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Dimensional Cacti

Written January 18, 2010


Let me show you some 3D pictures from my winter trips to Arizona in the late 1970s.

In earlier articles like this one, I featured stereoscopic anaglyphs that required you to wear glasses with colored filters.  Some segments of TV shows have been aired anaglyphically.

However, the news out of the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show is that a better technique for 3D TV has been developed.

The "left" and "right" images are displayed alternately on your screen, changing from one to the other 240 times per second.  You wear glasses with LED shutters that blink on and off at the same rate, so that each eye sees only the image intended for it.

For the following images, I've used a lower-tech version of this method:  animated GIFs that alternate between the two angles only twice per second.  No glasses are required, but this "wiggle stereo" still gives you a sense of depth (even if you're only using one eye).

On the Internet, these double images take a little longer to load.  You be the judge.  Is their jitter more or less annoying than the tinted glasses?

Most of these images are based on snapshots that I took in 1978 and 1979, but the two aerial perspectives are based on recent views from Google Earth.

As we begin our visit to the Valley of the Sun, we’re hovering over Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, looking west-southwest.  Notice that big outcropping of rock two miles away that looks like a sleeping camel?  It’s called Camelback Mountain.  Downtown Phoenix is eight miles beyond it.

Some fancy resorts lie to the right of Camelback.  They have addresses on Lincoln Drive, the road that runs down the right side of this picture.

In late 1973, when my parents were planning their first winter stay in Arizona, my father noted that the Smoke Tree Resort (outlined in pink) also had an address on Lincoln Drive, which meant that it was in a good neighborhood.  (The thoroughfare in the foreground is Scottsdale Road.)

Unlike the fancier resorts, the Smoke Tree was comparatively inexpensive, and its ambience of a friendly motel was closer to what he was looking for.  He made a reservation for two weeks, sight unseen. 

My parents enjoyed their stay and extended it to a full month in subsequent years.  In 1976 through 1980, I joined them for a week.  I described my experiences in these letters.

My mother especially enjoyed the plantings of colorful flowers — as you can see if you click on the picture at the left, which will direct you to another larger photo.

My technique for taking stereo pictures with an ordinary camera doesn’t work very well with human subjects, so I concentrated on flowers and landscaping.

The plants had the good manners to hold their pose while I snapped one photo, moved a few inches to the right, and snapped another one.

Had I known these pictures would be used 32 years later for "wiggle stereo," I would have moved a shorter distance between the shots in order to achieve a subtler, more realistic result.

We "snowbirds" were familiar with beds of petunias and lawns of grass.  But the Smoke Tree grounds featured flora native to Arizona, including plants we couldn’t even identify.  We didn’t know the difference between ocotillo and palo verde.  We couldn’t tell a mesquite tree from a creosote bush. 

To fill the gaps in our knowledge, we traveled five miles south to Papago Park, home to both the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden (in the foreground).

Backed by a natural hillside, the Garden featured displays of all kinds of plants that grow in the arid regions of Arizona and Mexico.  A 25-cent booklet facilitated a self-guided tour.

For example, the little post in front of these Saguaro cacti bears the number 48.  Under that number in the guidebook:  “A group of young Saguaros approximately 40 to 60 years old.  They give an idea of the very slow growth of our Arizona giant.  When these Saguaros were transplanted in 1950 they suffered ‘transplant shock.’  As a result, they stopped growing for a season, and on a number of them you can see a tight ‘waist’ that marks their height in 1950.”

“To your right, two forms of one species of cholla.  The name is pronounced CHOY-ya.  They are common cacti of the desert Southwest.”

“Octopus cactus, Rathbunia sonorensis.  When the top of a branch touches the soil, it sends down roots and produces another independent plant.”

The non-profit Desert Botanical Garden also raised funds by selling “hard-to-find plants with low water needs ... that have been tested for adaptability to our desert.”

“Golden barrel cactus, Ecinocactus grusonii.  They are from the high mountains of south-central Mexico, and must be shaded against our hot desert sun.  These choice — and expensive — cacti are popular in desert landscaping.”

“No other botanical garden had built an aluminum lath house when we pioneered with this building in 1950.  ...The aluminum lath walls and roof keep the temperature as much as 15 degrees cooler in the summer and 15 degrees warmer in winter.”


Finally, to the right of these mature Saguaros we see “the Boojum tree, Fouquieria columnaris (Idria), one of the world’s oddities.  It has been called the ‘upside-down’ tree and compared to a monster parsnip.”

“The garden and its staff hope you have enjoyed your visit.”



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