Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bird's eye view

Written over Ohio, on Friday...

En route from Seattle to D.C. today, I’ve had the rare pleasure of a day-time transcontinental flight, with a window seat on a largely cloudless day. From the moment we lifted off over the intricate estuaries and islands of Puget Sound, and floated over the complex ridgelines and glacial valleys of the Cascades, I’ve been entranced. Our route took us over the fantastical Channeled Scablands of eastern Washingon, where I spotted Grand Coulee and Dry Falls, and the ultimate prize, a patch of giant current ripples. We flew over the Idaho Panhandle, over Lake Couer d’Alene, where natural levees marked the routes of tributaries well out into the lake. (Aha, google just taught me that there is a dam resulting in the natural lake level being artificially raised.) The mountaintops in Idaho and Montana were frosted with snow and the broad valleys had tightly meandering streams winding through them. I caught a glimpse of Flathead Lake to our north, with the distinct line of the Minaret Mountains on its east flank. Our pilot helpfully told us that Flathead Lake is the largest U.S. freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. As we moved into eastern Montana and North Dakota the landscape became more barren, with stream networks slowly inching their way headward in the flattened landscapes. We crossed the dammed Missouri River at the North Dakota-South Dakota border, just as I happened to look up from the presentation on which I was working. Into Iowa and Illinois, what caught my eye was the regular geometry of the irrigated fields superimposed on the deranged drainage left behind by the glaciers. I looked up again as we crossed the Mississippi River, with its elaborate pattern of islands created and drowned by the dam we flew over. I saw the suburban wasteland of Chicago meld into the high rises of downtown, only to be abruptly stopped by the vast blue expanse of Lake Michigan. Now as we fly over Indiana or Ohio, stringers of puffy cumulus clouds are becoming more dense, building in height, and threatening to cut off my personal theater. But I still haven’t seen the Appalachians! Oh well, there is always the flight home. I hope I’ve got a window seat.


volcano girl said...

What a great trip. I love getting a bird's eye view of the landscape.

My favorite fly by views:
1. Mt. St. Helens steaming and sending out bits of ash in November 2004, right after the new dome poked its way out onto the crater floor.

2. The great fault scarp separating the tremendous, granitic, and glaciated Sierra Nevadas and the low, dry Basin and Range. (What's that fault called?)

3. The Grand Canyon (of course).

4. The Cascade peaks. During one fantastic, early morning trip from San Francisco, I could watch the volcanoes go by - Shasta, Crater Lake, the Three Sisters, and Mount Hood. They were so elegant - white peaks sticking out of the surrounding dark earth.

5. My hometown airport after flying accross the country and knowing that my parents will be there to pick me up.

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