Take a tour of the natural wonders of the US via vintage photography
Through thousands of images, the prolific Detroit Photographic Co. documented life and scenes across the US from the late 1890s until the 1920s. They sold those pictures on postcards and prints to consumers, and also provided photos to magazines and newspapers nationwide.
The majority of the scenes below were featured in several antique issues of the then-popular Ladies’ Home Journal magazine throughout 1900. Many of these natural wonders of the US still look much the same today, which is something that’s pretty remarkable in this modern era of increased population and development.
Through picturesque America in views of scenic magnificence
Text by Luther L Holden for Ladies’ Home Journal (multiple issues during 1900)
PYRAMID PARK, OR “THE BAD LANDS” OF NORTH DAKOTA
In the western part of North Dakota, the traveler suddenly comes upon a place where the mighty forces of water and fire have wrought strange confusion.
It is Pyramid Park, formerly known as “The Bad Lands.” Buttes from 50 to 150 feet high are seen, with pyramidal sides curiously banded in rich colors. The mounds are in almost every conceivable form.
TEMPLE GATE, A LAKE SUPERIOR LANDMARK (1898)
Off Point Detour, Wisconsin, lie the Apostles’ Islands, some of which show remarkable rock formations.
One of the most notable is found on Sand Island, where masses of splintered sandstone have so disposed themselves as to form a gigantic portal known as Temple Gate.
OLD FAITHFUL — YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IN WYOMING (1892)
CRATER LAKE, IN SOUTHERN OREGON
A marvelous feature in Oregon scenery is Crater Lake, in Klamath County, which was discovered by the whites in 1857, though long before that it was known to the Indians, who held the place in dread and awe.
It is 6251 feet above sea level, with surrounding crags from 1000 to 2000 feet higher. It is seven miles long, six miles broad, for a large extent nearly 2000 feet deep, and occupies the crater of a once powerful volcano.
LAKE CHELAN, IN NORTHWESTERN WASHINGTON
On the eastern slope of the Cascade Range, environed by lofty granite mountains and deep gorges disclosing recent glacial action, is Lake Chelan, of which thirty miles of the northerly end is seen in this view taken from Round Mountain.
The lake is over fifty miles long, and very narrow, terminating only three miles from the Columbia River, where the terminal moraine of an ancient glacier effectually dams and confines its mountain waters.
BEAUTIFUL MOUNT HOOD, AS SEEN ACROSS LOST LAKE
One of the most striking features of Oregon scenery is the profusion of beautiful cone-shaped peaks rising far above the general elevation of the Cascade Range into the region of perpetual snow. There are ten of these peaks scattered between the California border and the Columbia River, the loftiest and the most picturesque of all of them being beautiful Mount Hood, which is 11,225 feet in elevation.
When seen across the mirrorlike surface of Lost Lake, with its graceful snow-capped summit reflected in the tranquil depths below, it becomes a vision of rare beauty.
LARGEST NATURAL BRIDGE IN THE WORLD (1900)
In Southeastern Wyoming, where La Prele Creek breaks through the Laramie Mountains, is the largest natural bridge in the world. The span is 18o feet, the highest point of the arch 75 feet above the water, and the width 8o feet. The spot is a remarkably picturesque one.
CLOUD PEAK, ONE OF THE BIG HORN MOUNTAINS (1892)
The Big Horn Mountains, in Northern Wyoming, are one of the groups of the Rockies, the main range of which rises to majestic heights in the west. Their chief elevation, Cloud Peak, about 12,000 feet high, is one of the most picturesque sights of the region. It was in the valley of the Little Big Horn that General Custer’s brave command was massacred by Indians in 1876.
DEVIL’S TOWER — ONE OF WYOMING’S WONDERS
Five hundred feet above Belle Fourche River, in Northeastern Wyoming, stands Mato-Teepee, or Devil’s Tower. Rising 600 feet, it is visible forty miles away. From a point near by, its formation impresses one strangely, the tower being one of the most curious natural objects in the state.
IN MONUMENT PARK, “THE QUAKERS”
Monument Park, a few miles distant from Colorado Springs, is similar in character to the Garden of the Gods. Among the grotesque groups is one called ” The Quakers,” because the broad-capped pillars remind an imaginative person of the hats of old-time Philadelphians.
THE ROYAL GORGE IN COLORADO
The Arkansas River, as it flows eastward through the Rocky Mountains toward the sea, tumbles tumultuously through a narrow canon, the most picturesque part of which is known as The Royal Gorge. Here the mountain walls are almost sheer precipices half a mile high.
THE SEVEN FALLS IN SOUTH CHEYENNE CANYON (1896)
Near Colorado Springs and Manitou, hidden by Cheyenne Mountains, are two picturesque cations. In South Cheyenne, canyons are situated the beautiful Seven Falls, where the stream plunges down five hundred feet.
“THE FALLEN MONARCH” GIANT SEQUOIA TREE IN CALIFORNIA
MOUNT RAINIER, FROM THE CROSSING OF NISQUALLY RIVER
About fifty miles from Puget Sound, and visible from a broad extent of those matchless waters, as well as from a thousand inland vantage points, rises almost in solitary grandeur glorious Mount Rainier, one of the noblest mountain forms to be found in America. The vision generally takes in the whole mountain from the forest-clad base to the massive white dome of snow and ice.
At sunrise or sunset, when the lofty slopes are suffused with a roseate flush like the beauteous glow upon the peaks of the Bernese Oberland, the entrancing effect is deepened. The mountain then seems to draw nearer the beholder and to assume a more lofty aspect.
Of four recent scientific measurements, the average gives Mount Rainier an approximate elevation of 14,526 feet.
CLIMBING THE MOUNT RAINIER GLACIERS – A MAGNIFICENT NATURAL WONDER OF THE US
THE COLUMBIA RIVER ABOVE THE DALLES
The noble Columbia River is lined with the most picturesque objects all along its course, and nowhere is the scenery more strikingly peculiar than it is at the Danes, where the hitherto broad stream Is contracted into narrow limits by rocky boundaries.
The great river is approaching the mountain barrier of the Cascades, and the distant outlook is upon the giant warders of the pass — Mount Hood and Mount Adams. It is a spot much resorted to by Indian salmon-catchers, picturesque groups of whom are frequently seen.
THE FAMOUS MAMMOTH CAVE, IN KENTUCKY
It was about 1809 when the Mammoth Cave, in Edmonson County, Kentucky, was discovered in a romantic ravine. There are seemingly endless avenues, galleries and labyrinths aggregating over 150 miles in length, with lofty halls, and a navigable river.
DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA, AROUND 1900
Out among the Black Hills of South Dakota is found a typical mountain city: Deadwood, the commercial center of all that part of the State.
It is most picturesquely situated. One writer has graphically described it as caught in a gulch, and obliged to climb steep mountain walls for elbow room. This view gives an idea of the beauty of Deadwood’s surroundings.
THE FAMOUS DEVIL’S DOORWAY, IN WISCONSIN
Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, is one of the clearest bodies of water to be found in America. The eye may penetrate its depths for fully fifty feet. On its rocky shore some of the bluffs rise to a height of more than five hundred feet, and at one point is seen the exceedingly curious formation pictured above, commonly known as The Devil’s Doorway.
STAR CHAMBER OF MAMMOTH CAVE, KENTUCKY (1892)
In this vast under-world is a region of intense darkness and the deepest silence. A singular effect is produced in the great Star Chamber by the guides, who first extinguish their lamps and then relight them gradually, making the roof of the great vault appear as if studded with stars.
TRIBUTARY OF THE ST JOHNS RIVER, FLORIDA (C1900)
THE GREAT DISMAL SWAMP
On the borders of Virginia and North Carolina, near the seaboard, is a lonely morass, forty miles long and twenty-five wide, covered by a luxuriant growth of brushwood and timber. This is the Great Dismal Swamp. In slavery days it was a secure harbor for runaways.
HARPER’S FERRY, ON THE POTOMAC
Nestling among the hills of West Virginia is Harper’s Ferry. It is situated where the Shenandoah River unites with the Potomac to force that passage through the Blue Ridge which Thomas Jefferson said was ” one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.”
ON THE BATTLEFIELD AT GETTYSBURG: THE SCENE OF ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST CONFLICTS
In a fertile plain, surrounded by picturesque hills, lies historic Gettysburg, the scene of one of the most sanguinary battles the world has ever known — a desperate struggle, in which nearly 200,000 men were engaged, resulting in the success of the national arms only after three days of hard fighting, and with the loss of nearly 35,000 men killed and wounded.
The Battlefield Memorial Association has converted the field into a vast and beautiful memorial of the event, and hundreds of costly monuments mark the spots where different organizations were engaged and where brave men fell. With the aid of these monuments, the varying tide of battle may be intelligently studied. The great struggle occurred on July 1, 2 and 3, 1863.
A VIEW OF THE SCHUYLKILL LOOP, PENNSYLVANIA
AT THE WARM SPRINGS OF VIRGINIA
At the eastern base of the Alleghany Mountains, in a valley elevated 25oo feet above the sea, amid scenic loveliness unsurpassed elsewhere in picturesque Virginia, are the Warm Sulphur Springs, among the most famous of the health-giving waters of the Old Dominion. Generations of Southern people have been attracted thither.
“THE LAND OF THE SKY”
The Appalachians, which extend from Canada nearly to the Mexican gulf, culminate in North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee in a group of lofty peaks—the highest east of the Rocky Mountains. There are forty-three points which are higher than Mount Washington.
MULTNOMAH FALLS, OREGON
Of all the numerous cascades pouring down the walls of the Columbia River, Multnomah Falls are by far the most beautiful. They are 850 feet high and seem to tumble from the clouds themselves. They are situated at the head of a dark ravine.
PILLARS OF HERCULES ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER, OREGON
RAINBOW FALLS, WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK
SNOQUALMIE FALLS, WASHINGTON
Of the many streams which flow from the mountains to the picturesque waters of Puget Sound, the Snoqualmie is one of the most beautiful. The Snoqualmie Falls, 280 feet high, are in a romantic nook of the hills, fifty-five miles from Seattle.
AN ARIZONA WONDER — THE BRIDGE OF AGATE
The petrified forests of Arizona present some of the most marvelous evidence of volcanic action known to the world. Groves of giant trees, becoming solidified, have fallen of their own weight. One log, no feet long, which spans a ” box canon ” sixty feet wide, forming a con-venient foot-bridge, is really a mass of fine agate weighing hundreds of tons.
CATHEDRAL SPIRES IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
Almost no end of curious resemblances to familiar objects may be found in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. One of the chief attractions is the cluster of Cathedral Spires, so called.
Red is the prevailing color of the sandstones, but there are yellows, grays, whites and delicate rose tints, while the neighboring mountains add to the scene a grandeur which is in striking contrast to the immediate surroundings.
A UTAH CURIOSITY — THE DEVIL’S SLIDE
Some parts of the State of Utah are rich in scenery that is full of wild and rugged beauty. Near a vast gorge in the Wasatch Mountains, known as Weber Cation, is found the Devil’s Slide, a rock formation on the mountain-kill side, fully as curious as it is enormous.
THE WONDERFUL MOUNT OF THE HOLY CROSS
Before the white man penetrated the wilds of the Rocky Mountains the red man saw the sacred emblem of Christian faith lifted high upon one of the loftiest peaks of Central Colorado.
Two canyons of great depth, filled with eternal snows, form this holy symbol, which is raised against the heavens like a mighty banner. Its sublimity could not be overdrawn, for it is one of the most wonderful spectacles human eyes have ever gazed upon.
A QUAINT CITY IN THE AIR: SOUTHWESTERN CLIFF DWELLINGS
On the level tops of detached buttes which rise from the center of wide cañons in New Mexico and Arizona, with walls so shattered and splintered that access to the top is had only through the crevices, are found the striking and picturesque dwelling places of the Pueblo, or Village, Indians, one of which is shown in this view.
THE CATARACT OF NIAGARA — THE GRANDEST SCENIC FEATURE OF AMERICA
No other land on the earth’s wide surface possesses an object of such grandeur and great impressiveness as Niagara Falls. Standing upon Table Rock, one takes in a glance the whole of the two great falls — the American Fall and the Horseshoe Fall, or, as the latter is sometimes called, the Canadian Fall — a wall of water which is nearly a mile wide and about 16o feet high.
The American Fall is 1050 feet in width and 164 feet in height, while the Horseshoe Fall is six feet less in height, or 158 feet. The width of the river at this point Is 4750 feet. The American Fall is on the left. The Horseshoe Fall, on the right, has a contour of 3010 feet.
All but one of the chain of great American lakes are pouring their ceaseless floods over these precipices at the rate of 275,000 cubic feet a second. A cubic mile of water is hurled into the gorge every week.
Scientists say that the cataract has gradually receded from Lake Ontario, and that in three or four thousand years, it will cease to be more than a series of rapids. The falls are now receding at an average rate of about two feet and a half a year. The rapids, both above and below the falls, form in themselves a very impressive spectacle.
CORONADO BEACH, NEAR SAN DIEGO (1899)
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA (1899)
THE BAY AT AVALON, SANTA CATALINA ISLAND (1899)
THE GOLDEN GATE, NEAR CLIFF HOUSE, SAN FRANCISCO
HICKORY-NUT GAP, FROM CHIMNEY ROCK
The upper reaches of the French Broad River, North Carolina, disclose much romantic scenery, and, with the lower sections of the stream, possess a peculiar charm. One of the most striking features is Hickory-nut Gap. Chimney Rock rises a sheer precipice 1000 feet high. Opposite, Bald Mountain rises 5500 feet.
HORSESHOE BEND IN THE ALLEGHANIES, WHERE MARVELOUSLY BEAUTIFUL SCENERY IS FOUND
Across the middle part of Pennsylvania sweeps the section of the Appalachian chain known as the Alleghanies. The railway lines on their way West built across this barrier, and the skill of the early engineers was severely taxed. The original achievements were crude, but the traveler of today is carried with ease through mountain regions which present far greater obstacles.
The Horseshoe Bend, depicted above, is 242 miles west of Philadelphia, and a short distance beyond Altoona. Beyond Kittanning Point, the line is carried around this curve by a remarkable piece of engineering, crossing two ravines on a lofty embankment and cutting through a dividing ridge. The mountains are crossed at a height of 216o feet, only 210 feet below the summit.
THE BEAUTIFUL CANYONS OF LURAY (1882)
THE WONDERFUL NATURAL BRIDGE IN VIRGINIA
Among America’s wonders, the Natural Bridge in Virginia is one of the most famous. It is a huge limestone arch 215 feet high, 90 feet in span and 100 feet wide, crossing a stream called Cedar Creek. A stranger might drive across it without discovering that such a marvel exists. The Bridge once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
BAYOU TECHE: ” THE EDEN OF LOUISIANA”
For sixty miles above the broad Atchafalaya, Bayou Teche winds among the low, verdant hills of the Parishes of St Martin’s and St Mary’s in Southern Louisiana, bordered by oaks from whose wide-spreading branches hang “garlands of Spanish moss and of mystic mistletoe.”
Today, as when the Acadians came to this peaceful land, the loveliness of the shore is mirrored in the clear waters beneath, making a scene full of beauty.
Some helpful hints on landscape photography (1910)
“Anyone can take landscapes,” is a remark that is often heard among people who have had only a slight knowledge of photography — and often also among those of more extended knowledge.
It is also true that anyone can take them after a fashion, but it is also true that the perfect landscape only comes once in a great while, and this is when and only when the light conditions, exposure and composition are just right.
Who is there that in looking over a large stock of negatives has not often come across a perfect beauty in that line, but alas, it is only one out of perhaps some hundreds — and it is often a puzzle to the novice why he does not get a larger percentage of these good ones.
There are many landscapes that are nearly always unsatisfactory no matter how or when they are taken, and the serious worker had better avoid them entirely, as unless he is satisfied with mere matter-of-fact photography — and a real artist seldom is — he will derive no pleasure from them.
To get the best out of any landscape, and do it constantly, not only requires thought and care and a good knowledge of composition, light and shade, etc., but careful thought in using his instrument and in making the exposure.
As a rule, an under-exposed negative is absolutely worthless, and it is better to over-expose rather than under. In working in glens or ravines, always expose for the deepest shadows and never mind the highlights. Such views, however, should never be attempted with a brilliant sun streaming through the leaves of the trees. A partly cloudy day should always be chosen if possible, and a time exposure given with the lens partially stopped down.
The use of the diaphragm in landscape work is one of the most important points to understand thoroughly in order to get the best results, and the use to which the resulting picture is to be put will largely determine this.
If the negative is to be used for lantern slide or stereoscopic work, a negative that is absolutely sharp is preferable to any other; but if the camera is a large one, and used for direct views only, a much more artistic effect can be had by having only the foreground or principal subject sharp, and allowing the view to gradually fade off in the distance.
In making pictures of clouds (or of landscapes in which they occur) very fine effects can often be had by taking them against the light, but the sun, of course, should be under a cloud or obscured so that it will not shine into the lens. There are many excellent books and papers on landscape photography, but the above hints may be of more value to the worker or beginner than would a long essay on the subject.