For those who have never seen the Aerial America program on the Smithsonian Channel, they have been missing out on some amazing footage of the United States. For the new DVD, Aerial America: Pacific Rim Collection, the producers have collected four episodes covering the West Coast: California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. As a lifelong left-coast resident, I must say that I was quite surprised at how much of this material I had never seen before. And viewing some of the sites from the air is an incredible way to experience it.
The DVD begins in California. On the surface, the set-up may seem a
little basic. The show is primarily a 250-mile journey from San Simeon
to San Francisco, on the Pacific Coast Highway. The episode is anything
but “basic,” however, as it presents some of the most striking footage
of the entire set. The view of the famous Hearst Castle is something to
see, and other notable stops include the old Cannery Row in Monterey,
and the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
It is the fantastic California
coastline which grabs the most attention however. It is little wonder
the state’s nickname is The Golden State.
From California, we head 2550 miles across the Pacific to the six
islands that make up Hawaii. The first stop is the island of Hawaii
itself, the largest in the chain. Besides the glorious scenery are some
fascinating facts. One thing I found pretty incredible is that the first
humans arrived on the island around 500 A.D., by boat from the
Polynesians, some 2500 miles away.
The island of Kauai hosts Mount Kilauea, which is the most active
volcano on the planet. It has been spewing lava continuously since 1983,
and the lava itself has extended the coastline some 500 acres, with no
sign of stopping. We are then off to Maui, home to the remains of the
famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, who once said “If there is a heaven on
earth, it is here.”
Lanai is completely privatized, filled with resorts and high-end
hotels. It was there that Bill Gates (then the richest man in the world)
was married in 1994. Oahu is home to the biggest city in the state,
Honolulu, and for this reason is the most modern looking. We end up on
Kuwaii, the sixth and final island, a truly beautiful location.
The following episode finds us back on the mainland, with a visit to
Oregon. What I found illuminating about this one was the revelation of
just how much of the state is built upon millennia-old lava flows.
The program begins in the state’s biggest city, Portland. The mighty
Columbia River forms the border between Washington and Oregon, and
Portland is located right on its southern edge.
Follow the river west, and it feeds into the Pacific Ocean. This spot
is called “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” The surface is surprising
placid looking, yet the undercurrent is incredibly turbulent. Over 2000
ships have been lost in this spot over the past 200 years. The former
logging town of Astoria sits at this location, and the bridge connecting
it to the rest of Oregon is four miles long. It is the longest truss
bridge in the United States.
Facts like these, and the obligatory mentions that the Nike company
began in Portland, and Google houses the majority of its massive series
of servers there are intriguing facts as well. But it is the Oregon
scenery that is the real draw. The footage of the deepest lake in the
nation, Crater Lake - and its surrounding mountain range is spectacular,
to mention just one of many highlights.
The final program takes us to Washington, and it is structured in
much the same form as the Oregon one. While there is a fair amount of
focus on nature, there is also lot of information about big businesses
as well. This seemed a little unnecessary to me. I mean, doesn’t
basically everyone know that Starbucks and Microsoft began in Seattle?
At least they didn’t go off on a grunge tangent.
As I think I have made clear, Smithsonian Channel: Arial America - Pacific Rim Collection
appeals the most to me when they focus on natural wonders. The air
views of Mount St. Helens are especially interesting. The volcano
famously exploded in May 1980, and caused an incredible amount of
destruction. It is eye-opening to see how much life has returned to the
area 32 years later. The federally protected Olympic National Forest is
something to see as well. It is one of the only spots in the country
with centuries-old timber remaining (by law), and the forest is a pretty
The four episodes of the single-DVD Smithsonian Channel: Arial America - Pacific Rim Collection
total just over 200 minutes, with no bonus material. For fans of
stunning vistas, and intriguing stories, these programs are well worth