In the American push toward Manifest Destiny, the West represented – and continues to represent, for some – a perpetually vast, limitless, and epic adventure. And, though much of it has given way to gentrification, settlement, and "progress" over the years – blame the settlers and governmentally incentivized programs to exterminate the fauna (think buffalo) and people there – it's still very much present in all its exhilarating glory.
Photos of the Wild West have a special grandeur. From the California gold rush to the plains of Texas to harrowing gunfights and saloon brawls, the natural wonders of the old West never cease. And to imagine what the land, in all its dazzling natural diversity, must have looked like when the first photographers initially set eyes on it is, in itself, an exercise in awe. Thankfully, some of those photographers captured what they saw on film.
1. Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, 1874Photo: Timothy O'Sullivan / via The Atlantic/ US Library of Congress/ No restrictions
2. "White House Ruins," Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 1873
3. Ancestral Pueblo Native American (Anasazi) Ruins, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1904
4. Inscription Rock, El Moro National Monument, 1873
5. Washakie Badlands, Wyoming, 1872Photo: Timothy O'Sullivan / via The Atlantic/ US Library of Congress/ No Restrictions
6. “Camp Beauty," Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1873