Archive for September, 2016

Palm Springs

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

We stopped in California to visit our daughter & her family before heading back to Nanjing…. & it was a very pleasant visit, as always! She took us on an excursion to Palm Springs, a desert resort area about 100 miles (160 km) east of LA – home of the ‘Rat Pack’ entertainers (i.e., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc.) back in the 1950s & 1960s.

Palm Springs Visitors Center

That was also the time & place of an architectural movement called ‘Mid-Century Desert Modernism‘ – a movement characterized by buildings with dramatic rooflines, wide overhangs, lots of glass walls & windows, open floor plans, and outdoor living spaces incorporated right into the building’s design. Today the city holds a ‘Modernism Week’ every February, and even the Visitors Center on the outskirts of town – a former gas station – has that distinctive look. We checked out the structural sights, & also took the Aerial Tramway to the top of the mountain for a nice regional overview.

The city is modern in another way too, clearly evident from that mountain view. One could see row upon row of windmills, helping to meet California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires that 50% of the electricity generated in the state must be generated by renewable sources by 2030. California has also led the country in developing a very progressive ‘cap & trade’ carbon market, which sets a statewide limit on emission sources responsible for 85 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Glacier Bay in Alaska was all glacier, and no bay. Today, however, cruise ships can travel sixty-five miles inside the U.S. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (itself a part of a 25-million-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site) to reach its farthest tidewater glaciers.

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Near the end of that passage, they enter Johns Hopkins Inlet….. and see a glacier that is about a mile (1.6 km) wide, and 250 feet (~75 m) deep. U.S. Park Rangers who boarded our vessel described it as the “most beautiful” one in the entire region — and indeed it really is quite spectacular!

Harry Fielding Reid, a geophysicist who was educated and later taught at the institution for 35 years, named it the Johns Hopkins Glacier in 1893…. & we reached it by passing Reid Glacier, named six years later (by another expedition) for the scientist himself. Reid’s early works were all about glaciers, but he shifted his focus after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and developed elastic-rebound theory to describe earthquake mechanics…. a cornerstone of today’s geological science. A National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir notes he was “ahead of his time,” and might well be considered the “first American geophysicist.”

Although Glacier Bay holds the record for the fastest-ever-recorded glacial retreat, Johns Hopkins Glacier itself has actually been advancing (fed by snowfall in the Fairweather Mountains)….. a nice, contrarian metaphor, no doubt!

Alaska Cruise R&R

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

I’d never been on a full-blown cruise before (assuming that a pre-dam Three Gorges river cruise didn’t really count)…. & picked quite a nice one for our initial excursion. Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam follows the ‘inner passage’ up the western coast of British Columbia & Alaska, stopping at a number of interesting towns along the way.

Juneau is Alaska’s capital, and – according to our tour guide – site of the nation’s least-distinguished state capitol building (i.e., the Washington Post once compared it to a “county public health building”). We toured the city, & then headed out to visit the Mendenhall Glacier….. only a hint of what was to come.

Skagway was next, and provided a really fascinating history lesson about the Klondike gold rush, which occurred in the very late 1800s. There were two principal ways to get to the Yukon Territory from southern Alaska & the U.S. mainland: 1) on the Chilkoot Trail, through a forbidding mountain pass from Dyea; and 2) on the equally-difficult White Pass from Skagway. Dyea & Skagway were located only a few miles apart…. but Skagway won out because entrepreneurs built the White Pass & Yukon Route railway line. We took a scenic bus tour up into Canada, & then came back into town on that amazing rail route, closely hugging the steep mountainous terrain.

Skagway gold haul

The in-town visit then included a stop at a brothel museum (yes, really!), a salmon bake, and a gold-panning opportunity. After about 15 minutes of vigorous swirling & shaking, I had managed to capture….. exactly one flake of gold. [Another couple of hundred years or so, & perhaps I’d be able to pay for this trip!]

Finally, Ketchikan claims to be America’s rainiest city – averaging more than 150 inches per year (several times the amount in Seattle) — & we arrived on an overcast & misty day. Like most cities in this region, it had a fishing & lumber history, but now panders primarily to tourists….. & hence highlights both Native American relics (i.e., totem poles) & its own bawdy history (i.e., a lot more brothels).

But by far the most amazing part of the cruise was Glacier Bay – noted in the posting above.


Thursday, September 15th, 2016

View from Granville Island

On this year’s return to Nanjing, we decided to do the complete opposite of last year’s Hawaiian R&R…. & thus headed up north, to take in an Alaskan cruise (see posting above). This gave us a wonderful excuse to spend a couple of days in Vancouver, a physically beautiful & very environmentally-conscious city, on a first-time visit.

It’s a relatively new city – it was only established 130 years ago – and while the old photographs of timber cutting & logging in its early years document its rugged and outdoorsy character, today’s two chief industries (tourism & movie production) require a rather different sensibility.

Treetop walk

Vancouver steam clock

We toured the city’s highlights, which included the cedar pines & totem poles of Stanley Park (which initially served — and was kept undeveloped — as a military reservation, since the city feared an invasion by those bellicose Americans); a swinging suspension bridge over the Capilano River, a former logging area that now has ‘treetop’ and ‘cliffside’ walkways as well; and Granville Island, a former sandbar filled in with dredging materials…. which hosted industrial activities for several decades, fell into disuse, but has now been reinvigorated with a hip new market/arts/theater tourist lifestyle.

While the city’s physical beauty is apparent, I was told that its most-photographed site has no such environmental attributes. Instead, it can be found in the city’s oldest section, Gastown, and is…… a steam clock!

I have to admit that – despite my technical background, & interest in industrial things — this is something I had never seen. So, of course, I took a photo as well.