Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Latest Cross-Country Trip

We just finished another cross-country trip and are now relaxing at "Ketelsen East" in the western suburbs of Chicago. Lately I seem to be enjoying the trip as much or more than the destination, watching the country roll past my portal, nose pressed to window... I just can't imagine that some passengers would keep the shade down and read or sleep - are they so jaded with travel that there isn't still a sense of wonderment? The last two trips were to Midway on Southwest Airlines, and while the routes are similar, I'm getting to the point where I can detect the subtle 30 mile difference from when we fly American into O'Hare. More on that later...

Travelling on Saturday, it was a packed flight, and the flight attendants gave vocal encouragement to pack us in as quickly as possible. We ended up taking off on time and arrived in Chi-town about a half hour early! 2h 53m from take off to landing - perhaps it is because Southwest used the big-boy airplanes (737s compared to MD80s), or maybe they state longer flight times to bias their on-time percentage... Anyway, it was nice to leave Tucson at sunup and arrive at noon, still getting to enjoy half a day at our destination.

My first step of the trip is to get a "down-sun" window - trying to shoot up-sun always complicates both viewing and imaging with reflections and glare from the usually non-optical Plexiglas. Headed to Chicago from Tucson, that means the left side of the cabin, looking mostly NW. Usually I quickly lose track of where the plane is located, but I'm slowly extending my known markers as we repeat the trip. The first target I look for as we're still climbing is Mount Graham and the Mount Graham International Observatory. At left is a straight shot of the telescopes atop the mountain seen through a little gap in the cloud layer. The huge building at right is the LBT, which I visited and blogged about a couple months back. The smallest structure at left is the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, and between them is the 10 meter Sub-Millimeter Telescope. I've worked on all three of the projects, so is a personal source of pride for me. The image at right is an anaglyph 3D image, made from a pair of images taken a few seconds apart. Viewing through your red/blue glasses (red on the left) you will see the stereo effect of clouds, mountains and Observatory. Make sure you click the thumbnails here for the full-size image to load.

Shortly after Graham is where my "no-man's land" starts, where I've not driven, so don't know the territory very well. From here on out I mostly depend on cruising over Google Maps to locate the ID of my shots. But for striking formations, sometimes I still know what they are. Case in point is the Morenci Copper Mine - the largest copper producer in North America. I've never been there, but certainly have heard about it, both from miner strikes in the news a few decades back, and devastating floods that occasionally occur in Clifton, located in a canyon below the mine. At left is a wide-field view of the open-pit mines at top, and leaching fields below. The company-owned town of Morenci is up at mine level about right-center, Clifton is in the canyon at far right. The latest production numbers I saw was over 600 million pounds of copper in 2011.

At right is an anaglyph 3D image of the open pit area, with both the extraction areas as well as leaching fields made more obvious with the stereo view...

The great plains of the country are a little more boring, though still worth a look out the window.  Seems we cross the mile-diameter irrigated crop circles from far western Oklahoma thru eastern Kansas for an hour, but has to be less.  At some point I switched from the standard color camera to my modified IR camera, mostly because it is so sensitive to bodies of water.  Shown here at left is a 4-frame panorama of a pair of reservoirs in NE Kansas.  At left is Milford Lake, and at right is Turtle Creek Lake.  Barely detected below each is Junction City below Milford, and Manhattan below Turtle Creek.  They show up much better in the original-sized image (about 6,000 pixels wide), but tougher to see at this resolution.  While it is interesting that water comes out so dark (from higher absorption, lower reflectivity), most of the dark spots across the Kansas plains here are actually shadows from small clouds.  Loading the full-rez version, those with hard edges are lakes, soft edges from cloud shadows...

We had to have passed nearly directly over Kansas City (thus not visible), but the Missouri River was clearly seen 10 minutes after the above frame. At right, what looks like a black windy road is the Missouri River, transformed to dark in IR. The 3-frame mosaic shows Kansas to the left of the river and Missouri to the right. Nebraska actually makes a minute appearance in the far upper left corner of the center frame. The mosaic also shows the city of Atchison, Kansas at far left, with the bra-shaped Lewis and Clark lake just across the river. At the far right side of the composite image is the city of St Joseph, Missouri.

I mentioned above that I'm thinking I could detect the slight change in path from our destination change to Midway from O'Hare what, 30 miles apart... Certainly flight paths change due to weather and other effects, but mostly with good weather, I suspect they just enter the airport coordinates and hit the "go-to" button. Often we would see Kansas City out the right window, now we flew over it. Trips past we would fly over Iowa and see the southeastern tip out the right window.  This trip we saw it out our left window - shown here is Ft Madison down on the Mississippi (just above the river at center) as we flew directly over the SE tip of Iowa,

Similarly, we've before seen the town of Ottawa, Illinois out the right window, this time out the left since we're heading to Midway, about 30 miles south of O'Hare. All 3 images of Kansas City, SE tip of Iowa and Ottawa were recorded in our trip to O'Hare about a year ago. You might well ask why the interest in Ottawa - well, for one thing, it is on a major shipping channel, the Illinois River, and one can usually spot dozens of barges plying the waterway. Also, it is of interest for us because if we jumped in an inner tube outside our house here on the Fox River, we would eventually drift down to Ottawa, where the Fox runs into the Illinois...  In the image, the Illinois runs along the bottom and the Fox extends towards the upper right.

On Saturday, there were strong westerly breezes (perhaps partially accounting for our under 3 hour flight), so instead of our normal approach towards the NE, we circled and came in from the east. As a result, we flew well past Midway until nearly over Lake Michigan before turning towards the airport. As a result, we had a nice, if not distant, view of the Chicago skyline. Shown here at left is a portrait from at least 15 or 20 miles, I'm guessing. We're also not a lot higher than some of the tallest skyscrapers, so their apparent height likely matches their relative actual height. In the image at right I've labeled some of the highlights. The Willis Tower at left is still the second-highest building in the country after 1 World Trade Center and tallest in Chicago. But surprisingly, the Trump and Aon buildings (Chicago's 3rd and 4th tallest) are not much shorter than the Hancock Building. Also seen, though not particularly well, are Adler Planetarium and Navy Pier, both jutting out into the Lake.

As we turned and made our final approach, there were a multitude of potential targets. There seemed to be a lot of railway yards with multiple parallel tracks where trains are assembled. Interestingly, they are not identified well on Google maps, perhaps for security reasons. At left is a dual yard with a lake between, located just south of Calumet Park. This view looks directly west. A minute later as we continued our turn towards Midway, the left image is another anaglyph pair looking towards the SW. While the macroscopic 3D doesn't jump out at you like mountains and copper mines as above, the little trees, water towers and billboards lining the 57 Freeway.

So another fun trip. We've been busy since landing, lots of stuff going on, some of which may make it here. Certainly I predict some flora and fauna photos will make it - we'll see!

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