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DVD Review: Smithsonian Channel – Aerial America, Pacific Rim Collection

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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 spectacular sight.

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 watching.

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About Greg Barbrick