Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.)
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: email@example.com.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What should have been a week-long celebration of the resilience of American democracy has turned into a dark circus. Instead of citizens lining Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer and greet a new president, all of downtown Washington, D.C., is an armed camp. Soldiers patrol the streets while workers clean excrement off the walls of the Capitol, a perfect tableau for the end of the short and ghastly age of Trump.
We are expecting far too much of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if we think they can fix all of the damage Donald Trump did to the republic. Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards. They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.
However, I do believe that Biden can inspire the American people to regain one of the most important virtues Trump destroyed: seriousness, our understanding that ideas, actions, and words matter.
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
On the eve of Biden’s inauguration, the pandemic’s toll has reached nearly 24 million cases and 400,000 deaths.
Tomorrow, America inaugurates a new president. With the transfer of power comes the transfer of responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic. On the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, the toll of the pandemic stands at 23.9 million cases and 392,428 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. There are 123,820 people hospitalized. Today alone, states reported 144,047 cases and 2,141 deaths.
Ron Klain, the incoming president’s chief of staff, has warned that, by the end of February, COVID-19 may have taken 500,000 American lives. To reach that marker, the country would have to average 2,689 deaths every day until then, all too plausible a scenario. The seven-day average of deaths in the U.S. first surpassed that number on January 7. It’s currently at 2,988.
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
Trump’s pardons sent an unmistakable message, capping the corruption of his tenure in office.
“Drain the swamp.”
Of all Trump’s lies, that was one of the most puzzling. It’s not just that Trump himself was and is crooked, or even that he so obviously likes and admires crooks. It’s that Trump’s particular form of crookedness was exactly the kind of crookedness that people have in mind when they imagine Washington, D.C., as a “swamp.”
Trump’s first Manhattan real-estate deal—the first deal on which his employer-father allowed him to take the lead—was the redevelopment of a bankrupt historic hotel near New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The deal needed complex permissions from the city and the state. To obtain those permissions, Trump hired the famous fixer Roy Cohn. Cohn secured him a $400 million tax abatement plus other special favors, including a waiver of all urban-preservation rules. After the deal was done, the city official who bestowed the favors was hired as a partner in Cohn’s law firm. A decade later, that official went to federal prison for corruption crimes.
The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy: An Object Lesson
The doll is two-headed and two-bodied—one black body and one white, conjoined at the lower waist where the hips and legs would ordinarily be. The lining of one's dress is the outside of the other’s, so that the skirt flips over to conceal one body when the other is upright. Two dolls in one, yet only one can be played with at a time.
The topsy-turvy doll, as it’s known, most likely originated in American plantation nurseries of the early 19th century. By the mid-20th century, they’d grown so popular that they were mass-manufactured and widely available in department stores across the country, but today, they’re found mostly in museums, privatecollections, and contemporaryart. In recent years, the dolls have seen a renewed interest from collectors and scholars alike, largely motivated by the ongoing question that surrounds their use: What were they supposed to symbolize?
The new president must not repeat Obama's mistakes.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1932, the nation was facing concentric crises: the immediate, house-on-fire disaster of rolling bank closures; the broader economic depression; and, beyond that, deeply entrenched problems that the depression had highlighted, including elderly poverty. Roosevelt’s first 100 days addressed the first two crises with historic directness. He reopened the banks and directly employed thousands of Americans through measures such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then, near the end of his first term, he signed the Social Security Act, which has reduced senior poverty and become one of the most popular federal programs in the United States.
President Joe Biden also faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.
Trump leaves behind a wounded nation, and it will take time to heal.
So what if he was bad at it?
The five years of the Trump era—which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor—brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real.
Throughout the Trump era, some have argued that Trump’s incompetence rendered his authoritarian aspirations inconsequential.
“Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like ‘plotting’ implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks,” wrote the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in October, describing the president as a “noisy weakling.” Douthat has since re-evaluated his position, but for a long time he was the most articulate proponent of the argument that Trump was not as dangerous as his opponents believed.
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
Millions of Americans sympathize with the Capitol insurrection. Everyone else must figure out how to live alongside them.
They could be realtors or police officers, bakers or firefighters, veterans of American wars or CEOs of American companies. They might live in Boise or Dallas, College Park or College Station, Sacramento or Delray Beach. Some are wealthy. Some are not. Relatively few of them were at the United States Capitol on January 6, determined to stop Congress from certifying a legitimate election. Millions more cheered the rioters on—and still do.
As a group, it’s hard to know what to call them. They are too many to merit the term extremists. There are not enough of them to be secessionists. Some prominent historians and philosophers have been arguing for a revival of the word fascist; others think white supremacist is more appropriate, though there could also be a case for rebel. For want of a better term, I’m calling all of them seditionists—not just the people who took part in the riot, but the far larger number of Americans who are united by their belief that Donald Trump won the election, that Joe Biden lost, and that a long list of people and institutions are lying about it: Congress, the media, the vice president, the election officials in all 50 states, and the judges in dozens of courts.