Abstract photo from Terminal Island near the Port of Long Beach, California. Taken using the iPhone Hipstamatic app.
If you haven’t done so yet, please check out my latest gig report on Reconnaissance Fly.
(As usual, info on the picture is revealed in the comments.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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).
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:
The 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.
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.
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.
It can be quite colorful if you know where to look.
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.
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.
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.
Today, we visit the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge to mark the passing today of former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The bridge, which carries New York State Route 25 from Queens to its terminus in Manhattan at 2nd Avenue, is known locally at the “59th Street Bridge.” It’s actually over 100 years old, having opened in 1909.
The Queens side connects to a tangled nexus of ramps that are mixed up with elevated subway structures. And as these structures are all aging, they become interesting photographic subjects. The bridge was named in honor of the former mayor in 2010.
Here is cute video that has been circulating today, in which Mayor Koch welcomes passersby (including the current mayor) to “my bridge”. (You need only watch the segment until about 2:00)
It’s very typical of his style, being a larger-than-life character but also a bit self-deprecating. It is quintessentially “New York”. From the New York Times obituary:
…out among the people or facing a news media circus in the Blue Room at City Hall, he was a feisty, slippery egoist who could not be pinned down by questioners and who could outtalk anybody in the authentic voice of New York: as opinionated as a Flatbush cabby, as loud as the scrums on 42nd Street, as pugnacious as a West Side reform Democrat mother.
I did have the opportunity to meet him twice on visits back from Yale to New York City, as part of the Yale Political Union. Although my colleagues seemed to treat him rather coldly, I was quite happy for the experience.
In this installment of our “primary highways” series, we look at the states of Mississippi and Alabama. In some ways, this is a particularly challenging edition, as I have never personally visited either of the states – in fact they are among only five remaining states I have yet to visit (Kansas, which held its causes on Saturday, is another of the five). So we will do the best we can.
I did come close to visiting Mississippi in 2006. For one day while I was in New Orleans, I had rented a car to reach places outside the public transportation grid that was still limited after Hurricane Katrina, including the Lower Ninth Ward. I was tempted to get back on I-10 and head east to Mississippi, just to be able to say I was there. But in the end I decided against it. Had I continued, I would have crossed into Mississippi in a sparsely populated area along the Pearl River. To the north of I-10 is the John C Stennis Space Center, where NASA has tested engines for many of our legendary space vehicles including the Apollo Saturn V and the Space Shuttle.
Given that it is an engine test facility, it’s not surprising there isn’t much of a permanent population in the area. Several communities were removed when it was built, and supposedly a few remnants of the communities, particularly Gaineville, still exist. Indeed, off of Highway 607, the “Shuttle Parkway”, is Lower Gainesville Road, which heads past various space-center complexes towards the Pearl River and ends at what could be the remains of the town.
Heading southward on 607 from I-10, we eventually reach US 90, which continues along the Mississippi coast through the towns of Waveland and Bay St Louis, which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps the most dramatic example was the bridge carrying US 90 over St. Louis Bay, which was completely destroyed.
It has since been replaced by a new bridge, a graceful flowing structure that has won the American Transportation Award and became a symbol for the region.
US 90 continues along the coast as Beach Boulevard towards the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi. Biloxi is a big resort and casino town on the coast, but it, too, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Although it sounds like there is still much rebuilding to be done, many of the city’s casinos have since reopened and landmarks restored including the iconic Biloxi Lighthouse and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Of Art that was designed by Frank Gehry. The Ohr-O’Keefe was under construction when Katrina hit and was severely damaged. It ultimately opened in 2010.
South of nearby Gulfport is Cat Island. I thought maybe it had something in common with the famous Cat Island off the coast of Japan, but no such luck. As far as I can tell, there are no cats there, and the name itself was a mistake.
From the southeast corner of the state, we jump to the northwest corner. Specifically, we are going to a junction outside of Clarksdale where US 61 and US 49 meet. This crossroads is considered by many “the crossroads”, where according to legend blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical gifts.
Legend or not, Clarksdale has a particular association with the blues, and is home to the Delta Blues Museum.
US 49 has long been a major highway traversing the state diagonally. From Clarksdale, it winds its way through the Mississippi Delta, even splitting into separate east and west parts, before leaving the delta and approaching the capital and largest city, Jackson. On the northwest approach to the capital, US 49 carries the name Medgar Evers Boulevard in honor of the civil rights leader who was assassinated in Jackson in 1963. The highway then bypasses the downtown with I-220 and I-20 before continuing to Hattiesburg, home of Southern Mississippi University.
In Hattiesburg we meet I-59. The drive along I-59 and US 11 to the town of Laurel was recommended to me (actually, the drive south from Laurel to Mississippi State University). In Laurel, I-59 had an unusual S-curve that rivaled Dead Man’s curve in Cleveland due to railroad overpasses, but it has supposedly been reconstructed. I-59 continues north to Meridian, where it joins with I-20.
Briefly leaving the freeway in Meridian, one can take Highway 19 north to the town of Philadelphia, made infamous for the death of three civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The murders took place off of Highway 19, and it was presumably the route they took to Neshoba County.
I-59 and I-20 continue as a single route into Alabama, all the way to Birmingham. It is largest city in either of the states in this article, and is crisscrossed by several major highways. A large interchange between I-59/I-20 and I-65 just west of downtown is known as Malfunction Junction because of the frequent (and unfortunately, sometimes deadly) accidents that happen there.
Interestingly, it does not look that complex from a map view, especially when compared to a nearby junction of I-59/I-20 and US 31/US 280. While it does look more complex, it does afford a good view of the city skyline when approaching from the south.
Birmingham has a strong industrial past, especially in iron and steel. Indeed, the Sloss Furnace in the city is one of the few industrial sites preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors can wander and enjoy the site, which features defunct but preserved industrial buildings and machinery. This would be a fantastic place to photograph! I could also see it as a musically inspiring location, for pieces based on metallic resonances. The center does hold concerts, and has a highly regarded program in metal arts. (I wonder if they have arts residencies?)
As has happened with many other industrial cities that experienced long declines, downtown Birmingham appears to rebounding as a residential and cultural center, with lofts and galleries. There is also the restored Alabama Theatre which functions as a performing arts center while retaining many of its movie-palace features, most notably its original Wurlitzer Organ. (It should be noted this is the second Wurlitzer to be featured in this year’s “primary highways” series.)
South of Birmingham is the town of Selma, which has a storied place in the Civil Rights Movement. A voting rights movement in the town ultimately grew into the Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The marches took place on US Highway 80 heading east from Selma and crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The first march was met by state troopers and the marchers were brutally assaulted. Images “Bloody Sunday” were broadcast nationwide, shocking many and galvanizing support among some for the civil rights movement. Two more marches along the same route were organized. The third march passed the bridge and continued all the way east on Highway 80 to Montgomery. The march then veered north onto the Mobile Highway, parallel to present day I-65, and then along city streets to the state capitol. The entire route is now marked as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Route.
From the state capital, one can travel south on I-65 to Mobile and back to the Gulf Coast, where we began. We switch on to I-165 which enters the downtown and becomes Water Street. Heading further south, we come back to I-10, which crosses Mobile Bay on a long causeway. From the causeway, we can look back at the city at sunset.