Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Another Window Seat!

Last week we flew back to Tucson from O'Hare, via Phoenix.  Because of the Phoenix connection we flew in a bigger plane than normal, an A320, a full 6 seats wide as opposed to the 5-abreast of the MD-80s on the normal Tucson non-stops.  While the flight was "full", we were literally in the back row, and actually weren't scheduled to sit together...  We found someone that would swap center seats with Melinda (a couple rows ahead), and since there were a couple empty seats a couple rows up, the woman on the aisle moved up (she needed to recline, and you can't in the rear-most seat), leaving us a little extra room.  The advantage of the A320 windows is that while a little smaller than our usual planes, this one seemed almost optical quality, with no pitting or scratches!  Things were looking up!

Of course, there had to be a bad side, right?  The catch to taking photos thru the rear of the A320 is that it has wing-mounted engines.  Normally not a problem, but of course, the vortex of hot air coming out really messes up the sharpness of the view!  It was never an issue with the MD-80s as they have engines on the rear tail...  While observing and digesting these effects, the plane took off and I was immediately lost.  Normally we head almost due west and cross the Mississippi over my home ground in Iowa, but with the weather showing severe storms in Iowa, we headed more southerly, and unknown territory.  I needed to look for landmarks that stood out, so I could figure out later where we had been.  About 10 minutes into the flight, I spotted something suitably unusual.  Out in the middle of the cornfields was an oval.  It was certainly smaller than a particle accelerator (like Fermilab in Batavia).  Perhaps it was a racetrack?  A Google search later for "oval racetrack near Chicago" found that it was the Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5 mile banked racetrack for NASCAR events, and is adjacent to Route 66 Raceway, which has a dragstrip and .5 mile dirt oval - serving all your racing needs!  Part of the dragstrip is seen at far right, and the dirt oval is off the frame to the right as well.

We continued what seemed a long ways, and I never saw any major streams, meaning the Illinois River, which we followed on the way up, was off our starboard side.  Finally, what seemed an eternity, but was only about 30 minutes, I spotted what had to be the Mississippi ahead, and sure enough, from all the loop-de-loops, I suspected it was its confluence with the Missouri.  Checking on Google later, sure enough, it was the Missouri on the outskirts of St Louis.  I took a 6 frame sequence of identical exposures as we passed, Unfortunately, Photoshop would only combine 5 of them, shown here at left.  The seemingly perpetually Spring-flooded Alton, Illinois is at left, with the Missouri River coming up from lower right.  Across the top right is the narrow Chain of Rocks Canal, which allows shipping to bypass the main channel of the Mississippi that is unnavigable in low water. 

This being the Midwest, the view out the
window wasn't nearly this clear, but was quite hazy.  The last (right-most) image that the program wouldn't align actually had a well-known landmark.  The original frame out of the camera is shown at left.  At right is shown the same image with levels set separately for each color channel and manipulated a little to retain as much detail as possible.  One of the tricks I use when knowing that the files will be reduced in size for the blog is that I do a Gaussian blur on the original frames, then reduce the image size to that desired, then use unsharp mask a bit to slightly sharpen.  It seems to reduce the noise in the original frame a bit.  These frames  were taken with the kit lens set to 70mm, and is shown in these images at full resolution.  We passed the airport a minute later, so I figure we were about 16 miles away from the 630 foot (192m) tall Gateway Arch.

Given how hazy it was in the St Louis area, I was wondering what the distance to the horizon was.  Of course, as we continued west, the haze was reduced, the humidity went down, as well as particulates.  After an hour or so of flying and taking pictures of clouds and unknown landforms, I figured we were into New Mexico.  One of the easy-to-spot landforms in New Mexico is the White Sands area in the south-central part of the state.  Gazing off to the far southern horizon, in a little while I convinced myself I could see a skinny white strip far to the south.  Almost immediately we passed a small town with distinctive highway structure (I-25), then 5 minutes later came over Albuquerque.  Backtracking on Google Maps, the little town was Rowe, NM, shown at left.  Between those two metropolii, I imaged what I thought was White Sands in the distance, shown at right.  Sure enough, Google Maps confirms, with the Oscura Mountains to the left, the San Andres to the right, the smaller Mockingbird Mountains between, and in the far distance the Organ Mountains which are 225 miles away from where we were!

I've yet to spend any time in Albuquerque, though almost visited it during rush hour when changing between northbound I-25 and eastbound I-40.  From the plane, the 3-frame mosaic at left shows it nestled between the nearly 11,000 feet (3300m) elevation of the Sandia Mountains, and the Rio Grande River, which heads nearly due south, eventually to form the international border between Texas and Mexico.  And if you recall my recent mention of the Rio Grande, we passed it 10 days before going east when we passed Socorro, about 60 miles to the south.  Note that atop the Sandias the trees were displaying their Fall colors...

We crossed diagonally across the border into Arizona.  My favorite view as we approached Phoenix was the bright blue of Theodore Roosevelt Lake surrounded by parched desert terrain.  Roosevelt Lake is the largest and oldest of the 6 reservoirs that are part of the Salt River Project.  The image at left is cropped from a 3-frame mosaic.  Off in the far distance (125 miles away!) is Mount Graham, home of the Large Binocular Telescope.  Also visible beyond the first mountain range are some of the open pit copper mines near Globe, Arizona.

Another 15 minutes of flying and we were entering the northern 'burbs of Phoenix.  While I rarely editorialize, it seems crazy that there seems to be the highest per capita number of golf courses I've ever seen!  And if it isn't golf courses, it is lakefront housing - in a city that gets typically 8 inches of rain a year!  Compare these neighborhoods to those of Chicago in our previous post...  Of course, they get nearly 5 times the rainfall...

The reason, of course, that Phoenix and environs can do that is because of the Central Arizona Project.  Water is diverted from the Colorado River and runs over 300 miles across open desert.  My buddy Valerie used to work for the water department here in Tucson and told me once that well over half the water that starts the trip is lost to evaporation and leaching through the canal walls...  Here it is shown traversing the same northern suburbs and heads south to irrigate cotton fields and other crops before heading down to Tucson.  And Tucson isn't the end of the line, as they extend the water for mining use south of the city too.

Finally we were on final approach - thankfully cameras are now approved to be powered on for takeoff and landing, so I was able to take a few snapshots as we passed downtown Phoenix.  The major interchange of I-17 and I-10 seemed particularly interesting.  And though the baseball season of the Arizona Diamondbacks had ended a few days before, they had the roof of the ballpark open to keep the turf alive.  Unlike the new football stadium where the turf rolls outside for sunshine on a rail system, BOB (the former Band-One Ballpark, now boringly Chase Field) does it the old fashioned way with a retractable roof.  One of the interesting things to note is the swimming pool in straightaway center field!  No, not for bullpen pitchers to relax, but for fans to watch the game from a pool!  Of course, the water must be cold with the roof closed for most games (Summer in Phoenix, you know), and the interior of the ball park air conditioned to 72 degrees...

We needed to traverse the airport to catch the puddle-jumper down to Tucson.  That plane suffered from pretty bad windows, so no more pictures.  But it was fun while it lasted.  It was great to spend the afternoon musing the country passing by!

No comments: