Journal of Airline-Seat Photography: Cross-Country Energy Tour


I flew home from Chicago earlier this week and was glued to the window, taking pictures, as usual. I don’t feel like I’m trying to capture anything particular in the pictures. I’m just observing the flow of the landscape as it slides by seven miles below. Still, you hope something will jump out at you that you didn’t expect–a passing aircraft, maybe, or a glimpse of some remote locale you’ve visited before.

On this week’s flight, the unexpected happened as we flew across western Nevada, just north of Tonopah. My eye had been drawn to light falling on some mountains and dunes, and I took a couple of frames. Taking the camera away and looking down again, I saw a big circular construction on the desert floor with some sort of pillar structure in the middle. I’ve read about massive earth art installations out there, and for a second I wondered whether this was one of those. Then I realized I was looking at a rather exotic solar energy facility: a circular field of mirrors focused on a collecting tower. (Later research showed this to be a facility called Crescent Dunes, a name referring to the dunes just west of the installation.)

Then, looking through pictures of the flight, I realized I had a collection of pictures of latter-day (non-fossil-fuel) power facilities: the nuclear plant in Oregon, Illinois; a hydroelectric facility outside Ogallala, Nebraska; windmills along the Colorado-Nebraska border southwest of the town of Sidney, Nebraska; and Crescent Dunes, just north of Tonopah. Here’s the slideshow (and the map that goes with it).

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