There is a visitor center for the Grand Coulee dam. Sadly, as with a lot of similar things, it was closed while I was there due to the virus. While I couldn’t go in, I was rather taken with the structure itself. I’m not sure when it was built but it has a bit of a 70s space age feel about it. When in the park lower down the hill, it looks a little like a flying saucer has landed above you. I bet it looks interesting when lit up at night.
During our visit to San Francisco, some friends told us to check out Salesforce Park. This is a park that has been built on top of the transit center in the heart of the city. The transit center is, by demand, a large area so the space on top of it makes for a decent area. The park was fun to wander around. It is surrounded by some interesting buildings which will warrant their own posts in due course.
There are seating areas, children’s play areas, an amphitheater, a dome over an atrium for the transit center itself and plenty of plants. The plant beds are broken down into categories covering different types and plants and different origins for the plants. There are sculptures around the park including one that is a series of water jets. These are triggered by sensors in the transit center such that, as a bus drives beneath them, they squirt up. A bus driving the length of the lane beneath has a sequence of jets that will ripple along the sculpture. We were there when one bus passed beneath and, having been hoping for some action (aside from the occasional random jet of water), we were almost caught out when the wave of jets came by.
If we hadn’t been told about the park, I would never have known. Even when we got to the entrance area, it was a little inconspicuous. It is worth a visit if you are passing by. There is also a more interesting entrance than the elevators but that will have to wait for another post.
I have put together some posts of things we saw during our Whistler trip but not much of the town itself. It is a nice place to hang out. Like a lot of these winter sports resort towns, the center is predominantly restaurants/bars or places to buy clothing/sport gear. However, it isn’t a bad place despite that. The streets are laid out so nothing is too straight which means you feel like you are wandering around an old place, even if it is all relatively recently built.
There are water features and bridges, open spaces, sculptures and other forms of art. No shortage of people, too, even in the shoulder season when we were there. We found so great places to eat and some less inspiring ones. We actually went to a chain place one evening and it proved to be better than some of the supposedly nicer spots. Our favorite by far, though, was a bakery that had every conceivable thing you could want. They even had a cheese sandwich for toasting that looked like it would feed a family of four. We tried many of their treats but that one was left untouched, despite me giving it some serious consideration.
While it was part of the original plan, I found myself going through Dallas Love Field recently. I had changed flights and the new routing took my through Dallas and on to Oakland. This was the second time I had flown through Love Field. The previous time I had only my phone with me but no other camera. This had been frustrating because I saw something pretty interesting but couldn’t get a good shot of it. The State of Kuwait has bought a 747-8 to use as a VIP transport and it is being fitted out in Dallas. This time, I did have a camera so was able to get some pictures.
The jet is parked across the runway from the terminal building so it isn’t too close but it is not that far away. It is strange to see it parked outside each time but I guess the interior work does not require it to be indoors. I imagine in the summer, keeping the jet cool while they work is no small task. Fitting out these wide bodies can be a very long process. Everything is custom designed and manufactured and 18 months is not unknown. Given that it is a governmental jet, it might well have even more complexity and could take more time – I don’t know. A search online suggests it may be close to delivery and that is why it is not in a hangar. I didn’t find the arrival date but it does appear to have been there for quite some time. Maybe I was lucky to get it before it leaves?
Nancy came across a place recently called the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. Located near Terre Haute in Indiana, this is a facility that takes care of large cats that have been mistreated or are no longer able to be looked after where they are. They have over 300 large cats, a large proportion of which are tigers but also with many cougars, some lions and a smaller number of a variety of other cat. They do not breed the animals, nor do they trade in them. Instead, they are available to provide a home to cats that need it to allow them to live out their lives in comfort.
We arranged a trip for a few days to include a visit to the Center. They provide tours to visitors. The tour covers one part of the Center and will get you close to approximately 100 of the resident cats. This is not a zoo. The tour is escorted and you are very close to the enclosures. However, if you touch the enclosures, your visit will be over. The cats are the other side of the fencing and any bits of you going through the fence are easily chomped! You get a great close experience but you mustn’t abuse the opportunity.
Being close means the animals really do react to you. The lions will roar if they hear Harleys revving up, keep an eye out if a tiger turns away from you because it is probably about to spray you and, while the fences are there, they can get a little excitable. I was squatting down taking a picture of one of the tigers when it decided to charge towards me and jump up at the fence. It certainly got my attention!
The tour we took was led by the guy who started the whole place. He was very friendly and keen to explain how it worked and how they kept everything running. On our tour were a few people who have been there several times. if we were closer, I would certainly visit frequently. The pace was such that it was easy to take pictures as we went around so these shots will give you a good feel for what we saw there.
The place was great. The work they do is very important and the tales they tell of how some of the animals came to be there are quite appalling. They are always in need of donations so, if you are looking for something to support, you could certainly do worse than these folks. Well done for all they have done and good luck in keeping it all going.
A New Year often gives you a moment to reflect on things from the previous year. One of the things I wished to see this year but didn’t was the delivery of the shuttles to their final homes in museums. It didn’t work out and that is done. However, I did get to see a shuttle launch once during the program and that happened before I started blogging so I decided to have a post that maybe gets counted as an archive outing (or is that lack of recent shots means I have to go back and get old stuff?).
Anyway, here are some shots from the launch of Atlantis on STS-129 in November 2009. This was a trip that could have ended up going sadly wrong but in the end it was a great success. We had planned to make a trip to see a launch for a while and this one was one we had picked out for various reasons. However, we failed in our first effort to get tickets for the causeway which was where I wanted to be to be as close as possible. When we couldn’t get that, we decided instead to get tickets for the visitor center since it would still be a good place to see things.
We planned a few days in Florida with the launch on the first full day there. The idea was that we would have some margin if the launch got delayed (as they often did). Unfortunately, NASA were one step ahead of us and moved the launch after we had made out travel arrangements. They moved the launch to the last day we were due to be there. This made it a one shot deal. Once we were down there, we had a few days to look around. While out wandering around Celebration, I got a call from a good friend of mine. He didn’t know where we were but, when I told him, he said he knew a retired astronaut who might be able to help us out.
I have to admit I thought this was a long shot. An hour later, he calls back and tells us we are on a VIP bus. We have to go to KSC the next day and they will have our information and sort us out. I was stunned. Needless to say, we went to KSC the next day. Initially, they didn’t know who we were but they did eventually sort it all out and we were now on a better plan than we could have envisioned. We even got premium parking! Come the day of the launch we headed out early – no point in being late for something like this.
The atmosphere at the visitors center where we had to go first was excellent. There were loads of people there and everyone was excited. It was like being at a fair. When the time came, we loaded up on the buses and went to Banana Creek. This is just past the Vehicle Assembly Building. Moreover, you are looking across water the whole way so, while you are slightly further away than the press area at the VAB, you don’t have much heat haze – a big deal when shooting over three miles in Florida! This area was really busy as well and this group was probably even more excited than the crowd at the visitor center. There were a really nice bunch of people around us and the time zipped by.
Finally it was time for the launch. It all happened very quickly. Suddenly the countdown was approaching zero and then it happened. A spectacular sight. I shot a ton of shots but I did remember to just look and be impressed by it all. My abiding memory was how orange the flame was. It is so bright that it blows out in all images but when you see it you realize it is very orange. Look at the color of the clouds around and you will get an idea of the true color since they reflect it in a very toned down way.
Within a couple of minutes the boosters had separated and it was gone. We were all hurried back onto the buses since the exhaust plume apparently contains some quite unpleasant chemicals. Then it was all over. It was so sudden and no instant replay! Then it was time to hang around since the traffic out was going to be horrendous (it was even much later). A great experience and one I am always glad I did.
Continuing the theme of my Mum’s visit, the two of us took a stroll through the city the other day. It is always fun to exploit the visit of someone to do some touristy wandering that you would otherwise never do. It also makes you explore some things that you haven’t seen before.
We included the Cultural Center on our route but I was surprised yet again by this place. Having only recently discovered it courtesy of friends visiting in the past (see this posting), during this visit I found another room that I hadn’t been to before. It was an empty room but quite ornate. It was very dark so getting a good shot was tricky. I tried a bit of HDR which was okay but I will have to go back again at some point to try again I think.
Another stop was at the Palmer House Hotel. Now a Hilton, my Dad stayed there recently when he was visiting and told me about the grandiose lobby it has. I had never been in before – why visit hotels when you live in the city – and it was impressive so we stopped in to take a look. How many other things from the city have I missed?
After the visit of Bonnie, Gary and Julie the other week, I was determined to head back to the Cultural Center and have a bit more of a plan this time. Following on from my wanderings along the river to watch the bridges opening, I headed across to the Cultural Center to take another look at what I could get.
This time I had two advantages. First, having been there before, I had a better idea what I was looking at. Second, during our previous visit, a private event had been taking place in one of the halls under the glass domes so we could only see it obliquely. This time, no events were taking place and I had freedom to wander where I wanted. This proved even better because I hadn’t realized that there was another room further on that also was fascinating to see.
What I hadn’t brought with me was a proper tripod. I had a couple of supports that I had brought (including a Gorillapod) but they were only useful in certain situations. Therefore, I had to practice my best hand holding at low shutter speeds for some of the shots. All good practice! For a lot of the locations, this wasn’t a problem. However, in the open rooms, ramping up the ISO was necessary although balancing the shutter speed against the noise levels was a trade off that had to be made.
The interior has a lot of interesting places to shoot. Some of them offer clear opportunities and this time I came equipped with a wider lens to accommodate the width of shot available. Some of the other areas have great detail and interesting features but I have yet to find a good way to represent that in the shots. At least that leaves me with more reasons to go back for another try.
There is a wide range of light within some of the rooms and trying to represent that tends to lead me to some HDR work. I tried out a bunch of shots with HDR and when I got home, experimented with different ways of processing the HDR. Some of these are aimed at a realistic interpretation and some are more dramatic. The patterns and colors can make the dramatic finishes look very interesting but too much of the same thing gets boring fast so I am still playing with other finishes. For those HDR experts out there, let me know if you have some good ideas.
An ISAP friend of mine, Bonnie, was visiting Chicago with her husband Gary and her friend Julie to see a photography exhibit and asked if I wanted to tag along. Absolutely! Sometimes it is a little annoying to find out what is going on in your neighborhood from people out of town but always good to find stuff out.
The exhibit was at the Chicago Cultural Center. It is the old library and is a really cool building. I am going to have to go back there and spend a bit more time – plus take equipment based on a plan rather than whatever I had with me. The colors and patterns are really vibrant but lighting is uneven so I decided to play with HDR for the day.
Once we had finished, we hopped across the road to Millennium Park. I know the Bean is a tourist trap but it is still really cool. I have no idea how many pictures I have taken of it, of the people around it or of the reflections of the city in it but I still come back for more. The view on the underside is particularly cool in my opinion!
Everyone gets a kick out of their reflection in the Bean. It can be great fun to spend some time watching people spotting themselves and trying to do something a little different. Julie had a great idea to walk on the Bean and dropped to the ground to try it out. I think it worked rather well. I wonder how many other people tried it after we wandered off.
It wasn’t long before I needed to head back home and leave them to the rest of their day out (and the long drive back up to Wisconsin!). One of the things I had been discussing with Julie was my desire to get a good shot of the many fire escapes on the older buildings. As I headed back home, I passed a few more and had another go.