The temples of Palenque are considered the most beautiful of all Mayan ruins, with some of the finest architecture, sculpture, and carvings in Mesoamerica. But with less than 10% of the complex explored, more than a thousand structures are still covered by jungle.
The miraculous oasis of Ounianga Serir in the Central Sahara of Chad is fed fresh water by an ancient aquifer from a time when the Sahara was a savannah. The lakes have slightly different elevations, and the higher ones are less salty. Maps from aerial surveys in 1954 show the lakes being larger and more connected, indicating that the water level has dropped. Seen here is the lowest lake, which is punctuated by ship-like islands of Nubian sandstone that were used as refuges by the local Tubu in times of attack. #DesertAirBook
Camel caravan crossing the Ténéré Desert of Niger with loads of salt for distribution to markets across West Africa. I took this picture in 1997 from my paramotor, which allowed a new perspective on this ancient trade route. It was a year of good rains which made an unusually large number of camels healthy enough for the two month-long round trip to the oasis of Bilma. #AfricanAirBook
Angel Falls, at 4209 ft. is the world’s tallest waterfall. I went there at the generous invitation of @franciscosalasroche, who had seen my pictures on Instagram and offered to fly me around Venezuela in his Cessna. How amazing is that! I don’t know if he quite knew what he was getting into, but we had an intensive week of flying in the far south of his native land. Slide right to see the second Cessna near the bottom of the falls, and swipe again to see my son @johncsteinmetz triggering the wing mounted GoPro. #onassignment for @NYTMag
Wind-blown green algae now clogs fish traps every summer in the shallows of China’s Lake Taihu. Increasing water temperatures combined with agricultural and sewer run off have turned this into a predictable summer occurrence. Not IG like-able, or well-known. @NYTMag @pulitzercenter #LosingEarth #climatechange
The volcanic crater of Arakao lies half-buried in sand on the edge of the Sahara in Niger. I don’t like flying this high, but I had to gain about 5,000 ft. in my paramotor to get the whole crater in the frame of my widest lens. I had taken off before sunrise, and went full power for about an hour to get this high. Suddenly my 🇫🇷 wingman François appeared in front of me, to prove that he could fly even higher than I could. Boys will be boys!
Shore-based fishing for salmon follows the tides in Egegik, Alaska. For the commercial fisherfolk of Bristol Bay these are best of times, with both prices and catches reaching new highs, but the success of this well-managed fishery is now threatened by plans for the massive #PebbleMine upstream. As seen last month, on assignment for @natgeo
Rapeseed flowers blanket the terraces near Luoping in China. The annual blossoming has become a huge tourist attraction, with fleets of buses jamming the roads and tripod entanglements on the hilltops at sunrise. I took off with my paramotor before sunrise, and went over the ridge to have this valley view all to myself. I ran out of fuel on the way back, but this nice kid with a trike carried my glider back to the road. #carpediem
An extended family of elephants makes its way to a morning swim in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, where they are well protected. The worldwide ban on the ivory trade has allowed Kenya's elephant population to rebound. Keeping the CITES ban on elephant products will make for many more Happy World Elephant Days like today. #AfricanAirBook #worldelephantday
Thikse monastery in Ladakh, India, is the finest example of Buddhist monastic architecture in the Indus River Valley. This photo was taken during morning prayers, when the sound of my paramotor drew a couple of monks out onto the roof to look at the cold and crazy guy flying overhead. It was sketchy to launch at 12,000 ft in the Himalaya, but it would be even more complicated now with the tense security situation in adjacent Kashmir. #CarpeDiem #Himalaya #Buddhism
Just after the fall of Gaddafi I went to Libya for @natgeo to photograph a country in transition. I was fascinated with the juxtaposition of Arab traditions in a modern context. My interpreter wisely refused to go with me when I photographed family life on the beaches of Tripoli, so I tried to be discrete with my camera, which was awkward as the solitary foreigner. If you really want the picture, it’s usually easier to get forgiveness than to get permission!
Last light of the day falls on Rangdum monastery, on the road to Zanskar in Ladakh, India. Although it’s located in a valley at 13,200 ft., there is almost no precipitation in this rain shadow of the Himalaya. #DesertAirBook
A bicyclist finishes a dash across miles of coastal dunes the morning after a rain, before the sun can dry and soften the sand of Lençois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil. #paramotor #barchan
Farmers wait their turn at the scales in Yuli, one of the largest cotton gins in Xinjiang, China. The basin is irrigated by glacial streams draining into the Taklamakan Desert, an area so dry that there is no need to cover the region’s most valuable cash crop. #paramotor #DesertAirBook
Visitors are awestruck by the splendor inside the temple of Abu Simbel on the remote west shore of Lake Nasser, Egypt. It's the grandest of the ancient Nubian temples that were relocated to higher ground by UNESCO when the Aswan High Dam inundated the area. #Nubia #Nile #pharaoh #antiquity
Complex barchan dunes take on the shape of a giant egg crate near the Saudi Arabian border with the U.A.E.. The bottoms are mudflats, with a hard crust covering what is often slimy mud… the real quicksand. Crossing by car is a hazardous game. #paramotor #EmptyQuarterBook
I found this sun-faded propaganda at the crossroads of the solar energy field that I posted yesterday, near Golmud, in China’s far west. They are building the biggest photovoltaic field in the world, with plans for 120 sq km by 2030, to generate over 1 giga-watt of electricity. On the billboard is China's President Xi Jinping with the slogan "creative coordinated green open share".
A massive barchan dune provides a temporary wind shelter for a crew building what is planned to be the world’s largest solar energy field, near Golmud in the high desert of Western China. They are installing 120 sq km of panels, to produce over a giga-watt of power. Barchan dunes are constantly moving, and will migrate through the solar array like a waves, burying and then revealing whatever lies in their path. #onassignment for @bloombergbusiness
The fort on Ibo Island, Mozambique, was a major conduit for slaves sold to the French sugar plantations on Mauritius and beyond. Built in 1791, it was the second most important port on the Mozambique coast for over a hundred years, but is now a sleepy tourist destination. Swipe right to see a view from the ground. #paramotor @onassignment for @natgeo
Aeration wheels dot the fish ponds on the coast of Taiwan. With the vast majority of their land too mountainous for farming, the Taiwanese have learned to get much of their food from marine life. One farmer told me he harvested almost 20,000 kg of fish/acre of fish ponds. To see more of where our food comes from, follow @FeedThePlanet
This is me in Uganda circa 1982, when hitchhiking across Africa was my graduate school, on a budget of 10$/day. I was waiting for enough porters to make a second attempt on the Ruwenzori Mountains, and learning how to speak "Upcountry Swahili", while sipping on palm wine through a reed. photo by @brooklevan #autodidact #AfricanAirBook
Sinkholes pock-mark the emerging shoreline of the Dead Sea near Ein Gedi, Israel. The water level of this inland sea continues to drop about 3 ft. per year as all the freshwater streams have been exploited for human use. The sinkholes are caused by the groundwater dissolving subterranean salt deposits that once formed the bottom of the Dead Sea. With the underlying salt layer gone, the overlying dry muds cave in and create ponds of differing colors. #DesertAirBook
A rare aerial view of the Greek Temple of Zeus, which overlooks the Mediterranean from Cyrene, Eastern Libya. The city was founded in 700 BC as a Greek center of learning, and has been largely forgotten, except by the locals and a handful of dedicated international archaeologists.
It’s illegal to cut down Brazil nut trees in the Amazon, and that’s about all that remains of the original forest canopy in some parts of Para State. Deforestation has accelerated again under the Bolsonaro government, much of it for cattle as can be seen here, grazing on dry season grasses. Without the rest of the ecosystem to recirculate nutrients and groundwater, the Brazil nut trees will not last very long either. #deforestation #ClimateChange
Fresh tracks in the sky over the Badain Jaran Desert, in the Chinese Gobi, circa 2000. It was a rare privilege to be the first to fly over this peculiar wilderness, with salt lakes scattered amongst the world’s tallest dunes. #DesertAirBook +1,000ft.
Fishing dhows heading out for low tide on the outer reef of the Quirimba Islands, Mozambique. These once rich waters have been fished-out and now coastal families have moved to this waterless islet to be closer to the fishing areas on the outer reef. It may be beautiful from above… but you can’t eat beauty.
The lowest point in Owens Lake, on the eastern side of California, is stained red by bacteria that thrives in the hyper-saline water. Virtually all the fresh water from the Owens Valley was purchased but the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power in the early 20th Century and piped south. #ChinatownMovie As the 100 sq. mile lake dried out, desert winds created dust storms which in 2013 made the dry lake bed the biggest single point source of air pollution in the U.S.. A portion of the valley water is now used for dust control.
Maori activist Tame Iti working the payphone before a rally in 1996 to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi. That 1840 treaty with the British Crown permanently gave Maori a much stronger legal position than Native Americans had with the U.S. government. Tame’s facial tattoos are known as moko, which have symbolic meanings. #radicalchic
An expedition car follows me as the moonrises over the quicksand of the Umm al Samim, or Mother of Poison, on the Omani side of Rub’ al Khali. As seen on film from my paraglider. #nightlanding #onassignment for @natgeo 2004 #EmptyQuarterBook
Before independence in 1960, the oasis of Nouakchott supported fifteen families in mud houses. Since it became the capital of Mauritania, over a million people have flocked there seeking wealth and refuge from desertification. When I took this picture win 1997, the population was about half a million, and only a road separated newly rich from the newly poor. I went back again last year, and the population had doubled. But it still wasn’t clear wether the desert was overtaking the town, or the town was overtaking the desert. #AfricanAirBook
It’s a warm year in the Arctic too! Most of the ice loss in Greenland is not from icebergs chunking off into the sea, but glaciers withering away from the surface, which sends meltwater down cracks and comes out below. These scientists funded by the NSF are measuring the rate and nature of that flow with a non-toxic red dye that can be traced at the other end. The summer melt rate is so fast that we had to move our tents every week, as they would insulate the surface and leave us on a pedestal of unmelted ice, at risk of getting blown off in the wind. To see what's going inside the glacier, check out @jason_gulley_science
Big air, loose shoes. Lençois Maranhenses, Brazil
Flying in sandstorm seemed reasonable at the time. We only had a few days up in the far north of Chad before our water ran out, and nobody had ever flown in that surreal forest of pinnacles. #carpediem #paramotor #AfricanAirBook
Ghadames, Libya was once an important oasis stop for camel caravans crossing the Sahara. The underground nature of the city keeps it significantly cooler than outside, and most inhabitants prefer to sleep on their roofs in the summer months. The town was declared a #UNESCOWorldHeritage site during Gaddafi’s regime, and has been carefully maintained in its original state, including the spring now used for swimming at right. It took a lot of negotiating with local militias to get permission to fly my paraglider here in 2012, but the view from above was both rare and spectacular. #carpediem #notadrone #Sahara
Drift net fishing boats lined up to off load their morning catch of sockeye salmon to a tender last week in the mouth of the Egegik River. The fishery here is tightly managed by the Alaska Fish and Game biologists, who turn the fishing season on and off multiple times each day after a sustainable amount of fish have passed their monitoring stations up river. This is is the peak of the salmon run in #BristolBay, when the Egegik River can have 400-500 32ft. licensed fishing boats vying for the best catch. #onassignment for @natgeo #PebbleMine
Fishing boats wait their turn to transfer their load of wild sockeye salmon to a tender last week in Bristol Bay, Alaska. This year looks to be a record catch, which is sustainably managed by biologists who measure the flow of spawning salmon in the rivers. This conservation success story is now threatened by the proposed #PebbleMine upstream. #onassignment for @natgeo
Fisherwoman pauses to watch the sun dip below the horizon last week on the mudflats of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Nets are laid out perpendicular to the shore to catch #salmon heading for a nearby estuary to spawn. It’s hard but lucrative work for the six week summer season, earning as much as $4k per tide. Both prices and quantities are up at this well-managed fishery that is now threatened by the proposed #PebbleMine upstream. #onassignment for @natgeo
A patchwork of raised beds of taro and bananas emerge from the fertile floodplain of the Nyabarongo River near Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda has the highest rural population density in Africa, and intense competition for farmland has pushed people to cultivate food on even the most labor-intensive pieces of land.
There are only 47 people living in the village of Padrão, and most of the work on the terraces appeared to still be done by hand and beast of burden. They call this valley the Tibet of Portugal. It was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO a few years ago, which helps to attract ecotourism to sustain the local economy. It was tough find a place to park my car on its one cobbled street, but the potato pancakes were wonderful!
Harvesting the rectangular bogs on the Gaynor Cranberry farm, which is part of the Ocean Spray Cranberry co-op. This farm dates back to 1876. Cranberry production has increased dramatically from the early days, when they only harvested fresh berries. Fresh berry consumption has not changed, but is now only 3% of the market, and now Ocean Spray controls over 50% of the U.S. cranberry market.
Terraced fields of tea being picked in Yunnan, China. The area is famous for Pu'er tea, which is dried and then wetted to ferment before being compressed and dried again for sale. Over forty years of travel I have only encountered two words for it: tea (thé) or chai (cha). #simplepleasures
Barchan dunes transport fine sand from the yardangs to the mega dunes of the Dasht-e Lut, Iran. #paramotor #DesertAirBook
Remnants of Saddam Hussein’s war machine were gathered near Ali al-Salem military airfield in Kuwait. When I took this photo on 2000, each kind of equipment had been inventoried and organized by kind: tanks, artillery pieces, APCs, even buses, trucks, and cars. They have all since been sold off for scrap metal … the modern ash heap of history. From #DesertAirBook
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” — from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, on a plaque inside the pedestal @NewYorkAirBook
The world’s largest yardang field in Iran covers 30 x 70 miles, and was formed by strong seasonal winds that sandblasted sandy corridors out of an ancient lake bed. When I was there in 2003, nobody had photographed it from above since the Iranian revolution. Getting my visa, and flight permit, and paramotor into the country was quite complicated, as was flying in the strong winds. But the hardest part was getting the required policeman to go with us. This natural labyrinth in Iran’s Dasht-e Lut is a route favored by heroin smugglers on their way north from Afghanistan. #carpediem #DesertAirBook
Feeding time at a quarantine facility for juvenile orangutans that were found wounded or kept as pets. In the wild orangutans are inseparable from their mothers for many years, and capture for the pet trade requires killing the protective mothers. This leaves the traumatized juveniles isolated and without the training for survival in the wild. Re-wilding involves providing a place where they can exercise atrophied muscles, learn new skills, and socialize with their own species. Since it was established in 2001, this quarantine center has taken in 350 animals, and over 280 have been released to the wild. I like that there is hope for these animals. @SOCP.official
It was well below freezing when I took this photo at sunrise in my paraglider, over Lake Tashk, Iran. I think the flamingoes were feeling it was too cold to fly, and were slowly walking away as I approached from a few hundred feet. #popsicletoes #Persia #DesertAirBook
Salt has been produced in the Valle Salado de Añana, Spain, for 7,000 years, but the current system was developed by the Romans in 200BC when salt was a prized trade commodity. The saltworks includes canals, pits, and elevated platforms to evaporate water from a local spring. The ancient systems are now being restored and worked according to traditional methods, with the high quality salt once again fetching luxury prices. #GIAHS #UNESCO
My wingman Alain Arnoux heading back to camp after a morning flight over the salt domes of the Dasht-e Kavir. Iran. #DesertAirBook #paramotor #PlanetIran
The world’s tallest sand dunes separate the salt lakes of the the Badain Jaran desert in China. It’s handfula roadless area inhabited a of aging ethnic Mongolian herders, with a small Tibetan Buddhist monastery. This rare aerial view is from my motorized paraglider, which was the easiest way to cross the 1,600 ft dunes. #DesertAirBook