31 Dec 2018

Why I Love a Window Seat!

For most of my adulthood I've flown to the US every couple of years, and I always try to get a window seat on the right side of the plane, in order to get a decent view of Greenland, the tip of which transatlantic flights usually pass over. I hadn't been there for a few years, so was pleased to snag a suitable window seat on my recent flight to Los Angeles, on the way to Hawaii. Part of the fun of these journeys for me is to retrace the flight path by matching the photos I've taken to Google Maps. Sometimes this is pretty straightforward - for a start I have a fair idea of the route from the occasional peak of the flight map between films. Sometimes, though, it is a downright painful exercise, especially if I've only taken a couple of photos every couple of hours. The quality of the photos is never that great, as I'm generally in the back of the plane behind the vapour trail, so shooting downwards gives the clearest shot (but pretty difficult with a bulky DSLR and a long telephoto lens).

On this recent trip I managed to figure out where all of the photos were taken, and I found some pretty interesting geology and some areas with many, many meandering rivers that all look the same. It was a lengthy job, but I'm a bit weird and I enjoyed it very much!

Here goes:

First shot is taken flying over Skye - I can just make out the lighthouse on Neist Point below.

The next photo I took had a bridge in it that I didn't recognise. I knew it must be somewhere in north-west Scotland, and a couple of Google searches for "bridges connecting islands in the Hebrides" showed me a bridge from North Uist to Berneray - a little island I'd never heard of before.

We left the British Isles behind and headed up to Iceland. Sadly there was constant cloud cover as we passed along the island's southern coast. I watched a movie instead. Three hours after take-off I did a little check out of the window and saw the bright white of the snow-covered south-eastern Greenland coming into view. We flew over an area at the bottom point of Greenland that has no settlements on the eastern coast, the Kujalleq province. What it lacked in settlements it made up for in stunning peaks, the shadows of which were long and pointy in the morning light. I'd missed the pink light of sunrise, but it was still bloody spectacular!

This photo was taken at approx. 61.8°N , 42.0° W
Shadows of peaks at approx. 61.9°N, 42.7°W
Peaks at approx. 61.93°N, 43.0°W
More peaks, approx. 61.9°N, 43.1° W
More shadows, approx. 61.9°N, 43.4°W
The last peak I saw in the main range on the eastern side was almost directly beneath us - I do have to slightly contort myself to capture these (and put the shutter on silent so as not to irritate everyone around me).

Approx. 61.8°N, 43.7°W
There were a few small mountains peaking out from the ice sheet as we crossed to the western side, but the eastern side was far more dramatic. The ice was occasionally broken making interesting patterns.

Cracks in the ice sheet, approx. 61.63°N, 46.75°W
The edge of the ice sheet, at approx. 61.4°N, 47.9°W

Middle of the island in the foreground is at 61.33°N, 48.54°W
There was a huge glacier to the north, but sadly the vapour trail was totally obscuring the view (here it is anyway - this is what I was up against!):

Head of the glacier (just visible) is at 61.585°N, 48.33°W
I continued my marathon movie-watching session (I got through 5 films as well as taking numerous photos!), and an hour later we hit the coast of Labrador and the Torngat Mountains National Park in Canada.

The peak at the bottom is at 58.72°N, 63.115°W
A little further west was this almost heart-shaped pair of glaciated valleys at 58.67°N, 63.97°W
Next photo was taken of a cute little river junction on the George river in Quebec - the islands reminded me of an owl's face.

Owl face at approx. 58.37°N, 66.08°W
A little further west and there was another impressive partly-frozen river snaking its way through the Quebec countryside below - the Koksoak river.

Approx. 57.95°N, 68.95°W
Half an hour later I checked the view again and we had just reached the eastern coast of Hudson Bay and a string of snow-covered islands - this one is Curran Island.

Curran Island, 56.62°N, 76.66°W
Forty minutes later I checked again (thankfully BA has proper entertainment systems so you can pause your movies at will!) and down below was a snowy meandering river. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to find these rivers on Google Maps.

Winisk River and tributary in Ontario. The big loop is at 54.66°N, 85.44°W
The Winisk River tributary a bit further south-west - the little lake on the left that looks like a fat white cat is at 54.39°N, 85.56°W
An hour later we had left Ontario behind us and were over Winnipeg in Manitoba Province. Suddenly there was flat snow-covered farmland, and more meandering rivers and oxbow lakes (I love a good oxbow lake!).

South of Lake Winnipeg - the round lake in the middle is at 50.36°N, 96.83°W
I'm astounded I found this! It's at 50.18°N, 97.12°W

This is the Assinboine River and the big loop to the left is at 49.96°N, 97.66°W
The next two shots were the ones that foxed me the most. I pretty much knew the route now, so it was just a question of finding the individual things on the map. It had been cloudy for a while, so no photos were taken, but eventually it cleared and I took a couple more shots. When I worked out the location of the second photo below, the first was easier to find. I thought that the big lake must be the shores of Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, over the border in the US, but I just couldn't find an exact geographical match. I eventually worked it out - the angle was different from what I expected - as the quality is so poor I deduced that it must have been taken from further away.

I dare you to try to find a specific lake in the middle of North Dakota! This is Rice Lake at 47.95°N, 101.52°W
Lake Sakakawea, part of the Missouri River, in North Dakota. Apologies for terrible photo quality! The point is at 47.63°N, 102.24°W
It was an hour later when I opened the shades again and noticed some more wonderful meandering rivers (there are clearly quite a few in north America!). By now we were over the Green River in Wyoming, near a town called Farson. I located this river as the next shot was of a rather odd reservoir, taken a short time later.

The bridge across the river is at 41.88°N, 109.8°W
I zoomed in on Google Maps and found the name of this weird-coloured reservoir that we passed almost directly overhead (hence the terrible photo!). I've Googled it and can find nothing about it, other than its location, which is a bit odd...

The rather mysterious Texasgulf Tailings Reservoir at 41.74°N, 109.87°W
Forty minutes later and the snow was gone, and below was the rocky, desert landscape of Utah.

This is part of the Paiute Reservation in south-west Utah at 37.175°N, 113.81°W
Not far away and we were over the border of Nevada and flying over Virgin Peak and the Virgin River. In 2005 I did a road-trip from Denver to Las Vegas and would have passed very close to here, a little to the north!

The bend in the river is at 36.61°N, 114.33°W
Next view was of the massive Lake Mead. First I could see Echo Bay, part of the Overton Arm. When we were flying over it I thought it might be Lake Powell, but that's much further east.

The northern arm of Lake Mead, at 36.27°N, 114.4°W. It was terribly hazy by now, so the photo quality was poor :(
The Colorado River actually flows through the middle section of Lake Mead. Boulder Wash Cove is in the right foreground, at 36.16°N, 114.55°W
Crazy Las Vegas - the airport is at 36.08°N, 115.16°W
The next thing that caught my eye was over the border in California, a couple of huge black lava fields in the middle of the desert. I believe the one on the right is called the Pisgah Lava Field (there are some tubes marked on the map). Love lava!!

Pisgah Lava in California, at 34.68°N, 116.33°W

More lava, at 34.63°N, 116.38°W
We flew over some more desert scenery - would love to have been down there exploring. This is near Johnson Valley, California.

A little outcrop (possibly volcanic?) in Johnson Valley, at 34.38°N, 116.54°W
Soon after the desert disappeared and we were back over green hills again, which is dotted with quarries and ski resorts.

The snowy bit is Holcomb Valley at 34.3°N, 116.9°W
We were getting close now to Los Angeles, the end of the first leg of our journey. The suburbs began to be visible, and the cloud cover grew, but I was surprised to see a snowy peak sticking above the clouds. The suburbs sprawled out forever, with areas of housing, massive factories, golf courses...

Mt San Antonio sticking above an area called Ontario. The building with the white roof is a Walmart Supercenter at 34.08°N, 117.67°W
The Dwight D Eisenhower Golf Club at 34.02°N, 117.93°W
Eventually the skyline of Downtown LA came into view, although for the remainder of the journey the buildings were mostly obscured by the pesky vapour trail. This is the clearest shot I got of the skyscrapers - fairly rubbish!

View of Downtown LA - don't really need coordinates for that!
Last but not least was the Hollywood sign, perched up on the hills behind the enormous city. Again, an awful photo - the vapour now well and truly ruining all my photos as we descended! The only option was to shoot as far down as possible. I managed to locate the streets below in Gramercy Park, the last part of this rather ridiculous task!

The Hollywood sign, at 34.135°N, 118.323°W
The house with the cypress trees at the bottom left of the shot is at 34.02°N, 117.93°W. And there ends my quest!
And here is the whole route, to tie it all up. It may seem a bit weird and obsessive, but the geography of our world is incredible and diverse, and there's really no better way than to get an idea of this scale from the air.

Nice little route from LHR to LAX!