The Bean

An overnight business trip to Chicago provided a brief opportunity for some sightseeing, and a stop at what many Chicagoans simply refer to as “the bean.” It’s actual name is Cloud Gate, an uncommonly interesting focal point of downtown’s Millennium Park. Designed by British artist Anish Kapoor, the sculpture is composed of 168 stainless steel plates that have been seamlessly welded together and highly polished. Nearly as interesting as the art itself is watching visitors admiring their reflected selves and the city skyline.

Visitors can pass beneath the sculpture to view its omphalos, essentially the artwork’s navel and structural keystone which offers dizzying reflections of all who pass beneath it.

Construction began in February 2004 and it was officially unveiled in May 2006. According to Wikipedia the total cost for the the bean at its completion was $26 million.


The Barstow Syncline in Rainbow Basin

Rainbow Basin National Natural Landmark is a fascinating area located near Barstow, California. It’s an area of high hills, deep canyons, and much more. One of its most well-known features is the textbook example Barstow Syncline.

Here’s the view of the Barstow Syncline from the overlook across the mouth of Rainbow Canyon.

Barstow Syncline

As any neophyte structual geologist knows, synclines are downward curving folds with anticlines their opposite. I’ve always remembered this by associating synclines with “sinks” and anticlines with an “A” shape. In synclines the downward dipping layers point towards the middle of the structure, and they’re obvious in the photo above.

The Barstow Syncline is especially interesting since it also clearly shows an unconformity across its top. Uncomformities are strata of different ages that are in contact, indicating non-continuous deposition and a break in the geologic history of the layers. In this case the uncomformity was created as the syncline was eroded and younger layers were subsequently deposited uncomformably above it. Erosion has revealed the entire structure for all to admire.

Underground in Lava Beds

Lava Beds National Monument is a gem in the National Park system. Tucked away in the northeast corner of California, it’s a place full of history, both Native American and volcanic. Lava Beds is home to many hundreds of lava tube caves, some of which can be toured publicly – just bring a good headlamp and a hard hat.

Here’s a section of the Cave Loop map, showing the outlines and entrances of some of the many caves near the visitor center.

Cave Loop map

Recently I was up in Lava Beds for the Cave Research Foundation board of director’s meeting and managed to get in a few days of ridgewalking and surveying after the meeting. Here’s a photo of one of the publicly accessible caves – Valentine’s Cave – which features some really nice gutters along the walls near the entrance. Shown is Mary Rose, who posed patiently for me during an enjoyable afternoon photo trip in this fine cave.

Valentine's Cave

Q. When Is An Island Rectangular?

I just happened to be cruising around Google Earth this evening when I came across a very oddly shaped island just off of Long Beach, California. It was rectangular in shape and I thought – what’s up with that?


After a quick Google search and subsequent landing on Wikipedia I discovered that it’s Freeman Island, and according to Wikipedia one of four so-called “astronaut islands” built in Long Beach Harbor during the late 1960s as oil-drilling platforms.

Freeman Island was named after Theodore Freeman, an astronaut who grew up in Haverford, Pennsylvania. He was killed in a T-38 trainer when a goose crashed through the canopy. The goose apparently didn’t kill him, what did was a hasty ejection when the cockpit shards got sucked into the engine causing it to flameout. There wasn’t enough time for his parachute to deploy properly before he struck the ground.

The other three islands, located nearby, are named Grissom, White, and Chaffee after the astronauts that perished in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967. Freeman Island is the only rectangular one, the others are roughly oval.

Answer: when it’s manmade.

The Start of the Journey

I’ve thought about my own blog for a long while, and while I’ve contributed to several blogs I’ve never managed to find the time or the purpose for doing my own. I’ve found that my travels, photos, and love of maps, along with the stories behind them, are intertwined and I like to write about them. And so I’ve decided to drive into the virtual ground this small stake in the blogosphere, if for no other reason than to provide some personal entertainment. That said, here’s hoping you find something of interest, and (dare I say?) something entertaining  for yourself here as well.

My personal geographic journey began in Pennsylvania, near where George Washington took his most famous geographic journey across the Delaware River. My geographic journey took me from the right coast to the left and eventually to California where I found both interesting geography and an interesting career in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Environmental Systems Research Institute, later to become ESRI, and now Esri. The latter has kept me here longer than I had anticipated, and despite my geographic lust for other areas I’ve remained more or less put, at least for the time being.

Since moving here I’ve discovered a fascination with the geography that I found along the coast, in the Mojave desert, and among the high peaks and wilderness of the Sierra Nevada and other parts of the Great American West. A landscape that is far different than the rolling hills, small towns, and farmlands of semi-rural Pennsylvania that I once called home.

A good friend once told me that there was a lot to enjoy in California, including having a ringside seat to plate tectonics in action. I thought of what he told me the first time I rode through a large earthquake, sitting on the floor in a turn of the century apartment doorway, back to one wall and feet to the other, the house creaking and groaning and jiggling as if atop a large bowl of Jello. That was a potent reminder that geography never sleeps.

He also told me that, like a transplant, I would either “take” or I wouldn’t, and depending on whether I “took” I’d either never return to live in Pennyslvania or would be back within a couple of years. Well, many years later now I guess I’ve taken.

But I still find the next great geographic journey is just over the hill, or across the river, captured in that  photo, or on the next map. And I guess that’s what this blog is about.

George Washington on his geographic journey