The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Low Altitude Flight

Sunday, September 29th, 2013 in California
Low Altitude Flight

I’ve not blogged for a while so let me quickly summarize the past several months. In June, I put my house on the market, received an offer after a few weeks, and closed at the end of July. I placed most of my belongings in storage and moved to temporary accommodations where I intended to rest, recover, and figure out my next move.

Unfortunately, my work schedule went crazy as did my personal life. I had no time to look for a house properly. I was working more than a dozen hours of overtime every week and I had lots of crazy loose ends to settle after the move. Maddening loose ends. Things like trying to get my ex-bank to stop auto-deducting my mortgage payment for the mortgage I no longer had. And trying to recoup (from that same ex-bank) thousands of dollars of escrow payments that should have been refunded to me at closing. On top of that, it was nearly the end of September and that meant it was time to go to Yosemite.

Somewhere else over Colorado or Wyoming.

Let me back up a bit. Earlier this year, Phil and I booked a trip to Yosemite on a whim. It’s so difficult to get reservations at hotels in the park that when we discovered availability at Yosemite’s Lodge at the Falls, we snatched up the booking. We figured if things got too busy, we could always cancel the trip. Before I knew it, the vacation time had arrived, and we didn’t want to cancel.

So instead of wrangling realtors and visiting open houses, I found myself aboard a flight to San Francisco. Well, to be more precise, I found myself aboard a low-altitude flight to San Francisco.

Just before take-off, our pilot announced that due to some minor mechanical problem with the plane, we would not be able to fly higher than 24,000 feet. So we made the journey from Chicago to San Francisco just barely above the clouds and within good picture-taking-range of a lot of wilderness. Quelle treat!

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains.

On most flights, I rarely see passengers in window seats who take photos of the terrain below. Everyone plays with their smartphone or thumbs through the American Way magazine instead. When I have a window set, I take loads of pictures and I’ve captured many interesting images throughout the years. I figure I’m paying someone a lot of money to get me up in the clouds and I want a souvenir in return.

The photos from my flight to San Francisco were especially interesting because it turns out that 24,000 feet is low enough to capture some interesting features of the land below. When you’re higher up, the terrain flattens out and loses much of its character. Everything on the ground looks grey and featureless from 34,000 feet. But at 24,000 feet, the landscape is colorful and complex.

Somewhere over Colorado, Wyoming or Utah.

From 24,000 feet, it’s like looking at Google Earth, zoomed in a bit. Lakes are a deep aqua color. Salt flats are white, gold in places, almost shimmering. Roads are easy to spot—winding ribbons etched across the landscape. And you see all sorts of strange things that are difficult to identify, large-scale things. There are vast scars across high plateaus—the leftovers of untold mining activities. There are huge green circles—the fingerprints of center-pivot irrigation systems. There are rust- and copper-colored ponds that betray the presence of potash mines.

There are also a lot of natural wonders down there on the ground. And I was lucky enough to get a picture of one of them:

View of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from 24,000 feet. Hoover your mouse over the image to highlight Half Dome. If you’re on an iPad, you can tap the image to achieve the same effect.
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