Window seat geekery

Ok that’s a little better. The bar emptied out some so I have an armchair pulled up to a table, and there’s less noise of chatter.

The trip itself was interesting, I must say. I’ve never flown Seattle to Houston before, and it’s all mountains for a long long time. Very cool.

Also very puzzling in spots – weirdly geometrical in appearance in what appears to be mountainous wilderness – straight lines where straight lines make no sense. They don’t seem to be roads, because of the wilderness thing.

One item in particular has me absolutely stumped, and kind of fascinated – a set of rectangles abutting each other, like squares on a quilt. About six. Like farms, in farm country, but not in farm country and WAY too big to be farms – and above all, what separated them from each other was snow/no snow. Now I ask you – even if they were huge ranches of a rectangular form – how could one ranch be bare of snow while adjacent ones are not?!

Very weird. I’ll probably never know what they are.

Then in Texas (I think) – lots and lots of circles. Anybody know what those are? They look agricultural, but the sizes vary a lot, and anyway why circles? They’re certainly not in wilderness though, so they’re not mystifying the way the quilt is.

I saw some fantastic meanders (in rivers, you know) – twist twist twist – like a hairpin road. Also some thrillingly BIG rivers.

I’m a huge window geek.


  1. David says

    About the Coalition for Marriage, I had a reply from my MP

    Thank you for your email dated 22nd February.
    The core groups supporting the Coalition for Marriage include, Christian Concern, Christian Institute, Evangelical Alliance and CARE. There are broader groups like The Catholic Church, CofE, Baptists, amongst others.
    I hope that this is of some help.

    Kind regards

    Jim Dobbin MP

    He’s not even ashamed

    Sorry if its off topic, cant find the original thread and thought you might be interested/annoyed

  2. Pteryxx says

    Straight lines in mountains, which are not roads, might be power transmission line right-of-ways. Mostly they just run the lines in the shortest direction without much regard for terrain.

    Circles in Texas are farmland irrigated by a long rolling sprinkler on a central pivot. I guess land’s so cheap out here that the bits that don’t get irrigated don’t really count?

    Dunno about the giant rectangles, but any sort of land squares could be snow/no snow if only some of them were in use. Say, if one set was plowed while the other hadn’t been yet. Also, if one set had been mowed or plowed while the other still had plants/stubble on it, wouldn’t the warm bare ground melt the snow that fell on it?

  3. Ben Breuer says

    Following up on Pteryxx’s: The rectangles might be large feedlots, on some of which animals trample down the snow.

    I love flying over landscape. Once, a long time ago, I went from Frankfurt/Main to Hong Kong: mountains upon mountains upon mountains, with rivers snaking and nary a lighted speck (part of the flight was overnight). Since then I want to travel through Central Asia quite badly.

  4. eric says

    Circles in Texas are farmland irrigated by a long rolling sprinkler on a central pivot. I guess land’s so cheap out here that the bits that don’t get irrigated don’t really count?

    I fly coast to coast and see them all over the place, so it must be common everywhere. I guess the savings on water/irrigation are larger than the profit from the leftover space. (~0.858*r^2) :)

  5. says

    David, thanks, I am indeed interested, and no problem about OT.

    The circles – of course! I knew that, but totally forgot.

    Power line rights of way; possible reasons for quilt squares; all good; thanks.

    Just between flights, Ray, I didn’t see anything (except from the air, and even then I didn’t see any actual city – it must have been on the other side of the plane).

  6. Jim says

    The large rectangles may come from the amount of vegetation remaining in grazing areas. In the west it takes a long time, often years, for fields to recover from overgrazing. I often see this from the ground when driving: empty fields have lots of vegetation, and fields with cows or sheep are grazed bare. These fenced pastures can be quite large, often covering hundreds of acres, and would appear as rectangles from the sky.
    The difference in snow coverage could also be explained this way. Snow will melt faster off a pasture that has had all the vegetation removed. But patches of snow will remain on pastures with small bushes and grasses to protect it.

  7. grahammartinroyle says

    @anne, wow! I’ve never seen anything like that. The explanations make sense but, never having seen it before, it looks kinda weird. Guess I’m gonna have to fly over Texas now just so’s I can see that for myself (yep, another window geek, -lol-).

  8. Francisco Bacopa says

    Too bad the flight from Houston to Orlando is almost completely over water. I wonder, can you see the Mississippi River Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. I would expect it to be bluer than the surrounding water as it is something of a desert compared to the greener tinted water of the Gulf.

  9. says

    Jim – hmm – they seemed awfully big for that. But, who knows, maybe I over-estimated. And it would at least make sense.

    Francisco, I wondered the same thing, but alas the flight was all after dark. I kept thinking we were over water but then seeing more lights than seemed compatible with being over water. I’m pretty sure I saw us approach and then cross the coast of Florida though. It was kind of exciting.

    I go back in daylight, so if it’s clear maybe I’ll be able to tell you.

  10. evilDoug says

    Seismic cut lines (essentially temporary roadways cleared for access for seismographic surveys for oil or gas) are common in some places. They are likely to be fairly narrow.
    Permanent fire-block cuts are used in some places – usually wider than other mysterious cuts.
    Pipelines also account for some cuts through the boonies.
    Power lines sound quite probable.

    I could believe grazing leases for the big rectangles. Don’t know about the US, but in western Canada there are areas where damned destructive cattle are grazed on “crown lands” leased to (usually wealthy) ranchers.

    I once flew from Vancouver to SeaTac late in the evening, and right along the coastline – quite beautiful. (The plane less so – it was a Dash 8 that had a different resonance or rattle for every air speed and altitude.) I love looking at the world from an airplane – far more awesome than anything religion has to offer. And lots of mysteries!

  11. lordshipmayhem says

    I’ve seen those circles in Alberta, from up close. Irrigation devices, usually automated so the farmer can farm even bigger plots than if he had to go and turn on the system manually.

  12. JoeBuddha says

    In Washington, large geometrical shapes would probably be clear cuts, or some such.

  13. Rieux says

    I knew the central-pivot irrigation one (we’ve got a lot of that in Minnesota), but otherwise this thread leads me to conclude that a whole lot of FTB commenters know a whole lot of stuff. Goodness.

  14. Francisco Bacopa says

    I kept thinking we were over water but then seeing more lights than seemed compatible with being over water.

    Were the lights isolated with no signs of roads, which can often be seen at night? They might be offshore oil rigs.

    But you might have been flying more over land than one would guess:

    Looks like you went over Beaumont and skimmed along the Louisiana coastline. You should be able to get a very good look at the Mississippi delta on your way back.

    And here’s the route for your final leg home:

    Isn’t the great circle mapper awesome?

  15. Hunt says

    I flew San Francisco to Atlanta once and had a great view of Canyonlands in Utah. That was a trip, literally and figuratively.

  16. Richard Smith says

    I can understand that the norm is square grid but why, when farm land is likely at a premium, would farmers not consider laying out the circular crops in a hexagonal pattern? They can even square it off by using half-hexagons along the edges (ie, two half-hex – halved side-to-side – fields at the top, one whole-hex bracketed by two half-hex – halved top-to-bottom – across the middle, then two more side-to-side half-hex fields at the bottom, filling a rectangular area). I guess losing around 32% of the arable surface instead of only 9.3% isn’t worth the time and cost of a few extra irrigation pipes…

  17. Godless Heathen says


    My guess is that land isn’t at a premium in those areas. There’s tons and tons of arable land in the middle of the country that isn’t going to be slated for development any time soon. I assume that’s what’s going on here.

    Plus, farming methods have become more efficient and more food can be produced per acre than in the past, meaning that farmers/agricultural conglomerates don’t need to worry so much about wasting land.

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