Fun with Highways: Northern California along I-5

As summer winds down, we start to look back the many little road adventures that dotted the season. The largest and last of these trips, of course, was to Portland, which included a large stretch of northern California.

We begin on I-505, which heads north from I-80, bypassing Sacramento.

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I-505 is a completely straight, flat, stretch of highway. This is pretty much true of the surrounding landscape as well, but the texture and details against this blank canvas can make for some interesting photos.

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I-505 merges into I-5, which continues northward through more of the relatively flat landscape, repeatedly crossing the Sacramento River in the process. Eventually we come to the city of Redding at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. On my return trip from Portland, I finally had a chance to stop in Redding and visit the Sundial Bridge. This modernist architectural gem spans a wooded section of the Sacramento River completely, a world apart from the town of Redding itself or the strip malls and shopping centers that line the highways. Here, clean modern lines contrast with the natural forms of trees and running water.

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The Sundial Bridge turned out to be a great subject for abstract photography (you can see another shot in an earlier Wordless Wednesday). It was also quite crowded with families and groups, something to keep in mind should I ever want to use it as a setting for a more formal photo shoot.

North of Redding, I-5 climbs into the southern Cascades towards Mount Shasta. The highway here is quite scenic, but also narrow, winding, and treacherous. Eventually it opens up as one passes Mount Shasta and approaches Black Butte.

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Black Butte is a satellite cone of Mount Shasta. It has a distinctive pointy shape and largely barren rocky texture, both of which make it quite prominent in the landscape. The highway curves around its edge, providing a close-up view.

Historic_US_99CA_265US_97_CAAfter passing Mount Shasta and Black Butte, I-5 descends into a wide valley, passing by the town of Weed, whose welcome sign is a popular backdrop for photographs. This is the start of US 97, which heads northeast towards Klamath Falls and central Oregon as I-5 continues due north through the Cascades towards Portland. The main street in Weed is also Historic US 99. The part of the historic route which returns to I-5 is now California Highway 265, one of the shortest in the system.

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From here, the valley descends and opens further, and the landscape becomes surprisingly desert-like. We pass the town of Yreka, where I did not get a chance to stop, but might on a future trip because of some idiosyncratic road-geek things. Finally, the highway climbs upwards again towards Siskiyou Summit, just north of the Oregon-California border and the highest point on all of I-5 at 4,310 feet (1,310 meters).

Wordless Wednesday: Green Boxes (PDX)

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For the context on this photo, please visit my yesterday’s Fun with Highways article.

Fun with Highways: Portland

My trip to Portland for BPOW included becoming acquainted with its streets and highways (and mostly not getting lost). The city is largely defined by the Willamette River, which bisects the city in eastern and western halves, and a series of bridges over the river connecting the two sides:

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OR_99EI-84The above photo is looking north at the Burnside Bridge, which carries one of the city’s main thoroughfares. The vantage point is from the center of the Morrison Bridge, which combines traffic entering and exiting I-5 with city streets, walkways and bike paths. It seems to part of the theme in Portland that all these different modes come together and coexist along single routes. Looking towards the east side, the bridge connects to I-5 and I-84, as well as state highway 99E (Martin Luther King Avenue) and Water Avenue.

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I-5 runs along the east bank of the river. But it also runs with bike and walking paths and a greenway. The highway, park, water and industrial zone behind them all co-exist.

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I like the way Portland has chosen to co-exist with its older industrial infrastructure and highways as it plans green spaces and alternative transportation options. It is in sharp contrast to San Francisco, which can’t seem to tear down its highways and raze its gritty industrial areas fast enough. There is a beauty and attraction in preserving them while making the city for livable and environmentally friendly. The area around Water Avenue in the “Industrial Southeast” section of the city particularly retains this character. I had briefly seen it during my 2007 trip with the band that would later become Reconnaissance Fly, and for the BPOW trip I made sure to set aside time to explore. Much of the neighborhood is below the bridges and viaducts, but in between it opens up into spaces with larger warehouses.

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It can be quite colorful if you know where to look.

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Heading north at ground level, we follow the viaduct until we get to a rather nasty looking interchange. This is the northern terminus of I-405, which loops around downtown on the west side.

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There are also several city streets and rail involved here in ways I can’t quite figure out. It also oddly frames the rose skyscraper that dominates downtown.

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From here, we head north on 99E to the northeast section of the city. The industrial character gives way to a neighborhood of mixed residential houses and small stores. It here that BPOW took place at Cymaspace. You can read the first part of my report covering the workshops here. The second half, which will cover the evening concerts, will be published soon. In the meantime, we at CatSynth recommend enjoying a beer, of which there was no shortage in any neighborhood of the city.

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Wordless Wednesday: Double Arch (Galena Creek Bridge)

Galena Creek Bridge hipstamatic photo

Fun with Highways: I-587 in Kingston, New York (and Deep Listening)

Today we look at the city of Kingston, New York. Kingston is about 90 miles north of New York City on the west bank of the Hudson River. It was the first state capital of New York in 1777. For those of us in the world of electronic and experimental music, the city is the current home of renowned composer and musical innovator Pauline Oliveros as well as the Deep Listening Institute which she founded.

Kingston is also the location of one of the most obscure and oddest Interstate highways, I-587.

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NY-28I-587I-587, known as Colonel Chandler Drive, is co-signed with NY 28. It is a full freeway from it’s start at a traffic circle near the New York State Thruway (I-87) to its eastern terminus at an intersection with NY 32 (Albany Avenue) in downtown Kingston. Other than its termini, it has no exits. It also never meets its parent route, I-87, though the traffic circle at the western end does connect to Exit 19 of the Thruway.

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[By Mitchazenia (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0;], via Wikimedia Commons]

I-587 is signed along its route and at either end, but there is no mention of it on signs for Exit 19 on the Thruway. Thus, travelers on I-87 would never even know its there unless they took the exit and encountered the signs at the traffic circle.

By coincidence, I will participating in a performance of Pauline Oliveros’ The Heart Chant with the Cardow Choir at this year’s Garden of Memory event in Oakland. You can read past reviews of this unique yearly event and here. As for The Heart Chant itself:

This participatory Deep Listening meditation is a gesture of sonic healing for all beings and circumstances that need healing. It was created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “Ah” is a vocal sound associated with the heart shakra.

Anyone at the Chapel of the Chimes tonight is welcome to participate in singing this piece. There will also be numerous other performances by noted Bay Area musicians, and I hope to see as many of them as I can. You can follow along with me on Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #gardenofmemory.

Wordless Wednesday: Ramp to Nowhere

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Fun with Highways: Tulsa

Today we have fun with the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Downtown Tulsa is about one mile square, bordered by two highways, I-244 to the west and north, and I-444 to the south and east, together known as the Inner Dispersal Loop.

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Oklahoma_State_Highway_51US_64US_75I-444Despite being one of the coolest extant Interstate numbers, I-444 is unsigned. Instead, it carries US 75 designation for its entire length, as well as US 64 and OK 51 for part of its length. It’s curious that they chose not to sign it. According to kurumi.com, “a mapping supervisor from Oklahoma DOT spoke to the Division Engineer in Tulsa to get a more official answer. To avoid confusing motorists by adding a 444 number to an area with I-44 and I-244, the DOT decided to use the existing US 75 designation.” Honestly, that seems like a weak reason. We have I-80 plus seven different x80 interstates here in the Bay Area and manage not to get too confused by it.

So why Tulsa today? The city was awarded the Parking Madness “Golden Crater” by Streetsblog. Much of the south side of the downtown is covered by parking lots.”

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Not pretty, and not a particularly good use of valuable downtown space in the 21st century. And certainly the comments in the article open the city and its residence to a bit of ridicule. Apparently Tulsans are aware of this and the city council placed a moratorium on new parking lot construction. Moreover, Streetsblog describes a proposal by urban-planning major and native Tulsan to revitalize the downtown for walkability and pedestrian-friendly retail.

I did notice that outside of the downtown and Inner Dispersal Loop is the Philbrook Museum. The museum is on a 1920s estate designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa.

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[By Taken by Kralizec!, cropped by CPacker (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons]

While much of the collection is traditional art, they do have a growing modern and contemporary collection. This piece by Josiah McElheny, for example, makes an interesting contrast to the architecture of the estate. Would definitely be worth a visit.

Fun with Highways: The Seaford–Oyster Bay Expressway

Today for no particular reason we visit NY 135, the Seaford–Oyster Bay Expressway. It runs north-south through suburban Nassau County on Long Island. What makes it interesting is that it seems rather incomplete. NY 135 was intended to continue south to Jones Beach, but this part of the project was never completed. One can see the right of way extending south from Merrick Road (once the main east-west thoroughfare on the south side of Long Island) to the Wantaugh Parkway.

As it stands now, the expressway ends at a stub just after crossing Merrick Road.


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

It is literally a dead end.


[By DanTD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0;], via Wikimedia Commons]

You can see some more photos at this site. It seems like this would be an interesting spot for an art photography project. More of a concept piece with portraits.

NY 135 also ends at stub on its north end, just after crossing NY 25 in Syosset.

Indeed, the expressway never makes it all the way north to Oyster Bay, as implied by the name. But it was once proposed to extend even beyond that, crossing the Long Island Sound on a six mile bridge to Rye and connecting to I-287, the Cross Westchester Expressway (not far from where I grew up). This was one of Robert Moses’ more ambitious ideas and came far after his original projects that transformed many parts of New York including Long Island. I am currently reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and Fall of New York, and in the middle of the chapters discussing the building of the parks and parkways on Long Island, including Jones Beach and the Wantaugh Parkway. One of the revelations was what a remote place Long Island was at the beginning of the 20th century despite being next to New York City. But in some ways it still seems rather remote.

17th Street in San Francisco

17th Street is one of the longer numbered streets in San Francisco, though not the longest. What makes it unique among its peers is that it forms an almost perfect horizontal line through a large swath of the city, cutting through a variety of neighborhoods and terrains. Like reading geological strata or tree rings, it is an efficient way to explore San Francisco’s geography and history. For quite a long time I have wanted to walk the length of 17th Street. And on March 17 of this year, things lined up in terms of numbers, schedule and weather to make the perfect day for this walk.

17th Street begins at a modest corner with Pennsylvania Avenue at the base of Potrero Hill, next the I-280 elevated section. This used to be a rather forlorn block, but it has been upgraded quite a bit with the addition of a small park at the end of the street.

The street then heads westward through the flat land below Potrero Hill and crosses many of the streets named for U.S. states. Along the way one passes Bottom of the Hill, a club that I recently played at (you can read the gig report here). There is also Parkside, where I have yet to play. The architecture in this area changes between industrial and the modest wooden houses that typify San Francisco. There is also some newer condo and office development.

The street then heads uphill and underneath the US 101 freeway. From here, one can look down at the junction with I-80 and the downtown skyline beyond.

This neighborhood, at the boundary between Potrero Hill and the Mission is the location of Art Explosion, where I have had photography shows over the past couple of years. I have since left that space in order to focus on my other creative projects. From here, 17th Street heads downward into the Mission.

This is a huge neighborhood with numerous subsections each with their own character. We start off in a very industrial area that continues until we cross South Van Ness, at which point we enter the very densely packed core along Mission Street. Continuing westward we find ourselves in the heart of San Francisco hipsterdom, particularly along Valencia Street and the wide park-like Dolores Street.

The houses along this section of the street are a more upscale variety of the ornate San Francisco Victorians, some in colors that one would never instinctively think to paint a house. There are also numerous alleys that poke in either direction off the street.

From here, we continue eastward into the Castro. I have never been entirely sure where the Mission ends and the Castro begins, but I think it is probably at Church Street. Further on it becomes pretty clear where we are as 17th Street approaches its six-point intersection with Market and Castro streets. At this intersection, we find the huge landmark pride flag.

This is also the terminus for the F-Market streetcar line, which uses vintage streetcars from around the world.

After crossing Market Street, we come to the 4000 block of 17th. We have already come a long way, but there is still quite a bit ahead of us.

From here, the street heads up a steep hill into a very upscale neighborhood with large (and undoubtedly very expensive) houses. While 17th Street remains straight as it goes uphill, the intersecting streets, a few of which are named for planets, are more curved and follow the contours of the terrain. There are also numerous staircases here, providing access where it is too steep to build cross streets or alleys.

17th Street eventually reaches its apex at a large intersection with Clayton Street. To the south is Twin Peaks. To the north is Mount Olympus, the geographical center of the city. I had explored the strange little park at that point on a previous excursion. There is a pedestal that presumably contained a statue at one point. I used it as a backdrop for some of my doll photos, one of which you can see here. From this point, 17th drops precipitously into the Cole Valley neighborhood.

This section is purely residential, and the streets straighten out. Even after descending the hill, the street still remains higher than the rest of Cole Valley and the Upper Haight to the north. 17th Street comes to an end here at an intersection with Stanyan Street.

Thus, the mission to walk the length of 17th Street was complete. But this was not the end of the story. The city recently opened the long-closed Interior Greenbelt park, and the main trail begins half a block away on Stanyan. One ascends a narrow wooden staircase and enters into a completely different world.

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I am surprised I had never before made it to this gem of a park, though it did only open to the public in 2011. The woods are not unlike those one might find in parks outside the city, with no visual cues of the urban surroundings at all. There are some sounds from the city that penetrate into the woods, but they are overshadowed by the combination of silences and natural sounds. The late afternoon lighting was perfect on this trip as well. I spent about 30 minutes or so wandering the main “historic” trail of the park before exiting on a small brick-paved street with a spectacular view of the city.

Tired but contented, I picked up a nearby MUNI Metro to get home. And this really is the end of the journey.

I-710 and the Los Angeles River

After the intensity and non-stop stimulus of NAMM, I try to reserve the final Sunday for solitude and exploration of the greater Los Angeles Area. My most recent post-NAMM exploration included a trip north on I-710.

Officially the “Long Beach Freeway”, the highway runs alongside the Los Angeles River for much of its length. The Los Angeles River is a naturally flowing river, but it has been encased in a concrete channel. It’s a rather dystopian vision, but very much characteristic of 20th century LA. It has served as a setting for numerous movies – think the scene in Terminator 2 where the cars crash in a giant concrete ditch and the shapeshifting guy walks away. Of course, I had to photograph this monument myself as well. I joined I-710 at its interchange with Highway 91. The river immediately comes into view to the right, concrete channel and all. However, along this section there has been a lot of work to provide green space on the banks, with bike and walking paths connecting a series of parks. I left the freeway at the Imperial Highway exit for a closer look.


[The mighty Los Angeles River.]

This location is actually the confluence of two rivers. The San Gabriel River, also enclosed in a concrete channel for much of its length, flows into the larger Los Angeles River – the merging of the two concrete channels is unique.


[The San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers.]

I suppose I choose to see the beauty in scenes like these where others refuse to or can’t. But on another level, it is not entirely a choice. I am inexorably drawn to such things. Even as are attitudes towards development change from 20th century models, I’d like to see artifacts like this concrete river preserved.

North of the Imperial Highway, I-710 crosses the Los Angeles River to the east bank.


[I-710 crossing the Los Angeles River.]

The freeway begins to diverge from the river, heading due north towards Pasadena and controversial “dead end”. You can read more about the efforts to complete (or not complete) the highway at the California Highways website. However, I chose to leave the highway and follow the river instead.

A stretch of Bandini Boulevard grazes the river, affording views of a section that is unequivocally industrial. No parks or bike paths here. But even here I can find visual beauty in the bleakness of the scene.

The river is of course in no way devoid of life. Tenacious vegetation can be found along the channel, and there are plenty of birds who take advantage of the shallow water.

I continued north near to the river into the city of Los Angeles. The industrial character remained for a while, and reminded me a bit of the southeastern section of San Francisco that I often frequent, but on a grander scale. I didn’t stop here, but perhaps I should have. Towards downtown, the river becomes incorporated into the greater city, with classic art-deco bridges spanning the channel. I crossed it one last time on the First Street Bridge:


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

It was early enough to still visit a couple of L.A.’s art museums, but I am glad I was able to spend time first with this piece of the city’s history, and a work of art in its own right.