flows north to south, rather than east to west like most Sierra...

    • The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
      (pp. 214-220)

      Perched on the dock with our gear, we watched a parade of boaters come and go: mom, pop, dog, then several lone fishermen and five head-shaved, tattooed young men crammed into a boat built for speed rather than fishing. John Knottʹs 33-foot Catalina sailboat emerged from among a group of college rowing-crew sculls. It was to be our mother ship for the next five days.

      An experienced sailor in those waters, John had been the district superintendent for Sierra State Parks, which included responsibility for Mono Lake. Now retired, he had brought along David Martin as crew and sailed from...

    • Strait to the Bay
      (pp. 221-226)

      The following morning, the fourteenth day of our cross-California trek, the extremely low tide inside the Benicia marina left even the shallow-draft catamaran temporarily aground. The bay’s surface was nearly flat, the weather sunny and calm—perfect for paddling the 9.5 miles to Vallejo in kayaks. That morning will remain in memory as one of the highlights of our trek.

      As we approached the Carquinez Strait, several massive ships came in beneath the bridges and generated impressive wakes that rocked our little boats even though we hugged the shore. Cars looked tiny on the freeway spans of the bridge high...

    • Point Reyes and the Pacific Coast
      (pp. 227-234)

      The morning was overcast as we pedaled up the west shore of Tomales Bay, but we found the sunshine as we turned back south toward Drakes Beach. Our son Ryan had driven there already and was photographing California Gulls (Larus californicus) on the beach when we arrived. We wondered if they were gulls born at Mono Lake—some of the 70 percent of that species in California that fly to the lake each spring to breed and raise chicks. During the winter those birds spread along the entire state coastline, but these had perhaps chosen the most direct migratory route,...


    • Recovery on the Tsunami Coast
      (pp. 237-244)

      On Honshu, Japanʹs largest island, our original plan was to explore the mountains-to-sea watersheds and the relationship between wetlands and rice farming—the biocultural landscape the Japanese created on their islands. Floodplains cover less than 10 percent of the land in Japan, but hold 51 percent of the population and even more of the nationʹs economic resources. The risk contained in those living sites became evident after a massive earthquake occurred off the northeast coast of Honshu. Its epicenter was at 38°19′N.

      As we flew into Tokyo, the map displayed on the airplane-seat screen depicted not only landforms and our...

    • It Takes a Village to Save the Toki
      (pp. 245-254)

      Halfway across the volcanic interior of Honshu Island, we switched from a train to a bus because heavy rains that summer had damaged tracks along our route to the west coast city of Niigata (37°55′N). With Japanʹs dense population and limited space, the forested mountains of the interior contrasted with land otherwise intensely cultivated or inhabited. Historically, water development in Japan has been closely tied to cultivation of rice in paddies, mostly situated on converted wetlands. The island land base is relatively small, and its rivers are short, descending steeply from mountain snowpacks to the sea. Even though the nation...

    • We Are Bodies of Water
      (pp. 255-260)

      Circling the globe along the 38th parallel is a 19,600-mile journey. On the ground in Europe, Asia, and North America, the latitude line traverses about 10,800 miles; the Pacific Ocean is 5,300 miles across, and the Atlantic about 3,500 miles.

      China and the United States both span similar distances along the 38° line. The longitude is 119°E at the Yellow River Delta on Chinaʹs east coast; at the western edge of that country, having crossed 44 degrees of latitude, we were at 75°E. It is striking that the longitude numbers for the United States are nearly identical, though measured in...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-266)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-272)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 273-278)