I recently flew out to Los Angeles to visit my family there. It was great to be able to go to the beach and soak up the sun, seeing as Spring came a little late here in Steamboat. While it was sad to leave all of my amazing cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, I was excited for the flight back to Colorado.
I’ve been interested in reading maps my entire life and I suppose this might explain my fascination with staring out the window of an airplane 30,000 feet above the ground. Seeing the contours of the Earth from such a spot is like looking at a live-action map, with weather, cars, and buildings adding to the scenario. Our flight only encountered blue skies and tiny tufts of clouds, so the viewing was excellent.
As our plane took off, the metropolis of the greater LA region spread as far as the eye could see. Tiny buildings and streets in a variety of patterns made a patchwork quilt over the area. Just as it seemed as though the buildings would spread on forever, all signs of civilization vanished. The desert took hold. About 45 minutes after take-off, the Grand Canyon came into view. The huge canyon system filled up my view of the window, and I pushed my head closer to see if I could get a better look. Next was Lake Powell, a reservoir with more coastline than the state of California. White, arrow-shaped wakes from motor boats could be discerned from the turquoise water below. The branches of Powell looked like a roots digging into the dry desert Earth surrounding it.
At the edge of Powell, I saw Navajo Mountain come into view. This was the second time in a month that I had gazed at this peak, rising above the eastern shores of Powell. On my Southwest Field Exploration class, I had sat on the edge of Cedar Mesa and surveyed Navajo’s slopes and Monument Valley to the East. Comb Ridge, a sharp fin of sandstone rising starkly from the desert washes below, then came into view. We had explored numerous ruins on Comb Ridge and it was incredible to be able to see it from this perspective. The ridge stood as a natural obstacle to Mormon exploration in the 19th century, and it was evident why indigenous peoples would flock to such a natural stronghold.
My heart almost skipped a beat as the huge expanse of white-capped peaks began to creep into my vision. The peaks of southern Colorado’s San Juan range rose majestically from the red desert sands. From my vantage I could pick out Durango Mountain resort and Telluride Ski area.
The sheer scale of these mountains was mind-blowing. Peak after peak shot into the sky for as far as the eye could see. These peaks seemed to deflate the significance of the huge urban sprawl of LA; man and his machines could never manufacture anything as awe-inspiring and purely massive as the enormous peaks of Colorado. Luckily, the flight was only half-full, so I ran excitedly across the aisle to scout the other peaks Colorado has to offer. Soon the Elk Range outside of Aspen came into view. Each of Colorado’s mountain ranges has a distinct aesthetic flavor, and I could pick out the stratified alpine peaks of the Maroon Bells below.
The jagged peaks of the Gore Range came into view next, and from that identification point I picked out the back bowls at Vail. Finally, the Ten-Mile Range, host to Breckenridge, came into view, with the Front Range reaching northwards. The mountain ranges spread out in all directions and dwarfed Lake Dillon sitting between the Ten-Mile and Front ranges.
I don’t believe there is any tour that can offer Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Colorado’s peaks in one offering. It was incredible to be able to compare the size and scale of these cornerstones of western American civilization in less than three hours. Next time you fly, I suggest putting down your phone, book, laptop, etc., and instead gazing out the window. Unless you’re flying over a vast ocean or the Great Plains, amazing views and untold insights will greet you.