I never wondered what the ground around me looked like growing up in Minnesota. The landscape did not encourage it. First, nearly all soil is covered by some sort of vegetation, forests and prairies or wetlands in natural areas, farmland in most of the rest. That can be pretty and an important part of what Minnesota looks like. But all that vegetation covers most variations in the structure of the ground.
Second, there is not much height variation there, so that vegetation often blocks you from viewing what the ground might look like even when you could see it. South of Minneapolis, there is a popular ski area with a maximum drop of ... wait for it ... 400 feet! As you drive in many areas, you can't see much past the forest at the edge of the roads.
Even when I started flying around the state for the Minnesota Department of Transportation as an information officer/photojournalist, I noticed nice rolling terrain softened by the vegetation, but not much more. Again, the lack of elevation made any details of the "bare" ground easily obscured by the plants.
The desert is a different story. Here, the ground is exposed and bare for anyone to see. Mountains in places like the Mojave Desert stick up from the ground as unadorned rock that I find a bit austere. Still, now you can see geology visualized in the ground. The desert easily reveals the bones of the earth.
Yet, I can't fully visualize these "bones" if I drive or move through the desert on the ground. The spaces through the Southwest are huge. I don't know about anyone else, but I find those spaces a little intimidating at times (maybe an aftereffect of growing up in Minnesota). I can more easily relate to a specific landform or small area.
Flying across the country changes all of that. I love to sit at the window and watch the land go by. I have photographed this aerial view many times, but with standard photography, I often concentrated on clouds (especially backlit clouds) because they looked good in photographs from the plane. The ground often didn't. From a commercial plane, you are limited in timing for the best light and so often you get haze that weakens color and contrast and so takes the life out of an image.
Not all that long ago, I returned to infrared (IR) photography (and wrote a bit about it in this blog), and it occurred to me that it might work for photos from the plane! It did! Though I made some mistakes (I learned you can't sit on the sun side of the plane because that causes all sorts of IR problems).
Going to New York recently, the skies were mostly clear through the Southwest. We flew over through Southern California and across northern Arizona and New Mexico. I had my IR camera ready! And it was an amazing education in the bones of the earth. I saw the effects of erosion, especially water, on vast spaces, but from the air, you could understand. I saw some remarkable cliffs, canyons (including the Grand Canyon), desert mountains, old volcanoes, water flow patterns, river patterns and so much more. I had left my home early to catch an early flight. I had been tired, but I could not sleep with such amazing nature going by.
All of the photos you see here are from that trip. They really do show the bones of the earth and offer to me a fascinating look at the wonder of geology, at how dramatic the ground can be when you can actually see it!