I’m not sure if getting there was half the fun, but my January flight from Denver to Honolulu offered some beautiful views of the American West and was a great way to start the vacation.

Sitting in a window seat and photographing the landscape below is just about the only thing I enjoy about air travel.

For too many years, I was making the Denver to San Francisco run a few times per month for work. The flight to Hawaii followed the same route, nearly passing over SFO, but rather than drop me there for some strategic planning session, we kept going to a tropical paradise!

Flying over the Green River

One of my favorite sights along the DEN-SFO route is the Green River in Utah. A tributary of the Colorado River, the Green winds through rugged, remote terrain on its way to the confluence with the Colorado in Canyonlands National Park. The photo below shows the Green flowing south out of the Tavaputs Plateau and emerging from Desolation Canyon. A rafting trip on this portion of the Green is on my bucket list.

DEN-HNL photo Green River

The basin and range topography in Utah and Nevada sometimes offers interesting views. But it was a little cloudy during that part of the flight on the 777, so the next photogenic sight (and site) was the Sierra Nevada.

Views of the Sierra Nevada

The shot below shows some of the highest peaks, though I’m not sure which ones. The optics on this image are interesting: the plane’s window seems to have produced something like the “toy effect” that photographers use tilt-shift lenses to create. This effect, also known as “miniature faking” or the “diorama effect,” makes it seem like the scene is smaller than it is due to a very shallow depth of field.

DEN-HNL photo Sierra Nevada 1

It wasn’t a great year for the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, but we were flying over a recent winter storm, so there was a healthy amount of new snow. Below is another shot as we crossed over the High Sierra.

DEN-HNL photo Sierra Nevada 2

Aerial photos of the San Francisco Bay Area

On my typical DEN-SFO flights for work, passing over the Sierra Nevada means it’s time to shut down the laptop, stow the tray, and get ready to land (or perhaps circle in the sky due to fog at SFO).

On this trip, however, we just kept on cruising by the Bay Area on our way out over the Pacific Ocean.

It was a gorgeous day along the coast with hardly any clouds or fog, so I was grateful for some expansive views of a region where I lived, worked, and went to grad school. The shot below shows downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and lots of tanker ships docked in the Bay.

DEN-HNL photo San Francisco Bay Area 1

We were cruising at nearly 500 mph and almost seven miles above the Earth, so the entire San Francisco Bay Area passed by in a hurry. The shot below, as we were heading out to sea, shows the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Angel Island, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.

DEN-HNL photo San Francisco Bay Area 2

As we departed from the coast, I put my camera down because there’s not much to photograph when you’re flying in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, it was still fascinating to look out the window at the currents, the clouds, the occasional ship’s wake, and the unfathomable vastness of the ocean.