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.
I failed to mention a specific Milwaukee example in the recent I Before E Like in Milwaukie. That was intentional. I noticed a rather unusual reference included within the Geographic Names Information System that deserved further observation. It featured two adjoining neighborhoods that had the dubious distinction of sharing a name with a rather unpleasant beer that I’ve done my best to avoid since my college days.
Old Milwaukee East and West, Laredo, Texas
I was sure the names were coincidental, that Old Milwaukee East Colonia and Old Milwaukee West Colonia borrowed from the road of the same name that each of them flanked. The situation was unlike, say, the Old Milwaukee Lane in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where Rexam Beverage Can Americas runs a factory). I’m sure the Laredo reference happened by chance. Someone from Wisconsin probably lived near the border in decades past and the name stuck.
What was a Colonia, though? The literal Spanish translation meant colony, although it could also represent community, neighborhood or settlement more generally. However it had a very specific context in the southern United States borderlands. The Texas Secretary of State defined it as, "a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing." The source provided additional statistics.
Colonias can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but Texas has both the largest number of colonias and the largest colonia population. Approximately 400,000 Texans live in colonias. Overall, the colonia population is predominately Hispanic; 64.4 percent of all colonia residents and 85 percent of those residents under 18 were born in the United States. There are more than 2,294 Texas colonias, located primarily along the state’s 1,248 mile border with Mexico.
The Attorney General of Texas provided a handy interactive map.
Colonias Near El Paso, Texas, USA
via Attorney General of Texas Interactive Map of Colonia Communities
Colonias were developed in a predominantly predatory manner beginning in the mid-20th Century. People with little income needed places to live and speculators sold them undesirable scrub lands with little to no zoning or infrastructure at bargain prices. Purchasers often couldn’t obtain ordinary loans from banks because of their unreliable incomes so plots were sold to them in "contract for deed," arrangements, i.e., rent-to-own. People wouldn’t own the land until they paid every monthly installment to the speculator.
Residents didn’t generally build their homes all at one time either, so they built as they could when they had enough money to afford it. Maybe the foundation one year, then the framing and the roof, then later walls and interior work, all over a period of several years while living on the site the entire time. Structures were ramshackled in various stages of completion, perhaps with plumbing or electricity or not, or maybe eventually. It was an arrangement that seemed to work in an unusual sense. Speculators made tidy sums on rent-to-own arrangements; residents got a place they could call their own that they could improve over time, and generally free of pesky building regulations and government oversight. None of that erased the grinding poverty of many residents though, or the lack of basic necessities within numerous Colonias.
The interactive map contained color coding as defined by the state. The worst was red, and "Lack access to potable water, adequate wastewater disposal or are un-platted — greatest public health risk."
Cameron Park, Texas, USA
via Google Street View, May 2011
Cameron Park near Brownsville, Texas was held up as a negative example of a Colonia with problems identified by multiple sources. It sat along a lovely stretch of Spoil Banks Ditch. According to the United States Census Bureau, Cameron Park had a Hispanic/Latino population of 99.3%, a median household income of $24,851 per year, and a distressing 52.8% of residents living below the poverty line. Wikipedia claimed, "Cameron Park is the poorest community of its size or larger in the United States, and is among the 100 poorest places in the United States." Yet, Cameron Park was listed as yellow on the interactive map, leading one to wonder how much worse the conditions might have been in the ones listed as red.
Modular Bathrooms by U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Significant academic, media and government attention have been focused on the issues of Colonias in recent years. Texas A&M University founded a Colonias Program to study issues and develop solutions. Major publications including the New York Times and CNN featured both problems and potential. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development created several programs, as did other Federal agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture plus individual states along the border. The Flickr image showed modular bathrooms built by the USDA’s Rural Development agency for a Colonia in southern Arizona on land of the Tohono O’odham Nation (it’s an issue for all disadvantaged people along the border). The Tohono O’odham Nation, some readers may recall, last appeared on 12MC in Overheard in México.
Fortunately the situation of Colonias has been improving slowly in recent years although there is still a long way to go.
Colonia, New Jersey
Colonia, New Jersey, USA
The community of Colonia, New Jersey appeared to be completely unrelated, just an instance of an unfortunate coincidental name.
Technically, the tropics would be an area hugging the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, between approximately 23°26′-or-so north and south. The two latitudes marked the extent the sun might appear directly overhead if only briefly on a single day, the summer solstice. Tropics also had a more widespread definition that included mild, lush areas in general. I could understand placenames in South Florida incorporating Tropic, Tropical or Tropicana, for example, because the Tropic of Cancer almost clipped it. Utah? Not so much.
View near Tropic, Utah by Texas Dreaming, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Yet, that’s what I noticed in the Twelve Mile Circle reader logs. The visitor arrived on the site from Tropic, Utah (map). I’m sure it was a fine town full of lovely people in a wonderful setting. I had no quarrel with the town although its name surprised me.
Tropic was a gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. I’ve been to Bryce and it’s great, albeit not what most observers might consider tropical, geographically or stereotypically. It snows in Bryce Canyon. Roads close. Rangers lead snowshoe hikes. The park holds a winter carnival. That didn’t sound like The Tropics to me.(¹)
The Town of Tropic did its best to put a happy face on its inherent contradiction.
It was suggested by Andrew J. Hansen to call it "Tropic". To support the suggestion, he stated that people would come to their little valley where peaches, apples, grapes and other semi-tropical fruits would be found. The name Tropic was adopted; with the population of about 15 families.
The name appeared to be a late 19th Century marketing ploy. Town founders focused optimistically on the warmer months and ignored the rest of the year. That didn’t make it tropical though. For Tropic, Utah to be genuinely tropic it would need to be relocated to a latitude at the southern tip of México’s Baja Peninsula.
Let’s go ahead a flog that dead horse a bit longer because, honestly, I don’t have anything better to do this morning.
Tropic of Cancer Beach, The Bahamas
There were precious few places named for the magical lines that marked a tropical transition. One was Tropic of Cancer Beach on Little Exuma in The Bahamas (map). It was truth in advertising too. The Tropic of Cancer did indeed cross through the beach. A line marking the approximate location could be seen in the first few frames of the YouTube video I borrowed.
It might be ill-advised to draw a comparison between the name of the beach and the harmful effects of long-term overexposure to sunlight. Nonetheless I shall note that it was probably a better option than Melanoma Beach. Ignoring that inconvenient fact, its shimmering blue waters, white sand, and light breeze certainly seemed stereotypically tropical!
Tropic of Cancer – Valley_01 by Vincent's Album, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Of course the world wasn’t filled solely with sandy beaches and there were plenty of tropical places that one didn’t necessary think of as meeting the palm tree and umbrella drink stereotype. For instance, the Tropic of Cancer cut through Taiwan, placing half of the island nation within the tropics. Taiwan recognized the line with several markers spread geographically across its landmass including a remarkable specimen in Hualien (map).
The most amusing notion of tropical latitude would be that the boundaries drift over time. Currently the lines are moving slightly towards the equator by a few feet each year as part of a complicated cycle. Any monument marking the actual Tropic of Cancer would become noticeably incorrect almost immediately unless it could be moved. That won’t work for the Taiwanese monument. It’s already on the wrong spot by definition.
However, it’s been done correctly along a highway in Mexico, Carretera 83, near Victoria (map) in the state of Tamaulipas.
America’s Most Spurious
Utah may not be the tropics although it was still better than a considerably more confounding occurrence I discovered in the Geographic Names Information System: Tropic, Ohio. That was quite the oxymoron. A little additional research traced its name to a nearby coal mine. I guess they ran out of suitable names.
(¹) That’s not to say it never snows in the tropics as defined geographically. There are exceptions. If all these years of writing 12MC have taught me one thing, it’s that very few statements are absolutes.