Category Archives: State Capitals

Salem, Ore.

Earlier this month I headed west for a quick weekend to visit The City of Roses, more commonly knows as Portland, Ore.    The plan was to spend a couple of relaxing days visiting vineyards/wineries and exploring the natural beauty of the region.

Oregon grapes, the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls did not disappoint.  But unfortunately the welcome sign for Salem, the state’s capital, did.

My first stop after landing at Portland International Airport – even before wine tasting – was Salem.   With a metropolitan area home to nearly 400,000 people – ranking as the second-largest region in the state – Salem has served as Oregon’s capital city since 1851 when it was still the Oregon Territory.

Overcast skies clouded the day, but the biggest letdown came when I spotted the first sign.  After years of photographing welcome signs, I have developed uncanny instincts in terms of where they will be located, and the Salem sign was waiting for me immediately after I exited Interstate 84.  I pulled over in the parking lot of  a Jack in the Box restaurant (you may notice the sign in the background) and walked across the street to safely take the photo.

Portland Rd NE & Hyacinth St NE

I’m not sure I need to dwell too much on why this sign is such a disappointment, so I’ll make this brief.  First and foremost, it doesn’t say welcome.  A close second is the graffiti which makes it extremely difficult for me to imagine enjoying Salem.  Third, the sun is high above the city; this is simply wishful thinking given that Salem averages nearly 300 cloudy or partly cloudy days per year.  Overall, it’s a half-hearted attempt to represent the city’s “skyline”, the Willamette River and nearby national and state forests.  It’s simply a sad sign.

Since I’d traveled all that way, I decided to make my way the short distance into central Salem to take a look at the Oregon State Capitol, something that has become a part of my routine when I visit state capitals.   The building was constructed in the late 1930s as reflected in the Art Deco style.

The marble exterior is beautiful and the building itself exuded elegance that I did not experience in other parts of the city.  Atop the Capitol is the Oregon Pioneer.  Built by a sculptor in New Jersey, the Oregon Pioneer actually made his way to Salem via the Panama Canal, quite a different route than the earlier pioneers the sculpture represents.

In addition the building itself, I also liked the relief sculptures on either side of the main entrance (below).  The first photo  depicts Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea, and the second shows  pioneers and a covered wagon.

As I headed out of town via a different route, I kept my eyes peeled for another sign, perhaps one that had not been marred by graffiti.  My instinct paid off.

Oregon Route 221 South

Turns out, this was a completely different sign, which is quite unusual.  It’s common to have signs at multiple entrances to a location, but rarely are the signs different in shape, style and character.  One thing was consistent – the same Enjoy Salem wording.

Even though this sign doesn’t have graffiti, it’s not really any better than the first sign.  It’s bland, lifeless and downright… boring.  The cursive script is on the homepage of the City of Salem’s Web site, so it must be the city’s official font. What’s perhaps most disappointing is that in a city with two different “welcome” signs, neither one has any good qualities.

Up next… Olympia, Wash.  It couldn’t be any worse than Salem, right?

Jackson

First, I would like to apologize for the two-and-a-half weeks that have passed since my last post.  My day job has kept me quite busy, and time has gotten away from me.

However, the timing seems appropriate for this posting.  Not only does Jackson mark the final chapter of my trip through Louisiana and Mississippi last month, but it is my family name.  And Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and reflect on heritage and history.  I can think of no better way to celebrate this uniquely American holiday than with a welcome sign.

Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, was named for General Andrew Jackson who later became President of the United States.  Home to over 600,000 people, the Jackson-Yazoo City combined statistical area is the largest in Mississippi.  Jackson is the only state capital to sit atop a volcano; Jackson Volcano is believed to have been extinct for at least 65 million years.

Capturing Jackson’s welcome sign was quite a challenge.  On my only day in Jackson, I awoke to stormy weather across the Mississippi Valley, rain falling in thick vertical sheets that made safe driving almost impossible.  My time was limited, and despite the difficult conditions, I was determined to find the welcome sign.  My first stop in a city is usually the airport, hoping that there is a sign that greets visitors as they exit the airport in a vehicle.  The sign at the exit of Jackson-Evers International Airport was disappointing, to say the least.

In my expert opinion, this is not a welcome sign.  It’s a directional sign that includes a welcome as an afterthought.  But I stopped during a break in the rain (check out those dark skies!) to snap a photo in case this was the only sign I was able to find.

If I come up empty at an airport, my next strategy is to take a route into town that does not involve an Interstate or major highway.  From experience I know that city welcome signs are rarely displayed along the busiest routes.  I had about 30 minutes left to find the Jackson sign, so I headed into town.  My windshield wipers were on maximum speed as I tried to focus simultaneously on driving through an unfamiliar city and looking for the welcome sign.  When I did see it, my heart sank.

As the photo shows, the sign is situated on a bridge spanning the Pearl River.  River signs are the MOST DIFFICULT to photograph as there is generally not a safe place to pull over.   In order to capture this sign, I had to park a quarter of a mile away in a suspect gravel pull-off.  I walked along the narrow sidewalk spanning the bridge with an umbrella in one hand, my other hand tightly gripping my camera, hidden under my jacket for protection.  Cars and trucks sped by me along U.S. 80, splashing up mist and water and causing the bridge to sway and shake.

While I was photographing the sign, I kept an eye on my car as best I could.  At one point, I noticed two Mississippi Department of Transportation trucks pull into the same gravel area where my rented Jeep Patriot was parked, its hazard lights flashing.  A sense of panic washed over me; they probably thought the vehicle needed assistance!  The trucks were situated one on each side of the car, and the strip of lights on top of each truck was flashing a blurry yellow pattern through the rain.  I started to run back toward my car, balancing my camera and umbrella while waving my arm to indicate the car was mine.  As I got closer, I realized the employees weren’t the least bit interested in my car.  In fact, they were slowly exiting their vehicles to inspect something along the bridge and didn’t even look up at me when I finally made it back to the car, wet from both the rain and my panicked sweat.

As I sat in my car trying to regroup, I reflected on the sign.  The vibrant blue color matches that of the Welcome to Mississippi sign.  The small magnolia is the state flower and adds some visual interest to the sign.  Overall it’s a simple sign that was not simple to photograph.

With the few extra minutes I had, I continued along the route to downtown Jackson and stopped in front of the Mississippi state capitol building.  The structure is similar to many other domed capitol buildings in the U.S.  But what made this site unique were the beautiful trees in the park gracefully surrounding the seat of state government.  Even the gloomy weather could not dampen the southern hospitality that I felt when photographing the capitol.

Baton Rouge

With my business in New Orleans complete, I set my sights on the next welcome sign.  Baton Rouge, an easy 80-mile drive to the northwest, was a natural stopping point in my new quest to photograph welcome signs for U.S. state capitals.

Baton Rouge comes from the French and literally means “red stick”.  Records from French explorer Sieur d’Iberville describe large wooden cypress poles topped with heads of sacrificed (bloody) animals and fish that served as the boundaries for native lands when he arrived in the area in 1699.  Generally the red stick settlements referred to areas inhabited by natives that were hostile to the explorers; white stick (baton blanc) settlements were peaceful.

The red stick landmarks no longer exist, and today’s welcome to Baton Rogue is much more subdued.  The sign (below) is situated at the intersection of Sally Ride Drive and Veterans Memorial Boulevard at the exit to Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. 

On the far left is the Louisiana state capitol building, distinctive because it is the tallest in the U.S.  On the far right is the Horace Wilkinson Bridge that carries Interstate 10 across the Mississippi River and connects Baton Rouge with Port Allen, La.  The area in between includes other structures that make up the skyline of Baton Rouge.

The one thing that seems out of place on the sign is the widebody aircraft.  The commercial passenger airlines serving Baton Route Metropolitan Airport today do not operate four-engine planes, but I guess it’s always good to prepared for future upgrades in service… then the sign won’t have to be changed!

After locating the sign, I took a quick trip to downtown Baton Rouge to photograph the unique capitol building.  Along the way I thought I might catch a glimpse of another welcome sign – I’ve learned from experience that airport signs may not be the only welcome to a city.  But the main road leading from the airport to downtown – ironically named Scenic Highway – only offered views of manufacturing activities by Lion Copolymer (synthetic rubber) and Exxon Mobil (petrochemicals and refinery).  Scenic was the last word that I would use to describe the drive to downtown Baton Rouge, and I did not find another welcome sign.

Constructed in the early 1930s, its 34 stories make the Louisiana capitol the tallest building in Baton Rouge.  It is an impressive structure, and I was glad that I had taken the time to visit.

 

The exterior of the building included numerous details, but the one I liked the best was the carving of a pelican, Louisiana’s state bird and one of the state’s most well-known symbols.

I probably only spent one hour in Baton Rouge, just enough time to take my photos.  This was certainly not enough time to explore one of the fastest growing metro areas in the U.S., but my next welcome sign was just hours away, and I had to get on the road to continue my photographic journey…  My trip report will continue throughout this week.

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.