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).

Approaching Portland


I have no problem with most of the flight directions airline crews give passengers, except for one. The order to turn off all electronic devices–“anything with an on or off switch”–gets in the way of picture-taking on takeoffs and landing. I have never heard the electronic point-and-shoot photography has even interfered with a plane’s avionics or brought down a flight, and I’ve seen landing videos shot right in the cockpits of big commercial jets, so I persist in the habit. Here’s an example from last Saturday: my Southwest flight from Oakland on approach to Portland airport. The image is looking southeast over Sauvie Island, just west of the Willamette River and the city. How do I know? I spent a while checking my images of the approach against Google Maps satellite images and online maps. I don’t know the area at all, and had to orient myself as to the direction of our approach–some later images corrected my impression that we were landing east-to-west; it was the exact opposite. That upside-down Y intersection at the lower left is where Reeder Road, coming from the left, meets Oak Island Road, coming from the right. I couldn’t find the name of that stream winding through the center of the frame, but you can see the Multnomah Channel, just west of its confluence with the Willamette, at the very top of the picture. Compare the satellite image of the spot.