As I mentioned in Part 1, the first installment dealt with physical post offices and this one will focus on methods of postal delivery. Both featured examples drawn primarily from the United States Postal Service’s "fun facts" page.
The Postman by Eric Gelinas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Pack animals would seem to be an antiquated method of mail delivery. Certainly horses, mules or donkeys had their heyday up until about a century ago before being replaced unceremoniously by an upstart horseless carriage. A modern semi-truck might have around 400-450 horsepower. A draft horse would have, um, one. It didn’t take much convincing for the postal authorities to ditch their animals long ago and transport mail by mechanical means. That became a universal standard nationwide except for one incredibly inconvenient location — Arizona’s Grand Canyon, or more specifically the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Supai, Arizona (map) would be an excellent candidate for the most remote settlement in the Lower 48 states. No roads lead there. That would be impossible. Access required a helicopter or a strenuous hike down an 8 mile (13 kilometre) trail. Nonetheless two hundred people lived in Supai, the primary town of the Havasupai Tribe as they have for at least a thousand years. They required postal services just like everyone else. Mule trains continued to be the most cost-effective method. The USPS estimated each mule hauled about 130 pounds (59 kg) of postcards, letters or packages.
This same method was also used to deliver mail to the National Park Service’s Phantom Ranch, elsewhere at the bottom of the canyon.
JW Westcott II by Lauren, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Large freighters traveled regularly throughout the Great Lakes hauling grains, coal, iron ore and other commodities, as I learned from my visit to the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum. Mariners spent a lot of time away from home although not too far away from land. The Postal Service devised a way to get mail to these sailors as they passed through a narrow slot near the midpoint (map). The J. W. Westcott Co., established in 1874, won the contract to deliver mail to the freighters using its 45-foot boat.
The boat even received its own ZIP Code, 48222.
Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile by Neil R, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
It was one of those things that sounded good at the time.
Mail in this experiment traveled as the payload within a Regulus guided missile, with the letters replacing a nuclear warhead. An example of such an imposing missile can be seen today at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, in New York City as presented above (and map). What could possibly go wrong with a missile-based postal delivery service during the height of the Cold War? The test worked perfectly, other than the possibility of sparking an accidental nuclear Armageddon. It wasn’t particularly cost effective either in an era when jet-powered airmail was already feasible.
Longest Postal Delivery Route
The longest rural delivery route caught my attention. According to the USPS that honor went to Route 081 based out of Mangum, Oklahoma (map). I had a hard time finding more information about the service because I was an idiot and my brain converted Mangum to Magnum. I’m not sure if I had guns, big bottles of wine or a cheezy television show from the 1980’s starring Tom Selleck on my mind at the time. I had no trouble finishing my research once I put that little issue behind me though: MAN-gum.
Apparently the subject captured popular imagination as well. The story of septuagenarian Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) route that served only 240 customers appeared prominently in both Bloomberg and the NBC Nightly News in 2013. There’s no sense in me repeating it though so feel free to watch the video.
Longest Main Street
Island Park, Idaho, USA
This one might have been a little bogus although I enjoyed the story. Main Street was and has been the most common street name in the United States, no argument there. Of all of the Main Streets though, one of them had to be the longest. The USPS noted that it was Main Street in Island Park, Idaho at 33 mi (53 km). However I couldn’t find an actual "Main Street" in Island Park. The entire length seemed to be signed and addressed as US Route 20 (for example). Nonetheless, Island Park claimed it had the longest occurrence (see the banner on the city’s website) and various local business repeated the mantra. It appeared to a marketing gimmick.
It was about booze. Local lodge owners cobbled together a town 33 miles long and only 500 feet (150 m) wide astride US Route 20 so their patrons could drink. For that, they deserved to remain on the superlatives list forevermore.
I alluded to postal ZIP codes in the recent Zip Lines and I’ll carry that theme through the next couple of articles. I’d stumbled upon the United States Postal Service’s Fun Facts. Someday maybe I’ll explore what exactly makes a fact "fun" although for now I think I’ll simply steal liberally from that page and ponder some of its claims in greater detail. Today I’ll focus on post offices and in the next article I’ll shift to methods of delivery. Spoiler alert: don’t visit that USPS page unless you want to ruin the surprises.
Alma Colorado 2010 by Gord McKenna, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
There was a surprising amount debate about the town with the highest elevation in the United States. I explored that previously in something I wrote a couple of years ago. Was it Leadville, Colorado, was it Alma, Colorado or was it some poseur town that annexed an adjoining ski resort? There was no doubt, however, about the post office building with the highest elevation. Clearly, that was the one in Alma (map) at 10,578 feet above sea level, serving ZIP Code 80420.
Rocky Mountain High, indeed. I’ll refrain from making any jokes about the highest post office being located in Colorado where a certain herbal substance has been legalized. We’re talking strictly about elevation here.
Northernmost and Westernmost – 48 Contiguous States
La Push to Sumas, Washington
It’s not that I don’t love Alaska and Hawaii, its that they skew anything to do with directional superlatives in the United States. I’ll give a little nod to Alaska momentarily although for purposes of northernmost and westernmost post offices I’ll focus on the contiguous 48 States. They were both in Washington and not too distant from each other. Best of all, the preferred route calculated by Google required a ferry. That would put it pretty high on the 12MC list of sites I’d like to visit someday. I’ll bet readers in Seattle could probably accomplish this easily. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell folks that you’d been to the northernmost and westernmost post offices in the Lower 48 in a single day? Perhaps mail yourself a letter from each spot? Maybe I’m the only one who would find that interesting. I don’t know.
The northernmost post office served Sumas, Washington, Zip Code 98295. The ZIP Code abutted the Canadian border although that wasn’t special. Lots of other locations shared that attribute. What made Sumas different, however, was the physical location of its post office building just a stone’s throw away from the actual border. I also wondered about the name Sumas. The City of Sumas provided an explanation. It also provided a website that looked like it had been transported through a dial-up model directly from the 1990’s. Wander over there if you’re ever feeling nostalgic about how the Intertubes used to appear including the use of 3-D buttons as links, educating people to "click here" and the placement of a site counter at the bottom of the page.
The westernmost post office, on the Olympic Peninsula, served ZIP Code 98350 in La Push, Washington. Its name also had an interesting etymology: "La Push is from French La Bouche, meaning ‘The Mouth’ of the Quillayute River, adapted into Chinook Jargon."
Barrow, Alaska by NASA ICE, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
The USPS bestowed a tie for the coldest post offices, for Barrow, ZIP Code 99723 and Wainwright ZIP Code 99782, both on Alaska’s North Slope along the Arctic Ocean. The site didn’t offer an explanation for "coldest" although I knew that neither of those locations represented the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska. That happened that at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, when the thermometer fell to -80°F / -62°C. Rather, I believe the claim was based on average temperature. Barrow routinely remains below freezing for eight months of the year, often considerably below. However its oceanfront location and lack of elevation variation tends to keep its very cold temperatures relatively stable versus the spikes and drops found farther inland. It’s also getting warmer.
Ochopee Post with flag by Chris Griffith, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Look at the cute little post office for Ochopee, Florida, (map) serving ZIP Code 34141. Just look at it. The entire building covers only 61.3 square feet (5.7 square metres). A nearby historical marker explained the situation.
It wasn’t a joke. It was a temporary fix that became permanent due to inertia.
Oldest in the Same Building
Hinsdale Post Office by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
I don’t know why this one fascinated me. Nonetheless it seemed remarkable that the post office serving Hindsdale, New Hampshire (map) had remained in the same building for two centuries, or about a century and a half before ZIP Code 03451 even existed. It didn’t have much of a backstory beyond its age. The town said its "1,327 square foot building was constructed on September 25, 1816, following the appointment of Hinsdale’s first postmaster in 1815." From an architectural perspective, "A Field Guide to American Houses describes this design as a Gable Front Family Folk house common on the East Coast of the U.S. before the Civil War." That was about all I found.
I pondered Zip Lines recently. Actually I’d been researching postal ZIP Codes and wondering how I’d missed the 50th Birthday of the system in 2013. Then I noticed an auto-suggestion for Zip Lines and it zipped me straight down a protracted tangent metaphorically speaking. I decided to find the longest Zip Line in the world, a feat more difficult than I anticipated. I turned to several sources including Zip Line Rider.
That’s when I learned a dark secret. Companies that provided these services were marketeers as much as entertainers. They wanted to find creative ways to attract riders to their often remote, sometimes nearly inaccessible locations. There were plenty of financial incentives to exaggerate their achievements. Who was going to be able to pull out a tape measure and test their claims? These competitors also seemed to be locked in a protracted arms race to construct the longest ride. One company would grab the title only to have another eclipse its achievement a few months later, except the original group that previously held the crown would continue to claim it anyway. I did uncover what I believed were some of the longer Zip Lines on the planet bearing in mind the caveat of inflated superlatives. Actual results, and of course future results, will vary.
ZipRider®, Parque De Aventura, Copper Canyon, México
The longest Zip Line uncovered during my investigation pointed towards Parque De Aventura within Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It was operated by ZipRider®, a company with locations in several parts of the world. The total length claimed at Copper Canyon extended to 2,515 metres (8,350 feet). Most people arrive at Parque De Aventura by train using the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico, better known as the Chepe for its abbreviation CHP. The "El Divisadero" station (map) unloaded passengers directly on the canyon rim at Parque De Aventura.
Copper Canyon would be an amazing place to visit even on its own and it did attract a lot of tourists who were not there for Zip Lining. The canyon was larger than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and even deeper in places.
Flying in the Sky; Rocca Massima, Italy
Originally I though Italy’s Flying in the Sky facility might have been the longest Zip Line available until I came across Copper Canyon, so let’s call it the longest in Europe instead (at least for today). It was nearly as long at an impressive 2,213 m (7,260 ft). However it was considerably faster with a top speed of 140 kph (87 mph) vs. 105 kph (65 mph). This was probably because Flying in the Sky harnessed people vertically rather than in a sitting position. Riders screamed down the slope of Monte S. Angelo near the community of Rocca Massima (map), southeast of Rome.
The Italian websites didn’t translate well. From what I could gather, several local citizens and entrepreneurs banded together to find a way to attract visitors, especially younger ones, to come to their rural enclave. A Zip Line seemed to be a natural fit.
The Eye of the Jaguar; Urubamba Valley, Perú
Easy come, easy go. The Eye of the Jaguar in Perú was once the consensus longest Zip Line (map). However while impressive at 2,130 m (6,990 ft), it continued to tumble down the list as new facilities opened in other parts of the world. Maybe it’s safe to call it the longest Zip Line in South America. It flies across the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley). There would be many reasons to visit the area in addition to simply seeking thrills. This was where the ancient Inca Empire held its firmest control. Their capital city Cusco was located nearby as was the renowned Machu Picchu.
ZipRider®, Icy Strait Point, Alaska, USA
The longest ride I found in the United States was another facility operated by ZipRider®. This one was located at Icy Strait Point, Alaska, just outside of Hoonah. It was an obscure spot on Chichagof Island about fifty miles from Juneau (map). That would seem to be an odd choice for a playground until one considered its placement along the Inside Passage, a popular route for summertime cruise ships. That was their prime audience, too. Their website noted that the facility opened only on days when ships landed at Hoonah. Those not booking admission through a cruise line would be accommodated only on a space-available basis, at the back of the line behind all of the cruise ship passengers.
This was another sit-down line. Perhaps that was why Icy Strait, while an imposing 1,675 m (5,495 ft) in length had a top speed of "only" 105 kph (65 mph). On the other hand, it featured six side-by-side lines so an entire family of cruisers could experience the thrills all at the same time.
Flying Fox; Taihape, New Zealand
I gave an honorable mention to Flying Fox Zipline at Mokai Gravity Canyon (map), in New Zealand. It wasn’t the longest by any stretch, reaching only 1,200 m (3,939 ft). However it was the fastest example that I found. It hit top speeds reputed to be around 160 kph (100 mph)! When one considers that terminal velocity for a human — the top speed of a person in a free fall — was something like 200 kmh (120 mph), the speed of Flying Fox seemed astounding. I can’t imagine Zip Lines getting much faster although I’m willing to bet someone will try.