A Few Views From the Wells Fargo Center, Denver

During my stay in Denver, I had an event to attend in the Wells Fargo Center, the third tallest building in Denver, big enough (about 1.2 million square feet) for its own zip code: 80274.
Wells Fargo Center, DenverThe 1983-vintage building’s distinctive curving roof, a Philip Johnson touch, was barely visible from where I stood, near 17th Ave. and Sherman St. The neighboring streets there are Lincoln, Sherman, Grant and Logan. I sense a postbellum naming scheme.

The event was about mid-way up the tall tower, high enough for views of the city and surrounding territory, though glare from the window glass and haze in the sky obscured things a bit. Still, here’s another view of the capitol.
Colorado capitolSome neighboring tall buildings.
Downtown DenverThis caught my eye.
Sherman Street Event Center, DenverIt’s the prosaically named Sherman Street Event Center, 1770 Sherman St., catching the late summer morning sun. It used to have better names: in order, the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine, the Rocky Mountain Consistory, and the Scottish Rite Temple. The Shriners had it built in 1907, onion domes and all.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (The Vistas)

What is it about vistas that people like? Assuming we can agree that vista refers to an aesthetically pleasing view from a high position. People drive distances, climb stairs, take elevators, pay money and sometimes even take risks for a good vista. I do those things, though the risks are never that great. I like a good vista, but I can’t quite say why.

That question triggers others. Did Petrarch really climb Ventoux for the view? Or is vista-awe actually a more recent invention, maybe a sprig of the Romantic movement or a Victorian fixation? These questions aren’t so burning that I’m going to do much research, but I do wonder. I suspect the feeling is fairly modern, and probably not universally shared even now, any more than a taste for coffee or soccer or rock and roll.

And it doesn’t just apply to views from mountains. Now that manmade towers are so plentiful, so are those vistas. At Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the UP on July 1, we enjoyed one vista of each kind: a tower top, though that was atop a high hill reached mostly by walking, and a view from a the bluff of a high hill, though we reached that mostly by driving.

The park has a lot of hiking trails through a lot of wilderness, about 59,000 acres with a Lake Superior coastline. The mountains of the name aren’t really much in the way of mountains, but it is rugged terrain: dense old-growth forests, never logged because of its inaccessible ruggedness. I read some years ago that the area was to have been a national park, but the federal government was too distracted in the early 1940s to get around to it, so the state of Michigan went ahead and created a state park in 1945.

I can’t pretend we did any serious hiking in the Porkies. The time and energy weren’t there. But we did some excellent short hikes. Off the South Boundary Road, a side road plunges into the park and ends at a parking lot for the Summit Peak Tower Trail. It’s only half a mile to a lookout tower atop a high hill.

Summit Peak Tower TrailThe trail rose gradually for a time. Except for muddy spots, no difficulties.
Summit Peak Tower TrailEventually, the grade increased and sometimes there were boardwalks and steps.
Summit Peak Tower TrailI had to rest for a minute or two a number of times — and my family kept getting further ahead of me — but before long even I’d made it to the tower. A sign at the base warns: Keep Off During Thunderstorms. Well, yes.
Summit Peak Tower TrailMore steps to the vista we’d come to see. It was worth the effort, even if it’s romantic moonshine invented by the Romantic poets. I’m all in.
Summit Peak TowerSummit Peak Tower TrailThe other vista we decided to see is in the north end of the park, easily accessible by road: the Lake of the Clouds. A sign outside the park along M-107 pointed the way.
M-107 SignAs for the End of the Earth, it didn’t look like anything special. Talk about anticlimactic.

From the the Lake of the Clouds parking lot, a trail only a fifth of a mile leads to the first of two grand vistas.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganNote the people somewhat higher. The trail continues to that level, which is a rocky surface behind a short wall, overlooking for one of the fine vistas of the UP.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganLake of the Clouds, MichiganIt’s a wow. The Lake of the Clouds view reminded me of some of the exceptional Canadian vistas we saw in ’06, though those were among mighty mountains, rather than picturesque hills.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganAnn pointed out that in the fall, the view would be entirely different, and I think entirely worth the risk of running into early-season UP snow to see its multicolors.

The London House Hotel & The Tower on Top

When I took pictures from high up in the Aon Center, I didn’t know that a few weeks later, I’d be on top of another nearby building. Not as tall, but with also with a terrific view of Chicago. And one (formerly) associated with an insurance company: The London Guarantee & Accident Building, 360 N. Michigan Ave., vintage 1923.

Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler designed the Beaux Arts tower for the U.S. branch of a British insuror, and since last year it has been occupied by the London House Hotel. I didn’t know that, probably because I don’t keep track of the Chicago real estate market in detail right now. I still think of it as an office building that was home to Crain’s Chicago Business for a time, and which also used to count the Turkish Consulate as a tenant. Once upon a time, Armenian sympathizers would periodically protest on the sidewalk outside.

There’s a tower on the top of London House, marked with a circle.

Chicago from Aon Center 2017Up close, it looks like this.
London House Chicago cupola 2017The tower is supposedly modeled after the Choragic Monument in Athens. I’m not expert enough to know, but there are visual similarities at least.

The London Guarantee & Accident Building was on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Hotel Boom tour, and it was the only property we explored beyond the exterior and the lobby, though those parts are interesting too.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017This is the ceiling inside the Michigan Ave. entrance.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017The docent said that it was original to the building, but had been uncoveraged fairly recently. At some point probably in the 1950s or ’60s, it had been Eisenhowered by a lower ceiling.

From there we looked around the lobby, and then took an elevator to the 21st floor, which is occupied by a bar. On a spring Saturday afternoon, the place was packed. Then, another elevator takes you up to two levels of outdoor terraces. One of which has tables and chains and (on a warm day) people with their drinks.

London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017

The views are exceptional. Looking west down the Chicago River.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017North up Rush St. The building with the clock tower is, of course, the Wrigley Building.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017Stairs from this level lead up to the Choragic Monument-ish tower, which offers some views of its own. Looking to the east, you get a good view of the upper reaches of 333 N. Michigan Ave., another building of the 1920s.
333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoI was intrigued by the busts way up.

333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoWho is supposed to see them? Angels? Even from inside the building, it looks like they would be hard to see. A modern example of painting the back of the statues in a cathedral niche.

About 333 N. Michgan and environs, Blair Kaimen wrote: “Its designers, Chicago architects Holabird & Root, drew heavily from Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s influential second-prize entry in the 1922 Tribune Tower design competition. Continuous vertical lines and gentle setbacks mount to a top without a cornice or cupola. The building superbly takes advantage of a bend in North Michigan Avenue to dominate the view as you look southward.

“Together, 333 and 360 join with the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower and the eclectic Wrigley Building to form an extraordinary quartet of 1920s skyscrapers that frame a great urban space around the Michigan Avenue Bridge.”

Views from Aon

Recently I attended an event at the Mid-America Club, which happens to be on the 80th floor of the Aon Center, formerly known as the Amoco Building, and if you go back far enough, the Standard Oil Building (for some time after ’73, when it was completed). At 83 floors and 1,136 ft., it’s the third tallest building in Chicago, but that makes it only the 52nd tallest in the world in our time, when China and the UAE have decided that really tall buildings are just fab.

Aon Center 2017

Getting to the 80th floor, I encountered an elevator system I’d never experienced before. There are touchpads at each elevator bank, and you press the number of the floor you want to go to. Then the machine tells you which of the elevator cabs to board to go express to that floor. There are standard elevator buttons inside the cab, but they’ve been covered over by a hard plastic case and are inaccessible. Guess this makes inter-floor transit more efficient. For all I know, this kind of system could be common and not exactly new; I don’t go into that many very tall buildings any more.

I’d been up to the Mid-America Club before, though I couldn’t remember exactly when. Probably as long ago as the early 2000s. It offers a mighty 360-degree view, though this time around it was obscured some by overcast skies.

This is looking west, down at the top of the Prudential Center. Pru II, vintage 1990, has the pointy spire, maybe for zeppelin mooring. Pru I, vintage 1955, is the shorter structure immediately to Pru II’s left, though it was the tallest building in Chicago when new.
Prudential Center II Chicago spireUp and to the right, and on the river, with the cupola on top, is 35 E. Wacker, a handsome ’20s building in which I had an office for a few years.

Also seen from this vantage is 150 N. Michigan. Years ago, I ventured onto the exterior of that building, at a place marked by the red oval. It’s a lot safer than it looks like here.

150 N. Michigan Ave.

To the northeast, the entirety of Navy Pier, with part of Chicago’s massive Jardine Water Purification Plant behind it. Largest in the world by volume, I’ve read: nearly one billion gallons of water goes through per day.
Navy Pier from aboveOne of the pictures posted here is shot from Navy Pier, looking back in the direction of the Aon Center (and a lot of other buildings).

To the north, a large chunk of downtown off in the distance: North Michigan Ave. and Streeterville.
North Michigan Ave and StreetervilleTo the south, and looking nearly straight down, is Pritzker Pavilion. As seen from ground level in this posting.
Pritzker PavillionThe ribbon snaking off to the left is a pedestrian bridge. Officially, the BP Bridge, one of the projects funded by the oil company before its really big sponsorship of a hole in the Gulf of Mexico. Frank Gehry, who did the Gehry-like bandshell, did the bridge too.

Finally, the Bean, or “Cloud Gate.”
The Bean from the airFrom this vantage, looking like a bead of quicksilver surrounded by ants.

Ah, Haleakalā

In his TEDx Talk (see yesterday), Ed also mentioned a transformative experience – maybe transcendent experience — he had at Haleakalā, the enormous volcano on Maui. Brave fellow that Ed, walking into a volcano against medical advice.

Even against the advice of the National Park Service, which says re Haleakalā National Park: “The Summit and Kīpahulu Districts are remote. An ambulance can take up to 45 minutes to arrive at either district from the nearest town. People with respiratory or other medical conditions should also be aware that the summit of Haleakalā is at 10,000 ft.”

Can’t say that my experience at Haleakalā was transformative, except that incremental transformation one gets living day to day, with a handful of those days including things marvelous to behold. The vista down into the cone was certainly that, like no place I’d seen before.

Haleakala79-1Mars. I thought of Mars, with its rocks and rusty terrain. When I gazed down into Haleakalā in 1979, and took a few of my own pictures, the pictures taken by Viking were still pretty fresh. But I knew it was Earth; a rare part of Earth, accessible to the likes of me only because of the twists and turns of history and personal circumstance.

That day I made the acquaintance of the silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense macrocephalum, which grows nowhere else, though another subspecies grows on Mouna Kea.

Haleakala79-2Say that to yourself: The Silverswords of Haleakalā. Fun just to say. Sounds like one of Edgar Rice Burroughs lesser-known works.

Silversword79Plenty of fully grown men and women who didn’t exist when I took in the vista of Haleakalā and its silverswords are now loose in the world, so long ago was it. But I get some satisfaction from the almost certain knowledge that the vista hasn’t changed at all since then.

The UT Tower

Damned if it isn’t January out there now, but at least it’s expected to return to a more normal November – a little above freezing – by the end of the week.

My recent visit to Texas started out warm, but cooled down with most of the rest of the country. It was still warm when we went to the UT Tower on November 8. Good thing, since the outdoor vista is the thing to do. In full, it’s the University of Texas Tower, a part of the school’s Main Building, built in 1937 and towering 307 feet over campus. One Charles Whitman used his marksman skills to murder people at random from atop the observation deck in 1966, so nearly 50 years later visitors need to go through a metal detector manned by a cop to get in. But at least you can get in. For a good long time, the tower was closed.

Officially, you take a “tour” of the observation deck, and there’s some commentary by guides – in our case, three perky UT students – but mostly you have access to the view in all directions. Because of a sad history of suicides, you have to look through bars.

UT Tower Nov 8, 2014South: Downtown Austin, including the Capitol of Texas. At the time the tower was built, it couldn’t be taller than the capitol, which is 308 feet. Now structures can be taller, but not positioned in way to block the view of the capitol from 30 specific locations (one of which must certainly be the UT Tower).

Austin, Nov 8, 2014East: UT Stadium. Officially, Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, with a seating capacity of 100,119, making it the 13th largest stadium in the world, according to Wiki. Note that it wasn’t at capacity that day. UT was playing West Virginia, and they weren’t expected to win. But they did.

UT Stadium during UT-WVa game Nov 8, 2014From our vantage, we heard the crowd roar from time to time.

“That sounds like a first down,” Tom said about one roar. “What does it say about me, that I know that?”

“That you’ve been to too many UT games?” I suggested.

Northwest. The large house is Littlefield House.

Littlefield House, Nov 8, 2014West: The Drag and the Balcones Escarpment.

Austin, Nov 8, 2014 Guadalupe St., better known as the Drag, is in the mid-ground. Spent a fair amount of time there in ’81. The sign of the University Co-op, a major UT retailer, is just visible (CO-OP). Off in the background rises the Balcones Escarpment, a geological feature I’ve heard about for a long time, but never had seen so clearly displayed.

Item From the Past: Lombok

Not long ago I saw the first 15 minutes or so of Hercules in New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie. I soon decided that I didn’t need to see any more, for the usual reasons (life’s too short, who’s going to give me those 91 minutes back?, etc.) In the age of YouTube, watching all of a bad movie isn’t necessary anyway, because you can watch the likes of this.

If you’re interested in a fittingly puerile review of the movie, there’s always this.

According to the imdb, the movie was made in 1969, released in early 1970. I wonder if anyone watching the movie in the theater had any inkling that the muscleman on the screen would ever be, say, the governor of a major U.S. state. Of course they didn’t.

Lombok was an interesting place. Drier than Bali, but still fairly green. This view near the town of Kuta, on the south coast of the island, shows the greenery.

We arrived on July 31, 1994, and stayed a few days. One of the persistent clichés about the island was that it’s “not as spoiled” as Bali, which wasn’t remotely spoiled, as in ruined by its popularity. Bali shrugs its lovely shoulders and the visitors pass through.

Still, that sentiment was in guidebook print, and I heard people talk that way, including one woman who was persuaded that the further east you traveled in the Lesser Sunda – Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and so on. — the better. I couldn’t say for sure, since we didn’t make it any further east than Lombok. But maybe she was just romanticizing poverty.

High Cliff Graffiti

On the northeastern shore of Lake Winnebago–the largest inland lake in Wisconsin–is High Cliff State Park, whose name ought to be a clue that it offers vistas of the lake. But it’s more than any old cliff. The Wisconsin DNR says that “the park gets its name from the limestone cliff of the Niagara Escarpment, which parallels the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.”

It wasn’t the first time on this trip we’d seen the escarpment. County Road B in up the Door Peninsula has views of cliffs. According to Door County Coastal Byway, “Door County’s Green Bay side has the true escarpment, with exposed dolomite rock 200-250 feet high. At the base of these rock faces are remnants of the chunks of stone that fall from the cliffs to form ‘talus.’ ”

I wouldn’t know talus if I stubbed my toe on it, but the cliffs were evident, especially at George K. Pinney County Park, just off County Road B. At High Cliff State Park, the vantage is from on top of the cliffs, though trees block the view in some places. Maybe that’s why a wooden observation tower rises above the trees.

A plaque on the tower says, “THIS TOWER is dedicated to WILLIAM M. WRIGHT, spirited leader and longtime friend of High Cliff State Park. Built in 1984 with private funds from Kimberly-Clark Foundation Inc. and High Cliff State Park Association Inc.”

The plaque doesn’t tell you how many steps it takes to get to the top. An unusually helpful graffito at the bottom tells you that it’s 64 all together.

And it is. Eight flights of eight steps each. As you ascend, the helpful graffiti continues all of the way up.

Until you reach the top. You’re rewarded for climbing 64 steps with a broad view of northern Lake Winnebago, which isn’t so large than you can’t see the opposite shore, where Appleton, Neenah, and the other Fox Cities are located.

Table Rock Lake Sunset

Those formerly eager dam-builders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, built Table Rock Lake near Branson in the 1950s to control flooding by the White River. Since then the lake has also done its part to attract visitors to Branson. It’s a fine lake.

We spent the afternoon of November 2 on the lake, aboard the showboat Branson Belle, which wrapped up its 4 pm cruise just as the light was disappearing in the west.