Local zip line park offers unique view of blue moon
Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 3:56 p.m.
Dave Willis and his two teens were on their way to pick up cattle in Marion County earlier this year when they saw an unassuming but irresistible sign: Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours.
Full moon zip line tours
When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sept. 2
Cost: $95 ($89 for day tours)
Where: Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours, 8045 NW Gainesville Road, Ocala.
Directions: North of County Road 326, about a mile east of Interstate 75 in Marion County
Reservations required: 352-351-9477 or zipthecanyons.com
This Naples family loves adventure. They love zip lining. So the next thing they knew, they were on tree-top platforms, hooked up to cables and screaming 100-plus feet above the breathtaking limerock canyons north of Ocala.
This is not a cheap thrill, mind you — $89 for day tours, $95 for night. But the Willis family was so enamored with Marion County's first foray into zip lining they returned earlier this month to sample the park's lesser-known adventure: full-moon zip lining.
That's zip lining at night with the full moon and a few strategically placed glow sticks as your only illumination. If you were to reach maximum potential on the Canyons' Speed Trap zip (the longest, highest zip in Florida), you will be traveling up to 45 miles per hour 140 feet in the air. AT NIGHT.
"It actually was a little scarier at night. More exhilarating," said Victoria Willis, 14, as she waited her turn for another zip on Aug. 2. "You can't see the trees and platforms."
Two things of note here: One, the "platforms" are the landing platforms built high up in and around the trees, as in the "platforms" coming at you very, very fast as you slide down the cable.
Two, the Willis family caught the Canyons on Aug. 2, the week of the last full moon. That means they zipped once in a blue moon, as August will have another full moon next weekend. Two full moons in one month is considered a blue moon, which means the next Full Moon Night Tour at the Canyons starts Thursday and runs each night through Sept. 2.
The Canyons has been offering night zip lining on full moons since it opened in November, and co-owner Traci Walker said about 90 percent of the night business comes from repeat visitors who zipped the course during the day but craved the experience at night.
"It's the unknown," Walker said of the night tours.
Your surroundings and destinations are not immediately clear, as you launch from a platform hooked only to a cable. The night tours are about three hours long and include all nine zips, two rope bridges and a rappel.
Feeding off a worldwide thirst for such high-adventure parks, the Canyons has attracted about 16,000 visitors to this rural expanse off Northwest Gainesville Road, Walker said. Many come from all points throughout Florida and the Southeast, but Walker said they have had visitors from as far away as Israel, Germany and Australia.
The attraction here is the scenery and its sense of scale and depth. At the Canyons, you zip over an old limerock quarry, with cliffs and water and height.
But zipping at night, even under a full moon, is quite a different experience. It is what prompted the Willis family to suit up so soon after their last Canyons visit. Victoria Willis called it scarier and more exhilarating because you are more attuned to the speed and movement and, certainly, the stopping.
Night zips are more for the thrill than the scenery, noted Jen Chittum, one of the guides who led the Aug. 2 expedition. They also lend themselves better to adventurers who do not like heights; you cannot see as much of the ground below and your perspective does not suggest your exact elevation.
But . . .
Make no mistake, you can see the canyons and much of the scenery in the moonlight. Even on Aug. 2, when the full moon was dimmed by cloudy skies, you could see the treetops, massive limerock walls, water, and, in a few cases, the vast amount of space between that scenery and your high-flying hiney.
On that night, heat lighting in the distance compensated for the lack of moonlight.
Those glow sticks are as visible as they are critical. They are laced through your helmet, clothes and shoestrings. They create a satisfying vertical rainbow as you zip from platform to platform.
The guides are laden with more glow sticks, particularly on their arms and hands. This, you learn in the thorough pre-zip training, is so you can see their landing and safety signals as you approach the platforms. From far away in the dark, they look like neon performers at a Blue Man Group show. As you approach, though, they are neon angels declaratively motioning and calmly talking your way to a smooth landing.
The guides, by the way, are as funny as they are militant about safety.
And you are safe here. In fact, you get in trouble if you do not adhere to safety instructions. The guides even offer bug repellent spray, as the biggest hazards on night zips, perhaps, are flying insects.
That and — the guides will tell you with a straight face — "moonburn."