Saturday, December 9, 2017

Abandoned Rocket Fuel Plant, Redlands, California

Redlands, California, is a historic town on the far east outskirts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.   The historic core is well-represented by gorgeous Craftsman architecture houses in impeccable condition. But drive to the unincorporated town Mentone, turn north on some gravel roads towards the Santa Ana River wash, and you come across a wasteland of boulder fields, water retention pits, and hulking concrete bunkers. The bunkers are the remains of the Lockheed Propulsion Company, which developed and tested solid fuel rocket motors and propellants for use by the military and NASA between 1961 and 1975.
Southern California was, for many decades, one of the prime locations for the US aerospace industry. After World War II, aircraft companies expanded their operations to encompass the new rocket and space industry, especially in the 1960s, as we developed equipment and systems for the space race.
These were sturdy buildings, with thick reinforced concrete walls. Some semi-buried bunkers (see the fourth photograph) were made to store highly explosive materials. Bunkers like this are designed to have a thin roof so that an explosion will dissipate its energy vertically into the air.
These rectangles contain glass at least 6 inches thick. They were designed for movie cameras to film rocket nozzles exhaust. I have seen windows like this at an old building (no longer extant) at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg.
According to a Wikipedia article, the Lockheed plant closed in 1975 when the last contracts for the Apollo program ended and NASA selected Thiokol to prepare solid propellant for the Space Shuttle booster rockets. Solvents and other toxic chemicals have been measured in water wells in the region. Nevertheless, Lockheed-Martin Corporation has refused to pay for the clean-up of the contamination.  Is this not a common story?

These photographs are from a compact Yashica Electro 35CC camera, with a fixed 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon lens. My impression is that the lens may be giving slightly more coverage than 35mm, but regardless, it is a handy focal length as a street or casual photography lens. The film was Fuji 200, purchased in Kathmandu. I scanned the negatives on a Plustek 7600i 35mm film scanner using SilverFast Ai software.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Good Things in Small Packages: Leica IIIC

This is a Leica IIIC rangefinder camera made in Wetzlar, West Germany. It uses the standard 35mm perforated film with frame size of 24×36mm. My dad bought this IIIC in 1949 when he worked for the US Navy on Guam. It came with a 5cm f/2.0 Summitar lens. He had owned an American-made Perfex 35mm camera during the war years but had wanted a Leica for a long time. During World War II, a few Leicas were exported via Sweden, but they were reserved for special uses (spies or well-placed generals?). After the war, one of the ways a war-ravaged Germany began to rebuild its economy was to export precision optical equipment, such as the famous Leica cameras. My dad took the opportunity of low prices at the post exchange on Guam and bought this body and lens. As I recall, he said they cost $150. He used this little Leica for many years, taking family photographs when we lived in Greece and southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s, and I used it in the 1970s and 1980s
As the photographs show, this has almost watchmaker precision in the fittings. The chrome on mine is pitted because in the early post-war era, chromium was hard to buy and many German cameras had poor plating.
A few years ago, Sherry Krauter in New York cleaned and checked the Summitar lens for me. Mine is pristine and never suffered the scratches in the soft coating that plagues so many 1940s lenses (old-time photographers cleaned their lenses with their neckties). These older Leicas have a screw mount for the lenses. The thread is 39mm × 26 turns-per-inch or threads-per-inch (tpi). This was a Whitworth threading standard, which was common in microscope manufacture in the early 20th century. Hundreds of different lenses were made for this 39mm mount, but focal lengths other than 50mm require an auxiliary viewfinder to show the correct frame.
The shutter in the body had been troublesome for over a decade, but Don Goldberg in Wisconsin did a fantastic job overhauling it mid-2017. This is the main roller, on which Mr. Goldberg marked the areas that were badly worn. He replaced it with a new-old-stock main roller, the genuine Leica part. For how many other consumer products that are almost seven decades old can you still get factory replacement parts (possibly some watches or Rolls Royce motorcars?)?
The Summitar lens uses filters with a unique 36mm tapered thread. No other lens ever made used this size. I did not use filters too often on my Nepal trip, but when needed, I had Leitz Series VI filters and a Tiffen retaining ring. It is a bit clumsy but manageable, and the series filters can be used on other lenses with the appropriate adapter rings.

The Summitar lens is a bit quirky. My example (and maybe all of them?) has a lot of field curvature, so the edges of a flat object will be fuzzy. But a typical scene with the subject near the center has smooth out of focus area around the edges. The out of focus appearance is known as bokeh. Thirty years ago, almost no one thought about it, but now digital photographers seem to be obsessed with the topic. The newer Type 2 and Type 4 50mm f/2.0 Summicron lenses that I use on my Leica M2 body are "better", but I rather like the old Summitar. It feels good to have my dad's camera in operation again. He would be pleased.
Village Elders, Siran Danda, Gorkha region.
School girls, Dhulikhel, east of Kathmandu.
For a trip to Nepal in October of this year, I decided to use this little IIIC with black and white film and skip the obligatory digital camera entirely. It was a great success. Many Nepalis were amazed that I was using a mechanical camera almost 70 years old. It was a tension-breaker to let people look through the viewfinder, but I had to explain that there was no LCD screen for them to see the results. Surprisingly, some of the camera stores in the Thamel area (the main tourist zone) in Kathmandu still stock fresh Ilford and Fuji film in 35mm size. But you probably could not find any 120 or large format film. These examples are on TMax 100 film, developed by Praus Productions in Rochester, NY. I had only used TMax 100 once before and I'm impressed by the fine grain. Nice stuff. To measure exposure, I used a Gossen Luna Pro Digital meter, usually in reflected mode but sometimes in incident mode.
Cooking pots at Thubten Choling Monastery, Solu Khumbu region.
Tools at Serlo Monastery, Solu Khumbu region.
Nepal is a fabulous photographic destination. The people are friendly and welcoming. The country is developing and changing quickly. Go soon to see remnants of an earlier era before they are torn up and replaced with the new commercial world. The same warning applies to Cuba: Go before the developers pillage and ruin it.

For an earlier article about using Leica cameras to record urban decay, click this link. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kagbeni: Gateway to the Kingdom of Mustang

Kagbeni is an ancient trading city perched on a plateau overlooking the Kali Gandaki River in north central Nepal. For centuries, Kagbeni thrived in the salt trade. Caravans of human porters or goats (really) carried salt south from Tibet en route to India. On the return, the caravans brought back rice and other goods from the lowlands. The introduction of manufactured salt containing iodine largely ended the salt trade, but I am not sure of the date. However, black, rose, and white Tibetian salt are now sold in gourmet stores around the world, so some degree of the salt trade has revived (although some of this new salt trade goes through China, therefore not benefiting Kagbeni at all). In the United States, iodine was first added to salt in 1924. Iodine deficiency is a leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities, or mental retardation (from Wikipedia). Lack of iodine also caused many people to develop goiters (swelling of the thyroid gland).
The geology here is spectacular. The Kali Gandaki winds its way south across a gravel-filled valley, meandering and crossing over and over. The trail crossed some of the streams on temporary wooden bridges, and in other places follows along the shore well above the valley bed. In the second photograph, look at the talus slopes (rock debris) tumbling down the valleys and into the Kali Gandaki's flood plain. These talus slopes are an example of erosion caused by gravity flow, with possibly some assistance during the winter by water transport. This is an arid climate, but even minor rainfall may help lubricate rocks and make the slopes less stable.
Many Nepalis come to the river bed to look for ammonites, called Saligram in Nepali. They are Upper Jurassic age, about the age of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. These demonstrate that sediments in the Himalaya were once seabed and that the uplift of the Himalaya is younger than Jurassic. The uplift was caused by the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates, which is ongoing. As long as the himalaya are uplifting, there will be an almost endless supply of sediment to be carried down the rivers, and, eventually, into the Ganges. The Ganges eventually joins the Brahmaputra, which jointly form the massive Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, which protrudes into the Bay of Bengal.
We rough and tough trekkers (wimps) were tired after a day walking north along the river from the town of Jomsom. This was the Trekkers Inn near the south entrance to town. It was clean, cheerful, and comfortable.
Late afternoon, the wind blows mercilessly across the river valley, carrying clouds of sand and dust. Best to hang out in the inn and drink a tea. The walls around the older houses were a protection against the wind. The wood neatly piled along the rooftop are a traditional demonstration of wealth. In the past, the wood was vital to heating and cooking in winter. Today, many houses use kerosene stoves, so the wood is symbolic or maybe just a decoration. The air is so dry, the wood does not rot.
This little fellow welcomed travelers and was a symbol of good fortune. He apparently needs repair on a regular basis. It is a hard job being out in the weather.
Narrow alleys take you to courtyards and an occasional stupa. Again, note the wood stacked along the roof parapets.
The Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery at the edge of town is a fascinating mixture of ancient and 20th century buildings. Some of the books neatly stored in silk wrappers are hundreds of years old. A huge Tibetan Massif protects the grounds. During the day, he is pretty mellow and sleeps in the sun. But at night, he roams the grounds and eats tourists (and possibly goats and cows).
Late afternoon, the goats come marching through. Poop overload, just be sure you are not in the way. This was late October, and the goats were heading south, I presume to markets in south Nepal or India.

After a night in Kagbeni, we proceeded north into Mustang (to be continued). 

Geology note:  This is a satellite image of the Ganges-Bramaputra Delta, from the NASA Earth Observatory, Nov. 9, 2011.
NASA file

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Deepest Canyon: the Kali Gandaki River, Nepal

Dear readers, I am trying to catch up with some overdue projects. One of these is to summarize my 2011 trip to the Mustang region of Nepal. I listed some of the waypoints of this trip in a 2011 post. This post will be about the fantastic walk down the Kali Gandaki River in west central Nepal.

The Kali Gandaki River makes a great gash through the Himalaya. The river's headwaters are in the Mustang region near the border with Tibet. It then flows south through Mustang (formerly a kingdom and subject of a future post) through gorges and valleys. South of the town of Jomsom, it cuts through the mountains again. "The river then flows southward through a steep gorge known as the Kali Gandaki Gorge, or Andha Galchi, between the mountains Dhaulagiri, elevation 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) to the west and Annapurna I, elevation 8,091 metres (26,545 ft) to the east. If one measures the depth of a canyon by the difference between the river height and the heights of the highest peaks on either side, this gorge is the world's deepest." (from Wikipedia). Eventually, the river flows into the Ganges, after flowing over an immense megafan, comprising sediments eroded from the rapidly uplifting Himalaya.
My 2011 waypoints along the Kali Gandaki valley, with elevations in m above sea level. (Maps drawn with ESRI ArcMap software.)
In decades past, many Europeans and Americans walked down the great gorge when they made the trek around Annapurna (one of the world's great walks). But in the early 2000s, a rough road was cut along the right (west) bank of the Kali Gandaki, and an airport was built in Jomsom. This led to many tourists either flying out or taking a bus. As of 2011, the trekkers' route was becoming underused, and some inns and restaurants had closed.
Jomsom before landing at JMO.
Before my October 2011 walk downstream, I had just completed the trek through Mustang to Lo Manthang, the ancient walled capital of the Kingdom of Lo. My friends flew back to Pokhara from Jomsom Airport (IATA: JMO), which is at elevation of 8,976 feet (2,736 m). The airport often suffers bad weather and has been the site of several crashes. Most of the town is located on a plateau above the river valley.
For my walk down the gorge, I was accompanied by a friendly young Sherpa, Pasang, who had been with us all the way through Mustang. There was also a porter, Rahm, to carry my duffel bag, although we really did not need his services. Regardless, these fellows depend on tourists for income, and I appreciate their hard work.
Day 1. This took us from 2800-m high desert plain into a scrub terrain with juniper and pine that looked like the US southwest or Greece. The first town south of Jomsom was Marpha, which is in an apple-growing region. There is a well-known distillery as well as an ancient monastery.
Approaching Tukuche, the trail hugs the edge of the broad gravel riverbed, occasionally crossing tributaries on rickety wood walkways. One option is to follow a path along the gravel riverbed, but you are exposed to blowing dust. The route along the west side of the valley is better, and, in many areas, the main road.
The High Plains Inn - Dutch Bakery in Tukuche is a great lunch stop, and the hungry trekker is obligated to eat an apple strudel (or two) topped off with an espresso. The route down the Kali Gandaki has  plenty of inns and rest stops like this, so really, this is an easy trek.
We met a lady who was sorting beans that had been drying on a roof. I wonder if they cook red beans and rice? In this area, many villagers stay for the winter, so they carefully stock supplies. But further north in Mustang, the weather is more severe, and villagers migrate to lower altitude areas or to India to find winter work.
Our destination for the night was Larjung, another tidy little town. It is still 2,500 m high, and the villagers were drying corn and other items in preparation for winter.
This was the Riverside Lodge, a nice place with hot water in the shower. Part of the roof was flat, providing a surface to dry corn. The tree had apples. The restaurant was good. Happy chickens lived in a coop and clucked around.
Day 2. The next morning, we continued down stone paths towards the gravel bed of a tributary that enters the Kali Gandaki. The road make a long detour upstream, but the walking path crosses the gravel bed.  In spring, the walking path must be impassable, and pedestrians need to follow the road. As you can see, at this elevation, the flora had changed to alpine forests with pines, much like Austria.
We continued downstream to the village of Kalopani, still at an elevation of 2,500 m.
This is one of these very interesting and somewhat swaying steel suspension bridges that cross the Kali Gandaki.
Looming above you to the east is the might peak of Annapurna, Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world at 8,091 m above sea level. Annapurna is an especially dangerous peak for climbers, with a death to summit ratio of 32 percent.
I was glad to be well below in the valley. We descended steeply during the afternoon along the river valley to the hamlet of Ghasa at only 1950 m elevation. The Eagle Rest Guest House & Garden Restaurant was really nice, and finally we saw other trekkers. Before this stop, we saw very few Americans or Europeans. My green day pack contained water, camera, and personal items. The porter carried my red duffel, which held clothing, sleeping bag (not needed here), and bulky things.
This fellow with the wet nose wanted a room, also.
Day 3. We continued downhill towards Thalpa, about 1800 m elevation. The valley walls towered above us. Yours truly, of course, looked his dorky best. I had been above 3000 m for two weeks, and here at "low altitude" the air felt so thick.
A tributary, the Rupse Chhahara, plunges down the mountain. The bus trundles through the water. Some of the year, the route must be impassable. It takes a degree of bravery to take one of these busses. My anthropologist friend said every now and then, a bus falls off the mountain. By now, we had dropped to 1590m elevation.
Dana, at 1461m has some old stone buildings with Tibetian-style windows of beautiful craftsmanship. The town has a guest house and a bus stop.
The valley near Dana is bucolic, and the footpath takes you along ancient stone walkways through the farms.

By midday, we reached Tatopani, at 1190 m. We descended steeply into broad leaf forest and finally into jungle.
On recommendation from my friend, I checked into the Dhaulagiri Lodge and Restaurant, near the southern end of Tatopani. Nice place, with an excellent restaurant. They put me into my own little cabin, and right outside my room were bamboo and banana plants and geckoes (no obvious snakes). I paid the porter, Rahm, and he headed back upriver.
Tatopani is famous for the hot spring, and I soaked with chubby Japanese visitors.

All in all, this has been a spectacular trek, a passage through geologic history as well as botanic altitude zones.

Change is coming. The villages here are still poor, but they have electricity and serve hikers who are making the Annapurna loop trek. Most lodges have rooms with private bath, but hot water is still rare. The towns have schools and health clinics. The road is a treacherous dirt and rock trail carved out of the mountain-side. As of 2011, busses and jeeps regularly broke down or fell off, squashing their occupants.
Day 4. Two Germans that we met in the lodge, Pasang, and I chartered a taxi take us to Pokkhara, from where we flew to Kathmandu. The taxi took 5 hours as opposed to 8+ on the public bus (which often breaks down). It was a tiny car, and we were rather squashed. And we had to stop a few times to let the goats move off the road. (Note: this was Oct. 21, 2011, and we learned late in the day that Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, the long-term dictator and butcher of Libya, had been killed by Libyan militiamen.)

Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera, some RAW files processed with PhotoNinja software,