USA: Seattle #4 The Space Needle

The day began clear and hot, again! It would get even hotter as the day wore on. So we decided to take the monorail to the Space Needle instead of walking.


P1130394 © JT of jtdytravels

The Space Needle is an unmissable part of the Seattle skyline. In 1961, the builders of the Space Needle were given a little over a year to complete the needle as the central feature of Seattle’s 1962 World Fair. Finished in 400 days, it was dubbed, “The 400 Day Wonder.”

Now here’s some statistics for those who like that sort of thing, as David does. When pouring the foundations of the Needle, it took 467 cement trucks less than 12 hours to fill the foundation hole (30 feet deep and 120 feet across). Those foundations weigh 5,850 tons of which 250 tons is reinforcing steel. The whole Needle structure weighs 3,700 tons and it is fastened to its foundation with 72 bolts, each 30 feet in length. It should not move!


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It was a pleasure to take the monorail and see the city streets from above.


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It’s not easy to describe the needle! It’s huge, breathtaking, beautifully designed, elegant and a whole lot more. And there’s plenty of time to think about it as you stand at its base in the queue, moving slowly, a couple of feet at a time, waiting for your turn to take the elevator to the observation deck. But it’s worth the wait!

If allowed, we could have walked up the 848 steps from the bottom of the basement to the top of the Observation Deck. But it was hot!  We wondered how the elevator would go on a windy day… fortunately it wasn’t windy that day. We learned, while we read the blurb and waited, that the Needle sways approximately 1 inch for every 10 mph of wind. It was built to withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour. The tower would be closed long before that. In fact, if the wind gets to 35mph, the elevators automatically reduce their speed to 5 mph for safety reasons. And how fast do those elevators travel? 10mph or 800 feet per minute and takes 43 seconds to get to the top. Not being a lover of fast elevators, I was somewhat calmed to learn that although one cable is strong enough to hold the entire weight of the elevator and the 25 people inside, each elevator has seven cables. And if all seven cables brake? An automatic brake would lock. OK. Head of the queue. Ready to go.


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A map gives a broad idea of what we would see from the observation tower; Puget Sound to the west; lakes and suburbs to the north; mountains to the east and the city CBD to the south. The deck was crowded with people when we arrived, so it was a case of find a spot at the edge, when you could get one, and stay there. I began looking to the north west.


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A wide angle view of Puget Sound stretching north west from Elliott Bay and the CBD.

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Puget Sound is a large inlet from the Pacific Ocean. North of the line is Canada.


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Closer view to the north west with Canadian mountains in the background.


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A crowded marina gives some idea of the love for sailing in the Seattle area.

Big cruise ships often dock at these wharves. None in town that day.


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Tanker being loaded from silos… not sure what product.


P1130394 © JT of jtdytravels

520 feet below the north side of the Observation Deck is a playground area. We were almost at the top… 85 feet above us, on top of the Needle, is an aircraft warning beacon. Also up on top are 25 lightning rods (24 actual rods, plus the tower). 


P1130394 © JT of jtdytravels

The orange maze in the playground attracted quite a few walkers.


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Looking directly north is Lake Union. We’ll explore this lake later by ship.


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Lake Union is another boating paradise. Ferries and tour boats berth here and sea planes and helicopters leave from here to fly passengers out to the islands and up to Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada.


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We went over this Lake Union Bridge on our way to Everett and the Boeing Assembly Plant. It crosses a narrow part of the canal entrance to the much larger Lake Washington.


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Looking south south-east we could just make out Mount Rainier in the distance, 54 miles (87 km) from Seattle. It’s the highest mountain in the State of Washington..It’s summit is 14,417 ft (4,394 m) and its covered year round in glacial ice.  I was surprised to learn that Mt Rainier is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes although it’s last eruption was in 1894. Perhaps it’s due for an eruption!


P1130394 © JT of jtdytravels

Looking south over the CBD we could see the monorail leading back towards our hotel.

Yet another high rise building was going up in the foreground.


P1130394 © JT of jtdytravels

A view south over the CBD and across Elliot Bay to the shipping docks.

Our 360 view of the city was complete. More and more people were crowding the deck, and, anyway, we had other things to do and see. So we left the Needle with some reluctance… but it was made easier knowing that we had return tickets for the evening.


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We returned at 7.45pm when the Needle glowed golden in the late afternoon light.

This was a very different experience. The ambience had changed.


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Many others had the same idea… to watch the sun set from the Needle.


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The sky turned from bright orange to pale gold and the city seemed to stop.


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The last of the light caught the top of Mt Rainier.


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The moon rose over the city in a soft pink sky.


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The colours of the sky began to darken. Everything seemed still.


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Lights came on in high rise buildings. Cars turned their headlights on.



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The city might have slowed down, but the dockyards never sleep.


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Lights lit up the buildings below the Needle as the light faded even more.


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And, finally, it was time to go after an experience we can recommend to all.

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By the time we’d waited for an elevator to take us back to ground level, the sky was pitch black. The Needle rose above us like a space ship as we, and hundreds of other visitors, left it to its task of warning aircraft in the area. Thankfully, after a full day out, the monorail was still running to take us back to our hotel and our beds.

Next time, we’ll show you what we did during the rest of the day, in between our visits to the Needle… a magic visit to Dale Chihuly’s Glass Exhibit and Gardens.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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