Close encounters of the CLUI kind


During August I spent a few pleasant days at the Wendover, Utah field station of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI). While there Matthew Coolidge mentioned that CLUI would have a video project featuring aerial footage of the San Francisco Bay shoreline on display in the upcoming Oakland Museum exhibit. Matt said that my Westfalia camper appeared out in the salt ponds in this footage as the helicopter cruises over the South Bay.

I spent an enjoyable Friday evening last weekend at the Oakland Museum’s Above & Below exhibit where one of the star attractions, indeed THE star attraction, was CLUI’s fine San Francisco Bay Area Shoreline Landscan. The film is mesmerizing. The stabilized helicopter-mounted camera offers a wonderfully wide and detailed view from a low vantage point that conveys much about the edge of the Bay.

Salt Pond A17

Halophile refugia in Salt Pond A17

Matt was correct about my Westfalia showing up. As I watched the film there it was out by Drawbridge on the levee of Salt Pond A17. I was out at the newly breached pond to photograph some really interesting halophile refugia – little depressions (often dredge marks) where halophiles maintained viable communities even thought the pond now cycles with the tides. Not only is my Westfalia visible in the film but you can also see me and the kite I was flying. It turns out I had a camera aloft at the time.

Serenity from helicopter

My van from the helicopter.

In the fuzzy still above (a quick iPhone shot taken while watching the video) you can see Serenity (my VW Westfalia camper) parked on the levee of Salt Pond A17 and, on closer inspection, me standing next to the van and my Sutton Flowform 30 kite flying over the pond.

Seeing the van’s location in CLUI’s film caused me to remember that I did see a low-flying helicopter heading down the old South Coast Pacific Railroad berm on that afternoon in April. As a sort of proficiency exercise I often try to pan and shoot trains or helicopters as they go past during a KAP session and I remember doing this with their helicopter – capturing it in three of the four photographs I shot as it went past. My kite was about 250 feet AGL with the camera only half that. It looks like the helicopter is up around 500 ft.

Helicopter approaching Helicopter over Drawbridge

The helicopter from my KAP rig (inset image of helicopter enlarged).

What fun – the aerial photographer capturing the aerial photographer capturing the aerial photographer capturing the… The salt pond landscape often seems remote and unpopulated. But even here it is a good idea to keep the kite and camera relatively low. Put a top on that “safety box.”

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