A Tour of The Bay Area

Flying around the San Francisco Bay Area is an eye-opener for earthbound beings who have never seen it from this angle. Arriving in a large jetliner may sometimes offer the passenger a tantalizing glimpse or two and hint at the wider array of sights to be seen.

This album is a compendium of images taken over the years. Some of the images were taken with a very early example of a digital camera, before they reached today's level of sophistication. As such some of the images may be of a lower quality than others, but they still convey some of what it is like to be able to fly around at will and take in the sights.


0598 The Dumbarton Bridge - the southernmost crossing of the bay. When you take off and climb out of Palo Alto, this is the first major landmark, where you have been previously cleared by departure control to turn - either left to go towards the ocean or right towards the East Bay and the Sierra Nevada.



8325 As we look south, the bay degenerates into wetlands, salt ponds and marshes. The algae, plankton, bacteria, and brine shrimp in the water all combine to color the reflected light in shades of pink, yellow and green. In winter, Mount Hamilton (in the distance) is sometimes dusted with snow.



0242 The varied colors in the different sections can be quite startling. The green on the left is open bay waters, the red on the right are salt ponds where the various forms of algae and other life forms color the water.



Just south of San Jose on top of Mount Hamilton is the Lick Observatory. This was the world's first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. In winter sometimes it will have a dusting of snow.

The observatory, in a Classical Revival style structure, was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick.

With the growth of San Jose, and the rest of Silicon Valley, light pollution became a problem for the observatory. In 1980 San Jose began a program to reduce the effects of lighting, most notably replacing all streetlamps with low pressure sodium lamps. The result is that Mount Hamilton remains a viable location for a major working observatory



0235 Looking towards the East Bay - the Contra Costa Hills and Mission Peak.

It is summer, so the the hills now are primarily a dry yellowy-gold in color with just the Oak trees in the ravines showing dark green. But in winter when the rains come, these hills will turn to a lush green which will last roughly from December through April-May or even June if we had a good year.



0237 A ghost town named Drawbridge, at the very southern end of the bay. It was abandoned many years ago due to constant flooding - only the railway goes through it now, mainly on a levee.



0078 The eastern end of the Dumbarton Bridge comes ashore just north of more salt ponds. Just beyond the highway are the Coyote Hills, an unusual shape to be seen so close to the water's edge.



6461 If we head north up the Peninsula, we come across a string of lakes nestled in the valley that marks the San Andreas Fault. It is the slippage of this fault in 1906 that caused the big earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed most of San Francisco. The fault is quite evident from the air in a number of places in California if you know where to look for it. The name Crystal Springs is applied to these lakes as a group, they form the water reservoir for the city of San Francisco and some communities on the peninsula.

To the right of the lakes is Highway 280 leading to San Francisco (about 20 miles from here) and to the left are the fog-shrouded coastal mountains beyond which lies the Pacific Ocean.



6466 Looking directly north up the San Andreas fault with the Crystal Springs lakes, and highway 280 on the right.



0247 Running across this picture from left to right is Highway 280 going south down the peninsula. The straight line coming up diagonally from the bottom left (starting about 1/4 of the way in from bottom left corner) is the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The E-gun with its 200 Mev injector is just off the bottom of this picture - at its top end the accelerator disappears into a small hill inside which are buried a high-energy and a low-energy PEP ring.

The road crossing Highway 280 (two overpasses) is Sand Hill Road, the primary address for the venture captal companies that fuel Silicon Valley.

The SLAC National Accelerator is a two-mile linear accelerator - the longest in the world. Originally a particle physics research center, SLAC is now a multipurpose laboratory for astrophysics, photon science, accelerator and particle physics research. Six scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize for work carried out at SLAC



0652 In the hills toward the coast lies Westwind Barn. A community barn owned by the town of Los Altos Hills, it was originally donated to the town by the Hungarian Countess Margit Bessenyey



8348 A little to the east and north of San Jose is the Calaveras water reservoir. In the rainy season the hills are green, but more usualy they are a golden straw color. Far to the north, we can see Mount Diablo.



2624 San Francisco International airport lies on the edge of the bay. Highway 101 crosses this picture with San Francisco to the north (left) and San Jose to the south (right)

There are two runways side-by-side running roughly north-south and another two side-by-side running roughly east-west.



2623 A closer look at the terminal buildings at San Francisco International airport. At the front is the International Terminal stretching across between two parking garages. The "grills" that can be seen on the front of the two garages are in fact two spiral ramps which cars use to get from one level to another.

Beyond the International Teminal is a ring road to which all the domestic terminals are connected, with the control tower in the middle of the ring furthest away from us.



0042 In this picture, the terminal buildings are hidden from view behind the plane's instrument panel (black area bottom right corner) but we have a good view of the two main parallel runways at San Francisco Airport. Under the more usual weather conditions, planes will approach from over the bay and land on one of these runways coming towards the viewer.

Weather permitting, aircraft taking off use the two runways that cross this picture horizontally.



8329 And finally, two more pictures that show the stunning colors that can be seen when just the right light conditions and cloud cover come together.



This is the view the pilot sees on returning in the evening towards Palo Alto. We have just crossed the East Bay Hills and are heading west across the Bay, but the sun is still high enough in the sky to not get in our eyes, and the cloud cover diffuses the light to show off the colors reflected by the water.