No freeways on this leg, just wonderfully twisty roads through the Great Smokey Mountains - including the Tail of The Dragon, a famous/notorious stretch of Hwy 129 with 318 curves in 11 miles. It's a challenge even on dry roads, and we were in steady rain and a rental car! And were still held up by a very slow Corvette... :-) No photos of the Tail itself as I was having too much fun driving, but there are some equally enjoyable twisty roads throughout the mountains.
The Tail starts just as Hwy 129 runs past Calderwood Dam and Lake, and ends at Deal's Gap. Hwy 28 starts there and runs past Cheoah Lake (complete with tent caterpillars and kudzu-covered trees and shrubs), and becomes Hwy 281 before it runs past Wolf Creek Dam and Lake.
A lot of freeway driving from Memphis to Nashville. then on to Chattanooga and finally Knoxville, but the countryside became more beautiful with every mile. An overnight in Nashville to see an old friend allowed a visit to see The Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music. The relatively modern building between the Opryland Hotel and a huge modern shopping mall wasn't what we'd expected, despite being (no doubt) much more functional than its Grand Ole predecessor.
On to Chattanooga the next day, we succumbed to the many, many roadside signs exhorting us to "See Rock City" and "See Ruby Falls" and took a diversion to the latter! We didn't go in (the 400 ft falls are in an underground cavern) but the twisty road up to it alone was worth the drive. Chattanooga no longer has a train station, alas, but we did find the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum on the outskirts of town to count as a "Choo-Choo" sighting.
After our sobering and thought-provoking visit to Montgomery, we headed to Memphis to explore some of that city's famous musical roots. Much as we acknowledge Elvis Presley's impact on rock and roll, a visit to Graceland was off the table; they've built tall buildings all around the mansion so you can't see it from the road, and $65/person is just too much admission. Instead, after an outstanding barbecue lunch at William's roadside shack across the river in West Memphis, we stopped in at Stax Studios. Despite being a reconstruction of the original building, on the same site and with the same theater marquee outside, this is an outstanding retelling of the Stax story, of founding a soul-based recording studio in an old cinema in a quiet, multi-racial suburb close to where Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones and so many other brilliant musicians lived. Very well worth the visit. Click on any image to enlarge..
After a quick stop at Sun Studio (where Elvis started) we wound up at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street for dinner. Great blues club with a red hot band! I was quite taken with Memphis in general, too, and would love to spend more time here.
Despite its quiet and peaceful air today, Montgomery has a bloody history as the center of the slave trade in the south, the terminus for trains bringing thousands in from the north (international slave trading had been abolished in 1804) and the site of many slave markets.
It's impossible to really get a grip on your emotions when you're faced with something as horrific, meaningful and powerful as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, otherwise known as the National Lynching Memorial. Located on a small hill in downtown Montgomery - visible from both the courthouse and the Capitol - it commemorates over 4,400 documented lynchings that took place between 1877 and 1950. Some sources put the total number of such state-tolerated murders at over 50,000, in a systematic reign of terror intended to keep black people subservient and cowering after slavery was technically abolished.
The memorial consists of over 400 steel columns, one for each county where a lynching has been documented, each engraved with the names of the victims (where known) and the date. It is very sobering to see dates within one's own lifetime. Not to mention the innocuous names of these places: Sunflower County, St. Mary Parish, etc. The columns are suspended from the roof; the path descends as you walk through the columns, until they are suspended above you, as bodies from a tree. Plaques on the wall describe some of the astonishingly, revoltingly trivial actions used to justify the murders. "Walked behind a white woman." "Protested when a white man stole his shovel."
A second set of identical columns lies outside the memorial. Any county that acknowledges its role in the lynchings and can demonstrate steps it has taken to improve civil rights may claim its column for installation at the county seat. Several discussions are under way; none have yet been claimed. And Alabama's state constitution, symbolically now because it's been banned at the federal level, still allows for school segregation.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
Our road trio through the South continued into Alabama, first with a stop at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham to check out their astonishing display of 1,600 motorcycles, and then on to Montgomery to catch up on our civil rights history. Neither of us had been here before, and while our main interest was to see the Peace and Justice Memorial (which will be the subject of my next post) we were quite taken with Montgomery as a city. As with many state capitals, and despite its turbulent and horrific past, it seemed a relatively small, quiet place with some interesting architecture - traditional and rustic! - and very friendly people.
As always, click on any image to see it full-screen.
Good news - my 2019 calendar just came back from the printer and is available for purchase! This year's theme is "Bridges"; the calendar contains 12 images of bridges in the US and Europe that highlight their fascinating variety, from multi-mile feats of engineering to delicate wooden structures in a Japanese garden. Check it out and place your orders now!
I also took the opportunity to refresh the site galleries. Since I was clearly having trouble maintaining a "Gallery of the Month", I scrapped that concept and replaced it with a gallery of "Recent Additions". This first version showcases a wide variety of subjects that have caught my eye over the past year, from my usual aerial perspectives to images of both the natural and the constructed worlds. Please take a look and let me have your comments!
Back in the air again! This was the opening leg of a two-week road trip through several southern states we hadn't visited yet on our way to seeing all 50. Our original plan was to fly to Charlotte and drive to Charleston, but Hurricane Florence coming directly at us on that path suggested a re-route to Atlanta! American was very helpful in re-booking us via DFW.
Airport taxiway and runway markings continue to interest and amuse me; this one at SeaTac seemed pretty self-evident!
The flight to Dallas was straightforward, the landscape as always fascinating in its complexity and textures. The mountain ridges of Utah were intriguing, but the smoke from a massive forest fire provided a whole new perspective on the power of nature.
The cloudscapes coming into Dallas were at their Texan dramatic best! Flying in the canyons between huge cloud mountains remains one of my most exhilarating experiences.
Changing flights in DFW gave us ample time to watch a massive storm brewing nearby; that cloud tripled in size in twenty minutes. Colorful taxiway markings seemed to me to have been gift-wrapped by the cracks in the concrete! Once airborne, the muted colors of an east Texas dusk were very peaceful.
Welcome to the re-launch of my photo Web site! After many years of concentrating on the many intriguing patterns and textures of this beautiful world as seen from a window seat at 30,000 ft, I've had a lot of interest from many people about the things I see at ground level as well. Accordingly, I've now added a new set of Ground Level photo galleries to complement the Flight Level ones. Please explore them and let me know what you think!
I've also taken the opportunity to change the focus of my annual calendar to Ground Level to shake things up a bit. The new one for 2018 has just been released and contains twelve images of trees taken at various locations in the USA and the UK. Again, please take a look and let me know your thoughts. And don't forget that they make excellent holiday gifts!
Back in the air again for a week-long trip to Toronto, visiting many old friends in the hospitality technology business during the annual HITEC Conference; it felt good to be back in my favorite window-seat environment! With three parallel runways take-offs at SeaTac often require "after you" pauses when one plane needs to get to its assigned runway; here a Horizon Q400 is ready to roll as soon as our 737 passes through.
It's no secret that I'm fascinated by patterns, man-made as well as natural. Someone did an outstanding job lining up these school buses south of Seattle!
Sometimes the mountain ranges seem to take on animal characteristics. Some can be quite an reassuring, but these curving, jagged arcs looming above a small settlement in Montana came across as somewhat threatening to me, waiting for their chance to pounce when winter falls.
The shapes of lakes are always intriguing to contemplate. What wind and water current flows through the evocatively named Freezeout Lake in Montana caused this hook to develop over the centuries?
Sometimes I can feel that an image is intriguing, but I don't really know what it will turn out like until I've enhanced its contrast in Lightroom. This one was a special surprise; the detail and patterns in the little river islets are a treat! Somewhere in Iowa on the way to Chicago.
Finally, speaking of patterns, I loved the vibrant flow of energy from all these access roads near Toronto's Pearson International Airport! It does make you appreciate GPS and navigation systems, though...
Hawaii has always been one of our favorite vacation spots, and Maui our preferred island; it's a place that always makes us smile as soon as we land there. This time we finally took the helicopter trip we'd long promised ourselves, and picked the tour of West Maui and the north coast of Molokai. It was, of course, spectacular! (As usual, more photos can be found in the Gallery of the Month; click on any image to enlarge it.)
Taking off from the heliport at Kahului Airport, we crossed Kahului Bay on our way to West Maui. As usual, there was a stiff breeze blowing from the northeast, which makes this one of the premier windsurfing locations anywhere and a prime spot for surfing competitions.
Halfway across we saw another of those locations where two tidal flows meet in a clash of bubbles. I'm always struck by the color change from one flow to the next, and must work out why that happens one day.
Further north along the rocky coast near to the spectacular Nakalele Blowhole, the surf pounds into the cliffs with a relentless determination, producing some dramatic outlines and some weirdly eroded rocks.
Over towards the Molokai coast the surf was still breaking in fine style. This particular wave left a trail of foam that reminded me of a goat's head, complete with horns - or maybe I'm just seeing the waves as perpetually butting heads with the rocks.
The north coast of Molokai is renowned for its sheer drama, with 3,000-ft cliffs plunging straight into the sea. A massive earthquake 200,000 years ago split the island, with the entire north side falling into the ocean and leaving this dramatic result.
Back over West Maui we flew inland from the Kaanapali resort area, climbing up towards Puu Kukui mountain and looking back at the old lava flow that curves down towards Lahaina. I wonder why so much of the residential development is on the flow itself.
On the way back to the heliport we flew over what appeared to be a settlement pond for some chemical plant in Kahului, but checking Google Maps later it actually turned out to be the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary! I don't know what the attraction of that yellow water is to the wildlife, but I do wonder how the pilots taking off from the nearby airport feel about having birds so close to the runways...