Reporter's Notebook

America by Air
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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 (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.)

Show 19 Newer Notes

America by Air: Country Album Edition

Matt Kollasch

Reader Matt sends a piece of Americana a couple times over:

This photo was made in 2005 between Waterloo, Iowa, and the Minnesota border. That trip took me Japan and Korea to take photographs for Camp Adventure (youth camps/programs) sites on U.S. military bases.

I recall Mesaba Airlines (Northwest Airlink) flew Saabs then. The plane looks to be a turbo prop Saab 340A [photo here]. The 340A’s engine is above the wing and the shape of the rear of the engine seems to match the one in my photo. I enjoyed these short rides to Minneapolis. The turbo-props gained altitude quickly and you seldom lost sight of earth, which was always interesting to watch.

My photo was used for the cover of a Brother Trucker album called The Flyover. [“Des Moines-based roots-rockers Brother Trucker finally present another heaping helping of their literate, soulful and cinematic brand of earthy, ‘pan-Americana’ music.”] When I took the photo, Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia” came to mind: “I dreamed of 747s / Over geometric farms.”

Jimmy Rollison

One of our best reader contributors to our series, Jimmy Rollison, sends another great view:

Looking north after passing Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Monument [captured by an earlier reader photographer], one cannot miss seeing the “Continental Divide” that has been the inspiration for many many artists. [French poet and aviator] Antoine St. Exupery’s famous quote is best applied here on this delivery flight: “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”

Jimmy adds, “Did you ever wonder why the terminal at Denver Airport looks like it does?” He’s referring to this striking structure, the Jeppesen Terminal:

The first commercial flight at the new Denver International Airport lands shortly after 6 a.m. on February 28, 1995. (Reuters)

Here’s how the terminal’s creator, Fentress Architects, describes it:

The form evokes the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s international signature. Sustainably, the fabric roof provides considerable daylighting, and low heat absorption reduces build-up due to sunlight radiation. A survey by the American Institute of Architects ranked the terminal as #4 on its list of favorite American architectural landmarks, while Business Traveler magazine readers voted DIA the “Best Airport in North America” every year from, 2005-2010. As the largest structurally integrated tensile-membrane roof in the world, DIA is a memorable threshold welcoming all to Colorado and the West.

Jimmy Hamilton

Jimmy Hamilton, the Reno-based reader who sent the AbA photo over Pyramid Lake in northern Nevada, responds to me mentioning that I’m headed to nearby Black Rock Desert to camp out for a week soon:

Hello again, Chris. I just happen to have an aerial photo of Burning Man, taken in the C180 from about a mile away looking down (from about 5500 AGL / 10,000 MSL) on the half circle that is Black Rock City. The scale of it is hard to imagine, but the diameter of the half circle is well over a mile.

I hope you have a great time at Burning Man this year, but be prepared for everything—heat, cold, dust storms, rain and mud—all in the same week. Then again, on some occasions it can be clear and mild!

If you’ve been out to Black Rock City and have any good advice for a first-timer, or just a good story to share, please drop me an email.

As I was reading up on Black Rock Desert just now, I came upon this eerie and captivating sight:

Jeremy C. Munns / public domain

That vision of a mushroom trip is called Fly Geyser, and it was created by accident more than 50 years ago. From the Atlas Obscura entry on the natural-ish wonder:

In 1964 a geothermic energy company drilled a test well at the same site [of a nearby geyser]. The water they struck was that same 200 degrees. Hot, but not hot enough for their purposes. The well was supposedly re-sealed, but apparently it did not hold. The new geyser, a few hundred feet north of the original, robbed the first of its water pressure and the cone now lays dry.

This second geyser, known as Fly Geyser, has grown substantially in the last 40 years as minerals from the geothermal water pocket deposit on the desert surface. Because there are multiple geyser spouts, this geyser has not created a cone as large as the first, but an ever growing alien looking mound. The geyser is covered with thermophilic algae, which flourishes in moist, hot environments, resulting in the multiple hues of green and red that add to its out-of-this-world appearance.

Here’s a video of the geyser in action:

The 3,800-acre Fly Ranch upon which the geyser sits was actually just bought by the Burning Man Project in June. From the group’s news release:

Here’s the gist of it: Those who have been deeply affected by a Burning Man event or experience have often asked, “How can we bring this beyond the event?” “How can we make this really matter?” [...] As a year-round site, Fly Ranch has the potential to expand Burning Man Project’s activities and existing programs, as well as amplify Burning Man’s cultural impact into the wider world beyond Black Rock City.

Not if Cthulhu gets to them first:

Jimmy Hamilton

Another reader with another amazing view adds another state to the series:

I see on your site that you don’t have a photo taken in Nevada. This is Pyramid Lake, about 30 miles north of Reno. The lake is out in the middle of the desert.  I took the photo from a 1955 Cessna 180. (Sorry about the reflections in the window.)

Coincidentally I’m headed out to that part of the Nevada desert in less than a month, to attend Burning Man for the first time. If you happen to have a good aerial photo above Black Rock City, please send it our way.

Another funny coincidence: The only two photos of Pyramid Lake available in the Atlantic archives are this one from 1867 and the one seen to the right, which was captured by an Atlantic reader and posted by a friend I’m going to Burning Man with—in a blog post about the spirituality of shrooms.

Here’s a bit more about the lake:

Pyramid Lake is fed by the Truckee River, which is mostly the outflow from Lake Tahoe. The Truckee River enters Pyramid Lake at its southern end. Pyramid Lake has no outlet, with water leaving only by evaporation, or sub-surface seepage (an endorheic lake). The lake has about 10% of the area of the Great Salt Lake, but it has about 25% more volume. The salinity is approximately 1/6 that of sea water. …

Pyramid Lake was used as a stand-in for the Sea of Galilee in the 1965 biblical film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Also, in 1961, part of The Misfits was filmed nearby.

If you’re one of the misfits who’s attended Burning Man and have any good anecdotes or advice to share, please drop me a note. Update from reader Jim, who has tons of helpful advice:

Reserve a cheap bike at the Walmart in Reno and leave it with someone when Burning Man is over.

JP Robinson

A reader and pilot, JP, sends a scenic view “from the cockpit of a Bell 206 Jetranger Helicopter, flying southeast bound along Clark Fork River heading back to Missoula, MT.” Here’s a little about the waterway:

The largest river by volume in Montana, the Clark Fork drains an extensive region of the Rocky Mountains in western Montana and northern Idaho in the watershed of the Columbia River. The river flows northwest through a long valley at the base of the Cabinet Mountains and empties into Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle. The Clark Fork is a Class I river for recreational purposes in Montana from Warm Springs Creek to the Idaho border.  The Clark Fork should not be confused with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, which is located in Montana and Wyoming.

That striking photo from JP checks another state, Montana, off our list of 50. We still need aerial views from CT, GA, ID, IN, IA, ME, MS, NV, NM, ND, RI, TN, VT, and WV if you can help:

Anne Woods

Anne Woods, the reader who sent the crisp, cerulean view of Puako Reef, sends a second photo from the air, this time above Northern California’s Sonoma County on an afternoon in late November:

It was taken while bundled up in an open-cockpit 1932 Waco UBF-2. Off the wingtip is Tomales Bay, under which runs the San Andreas Fault. Point Reyes National Seashore is just on its other side, under the fog. When the sun swings south in the fall, it bathes the earth and the Waco’s wings in a soft, glowing light. The sky flushes orange, the summer-brown grass greens, the air stills, and on this day, I could smell the gap between the temperature and dew point closing. Pure heaven, accessible only by air.

Here’s a heavenly view of Point Reyes under the fog:


From a newcomer to the series, Anne Woods:

I love America by Air! Here’s a submission above Puako Reef, on the Big Island of Hawaii, taken from a Piper PA-18 Super Cub.

Anne Woods

The healthy and beauty of the reef is precarious right now. From the North Hawaii News early this year:

The Puako coral reef has provided food, recreation and beauty for many generations. So when residents began to see the coral degrade — a loss of 50 percent between 1970 and 2010 and several studies showed dangerously high bacteria count — they decided it was time to care for the reef. The community came together and launched the Clean Water for Reefs project in Puako in Sept. 2014. It soon became apparent that the major culprit was outdated waste water treatment such as cesspools, and that upgrading to a septic tank, given the porous volcanic rock and high ground water, was not a viable option.  …

[T]he final recommendation was for an on-site waste water treatment plant. A big advantage to the on-site waste water treatment plant is that the water coming out of it would be safe to use for irrigation, making a “community orchard” a real possibility.

For an underwater tour of Puako, check out this vivid video:

Jimmy Rollison, the reader who sent the incredible shot over Monument Valley, doubles down with another set of beauties, this time from Dinosaur National Monument. First a bit of background:

Lizard petroglyphs at D.N.M. (Wikipedia)

This park contains over 800 paleontological sites and has fossils of dinosaurs including Allosaurus, Deinonychus, Abydosaurus ... and various long-neck, long-tail sauropods. It was declared a National Monument on October 4, 1915. … Though lesser-known than the fossil beds, the petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument are another treasure the monument holds. Due to problems with vandals, many of the sites are not listed on area maps.

Here’s Jimmy:

An enrollee from California to Denver one should NEVER pass the opportunity to fly over Dinosaur National Monument [located on the border between Colorado and Utah] and especially Jenny Lind Rock [on-the-ground photos here].

Jimmy Rollison

This is where the Green River meets the Yampa River to flow west. After a late winter rain, the Green River appears to be bleeding, and this view is only available to those who fly.

To those who say, “If God had intended man to fly, he would have given him wings,” I say no; if he didn’t want me to fly, he’d have given me roots.

Jimmy Rollison

This one is just east of Vernal, Utah, where the Green River exits the Canyon, after a heavy rain. The colors are vividly alive with minerals, displayed only for those looking down. Go Fly!

Just wow:

Jimmy Rollison

The photographer, Jimmy, also has few words for this spectacular scene over Monument Valley:

All I can say about this photo is: As only can be seen from a small airplane.

Update: Monument Valley straddles Utah and Arizona, so I asked Jimmy which side he was on:

Utah. I had departed Cortez, Colorado, heading for Page, Arizona.

He sends another stunning photo from that trip:

Jimmy Rollison

I always wanted to view Lake Powell from above but not the 36,000’ view of my normal work. Only Lake Powell!

[This America by Air series is a] GREAT IDEA!!!  I have never shared a photo, as I thought no one would appreciate what I see. Thank you again for bringing this into the eyes of the public.

Our eyes are smiling.

Pete Howell

A fantastic set of photos from reader Pete:

Here are a few pics from our recent trip to Colorado in the little airplane I built in my garage 10 years ago! We flew over Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and visited on the ground a few hours later. My wife and I were on vacation from St Paul. Story here.

Pete Howell

A bit about its past:

Mosca Pass was named for Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, whose scouting parties may have reached this area about 1542. He was a Spanish explorer and conquistador credited as the first European to reach Texas.

I asked Pete if he could share a good photo of his plane—“a Van’s RV-9A”—and he definitely delivered:


Daniel Watkins

A helpful reader, Daniel, gets us one step closer to 50 states: “I saw in the Notes section that you don’t have a photo from Delaware, so I’m happy to lend a hand with a photo from the first state.” That bit of trivia I didn’t know. Here’s more about Daniel and his photo:

I’m a Brit, my wife is a Delawarean. We live abroad but travel back to the States for friends and family about once a year. My wife’s family is in Sussex county, DE, and when I first visited, I was struck by the sheer number of place names stolen from my native land: Sussex, Lewes, Seaford, Dover, Kent, Camden—all places I’ve lived in or near. It’s like a little home from home.

Two winters ago, right before one of the major snow storms, we were on our way to see friends and had a connecting flight in Philly. The easiest way for us to get there from Sussex was on a tiny propeller plane from Salisbury, MD. The plane was small enough for either me or my wife to be guaranteed a window seat. She is a better person than me, and so I spent the flight gawking out the window, happily snapping away on my iPhone.

This photo is taken from right above Lewes, DE, where we have family (and of the Cape May ferry fame). The sandy part jutting out, and the adjacent woodland, is Cape Henlopen State Park, a piece of land set aside for public use in the 1680s—which has to make it one of the first. I hadn’t visited it at the time I took the photo, but I’ve been belatedly learning to drive there since, so I’ve also taken in the trails and ocean front. It has to rank as one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever seen: beach and forest, sand and soil, shell and pine cone, with a thick salt marsh right in the middle. It’s become an almost-sacred place, and so this photo serves as a reminder while we’re away from homes, old and new.

Katy McDevitt

A long-time reader, Paul, checks another state off our list of 50:

I mostly grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, so I am very used to the view of mist rising from the water in the early morning. But in all my years of flying, I guess I’d never headed out until later in the day. When my wife, Katy, recently peeled off to Montreal with our daughter really really early in the morning, and she showed me the photos she’d taken after takeoff, I was really amazed to see what my riverine memories looked like from the air.

Her iPhone geo-located the photo at Nicholasville—a bit south of Lexington. The source of the mist is the Kentucky River, deep in its gorge at this point, and the shape of the river is recognizable from the map. The river is about 500 feet below the bluegrass plateau and the gorge is a quarter-mile wide or so. That is a lot of water vapor!

If you have a great aerial photo of your own to share, especially from one of the states we haven’t covered yet—CT, DE, GA, ID, IN, IA, ME, MS, MT, NV, NM, ND, RI, TN, VT, WV—please send our way, ideally with a part of the plane showing: