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Artists Explore the Yellowstone Region

Carleton Watkins photo: Yosemite Falls and the Merced Photographers also contributed to the early visual record of the West. Although the Federal Government sponsored several surveys that included the use of cameras in the 1850s, the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 greatly reduced further exploring expeditions. After the war, however, photography became a popular method of documenting the western American landscape.

One of these early photographers was Carleton E. Watkins. Traveling and working alone, Watkins made his first trip to Yosemite in 1861 and produced some of the first photographs of this expansive and spectacular territory in present-day California. His views of Yosemite focused on the landscape as a pristine wilderness, untouched by civilization.

They also helped encourage President Abraham Lincoln to sign a bill on June 30, 1864, granting Yosemite to the State of California in order to protect the scenic lands for the enjoyment of all people. This act sparked the idea of establishing Yellowstone as a national park a few years later in 1872. (Yosemite was set aside as a national park in 1890.)

Photograph: Carleton Watkins. Yosemite Falls and the Merced River. Yosemite National Park.

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