Our national parks are places of great beauty and significant history, but are they changing over time? A new large-format book attempts to answer these questions with “then and now” images of 24 of America’s most popular national parks.
Photographer Paul Horsted of Custer tracked down hundreds of sites where photos were taken 75-150 years ago, then set up his camera to create precisely-matched images of today. It’s a favorite technique for the photographer, who previously authored similar books featuring Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills.
From the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome, Horsted selected 170 of the most interesting views for his 240-page coffee table book, “Treasures of the National Parks Yesterday & Today.”
“When I look at historic landscape images of our national parks, I hope to find that exact spot where someone placed their camera 100 years ago and see what’s there now. I want to see what has changed and what remains from the past,” Horsted said.
Horsted began the five-year project by gathering hundreds of historic photographs from archives across the country as well as through his own collecting. Researching each park he intended to visit, he identified approximate locations on modern and historic maps.
“Basically I look for the background of a historic image, which might be miles from the camera site, and then work my way to the foreground to find the precise location,” Horsted said. “This can take days in the field, but using Google Earth to ‘virtually visit’ each park beforehand helped in some cases to determine approximate areas before I actually went there.”
Some of the photo sites were found at popular overlooks or along today’s park roads, but others were far from established trails. Horsted estimates he hiked at least 200 miles in the Grand Canyon and perhaps another 100 miles in Yosemite, plus a few miles each at Yellowstone, Zion, Arches, Bryce, Death Valley, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains and other parks. He flew to some parks but also drove more than 50,000 miles as he made multiple visits to larger parks
In the book, images are presented side-by-side for easy comparison. In the captions, Horsted explains what he found at each site and adds historical notes when appropriate. GPS coordinates are provided so readers can visit the sites if they wish.
Horsted says the parks are generally in good shape, retaining much of their natural character from 100 years ago, but overcrowding is causing obvious wear on the most-visited areas of the most popular parks.
“It’s not always obvious in the photos, but some places are definitely showing the impact of millions of visitors,” Horsted said.
A major difference he noted is an increase in vegetation and tree growth in many of the parks he visited. A century of fire suppression is a factor , although in recent decades the National Park Service has started to let some natural fires burn to restore the environment. Horsted found several photo sites that featured “open” views around 1900 but are now at least partially blocked by trees or brush at places such as Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Yosemite and even in the Grand Canyon.
The book was designed by Horsted’s partner and wife, Camille Riner, using graphic influences of the early 1900s as inspiration. It is their fifth collaboration on a historic re-photography book.
“I think anyone who loves our parks will find these images powerful and compelling,” Horsted said. “I’m always interested in what other people notice in the photo pairs, and I hope they’ll be useful as guideposts for the future.”
Eventually he plans to donate his collection of historic images to an archive where they can be preserved and be made available online.
“Treasures of the National Parks Yesterday & Today” is available at paul
horsted.com, at Amazon and in selected national park bookstores. Horsted is planning his speaking schedule and book tour for 2018 and may be contacted through his website or on social media.
The 24 national parks featured in the book are Acadia, Arches, Badlands, Big Bend, Bryce Canyon, Crater Lake, Death Valley, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Haleakalá, Hawai’i Volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic, Mesa Verde, Mount Rainier, Olympic, Petrified Forest, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, Yosem-ite and Zion.
Horsted is a nationally-published independent photographer and speaker with a career spanning 30 years. He specializes in finding the sites of historic photographs and then creating a precisely-matched modern image to show the beauty and history of our country “then and now” in an entertaining and informative way. These photo pairs inform our understanding of history and the environment and show us surprising changes and amazing similarities between past and present.
Horsted started doing re-photography (re-creating historic photos in today’s world) 15 years ago while studying glass-plate images from the 1874 Black Hills Custer Expedition. Since that time, he has worked extensively at historic photo sites across the Dakotas, in Yellowstone, and more recently in 24 other national parks. He gives presentations about his work for tour groups, conventions and historical societies and museums.