America’s West From 30,000 Feet.

Since I almost always fly from here on Maui to the West Coast and take Amtrak to wherever I’m going on the mainland, I don’t often get to see much of the country from the air. Even when I do, the flight is either at night or there’s a lot of cloud cover. But yesterday, for most of the way from Chicago to the Bay Area, it was clear and the views were magnificent.
 
By the time we had reached our cruising altitude, a panorama of farmland was spread out below—squares and rectangles and circles, most varying shades of green depending on the crop, I guess. Fields lying fallow were light brown and those of a rich, dark brown were fields where a second crop had recently been planted.
 
As we passed over Nebraska and eastern Colorado, the landscape below changed— less benign and clearly less fertile. Denver went by off in the distance and abruptly we were flying over the Rockies, looking down on rust-colored rugged peaks and narrow canyons, with some small towns somehow wedged into tiny valleys, all linked by pencil thin tan lines: dirt roads.
 
Next came the Nevada desert—sand and rocky mesas that stretched away toward the horizon, finally disappearing into the haze. Impressive, but not very interesting and I remember turning away for a few minutes for a glass of wine and a snack.
 

 When I looked down again, we were crossing the Sierra Nevada Range—quite different from the Rockies—but obviously formidable, with snow still visible on the higher peaks, dark grey with a lot of green, the fir and pine and other conifers that somehow manage to grow a hundred feet tall while gripping the steep rocky slopes.
 
Then came our descent into the Bay Area, passing over rural areas that gradually evolved into suburbs, every third or fourth house with a backyard pool. Finally, swooping lower and lower over the bay, we settled onto the runway at San Francisco’s airport.
 
But, you know, what struck me most was that I was one of only three passengers in the entire plane who had kept the window shade up during the flight.