Sonoma XP

By Phil Plait | April 16, 2009 3:22 pm

I found out something of personal interest to me, though many of you probably won’t care.

Reading Damn Cool Pics, one of my more favorite non-science/skeptic blogs, I found out that the the Windows XP background of the too-green hill — the one called Bliss — is a real place, and it’s in Sonoma County, California not far from where I used to live.

Windows XP bliss image

I know, big deal, right? But the thing is, I used to drive past that hill all the time! DCP links to the hill on Google Maps, and when I zoomed out I realized I used to drive past it to get to Napa, or to take the back way to Vallejo and Sacramento. I must have blown past it dozens of times and never once noticed it.

I like to notice things; it’s part of being an amateur (and observational) astronomer. You never know what you might see… and I’ve seen really weird stuff in my time. I drive a lot, and I see a lot.

But I’ve seen the XP picture about a billion times too, yet never noticed the real thing, less than 100 meters outside my passenger window.

What else have I missed? What do we all miss?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind

Comments (64)

  1. WhySoSerious

    There is no such thing as science!!!

  2. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

  3. Hah! I *knew* it was in California! Don’t worry–it became part of your “mental furniture”, like the box of books by the side of our family room futon, ostensibly to be opened & distributed onto shelves, but now just part of the gestalt of the family room. It’s there, but no longer “seen”.

  4. I prefer pictures of boobies as my desktop background.


    You know, the birds… ūüėČ

  5. Pieter Kok

    That’s not so surprising. The XP picture is most likely heavily shopped, thus weakening the image as a representation of the real place (a bit like glam photos versus paparazzi shots in hello magazine). Add that it is a pretty featureless hill, and I would have been really surprised if you had recognized it.


    Quotes from Kung Fu:

    Master Kan: To suppress a truth, is to give it force beyond endurance.

    Master Po: Yet it is eyes which blind the man… Because a man can see, he does not look.

  7. I used to commute every day through the green wheat fields featured in all the outdoor shots of the Robin Williams film “Toys”. They are just outside my home town of Spokane, WA. Honestly, that drive every morning with a cup of coffee and good music playing kept me quite sane.

  8. To be fair, there’s not a lot to distinguish that hill from other hills. Be a bit like me trying to recognize a specific cornfield while driving 100 miles through Iowa.

    And, presumably, you were watching the road while driving, not admiring the scenery — something my wife had a problem with.

  9. rex27

    I remember reading this article a year or so ago about a guy who was fascinated by the ‘Autumn’ wallpaper in XP and spent ages searching for the location.

    Found it!

  10. Russ

    You have to, WE ALL HAVE TO, stop and smell the roses!

  11. TS

    I never got the joke of El Guapo from “¬°Three Amigos!” until my wife, who knows Spanish, explained it to me.

  12. Quiet Desperation

    I have a plain, solid gray (RGB=64,64,64) desktop. I do computer art, and don’t need the desktop competing for my attention. I dimly recall some monitor manufacturer releasing a line of monitors with brightly colored cases, including the frame around the screen. This was anathema to the graphic arts industry as the colored frame biases the eye, and changes the hues of what the artist sees on the screen just enough to be a problem. I don’t think anyone has done anything other than white, gray or black cases since.

    Is it me, or is “The Gray Desktop” a good title for something?

  13. Darren Garrison

    Re: “What else have I missed?”

    Something else few people know is that this very hill is the location where the “Every time you masturbate God kills a kitten” image was photographed.

  14. Alice

    huh – I remember being told that image was from Eastern Washington – near Walla Walla when the wheat was new and green. Looked pretty right to me, driving past those hills weekly for years …

  15. DavidHW

    Isn’t that also the hill that the robot armies’ troop carriers come over in SW:The Phantom Menace?

  16. theinquisitor

    I saw that talking paperclip once.

  17. I guess since you use OS X you see something much more familiar (though artificial)!

  18. Perhaps someone placed an SEP field over that hill.

    I always assumed that was a piece of Tellytubbyland – which would place it at the Wimpstone Farm in Warwickshire, England.

  19. Savino

    Maybe you are just looking up too much…
    The planet is cool by itself, from the tiniest leaf of grass to blue whales!!

    Look around… and up!

  20. MarkH

    I always thought that the Pic was of the Pullman area myself… Always looked like the spring wheat fields in that area.

    BTW I now live almost the same distance north of Spokane(Spo-kan) as Pullman is south of Spokane ūüėČ

  21. RobP

    I used to drive in that area when I was living in the bay area and think that it looked exactly like the XP background. Not sure if I saw that exact same spot.

  22. Crudely Wrott

    If you should suddenly find yourself driving south on Interstate 15 in southwest Montana, and if you are paying attention and the light is just right there is quite a sight to see.

    It’s located somewhere between Dillon and Dell though I seem to think that it is close to the Clark Canyon Dam. Hmm. Maybe just to the south of the reservoir. Well, you just have to be looking at the right spot.

    Starting a mile or so west of the highway you will see a water cut that separates a moraine deposit into a pair of surprisingly symmetric receding slopes. At some more distant point and a higher elevation the cut bifurcates for a short distance then disappears. Past this is a broad, hill that curves away to reveal another symmetric surprise. Two taller hills, steep and abrupt appear above and behind the hill.

    To this driver and my lady passenger the illusion seen almost simultaneously. I think I spotted it first but you know how memory is.

    If your eyes are at the ankles of a woman and you are looking up the length of her body, just slightly arched so her head is out of view, you might enjoy a similar vista. This small drainage feeding the Red Rock River is one of those nice courtesies of nature that you just stumble onto sometimes.

    Oh, it’s in the Beaverhead National Forest in Beaverhead County. Chuckle.

  23. Hecateus

    Sonoma and the surrounding counties have lots of nifty terrain for driving, cycling, and hiking etc. Too many cows and grapes though. If only we could trade the global wine obsession in for some Hard-Cider, or a Calvados. mmmm….

    Orchards are prettier than vineyards imo. I don’t mean to harsh on the cheeses: good cheese is good, no matter how stinky the cows are.

    -Sam-Hec of the Peepls Republic of Cotatistan

  24. Steve

    Didn’t you even recognise the recycle bin?

  25. Crudely Wrott

    Their is another neat spot. In Fremont County, Wyoming there is an airport. If you stand at near the west end of the runway and look north, there is an alpine peak called The Ramshorn. It very closely resembles the profile of Abraham Lincoln on a penny. Just imagine the profile mirrored left to right and facing up.

    Now, turn to the east and look back along the runway. On its south margin is a travertine outcrop that is parallel to the runway. From your vantage you are looking along its length. It very closely resembles the profile of the American Indian on old nickles, looking north towards The Ramshorn.

    I should go back and see if there are profiles of Washington, Jefferson, Eisenhower , Kennedy . . .

  26. “What else have I missed?”

    Um, Phil… speaking of photos… Kepler?

    Actually, I’m sure you haven’t missed it. You are very busy, after all.


  27. ihateaphids

    also, it doesn’t really look that pretty (or at least green) for much of the year. i do admit i like the gold grass of the golden state, but sometimes green is just so nice. i have also driven past this hill a number of times, never noticed :)

  28. Michelle

    I’ve seen that wallpaper… Too many times. ūüėõ I see that wallpaper and I feel a bit of a “UGHHHHH”.

    Mind you I’m not surprised you did not recognize it. It’s always greener on computers!

    I use Wallpaper Changer. Every boot my wallpaper changes to a nice little different picture. Most of my list is astronomy pictures I’ve fitted out of images I stole off the net. Got a couple pictures of my pets too.

  29. Aram

    True story. I lived in Napa for YEARS. Until ~2004. The hill is nowhere near that green though, and I have my suspicions about that sky as well…

  30. ixi jim ixi

    The picture is great, but I’m really more interested in the alien ship they’re hiding underneath the hill.

  31. Radwaste

    What do we all miss? Youth. Roy Rogers. Amoco Super at $.249/gallon. The tropical woods of eastern FL, now shopping malls.

    That the night sky is really 3-D, not a flat picture.
    That “certainty” only exists properly as a definition.
    That not everything lends itself to base-10 counting.
    That numeration is arbitrary, however useful.
    That excusing your candidate for doing the same things your guy’s opponent did is always a “two wrongs” fallacy.
    That being an expert in one field doesn’t carry to others.
    The starting gun; no one told us when to run.
    That rights are individual, first.
    That TV news doesn’t tell the whole story: the difference between editorial content and information.
    That it’s really important to realize, when looking at a uniform, how it gets filled.
    That the operative word in “self-defense” is “self”.
    That when you yell, “Yea! Stick it to the rich people!”, you make it harder to get there yourself.
    That learning is fun when done right.
    The nature of the paint on Stop signs.
    That we routinely drive by signs which say, “DO NOT PASS”.
    That it’s not OK for somebody to be in debt; possession in debt is not ownership. That a WalMart is full of goods does not mean you’re personally better off.

    That science is important, because if you cannot figure out how things work on your own, you can be victimized by someone telling you their own version.

  32. alfaniner

    Had to stare at that damn picture way too many times when reinstalling my XP operating system. I finally gave up on doing my own special themes and let it stay. However, I can tell where the Photoshopped elements are in it also.

  33. Bill in Burley

    There is only a statement and no actual proof offered by anyone that the picture was taken in California by Mr. O”Rear. And there is evidence, such as the pair of faint wheel tracks in the lower left, that it is not a photoshop of the Sonoma picture as claimed.
    It looks to me like it is a shot of spring wheat in the Palouse Hills outside of Pullman Washington with Moscow mountain or some other summit of the Palouse range peaking up on the right.
    And the wheat really is that green in the spring….

  34. Bakafish

    Being from Kenwood, a few miles from Sonoma (Slownoma, as we called it) I suspected it was somewhere in N. California, I never knew it was that close to home. It was obviously photoshopped a bit, but the tiny hills in the background were indicative. Now that I’m older and more well traveled, I realize that I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world. It’s easy to assume everywhere is as nice as where you are from.

  35. I didn’t know it was in California, although it makes sense that Microsoft would choose an American location. It’s always reminded me of the hills of Naboo as portrayed in The Phantom Menace, which I think was filmed in Italy.

  36. Geert Dekkers

    Glad to see somebody’s finally done something useful with the hill :)

  37. Newton

    Any chance of you or a reader here grabbing a current ‘live’ pic for comparison?

  38. Tom T

    I’ll second the Teletubbies comment. I always expect to see them bounding over the hill any second. When I set up a new XP system, the desktop wallpaper is the first thing to change!

    Personally, I think the hill looked more like one in western Maryland, except the one in Maryland had a development on it. Still it could have been photoshopped…

  39. I have an Apocalypse Now version with choppers approaching over the hill :)

  40. MadScientist

    I miss everything; too busy watching the road, not the scenery.

    There’s this enormous radio telescope nearby which I frequently miss – then again, to see it I need to go down a road and drive into a shallow valley; the telescope just isn’t visible from the main road.

    I keep missing out on finding the elusive Moonbow too. I did see an awesome sundog though (and 3 other not-so-great sundogs) and a gorgeous rainbow serape of which I can’t even find a description in books, and several perfect double-bows which lasted for very many minutes. I keep missing out on all the awesome comets so far, but did see a pretty show of the Leonids (not a fantastic show, but still very pretty – I want to see a meteor storm!)

  41. The default desktop picture on a Mac is the Aurora Borealis .

    Tsk, and I thought you were an astronomer ūüėČ

    (not trying to start a Mac / PC war btw, just cracking wise)

  42. Brian Schlosser

    The Bliss location today, planted as a vinyard:

    The Wiki article about the picture is pretty interesting, too:

  43. Gary Ansorge

    If you NOTICED everything, you’d have no time to DO anything. That’s why we have this neat noise filter/pattern recognition device between our ears,,,or, to paraphrase the comic Steven Wrights,,,”You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” observation, could be re-stated as “You can’t notice everything. When would you have the time?”

    When an image becomes ubiquitous, it’s reduced to noise,,,

    GAry 7

  44. In fairness to yourself, Phil, the sky is rarely that blue there.

  45. Ami Silberman

    I feel a little better knowing that it is a real place. I spent a week of meetings while on travel a couple months ago where I kept daydreaming about walking up that hill and seeing what was on the other side.

  46. jeri meaux

    Sonoma, my foot! This is from the Teletubbies stage–right down to the painted on clouds:

  47. Tom

    I hate that photo, been looking at it every time I install XP – and that has been thousands of times. Here at work I change the background to Mt. Rainier now. Then I always know that I’m logged into my own admin profile! :-)

  48. okaasan59

    That is the purpose of art, and photography as art–to make us look at the mundane in a new way.

  49. Colby

    No way! I went to college in Napa for a year, and I drove past this hill on my way to vacation and back many times!

    Kinda ironic though…the 12 is my least favorite part of that drive. It’s kinda hard to notice the blissful (heh) scenery around you when you’ve been driving for 6 hours already, and have spent the last 45 minutes stuck behind an RV going 20 mph below the speed limit.

  50. Pro Libertate

    My dear Watson, you see, but you do not observe.

  51. Menyambal

    Thanks, KyleV. I was thinking it looked like the outdoor scenes in _Toys_, too. It’s a pretty good movie, BTW–a must-see, but not quite great.

    Phil, there’s some talk that there is mercury contamination in high fructose corn syrup. It may be nonsense, but I thought it might affect some antivax arguments.

  52. Stark

    I’ve been by there… must be a hundred times by now. It’s on the way from my house (Sacramento) to my favorite dive spot at Gerstle Cove in Salt Point State Park (and, just to south of there, Stillwater Cove). I always thought that hill looked reminiscent of the shot in XP and now I know why. :)

  53. Sili

    Okay. After half an hour of googling I still don’t know what the “El Guapo” joke is.

    Someone please put me out of my misery.

  54. I still think Teletubbies, but saw a similar scene in New Zealand (except for the dry summer grass and sheep) which I use for my admin profiles

    RobiNZ Kiwi Summer Bliss

  55. Drainbreadicus Maximus


    Wikipedia is your friend

    The guy that played El Guapo is Alfonso Arau:

    My Google fu is strong, took me 25 seconds to find the answer.

  56. js

    Always wondered…but mine version has a smoking Windoze logo and a little sharpshootin’ penguin in the foreground.

  57. randy

    wow i live right by there, im so going to try to recreate that picture

  58. ttree

    A better perspective from just down the road.,321.5058946726063,,0,22.312298180525353&cbll=38.248997,-122.410235&layer=c&ie=UTF8&ll=38.249143,-122.410108&spn=0,359.988627&t=h&z=17&panoid=oRFzprwtcp7i0ynpyA-jTQ

    From this angle you get the same distant rise in the background.

  59. brntoki

    Methinks you drive too fast. I used to think a car not traveling as fast as possible was a waste. But later I wised up, and slowed down. I noticed a lot of things I never had, even on the most traveled, daily routes.

    So, slowdown spaceman!

  60. steve

    i used to commute right past that! then i realized i could take napa rd off arnold drive, and i saw it from the other side

  61. Joe

    You guys are joking, right? You can’t just find a grassy hill and claim that it’s the one…


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