Reporter's Notebook

America by Air
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Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows,How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.)

Show 24 Newer Notes
Anne Woods

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

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

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


From a newcomer to the series, Anne Woods:

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

Anne Woods

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

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 It soon became apparent that the major culprit was outdated waste water treatment such as cesspools, and that upgrading to a septic tank, given the porous volcanic rock and high ground water, was not a viable option.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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Jimmy:

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

Jimmy Rollison

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

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

Jimmy Rollison

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

Just wow:

Jimmy Rollison

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

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

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

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

He sends another stunning photo from that trip:

Jimmy Rollison

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

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

Our eyes are smiling.

Pete Howell

A fantastic set of photos from reader Pete:

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

Pete Howell

A bit about its past:

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

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


Daniel Watkins

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

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

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

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

Katy McDevitt

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, after posting an aerial view above a nuclear power plant and linking back to one above a wind-powered plant, I asked readers if they have one above a solar-powered plant. Adam Feiges delivers a beauty:

Adam Feiges

This shot was taken on a flight from Sky Harbor in Phoenix to San Diego. I especially love the juxtaposition of the rectangular solar array and the circular center pivot irrigators.

Located in Yuma County, Arizona, near Dateland, the Agua Caliente station can generate 290 MW of electricity, enough to power 100,000 “average” homes. The array consists of 5.2 million cadmium/telluride thin film modules on fixed tilt mounts no more than six feet above the ground “to reduce the visual impact.” That’s a bit ironic considering 5,200,000 of anything is going to have a hell of a visual impact, even from 32,000 feet in the air.

The power station, which is bigger than 1800 football fields and is one the largest in the world, is owned in part by MidAmerican Renewables, a Berkshire Hathaway company and a nice visual representation of the enormity of Warren Buffet’s wealth. In a slight coincidence, MidAmerican is my hometown utility and I emailed the photo from my office in the MidAmerican Building.

Next up: A hydroelectric dam? A coal-power plant? If you have either, please drop us a note:

Brian Kanupp

A reader sends a drab view over a nuclear power plant in Michigan (the first one visited by a U.S. presidential candidate—McCain in ‘08):

This photo was taken on the approach to DTW [Detroit Metropolitan Airport]. I had made this same flight from RDU [Raleigh–Durham International Airport] to DTW earlier in the week and noted that when I took off I had a clear view of Sharon-Harris nuclear power plant in NC on takeoff and Fermi II nuclear plant in MI on approach for landing. When I made the flight again, at dusk this time, I noticed the stack plumes from Fermi II almost glowing on the ground.

Here’s a previous America by Air above a wind-powered plant. If you happen to have a good photo sailing over solar panels, or maybe a coal plant, please send our way:

Kari Kramer

These photos were taken on the last leg of a long trip back from visiting family in Seattle to my “opposite Washington.” The location is somewhere between Dallas/Fort Worth airport and Washington, DC. I love the contrast of the green landscape barely visible beneath the cotton ball clouds.

What a fun series!

Four states within our reader’s potential flight path—Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia—are still missing from our America by Air series, in our quest to get all 50 states. If you happen to have a good aerial photo above one of those four, please send it out way:

For a belated bonus tribute to Independence Day—which we marked on Monday with three photos above the National Mall and its monuments—here’s a natural monument:

Daniel Newhauser

From reader Daniel in DC:

I flew out to Los Angeles late last year. I’m a good plane sleeper and was snoozing, but luckily I awoke just as we were flying over the Grand Canyon. Buildings, mountains and monuments tend to look tiny when viewed from the air, but nothing can diminish the awesome size of one of America’s greatest national landmarks.

If you happen to have any great aerial views above a national park, please let us know. When I asked Daniel if he was on an American Airlines flight, he replied:

Haha, yeah I thought that might be an appropriate touch given the name of the series. Good guess but it’s Virgin America. I guess as we’re seeing from the Budweiser “America” rebrand, no one does campy faux patriotism like the Europeans.