ComSat Earth Station near Omak, Washington



As I was driving south of Omak, Washington on my way from Idaho to Wenatchee on Monday I saw this group of satellite dishes on the top of a hill about a quarter mile off the highway.  Those of you that know of my connection to, and fascination with, radio telescopes know that I’d be all over this….

These were taken with my Canon camera given the distance from the road.

This is the former ComSat Earth Station, now owned by US Electrodynamics Corporation.  These are very similar in appearance to telescopes at the radio astronomy observatory near my mother’s hometown in West Virginia.  ComSat is short for Communications Satellite.  These dishes are receivers which collect signals from satellites orbiting the earth.  Most of these are “fixed”, meaning the don’t move and only point at one source (the same way a DirecTV or Dish Network satellite dish attached to your house lets you watch tv).  The largest dish you see can be moved (remotely, with a series of motors) to point at different sources the way most radio telescopes do.

There are more than 50 dishes at this location which receive communications and other data for a variety of companies and agencies. TV video feeds, radio and computer data, etc. all flow through here.  These dishes also collect signals from GPS (Global Positioning Satellites) which help air traffic controllers track aircraft.  This facility also provides data to the Department of Defense (and probably other, undisclosed agencies).  There are Earth Stations like this all over the world.  It is a private facility and not open to the public.  The dishes and receivers can be operated remotely and the facility itself is probably only manned by maintenance and security personnel.

Those of you who travel up and down Route 81 in western Virginia probably have seen the telephone Earth Station next to the highway near the Mt. Jackson/Bayse exit.  Those much larger dishes (probably 4-5 times the size of the largest one you see here) are for companies like AT&T and Verizon to support their telephone and data systems.

Run Forrest, Run

Most of us have probably seen hurricane evacuation route signs.  These caught my attention as I was driving around the area.

If Mount Rainier ever decides to blow it’s top (it is an active stratovolcano) I think it will be “Goodnight, Irene”.

Mount Saint Helens



I approached Mount Saint Helens from the north (it is the side of the mountain which blew out).  I was SO BUMMED to find out that both the Windy Ridge overlook and another popular viewing point are temporarily closed (inaccessible due to current road conditions).  When I get back to Durham I need to find the pictures I took here years ago.  I thought I’d come across them when I started going through and getting rid of stuff in anticipation of moving (which I have decided not to do for the time being).

The mountain erupted May 18, 1980, directly killing 57 people.  The blast created a shock wave which was estimated to have reached 680 degrees Fahrenheit and had a ground speed of 200 mph.  A local lodge owner’s body was found under hundreds of feet of rock, ash and debris.  One photographer’s body was found shielding his camera, so the pictures he had taken were retrievable.  Another photographer, Gary Rosenquist, took the, now famous, sequence photos of the eruption that morning.  He was spared because the topography deflected the blast, though not by much, from where he was taking pictures.

The mountain’s peak was at 9,677 feet elevation before the eruption. The current elevation is 8,366 feet.

What appears to be smoke on the outside of the rim is actually a cloud.  Some of the smoke inside the rim may be from the mountain itself.  Mount Saint Helens is still considered an active stratovolcano.

Mount Rainier reflecting lake

This is from the south side of the mountain.  You are seeing one of the “reflecting lakes” which, under calm conditions, will render a mirror image of the mountain.  There was a breeze today so the ripples on the lake spoiled that potential shot (still a pretty picture, though).  I wanted you to know I at least made the effort.

I’m sure you can find good mirror image pictures of the mountain online.

Mount Rainier redux

This morning I stopped in again at Mount Rainier, this time entering the Park from the south.  It’s hard to take a bad picture here unless the sun is behind your target.  I specifically timed my placement both days so the sun would be behind me.

The low clouds are a common sight around these tall mountains.  I saw clouds at about this height most of the day in other parts of the state as well.  I was very fortunate yesterday to have had a completely clear day.

Eagle redux



I went back through Yakima Canyon again this morning and found the eagle at the same place.  This time she was looking towards me (for some reason female animals tend to want to show me their backside. Was it something I said?…).

Mount Rainier National Park

This was my primary destination for the day.  I had forgotten how big and impressive it is from a distance.  The first time I saw it today was when I got off the highway over near Yakima.  It can also be seen quite clearly from Seattle, which is 54 miles away, as it rises well above the horizon.  It is an imposing sight.

At 14,411 feet Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington State (there are some even taller ones in Colorado and California).  I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Colorado in a few weeks so I should be able to show you those at that time.  California is on my list for next year, as is Alaska which has the highest mountains in the United States.

The main Visitor Center for Rainier is located up at 6,400 feet (the highest they let you drive) in an area called Sunrise, which is where I took the bottom photo.  There is also a parking area called Paradise, which has an elevation of 5,400 feet, and is where I took the photo in the post below.

I only went through the east side of the Park today.  Tomorrow I plan to go through the south side of the Park on my way down to Mount Saint Helens.

Cave on Mount Rainier?


This is another picture taken with my new camera.  The “cave” is above the big gray spot near the center of the mountain in the lower photo in the post above (did you follow all that?).

I think this looks like a cave, possibly a base camp shown on the official Mount Rainier site map.  But a person in the Visitor Center said it is just a fluke of how the snow and ice have broken away and shifted, exposing a small portion of the mountain itself.

Color me skeptical.

Using binoculars (and even with the naked eye) you could see various places where there have been mini avalanches.  Believe me, you are seeing a LOT of snow!