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A. K. Lobeck



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THIS BOOK is a handbook or guide to
one of the transcontinental air routes
of the United States. It is in the nature
of an experiment, as no attempt has here
tofore been made to describe in a com
prehensive manner the features to be
observed along an airway.

While, at the outset, it was designed to
serve those who are actually flying over
the region, it seems not unlikely that
many others will be desirous of gaining
some idea of what the United States
must seem like to an observer who views
this stupendous and uninterrupted pano
rama from ocean to ocean.


The book is perforce geographical in
concept, and is offered, not as a contribu
tion to research, but as a simple un
adorned description of those things often
overlooked and but little appreciated by
the general run of travellers.

It is believed that the attentive reader
can, in his imagination and with the help
of the numerous maps, diagram
photographs," actually visualize in
vivid and realistic way an air
across the country.


From the collection of the


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San Francisco, California

Sawatch Range Front Range

,. .: , , Pikes Peak Hig


93 91 9 87 85 83 81 79 77 78 73

67 65


tOO 300 400

Ozark Dome

St Francis Mts. -

Burlington Escarpment t Mi&sissipp

Sca/e approxtmaftJy f 19, OOO, OOO or about

Allegheny Plateau "'Blue Ridge

Rlm All= 9 h^ Front PiedmOrlf Upland








A Geological and Geographical Description of the Route from
New York to Chicago and San Francisco


A. K. LOBECK, A.M., Ph.D.

Professor of Geology in Columbia University

Author of "The Midland Trail", "The Mammoth Cave National Park", "A Popular

Guide to Allegany State Park", "The Superb Position of New York City as a Center

for the Study of Physiography", "The Physiography of Porto Rico", "Physiographic

Diagram of the United States", "Europe", etc.

With maps and illustrations



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Copyright 1933 by





New York to Easton Route Map 1

Easton to Shamokin 27

Shamokin to Bellefonte

Bellefonte to Brookville 4

Brookville to Sharon 5

Sharon to Cleveland 6

The Cleveland Region 7 45

The Sandusky-Toledo Region

The Bryan and South Bend Region 9, 10 52

The Chicago Region 11 59

Chicago to Clinton 12, 13 65

Iowa City to Des Mpines 14, 15 69

Des Moines to Omaha 16, 17 72

The Omaha-Lincoln Region 18 76

The York-Kearney Region 19, 20 79

The North Platte-Ogalalla Region 21, 22

Lodgepole to Cheyenne 86

Cheyenne to Laramie 25

Elk Mountain and Rawlins Region 26 93

The Great Divide Basin 27 ..

Rock Springs-Green River Region 28 99

The Fort Bridger Region 29 102

The Salt Lake City Region 30 105

Great Salt Lake Desert to Ruby Mts 31, 32 113

Elko to Pleasant Valley 33, 34 .. 116

The Carson Sink Region

The Reno Region 36 125

The Sierra Nevada 37 128

The Sacramento Valley 38 131

The San Francisco Region 39 ... 135



General Statement

The Atlantic Coastal Plain 139

The Triassic Lowland 140

The New England Province 141

The Newer or Folded Appalachians 142

The Appalachian Plateau 143

The Interior Lowlands

The Great Plains 145

The Southern Rocky Mountains

The Northern Rocky Mountains 148

The Great Basin 150

The Pacific Ranges 151


New Jersey (Areas 1, 2, 3) 155

Pennsylvania (Areas 4, 5, 6, 7) 155

Ohio (Areas 8, 9, 10) 155

Indiana (Areas 11, 12, 13, 14) 156

Illinois (Areas 15, 16) 156

Iowa (Areas 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23) 156


Nebraska (Areas 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30) 156

Wyoming (Areas 31, 32, 33, 34) 157

Utah (Areas 35, 36) 157

Nevada (Areas 37, 38, 39) 157

California (Areas 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45) 157


Forests 158

Grassland 158

Desert Shrub 159

The Eastern Forest Areas 159

The Northeastern Hardwood Forest 159

The Southern Hardwood Forest 159

The Grassland Areas 159

Tall Grass or Prairie Grassland 159

Short Grass or Plains Grassland 160

Bunch Grassland 160

Desert Shrub Areas 160

The Sagebrush Region 160

The Greasewood Region 161

The Western Forest Areas 161

The Western Pine Forest 161

Chaparral 161

Pinon- Juniper Forest 161


Precipitation 162

Winds 163

Cyclonic Storms 164

Barometric Pressure 167

Thunderstorms 167

Clouds 170

Visibility from Different Heights 173

Length of Day and Night at Different Seasons 174


History and Development of the Air Route 175

Operation of the Air Lines 178

Operation of Planes 178

Pilot Personnel 179

Ground Organization 181

Weather Reports 181

Airway Lighting Beacons 182

Airway Radio Stations 186

Flying by Night 189


Maps 191

Notes and Photographs 193


Selected List and Description of Topographic Maps Traversed by the

Air Route 194


Suggestions for Reading 197

INDEX .. 201


A sincere expression of appreciation is due to the personnel of United Air Lines
which operates the air mail-express-passenger planes on the New York-Chicago-Pacific
Coast route, especially to Mr. V. P. Conroy, District Traffic Manager at New York, to
whose attention the plan of an air guide was first brought ; to Mr. R. W. Ireland, of
the General Traffic Department ; and to Mr. Harold Crary, Manager of the Advertis
ing Department. These gentlemen together arranged for the passage both ways across
the continent during the month of June 1931, at which time the notes and pictures
for this guide were taken. At numerous points along the route the various officials
of United Air Lines exhibited the most agreeable kind of courtesy which doubtless was
in 110 way different from that extended to all of their patrons. It is a privilege to
mention the name of Professor C. P. Berkey of Columbia University for the enthu
siasm which he displayed toward the undertaking and for his help in bringing it to
the attention of the air transport company. The Kemp Memorial Fund, established
in memory of Professor James Furman Kemp, for many years head of the Geology
Department of Columbia University, is wholly responsible for financing the publica
tion of this book.

In the organization of the guide itself, Prof. Guy-Harold Smith of Ohio State
University showed indefatigable industry in preparing the thirty-nine route maps
which represent as in a bird's-eye view a complete panorama across the United States.
The efficient manner in which Professor Smith and the staff of the United States Geo
logical Survey together worked out details of cartography and lettering was of ines
timable help. The cordial relations which Mr. H. G. Ferguson of the Survey main
tained with Professor Smith eased the work in many ways. Mr. Walter J. Roth,
Senior Agricultural Economist of the Department of Agriculture, helped to secure
information concerning the agriculture of the regions flown over. Mr. C. P. Barnes,
Assistant Agricultural Economist, was generous in permitting the reproduction of a
strip of his map showing the agricultural provinces of the United States, and in
providing brief descriptions of the different units. Several of the agricultural experts
in the different states crossed by the air route assisted by furnishing interesting
accounts of the conditions to be observed while flying across their states. It is imprac
ticable to mention the names of all of those who were thus helpful, but nevertheless
it is a pleasure to record the kindness of Mr. J. A. Hill, Dean of the College of Agri
culture of the University of Wyoming, Mr. R. L. Adams, Professor of Farm Manage
ment of the University of California, and Mr. F. B. Heddley, Chief of the Depart
ment of Farm Development of the University of Nevada,, for very useful information
which has been embodied in the account of those states.

The manuscript was critically read by the author's brothers, Albert E. Lobeck and
E. Quintals Lobeck, both of whom offered many happy suggestions tending to make it
more interesting for the general reader.


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Diversity of Landscapes. The traveller who flies from coast to coast across the
United States looks down upon a varied panorama of landscape forms. Below him pass
almost every type of feature known to the geologist. There are plains with their 'many
aspects; simple plains almost devoid of streams, vast in their extent, reaching as they
do in all directions to the distant horizon. These are the Great Plains of Nebraska and
Wyoming. There are also the till plains of Ohio and Illinois, equally flat but less exten
sive, resembling gigantic checkerboards from the rectangular pattern of their farms and
roads. (Fig. 1) In Iowa, on the other hand, the prairie plains with their multitudi
nous stream courses produce a rolling landscape, pleasing in its diversity.

Elsewhere, as in western Pennsylvania, the land is high and the streams flow in
deep gorges, almost canyon-like in their appearance. Bold and savage escarpments
descend from the upland surface, revealing here and there in their deeply wooded
recesses the suggestion of a tumbling stream. Such areas are termed plateaus.
They are called young plateaus if trenched by a few widely spaced canyons as along
part of the Colorado-Wyoming boundary; mature plateaus if intricately dissected Toy
many water courses as in Pennsylvania ; or old plateaus if dominated by mesas and
tablelands, as they are in central Wyoming. These represent the last remnants of
extensive areas now almost completely worn away by the agents of erosion.

But it is in the mountains that the student of geomorphology takes the keenest
interest. A cross-section of the United States from New York to San Francisco
reveals to the geologist the widest range of geological structures. These structures
in turn affect the topography, each in its own peculiar way. Some structures are
simple as in the case of a plain bowed up slightly to form a dome. In central Wyo
ming several domes may be seen. In some cases they are almost intact, but most of
them, like the Baxter Uplift at Rock Springs, have had their entire crests worn away
so as to reveal a series of concentric outcrops w T here the deeper beds have been exposed.
To the traveller viewing this from the air, this is an object lesson never to be forgotten.

Other mountains, somewhat more involved in their structure, have resulted from
a regular bending of sedimentary formations so that gigantic wrinkles or folded
mountains were produced in the earth's crust. As usual such areas have been pro
foundly worn away by streams and other forces of destruction, and now only the
roots of the original mountains remain, forming long ridges across the country. No
region in the world can rival the belt of the Folded Appalachians which traverses
eastern Pennsylvania. Only the true lover of land forms can appreciate the joy of
the geologist who is privileged to look down upon such a landscape, and see, revealed
in its topography, the internal structure of the rocks which make up the earth's crust.

But there are still other mountains of even greater interest. The block mountains
of the Great Basin region in Nevada are not yet through with their growing pains.
These ranges from year to year are heaved up along the fractures or rifts which
originally caused them. In several places in Nevada the air route passes directly
over these recent breaks, one of which occurred in 1915 and produced a conspicuous
scarp at the foot of the mountains.

The highest and probably the most extensive and most numerous of the mountain
areas of the- United States are those which are termed complex mountains. The Sierra
Nevada, the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch, and the Highlands of New Jersey all
come in this category. In New Jersey the depth of soil cover and the richness of
the vegetation effectively conceal the rock masses. But in the western mountains
the rocks are laid bare to view, red granite in the Laramie Range of Wyoming, white


granite in the Sierra, and complexly folded and much disturbed formations in the
Wasatch and other ranges of the Great Basin.

The long sprawling spurs of complex mountain ranges descend from the higher
summits, gradually dying out as foothills on the adjacent plains like the outspread
paw of a huge beast. Some complex mountain areas, notably the Wasatch and the
basin ranges of Nevada, are bewildering, tumbling masses of sharp-crested ridges
and pointed peaks which in the early morning and late evening hours cast long and
weird shadows far over the surrounding country. (Fig. 2)

Along the air route no great and active volcanoes are encountered, but several
small and very perfect cinder cones may be seen in western Nevada. The craters
of these cones are still intact or only slightly breached by stream erosion, and in
one or two instances an easily recognized lava flow extends from the base of the cone
for a mile or so over the adjacent land. The location of these small volcanoes on a
fracture zone along which the molten rock has found a way to the surface is also
interesting and significant. Conspicuous white or delicately hued hot spring deposits
like the mammoth terraces of Yellowstone Park are likewise to be observed along
fault lines at the base of several of the block mountains of the Great Basin.

To recount the bewildering variety of detailed forms resulting from the activi
ties of streams, of glaciers, of waves, and even of the wind would resemble an index
to a treatise on geology. To observe these things in their proper setting is, however,
an experience of the greatest interest. Take at random the marvelous festoons of
glacial moraines in northern Illinois and Indiana, revealing themselves by the many
lakes and ponds, the irregular roads and the wood lots of the farms or even by gravel
pits, rather than by their actual topography which is too subdued to be detected from
aloft ; or the old beaches of Lake Michigan running for miles through the railroad
yards and the factory sites on the outskirts of Chicago ; or the shorelines of ancient
Lake Bonneville on the flanks of the mountains near Great Salt Lake looking like
artificial roadways or railroad embankments; or the braided channel of the South
Platte River in central Nebraska with its ribbon of irrigated land on either side;
the sea of sand hills covering thousands of square miles in the western part of that same
state ; the long alluvial plains sloping gently away from all the ranges of the Great
Basin region ; and the embayed shore of Lake Erie at Sandusky Bay. These features
and many others of equal significance would each one suffice as the key wherewith to
unlock a long and interesting story.

In the belief that readers of this guide would relish a systematic account of the
topography and structure of the United States, there has been added in the latter
part of the book a chapter on the physiographic provinces of the United States
traversed by the air route. And it is suggested that this chapter might be read
with profit in a leisurely and studious w r ay before undertaking the more detailed
descriptions of the route itself. Plates I and II in the pocket show the physiographic
provinces and the geological formations crossed by the air route.

Many Kinds of Agriculture. Lest these remarks seem to betray too strongly
an interest in the landscapes with no sympathy for those who dwell therein, it is well
to emphasize next an entirely different aspect of this journey. The traveller by air
will probably give much thought and attention to the never ending panorama of farms
and fields which hour after hour unrolls itself before him. (Fig. 3) From the
Atlantic to the Pacific coast it is hardly possible to glance from the window of the
plane without beholding some form of agricultural activity. The numerous truck
gardens and vegetable plots near New York give way gradually to the open farms of
western New Jersey and Pennsylvania and then come the orchards of the Allegheny
Plateau, followed by the dairy and live-stock areas of the Middle West. There, even
the color of the cows takes on some significance, for near the large centers like Chicago,
the black and white Holstein breeds, famous for their yield of milk, dominate the


landscape ; but in western Illinois and in Iowa the production of beef is more im
portant and the brown Durham and other types with similar tawny tones seem to
be in greater vogue. Beyond the Missouri River irrigation becomes important. The
valley of the Platte River winds like a ribbon of green across the dry plains of
Nebraska displaying in a very impressive way the contrast between irrigation and
dry farming. The traveller by train sees only the verdant fields of the valley floor
and were he not otherwise informed might conclude that this is representative of the
whole state. Still farther west on the open ranges and in the park-like areas of 'the
higher mountains the grazing of sheep and cattle becomes dominant.

This has a seasonal aspect which is interesting. During the summer the arid
land of AVyoming constituting the Red Desert is parched and grassless. For a
hundred miles there is no sign of animal or habitation of man. But in winter and
spring the vegetation takes on new life and then herdsmen with countless thousands
of sheep may be seen with their canvas covered wagons which serve as their homes.
And, finally, in the sunny land of the farthest west there are the rich orchards of
the Great California Valley, one of the garden spots of the world. (Fig. 4)

Students of agriculture recognize forty-five distinct regions between New York
and San Francisco, each one characterized by its own peculiarities of soil and crops.
Little wonder that the air traveller finds much to interest him in the behavior of
his fellow men who live on the soil. The kinds of crops, the livestock, the size and
shape of farms and farm buildings, vary widely from place to place. These varia
tions are sometimes puzzling for there are many factors which affect the farmer's
choice of action and to some extent determine those things which he will do.

Fortunately the sympathetic guidance of the U. S. Department of Agriculture
has made possible the introduction of a chapter which describes the forty-five agri
cultural units to be observed from the air. A map showing the extent of these areas
constitutes Plate III in the pocket of this book.

Great Contrasts in Natural Vegetation. In the third place, an air journey
across the continent brings rapidly before the observer a succession of regions dis
tinguished because of their natural vegetation. In the eastern half of the United
States much of the original forest has disappeared under the hand of man, but
every ridge and rugged bit of land from New York westward into Ohio and Indiana
is still clothed with a hardwood forest. One of the wildest and least developed parts
of the eastern United States is in western Pennsylvania where the forest covers
many square miles of the plateau, and is crossed only by little woods roads whose
deserted appearance is quite in contrast with the busy highways in the adjacent
cultivated valleys. In the northeast this forest has a large percentage of soft wood
or coniferous trees but westward in the Mississippi valley it is a part of the southern
hardwood forest with oak and hickory as the dominant types. Then westward of this
come the prairie grasslands of Illinois and Iowa, now almost everywhere turned into
agricultural land. These give way in the Great Plains, with their drier climate,
to a region of short grasses, and eventually to the bunch grassland of the far west.
It is in these sparsely covered soils that the prairie dogs make their homes which
to the air traveller resemble miniature shell marks on a battle-scarred field in France.
The western pine forest covers the several ranges of the Rockies, the Wasatch and
the Sierra Nevada. Usually open and park like, and especially in the higher altitudes
with luscious meadows spreading through the scattered groves of trees, these forests
largely untouched by the hand of man may be observed in all their natural beauty
at scattered intervals for a thousand miles from Wyoming westward.

The ranges in the arid lands of the Great Basin support a desert type of forest
cover made up largely of pinon and juniper, trees of a scrawny nature able to survive
on steep and rocky slopes devoid of soil.

w *




FIG. 4. Fruit orchards in the Great California Valley.


Throughout the far west the sage brush is ubiquitous. With the changing seasons
it lends a touch of color to the landscape. In the spring the light sage green of its
leaves contrasts with the red soils and rocks of the desert stretches of southern
Wyoming and the effect, viewed from aloft, is that of an Oriental rug of rare beauty.
But with the advancing season the leaves become brown or disappear and the scene
takes on a more sombre aspect.

Even the glistening salt deserts of Nevada and Utah, the most arid parts of the
far west, support a type of vegetation known as the greasewood, or salt desert shrub,
which is of unique interest to the traveller from more humid regions.

The traveller by air observing in rapid succession the varied landscapes which
lie between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans has a distinct advantage over the local
resident with a more restricted outlook. Even though his survey may be extremely
superficial, many facts having to do with variation in floral complexion from place
to place are borne in upon his senses, as they can never be upon those of the sedentary

Chapter III in the second part of this volume describes briefly the different
vegetation regions of the United States which lie between New York and San Fran
cisco. Plate IV, in the pocket, illustrates this chapter.

Several Climatic Zones. Last but not least in the phenomena which come to
the air traveller's attention are those relating to the climate and weather of the several
regions traversed. This is far more true of the traveller by air than of him who goes
by train, or even by automobile. Every aspect of the climate is forced upon his
attention. The direction and strength of the wind comes first and it is almost certain
that in a trip across the country, somewhere en route he will find that with the help
of a stiff breeze he has traversed in a couple of hours a belt of country which under
less favorable conditions necessitates twice or thrice as much time. Nor are these
winds fickle. They follow laws, fairly well understood even by the amateur
weather man.

As for rainfall, the most casual and uninterested traveller can not fail to observe
the contrast between the eastern United States with its wide-spread, uniform and
abundant precipitation, and that of the western United States where some regions in
which rain almost never falls lie close to others more or less constantly drenched with

To dodge around thunderstorms is not entirely uninteresting either. During
the summer, literally hundreds if not thousands of thunderstorms develop within
the State of Nebraska alone so that it is frequently possible to witness several of
them at a time. On a hot summer day turbulent masses of clouds, the beginnings of
thunderheads, rise up to prodigious heights and constitute one of the most magnificent
spectacles of nature.

It is interesting also to leave a dull and murky landscape and come above the
clouds into a world of sunshine. To look down upon a sea of dazzling white (Figs.
5 and 6) and to skim closely over its surface gives the feeling of riding the waves
in a speedy launch. When heavy rain is encountered under such conditions then
there is even more the feeling of being at sea. And w T hen it clears, the rainbow
just outside the cabin window seems near enough to grasp.

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Online LibraryArmin Kohl LobeckAirways of America: the United Air Lines; a geological and geographical description of the route from New York to Chicago and San Francisco → online text (page 1 of 18)