ANDY THOMAS: View From the Air Endlessly Fascinating
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It's only my second column of the year, and here it is another travelogue of sorts.
Yes, we're traveling again, and this time it's to the West (almost) Coast: Palm Desert (Palm Springs), Calif.
The morning of our departure, my friend Felice took me up in his private plane, a Piper Warrior II, N330017, for a brief ride around Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Whispering Pines. We were at about 2,500 feet and could clearly make out familiar landmarks. It was thrilling and made me want to get back in the cockpit myself. Years ago, I achieved my private pilot's license in an effort to satisfy my keen desire to soar amongst the clouds.
What hits you from the perspective of 2,500 feet above ground is the incredible growth of our area.
After the brief Sandhills flight, we proceeded to Raleigh for an overnight before catching the early-bird flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and on to Palm Springs.
"Let's go see the Hurricanes, I said." She said "OK." And after an early dinner, we proceeded to the RBC Center for the game with the Phoenix Coyotes. Parking, tickets to the game, one drink and one sandwich set me back $221! We sat in the "club" level, where you actually had a waiter to bring any of an assortment of menu items to your seat. The food was about as cold as the game.
The view was terrific, but the Hurricanes' performance was atrocious. So much so that we left after the second period. Missed passes, missed shots, lack of energy and just a pathetic display of supposedly professional athletes. If you'd bought such a product in a store, you would have demanded a refund. What happened to the Stanley Cup champs?
The flight to Texas was invisible -- that is, you couldn't see a thing on the ground because of the cloud cover. A short ride out of DFW westward brought such a clear view that you could see at least 50 miles from your window seat. I checked this with the first officer (co-pilot) who was female. You see more and more female pilots. Even saw a lady captain at DFW.
For at least two-thirds of the three-hour flight, I looked out the window. I never seem to get tired of looking below at nature's tapestry. This trip, I noticed a band of hundreds of gigantic, electricity-generating windmills.
Texas is now the largest wind energy producer in the nation, with an installed wind generating capacity at 2,370 megawatts. Currently there are about 1,600 wind farms in West Texas alone, consisting of hundreds of skyscraper turbines, each a source of immense power, and each capable of generating electricity for entire communities.
Further west, it was easy to spot the numerous oil well-heads in the Midland-Odessa area. From high above it looked like the landscape had a case of the measles -- little spots all over the place.
Amazing that these are still pumping after all these years. One thing I've never been able to figure out is why the Texas Railroad Commission regulates the supply of oil in the state. A fraternity brother of mine used to fly home from Boston to Dallas just to attend parties. His daddy worked for the Texas Railroad Commission.
Maybe a hundred years from now, someone flying across Texas will note the wind turbines outproducing oil production in terms of energy.
I saw some places I'd been when I rode my bicycle across the United States several years ago. The trip took 41 days from coast to coast, and 19 of them were spent in Texas. I always thought it was 18 days too many. One of the toughest obstacles to riding a bicycle in Texas is, indeed, when the wind is blowing against you. You pedal but don't seem to move forward at all.
Then we would hit patches of land in west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona where there was absolutely no trace of humanity for miles. Occasionally there would be one or two tiny buildings with a lone road leading into them, miles from nowhere.
Watching the land below from six miles up was entrancing. I guess that's partly the reason I majored in geology. The panorama of geologic evidence is intriguing, with so many different aspects: arroyos, mesas, outcroppings, rivers and dales, mountains and hills. A spectacle to behold.
It was like watching a beautiful Technicolor movie in slow motion.
As we approached our destination, the ground seemed covered in a brownish fog that turned out to be sandstorms created by 70 mph winds. The windsock at the Palm Springs airport was straight out, and we later learned that there was much damage in the area because of the wind, including overturned semitrailer trucks.
The stiff wind created a windchill factor that we didn't plan on for our desert winter vacation in the sun.
Fortunately, it has been delightfully pleasant since, and the wind has disappeared.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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