Posts Tagged ‘I-40’

Fun with Highways: North Carolina

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Today our “primary highways” series brings us to the state of North Carolina.

Crossing from Virginia into North Carolina on I-95 (which I most recently did in 2009 under cover of darkness), one gets the sense that “now we are really in the South.” It’s perhaps a combination of the vegetation, terrain, but especially the name “Carolina”.

 

That particular trip involved traveling southward along I-95, and then later returning to the state near the coast on US 17. The contrast between the different corridors was quite apparent. The US 17 corridor, when when it was not exactly on the coast, was surrounded by shorter vegetation in a lighter shade of green. As we got closer to Wilmington and I-140, it was hard to tell whether we were in a quiet coastal region or in an outer suburb with lots of highways but relatively little visible development. From 17/I-140, we turned onto I-40 and headed north. But if I the time for a proper visit, I would have continued up US 17 back towards the Outer Banks.

One can talk a particularly scenic trip through the Outer Banks on North Carolina Highway 12, which stitches together many of the barrier islands via bridges, causeways and ferries with fantastic views. The road goes through the Hatteras National Seashore. It also goes through Kitty Hawk, often credit as the location of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, though it was actually in nearby Kill Devil Hills. One of the most prominent landmarks, in addition to the continuous stretches of beach, is the Hatteras Lighthouse.

The Outer Banks are part of a beautiful and quite fragile environment, and one that is quite prone to being hit by hurricanes and subject to storm surges and flooding. Consider this breach of the islands and the highway that occurred in 2011.


[Photo from NCDOT on flickr.]

If we leave the Outer Banks and head northward and eastward on I-40, we eventually come to the Raleigh, the state capital and one of the main cities of the Research Triangle together with Durham and Chapel Hill. The Research Triangle is home many technology companies (both in the Research Triangle Park and beyond), and is anchored by Duke University, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University. These schools are also known for their basketball teams. Raleigh is a much larger city and the center of state government, and sports both an inner and outer beltway, I-440 and I-540 respectively, though the latter is only partially built. Durham, to the north and west, looks from images as a grittier city that might attract my interest, especially with the old tobacco-factory buildings that have been converted to mixed use.


[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is also home to a large and vibrant African American community with a long history of successful businesses and a neighborhood once dubbed “The Black Wall Street.” It was also a center for early Civil Rights activity including some of the earliest “sit-ins.” Already in decline by the late 1960s, the neighborhood appears to have been torn apart by the construction of the Durham Freeway (NC 147) through the center of the city. It is a familiar sounding story (like the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York).

From Durham, I-85 and I-40 run concurrently to the city of Greensboro. Greensboro includes one stretch of I-40 which is signed with no fewer than six different highway numbers.

From Greensboro, we take I-85 south and west towards Charlotte, the state’s largest city. Charlotte has become a major banking center, most notably it is home to “way too big to fail” Bank of America. It has prospered and underwent a major construction boom with a large jumble of post-modern skyscrapers.


[By Riction (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte is the “tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta.” It is the one with the green lights on top in the photograph above. This sculpture, Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Il Grande Disco sits on Bank of America Plaza. It is known locally as “The Disco Wheel.”


[Photo by Antonio Viva on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

Bank of America is having its shareholder’s meeting this week, and a large protest is expected tomorrow to coincide with the meeting, presumably converging at this very plaza.

We return to Greensboro and head west on I-40. The development becomes sparser and the landscape more hilly and scenic as we approach the Blue Ridge Mountains. And more treacherous as well. We turn onto I-240 to the town of Asheville.

While I have not yet been to Asheville myself, it sounds a little bit like the resort towns here in northern California, with music, arts, and old-style downtown turned upscale, and new-age types. But for me it is most notable as the home of the late Bob Moog, the great synthesizer pioneer and of our heroes at CatSynth. Asheville continues to be the home of Moog Music, Inc, which makes both hardware synthesizers and one of my favorite musical iPad apps, Animoog. The independent but related Bob Moog Foundation is building a museum and cultural space in Asheville, and they are involved in education outreach and teaching students the science and art of electronic music with programs, with specific efforts in western North Carolina.

We conclude by turning north onto I-26, a relatively new and quite spectacular highway through the mountainous border region between North Carolina and Tennessee. The highway, which opened in its current Interstate form in 2003, winds it’s way through mountain passes, alongside cliffs, and even through a tunnel. This video gives a sense of what it is like, even though it is traveling in the opposite direction, from Tennessee back to North Carolina.

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Fun with Highways: Super Tuesday Part 1 (Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee)

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Ahead of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, we at CatSynth will try to virtually visit many, though not all, of the states involved.

We begin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont along State Highway 114. It winds its way from the most remote northeastern corner of the state and The Kingdom State Forest eventually into the towns and lakes of the region.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The scenery as seen in images often is lush and green, when it isn’t brightly colored in the autumn. It is not surprising that the Green Mountains and the state of Vermont were given their verdant names. It’s also interesting to note how different the terrain and scenery is from neighboring New Hampshire. As a reader noted in our New Hampshire edition on DailyKos, the Connecticut River that divides the two states also separates radically different geological structures between the Green Mountains of Vermont (an extension of the very old Appalachian Mountains) and the younger, rockier mountains of New Hampshire. The geography lead to very different settlement patterns, different economies (farming in Vermont versus industry in New Hampshire) and perhaps into the modern political contrasts as well.

In terms of life in The Northeast Kingdom, I often turn to the blog meeyauw, who has over the years mixed great photography from her nearby landscape with cats and mathematics. I did enjoy these recent pictures from the author’s home near Barton Mountain, not far from Highway 16.

We can follow VT 16 back to Interstate 91, the main highway in and out of the “The Kingdom”. Heading south on I-91, the terrain looks a lot like eastern New York, hilly and forested. We turn off the highway onto US 2 and head west to Montpelier, the state capital. It has the distinction of being the smallest state capital in the U.S.


[By Jared C. Benedict [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is in Montpelier that we turn onto Interstate 89, which crosses the state diagonally from New Hampshire in the southeast to the Canadian border in the northwest. Along the way it connects the capital to the largest city, Burlington. Although I-89 never enters the city, it is easy to connect to the downtown via US 2.


[By Jared and Corin (Church Street, Burlington, Vermont) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Probably more than any other place in Vermont, Burlington defines the state’s current political reputation. It is home to Bernie Sanders, onetime socialist mayor of the city and current U.S. Senator. We at CatSynth have long been fans of Sanders, not only for his political views but also his strong Brooklyn accent. Burlington is also the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. The city itself is on Lake Champlain, and one can look out from its waterfront across the lake to New York State.

Lake Champlain contains several large islands, particularly in its northern half. US 2 traverses most of these, including Grand Isle via a network of bridges and causeways before heading west at the north end of the lake, where Vermont, New York and Quebec all meet.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The islands themselves have small bays and interesting geography, including one bay called “The Gut.”


From Vermont, we jump to Virginia, the other state that begins with the letter “V”. We begin just south of Washington, DC at the notorious Mixing Bowl Interchange.


[Click image to enlarge.]

The Mixing Bowl, also known as the Springfield Interchange, connects I-95, I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-395. The latter heads north into the center of Washington DC, while I-495 casts a wide circle through the suburbs. The interchange is complex-looking enough and well-known enough to have even gotten its own “Fun with Highways” article back in 2009. While the interchange in its current configuration is complicated, the aerial view is even more so because of the “ghosts” of ramps that were removed during a massive reconstruction project.

We can stay in Virginia on I-495 heading “west” (though what is west on a circular highway?) and turn west on I-66. The highway is quite crowded in the growing suburbs of northern Virginia, but starts to quiet as one moves westward. Along the way, one passes Bull Run and Manassas of Civil-War battle fame. There was not one but two major battles here. I am pretty sure there are more Civil War sites in Virginia than any other state, and many in the northern part of the state like Manassas are likely getting absorbed into the expanding suburbs. I-66 continues west towards the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains that form the eastern edge of the range. Before its end, we can turn southward to Shenandoah National Park and tour the Skyline Drive.


[Wallygva at en.wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

Skyline drive runs for 105 miles and offers spectacular views of the mountains. I have heard (and seen photos) that suggest it can at times get quite foggy as well, though. Nonetheless, doing the entire drive seems like it would be rewarding if one is not in a hurry. In addition to the views, there are details such as the rather narrow Mary Rock Tunnel. The southern end of Skyline Drive connects to I-64. One can head east towards Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and one of the country’s shrines, Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello.


[By YF12s (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The geometric aspects, symmetries and design are quite interesting, as are some of the inventions and features inside. One can tell it was a labor of love (and obsession) for its owner. For some reason, one thing that stuck with me when visiting is the idea of “a home within a home”, a much more modest actual living space almost self contained within the grander designed building.

Back on I-64, we can head west onto Interstate 81 which runs along much of the Appalachian Mountains. It passes through hills, valleys and towns along the way, and is indeed a major corridor for the interior eastern US, connecting the northeast with the south. As such, it connects to our next state.


We continue on I-81 into Tennessee, where it ends at I-40. Here we leave the interstate and head south first on TN 66 and then US 441 to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has the distinction of being the most visited national park in the U.S. It offers great views of the southern Appalachian mountains, both scenic vistas of the mountains and details such as streams and waterfalls.

The other thing I remember from a visit as a teenager was encountering black bears. Even as one is cognizant of the fact that the bears are potentially dangerous wild animals, there is something quite endearing about them.

We did also go to the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and the highest point in Tennessee.

We can west from the park on US 441 to the city of Knoxville.


[By Kg4ygs - Jeffrey Paul Prickett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I do like the Sunsphere, though it looks quite out of place, a future retro design from a past era (or maybe a disco ball). It’s the sort of thing one expects to see abandoned as in the New York Worlds Fair, in a delightfully dystopian setting like Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. However, the Sunsphere sits in a well-maintained green park and has been reopened with an observation deck, cafes, and what I am guessing must be quite unique office space .

Continuing westward on I-40 through the state, our focus shifts to music. Nashville is of course a major music-industry center, both in terms of records and musical instruments, and is synonymous with country music (though in fairness the city is home to other types of music as well such as alternative rock). But I think I would identify more with its neighbor to the west, Memphis. Memphis is home to important early blues, but I think it is the later Electric Blues, early Rock-and-Roll and Memphis Soul (as epitomized by Stax Records) that most interest me – even as a mostly “experimental” composer, the sounds of these genres are a strong influence. I can’t personally speak to an I-40 musical rivalry between Nashville and Memphis, but perhaps some readers may be able to contribute here.

Indeed, I-40 is named the “Isaac Hays Memorial Highway” on its eastern approach to Memphis. Long before he was Chef on South Park, Isaac Hays was a leading figure in Memphis Soul on Stax. I-40 and I-240 together form a beltway around this city’s outer neighborhoods, but its downtown and many of its most famous landmarks lie further west, between I-240/I-69 and the Mississippi River. Just off this highway south of downtown is the Stax Museum on McLemore Avenue. Further north on off I-240/I-69 is large exit for Union Ave, which carries several number designations all at once (US 51/64/70/79). Union Avenue was once home to Sun Records which produced many of the earlier Rock-and-Roll artists of the 1950s. Union Avenue also provides access to Beale Street.


[Photo by ChaseGorden on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]


[By Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is a major tourist destination now with blues clubs, based on its historic significance in the development of the music. But it did go through a rough period before it was revitalized as the original music industry and the area in general went into decline in the 1960s. Consider this picture.

The Daisy Theater is still visible, but other than that the street looks run down – but somehow “authentic.” It is perhaps best to think of the new revitalized touristy street as just another phase of its history.


Because we are attempting to visit many states at once, each one will inevitably get less attention (this is true of the political process that is happening in parallel). As always, it is great to get feedback and ideas of places we missed. So please don’t be shy about leaving us your comments.

In tomorrow’s installment, we will explore a few more states, in particular Ohio and Idaho.

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Fun with Highways: Arizona

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This week the primary season brings us to two very different states, each of which are a source of creative inspiration but in very different ways. The first of these states we will visit is Arizona.

We begin where we left of in Colorado. From Four Corners, we head west on US 160 through the Navajo Nation. The dry landscape is punctuated by red rock formations such as Baby Rocks, which can be seen along the highway.


[By Reinhard Schön (original photograph) and Andreas F. Borchert (postprocessing) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The shapes and textures of the rock formations and the sparseness of the landscape are what attract me to the southwest. The unique combinations of climate, water and rock composition lead to this landscape, and individual varieties of rock (many of which are different types of sandstone) lead to the distinctive shapes in different locations. Sometimes the most interesting can simply be found on the side of the road. But that does not detract from the many iconic parks in this state. Indeed, if we continue on US 160 west to its terminus at US 89, and then further west along State Highway 64, we come to the most iconic of all, the Grand Canyon.


[By Tobias Alt (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It’s quite hard to summarize the Grand Canyon in such a brief article, but to say that it is most defined by its vast size. One is not simply looking at a large rock formation, but an entire carved landscape that extends in all directions. The space left by the canyon is big enough to support the same atmospheric effects as the sky itself, such as the refraction that leads to a blue tint in the space. Sadly, this also makes it a magnet for air pollution. The scale also means that from a distance one sees the rough surface and curved lines of the overall topography, but not as many distinctive formations like the Baby Rocks described above. To see such details of the Grand Canyon, one must travel to the far sections of the rim or descend into the depths.


[Photo by Al_HikesAZ on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]


[Photo by Al_HikesAZ on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

For many, places such as this are as much about recreation (rafting, hiking, climbing), but for me the interest in going back sometime soon is primarily about the visual landscape, touching feeling and breathing the desert air, and hearing both the sounds and the silences.

We head south from the Grand Canyon on US 180 to I-40 near Flagstaff. We take I-40 east to another of Arizona’s iconic locations, the Petrified Forest National Park. The eponymous petrified trees were created by combination of trees and minerals that were deposited over long periods of time and the gradual replacement of the organic matter with minerals. The relatively soft and easily eroded sandstone have left a surprisingly large number of these artifacts in one location. The extreme erosion patterns of the area also gave rise to the colorful formations of the Painted Desert.


[By User:Moondigger (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]


By Finetooth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Leaving the park, we turn back west on I-40 to Flagstaff, and then head southward on I-17 towards the Phoenix metropolitan area and a very different Arizona. But along the way, we pass by Arcosanti, an experimental town and “urban laboratory” that began construction is 1970. It was started by architect Paolo Soleri to experiment with ways of developing urban environments that minimized the impact on the natural environment. The architecture of Arcosanti is quite unique.


[By Cody from Phoenix, AZ (arcosanti western half) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

In addition to being an experimental project itself, it hosts a variety of events (including the annual Different Skies Music Festival).


[By Cody from Phoenix, AZ (arcosanti apse) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

And it’s on to Phoenix. It’s hard to conceptualize that in the middle of the desert is one of the largest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Yet there it is. The recent rapid growth of Phoenix and the entire “Valley of the Sun” and the relatively flat terrain have led to some rather impressive highway interchanges.

The rather complex tangle above is the interchange of I-10 (the Papago Freeway coming from downtown Phoenix), Arizona Loop 202 and Arizona State Highway 51, which is supposedly the busiest interchange in the state. A more elegant one (which I have in fact seen in a museum piece) can be found further east where AZ 202 meets US 60.

The lines and curves complement the desert terrain (disregarding the subdivisions for the moment). Indeed, the structures themselves have a reddish color reminiscent of the desert landscape.

Traveling up Arizona Loop 101 to Scottsdale in the northeast corner of the metropolitan are, one finds Taliesin West, the winter home and school of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright designed this home to reflect “Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, uptilting planes”, aspects of the natural landscape which we have explored in this article.


[I, Gobeirne [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

In ways, his goals predate and inform the work that continues at Arcosonti, although the latter has more of an urban focus.

Heading south and east on I-10, we come to Tucson and a very different but still quintessentially “Arizonan” landscape. Here the most distinctive features are not the rocks but the vegetation, especially the saguaro cactus. Like the Grand Canyon, the saguaro is a symbol of the state, and of the best preserved tracts of these and other cacti can be found in Saguaro National Park west of Tucson.


[By Saguaro Pictures (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Heading back west on I-10, we switch to I-8 through the southwest corner of this southwestern state. We turn south on State Highway 85 through relatively empty but rocky landscape. Highway 85 intersects with 86 at the small town of Why, named for the “Y” shape of the original intersection of the two highways. Because Arizona law required location names to have at least three letters, the name “Why” was used instead of “Y”. Continuing south on 85, we eventually reach Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.


[By Pretzelpaws at en.wikipedia [GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

Although this park is named for the organ pipe cactus (shown above), it contains many of the other varieties found in southern Arizona, such as the saguaro. However, the converse is not true. The organ pipe cactus only grows wild here. I visited in the winter of 2004-2005 and found this park to be quite sparse and peaceful. The landscape does not really have many of the monumental rock formations further north, but it does have interesting hillsides covered with rough crumbling stone and frequently punctuated by the cacti.

And I think the final desert sunset is an appropriate way to conclude this article. I of course know there is much more to consider in Arizona, and welcome thoughts and ideas from others as comments.

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