Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.)
This photo was taken on November 11, 2014, when I was arriving at Reagan National (DCA) from Boston (BOS). It had been a great trip, visiting such a historic town with a close military friend on Veterans Day. As I looked out the window during the final descent, I realized I picked the right side of the plane to see a stunning view of the nation’s capital. I pulled out my phone just in time to capture this view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Reflecting Pool, White House (barely), Capitol Building, and the rest of the National Mall.
The Watergate, where The Atlantic is headquartered, is just out of frame.
I was onboard a Southwest flight into Midway and caught this view of the loop, all the skyscrapers and even Navy Pier! What’s really striking is the huge swath of green right along the lake—Grant Park and Millennium Park.
Some observers consider Millennium Park to be the city’s most important project since the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. But it far exceeded its originally proposed budget of $150 million. The final cost of $475 million was borne by Chicago taxpayers and private donors. The city paid $270 million; private donors paid the rest, and assumed roughly half of the financial responsibility for the cost overruns. The construction delays and cost overruns were attributed to poor planning, many design changes, and cronyism.
Millennium Park celebrated its 10th anniversary season last year  and in 2015 will continue to present dozens of free events and programs including art installations, outdoor concerts, films screenings, alfresco workouts and more.
All year round, “The Bean” is an iconic draw for visitors and locals alike. Take a picture in front of Cloud Gate, the official name for the massive, stainless steel structure that’s become Chicago’s signature landmark. In its mirror-like surface you’ll see not only your own reflection but the downtown skyline.
During the winter months, lace up your skates for ice skating amid twinkling tree lights at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Or escape into Lurie Garden, an urban oasis that pays homage to Chicago's motto — “Urbs in Horto,” or City in a Garden.
In the warmer months, spread out a blanket in front of the award-winning Pritzker Pavilion for a live performance. Cool off by splashing around in Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool bookended by 50-foot towers. Grab food and drinks at the alfresco patio Park Grill, or burn off those calories during a Saturday morning workout on the Great Lawn.
I lived in Mammoth Lakes, California (a ski town in the Eastern Sierra) for several years and still consider it home, even though I live in DC now. Flying from DC to San Francisco on December 7, 2015, I deliberately sat on the left side of the plane so I would be sure to see my old home as we flew by.
In the center of the shot you can see Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, with its well-defined lower runs and its great white expanse across the top of the ridge. In the lower right, you can see June Mountain, Mammoth’s smaller sister. After the terrible drought of the last several years, I was very happy to see a decent snow cover this early in the season. When I lived there from ’96 to ’03, we had several years of 400+ inches of snow and good skiing from November into June.
Seeing the place even now takes my breath away, I miss it so.
Flying into SeaTac on July 19, 2015. (The photo is unfiltered.) You can see the Seattle waterfront, which is dead center, where the Great Wheel is.
On-the-ground views here. It’s the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast, at 175 feet (53.3 m). The tallest in the U.S., and the world, is the High Roller, towering over Las Vegas at 550 foot (167.6 m). Full list here.
These aerial shots from readers are getting better and better:
Good afternoon! I want to share my submission for America From the Air—a photo I took while flying from Miami to Guatemala City in March 2015. It was the second leg of a journey from Brazil to Guatemala. At the time, I was an American diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Sao Paulo and starting a temporary duty assignment (TDY) at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.
I am a window seat junkie who meticulously chooses my seat based on the prevailing runway patterns and last-minute checks of runways in use on flightaware.com to get the best possible views on takeoffs and landings. As a Miami native and Foreign Service Officer who didn’t get to travel home often enough, I was thrilled to see my research pay off with this colorful photo of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. The Brickell neighborhood and Brickell Key are to the left of the mouth of the Miami river, with the city’s center and the American Airlines Arena (which has an airplane silhouette on the roof) just below the leading edge of the 737’s wing.
Thanks for putting together this great series, I’ve loved the submissions so far. (Especially the photo of the National Mall ... I always try and sit on the left side of the plane when flying into Reagan!)
Located at the southern end of California’s Central Valley, Bakersfield—the county seat of Kern County, which is one of the largest counties in the U.S.—is a microcosm of the economic and political issues confronting California’s Central Valley. The problems start with drought and water resource mismanagement but also continue to other issues ranging from urbanization of prime farmland, salinization of prime farmland, air pollution (this area is consistently in the top ten areas with the worst air quality in the U.S. as rated by the American Lung Association), and poverty.
I’ve been working on a photo study of the area, and because of the size of the county (8200 square miles), I took to the air, specifically in a Cessna 172 with the passenger-side window removed for photography. This photo is a view of the massive Chevron oilfield north of Bakersfield called Oildale. At the time of the shot, October 2015, the field was nearly in full production, driven by the price of crude oil that was hovering around $50 per barrel.
A reader figures out the location of yesterday’s aerial view from Rebecca Pinkus and sends the above image from Google Earth that matches it exactly:
Howdy, Atlantic staff! Yesterday’s, uh, view from an airplane window looks north, north-east over the town of Ashburn, Virginia. A best estimate is that the picture was taken at 2:42:57 PM on January 30th, at 38.9775N/77.543W from an altitude of 4,100 feet shortly after takeoff from Dulles’ runway 30. The high school immediately adjacent to the water towers is Ashburn’s Briar Woods High.
It’s too bad your reader gave the arrival and departure cities; this location would have been slightly harder to find without them.
That email is from Doug Chini, the legendary guru of the View From Your Window Contest—a weekly feature I edited for years at The Dish, beginning in 2010 when Andrew and I were at The Atlantic. Every week we posted a photo from a reader’s window and invited others to guess the location. The resulting entries I edited together were mind-boggling in their detail and precision, in addition to the local color, history, and personal stories the views solicited from readers. Chini was hands down the most accurate and consistently impressive player, so it was so cool to see him pop up in the Notes inbox this morning, out of the blue.
Here’s the Philadelphia skyline coming back from a flight from LA. I still can't believe that up until the late ‘80s, the tallest building was City Hall. You can barely see it now. Shows how much things can change.
As a habitual window-seat photo snapper, I love the aerial photo series. I’ve had a long-running game with my family where we take a photo from the air, send it around to family members, and see who can figure out where it is.
Here’s one that stumped everyone. I took it a couple of years back, from an airliner at cruise altitude. I happened to look down at the right moment and saw this pattern on the ground. I had a hunch what it might be, took the photo, and later confirmed my guess with Google Earth.
Some context that might help: This location is in a fairly arid Western state (obviously). The site is quite isolated, and far from any significant population centers. But it is at the edge of an agricultural valley, rather than in total desert.
I’m curious if any staff or readers get it. I’ll put the the answer in a separate message for spoiler protection.
I love this series! As a kid I would lie on the living room floor devouring our atlas. Then, 23 years working for Northwest Airlines at Logan Airport offered me many travel opportunities, and like many of your readers I was a window seat junkie (when I could get one as a standby employee). The landscape unfolding below us was always interesting and sometimes amazing. The classics: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Denali during a Chicago-to-Tokyo flight, volcanic plumes in Indonesia, Alaska, and even a glimpse of red magma at Mt. Mihara south of Tokyo in the mid 1980s. Once, after a week of sailing along the coast of Nova Scotia and back to Maine, reading old stories of shipwrecks and adventures along the way, on our puddle jumper from Portland to Boston I suddenly glimpsed the infamous Boon Island.
All fourteen crewmen aboard survived the initial wreck, however two died from their injuries and another two drowned attempting to reach the mainland on an improvised raft. The remaining ten crewmen managed to stay alive despite winter conditions with no food and no fire for twenty-four days, until finally rescued. They resorted to cannibalism which gave the incident a notoriety that it retains even today. It is said that after the Nottingham Galley disaster, local fishermen began leaving barrels of provisions on Boon Island in case of future wrecks.
Back to our reader, who guides us through the above photo:
The rugged coast of Massachusetts and New England make flying in and out of Boston easy to pick out landmarks and sights. (As a kid sailing in Marblehead, I used to daydream about the people in the planes above us as they followed a common flightpath, and now Marblehead, Cape Ann, and other coastal towns are easy to pick out from above.)
This photo of Boston at 6:26 a.m. on a clear morning was not a path out of Logan I had experienced many times. The Charles River meanders through the middle. From bottom left and up and across on the Boston side of the Charles one can see: Matthews Arena at Northeastern University (red roof), Symphony Hall (green roof), Fenway Park, the CITGO Sign, Christian Science Church, the Prudential Building, Mass Ave Bridge, Boston Public Library, Hancock Tower, the Hancock building (whose lights give the weather forecast), and just at the front edge of the wing is the Hatch Shell at the Esplanade.
Across the river, starting from the right: a piece of the Longfellow Bridge (aka the salt-and-pepper bridge, due to the decorative turrets looking like salt and pepper shakers). Above the winglet is the Mystic River, and the line of the wing points to some of the hills of Somerville catching the morning light. Back at the Longfellow Bridge and heading west is Kendall Square area, the Charles River Yacht Club, and just before the Mass Ave Bridge, the Dome at MIT. And finally there’s the BU Bridge, then the river turns and follows another turn in the river up to Harvard.
Thanks for letting me give you a short tour of my hometown city!
Over the weekend I posted the above photo from a reader, Eric Zimmerman, who had stumped his family and friends over the location of this remote area in the western U.S. Many readers wrote in with their own guesses. “Looks like a photovoltaic [solar] farm in the area of Alamosa, Colorado,” says Joe. Nope, but here’s a stunning image of a solar farm in Pfeffenhausen, Germany, a satellite image I just came across in an amazing Instagram account from Anthony Quigley (which we’ll be using for many Orbital Views). Another reader, Dan:
It’s a chemical warfare chemical depot. There are ones in Nevada, Utah, and Oregon, that I know of. My guess is this is in Oregon, since it doesn’t look like the ones I know of in Nevada or Utah.
Other guesses from readers include:
“It’s a server farm”
“Farm worker housing”
“Looks like ammunition magazines/storage bunkers”
But the answer is something far more specific—and disturbing. Here’s reader Steve Karwan:
Topaz Internment Camp Site near Delta, Utah, with coordinates of 39.411485, -112.773676. My initial guess was Manzanar. After quickly ruling that out, I then began searching for other former Japanese internment sites.
(BTW, I’m a former frequent player of the Dish’s View Form Your Window contest. I guessed about five or seven correctly, but never as specifically as the winner. I’m very much a Chini-wannabe! )
By the way, I just came across a strange coincidence, given that several readers thought this was a solar farm: Type “solar farm” in Google and the third hit is the Wikipedia page for Topaz Solar Farm in southern California. Topaz.
Doug Chini—the legendary champion of the window contest mentioned by Steve—emailed his answer just before I posted:
In all the years of doing the Daily Dish’s VFYW contest, I never got more of a gut punch from finding a location than I did with this one. At first I thought we were looking at an agricultural site, or perhaps an old Army barracks; but as someone whose college thesis focused on the Pacific in WW2, I should have recognized it instantly. Your reader's mystery view shows the ghostly footprint of the Topaz “War Relocation Center,” one of ten major sites where Japanese-Americans were forcibly interned during the war. Here’s the view from Google Earth:
Among the more than 11,000 held there was Fred Korematsu, the plaintiff who lost the infamous Supreme Court case that legitimized the internment program. Today the decision in that case, Korematsu v. United States, is used in law school as an example of how hysteria and deference during crises can produce abhorrent results.
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
Biden’s running mate is two decades younger than he is; the potential vice presidency seems like merely a first step.
If Joe Biden is elected in November, his presidency will likely be defined by history-shaping decisions made after long, deliberative, some might say operatic processes. Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate—the first woman of color to appear on a major-party ticket—was precisely that sort of careful, drawn-out decision.
Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, says that Biden’s selection of a Black woman with Indian and Jamaican parents shows that Biden is running a very different campaign than Donald Trump. “In the selection of a vice president, he’s created a deep contrast between the pettiest of men and a man who obviously has no pettiness within him,” Tanden told me, minutes after Harris was announced.
Zvikorn, whose bio on the site describes an Israeli teen into sports history, has made more than 2,300 edits to Wikipedia articles over the past few years. “The main reason I edit Wikipedia is a strong belief that every person on the planet has the right to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity,” he wrote. “Today it is only getting more important for mankind to find out the truth and not be exposed to believe fake news.”
WhatsApp diplomacy seems to have worked for the Trump administration.
This morning, Donald Trump announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also committing to not annexing the West Bank. The agreement will shock those who thought the portion of the Jared Kushner portfolio devoted to peace in the Middle East consisted of a single briefing folder filled with printouts of Wikipedia articles. But there were signs that this agreement was coming, and that the Trump administration would be uniquely suited to making it happen.
Saudi Arabia is not officially party to the agreement, but its relationship with the UAE is so fraternal that we should assume that it eagerly approved, and that the UAE will represent its interests in Israel as if they were its own. The Trump administration deals with these countries through the same personal channels, which look opaque and corrupt to us because they are. A few months ago, a Saudi academic told me that Trump was easier for him to understand than for me, because I live in a country where nepotism is a crime, and he lives in one where it is the system of government. The idea that a president would appoint his son-in-law to manage the most sensitive aspects of his administration offends me. To a Saudi, he said, it is just how things get done, and there is nothing mysterious about it at all.
Heavy fog in India, the announcement of a Vice Presidential candidate in Delaware, protests and anger in Beirut, a Latvian folk/pagan metal band in concert, derecho damage in Iowa, and much more.
Heavy fog in India, the announcement of a Vice Presidential candidate in Delaware, protests and anger in Beirut, coronavirus precautions in a Thai kindergarten, a Latvian folk/pagan metal band in concert, a funicular in Austria, a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, derecho damage in Iowa, guests at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the return of the Mayflower II, and much more.
India’s and Turkey’s leaders are turning buildings into battlegrounds for nationalists.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acted on his yearlong quest to restore the historic Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine-era cathedral and museum, as a functioning mosque. Three thousand miles away, in India’s northeastern city of Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a similar promise, last week laying the foundation for a new Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque where Hindus believe an ancient temple once stood.
Yet the transformation of these sites marks more than a simple manifestation of religious adherence. At its core, it represents a concerted effort by Turkey’s and India’s leaders to galvanize support from their religious and nationalist bases, even if doing so comes at the expense of their countries’ religious minorities. Even more fundamentally, it is changing how these two countries see themselves, demonstrating a simultaneous recasting of once-secular republics into fully fledged ethnonationalist states.
Boris Johnson has faced his share of blame for the country’s death count. But the British system was failing long before the coronavirus struck.
Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s leaders asked their people to do three things, captured in one pithy slogan: “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.”
On the first of those edicts, Britons largely followed through. Main streets, town centers, and public spaces were mostly abandoned, and the government pulled together a far-reaching job-protection program, ensuring that those who feared losing their jobs felt safe enough to not go to work.
The second request was more unusual. During the pandemic, Britain was the only major country in the world to make protecting its National Health Service a central goal. Signs and placards went up outside people’s homes, declaring their appreciation. The words Thank You NHS can now be seen on sidewalks and soccer jerseys, in children’s bedrooms and even, until recently, the windows of 10 Downing Street. In part, this worked. The NHS adapted to the crisis at extraordinary speed, creating the emergency capacity required to deal with the surge of patients. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from the hospital after contracting COVID-19, he said that Britain was winning its battle against the disease because the public had “formed a human shield around this country’s greatest national asset,” the NHS.
The first daughter (though not the only daughter), wearing a fitted black mockneck and black pants, her golden hair fastened in a low twist, glided across the Oval Office. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was apparently vital to inform Trump, at that very moment, that Siemens had pledged to expand its education and training opportunities to more workers as part of Ivanka’s workforce-development initiative. She also wanted to remind him that tomorrow would be the inaugural session of the program’s advisory board, and that Tim Cook would be joining the meeting.
Xi Jinping is using artificial intelligence to enhance his government’s totalitarian control—and he’s exporting this technology to regimes around the globe.
Northwest of Beijing’s Forbidden City, outside the Third Ring Road, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has spent seven decades building a campus of national laboratories. Near its center is the Institute of Automation, a sleek silvery-blue building surrounded by camera-studded poles. The institute is a basic research facility. Its computer scientists inquire into artificial intelligence’s fundamental mysteries. Their more practical innovations—iris recognition, cloud-based speech synthesis—are spun off to Chinese tech giants, AI start-ups, and, in some cases, the People’s Liberation Army.
I visited the institute on a rainy morning in the summer of 2019. China’s best and brightest were still shuffling in post-commute, dressed casually in basketball shorts or yoga pants, AirPods nestled in their ears. In my pocket, I had a burner phone; in my backpack, a computer wiped free of data—standard precautions for Western journalists in China. To visit China on sensitive business is to risk being barraged with cyberattacks and malware. In 2019, Belgian officials on a trade mission noticed that their mobile data were being intercepted by pop-up antennae outside their Beijing hotel.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.