More Lago de Maracaibo

On May 18, 2017 · Comments Off on More Lago de Maracaibo

More oddities began to appear as I explored the borders of Venezuela’s Lago de Maracaibo a bit further. Then I noticed that advertisements embedded entirely within unrelated websites began to display in Spanish as I visited them. Google didn’t know what to make of me with all of my disjointed Twelve Mile Circle searching. Its algorithms now thought I spoke Spanish so it fed me a steady diet of Spanish ads. I supposed its vast database will categorize me in some other way once I research another article.

Maybe I’ll start getting referrals for mental health services because, obviously, I couldn’t stick to a single coherent line of reasoning for more than a day or two. However, and getting back to the point, the lake held many mysteries, more than could be contained within a single article. So I’ll probably suffer through a few more Spanish advertisements for a little while longer. This are the hardships I gladly endure for the 12MC audience. The truth must be told.

Lago de Maracaibo

Maracaibo. Photo by crl_ on Flickr (cc)

I supposed I should take a step back and appreciate the vastness of the lake in its entirety. It covered a massive surface area, 13,210 square kilometres (5,100 square miles). By comparison, that made it larger than the land area of the U.S. states of Connecticut, Delaware or Rhode Island. Technically it also probably didn’t qualify as a lake. More properly it might be considered a tidal bay or an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. Nonetheless it once existed a true lake, so the name said lake: it might be "… the second oldest [lake in the world], having been created approximately 36 million years ago."

No other lake in South America eclipsed Lago de Maracaibo assuming one considered it to be a lake. Otherwise the honor went to Lake Titicaca, the home of the landlocked Bolivian Navy. I don’t see anyone trying to change the name of Lago de Maracaibo anytime soon so a "lake" it shall remain.

The larger Lake Maracaibo Basin also contained Venezuela’s economic lifeline, its famously voluminous oil reserves.

The Maracaibo basin of western Venezuela is one of the world’s most important oil producing basins, with a cumulative production of more than 35 billion bbl. The reasons for this great wealth of hydrocarbons are a combination of source beds of excellent quality, thick reservoirs with high porosity and permeability, and a series of sealing shales, faults, and unconformities, which provide large and numerous traps.

Obviously it had a lot going for it.

Puente General Rafael Urdaneta

General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge
General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge. Photo by Wilfredorrh on Flickr (cc)

I looked more closely again at the map from the previous article. I noticed that the Venezuelan state of Zulia contained another, much larger exclave. The waterway that separated lake from gulf — the Tablazo Strait — also separated the main body of Zulia from its eastern side. It didn’t much matter though, or at least it hadn’t since 1962. That’s when construction of the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge finally ended (map). This five-span crossing stretched nearly 9 kilometres and connected the two primary portions of Zulia. That provided a side benefit, not a primary purpose. The bridge truly existed to connecting the city of Maracaibo and its 2.5 million residents to the rest of Venezuela.

The general with the bridge named for him grew up in Maracaibo; born there in 1788. Urdaneta performed heroically during South America independence movement and later became president of Columbia. He probably deserved a bridge named in his honor.

Catatumbo Lightning

Catatumbo Lightning | Rayo del Catatumbo
Catatumbo Lightning | Rayo del Catatumbo. Photo by Fernando Flores on Flickr (cc)

Lago de Maracaibo delighted in other ways, specifically along its surface. Any internet search mentioning the lake undoubtedly turned up results talking about the Catatumbo Lightning. This strange phenomenon occurred where the Catatumbo River joined Lake Maracaibo on its southwestern bank (map). Moisture got trapped above the swampy plains of the river delta, hemmed-in by mountains on three sides. Winds blew steadily across the plains generating electrical charges. Destabilized air created massive thunderstorms. This happy confluence became the most electric place on earth, with storms lasting several hours at a time about 260 days per year, accompanied by a near constant barrage of lightening.

Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for "highest concentration of lightning" with 250 lightning flashes per square kilometre each year. The storms ease off in the dryer months of January and February and are most spectacular at the peak of the wet season around October. At this time of year, you can see an average of 28 lightning flashes each minute.

It happened only in a small area, at the mouth of the river. Only there did conditions line up in the exact configuration necessary to produce an almost daily electrical storm. I don’t think I’d want to get too close for too long, not with every square kilometre getting zapped nearly every storm.

Thanks a Million

On March 16, 2016 · 3 Comments

Longtime readers know that I check user statistics for Twelve Mile Circle daily. However, I don’t often examine figures that go all the way back to the earliest days of the blog. I did that recently, and to my surprise discovered that visitors had arrived from more than one million distinct sources since its inception. Google Analytics reported 1,012,891 users as of a few days ago. I adjusted some parameters and discovered that the site passed a million sometime early in the morning of Wednesday, February 10 — Ash Wednesday. Sure, there might have been a little double-counting, say when regular readers checked the site from home and then from work, although repeat customers were pretty small as a percentage when compared to all the one-and-done hits. I’m sure with the 12k buffer that at least a million different people have now stopped by, however briefly. Frankly, I’m completely humbled and astounded that I created something that reached so many people. If only I had a dollar for every visitor…

One Million Dollars
One Million Dollars by wbeem on Flick (cc)

Obviously my haul was considerably less although it did pay for a nice geo-oddity holiday to Saint Martin once. I supposed I should focus on more realistic celebrations such as finding places named a million. However there weren’t anywhere near a million such places. The US Geographic Names Information System listed only 47 and there were far fewer occurrences outside of the United States.

Million Acre Swamp

Winnie the Pooh overload
Winnie the Pooh overload by crabchick on Flickr (cc)

A Million Acre Swamp sure beat a Hundred Acre Wood although Winnipeg’s famous namesake warranted its own article. No, there wasn’t much noteworthy to say about the Million Acre Swamp in Wisconsin’s Pierce County (map) except perhaps to recognize its hyperbole. I found a reference to counting bears there — presumably other than Winnie — and that was about all of substance the Intertubes had to say about this swamp of an alleged million acres. I didn’t have anything further either.

Million Dollar Bridge

A million dollars used to be an amazing amount of money. It’s still meaningful to average folks and I’d be happy to take a donation of that size, however it doesn’t go a long way in government spending anymore. Back in the early 1900’s a million bucks was such an extravagance that it could bestow a nickname, like a Million Dollar Bridge in Alaska (map). "A million dollars for a bridge? — that must be one fancy bridge!" someone must have exclaimed a hundred years ago because the alternate name became more popular than its official name, the Miles Glacier Bridge. The bridge spanned the Copper River about fifty miles outside of Cordova, connecting the only town of significance in this part of Alaska to outlying communities.

It fared poorly in Alaska’s 1964 earthquake and the northern span collapsed. Did that stop people from using it? Of course not, this was Alaska. They constructed a ramp over the broken section and down to the riverbank. The Bridge Hunter website had some pretty terrifying photos of how it appeared in that condition, as did the video. As described in Alaska Dispatch News,

In the 1970’s, boards and eventually thick metal plates were put in place, somewhat precariously, creating a ramp from the bridge to its fallen span and the far side of the Copper. The span was lifted back into place in 2005, but braver locals still laugh about driving across those boards and the sound they would make as they rocked between spans under the weight of your car.

I’ll bet the repair cost more than a million dollars.

Million Dollar Pier

Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J.
Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J. by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)

Another million dollars, another early 20th Century structure, this time in the form of a pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey (map).

John Young’s Million Dollar Pier… included the world’s largest ballroom, named The Hippodrome, and a huge exhibit hall. The pier hosted movies, conventions, and exhibits of every description. Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech there in 1912. Some of the big bands played there including Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.

It also hosted the 5th Miss America Pageant in 1925, won by Fay Lanphier, Miss California. Sadly the Million Dollar Pier was torn down in 1983. A succession of new structures occupied the site, with the current incarnation known as Playground Pier.

Rio Frio e Milhão

Milhão, Portugal

I’d hoped to find some million-themed place names in languages other than English. That didn’t work so well because many of them used something very similar to million as their word for million. However I did learn that the Portuguese word for million was slightly different, milhão. That formed part of the name of a parish in the far northeast corner of Portugal known as Rio Frio e Milhão (Cold River and Million, roughly translated). There weren’t any associations between the river and the number other than the parish had been formed in 2013 by cobbling together two settlements into a single unit within the larger municipality of Bragança. The Milhão portion had 161 residents as of the latest census, falling well short of a million. I didn’t learn how Milhão got its name although I’m sure there must have been a million something within its vicinity.


On September 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received a wonderful suggestion from loyal reader “Joshua D” probably six months ago. He mentioned the schwebefähre ("suspension ferry") in Rendsburg, Germany. These structures went by various names in different languages including "transporter bridge" in English. They were so odd, so whimsical, so amazingly impractical that I found them difficult to comprehend, much less explain. Maybe this would help:

MovableBridge transport
By Y_tambe on
Wikimedia Commons

A transporter bridge had features reminiscent of a bridge and a ferry simultaneously, except the ferry was more of a gondola suspended above the river by steel cables. It was cheaper to build than an actual bridge and it could continue to operate while a ferry could not, such as during high water or icy conditions. The concept never gained significant mainstream adoption however because of all of the practical reasons one could imagine. Maybe two dozen transporter bridges ever went into operation during their heyday a few years on either side of 1900. Few survived and fewer still continue to fulfill their original purpose today.

The weird design and scarcity only increased my desire to ride one someday.

Puente de Vizcaya

Barquilla - Puente Vizcaya
Barquilla – Puente Vizcaya by Francisco Martins, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The first transporter bridge, Puente de Vizcaya, opened in 1893 in Portugalete, Spain (map). It gained a nickname over time, Puente Colgante — "hanging bridge" — and "The objective behind the construction of the Vizcaya Bridge was to link the two banks of the mouth of the river Nervión without hindering the shipping," by joining Portugalete to Getxo.

UNESCO added Vizcaya Bridge to its list of World Heritage Sites "as one of the outstanding architectural iron constructions of the Industrial Revolution, " operating continuously since its construction except for a brief period during the Spanish Civil War.

Schwebefähre Rendsburg

Schwebefähre Rendsburg
Schwebefähre Rendsburg by Henning Leweke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Schwebefähre Rendsburg (aka Rendsburger Hochbrücke), the transporter bridge brought to my attention by Joshua D, commemorated its 100th anniversary recently (map). The gondola can accommodate up to four cars or a hundred pedestrians suspended about six metres above the Kiel Canal, taking a minute and a half to whisk passengers between Rendsburg to Osterrönfeld. The fare is also wonderful: free!

Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort

Pont transbordeur
Pont transbordeur by Henri-Jean Siperius, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort (map) celebrated its 114th birthday recently with several thousand visitors and spectacular fireworks, if my very limited understanding of French was correct. It provided passage over the Charente River between Rochefort and Échillais during some unusual hours, closing for lunch each day and then on Monday morning and on Thursday afternoon, all of which seemed quirky in an endearing French way.

The transporter bridge also accommodated only pedestrians and bicycles which led me to believe it was operated more as an historical attraction for tourists rather than as a serious transportation alternative. The major four-lane vehicle bridge a half kilometre to the west (Street View) would be a more practical solution. Thankfully officials preserved the old structure as a work of magnificence even though long since technologically obsolete.

Tees Transporter Bridge

Transporter Bridge
Transporter Bridge by John, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The United Kingdom once had several transporter bridges, of which at least two survived. One was the Tees Transporter Bridge (map) in Middlesbrough. According to the Middlesbrough Council, "The Tees Transporter is a total of 851 feet (259.3 metres) in length which makes it the longest of those remaining Transporter Bridges in the world" and "is fully operational and provides a regular quarter-hourly service between Middlesbrough and Port Clarence for 12 hours a day."

The current Street View imagery actually showed the bridge in action from inside the gondola. Check it out before Google decides to update it.

Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda

Recuperación del Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda

No functioning transporter bridge existed outside of Europe except for one in Argentina. Maybe.

The Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda (aka Puente Transbordador de La Boca) in Buenos Aires (map) had been mothballed for decades. Recently it became a focus of restoration. Repairs were scheduled to be completed in January 2014 although I couldn’t find any information to confirm whether that actually happened or not.

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