September 21, 2017
by David Ryan

Urban Walking and a Sense of Place

As we all know there is a certain amount of sameness in places that were developed to accommodate automobiles. This phenomenon was described as the “geography of nowhere” by author James Kunstler in his 1993 book of the same name. I have made it a point to wander around to find locations and items that have a sense of place, or if you will, the “geography of somewhere.”

For example, in the older parts of Chicago, you can find areas where the houses are several feet below the street level. The difference in levels is a result of the street level being raised after the homes were built. Raising the streets has been only one of many engineering efforts undertaken over the past 180 years to deal with water in the Chicago area.

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August 28, 2017
by David Ryan

A Totally Awesome Total Eclipse

A little more than two years ago I wrote a post in this blog about the upcoming August 21, 2017 eclipse. (Please click here to read that post.) August 21, 2017 finally came last week and the total eclipse of the sun was awesome. There is nothing in this this world the same as a total eclipse, and I hope you had the opportunity to see it in person.

My original plan for experiencing the 2017 eclipse was to have no plan and hang loose for the best cloud-free sky opportunity. But when I spoke to my brother in California a couple of months ago, he mentioned to me the difficulty that he was having in finding a place to watch the eclipse in Oregon.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I started checking online for motels in Wyoming and Nebraska and discovered that almost all of the rooms had already been booked and that the few rooms that were still available were going from $400 to $1000. Rather than pay that, I booked a room for the night before the eclipse at a Motel 6, a couple of hours south of the eclipse centerline, in Fort Collins, Colorado. The room only cost $80.

With a room in Fort Collins I figured we could easily get to Wyoming or Nebraska to watch the eclipse. As insurance, I even paid $15.00 for a parking space at the rodeo grounds in Alliance, Nebraska.

As eclipse day got closer, I began studying the weather forecasts for Alliance and other nearby towns. What had been forecasted as a sunny eclipse day in Alliance began to be forecasted as partly sunny, then as partly cloudy, and finally as mostly cloudy. With that bit of unpleasantness, I took a closer look at the weather forecasts for other towns. It seemed that Glendo, Wyoming (where the centerline of the eclipse was to cross Interstate 25) might be a better bet.

On the morning of the eclipse, we were up at 2:00am and on the road by 2:30. Before leaving, we took one more look at the forecast and decided to head north on Interstate 25 toward Glendo. (It turned out that Alliance also had an unobstructed view of the eclipse.)

Even at 2:30 in the morning the traffic coming out of Denver was extraordinarily heavy but moving faster than the posted speed limit. It only took us two hours to get to Glendo, but at 4:30 in the morning the traffic was already backed up coming off the highway.

Here’s the traffic pouring into Glendo at 5:00am.

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July 24, 2017
by David Ryan

Looking for Airway Beacons and Arrows in the Backcountry

In the early days of commercial aviation and air mail service, airplane pilots relied upon light beacons and enormous concrete arrows on the ground to find their way across the country. These navigation aids were built by the Department of Commerce in the 1920s and early 1930s to promote air travel.

Eventually more than 1500 beacons were erected. They were spaced about 10 to 20 miles apart along designated air routes. With a cruising speed of 90 MPH, a pilot of a Ford Tri-Motor airplane would be seeing a beacon or arrow every 6 to 12 minutes. Can you imagine looking for an arrow on the ground to figure out which way to turn?

With the advent of radio navigation and faster airplanes later in the 1930s, the beacon network became obsolete. As a result, the beacons were gradually deactivated and taken down.

Many of the beacon foundations and giant concrete arrows are still out there for you to discover. With over 1500 of them there is a good chance that one is not too far from where you live. Think about how cool it would be to stumble on one the next time you go out on a hike!

The Post Office even issued 5 cent air mail stamp in 1928 of a beacon in the Rocky Mountains.

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