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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 hello@theatlantic.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.)

Show 14 Newer Notes

America by Air: Alongside a Rainstorm

Looking toward Lancaster airport, in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, as it is drenched in a downpour. Deborah Fallows

Genuine thunderstorms, of the type that form a long line when a cold front is moving across the country into warmer, wetter air, or that pop up as isolated cloudbursts on summer afternoons, are weather perils that even big, powerful airliners must avoid. When you’re flying in thunderstormy conditions, you hear airline pilots asking controllers for re-routes around the storms. “New York Center, United 1234, we’ll need to go 30 degrees left to avoid these buildups.”

The updrafts and downdrafts of wind around a thunderstorm “cell” can be so powerful that small aircraft are supposed to fly at least 20 miles away from the storm’s edge to avoid being tossed up and down. But “non-convective” rain showers, those not from thunderstorms, are more benign. On a trip this past Wednesday from Eastport, Maine, all the way back to the Washington area in a little Cirrus, my wife Deb and I flew in rain for most of the journey. But the rain was falling from a flattish, non-stormy cloud layer far above us, and it spattered on the wings and windshield as we flew in clear skies at 4,500 feet. (For the aviation crowd: this whole trip was VFR and free of turbulence and clouds at 6,500, then 4,500, then 3,500 feet, KEPM to KGAI, with a fuel stop at KPSF.)

And sometimes we passed localized rain showers, always keeping a respectful distance. Here is how the area just over the Lancaster airport, in the heart of the Amish country of Pennsylvania, looked at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from 10 miles to the east, outside the rain.  What looks like a cloud reaching all the way to the ground, off the plane’s wingtip, would have seemed to people in Lancaster to be a drenching downpour. The gray you see reaching from cloud to ground is rain.  

From the ground, it’s hard to see or imagine weather other than what is affecting us at the moment. From a distance in the air you can see, godlike, the movement of different weather across the land.

Jim Ciszewski

Reader Jim Ciszewski answers our call for photos from Indiana:

Taken on a recent trip from GSO to MDW [Greensboro, North Carolina, to Chicago, Illinois], this photo shows the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in northwest Indiana, including ArcelorMittal (originally Inland Steel), the Whiting BP (originally Amoco) refinery, etc. I grew up on the far South Side of Chicago, not far from here, in the ’70s and early ’80s, when the “rust belt” was beginning.

Lots of rust color—and conveyor belts in action—to be seen via satellite here, where the canal empties into Lake Michigan near the plume of steam in the background of Jim’s photo:

Google Maps

What’s going on down there? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has these statistics about what passes through the Indiana Harbor :

Commodities are iron ore, limestone, coke, gypsum, steel, cement and concrete, petroleum products, and miscellaneous bulk products. ...

Bulk commodities that pass through the harbor ... generate $332.M annually in direct revenue while supporting 1,495 direct, indirect, and induced jobs that produce $263.M per year in direct income.

Pretty impressive, Indiana. If you’ve got a photo to share—particularly one from CT, GA, ID, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV—let us know.

Jimmy Rollison

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:

Smithsonian

Bill Barse, a reader who gave us a comprehensive tour of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia, sends an image from amid “the endless expanse of sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, Florida”:

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:

Byron Wright

From a reader in Suffolk, Virginia:

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:

Google Maps

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.”

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: hello@theatlantic.com.

    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:

    Wikimedia

    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: