Month: August 2015

Leaving Alaska on the Inside Passage

Five years ago almost to the day I left the Great Land, as Alaskans call their home. I departed the exact same way I came up, taking the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway, from Haines to Prince Rupert, BC. (FYI, that is the state-run ferry system.) That is just an incredible way to experience one of the world’s cleanest, healthiest, and most scenic waterways and landscapes.

I captured all of these photos on my pont and shoot Canon, which did what I wanted to do–preserve a memory of a very important moment in time when I transitioned from one stage of my life to another. (Click on each picture to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

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It’s a big old goofy world in carnie land

I visited the Oaks Amusement Park this weekend, in southeast Portland, along the Willamette River. This 110-year-old facility is a classic, old-style small amusement park, not a corporate-themed fantasy land that milks consumers for all they got. It is among the oldest in the country. Old-school amusement parks are part of an older, carnival world that dates back to the Midways and Pikes of the 1893 and 1904 World’s Fairs in Chicago and St. Louis. In fact, Oaks Park is part of that tradition, opening as part of the 1905 Portland World’s Fair.

There is something utterly low-brow about businesses like these. No one who attends the opera would be found anywhere near here. The rides are not forcing us to buy Disney products or watch a Universal Pictures film. Most are just about flinging our bodies in different directions, so we can momentarily feel a sense of safely packaged fear and excitement, with a slight twinge of panic these old contraptions might break down and fling us to oblivion.

What I saw at Oaks Park also was about the most diverse crowed I have seen in one place in Portland since arriving. Parents and their kids, and also grandparents, were letting it rip, laughing, and having a good time. The carnie atmosphere prevailed on the main strip, complete with gun-skills galleries, basketball tosses, junk food, and stuffed toys. I thought about the people who worked here and what they thought about their daily grind, and the people who spend their hard-earned money just to escape from life for an hour or two without going broke.

Surprisingly, amusement parks are almost always portrayed as sinister places in film, from West World to Jurassic Park, to even older films like the noir classic Third Man with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. This American Life did a pretty good episode on amusement parks also. It is worth a listen too. So amid that joy, and it was joy, you always feel that sense of trepidation, like maybe, just maybe, the rides might not work. And maybe, that is why people keep coming back, year after year.

The fury of fire

Following the hottest July ever in human recorded history on planet earth, the American west is having the greatest outbreak of wildfires since the great fires of 1910, which ravaged Montana, Idaho, and Washington state.

Fires are burning widely across my home state of Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, and Alaska. Three firefighters were killed on Aug. 19, fighting a blaze in the Methow Valley near Twisp–an area hammered by wildfires in 2014. There is major change taking place. This will involve how we plan for fire, build in fire zones, speculate for fast profits in pretty Western scenery (if you can afford that game), and consider what is safe.

Maybe the lessons will be forgotten. People, particularly wealthy people, will still want to live near the mountains and wild places where fires naturally occur, but with global warming patterns due to climate change, the ecosystem will be transformed more and more by big burns. We as a country cannot afford to purely protect all of the property here, particularly when the sacrifice is lost firefighters’ lives. Will it one day be left just to burn?

I took this picture about a week after fires ravaged the town of Pateros, in central Washington, again at the center of Washington’s complex of fires.

(Click on the picture to see a larger photograph on a separate picture page.)

Has it been 20 years already, Machu Picchu?

Yes, Machu Picchu, with a llama munching on grass, is a complete photographic cliché. I do not care. I snapped this photograph in the very very early morning hours at this great Inca hill city in late August 1995. I hiked the Machu Picchu Trail to get here, passing six ruins. It was a highlight of my life, mainly because of the incredible mountain topography, the historic footprint of the now-gone Inca culture, and the fulfillment of a dream of mine to mix my passions for mountains, long-distance trekking, and archaeology-history. The negative for this photo was damaged by the developer, as I made a big mistake entrusting my film to a shop in Santiago. But with a little Adobe magic, it turned out OK.

When I arrived at Machu Picchu, it was smoked out from fires on the Amazon basin, where farmers and cattle owners were burning land. I had camped out at Intipunku (Sun Gate), which looks down on the ruins from a nearby pass. That was not, ahem, entirely allowable, but I practiced low-impact camping and had zero impact. And I know my footprint was radically less than the organized tours, some of whom were leaving trash at camp sites. I am now glad the trail is more regulated. There simply is no other way with such a globally popular destination.

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Washington Park Cemetery, the forgotten burial place

In the completely overlooked and unknown north St. Louis County community of Berkeley, Missouri, lies an overgrown, forgotten, and largely abandoned cemetery. Washington Park Cemetery was founded in the 1920s as a burial place for the St. Louis area’s black residents. It lies just off Natural Bridge Road, about 1.5 miles from Lambert International Airport.

Today, few if anyone knows about this place. It has been the subject of news stories throughout the years, mainly involving land use controversies that led to cemetery land and graves being removed to make way for an interstate and more recently in 1993 for the MetroLink light rail, which connects the urban center with the airport. Literally thousands of former bodies were removed to make way for major public infrastructure.

I knew about this battered resting place ever since I was a kid. I could see the graves literally right next to Interstate 70, and read stories in the 1990s about the light rail and airport expansion disputes. When I stayed in a hotel literally just across from this cemetery in July, I instantly knew what the place was, even though I found no signs. All I found were grave markers, names of African-American residents who were interned and the weeds, trees, and brush that were taking over the place. It reminded me of Jewish cemeteries I found in Poland, now abandoned since the tragedy of the Shoah in the 1940s.

Here are a few shots that I took wandering around on my last night before flying back to Portland. It was hot, humid, and eery. In the distance in one shot is the Renaissance Hotel, a luxury airport accommodation that looms over the cemetery. I doubt a single guest at that place ever wanders in the back to see the history that is now slowly being taken over by the Missouri bush.

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Hot, dry and scenic Wasco County, Oregon

I took a short trip in July to the Deschutes River, in north central Oregon. It’s a region defined by a great giver, beautiful rolling hills, ranches and farmland and remnants of Oregon’s more agricultural past. All of these photos were taken in Wasco County. Here is my tip. Never go biking in the late afternoon sun. Choose the morning.