More soon!

Ha, I missed my first monthly post in years! More coming soon, as there’s a lot of traveling ahead for me.

California fall, 2018

Here’s an update on the fall colors in the Eastern Sierra, Mammoth and points north.

I drove up 395 on Saturday September 29, 2018, starting at Convict Lake, finishing at South Lake Tahoe. I also took a couple detours away from 395, notably east on the 120 to Sagehen Summit, Virginia Lakes, and finally the ‘back route’ to South Lake Tahoe via Monitor Pass. The day was quite windy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of leaves are gone after the weekend. My guess is that the high peaks were exceptionally windy, so I don’t feel too bad about cancelling my planned hikes today.

At present, the cluster of aspens around Sagehen Summit are at peak, with a nice amount of red color, but also mixed in with trees that went from yellow to black. This won’t last too long, maybe 2-3 days at the most.

Convict Lake is still at least a week from peak, the color change is 40 % or so with still plenty of green. I’d aim for the first or second weekend of October.

Virginia Lakes are at peak, but again it’s been quite windy. Below, closer to Conway Summit, the color is maybe at 30 % and will look better in a week.

Further north, Monitor Pass is near peak, as is Hope Valley. Luther Pass is changing unevenly, with some groves still all green and others yellow. I’m not sure how all this compares to previous years.

Lawrence Halprin’s Portland and Seattle

I took a look at the landscape work of Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009) in Portland and Seattle. These were mid-century projects in the center cities intended as urban renewal projects, in an era when people had moved to the suburbs and away from the city proper.

The Portland Open Space Sequence (1966) was built to connect a then-new group of high-rise and medium-rise apartment buildings south of Market Street in Portland to the downtown district. It is a sequence of walkways, small plazas, stairways, and Pettygrove Park, mimicking the rolling terrain and greenery of western Oregon. Of course, what is Oregon without a lot of water, so there is a “stream” running through the area, with a small Source fountain, a larger Lovejoy Fountain, and the showpiece Ira Keller Fountain (1977) that is in front of the Civic Auditorium. The latter fountain is now one of Portland’s focal points, although not part of the original plan of the Sequence. Overall, the Sequence now shows its age, as the ample precipitation has given some of the benches and concrete walls a very Oregonian layer of moss. The park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, one of relatively few midcentury landscape designs to be placed on the list.

Benches and stairs, now moss covered

Ira Keller Fountain on a wet spring day in Portland

Heading north, Halprin also designed the Freeway Park in Seattle. This was a radical design in its day. Downtown Seattle is bounded on the western side by the soon-to-be-demolished Alaskan Way Viaduct and the waterfront, and on the eastern side by I-5. Halprin put the park on top of the freeway, with a serpentine path that shields the pedestrian from seeing I-5, and a fountain that cuts out the noise from automobiles. At least I think that was part of the intention when the park opened on July 4, 1976. These days the traffic is so atrocious that it’s impossible to avoid completely.

Fountain and terraces, Freeway Park

Freeway Park, Seattle

Other cities have used this concept to link together neighborhoods once cut off from one another by freeway construction, such as Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and they have been largely successful projects. The convention center, built in the early-to-mid 1980s, also covers the freeway, and is linked to Freeway Park on its upper levels.

Still out hiking!

I’ve been able to get in a number of hiking weekends in Colorado, and have been able to take advantage of stable conditions in early summer. The monsoon has returned, and is really needed at this point, with a disastrous winter, and large infernos that have turned the state into a smoky mess. The smoke is still around in spots, but this past weekend’s rains have been very welcome and have greened up the landscape somewhat.

Completing the 14ers remains one of my goals. I’m still a dozen or so from finishing, but the remaining ones are the difficult hikes, and ones that demand a lot of attention to stay safe. So I expect that I’ll be working at this for 2-3 more years, and hopefully summiting safely. The remaining hikes are in the Sangres, Elks, and San Juans, and Longs. They’re long, big on vertical, and demand a balance of physical stamina and nerves.

Stay tuned for more, I apologize for the lack of picture posts lately!

Out hiking, more soon

Title says it all, I’ve been deep in the mountains of Colorado, bagging those peaks. Stay tuned for more posts!

Minoru Yamasaki’s Seattle

American architect Minoru Yamasaki is best known for what doesn’t exist anymore, namely the World Trade Center twin towers and the ill-conceived, ill-fated Pruitt-Igoe public housing in St. Louis. The Seattle-born architect spent most of the professional life in Detroit, and his best work is there, including One Woodward (1962) and the McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1958) on the Wayne State campus, now a National Historic Landmark.

His work in Seattle consists of three buildings, the IBM Building (1963) and Rainier Tower (1977), across from one another in downtown, and the extensive Pacific Science Center (1962), which was designed for the World’s Fair 1962 as the US Science pavillion. These works are all outstanding, and like much of Yamasaki’s work, are best explored up close as there’s a lot of easily missed details behind the Gothic outlines and narrow windows characterizing his work. This is mid-century Modern at its best, less severe than Mies’ version of International Style, with an understated elegance and flair. And the dinosaur statues in the pool are a fun touch, although of course not original.

Let’s start with the Pacific Science Center, it’s a scaled-up version of his DeRoy Auditorium in Detroit, with the bubbling fountains and reflecting pools that are Japanese elements that he incorporated into his work. This building is best known for the free-standing arches the anchor the complex, which has become one of the symbols of Seattle, like the nearby Space Needle.

Downtown are the IBM Building and Rainier Tower. The IBM building (1963) is one of the first major buildings completed downtown after World War II. At 20 stories it used to have a prominent place in the Seattle skyline, but is now dwarfed by many carelessly designed, rapidly erected skyscrapers. It presents a slightly squat profile that has difficulty fitting into the hilly site, with one side of the building disappearing under the street. The real treasure of the building is the diminutive lobby, with an elliptical staircase and some Mies Barcelona chairs that are probably original. The light fixtures in the plaza are a nice treat, echoing the arches at the base. The city’s hilly terrain makes it tough to create an accessible building at ground level, indeed many of the skyscrapers downtown stumble, and this is no exception.

Across the street is probably the most distinctive tower downtown, the Rainier Tower (1977), with a tapering, windowless base that makes the building resemble a tree chewed by a beaver. It contains elements of his 1970s structures, like the World Trade Center and the BOK Tower in Tulsa, the reflective skin shimmers and it’s a well-proportioned skyscraper. But the base is what catches the most attention, up close it is a mosaic of hexagonal tiles lining the base. There used to be an open plaza at ground level, but it has been turned into a massive construction zone with a very questionable tall building rising next door.

With few exceptions, there’s little good architecture in the city, unfortunately, as the breakneck development in the age of Amazon has compromised Seattle’s built environment.


Commonwealth Building, Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland is full of generic structures sprouting all over, but has a few standouts. Arguably the most innovative building downtown is the Commonwealth Building (formerly the Equitable Building) located on 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark. It’s a shiny smooth skyscraper with limited prominence in the skyline, that yields little information about its age. It could be brand new, but was in fact completed in 1948, a young looking 70 years. Designed by Pietro Belluschi, much of the innovation of the building is unseen, and it remains a rather unknown structure long overshadowed by better known buildings in New York like Lever House. The building was given National Register status in 1976, a rare distinction as it was only 28 years old at the time.

It’s a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for its technical innovations. Among them are central AC, double pane windows and an aluminum facade. The aluminum facade would later be used in other Midcentury skyscrapers like the Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh while the greenish glass would be a signature element in landmarks such as Lever House in New York and the Inland Steel Building in Chicago.

For the most part, the building has been sensitively modified, mostly to the entrances. Despite the apparent uniformity of the facade, the 6th Avenue and Stark St. elevations are slightly different. The window panes are subdivided into three sections along Stark, two along 6th. Subtle colors keep the facade lively, while the skin of the building is nearly smooth, as no section protrudes out more than 7/8″.


Commonwealth (Equitable) Building, 1948.



Epic Pass vs. Ikon vs. Mountain Collective

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m already thinking ahead to next season. I’ve been a Mountain Collective passholder for several years now, and there are a couple other major passes available (nationwide and worldwide), the Epic Pass, and the recently introduced Ikon Pass. Here’s a comparison of the passes and what they offer.

Epic Pass

The Epic Pass is Vail Resorts’ superpass, with a ton of options out there. It’s a rather complex set of options, including blackout days, semi-limited access to some of the super-resorts, and all sorts of other bells and whistles. The majority of the resorts are in Colorado, Utah, and Tahoe. A four day pass is $439, a seven day pass is $669, as is another $669 pass for access to the I-70 resorts in Colorado and a few in the Midwest. Beaver Creek and Vail offer limited access, but I’ve sworn off Vail altogether. The full pass is currently $899. The passes also include a few extras for friends, and include some affiliated resorts like Telluride, Crested Butte, and other goodies that are too numerous to list here. Unless you travel a ton or are a rich ski bum, you’ll probably not cover that much ground in a season.

This one seems Colorado-centric, not surprising since Vail Resorts owns nearly the entire group of resorts along the I-70 corridor. Okay, so that’s too complicated for me to figure out, but it sounds like a decent deal if you live in Colorado and don’t mind insane crowds and traffic on winter weekends. It’s not a good option given where I live.

Mountain Collective

The Mountain Collective is what I think is a stellar collection of the best of US resorts, plus a handful of Canadian and world resorts added in there. You get two days as part of the pass, additional days are half-off. While the collection of resorts is excellent, they are spread out all over the place, and you will spend money traveling, often to small airports and remote locations. But for $409 (early purchase), it’s a great value and a nice way to explore different places. It’s less of a value if you prefer sticking close to home. Most of the resorts are not within easy driving distance of one another, with a few exceptions (Tahoe – Mammoth and the Wasatch Range ski areas). Being destination resorts for the most part, get ready for high lodging and food prices overall, and high airfares.

For those of you who like traveling and sampling the best of the US and international resorts, this is excellent value. Even better if you live near a major airport. Having only two days at the resorts sounds a bit low, but it basically means a long weekend at each place, and you’ll probably recover the cost of the lift ticket prices after 3-4 days.

Ikon Pass

Then there’s the Ikon Pass, introduced for 2018-2019, which has significant overlap with the Mountain Collective destinations.

This pass is California-centric, offering unlimited days at Mammoth / June, Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows, and also Big Bear. It’s probably going to be the pass of choice for people living in Southern California who make the long trek up to Mammoth on a regular basis, and head for the insanely crowded Big Bear when they’re not at Mammoth. Colorado is the other main ‘center’ for this pass, with unlimited days at Copper, Eldora, Steamboat, and Winter Park. The $599 Ikon Base Pass version seems to be the best deal out of all of these guys, with blackout dates on the days you probably don’t want to be skiing anyways (Xmas, MLK, and Presidents’ Day). So for around $200 (two ski days) more than the Mountain Collective, you get a lot more days at places like Aspen, Jackson, Big Sky, among others (5 vs. 2).

Otherwise it’s $899, which eliminates the blackout dates and gives you additional days (7 vs. 5) at the resorts not offering unlimited access. Not worth it, in my opinion.

Covered by both the Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective: Mammoth, Squaw / Alpine Meadows, Aspen / Snowmass, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Snowbird / Alta, Revelstoke, Banff area resorts, Sugarbush.

Unique to Mountain Collective: Coronet Peak / Remarkables, Taos, Thredbo, Sun Valley, Valle Nevado, Chamonix, Niseko United

Unique to Ikon: Big Bear, June, Copper Mountain, Deer Valley, Eldora, Steamboat, Winter Park, Blue Mountain, Mont Tremblant, Killington, Loon / Sugarloaf / Sunday River, Stratton

A few places hopped between passes. Whistler Blackcomb went from the Mountain Collective to Epic Pass for the 2017-2018 season, and Telluride will no longer be a Collective destination starting in 2018-2019, having moved to Epic Pass territory. The prices listed are subject to change, but are current as of March 30, 2018.



Poets Row, Denver, Colorado

I came across this very nifty corner of Denver as I was wandering around the city last weekend, taking advantage of the holiday weekend and balmy 70 F temperatures. Normally I just change planes in the airport, but this time I spent a day exploring downtown and the neighborhoods northeast and southeast.

Poets Row refers to a National Register-listed block of apartment buildings directly south of the State Capitol, on Sherman Street between 10th and 11th. These were mostly built in the 1930s and 1940s and together they form a harmonious group of Art Deco, Moderne, and International Style structures that have seen new life as residents have returned to the central city over the past 20 years. They’re named after famous writers, not really poets. The buildings are nothing fancy or luxurious, but are notable for being an intact row of apartments that gives a glimpse into city living 70 years ago. Aside from the view of the skyscrapers downtown, this is a virtually unchanged streetscape, and a wonder that it survived all these years without being torn down or otherwise defaced.

Downhill, a couple blocks away, are the distinctive buildings of the Denver Art Museum- the Daniel Liebeskind building is the most recognized, but I have to say that the fortress-like Gio Ponti structure (1971) really caught my attention. This is Ponti’s only US design, and I haven’t decided whether I love it or hate it. I don’t think it really fits the location so close to the Capitol and City Hall, and it’s an unavoidable structure that barely resembles a museum. I thought it was a jail, like the one in downtown Chicago.

Mark Twain Apartments

Thomas Carlyle Apartments

Dorset House, understated International / Moderne style

Denver Art Museum, Gio Ponti (1971)

More posts soon. . .

So things have been complicated by serious illness and death in the family, so I will be back next month with a new post. On the positive side, I bought a new camera to replace my failing 11-year old Canon DSLR, so be on the lookout for new photos and new travels. See you soon!