While hiking through Moran State Park, we came up to a road. As we got there a vintage car of some sort was coming towards us. Annoyingly, I had changed the camera to its base ISO to photograph some waterfalls and hadn’t reset it to auto ISO. It was dark in there so, when I shot the passing vehicle, the shutter speed was way too low. It means the shots were blurred but it actually wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
The Washington State Ferries service is the main way of getting between the San Juan Islands but it isn’t the only one. On a previous trip to the islands, I had posted about an operator of a small ferry. That post is here. The operator is San Juan Ferry and Barge. The boat in the original post is the Henry Island but they have a second, similar boat. This is the Nordland II.
The Nordland II came past us while we were staying in Orcas a couple of times. It had a truck with what looked like propane on board. I imagine moving from place to place with a hazardous cargo is easier when you charter the boat yourself. The front ramp means they can load and unload at any number of launching ramps around the islands which makes them super flexible.
They are based at Friday Harbor and, while we were walking around the waterfront, I saw them in the marina. The Nordland II was making a trip out so I got a shot as they pulled out (along with a friendly wave from the crew!). The Henry Island was still moored up so I grabbed some shots of it while I could.
With the ferries coming and going to the terminal at Orcas, I was able to have plenty of chances to take photos. I did get standard shots of the boats in low light conditions. They are not easy to shoot since they are constantly moving. No long exposures at low ISOs are possible so it is high ISO and the associated noise. However, I did decide to experiment with some long exposures and blending of shots. The boats make a curving approach to the terminal. I thought this might make a nice long exposure. It worked okay but the curve is a bit disguised by being too low down to really appreciate it. However, it was fun to try.
First thing in the morning on Orcas Island made from some beautiful conditions. We were staying in a place looking out over the water towards Shaw Island but, in the morning, we got some low fog and mist that could obscure our neighbor so close by. As the sun came up, the fog would burn off and then roll back in. It was a constantly changing view with the land and smaller islands appearing and disappearing frequently. You could sit and watch it for ages. Best done from inside the house, though, since it was rather chilly.
We made a couple of visits to Cattle Point on San Juan Island during our visit there. It is a lovely spot for a stroll along the cliff tops. The lighthouse is not quite what you might hope for. It is functional but not elegant. However, the rest of the area is just lovely. Not only is it a great place to walk but the road running down to the point provides a beautiful overlook of the point with the water around it and the mountains in the background including Mt Baker looking imposing covered in snow. We had great weather both times were were there on this trip.
The ferry to Orcas Island comes in to the town of Orcas. (I think it counts as a town but it is pretty small!). Right across from the ferry terminal is the Orcas Hotel. It is an old style hotel and has a café as well. Restrictions meant eating in the café was out of the question but we did get take out food from there one night and it was great. The south facing harbor gets some nice evening light in the winter. The first time I was out walking there, I figured I would get a shot after I visited the local shop. That was a mistake. When I came out, the lovely light was gone and everything was in shadow. I didn’t make the same mistake again.
My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available. I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about. When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada. The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway. Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.
I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help. Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on. The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up. Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.
When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again. I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion. Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.
The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed. At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north. Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course. Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.
Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process. You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you. However, you can see sideways and down very clearly. Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below. We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated. Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was. Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud. However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still. The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you. You can hear a lot of other chatter. It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely. No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.
After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land. Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do. Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back. We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).
This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight. I would be very happy to do it again. I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.
Since I haven’t been out photographing aircraft as much as I would normally like to do, the blog has got me looking through older outings. I was discussing with Nancy what things I might look back on and, since some balloons were flying overhead at the time, we got on to the topic of our visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The blog has been going for nearly ten years so I tend to think that most of what I have done is on here but there are things that predate the blog and have yet to appear. A search through the archives suggests this is one.
We went to the fiesta because it was something I had long wanted to see but also because I was going to cover it for GAR and had arranged press access. This meant several days of being onsite early in the morning and later in the day. Having not been to a balloon event before other than a fleeting visit to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in the UK, I didn’t appreciate the timing until I was there. Everything starts really early and is pretty much done by just after breakfast. The evening might be the second wave of activity but, since the winds were getting up in the evening, that didn’t prove to be much good and, besides, Nancy wasn’t wishing to give up all her time to this so we could do other things during the day and the evening.
I made sure to be there well before sun up each day. The crews would be getting their balloons out at their respective launch locations across the large grass area. The sound of fans filling the envelopes would then be followed by burners bringing them up to temperature. We had a glow one morning to watch which was pretty impressive and then, as the light came up, the launches would start. These had to be well coordinated given the number of balloons there. Marshals, dressed in zebra outfits, moved around the site keeping everything under control.
The variety of balloon shapes and colors was fantastic. To see the skies filled with balloons was amazing and the specials that were shapes of interest or for advertising would get particular attention. There were three balloons that were bees which carried a single person beneath them and flew around together which looked great. Since there were so many interesting balloons, there are a bunch of shots below of some of the cooler ones. I would like to go back one day to see this again.
Months with little travel meant we were interested in a day out if we could find something to do that made sense and wasn’t going to be unnecessarily risky to us or anyone else. We figured a day at Port Townsend was a good idea. The ferry across is not a problem because you remain in the car for the crossing. Once in the town, we were outdoors almost the whole time and it was going to be a lovely day.
We last came to Port Townsend when on vacation in the region a few years back. It was surprising how much I remembered about it. There were plenty of people in the town but it wasn’t busy. We did go into a couple of shops but they were limited on the number of customers at one time and so we only went to those of real interest. Lunch was outside and we even checked out the ice cream shop!
The waterfront is a nice place to be and there is a selection of jetties that you can walk out on to in order to get a view of the town. The architecture of the town is really interesting too and it seemed that a few of the buildings were in the process of being refurbished. It was fun to get out and about and see something different for a change. Fall is now upon us so making the most of the sunny days was good too!
Our first visit to Hawaii included a few days on Oahu. We were staying out on the west coast of the island and our hotel was pretty close to the approach path for the jets coming across the Pacific. It was a serious hardship to sit on the shore in Hawaii watching planes fly overhead. The amount of traffic from Japan is significant and so we had some large jets coming in at that time. If we were there now, the 747s would be gone but ANA has taken A380s for this run. Not sure that they are flying right now but they are likely to be back given the traffic that should ultimately return.