That’s the view of Paul Horsted, a Custer, S.D., photographer and co-author of a new book called “Yellowstone Yesterday and Today,” comparing 103 historic photos with how they stand today.
“The enjoyment that you see or hear from people today is seen in those early photos, too, I think,” Horsted said. “There’s a couple of shots where they’re waving their arms or standing up watching a geyser and you can tell they’re excited to see that, just like today.”ye
Horsted writes in the introduction that the book is an attempt to put old images in a modern context, bringing the old photos alive with color and showing the park’s history through changes and similarities over more than a century.
Recreating the century-old photographs of Yellowstone National Park with precision wasn’t easy. Rocky pinnacles have toppled, buildings have come and gone, boardwalks re-routed — and a mere difference of inches in camera placement can mean the difference between an exact replica and a clearly different image.
Summarizes Horsted in the book, “Sometimes things just look different than a 140-year-old image would lead you to expect.”
In some instances, though, it’s the lack of change that stands out. For example, dead trees pictured in an 1880’s image still protrude from Mammoth Hot Springs today.
“It was always a delight to make such a discovery, and to ponder the notion of that tree standing sentinel as literally millions of visitors passed by,” Horsted writes.
That’s one of the same things that struck book co-author Bob Berry, a Cody bed and breakfast owner who helped locate the historic sites and who supplied some 90 percent of the book’s old photographs from his private collection (see related story).
“This park has hosted millions upon millions of people — and it is certainly not what it was in 1871 when the Hayden expedition came through here — but it is a real testament to the Park Service, that they have kept it in as pristine a condition as possible,” Berry said. “They really have done a marvelous job of saving things.”
In fact, perhaps the most striking changes between the then and now aren’t images of increased development, but the ones showing reclaimed roads now completely swallowed up by trees, grass and rocks.
Berry, who also offers guided tours of the park, directed Horsted to the areas where the photos were taken.
“He (Berry) could always get me at least in the neighborhood of where a location was,” Horsted said.
Berry described the first step as lining up the skyline with the old photo. Then they’d walk up and down, trying to find the right spot.
One off-trail boulder depicted in a 1896 image near Bunsen Peak had been beaten down by the elements, only recognizable by one particular nook. Finding the rock took about an hour, Berry said.
“You have to look, like I say, for minutia,” he said.
It would then be up to Horsted to get the camera positioned just right, snapping photos from just slightly different spots to get that original angle.
“That last few feet or inches is sometimes really critical,” said Horsted, particularly when something’s close to the camera.
After all that, there was still the matter of matching the conditions.
Horsted writes in the introduction that, by necessity, his primary focus was to get the angle and then do as best he could with things like snow and wind. But he still brought a keen eye for detail.
He trekked up the Observation Point Trail about a half-dozen times just to capture the steam from the Old Faithful Geyser heading in the same direction it was around 1930.
Some of the details recreated in the modern photos were more good fortune than planning.
As Horsted was re-photographing an area near Swan Lake, the clouds above Electric Peak happened to billow as they did around 1900, and a passing biker pulling a small trailer unexpectedly made for a comparable match with the horse team pulling a photography wagon.
“That (bike) just really seemed to harken back to the other photo in a way that a speeding RV maybe didn’t,” Horsted said.
Other photos not in the book just couldn’t be recreated with current restrictions on park resources — for example, for obvious reasons, there was no traipsing around on the thermal areas, and winter shooting was deemed too challenging, Berry said.
Horsted does wish he could have recreated photos taken at the now-off limits base of the Lower Falls, but overall, he feels he and Berry covered the park well over the two years they worked.
Despite the challenges posed by the book’s precise recreations, “I really enjoyed it. I mean, every time,” Horsted said. “Who could complain about doing something like that?”