Recently I attended a lecture at the Sedona Public Library about Charles Lindbergh’s work in archaeology. While flying over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, he began to wonder if the Mayan ruins he was seeing had ever been found by scientists, and it occurred to him that the ability to spot buildings and patterns on the ground from the air could be of real use to the archaeological community. As it turned out, he was right. Working with the Carnegie Institution he and his wife Anne discovered and photographed many previously unknown ruins tucked deep in the canyons of the American Southwest. They could cover in just a few hours what would take weeks or months to explore on foot. Ancient roads, sacred kivas, and hidden pueblos impossible to see from ground level became plainly obvious from the air.
Besides the discoveries themselves, these photos also give us an idea of what some of our most famous public lands looked like nearly a century ago, when they were still untouched by tourism. Many of these places have since acquired parking lots, visitor’s centers, hordes of camera-wielding vacationers, and probably quite a bit of graffiti, but the Lindbergh photos give us an idea of what they were like before society marched into them.