Traditionally, seeking out the high ground is considered a reliable means of establishing one's location. The phenomenon of aerial photography, however, proves the limits of this common intuition. From a sufficient altitude, such as from the cabin of a cruising passenger jet, the sorts of things we usually use as landmarks fade into obscurity, and only the broadest patterns and most megalithic features stand out.
View out an airplane window, not far west of New York City. 2004:09:17 13:49:23
Give it some time, though, and something recognizable tends to pop up. Okay, sure, in this case it kind of hit me over the head. Definitely an "Aha! Now I know where I am!" moment.
As seen from 15000 feet above NJ, color corrected to adjust for haze. 2004:09:17 13:53:03
Now it's only fair to point out, the camera has pretty decent resolution, and can make the image stand still, so this is arguably a better view than I actually had out my window. At night, the human eye has more of an advantage, although I might have done better by manually reducing the exposure time and artificially brightening the thing afterwards.
I've always loved flying at night, for two principal and related reasons: the lights, and the lights. When the cabin is dimmed and my eyes dark-adapt, the stars are quite a sight. There aren't a superbly large number visible, since reflections and whatnot in the airplane windows don't make for the best optical situation, but the clarity is unbeatable. Unless, of course, I find myself wintering on the Antarctic ice plateau.
The other lights are the ones on the ground. Small towns tend to be organic blobs, irregular galaxies of (mostly) streetlights. Bigger cities have more order to them, with a bright core, regular patterns of streetlighted thoroughfares and brilliant winding highways, dark lanes of industrial complexes, freightyards, and rivers. You can't really see this by day; the stuff that people do is all mixed in with the colors and shapes of natural topography. Others must find this notion alluring as well, given the popularity of the Earth at Night mosaic. I wonder if the Arcology people find this view disturbing.
Flying past downtown Minneapolis at night. 1 second exposure (I love that my camera will take note of these things for me). 2004:09:20 21:52:02