Red Cedar Totem

Here are three segments of the house-front pole of a Haida household on the Queen Charlotte Islands. It faced outwards from a house in Tanu around 1870. Red cedar lasts longer than many woods, but nothing would help it if exposed to the moist elements of the northwest over century-scale timeframes.

Fortunately, it was claimed by the BC Totem Pole Preservation Committee in the 1950s, and has been housed in the dry comfort of the UBC Museum of Anthropology since 1976. There's another impressive Tanu totem pole held by the Smithsonian, and allegedly displayed at the National Museum of Natural History.

Painted Sunset

The sky burns with an intense sunset following a strong convergence north of Seattle that brought snow to every surface above 200ft yesterday morning.

One wonders if the paint in the Sherwin-Williams truck next to me is as vivid as the canvas of the horizon.

Secondary Forest

Like most of greater Vancouver, this land in Pacific Spirit Park was logged from primary forest in the late 1800s. The hulking stumps of the original firs and cedars are visible throughout the park, many having notches cut to allow the lumberjack to stand on a plank as he logged.

This land is then secondary forest, and it will take many generations to resemble old-growth.

Beech Seam

This beech fell recently in the University Endowment Lands that border UBC. It was pulled open at an awkward angle, showing the grain and color of the wood quite nicely.

Lambert-St. Louis Airport

The main terminal building of the STL airport is a beautiful space designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, the same fellow who drafted plans for the World Trade Center buildings in New York. It's cluttered with a few too many interior furnishings, but otherwise retains the curves of the original design.

This space, completed in 1956, inspired the design of other larger airports. Examples include Eero Saarinen's building at JFK (currently unused, near terminal 5), and parts of the relatively new Terminal 2 at CDG.

Seymour Valley

Bright snow against evergreen forest makes for a sharp contrast. The darkness beyond is the east face of Lynn Peak, which is a vigorous climb up from Lynn Valley.

Seymour Lake is dammed to the right (north) up the valley.

Dog Mountain Snowshoe

Dog Mountain is a convenient snowshoe trip from the Mt Seymour parking lot. It offers a commanding view over the Lower Mainland, and is a rewarding hike over beautiful winter terrain. The weather was quite uncertain; later in the day, an experienced hiker had to be rescued from a few peaks over in Cypress Provincial Park.

The snow here is quite different (wet and heavy) from that in the Cascades.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

This lovely penguin is the Northern Rockhopper. He or she (it's hard to tell) is interred at the Saint Louis Zoo, in a pretty nice enclosure. If he managed to rock-hop out to freedom, a variety of bears (Grizzly, Malaysian Sun, and Sloth) are hungrily waiting in nearby enclosures.

Brewery Caustic

A review of the literature shows that caustic soda isn't typically used as an input to making beer. I've seen various references to its use for cleaning bottles and tanks, and to neutralize acidic waste products.

The tour guides at Anheuser-Busch were excellent at making jokes about their competitors, but not well versed in technical details about the industrial processes in the brewery.

Big Four Ice Caves

The ice caves change quite a bit each year. Last year's visit had a larger structure and more caves. There wasn't much snow across 2009/2010, so the ice shrank considerably for this visit in October.

Trees Against An Overcast Sky

Whitefish, MT, at the end of October.

I like the lack of color and moderate contrast in this scene. It wasn't nearly as cold as it looks.

I90 Floating Bridge

The twin spans of the I90 floating bridge carry eight lanes of traffic across Lake Washington. Mercer Island is at the east (top) end; Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood is at the west (bottom) end.

There is only 29 feet of vertical clearance for marine traffic. Unlike the SR520 floating bridge, this one does not open to permit taller boats to pass.


Los Angeles doesn't see much fog. In recent decades, most years have seen fewer than 50 hours of <400m visibility at LAX. Fog this past Friday hung around until well past sunset, and delayed my incoming flight by 2h. You can see the airport as the bright stripe in the top third of this photo.

Contrast this with San Francisco, where there are around 70 mornings each summer where low cloud delays flights at SFO.

Changes in fog are, like everything else, caused by global warming. There are contradictory reports claiming to reveal the direction of the change.


The Vancouver Airport Authority has an endless supply of money, primarily as a result of its ability to levy airport improvement fees. They really don't know what to do with it all, so they selflessly donate funds to projects outside their mandate, such as paying for a fifth of the cost of the Canada Line transit project.

Some of those fees end up as native artwork, like this Haida transformation mask in the transborder terminal area.

Los Angeles Freeways

Los Angeles does freeways properly. This 14-lane monster is the I405, looking northbound on approach to LAX. OJ Simpson drove his Ford Bronco this way in 1994.

The signage for through traffic is "Santa Monica", which is a bit misleading, as the I405 stays outside Santa Monica's city limits.

Las Vegas Patio

Chilly weather in Las Vegas made patio heaters an important component of dinner overlooking Las Vegas Blvd S. The Monte Carlo is across the road, and the new Aria is the mass of 4004 rooms looming in the top left.

The ambiance on the Strip Saturday night was fantastic. I believe the guy in the blue shirt is wearing a birthday cake hat!

Calamity Jane's

Calamity Jane's in Georgetown offers both a delightful ambiance and decent food for not much money. Those on an airport run with a spare hour and an empty belly would profit from stopping in.

Their bar is not original, though it is an impressive and well-worn piece of hardwood.

Nighttime I5

The standard nighttime photo of the Seattle skyline is taken from the curiously-named Dr José Rizal bridge, on the left horizon of this picture. I chose to take this the other way, from Yesler Way looking back across the I5.

The Amazon headquarters looms in what was a marine hospital atop Beacon Hill. They don't own the building; it's leased from the Pacific Medical Center.

Busted Qantas A380

Qantas A380 VH-OQA suffered an uncontained engine failure a month ago, dropping pieces of the intermediate pressure turbine over Indonesia and coming reasonably close disabling the aircraft. The engine maker, Rolls Royce, now requires frequent inspections, and a lower top power output of the Trent 972 engines.

These requirements make the A380 uneconomic for transpacific travel, so Qantas is substituting B747s instead for the foreseeable future. Here is VH-OQD this past Sunday, sitting idle in LAX with its engines undergoing more than an everyday inspection.

Las Vegas Boulevard

Traffic streams southbound along Las Vegas Boulevard South this past Saturday night.

Las Vegas in December has cool weather, but there were plenty of pedestrians about. There were a surprisingly large contingent of cowboys in town for the rodeo, and their Stetsons and belt buckles were spotted at every part of the trip.

Cast Salt Sculptures

This is a pleasing arrangement of salt sculptures at Inscape Seattle. They're raised on wood salvaged from the building they're exhibited in.

The artist says they're cast, but I don't think it means what you think it means. Salt melts at 1474 °F, a bit beyond the means of a casual sculptor. I imagine these are what's left from evaporating a saturated brine solution.

Beaver Dammed Trees

A beaver dam impounds water over my aunt and uncle's property in Connecticut. They are conflicted: the water brings wood ducks and herons, but also will soon kill the waterlogged trees.

The dam is on the electric utility's property, and will likely be removed in the coming year.

Gold Creek Trail, Snoqualmie

Gold Creek runs north off the I90, just east of Snoqualmie Pass. The wintertime trail there is very accessible, and beautiful.

This is Mardee Lake, not 10 minutes from the parking lot.

SR520 Tolling

Fading light hits the divider of SR520 in Yarrow Point.

Tolling on the SR520 floating bridge begins next spring, with rates likely to be $3.50 each way for weekday commutes. It's likely to shift significant traffic to the I90, and the charge might be worth the reduced congestion.

Alternatively, nothing will change other than commuting expense, and I'll consider other ways of getting to work.

Twin Lakes

The Cascade range offers Seattle residents plenty of access to proper mountains, for both summer and winter fun.

Twin Lakes is a feature that helped me match my aerial view to Google's overhead view. It's just on the other side of Stevens Pass, and looks like really beautiful terrain. There's a summer hike there, though I wonder what the area would be like at this time of year.

Housing Outside The Resorts

A grid of modest housing surrounds the Cabo San Lucas airport. The whole area is on a flood plain, and the unpaved roads show silting and erosion from the occasional spectacular rains that hit the area.

Touching Up Jesus

It's never too late to put the finishing touches on Jesus, at least not when you're in the Columbian pilgrimage town of Zipaquirá.

The salt cathedral nearby was surprisingly fun - for a religious attraction narrated in Spanish.

Bogota Barker

As I will be traveling this Thanksgiving, I have prepared a few posts from travel at this time last year.

Last year's Black Friday coincided with an enjoyable street party in Bogota.

This barker with the pinstriped fancy-pants is hard at work attracting bystanders to his guinea pig race. The row of timid guinea pigs know exactly what to do to when commanded, and they diligently scurry over to the numbered homes. Bets are placed, and the furry performers have a remarkable ability to find hutches with no stakes on them.

Magnuson Park

A horizontal stabilizing fin of a WWII-era submarine looms in Magnuson Park.

A different season leads to a different landscape. Last year, there was lush green grass and a pink sunset. Today, there's drifting snow and bright sun.

Granite Mountain

The first real snow of the winter beckoned for a trip up Granite Mountain. We were first up the trail, but were soon joined by perhaps a dozen more mountaineers. The three hikers in the group were stymied by the deep snow, and needed to follow our snowshoe tracks.

This view looks down upon the boggy area just off the summertime trail. Above the treeline, the route is visible from overhead, with this location marked.

Beer Bottle Archaeology

Archaeology in the Pacific Northwest goes back only 150 years or so, unless you start digging into native history.

Here's the bottle top from a Rainier Beer, dated imprecisely to 1883-1916. Imagine beer so precious as to be deserving of a glazed ceramic stopper! It was dug up among other bits of jetsam when the WSDOT started preparing for the Alaskan Way Viaduct's replacement.

Montlake Bridge

Like most movable bridges, the Montlake Bridge has a hollow steel grille deck. This reduces the weight of the structure, minimizing the size and cost of the counterweight and motor needed to open it.

The vehicle lanes are not recommended for bicycles, as the grating is very difficult to navigate.

Missouri River, St Joseph

The Missouri defines much of the Kansas-Missouri border. Here it passes St Joseph, MO, where there's a recent exception to the river border.

The Rosecrans airport is on land that is still in Missouri, despite the river changing course in 1951. The airport is enclosed by the oxbow seen here on the west (far) side of the river. The satellite view of the same area shows the river, airport, and state boundaries, though with less sunset flair.

Nomade - Jaume Plensa

An unexpected delight west of the Des Moines city center was a well-stocked sculpture garden.

This is an interior view of Jaume Plensa's Nomade. For an outside view, see a related work in Spain. Nomade is only three years old and is starting to show corrosion - the Iowan climate is probably a bit rougher on exposed metalwork than Spain's.

Iowa State Capitol

Unfortunately, the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines was closed on the Sunday of our visit, though the parking lot was filled with busy legislators.

The 23kt dome has been gilt four times, most recently in 1999. It's about 96 troy oz of gold, $129,000 at current prices. (The labor to gild it cost more.) It looks spectacular!

Coralville Devonian Fossils

What might there be in Coralville, other than a wedding? There's a surprisingly good set of Devonian fossils downstream from a Corps of Engineers flood control structure. The spillway of their dam allows the fossil beds to be rejuvenated by frequent flooding (recently in 1993, and again in 2008).

We saw some Hexagonaria, and these are other creatures that resemble fossilized bolts.

Iowa Wedding

This weekend we flew to DSM and then drove a couple of hours to Coralville, IA to attend a wedding. One might not think of Iowa in November as a prime destination, but both the wedding and the tourism surrounding it were quite enjoyable.

Driving 100mi of I80 in each direction, alternative energy subsidies were immediately visible. Segments of massive wind turbines were headed westbound, and Archer Daniels Midland ethanol tankers were headed eastbound.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest

This is the Eightmile Canyon area of the Dubois Ranger District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. There looks to be a lot of fun to be had nearby. Not to mention the Idaho National Laboratory, which lies on the plains to the right (southeast) of this view.

We caught the morning light after recent snowfall, on a very early SEA-DEN flight.

Pacific Rainforest

This is close to the wettest, darkest microclimate one can find within greater Vancouver. It's the cleft of a valley in Lighthouse Park, and it didn't hurt the ambiance that it was overcast and showery on the day of our visit.

There are numerous properties around here with killer views over Burrard Inlet. But there are many more homes nestled into damp, dark, perpetually dripping corners of the North Shore. Houses with moss growing on their unused barbeques. Houses that will never see the ocean.

Frogmen Storming the Beach

These are students of a scuba-diving class, easing into the deep water at Whytecliff Park, just ouside of Horseshoe Bay.

In the distance against Bowen Island, a Cowichan-class ferry comes in from Departure Bay on Vancouver Island.


This building, as tall as a grain elevator, houses four wood chip digesters. A conveyor brought in wood chips to the top floor, and piping brought in caustic soda and sodium sulfide.

The digester itself is a tall cylinder built to withstand the heat and pressure of the process that takes a few hours to degrade the lignin and cellulose polymers in the wood into smaller pieces useful for paper making.

There's an excellent diagram of the plant layout on page 98 of a recent environmental report; see the Remedial Investigation Work Plan.

Bleach Plant - Indirect Light

Georgia Pacific's Bellingham pulp mill had a series of facilities for manufacturing related chemicals. As an example, this site used brine, mercury, and lots of electricity to make chlorine (for bleaching) and caustic soda (for digesting wood chips into pulp via the kraft process). This is a pipe that ran between the bleach plant and external storage tanks.

The dominant light seen here is reflected off two orange brick-lined water towers outside, and is fringed with the ambient (blue) daylight. You can see the round towers from the street.

Paper Mill Man-Lift

This view (looking up) is a personnel lift at the closed Georgia Pacific paper mill in Bellingham WA. The lift carried workers up the four stories or so to the top of the building containing the debarking mechanism. It has been idle for 9 years, but still smells of wood chips.

Wiki notes that "this type of belt lift is considered too dangerous for public use." Signage indicates that the lifts are for employee use only; visitors had to take the stairs.

Chinese Boys Dormitory

This is the former INS building on Airport Way South. It's now Seattle Inscape, a many-tenanted arts place.

This room was the Chinese Boys Dormitory, and using filthy sheets left in the building, an artist recreated the feeling of closely spaced bunk beds.

Whitefish, MT

This is the view from what was The Big Mountain, and is now Whitefish Resort. I spotted deer and a golden eagle while hiking.

It's a 9hr drive from Seattle, which seems like a long trip. The driving was considerably less tiresome after a soak at the pools at the Symes Hotel in Hot Springs.

Bear Pawprint

This bear footprint was placed a day or two before I showed up (thank goodness). This is around 5200ft or 5400ft, with the season's first snowfall being around 12 inches at this elevation.

I think it's a grizzly bear paw that made this, but both grizzlies and black bears are found here in Whitefish MT.


This is a Pratt & Whitney PW4077 jet engine, which can produce 77,000 lbf of thrust. It's attached to the left wing of N221UA, a nine year old Boeing 777-200.

Spotted from Chicago O'Hare's C concourse Red Carpet Club, between gates C16 and C18.

Fall Colors

I recently caught the fall colors in Traverse City, MI. The prevalence of beech, maple, and other deciduous trees, plus a few early frosts to set their leaves, yields a finer autumn season for leaf peeping than on the west coast.

This is on the Old Mission Peninsula, in Old Mission State Park. The lighthouse there claims to be located along the 45th parallel, but any competent map puts the parallel at over 1km north of the tip of the peninsula.

Crazy Abandoned Coal Power Plant

What could possibly be better than an abandoned coal-fired power plant? I've visited the Hearn, the standard urban exploration experience for those in Toronto. The ex-GM/Holden power plant in Melbourne is equal fun, on a smaller scale.

But this one is a crazy power plant. It's the coal-fired heart of the insane asylum in Traverse City. These insulated pipes carry steam out of the boilers and down to the turbines below.

Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane

The Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane is a sprawling complex in Traverse City, built in 1885 as part of the Kirkbride Plan to improve living conditions for the mentally ill. It's no longer owned by the state, and has been mostly vacant since 1989.

A small portion of it has been tidied up, fitted with modern windows, and leased to a variety of businesses. The coffee was decent.