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.)
Hi. This is a view from a helicopter of a riverboat near Opryland in Nashville, TN [on the Cumberland River]. It was taken in February 2004 during a ferry flight from Seattle, WA to Newport News, VA. Hope this helps.
Indeed it does; Tennessee is on our dwindling list of states that haven’t been covered in America by Air. Only 13 remain now (CT, GA, ID, IN, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, TN, VT, WV), so if you have a good aerial view from one of those states, please shoot it our way. Once we get to zero, I’m thinking of a launching a similar series of photos outside the U.S.
By the way, here’s a satellite view showing how close Opryland is to the boat dock our reader flew over:
And if you’re wondering what our reader means by “ferry flight,” here’s a helpful definition: “delivery flights for the purpose of returning an aircraft to base, delivering a new aircraft from its place of manufacture to its customer, moving an aircraft from one base of operations to another or moving an aircraft to or from a maintenance facility for repairs, overhaul or other work.”
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.”
One of our best reader contributors to our series, JimmyRollison, 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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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. …
Take some white vinegar to mix with your water to counteract the alkali when washing your feet, or anything that’s covered with the lake bed dust. Take foot cream or you may crack. Wash feet frequently.
Get a medium quality dust mask (one not too hot). I use swim goggles because they seal the best. Wear them around your neck at all times in case a dust storm blows, which happens all the time.
Your vehicle will likely never quite yield the dust no matter how you try to clean. Alkali sticks to oil, and frankly the entire world seems to be coated with a film of oil even if you don’t notice. I took a tent, and I brought it back to the Ozarks and put it in a clear flowing stream for hours, but it was still coated with dust when it dried.
I took a garden sprayer, the kind you pump up to spray. I used that to shower off (you must have a tarp to catch the water or you will violate a rule not to drain water in the desert). Although I sometimes raced naked to the water truck with soap in hand. Your wet feet will cake up like a baked potato when you walk back, but it peels off.
Don’t be ashamed to pee in a wide mouth jug at night and walk it to a porta-potty naked in the morning. No one cares.
If you are in the front row during a big temple or “man” burn, it will get hot and you may feel trapped at the front. The spiraling hot white tornadoes that come out of the big burns will not reach you although they seem to be coming out toward the crowd.
People swept through and stole bicycles on the last night, so beware there are sociopaths who will take your bike if you don’t lock it. I felt embarrassed to keep locking my bike the second time I went, but I kept mine while others lost theirs.
If you want to stay in touch with friends, bring walkie talkies. With all the people there, the channels are pretty crowded, but you can always take a radio with different bandwidth than family radio channels. Try buying some cheap marine radios or radios used on industrial worksites with UHF. Hell, CB might work too.
Take a hand drum of some sort so you can participate in drum circles. Irish tams are like big tambourines and travel well. Bring gifts—any kind. I took gallons of mixed nuts and little paper bowls which I filled and left (a few) at all the bars from which I drank. All drinks are free, so you want something to give back.
Carry a pen and little spiral notebook. You may meet people you want to look up later. You may never see them again at the Burn.
Video cams are frowned up. You are there to make art, not to collect pics of naked people.
I think of Burning Man as a combo of a circus, Fellini movie, and a gay parade. You’ll never forget it. I will be at Lake Powell starting Labor Day weekend on a houseboat—the perfect experience after the Burn (although I am not going this year). Diving into deep clean water will never feel so exquisite.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
The healthy and beauty of the reef is precarious right now. From the North Hawaii Newsearly 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:
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.
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].
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
Over the past year, Americans have lamented, loudly and publicly, the loss of many of the communal aspects of pre-pandemic life: eating inside restaurants without worry. Going to packed concerts and sporting events. Celebrating holidays and birthdays with lots of loved ones. Often in a quieter voice, Americans have also lamented a slightly different, less communal loss, one that’s trickier to mourn in the middle of a mass-casualty event. Like mani-pedis.
It’s not just mani-pedis, of course. People have yearned for indulgences corporeal and non-, the types of things that America’s puritanical streak warns against even in better times. The list includes a slew of beauty services that are just not the same at home, if they can even be reproduced there: eyebrow threading, balayage, hair braiding, maybe even a syringe of facial filler. Last March, the television host Kelly Ripa ignited a brief outrage conflagration by joking in an Instagram video (filmed from a chair at her cosmetic dermatologist’s office, while he cackled in the background) that the pandemic had given her an “acute Botox deficiency” that might be deadly.
The next two years might be the country’s last chance to protect the basic democratic principle of majority rule.
President Joe Biden came into office facing four “converging crises”: COVID-19, climate change, racial justice, and the economy. But after a few weeks of fast action on a pandemic relief plan, a fifth crisis will determine the fate of the rest of his administration, and perhaps that of American democracy itself: the minority-rule doom loop, by which predominantly white conservatives gain more and more power, even as they represent fewer Americans.
The doom loop consists of four interlocking components. Candidates who represent white conservatives—Republicans, in our ideologically sorted era—begin every election cycle buoyed by a sluice of voter suppression and gerrymandering (what I call electoral welfare), which makes it easier for them to win. Then antidemocratic features of the American system that have always existed but never benefited one party over the other in any systematic way help those same candidates take control of institutions such as the White House and the Senate, despite winning fewer votes and representing fewer people than their opponents. Once in control of these institutions, these newly elected officials use them to entrench their power beyond the reach of voters. If they are eventually voted out of power, they retain a veto over the agenda of the majority, which they use to block change and feed the conservative case that the government is “broken.” This hastens their return to power—along the very path they greased with voter suppression.
Image above: Glacier National Park, in Montana, as seen from the Blackfeet Reservation, near Duck Lake.
This article was published online on April 12, 2021.
I. The End Result of Dirty Business
In 1851, members of a California state militia called the Mariposa Battalion became the first white men to lay eyes on Yosemite Valley. The group was largely made up of miners. They had been scouring the western slopes of the Sierra when they happened upon the granite valley that Native peoples had long referred to as “the place of a gaping mouth.” Lafayette Bunnell, a physician attached to the militia, found himself awestruck. “None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley, can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view,” he later wrote. “A peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears.” Many of those who have followed in Bunnell’s footsteps over the past 170 years, walking alongside the Merced River or gazing upon the god-rock of El Capitan, have been similarly struck by the sense that they were in the presence of the divine.
People who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine will have higher health-care costs. The rest of us will foot the bill.
Imagine it’s 2026. A man shows up in an emergency room, wheezing. He’s got pneumonia, and it’s hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated, and ended up contracting the coronavirus months after most people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn’t really remember. His lungs do, though: By the end of the day, he’s on a ventilator.
You’ll pay for that man’s decisions. So will I. We all will—in insurance premiums, if he has a plan with your provider, or in tax dollars, if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital. The vaccine refusers could cost us billions. Maybe more, over the next few decades, with all the complications they could develop. And we can’t do anything about it except hope that more people get their shots than those who say they will right now.
In mid-1981 the U.S. Center for Disease Control noticed a set of medical curiosities: an alert from Los Angeles that five previously healthy young men had come down with a rare, fatal lung infection; almost simultaneously, a dermatologist in New York saying that he had seen a cluster of unusually aggressive cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an obscure skin cancer. These seemingly unconnected occurrences had two things in common. First, all of the victims were sexually active gay men. Second, their maladies pointed to a catastrophically compromised immune system.
About a month after those reports, a San Francisco weekly wrote that something it called “gay men’s pneumonia” was going around. By September 1982, there was a medical name for it: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The following May, scientists identified the retrovirus that was causing it: human immunodeficiency virus. HIV. It would take longer before it became clear who was at risk, how far the disease could spread, or what needed to be done to stop it.
On the morning of July 22, 2020, the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, posted a reflection on his organization’s 128-year history. “As defenders of Black life pull down Confederate monuments across the country,” he wrote, “we must also take this moment to reexamine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”
Brune’s reexamination began with John Muir—the inveterate hiker and activist who founded the Sierra Club and was famous for his eloquent tributes to the Sierra Nevada, many of which were first published in The Atlantic. Though Muir is a renowned figure in the conservation movement, Brune wrote, he made derogatory statements about Black and Indigenous people that drew on racist stereotypes. He maintained friendships with other prominent conservationists well known for their racist beliefs. These and other long-ago words and actions, Brune argued, not only continue to alienate potential Sierra Club supporters but sustain a “dangerous idea” within the organization: “that exploring, enjoying, and protecting the outdoors can be separated from human affairs.”
America’s first national park is only 15 years younger than The Atlantic, and at this magazine we have long told ourselves that our histories are intertwined. That John Muir made his late-19th-century case for the national parks in our pages is part of institutional lore. We are not alone in our warm feelings toward the parks. Many, if not most, Americans experience an uncomplicated pride standing on the Grand Canyon’s edge, or in the cool shade of an old-growth sequoia grove. At a moment when so much of our nation’s history has come under scrutiny, the park system, and the reverence for nature that led to its creation, rank among our loftiest achievements.
New market-rate development, even of the luxury variety, helps relieve pressure on local housing prices.
If you were intentionally designing a development to spark a NIMBY backlash, you might come up with something that looks a lot like 10 Clay. A brand new building located in Seattle’s formerly industrial Belltown neighborhood, it adheres to a modern aesthetic of poured concrete, muted tones, and floor-to-ceiling windows. True to form, the website for 10 Clay celebrates amenities such as granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Hosting 76 “micro units” and half as much parking, the project seems perfectly optimized to house the well-paid, single young professionals that companies such as Amazon have attracted to the city in droves.
Today, however, 10 Clay houses Seattlites earning roughly a third of the median income, most of whom have recently struggled with homelessness. As reported in Next City, thanks to a deal struck by a local affordable housing non-profit, those suffering the brunt of Seattle’s housing shortage—a crisis that leaves nearly 12,000 Seatellites homeless—now enjoy a safe place to call home.
Workers are on the verge of going bonkers with their PTO.
Here’s a cool trick for blowing any American’s mind. Tell us that in France, so many boulangeries shut down for vacation every summer that it can be tough to snag a baguette. Bakers aren’t the only ones who get time off. In August, up to half of the country’s salaried employees have been known to take at least a full week off from work. Half!
Americans are good at lots of different things, but going on vacation is not one of them. Every year in parts of Europe, summer turns into a mini-sabbatical. In Norway, during the tradition of fellesferie, the nation simply shuts down for a few weeks of July fun. In Italy, so many people take the last two weeks of August off that Rome’s transit system runs on a reduced “festivi” schedule. Meanwhile, guess which industrialized country is the only one that doesn’t guarantee time off to its workers? Guess which country left 768 million vacation days on the table in 2018? Guess which country … arghhhhhhhh.
When Michaeleen Doucleff met parents from around the world, she encountered millennia-old methods of raising good kids that made American parenting seem bizarre and ineffective.
At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.
Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.