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 email@example.com. (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.)
I flew out to Los Angeles late last year. I’m a good plane sleeper and was snoozing, but luckily I awoke just as we were flying over the Grand Canyon. Buildings, mountains and monuments tend to look tiny when viewed from the air, but nothing can diminish the awesome size of one of America’s greatest national landmarks.
If you happen to have any great aerial views above a national park, please let us know. When I asked Daniel if he was on an American Airlines flight, he replied:
Haha, yeah I thought that might be an appropriate touch given the name of the series. Good guess but it’s Virgin America. I guess as we’re seeing from the Budweiser “America” rebrand, no one does campy faux patriotism like the Europeans.
For Independence Day, a collage of photos from three readers on the flight path leaving Reagan National:
Bill Ruch sent the lower-right photo, adding: “There’s a reason why I go out of my way to book a seat on the right side of the plane when flying out of DC.” Jim Ciszewski sent the sunny one. Jada Chin sent the upper-right one:
Weary from waking up for my early flight to Boston, I peaked outside my window view to see the sun rising as the plane took off from DC. The city from above looked so small, and I could see the array of lights from each building shine next to the Washington Monument. This was no ordinary sunrise. It was a perfect view of the city that I call home.
There is none of the bucolic open space of a traditional airport approach zone, transitioning slowly from developed landscape, to highway, and finally open fields surrounding the airport. At Midway, it’s railroad yards, industrial sprawl, and—most incongruous of all—suburban houses directly across the street from the airport fence. You get the very urgent sense that the pilot needs to set the plane down “on the numbers” or else bad things will happen just 6000 feet down at the other end of the runway.
Midway is a tiny airport considering the volume of traffic it handles. It occupies a “section” of land. A section is 640 acres, and this land unit traces its origin to the Northwest Ordinance. You can clearly see the old section lines in the street-scape of Chicago with major arteries standing out in bold relief running along the traditional homestead boundaries. In contrast, O’Hare International (ORD) covers over 7000 acres. O’Hare is so vast that it’s literally bucolic, with exotic animals grazing on its grassy expanse.
I had always assumed that the airport took its name from a geographic reference regarding its physical relationship to downtown Chicago. But this only demonstrates my historical ignorance, since the field in fact was named in honor of the WWII Battle of Midway—the historic turning point in the Pacific campaign. Chicago’s other airport, O’Hare, owes its name to a local WWII hero Butch O’Hare who received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Pacific theater.
Chicago used to have a third airport, Meigs Field, which occupied a prime location on the lakefront. The story of its closing, including concerns over terrorism, elite privilege, and hard-ball Illinois politics, was a sad blow to general aviation.
This gorgeous series of shots from reader Bill Barse makes for one of the best—and certainly the most comprehensive—entries in our ongoing tour of the 50 states:
Hello Chris, I hope this note finds you well. For your America by Air series I want to share some pictures of a flight I took in 2009 from central Arkansas to Front Royal, Virginia, in a rather weather-beaten Grumman Ag Cat—a plane I bought for the heck of it:
I spent about three years working on it and learning to fly the little plane before taking it on a 1000-mile cross-country flight. It’s a 1963 “lite frame,” as the dusters call it. I first saw one of them in a duster’s field in Delaware some 40 years ago on the way to the beach. I passed that same plane several years off and on while taking the same route, and I told myself I’d love to have one. Now I have two.
They are really great planes to fly—quite simple, very agile in the air, and able to handle quite a bit of weight when used for what it was originally designed: ag work!
The first several pictures I took on my trip are those of the Arkansas River and Mississippi River. I flew out of Woodson Arkansas eastward. Here’s a picture flying rather low (as in 800 feet or so) over the Arkansas River:
This picture, using a disposable color-print camera, is about 40 miles south of Little Rock and reflects a rather undeveloped view of this portion of the state—very little in the way of dense populated regions. Also, it’s close to a town called Slovak, a center of immigration in the late 19th Century and a community that still exists with one church and several houses just north of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Here’s a picture I took with a digital camera when crossing the Mississippi River:
I had just departed West Helena, Arkansas (where I re-fueled), a town about 40 plus miles south of Memphis. The airport there was a duster field. There was a series of barges plying the river upstream with goods on the way to Memphis or beyond. The [above] photo, looking upriver towards Memphis, shows one barge moving south. Although not seen too well, there was an incredible line of barges (pushed by tugs) going south towards New Orleans—something I had seen in a previous flight (with no pictures!) in 2008 when I flew into Arkansas from Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Here are a few more pictures continuing my journey from a grass strip in Arkansas, across Tennessee, and up Virginia to the Front Royal airport near the entrance of Skyline Drive.
The first picture shows central Tennessee, near Shelbyville, with the trees showing fall foliage:
I was flying about 2000 feet above ground level. I made a left turn before the Smoky Mountains and flew up two ridges west of Roanoke.
Clinch Mountain, in this next shot, was impressive, and the view is looking west close to passing the Tennessee-Virginia border:
Since the valley floor was rising in elevation (ca. 2000 feet above sea level), I had to climb higher … eventually getting to 5000 feet and slightly above ridge level! Since this plane had no transponder, I had to fly around Roanoke’s airport.
In this next picture you can see the deeply weathered ridges of the Ridge and Valley physiographic province (Roanoke is at the inner edge of the Piedmont province):
One thing that stood out on this and other flights: Once away from the cities, large portions of area east of the Mississippi were remarkable for the open expanse of country, particularly once I began to traverse the mountains!
Here is the last picture documenting my trip from the rice fields of Arkansas to the Blue Ridge of Virginia:
This image was taken just south of Staunton, Virginia, where I finally got out of the narrow valleys that paralleled the Allegheny Front and crossed over into the Great Valley that extends along the Ridge and Valley Province. Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, and Winchester, Virginia are all in the Great Valley, as is Hagerstown, Maryland. I was really impressed by the vast expanse of undeveloped—now, that is—mountain terrain, though I know at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries this area was heavily logged, leaving many areas essentially deforested.
I did not use any advanced navigation for the flight—simply a set of sectionals. Here’s a scan of the World Aeronautical Charts, from CG-20:
I do hope you find my photos of interest. I have followed Mr. Fallows trips with fascination and find those areas of the U.S. off the beaten track far more culturally and historically complex than most people realize … at least until they visit and talk with those who have lived there for several generations. All are immigrants of a sort from one or more generations ago, reflecting broad patterns of settlement that have led to a very diverse nation, to say the least! As an anthropologist (and archeologist), I have found such travels mini-ethnographic studies.
Our reader Jeff captures the transition to summer:
I’ve really enjoyed your America by Air series and thought I’d share this shot from my flight into Denver [on Saturday]. Longs Peak is a very significant mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, in the Front Range of Colorado, and to anyone who enjoys the beauty of 14,000 ft. mountains. It isn’t as prominent in the shot as it is when viewed from Denver, but its famous East Face is clearly visible.
We don’t have much about Rocky Mountain National Park in our archives, but a little passage popped out at me from an October 1998 piece from Erika Krouse on being single at weddings:
Sam visited me in September, and I drove him to Rocky Mountain National Park. Sam wanted pictures of elk, bighorn sheep; he wanted a mountain lion. I pulled the car over for every herd of animals. Sam jumped out with his point-and-shoot every time. He paused. The elk stared right at him. The bighorn sheep tossed its big head in Sam’s face. One after another, the animals stood still and then finally leaped away, disgusted, as Sam lowered his camera. “Missed it.”
But Jeff didn’t miss that mountain goat on the tip of the wing. Previous animals on planes here. Update from Jeff:
I wish I could say that view of the mountain goat was clever and intentional. It’s just a happy accident. Ironically, mountain goats aren’t native to Colorado. They were introduced to some of the ranges here in the ‘60s. As a non-native species, the ones that roam into Rocky Mountain National now and then are tranquilized and relocated elsewhere. So that’s the best view of Longs Peak that a mountain goat has probably ever seen!
A reader in New Jersey, Roger Zaruba, recently emailed a submission for our aerial series:
Here’s a photo taken on a sunrise trip for fuel from Essex County Airport to Central Jersey Airport in New Jersey. The view is south of Newark looking east over New York Bay and Sandy Hook out to the Atlantic Ocean from about 10 miles inland. Altitude was 2500 feet in a Cessna 182.
Unfortunately the file size for that evening shot was too small to properly post, so I asked Roger if he has a larger version. Today he replied in spades:
I went out this morning to do a little air-work and take some new pictures with my Galaxy S4. The shots are about ten times the size of the other one and I hope they are usable.
Very usable, so I sequenced several of Roger’s fantastic photos with his flight details:
Here’s a wintry scene you don’t usually associate with the red rocks of the country’s biggest canyon:
Looking NW over fresh snowfall on the Grand Canyon from 40,000 ft on January 12. A sliver of the nose of the Boeing 737, including my windshield wiper, in the foreground.
Perusing the Atlantic archives for other scenes from the Grand Canyon, I came across a great passage from Peter Davison in our October 1997 issue. It’s from his travel piece on Sedona, Arizona, the scenic town south of the canyon:
Landscape on the Arizona scale challenges the resources of human speech; it beggared [novelist Zane] Grey, who had to resort to stilted terms from the construction industry to describe the mighty cliffs of the Grand Canyon: “Turrets, mesas, domes, parapets, and escarpments gave the appearance of an architectural work of giant hands.” To use such language for the vastness of these badlands is to commend the horse in the lingo of the horsefly. There’s an old story that a priest and a cowboy arrived together at the canyon’s North Rim and stood silent a while. Finally the priest fell upon his knees and exclaimed, “O Lord, how wonderful are thy works!” The cowboy ruminated, spat, and muttered, “Don’t it beat hell?”
If you’ve captured your own aerial view of the Grand Canyon, or nearby Sedona, with part of the plane within the camera’s frame, please drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello! I saw your request for a picture from Minnesota and was excited because I was getting on a plane later. The attached photo is of the Minnesota River looking southwest towards East Bloomington and Burnsville. The Minnesota River splits from the Mississippi River a few miles northeast of this photo. You can see highway 77 crossing the river, and the smokestack in the middle is an Xcel energy plant. Closer to the plane (near 6 o’clock in the photo) you can see a water treatment plant.
A less industrial view above Minnesota comes from Luke:
I took this photo coming into land in the Twin Cities last October. It was a weekend trip from Scotland to surprise the girl who is now my wife on her birthday. I’m glad I remembered I had a photo from this flight, since it was by far the most pleasant flight journey I’ve ever taken, right down to the joy brought about by the Delta crew.
The attendant informed me the jackrabbit on the wingtip is named Jake. I don’t know exactly why she felt that was important information for a 26 year old, traveling in business clothes and poring over meeting notes, but I’m glad she told me.
Bill says he captured the photo “somewhere over Nebraska,” so that makes 27 states covered in our America by Air series so far. Do you have an aerial photo from neighboring Kansas, or Kentucky, or Minnesota, or maybe Montana? Vermont—maybe from someone flying home from the Bernie campaign? West Virginia, with some country roads? From lil’ Rhode Island? Please send your photos our way and help us get to 50: email@example.com. Submission guidelines here.
Update from a reader, Dan, who makes a reference to something I thought of while posting this photo of a rabbit on the wing: the episode of The Twilight Zone when an airline passenger played by William Shatner keeps seeing a human-like creature on the wing at 20,000 feet and starts to go insane when no one else sees it. A YouTube compilation is here. Here’s the entirety of Dan’s email:
Fun series! This is actually an old photo from March 2008 flying into Barrow, Alaska. I’m a contractor/scientist at NOAA and am super lucky that I get to travel to lots of cool (and often cold) places to do maintenance on atmospheric instruments—for example, at their baseline observatory just outside the town of Barrow.
Barrow is on the north coast of Alaska, and while there’s open water in the summer, when I took this picture it was all frozen. The sea ice is the bumpy-looking snow between the wing of the plane and the town, while the snow-covered tundra is smooth.
A previous view above the airport in Barrow is here, along with an explanation of why the area is under environmental threat. Less ominously, since May 10, Barrow has been covered in sunlight around the clock; the sun doesn’t set for three months during the summer:
States are likely to report fewer coronavirus cases, but not because things are getting better.
Recently, over the course of just one week, the Houston Health Department received more than 110,000 lab reports of COVID-19 test results. In a city of 2.3 million people, “it’s quite a high volume,” says Beau J. Mitts, the department’s bureau chief. Less than two-thirds of those lab reports flow automatically into the health department’s electronic system, according to Mitts. Another 35 percent arrive in digital form but must be imported into the city’s database, and the remainder arrive via fax.
All over the country, health departments are facing such influxes, and many are struggling to keep pace. The latest surge has earned the terrible distinction of having the highest number of daily cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Now data-reporting delays caused by the Thanksgiving holiday and long weekend may provide a veneer of comfort—a seeming dip in cases—when the actual course of the pandemic in the coming days will almost certainly be much bleaker than the reported numbers show.
This is why you can eat in a restaurant but can’t have Thanksgiving.
Two weeks ago, I staged a reluctant intervention via Instagram direct message. The subject was a longtime friend, Josh, who had been sharing photos of himself and his fiancé occasionally dining indoors at restaurants since New York City, where we both live, had reopened them in late September. At first, I hadn’t said anything. Preliminary research suggests that when people congregate indoors, an infected person is almost 20 times more likely to transmit the virus than if they were outside. But restaurants are open legally in New York, and I am not the COVID police. Josh and I had chatted several times in the early months of the pandemic about safety, and I felt sure that he was making an informed decision, even if it wasn’t the one I’d make.
The Nest is a brilliantly cast thriller and one of the year’s best films.
In The Nest,a family moves into an English mansion in the countryside filled with opulent rooms, creaky staircases, and secret passages. The setup is familiar for a horror film: A happy couple buys a mysterious property and discovers, upon arrival, that something is terribly wrong with the house. The movie, directed by Sean Durkin, opens with appropriate portentousness, a discordant piano score clanging over the title card. But in this case, it’s not the house that’s the problem—it’s the family, and the greedy quest for status that first led them to this gargantuan manor.
The Nest is a long-awaited and brilliant follow-up from Durkin, who emerged in 2011 with his filmmaking debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, but hadn’t directed a movie since. His first work also had the overtones of a horror film and the narrative meat of a serious family drama, exploring the fraught relationship between two sisters after one of them is freed from a Manson-family-like collective. Nothing in The Nest is quite as dramatic as a murderous cult, but the same sense of dread pervades the thriller, as Rory (played by Jude Law) and Allison O’Hara (Carrie Coon) see their relationship crumble under the financial burden of the colossal home they’ve bought.
More people than ever are hospitalized with COVID-19. Health-care workers can’t go on like this.
On Saturday morning, Megan Ranney was about to put on her scrubs when she heard that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. That day, she treated people with COVID-19 while street parties erupted around the country. She was still in the ER in the late evening when Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris made their victory speeches. These days, her shifts at Rhode Island Hospital are long, and they “are not going to change in the next 73 days,” before Biden becomes president, she told me on Monday. Every time Ranney returns to the hospital, there are more COVID-19 patients.
The new Netflix film is a think-piece trap—shiny on the outside, hollow on the inside.
“Everyone in this world is one of three kinds,” declares Mamaw (played by Glenn Close), the wise grand-matriarch of Ron Howard’s new film, Hillbilly Elegy. “A good Terminator, a bad Terminator, and neutral.” I hate to correct Mamaw, who is trying to encourage her impressionable grandson, J. D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), to follow a righteous path by invoking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beloved action franchise. But there is no such thing as a “neutral” Terminator; those cyborg heroes exist to either protect or destroy. I cannot imagine what a neutral Terminator would do, save sit in a chair and remain forever shiny and inactive.
Mamaw is entitled to her bad movie opinions, of course. But this monologue is the kind of speechifying that rings hollow throughout Hillbilly Elegy, an adaptation of Vance’s best-selling 2016 memoir that debuts on Netflix tomorrow. When it first arrived on bookshelves, Vance’s story was celebrated as a glimpse into an oft-ignored pocket of America: the white working class of Appalachia and the Rust Belt who swung to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Hailed as an “anger translator” and cited by Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, Vance wrote about growing up poor, living with a heroin-addicted mother, and clawing his way into Yale Law School. The book arrived at a seemingly serendipitous moment, offering a bleak but candid view of communities gutted by drug abuse and poverty.
These films, each unforgettable in its own way, are essential viewing.
The word unique has to be one of the most overused descriptors in show business; if every movie that got touted as one-of-a-kind by its marketing team actually was, there’d be no further complaints about Hollywood creativity. But every once in a while, I’ll have a cinematic experience that feels genuinely unprecedented, when a work plays with the medium and its modes of storytelling in ways I didn’t think possible. The 30 movies I’ve gathered below—all of which are available to watch online—are singular, whether they’re experimental documentaries, visionary works of animation, or labyrinthine epics. Each is unforgettable, and a reminder of cinema’s potential to flout narrative convention, subvert visual traditions, and find new ways to express timeless themes.
A historian believes he has discovered iron laws that predict the rise and fall of societies. He has bad news.
Peter Turchin, one of the world’s experts on pine beetles and possibly also on human beings, met me reluctantly this summer on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he teaches. Like many people during the pandemic, he preferred to limit his human contact. He also doubted whether human contact would have much value anyway, when his mathematical models could already tell me everything I needed to know.
But he had to leave his office sometime. (“One way you know I am Russian is that I cannot think sitting down,” he told me. “I have to go for a walk.”) Neither of us had seen much of anyone since the pandemic had closed the country several months before. The campus was quiet. “A week ago, it was even more like a neutron bomb hit,” Turchin said. Animals were timidly reclaiming the campus, he said: squirrels, woodchucks, deer, even an occasional red-tailed hawk. During our walk, groundskeepers and a few kids on skateboards were the only other representatives of the human population in sight.
The minute we make any decision—I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative.
Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.
Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.
“We are on an absolutely catastrophic path,” said a COVID-19 doctor at America’s best-prepared hospital.
Perhaps no hospital in the United States was better prepared for a pandemic than the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
After the SARS outbreak of 2003, its staff began specifically preparing for emerging infections. The center has the nation’s only federal quarantine facility and its largest biocontainment unit, which cared for airlifted Ebola patients in 2014. The people on staff had detailed pandemic plans. They ran drills. Ron Klain, who was President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” and will be Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, once told me that UNMC is “arguably the best in the country” at handling dangerous and unusual diseases. There’s a reason many of the Americans who were airlifted from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February were sent to UNMC.
At the dawn of the 1960s, a couple of New York admen named Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created the Christmas special. Before that, the networks hadn’t been sure exactly how they should entertain children during the holiday season. They had largely come down on the side of edification, as seen in NBC’s 1951 commission of a children’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast live on Christmas Eve, after which the show lived on in reruns, and—also on NBC—Babes in Toyland, a turn-of-the-last-century operetta based on the Mother Goose tales.
But American children of the 1960s weren’t going to put up with operas and nursery rhymes. We had grown strong on orange juice, casseroles, and chewable vitamins. We weren’t afraid of polio or tuberculosis—we had the Salk vaccine and the tine test. We had had one small step for mankind, 31 flavors, and 101 dalmatians. The previous decade had already established the whims of children as a legitimate market force; in two years, Wham-O had made $45 million on the Hula-Hoop. Rich guys in office buildings were taking us seriously. What did we want next?