On Canals

On September 1, 2016 · Comments Off on On Canals

In Latin, the word canna meant reed, the root of canalis meaning "water pipe, groove, [or] channel." The French language retained this term as it evolved from Latin, and the English language adopted it to describe a pipe for transporting liquid. This transformed to its modern English usage by the Seventeenth Century to represent an artificial waterway, as noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary.

I always thought that a canal resulted from someone digging a path through the ground to let a steady stream of water flow through it. That wasn’t necessarily the case according to technical jargon I stumbled upon. A canal connected two or more watersheds. Something called a navigation performed similar functions within a single watershed. Thus the Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River counted as a canal. In contrast, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC wouldn’t be considered a canal by that definition because it ran solely along the Potomac River. It didn’t matter that it stretched 180 miles (290 kilometres). The C&O counted as a navigation, which I’m sure would have surprised the people who designed, constructed and dubbed it a canal in the 1830’s.

The distinction didn’t make much difference to me. I decided to call them all canals.


Oldest Canal


Dismal Swamp Canal
Dismal Swamp Canal. Photo by Ryan Somma on Flickr (cc)

Nobody knows exactly when or where people built the very first canal. They traced back to the earliest times of agricultural settlement. Canals served an important purpose in ancient Mesopotamia both to control flooding and to irrigate crops. Egyptian pharaohs turned canal construction into an art form in later centuries, using them for additional purposes including transportation.

Since I couldn’t find the first canal ever built, I decided to feature the oldest canal in the United States in continuous usage. Work began on the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1793 and it soon connected North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia (map). It provided convenient access to the lumbermen who harvested large cypress trees that grew in abundance in the swamp. No less than George Washington owned a 1/12 share in the venture. This resulted in George Washington Ditch, probably the least memorable features honoring him. A national capital memorialized his name. An entire state honored him. Then there was this ditch in a swamp. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t think too highly of nearby South Martha Washington Ditch either.

Today the canal provides a link in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, giving safe passage to small vessels moving up and down the Atlantic coast.


Longest Canal


The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal. Photo by Lawrence Siu on Flickr (cc)

China’s Grand Canal (map) garnered two superlatives. No other canal extended farther and no other canal operated longer. This ancient canal stretched 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometres) and has been used continuously since the Sixth Century. UNESCO recognized the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site, noting,

It formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population… linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze.

The Grand Canal continues to serve a vital purpose in the Chinese economy today more than 1,500 years after its construction.


Busiest Canal


Panama Canal
Panama Canal. Photo by MT_bulli on Flickr (cc)

Scientists used Global Positioning Satellite data to track more than 16,000 ships a few years ago. They hoped to determine the busiest ports in the world empirically, and their results pointed to the Panama Canal (map) first and the Suez Canal next. I supposed gross tonnage served as a nice proxy for busiest canal too. That distinction will only increase with the Panama Canal Expansion project that "will double the Canal’s capacity."


Newest Canal


Millenium Ribble Link, Preston
Millenium Ribble Link. Photo by Chris Hills on Flickr (cc)

While the canal building era seemed to reach its peak in the Nineteenth Century, new canals continue to be built even now. I couldn’t be sure which one might be the newest worldwide although I found an answer for the United Kingdom. The Millennium Ribble Link canal located outside of Preston, England opened in 2002 (map). That was almost a century after the next younger UK canal opened. It stretched only five miles (8 km), connecting the Lancaster Canal to the River Ribble. However, the canal served no economic purpose other than tourism. It provided a few miles of pleasurable passage and, more importantly, added the formerly-isolated Lancaster Canal to the hundreds of miles in the larger English canal network.

Someday the newest canal might open in Nicaragua if its prospective builders ever get their act together.

Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 1

On September 13, 2015 · 1 Comments

Quite some time ago, way back in April 2012, Twelve Mile Circle posted an article called First Name, Surname Symmetry. It involved places where different levels of government nestled to form the full names of important people. Examples included the city Hernando, in De Soto County, Mississippi; the town of George in the state of Washington; and the settlement of Thomas City in Jefferson County, Florida. They paid tribute to dignitaries on multiple levels. I’d pretty much forgot about that earlier article even though it generated a good amount of attention at the time. Then I stumbled upon an international example and it felt like the right time to tug the thread just a little bit more.

I turned my sights to Central America.


Cristóbal, Panamá


Cristóbal, Panama
Cristóbal, Panama by Fotorus on Flickr (cc)

Cristóbal, a town of fifty thousand residents on Panamá’s Atlantic Coast (map) wouldn’t seem to conform to the established pattern at first glance for an exclusively English-speaking person such as myself. Nonetheless somehow it clicked when I noticed Cristóbal’s placement within Colón Province. Some ancient piece of trivia lodged deep within the folds of my memory popped to the surface. The person known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish was also known as Christopher Columbus in English. That created perfect first name, surname symmetry down in Panamá, albeit in a language I didn’t understand much about otherwise.


Zonians


11 Panama Canal Zone 10 of 13
Panama Canal Zone by Richard on Flickr (cc)

The town figured prominently in early 20th century Panamanian history. It served as a staging point and an administrative headquarters for the Panama Canal Commission upon its establishment. It also fell within the Panama Canal Zone starting in 1903 when the U.S. government paid newly-independent Panamá $10 million for perpetual control of the zone. Thus, Cristóbal transferred to the territorial possession of the United States. The U.S. citizens who lived within Cristóbal and the remainder of the territory were known as Zonians.

The zone was an area of 533 square miles that ran the course of the canal and was controlled by the US. Families were given generous benefits, including subsidised housing, ample holiday time, well-stocked commissaries and attentive staff… Its residents enjoyed the beautiful weather and more relaxed lifestyle of Panama, while also living in comfortable American-style housing, experiencing a top-notch American education and enjoying all the perks of US citizenship.

Some fifty thousand U.S. citizens lived in the zone at any given time, swelling closer towards a hundred thousand residents during times of war, given the strategic importance of the canal. They created a little slice of home along with a festering pile of animosity with the local Panamanian populace who endured an entirely less privileged lifestyle. It was clear that the arrangement could not continue given increasing tensions between the two even if the agreement was supposed to last forever. The canal zone reverted back to Panamá in carefully controlled pieces between 1979 and 1999, after the two nations agreed to the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.


More Recently

Cristóbal hit on hard times after that — as did much of Panamá — and earned an unsavory reputation for criminal activity. The town began to gain its footing in recent years via the tourist trade because it offered great access to the Canal. Cruise ships often dock there now.

Colón, the province, also had a capital city named Colón. Over time the city of Colón grew and subsumed Cristóbal. While Cristóbal still existed as a place name it might more properly be described as a neighborhood of Colón as it stands currently. The first name, surname symmetry still existed although on a couple of distinct levels: Cristóbal as a part of the City of Colón, and Cristóbal a part of the province of Colón.

Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 4 Comments

Today begins an effort to try to increase pushpins on the 12MC Complete Index Map for nations underrepresented by previous articles. This came from a realization that I’d continued to overlook certain parts of the world even after hundreds of posts. I’ll try to make it an occasional, relevant and unobtrusive effort, as with the following topic du jour.

It surprised me to learn how little information existed on the Intertubes about the highest points of elevation in each of the countries of Central America, beyond their simple names and locations. That wasn’t only English-language content either. I found little Spanish coverage as well. In fact, the highpoints of individual U.S. states seemed to receive better treatment from the digital masses than international highpoints of Central America. Mountain climbing sites such as Summitpost.org offered the most detailed accounts, albeit with not much even there.

I began by compiled the highpoint peaks onto a single map.



View Highpoints for Central American Nations in a larger map

I dug a little deeper, examining each of the seven Central American national highpoints from highest altitude to lowest. Oddly enough, the two lowest highpoints might actually be the most difficult to summit.


Guatemala: Volcán Tajumulco 4,220 metres (13,845 feet)



The highest point of Central America sat atop a Guatemalan stratovolcano, Volcán Tajumulco. While it’s possible for climbers to reach the mountaintop using their own resources and efforts, many people sign-on with one of several local guide groups that specialize in this activity. The trip took most people at least two days. One guide explained,

Conquering Tajumulco is no walk in the park. At the uppermost reaches of the volcano, the air is thin, the temperature plummets and the effects of altitude are likely to cause hikers some degree of discomfort.

The climb wasn’t supposed to be super-technical. The altitude seemed to be a primary issue.


Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó 3,820 m (12,533 ft)


Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica by Monty VanderBilt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Many of the tallest Central American mountains traced to a recent volcanic origin. Cerro Chirripó, the centerpiece of Chirripó National Park did not. Rather, Chirripó belonged to the Sierra de Talamanca, the intrusive eroded core of a long dormant volcanic range subsequently uplifted.

Vegetation and climate changed with elevation as one would expect: "The mountains in this area are covered in thick primary cloud and rainforest to about 9,000′ elevation. From there, the Paramo, or wet desert is the primary ground cover." Sources claimed that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central America happened here, -9°C (16°F), although I couldn’t find a primary source to corroborate it.

Many climbers took the mountain in two stages. They checked-in and receive a permit at a ranger station, stopped at Base Crestones and then made the final push to the summit.


Panamá: Volcán Barú 3,475 m (11,401 ft)


technologically advanced summit
technologically advanced summit by steve hanna, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

What better location to place an array of antennae and broadcast towers than the highest point in Panamá? Obviously the people who constructed these installations didn’t drag all of that material up the slope by hand. They drove. A steep, muddy, rutted road climbed to the summit, and provided a primary route for hikers as well. Once atop, on a clear morning visitors reported that it was possible to see both the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean from the same spot. That would be a very rare and precious sight, indeed.


Honduras: Cerro Celaque – Las Minas 2,870 m (9,416 ft)


Cerro Celaque, Honduras
Cerro Celaque, Honduras by Joe Townsend, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Honduras didn’t focus much attention on its national highpoint although it did establish Celaque National Park in 1987 to create a protective reserve. The mountainous terrain could be best described as a "cloud forest" with increasing amounts of rainfall as one ascended. That water had to flow somewhere, and the slopes of Cerro Celaque provided headwaters to several local rivers. Honduras.com explained that Celaque derived from the local Lenca language, meaning "box of water."

…it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.


El Salvador: Cerro El Pital 2,730 m (8,957 ft)



Cerro El Pital might be the most visited Central American national highpoint. Interestingly, the summit itself was in neighboring Honduras so the highest point of El Salvador wasn’t even the highest point of the mountain. A road, the Ruta El Pital, provided convenient access and made the park very attractive to visitors. The easiest highpoint hiking option involved a 3-minute walk from the camping area. One account described the situation:

The views were nice, but I was not expecting to share the road with so many cars. The road is not just a hiking trail, but an actual road. There was not a steady stream of cars, but enough to be a bit annoying… HUGE!!!! camping area with hundreds of tents every weekends. A lot of people, dogs searching your tents and many STUPID people with fancy cars with super-sounds system to annoying everybody.

It didn’t seem contemplative or relaxing. However, if someone ever wanted a quick dash-and-grab highpoint in Central America, this would be the place to do it.


Nicaragua: Mogotón 2,107 m (6,913 ft)


Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua
Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua by cam landrix, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Not much more than two thousand metres high and yet Mogotón might not be an optimal choice even though Reserva Nacional Cordillera Dipilto y Jalapa was created to protect it. The situation traced back to recent history from a generation ago. Sandinista forces placed numerous explosive mines throughout the area during the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980’s. Many of those mines continue to lay buried and forgotten, just waiting for an unwary hiker to step in the wrong spot. Compounding that, jungle covered Mogotón and made it difficult to discern clear trails to the summit. It wouldn’t be advisable to approach the Nicaragua highpoint without a local guide.


Belize: Doyle’s Delight 1,124 m (3,688 ft)



While barely a bump compared to other Central American highpoints, I enjoyed learning about Doyle’s Delight the most. First, it wasn’t identified and named until 1989. Second, nobody climbed it until 2008. From Summitpost.org,

Doyle’s Delight was named for its resemblance to the prehistoric setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel "The Lost World." Towering palms and strangler figs, their trunks wrapped in a green shag of ferns and mosses, rise and converge in a leafy canopy that keeps the moist forest floor in perpetual dusk. The ridge is so remote that the British Army’s jungle training unit, scientist and other researcher with multinational expedition drop most of the expedition members in by helicopter.

Go ahead and watch a few frames of the video shot during that initial expedition. Notice the spiked and poisonous trees, the venomous snakes, the hardships of the hike, and the determination of the climbers. It was hard to believe that even today remote corners continued to remain unexplored.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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