Irony: “Jet noise – the sound of freedom” is the slogan of a somewhat common bumper sticker in Las Vegas, NV where the U.S. Air Force maintains a significant presence. I realize that I risk stirring a political hornet’s nest by stating the following opinion, but jet noise is not the sound of freedom – jet noise is the sound of noise! The next time you visit wild country, pay attention to how many jets you hear during the time that you’re out. It’s very likely that the hiking area that you once considered quiet is frequently interrupted with noise from aviation traffic. You’ll likely hear an interruption on an average of every 20 minutes. The amount of aviation traffic was a surprise to me once I began noticing the noise of our world. Since that time many years ago, there has not been one day where I did not hear some type of human made noise, regardless of where I stood.
Concerning my efforts to record the soundscape of Ash Meadows NWR, jet noise is my arch nemesis. Unfortunately, the refuge lies under the flightpath of all inbound and outbound flights from McCarran International (Las Vegas) to a significant portion of the U.S. northwest, including San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Reno, Portland, Seattle, Anchorage, etc. In addition, overflights from Phoenix, AZ and some other cities in the southwest utilize the same airspace while in route to those northern destinations. It all adds up to a significant volume of aviation traffic flying over the refuge. During the weekdays, a flight crosses the airspace about every 5 to 10 minutes from the hours of 5 A.M until midnight, and frequently there are multiple planes in the airspace at the same time. The stream of interruptions from Monday to Friday makes my efforts to obtain a noise-free, “clean” recording all but impossible. It seems that my best recording opportunities are confined primarily to the early hours of Saturday and Sunday. Still there are interruptions, one every 30 minutes or so, but that leaves me with enough time to make a good recording. However, don’t get me started about hearing Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the highway located 5 miles to the west of the refuge! If it’s not one thing, it’s another. This year (2014), I made about 60 hours of soundscape recordings at the refuge. Of those 60 hours, perhaps five or six hours are clean, noise-free tracks.
Because Ash Meadows lies just 70 miles to the northwest of Las Vegas, the jet noise blanketing the refuge everyday is a condition that will not change, at least in the foreseeable future. Regional geography, military flight restrictions, prevailing wind direction and runway orientation, are factors that determine flight routes. The routes in and out of Las Vegas are set and permanent. Additionally, the volume of aviation traffic in the future is only likely to increase, because our economy depends on mobility. I understand and must accept those conditions, but I still hope for a quieter jet engine in the future. The picture below is an aerial view of Ash Meadows taken at 32,000 feet. My apologies for the picture’s poor quality. See, it was taken by my cell phone, from my seat in a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 which was transporting me on a Sunday afternoon flight to San Jose, CA for a week of work. The week prior, I was probable cursing that very flight as I looked to the sky, removed my headphones and turned off my recorder.