The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

In the days before photography, there were only landscape painters who could convey the grandeur and beauty of a place.  The works of one such landscape painter helped created the very first national park, Yellowstone.

In 1871, American government geologist, Ferdinand Hayden, was sent to explore the area in Wyoming consisting of what is now Yellowstone National Park.  His expedition was made up of mainly scientists – a botanist, mineralogist etc. who could determine if there was anything of value in the land.  Hayden, however, also had the foresight to  take with him a landscape artist and a photographer to document the expedition.

The landscape painter, Thomas Moran, had been born in England but immigrated as a child with his family to Pennsylvania. When he was apprenticed as a teenager at a wood engraving firm, he began also to draw and to paint.  Moran’s images were instrumental in capturing the imagination of the US Congress and prompting them to declare Yellowstone a national park.  For the first time, the American public could also see what they had only heard about from news reports.

In 1872, a little over 1.2 million acres was designated as the first national park, Yellowstone National Park, preserving its natural beauty for generations to come.  Although Yellowstone was granted protected status, Congress did not actually go so far as to set aside any money for its upkeep! Public funding was to come later.  After all, during this time of American Westward expansion, it was pretty remarkable that anyone thought about protecting land at all.  Congress probably thought the Yellowstone land was useless for development and so agreed to its protected status.

Yellowstone was the first national park in the world and inspired the conservation of public lands in both the US and in other countries in future years.

One of Moran’s most famous paintings is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  It was purchased by Congress for $10,000, a fairly unheard of amount in those days.  The painting is kept by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C..  It depicts the Yellowstone River flowing down from Canyon Falls through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran painting
Thomas Moran’s painting, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

When we were at Yellowstone this summer, I took a photograph of Canyon Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that Moran used for his inspiration.  Pretty amazingly similar isn’t it?

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

In Moran’s version, there are 2 small explorer’s staring in the foreground.  My photograph has been carefully positioned to avoid the hundreds of tourists milling around the area!  Nonetheless, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is stunning beautiful.

Aren’t you glad this natural beauty was preserved for us to enjoy?

the grand canyon of the yellowstone

the grand canyon of the yellowstone



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I am an American expat based in London with my travel-loving family. I write at Just Go Places Blog about luxury, cultural and family travel.

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