Sunday, August 26, 2012

Castillo de San Marcos

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A slideshow from Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the old Spanish fort in St. Augustine Florida. I took these last November when I was in Florida for the Curiosity Mars rover launch. This was actually my third time visiting the fort, but the previous two times I'd arrived just after the park closed for the day. This time I was bound and determined to actually go in the fort, and left as early as I could, and I still got there mid-afternoon. So the number one key thing to know about the place is that the ticket booth closes at 5pm sharp, and it's a surprisingly long drive from Orlando or Atlanta or other places a similar distance away, so be sure to start early.

The fort's very cool and medieval-looking, but it's really not all that big. So unless you have a really long attention span, the fort is good for probably an hour or two of exploring, tops, even if you give all the exhibits you rapt attention. This is actually ok though, since you can spend the balance of your time wandering around the historic center of town. Sure, it's touristy and tacky and all, but there's really nowhere else like it anywhere in the US, aside from Puerto Rico obviously. I have a few photos from around town that I'll probably post here sooner or later.

Water & Gibbs Community Garden

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A couple of photos of the Lair Hill neighborhood's Water & Gibbs Community Garden, one of the Parks & Rec Bureau's many community gardens around Portland. I didn't actually wander in to take any closer photos; community gardens are public property and all, but it feels like wandering in to take photos of other people's tomatoes is just not the done thing, etiquette-wise. It just seems sort of paparazzi-like, somehow.

Water & Gibbs Community Garden

In any case, if you're interested in having your own community garden plot, you can get on the city's waiting list here. Although be advised there's a huge demand for garden plots, and there's usually a wait of several years before one becomes available.

Water & Gibbs Community Garden

Detroit-Superior Bridge, Cleveland

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Here's a Flickr slideshow about Cleveland's Detroit-Superior Bridge, taken back in March of this year. I may have mentioned this before, but Cleveland is a great place to wander around taking photos of bridges. Actually it's a great place, period, and it happens to have a lot of photogenic bridges. Hence the fact that I spent most of a freezing March day wandering around town mostly taking bridge photos.

One cool detail is that the bridge has a lower deck that was once used for streetcars, before the system was abandoned in the 1950s. The city allows occasional public tours of the otherwise unused space. An even cooler thing (if you ask me) would be if someday they brought streetcars back to Cleveland and put the lower deck back in service for its intended purpose.

Cleveland bridges fall into two basic categories, "high level" and "low level". High bridges connect Downtown Cleveland with the Ohio City area on the west bank of the meandering Cuyahoga River. Low bridges connect the mostly-industrial Flats areas immediately on either side of the river. This is a high level bridge, obviously; less obvious from the Google Map is that there's a low level bridge directly beneath this one, the swing-span Center St. Bridge. Which I'm pretty sure I'll do a separate blog post about sooner or later, since I have photos of it and all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

USS Constitution, Boston

Here's a slideshow of USS Constitution photos, taken on a recent business trip to Boston. Unless you're from outside the USA, or you're inside the USA and went to a really bad elementary school, you will have heard the story of the ship already. I say this because I'm not going to attempt a history lesson here. If you need a refresher, you can try the Wikipedia entry linked above, or the US Navy's official site for the ship (since it's still considered an active-duty Navy ship), or the site for the adjacent USS Constitution Museum.

I figured it would be a great time to post these photos since yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the Constitution's famous battle against the HMS Guerriere, in the early days of the ugly War of 1812. The ship marked the anniversary by sailing under its own power for the first time since just after it was restored in 1997. (Prior to that it hadn't sailed under its own power for about a century.)

The most surprising thing about the ship was that it was free to visit. You go through a TSA-like security line first, but then you can just wander aboard and look around. There are also free guided tours, and you need to be on a tour to look around below deck. I didn't realize this at the time, so I haven't seen the whole ship, but I had a bunch of exterior photos that seemed worth sharing, so here they are.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Larch Mountain expedition

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Here's a slideshow of photos from Larch Mountain, a hopefully-extinct shield volcano just south of the Columbia River Gorge. There's a steep, winding road that leads almost to the top of the mountain, and from there a short trail leads to Sherrard Point, the dramatic exposed viewpoint at the very top, which is where these photos were taken. From there the view is unobstructed for nearly 360 degrees: To the north is the Columbia River, and behind it Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and distant Mt. Rainier. To the south, Mt. Hood looms, and beyond it sit Mt. Jefferson and another peak even further away that the signs at the viewpoint don't name. I'm guessing it's North Sister, but I don't actually know for sure. The only direction without an unobstructed view is to the west; it's a shame, as I expect the view back to Portland at night would be fairly amazing.

The road to the top branches off of the Columbia River Highway just before the Vista House, and winds its way up into the hills rather than down into the Gorge. The early part of the road is a rural residential area, which gives way to private timberland and Metro's narrow Larch Mountain Corridor along the road. Oregon state law mandates no logging within 100' or so of certain roads, or maybe it was 200', in order to sorta-protect the public from seing unsightly clear cuts. So apparently Multnomah County ended up buying the land the timber companies couldn't use, and Metro picked it up when it absorbed the old Multnomah County park system. In any case, the long narrow strip totals 185 acres according to this doc, and it in turn gives way to National Forest land the rest of the way up. If you're driving up or down the mountain you're going to need to pay close attention for cyclists. Larch Mountain is a very popular ride precisely because it's pretty hard, plus there's an amazing view waiting for you at the top. It's so popular, in fact, that the Oregon Bike Racing Association holds its annual Oregon Uphill CHampionships (or "OUCH") time trial event here. You gain 3816 feet over 16.53 miles, and try to do so as fast as possible. It sounds like a hell of a thing, if you ask me.

Another option, besides driving or biking up the road, would be to hike the Larch Mountain Trail from Multnomah Falls. If you go this route you gain 4010 feet over 7.2 miles; I'm not sure why that sounds less intimidating than the longer-distance, less-elevation bike route, but it does. I've never actually hiked this route but it's on my to-do-at-some-point list, thanks primarily to the many waterfalls the trail passes on the way up. Pretty sure I'd get some decent photos, and thus blog posts, out of the excursion, although the hike sounds kind of brutal. Hence the "to-do-at-some-point" part.

Free Flow

A few photos of the salmon fountain tucked away inside a parking garage at Lloyd Center, a couple of which were previously seen here. After a bit of Google-fu, I think I've finally come up with a title and artist for it: The Smithsonian's art inventory says there's a fountain at Lloyd Center called "Free Flow", by Al Goldsby, and the fountain looks a lot like other works of his (see "Leaping Bronze 5" at Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, for example.) That's the most convincing info I've been able to find so far, so I'm going to out on a limb and claim that's what it is, and cross my fingers and hope I'm not wrong.


I was going to go ahead and post the photos without knowing a title or artist for the fountain, and instead I was going to link to some vintage circa-1962 photos of Lloyd Center, including a few of long-vanished fountains from before the mall was enclosed. They're still kind of interesting, so check out the photos at Mid-Century Modern and Vintage Portland.


Couch Park expedition

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A couple of photos of Couch Park in NW Portland. The park is basically the neighborhood playground and dog park, and as a non-dog-owner without kids normally I don't bother covering places like this here. But I dimly remembered that I'd taken some photos of the place several years ago, and it occurred to me that a post about the park would fill a moderately sized geotag-less hole in the humble blog's official map (which I sorely need to update again, btw), and if you think those sound like idiotic reasons to do a blog post you're probably correct. But as far as I know that's never stopped anyone from putting something on the interwebs, so here we are.

Couch Park, NW Portland

So I went back and looked through my old photo archives and realized I in fact had precisely two photos of the park. This probably seemed like a reasonable number to me at the time, given the limitations of circa-2006 memory cards and puny digicams that take AA batteries. I went ahead and uploaded those two, and figured I'd go back and take more and better photos before publishing this post. I made it there a couple of weeks ago, and walked around a bit, and I ended up not taking any photos at all. So I'm going to go with the two I have and call it good.

The pictures capture the two things I though had some degree of interest. A Lang Syne Society historical marker (I occasionally consider doing a project to track down more of those), and the abstract sculpture in the top photo. It's a 1976 piece simply called "Untitled", by David Cotter. And I admit even it isn't all that exciting from a photo standpoint. I tend to take lots of close up photos to show any interesting textures or details a piece has, and I didn't notice anything like that with this piece. The RACC page I linked to seems to indicate this is Cotter's only work in town, but the Smithsonian art inventory indicates he was also an assistant on Leland I, aka the infamous Rusting Chunks No. 5. The Smithsonian also refers to the Couch Park piece as "(Abstract Circle)", though I don't know whether that's an actual name or just a description. Cotter is also credited with a sculpture on the Catlin Gabel campus, and is listed as co-sculptor of something at Mount Hood Community College, and as an assistant on the Frank Beach fountain at the Rose Garden. So now you know.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grand Island expedition

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Today's adventure takes us to the Willamette River's Grand Island, just north of Salem, which is home to a picturesque little state park you probably haven't heard of. It goes by either "Grand Island State Park" or "Grand Island Access", but it doesn't appear by either name on most maps or guidebooks, or even on the state's main official list of the Willamette Valley state parks. I'll get to why this is in a minute, but first a bit about the place.

Grand Island State Park

The park is a small meadow on the south/upstream end of Grand Island, on a side channel of the Willamette where Lambert Slough splits off from the main stem of the river. It's mostly used as a river access point for boaters, although I should point out there's no boat ramp here, and you can certainly drive or bike to the park like I did, assuming you know it's here (note the big green arrow on the map above). There's a second State Parks sign facing the river so boaters know they're in the right spot. The park even has a fire pit and space to put up a tent, although apparently it's only legal to camp here if you arrive by boat. So if you bike to the park and decide to stay the night, you might want to pack an light inflatable raft or something to use as a decoy, and hope Officer Friendly isn't too curious about current river conditions. I'm not promising this would actually work, mind you.

Grand Island State Park

Grand Island as a whole is low, flat, and agricultural, and it's connected to the mainland by a single narrow bridge. It reminds me a lot of Sauvie Island, but without all the hordes of tourists. Surprisingly (and probably thanks to strict zoning laws) there aren't any bed and breakfasts, wine bars, twee antique shops, or any of the other touristy amenities that blanket much of the rural Willamette Valley. Even the Grand Island General Store is on the mainland, where the road to the island intersects OR-221. The island itself is just farms, one obscure state park, and nothing else as far as I can tell. For now, at least. There's a current proposal to begin mining gravel on the island, near the park. As you might expect local residents are quite unhappy about this. It seemed like every house I drove past had at least one Protect Grand Island sign out front. In May of this year the Yamhill County Commission voted 2-1 to let the mine go forward, so this fight is probably headed to the courts next.

There's also an Occupy Grand Island page on Facebook, though it seems to focus on the usual Occupy concerns and not so much on the gravel thing.

Grand Island State Park

As for why the park is so obscure, it turns out the place is part of the state's Willamette Greenway system, a collection of dozens of obscure parcels along the river that were purchased primarly during the 1970s at the behest of Gov. Tom McCall. (See this "Public Parcel Inventory" guide from 2004 for a partial list.) McCall proposed that the state own the entire stretch of Willamette riverbanks from end to end, which turned out to be both controversial and unaffordable. The legislature eventually pulled the plug on this idea, but not before the state had title to various bits and pieces of land along the river, including this spot, Wapato Greenway near Sauvie Island, and French Prairie just upstream of Wilsonville.

It's possible the state's downplayed the existence of these places because of the initial controversy, for fear of riling up crazy Tea Party militia types or something. A more boring possibility is that they've just fallen through the bureaucratic cracks somehow. It's ambiguous whether each greenway parcel is an official state park on its own, or a distributed part of a single very large (but still very obscure) state park, or something else entirely, and the whole greenway program probably falls under someone else's bailiwick within the state Parks Department, so including the list of greenway areas along with other state parks and having them show up on maps would probably involve years of meetings and millions of dollars just to figure out how to eventually pull it off someday. Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park

Saturday, August 04, 2012

MSL Launch

MSL Launch MSL Launch

The Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover lands on Mars tomorrow at 10:30pm Pacific time, hopefully in one piece. This seemed like a good time to post some photos of the launch last November, which I had the good fortune to watch in person at a NASA tweetup.

I've already posted photos of the rocket, the nearby wildlife refuge & beaches, and even KSC's dumpy little Press Accreditation Office. But I never got around to posting launch photos earlier because of all the ugly sensor dust; I was extremely jetlagged that morning and left the camera on shutter priority mode during the launch, so it metered on the extremely bright rocket exhaust and stopped down all the way to f/32(!!!), instead of picking a shorter exposure time like it should have done. Stopping down that far means you see every single speck of dust if your sensor isn't pristine, which mine obviously wasn't thanks to an ill-advised lens change in the middle of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building the previous day. Naturally I was kind of disappointed when I realized how crappy my photos had turned out, but -- believe it or not -- my main goal was to watch & experience the launch in person, and the photos were an extra bonus. Even if these had turned out better, they still wouldn't capture how loud and fast and bright the launch was. Pretty sure there isn't a monitor that could display that accurately, not even your fancy Retina display.

Besides, the dust is actual NASA dust, so in a way the dust specks are really authentic. Or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. In any case, I've already told people I promise to take better rocket launch photos next time, which is a thing that's going to happen sooner or later.