CLIMBING UP TO THE MOFFAT TUNNEL ON THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR - (RELATIVELY NEAR) ROLLINSVILLE, COLORADO

Californian and Amtrak connoisseur Zak Long reports in with a double duty contribution to Field Assignment #1 - Topography and Climate and Field Assignment #9 - Transportation. He conveys the scope of elevatory rise from the Midwestern plains to a tunnel boring straight through the Continental Divide.

One of the surprising things I experienced while traveling cross country on Amtrak was the expanse of Great Plains from Chicago to Denver.  For someone who had not been west of Chicago until a few years ago, I did not realize that Denver was actually several dozen miles away from the Rocky Mountains.  

As I sat down for lunch in the diner car, I started talking with a couple who were from Baltimore and it had been their first time on Amtrak.  I assumed they had been on the train for a while, but they had in fact gotten on in Denver.  They had done extensive research about their trip beforehand and discovered that while taking the California Zephyr, most rail buffs recommend flying to Denver if you live on the east coast.  This ensures that you’ll skip over the monotony of the plains and get right to the “good part”.

I told them I disagreed and that they missed out on a great sunrise over the Great Lakes outside of Cleveland… not to mention a layover in downtown Chicago.

One of the things I noticed as we ate lunch was how the train made sharper and sharper turns as it was going up an incline.  We were headed for the Moffat Tunnel.  Which is a tunnel built on the nation’s continental divide.  On the approach, most of the land is grassy and brown, but after the several minutes of darkness through the tunnel, you’re suddenly surrounded by reddish canyons covered in dark green pines.

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Zak Long is a State Guide to California and his home state of Ohio.  Born in Cleveland, OH, and now residing in San Francisco, CA,  much of his photography and videography explore first hand accounts of American rail travel. You can follow him on his personal Tumblr, zaklong.tumblr.comand also on UC Research.

COLDWATER LAKE AT MOUNT ST. HELENS - WASHINGTON

Lewis and Clark, who camped near the mouth of the Lewis River below Sauvies Island in November 1805, describe in their Journal their view of the peak some 70 miles upstream: “Three miles below the Image Canoe Island…we had a full view of the mountain…[Mount St. Helens]; it rises in the form of a sugar loaf to a great height, and is covered with snow.”

Washington, A Guide To the Evergreen State (WPA, 1941)

Upon driving up the winding road to the observation deck at Mount St. Helens you notice the immensity of the explosion that happened over 30 years ago. The surrounding landscape still has fallen trees. It looks barren. Tour guides tell groups of people about the amount of volcanic destruction.

But oddly enough, the mountain’s eruption created new freshwater lakes nearby. One such lake, known as Coldwater Lake, had at one time been just a small stream. The landslide dammed it and created the lake. Right after the explosion Coldwater was full of mud and debris, but due to fast acting microbes the lake became clear and even drinkable in just a matter of years.

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Zak Long is a State Guide to California and his home state of Ohio.  Born in Cleveland, OH, and now residing in San Francisco, CA,  much of his photography and videography explore first hand accounts of American rail travel. You can follow him on his personal Tumblr, zaklong.tumblr.comand also on UC Research.

THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR - STATION TO STATION

When I lived in Cleveland I had taken Amtrak to DC for the President’s inauguration in 2009 and to visit friends in NYC during my summers off from school. Covering ground by rail always had this alternate traveler experience due to the fact that there are no advertisements on the train and the rail lines often run behind the highway. There are no billboards to look at outside (or any directed at you).

A few years ago when I planned to move to San Francisco it occurred to me that if I flew there I would essentially never see or experience a good three-fourths of the country. I’d never been past Chicago up until that point and had no concept of what the west was like and so this is when I decided to take Amtrak to California. 

One of the most striking things that occurred to me on this part of the route was how the train eventually meandered away from any form of civilization. At certain points I realized the train was traveling past old ghost towns that were built along the rail line. Instead of looking at industrial scenes or buildings or towns, I instead was paying attention to the rock formations or types of crops we were zooming past.

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Zak Long is a State Guide to California and his home state of Ohio.  Born in Cleveland, OH, and now residing in San Francisco, CA,  much of his photography and videography explore first hand accounts of American rail travel. You can follow him on his personal Tumblr, zaklong.tumblr.comand also on UC Research.

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THE AMERICAN GUIDE is joining STATION TO STATION for a cross-country train ride. Passing through: the West.

Follow your guide along the rails and see America. [Track A/G’s trip here] 

MEDINA, OHIO - STATION TO STATION

An unusually attractive farming community is MEDINA, 29.7 m. (1,086 alt., 4,345 pop.), first called Mecca. … Building materials and furnaces are made here, but Medina is best known for its bee culture and honey products. It calls itself the sweetest town on earth.

— The Ohio Guide (WPA, 1940)

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Zak Long is a State Guide to California and his home state of Ohio.  Born in Cleveland, OH, and now residing in San Francisco, CA,  much of his photography and videography explore first hand accounts of American rail travel. You can follow him on his personal Tumblr, zaklong.tumblr.com, and also on UC Research.

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THE AMERICAN GUIDE is joining STATION TO STATION for a cross-country train ride. Passing through: Ohio.

Follow your guide along the rails and see America. [Track A/G’s trip here]   

MASTER GARDENERS - SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA

The American conquest opened a new market for agricultural products… The period is graphically described in the diary of John Sutter, the great adventurer-agriculturist and first white man to settle the interior, who combined a longing to live in the grand style with an intensely practical passion for farming. …

“I found a good market for my products among the new-comers and the people in the Bay district” Sutter wrote of the period immediately following the American occupation. “Agriculture increased until I had several hundred men working in the harvest fields, and to feed them I had to kill four or sometimes five oxen daily. I could raise 40,000 bushels of wheat without trouble, reap the crops with sickles, thrash it with bones, and winnow it in the wind. … My best days were just before the discovery of gold.”

California, A Guide To the Golden State (WPA, 1939)

We recently made a trip to Sunnyvale’s community gardens where we met up with several of the University of California’s Master Gardeners.  Located in 46 counties in the state, this group of experts helps set up community gardens, find productive methods to grow crops and also educate gardeners about how to cook with what they’ve grown.

The Master Gardeners are part of a larger UC network known as the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In the late 1800s, UC researchers discovered how to remove salts from the soils of California’s Central Valley, turning what was once barren alkaline land into the most productive agricultural region in the world. Since then, UC has remained committed to supporting the industry by introducing new technologies in crop management and pest control, and helping it adapt to changing regulations while remaining competitive.

The UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is a statewide network of researchers and educators celebrating its 100th anniversary.  

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UC Research tells the stories of the innovative research emerging from the University of California. You can follow them on Facebook,Twitter and at ucresearch.tumblr.com, and find their website here.

HASTINGS NATURAL RESERVE, CALIFORNIA

University of California has long been known as an innovative institution. The 1939 WPA guide to California referred to the university as a “home of celebrated scholars and a brilliant center of research,” and today, that tradition of research continues at UCLA, UC Berkeley and the other campuses across the state.    

One of the university’s invaluable resources is its nature reserve system - a network of protected land throughout the state where researchers and graduate students can conduct field studies. Hastings Natural Reserve is the oldest in the system. Its rich and unique history as a research station dates back to the 1930s when former farming land was offered to the University for biological fieldwork. The forward-thinking landowner and University staff and faculty allowed the 2700 acres of land to return to a natural state, and 80 years later, it’s become a great place for scientists to investigate anything from geology to phenology - the study of seasonal or periodic events in biology - with a focus on long term patterns in the environment.

We visited the reserve to interview Brian Haggerty, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student.  He’s one of the researchers working on the The California Phenology Project, an effort to track and keep record of plants as a way to monitor climate change. He conducted a workshop with thirty scientists from central California to talk about creating a statewide database for phenological events… or as he calls it “Facebook for plants.”  Brian and Vince Voegeli, the reserve manager, took some time to show us around Hastings and tell us a little bit about current research going on here along with the other reserves at UC.

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UC Research tells the stories of the innovative research emerging from the University of California. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and at ucresearch.tumblr.com, and find their website here.

MEDINA, OHIO

An unusually attractive farming community is MEDINA, 29.7 m. (1,086 alt., 4,345 pop.), first called Mecca. … Building materials and furnaces are made here, but Medina is best known for its bee culture and honey products. It calls itself the sweetest town on earth.

— The Ohio Guide (WPA, 1940)

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Zak Long is a State Guide to California and his home state of Ohio.  Born in Cleveland, OH, and now residing in San Francisco, CA,  much of his photography and videography explore first hand accounts of American rail travel. You can follow him on his personal Tumblr, zaklong.tumblr.com, and also on UC Research.