Monthly Archives: September 2010

Vancouver & Whistler

Vancouver and Whistler were on the world stage earlier this year when they hosted the XXI Winter Olympic Games.  I had the opportunity to visit these spectacular cities in an Olympic race of my own last week.  Vancouver was host to the World Route Development Forum, the biggest conference of the year in my day job.  During the “Air Service Olympics” I met with 20 airlines over two days, not to mention attending numerous evening receptions and dinners.  I’m happy to report that it was a very productive and successful conference.

Of course, the trip would not have been a complete success if I could not track down the welcome signs.  Vancouver’s sign was conveniently situated on the main route into downtown from the airport, and I spotted it without a problem.  This welcome is in both French and English (although some entrances to the city only include English) and highlights the Olympics.  The shape is simple and the soft blue and green scheme mimics the colors in Vancouver’s breathtaking landscape.  According to a City of Vancouver news release, the base of the sign is made from granite salvaged from old curbs around the city.

After the conference ended, I took a short day trip up to Resort Municipality of Whistler to decompress after weeks of preparation and a whirlwind of activity at the conference.  The welcome sign for Whitlser is typical of a mountain town – simple, wooden and rustic.  The tree symbol at the top of the sign is Whistler’s official logo.

I visited Whistler with my friend and colleague Vicki.  We enjoyed walking through the village and stopped for a photo at the inuksuk statue.  The inuksuk was the official symbol of the 2010 Olympic Games; it is a stone landmark used by natives of the Arctic to help with navigation.  The passerbys who offered to take our photo were friendly, but clearly not talented with the camera as the inuksuk is missing its head!

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Colorado

Thirteen years ago this week I moved to Colorado.

It was meant to be a temporary home – just a year or two – before moving on to bigger places (I had my sights set on the East Coast).  And, except for a two-year experiment in the Eastern Time Zone (not quite the East Coast), Colorado has been my home since September 1997.

I distinctly remember navigating the winding hills of Raton Pass in my Mazda Protégé and seeing the welcome sign as I crossed from New Mexico into Colorado.  The welcome signs for Colorado remain the same today.

The word Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish.  Colorado is famous not only for its red rocks, but its blue skies, yellow sunflowers, green forests, purple columbines and orange sunsets.  The state’s motto – Colorful Colorado – reflects this beauty and diversity.

But the welcome sign is dull and lifeless, and doesn’t include any color.  NONE.  Unless you count white as a color that symbolizes the snow that has made Colorado skiing famous throughout the world.  (But I think that’s a stretch.)  In this photo I was at least able to capture some of the colorful landscape, but not all border crossings are as attractive as this one.

Some Colorado border crossings include a farewell to visitors, such as the one below.

Are you ready for some football (welcome sign style)?

Welcome to the 2010 NFL season!  I am a lifelong fan of the sport and you better believe that this date has been on my calendar since the official schedule was released in the spring.

The first game is a rematch of the thrilling  2009 NFC championship shoot-out between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.  I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the season than to highlight the welcome signs for Minnesota and Louisiana (alas, I have not yet captured the welcome sign for the Big Easy, but it’s on my schedule next month).

The Welcome to Louisiana sign displays the same fleur-de-lis that is featured on the helmets and jerseys of all 53 members of the New Orleans Saints.  Most often associated with the French monarchy, this lily flower became the official symbol of the State of Louisiana in 2008.

The history of Louisiana is tightly linked to France; France claimed the region in the late 17th century and the state takes its name from King Louis XIV.  In fact, Louisiana is one of only three states to welcome visitors in both English and French.  Can you guess the other two states?

Minnesota’s sign ranks as one of five most favorite state welcome signs.  One of only a few signs I have photographed made of stone, the flowing vertical lines represent the Mississippi River which originates in Minnesota and ends in New Orleans (quel coincidence!).  The pink cursive script provides a splash of color that reflects Minnesota’s state flower, the pink and white lady’s slipper.

The game clock just wound down to zero, and the Saints were victorious over the Vikings.  But the Minnesota sign remains the winner for me.

Alaska Wrap-Up

While in Alaska, I logged nearly 1,300 miles on my rental car.  All with the goal of discovering what welcome sign would await me around the next bend in the road.

My favorite sign of the trip was in Anderson, a city of less than 400 people.  In addition to landscape features that define the Denali area, the hand-crafted, hand-painted sign features a bear that is more scared-looking than scary.

And the sign has two sides, each one painted individually!  I especially like the fact that one side has the sun (summer solstice) while the other side doesn’t (winter solstice).

The Willow Area also provides a warm welcome.  This is a professional sign that displays the summer and winter activities that visitors and residents alike can enjoy in the Willow Area.  (Notice the wooden bear perched on the left side of the sign; slightly scarier than the bear in Anderson.)

Many signs in Alaska are designed with wood and have a rustic feel.  The sign in Delta Junction followed this theme, but drew me in more than some of the others.  How could I resist “Alaska’s Friendly Frontier”?

Unfortunately, this next sign overpromises.  Downtown Talkeetna is not particularly beautiful.  Especially when a bus full of tourists has just emptied onto its street.  (And dirty shoes aren’t exactly appealing.)

Joy is a small off-the-grid homestead about 60 miles north of Fairbanks.  (Joy was one of the original settlers of the land in the 1960s.  It seems the sign dates from the 1960s, too.)

Last but not least is Houston, a 1,200-person suburb of Anchorage.  Like some of the others, this sign tries to capture all that is Alaska – wildlife, fishing, mountains, the summer sun, forests and rivers.  And it does it very well.

Much more interesting than the sign in Houston, Texas.

And that’s a wrap!

Wasilla

Two years ago I probably would not have gone out of my way to visit Wasilla.  That was before Sarah Palin became a household name.

Home to 10,000 people, Wasilla ranks as the fourth-largest city in Alaska (behind Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, respectively).  Wasilla is a suburb of Anchorage (40 miles to the west) and the George Parks Highway linking the two cities was the closest feeling to interstate traffic that I experienced during my visit to Alaska.  How to describe the city?  William Yardley of The New York Times summed up Wasilla in an article in this week: “Where development dead-ends and some of the most remote places in America begin.”  I can’t top that.

Northbound travelers are treated to an elaborate welcome sign (above) situated on the bank of Wasilla Lake.   (This is not the same lake that backs up to the Palin household; that is Lake Lucille, Wasilla’s other lake.)  The metal sign pays homage to the city’s famous lakes; its design includes the reflection of the Chugach Mountains and a boater, in addition to other circular cutouts that do not represent anything obvious.

Southbound travelers are greeted in a typical Alaskan fashion – a wooden sign.  Like the northbound sign, mountains and the local Rotary Club are highlighted.  The City of Wasilla seal adds some interest to an otherwise lackluster sign.

Juneau

Unlike many visitors to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, I arrived by air.  The landing is among the most challenging in the world; on final approach pilots have to maneuver through numerous mountains to the airport’s single runway that sits at the end of the Gastineau Channel (which also acts as a dangerous wind funnel).  The runway is not visible until a final sharp right turn turn around the Mendenhall Peninsula at speeds of over 150 miles per hour.  Quite an experience!

Because Juneau is not accessible by car, most tourists pour into the city on cruise ships, packing the souvenir shops that line the wharf area of the compact downtown.  But even the teeming tourists could not take away from the charm of Alaska’s third-largest city.  Juneau has character unlike any other city I visited in Alaksa and it was by far my favorite stop; the historic buildings constructed during the 1880s when Juneau first prospered due to gold are quaint and welcoming.  Highlights for me included a walking tour of the numerous totem poles sprinkled throughout the hillsides of downtown, lunch at the Twisted Fish Company along the waterfront and gazing at the 4,500-foot forested peaks that rise dramatically around the city.  Juneau combines both natural beauty and a soft, laid-back pace of life that is a clear contrast to the harshness I felt in Interior Alaska.

Okay, I’m starting to sounds like a guide book!  The true highlight of my visit, of course, was the welcome sign.  Unlike states, welcome signs for cities are not guaranteed.  So I was thrilled to exit the airport and immediately spot the Welcome to Juneau sign.  In keeping with tradition of many signs I saw in Alaska, this one is wooden and rustic.  The names of the Governor of Alaska and Mayor of Juneau are cleverly etched on removable pieces of wood that can be changed as quickly as the whims of voters.  Flowers at the base add some color.

As a bonus, a second sign sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard was just steps away.