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Views of the West

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Valley of the Mud Lakes. Showing Eighty Two Miles of the Projected Rail Road Line. June 14th at 9 A.M. from Mud Lake Peak, in Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Lieut. Beckwith; C. Schumann; F.W. Egloffstein. Washington, DC: 1861
This panorama shows the projected railroad route through what is today the Black Rock Desert in eastern Nevada, site of the annual Burning Man art festival.
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Porcupine Terraces. Uintah Mountains in the Distance. Camp. April 16th to 17th, in Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Lieut. Beckwith; C. Schumann; F.W. Egloffstein. Washington, DC: 1861
This view shows the Bear River and the Uinta Mountains in Utah. The men belong to a survey team sent out to establish a route for the transcontinental railroad.
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Franklin Valley. May 24th at 10 A.M. from a Spur of the Humboldt Mountains, in Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Lieut. Beckwith; C. Schumann; F.W. Egloffstein. Washington, DC: 1861
Native Americans acting as witnesses to "progress" was commonplace in views of this period. The proposed transcontinental railroad would run across Franklin Valley in present-day Nevada.
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The Grand Cañon at the foot of the Toroweap – Looking East, in Atlas to Accompany the Monograph on the Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District. William Henry Holmes; Clarence E. Dutton. Washington, DC: 1882
Holmes, an exceptional draftsman, sketched this view from the edge of the Grand Canyon. He was also a noted explorer and archeologist, and went on to become the first head of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Western survey expeditions included artists as well as cartographers. Views of dramatic landscapes published in magazines and newspapers helped create an image of the West in the minds of the American public. While visual artists first represented the geology and landscapes for official records as well as industrial and national expansion, the same images later helped establish natural landscapes as tourist attractions.

The prints displayed above, Porcupine Terraces, Franklin Valley, and Valley of the Mud Lakes, come from a survey led by Edward Griffin Beckwith to propose a possible route for the transcontinental railway across the Western United States. The images show views from exploration along the 41st parallel, which today demarcates pieces of the Utah-Wyoming, Colorado-Wyoming, and Colorado-Nebraska borders.

Showcasing an expansive view of one of the United States’s most well-known landscapes, the image of the Grand Canyon in the atlas at left accompanied Clarence Dutton’s  “Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District,” originally published in 1882. William Henry Holmes, the expedition artist, created illustrations to accompany Dutton’s text. Some of Holmes’s images from this project, especially the Panorama from Point Sublime (reproduced in large format and displayed on the south west wall of the rotunda), remain recognized as scientific and artistic masterpieces today.

—Melanie Langa, Undergraduate in History, ’16