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.)
Here’s the latest from Jimmy Rollison, one of our ace photographers for the series, who’s provided stunning views over Monument Valley, Dinosaur National Monument, and the Continental Divide. This colorful one was captured over Duncan Mills, California. “It’s west of Sacramento,” he writes, “looking at the coastal range that separates the Sacramento Valley from the Napa Valley in a 1939 airplane.” Update from another reader, Frank:
That “1939 airplane” is a Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing” biplane, and I think it is the most beautiful single-engined propeller driven aircraft ever produced (although the Supermarine Spitfire is very closely competitive). The Staggerwing is, truly, Walter Beech’s masterpiece. Notice how the upper biplane wing is mounted aft of the lower, a rare feature called “negative wing stagger” that gives the airplane its unique appearance and grace.
Next time you are in DC, wander by the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall and make your way to the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Therein, a yellow Model 17 is suspended for your examination and admiration.
Thanks for the series; the photos are great.
So are the emails! Here’s the beauty that Frank mentions:
There were relict streams that once drained into the original Everglades that are now submerged due to sea level rise that took place over the last 2,000 years. Many archaeological sites, low-lying mounds, are present along these now submerged streams, sites that we were working on at the time of this trip. The area south of the lake is a low-lying plane with limestone bedrock barely two feet beneath the current ground surface. And it is only several feet above sea level. This picture shows a good view of a 2,000-year-old house mound located not far from one of the relict stream channels. One of the access roads for the sugar cane fields made a U-turn around it to avoid its destruction.
Bill flew all the way from East Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania, on this trip, and the archaeological sites near Clewiston, Florida, were his final destination. He also documented more recently built structures, from highways to horse tracks:
The first picture shows the magnificent Delaware Water Gap, where the Delaware River cuts through Kittatinny Mountain (along with I-80). I am flying over Pennsylvania, looking east towards the gap, which is in Warren County, NJ.
Here, I am crossing from South Carolina into Georgia, setting up to find, then land, at Plantation Airfield. Plantation is an old Army-Air Force training field with the typical triangular runway layout. Most of the fields from South Carolina down to Clewiston were once training fields first built in the early 1940s. Plantation was largely a duster field when I passed through. Little did I know that my engine was to quit after I crossed the Savannah River and had the field in sight. I landed it like a glider!
Here’s a shot of a horse race track near Ocala, Florida, which is a thoroughbred breeding area of note in the U.S. There were horse-racing tracks everywhere I looked in the Ocala area!
In our America by Air series we often focus on beautiful, wild landscapes—the places that can only be seen in their full glory from the air. But what strikes me most about Bill’s photos is the way they document the mundane, man-made features of America’s topography—like the interstate cutting through Kittatinny Mountain, as much a force in shaping our world as the river. And noticing all this human infrastructure has a practical benefit, too:
When I was flying back through Georgia, my horizon was occluded by haze, the interminable summer haze, and I realized that I was off course. So, using an old airmail pilot’s expression, I “buzzed” a water tower in a small town that I did not recognize. The tower had its name prominently displayed: Glenville, Georgia! Airmail pilots would “shoot the station,” meaning a railroad station, to determine where they were (they used road maps back then). Since I was trying to pay attention, I did not take a picture of the Glenville water tower, but when I crossed into South Carolina about an hour later, I snapped a shot of the prominent water tower in the small town of Allendale, South Carolina—which, of course, had the town’s name on it too! So, I was “shooting the tower,” so to say, as a form of navigation on the way back.
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!
Three Atlantic writers discuss the HBO epic’s divisive series finale, which tries to break the wheel one last time.
Every week for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers have been discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts on the series finale in installments.
Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable forecasting is possible.
The bet was on, and it was over the fate of humanity. On one side was the Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. In his 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich insisted that it was too late to prevent a doomsday apocalypse resulting from overpopulation. Resource shortages would cause hundreds of millions of starvation deaths within a decade. It was cold, hard math: The human population was growing exponentially; the food supply was not. Ehrlich was an accomplished butterfly specialist. He knew that nature did not regulate animal populations delicately. Populations exploded, blowing past the available resources, and then crashed.
In his book, Ehrlich played out hypothetical scenarios that represented “the kinds of disasters that will occur.” In the worst-case scenario, famine rages across the planet. Russia, China, and the United States are dragged into nuclear war, and the resulting environmental degradation soon extinguishes the human race. In the “cheerful” scenario, population controls begin. Famine spreads, and countries teeter, but the major death wave ends in the mid-1980s. Only half a billion or so people die of starvation. “I challenge you to create one more optimistic,” Ehrlich wrote, adding that he would not count scenarios involving benevolent aliens bearing care packages.
To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.
To feel relief at my mother’s being dead was once unthinkable, but then the news came from Ireland. It would have crushed her. An immigrant’s daughter, my mother lived with an eye cast back to the old country, the land against which she measured every virtue. Ireland was heaven to her, and the Catholic Church was heaven’s choir. Then came the Ryan Report.
Not long before The Boston Globe began publishing its series on predator priests, in 2002—the “Spotlight” series that became a movie of the same name—the government of Ireland established a commission, ultimately chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, to investigate accounts and rumors of child abuse in Ireland’s residential institutions for children, nearly all of which were run by the Catholic Church.
It expands by 10,000 times in a fraction of a second, it’s 100,000 times softer than Jell-O, and it fends off sharks and Priuses alike.
At first glance, the hagfish—a sinuous, tubular animal with pink-grey skin and a paddle-shaped tail—looks very much like an eel. Naturalists can tell the two apart because hagfish, unlike other fish, lack backbones (and, also, jaws). For everyone else, there’s an even easier method. “Look at the hand holding the fish,” the marine biologist Andrew Thaler once noted. “Is it completely covered in slime? Then, it’s a hagfish.”
Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously. They slime when attacked or simply when stressed. On July 14, 2017, a truck full of hagfishoverturned on an Oregon highway. The animals were destined for South Korea, where they are eaten as a delicacy, but instead, they were strewn across a stretch of Highway 101, covering the road (and at least one unfortunate car) in slime.
It was a blockbuster discovery at the time. The team found that a less active version of the gene was more common among 454 people who had mood disorders than in 570 who did not. In theory, anyone who had this particular gene variant could be at higher risk for depression, and that finding, they said, might help in diagnosing such disorders, assessing suicidal behavior, or even predicting a person’s response to antidepressants.
Back then, tools for sequencing DNA weren’t as cheap or powerful as they are today. When researchers wanted to work out which genes might affect a disease or trait, they made educated guesses, and picked likely “candidate genes.” For depression, SLC6A4 seemed like a great candidate: It’s responsible for getting a chemical called serotonin into brain cells, and serotonin had already been linked to mood and depression. Over two decades, this one gene inspired at least 450 research papers.
The German chancellor has shown how to win and keep power in a man’s world.
To the six women currently running in the 2020 presidential race, I offer this advice: Study German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most successful living politician, on the basis of both achievement and longevity. Now in her 14th year as chancellor of Europe’s powerhouse, Merkel has upended the rules of the male-dominated German political culture, and transformed her country along the way.
Without fanfare, Merkel made German society friendlier to the ambitions of women. Merkel’s handpicked successor to lead the Christian Democratic Union is a woman, there are six other women in her cabinet, and women abound in her circle of advisers. Alexander Gauland, the leader of Germany’s far-right political party AfD, recently asked, “Are there no men left in the CDU?” The party still has quite a few men; they just don’t run it any longer.
No president I know of has asserted a blanket power to reject any request that doesn’t suit him—until Donald Trump.
In my long career as an academic jack-of-all-trades, I sometimes teach law students Jurisprudence—that is, Philosophy of Law. The course begins with the question “What is law?” and its corollary, “What is lawlessness?”
The latter comes in two flavors. The first is anarchy—Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” a Mad Max moonscape in which only stealth and brute force provide even a semblance of safety. Such situations existed for millennia and, though relatively rare, exist in remote parts of the globe today.
But there is an authoritarian lawlessness that is far more common in the 21st century, and next time I teach the course, I will have the most precise example of this second version I have ever seen: the dispute over 26 U.S. Code § 6103(f)(1), which reads: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,” subject only to a requirement that the return be considered in closed session.
China has more leverage in its trade war with the U.S. than you think.
Just how bad are things between the United States and China? Over an evening beer in Beijing this week, a friend and I debated which prominent American company China would whack first. It’s a serious question—and the answer could be the next ugly step in the escalating economic dispute between the two powers.
The standard line from President Donald Trump and those who support his get-tough approach toward Beijing is that because China sells more to the U.S. than the other way around, Washington has the upper hand in its game of tariffs. “China buys MUCH less from us than we buy from them,” Trump recently tweeted, “so we are in a fantastic position.”
Statistically, that’s true: The U.S. exported only $120 billion worth of goods to China in 2018, compared with the $540 billion it imported. Beijing has a lot less stuff to tax, so the amount of damage it can inflict on the American economy and business through tariffs is much more limited. That view seemed confirmed when Beijing announced a surprisingly moderate package of new duties in retaliation for Trump’s latest broadside. While Washington hiked tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion of Chinese products, and is threatening to slap on even more, Beijing responded by increasing tariffs on only about $60 billion of American goods.
One day in February 2009, a 13-year-old boy named Sasha Egger started thinking that people were coming to hurt his family. His mother, Helen, watched with mounting panic that evening as her previously healthy son forgot the rules to Uno, his favorite card game, while playing it. She began making frantic phone calls the next morning. By then, Sasha was shuffling aimlessly around the yard, shredding paper and stuffing it in his pockets. “He looked like an old person with dementia,” Helen later told me.
That afternoon, Sasha was admitted to the hospital, where he saw a series of specialists. One thought Sasha might have bipolar disorder and put him on antipsychotics, but the drugs didn’t help. Helen, a child psychiatrist at Duke University, knew that psychiatric conditions develop gradually. Sasha’s symptoms had appeared almost overnight, and some of them—including dilated pupils and slurred speech—suggested not mental illness but neurological dysfunction. When she and her husband, Daniel, raised these issues, though, one doctor seemed to think they were in denial.
I own three pairs of noise-canceling headphones. Two go over my ears, enveloping them in cozy tombs of silence. One pair consists of earbuds, one of which I jam into my ear to block out the world while I use my other ear for phone interviews. Besides the noise-canceling kind, I have headphones for basically every activity I do. In fact, I recently came to the disturbing realization that there’s rarely a moment of my day when my ears are not filled with or covered by something.
Like many other Americans, I now wear AirPods all day at my desk to combat the awful tyranny of the open office. Since they don’t cancel noise, they provide me with writing music while allowing me to listen up for my bosses. I don’t like exercise classes and their preselected, generic playlists, so instead I work out with headphones and listen to my own special running mix, the contents of which can be disclosed only upon my death. (Let’s just say the dream of the ’90s is alive on my Spotify.) I like to listen to podcasts while I cook, so the earbuds come in handy while I chop and sauté. And I can hook up headphones to a Roku when I want to watch a depressing foreign TV show and my boyfriend wants to do literally anything else.