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Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!

Today marks the centennial of the National Park Service. 100 years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the act that created the agency. And throughout the last century—and even further back—it’s probably no surprise that artists have continued to be inspired by the majestic peaks, deep canyons, breathtaking vistas, and abundant wildlife that make up our 59 national parks. Below find a selection of works from the museum’s collection that feature just a few of these awe-inspiring places.

Yellowstone was the very first national park, officially established by Woodrow Wilson on March 1, 1872. One of its most well-known features is the geyser known as Old Faithful, which was captured here by photographer Ansel Adams, perhaps the most famous of all of the chroniclers of the national parks. 

Old Faithful erupts every 60-110 minutes, averaging 17 times a day. It is estimated that with each eruption, between 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water is expelled from the geyser. Click here for a real-time webcam of Old Faithful—you might get lucky! 

This print by Joseph Pennell illustrates the Bright Angel Trail, the most accessible trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The first portion of this trail was built in 1891 for miners to reach their claims below the top of the canyon, and it wasn’t officially turned over to the Park Service until 1928. In fact, Pennell made this lithograph in 1912, before the Park Service even existed!

Yosemite is perhaps most famous for its waterfalls, one of which is pictured above. The best time to see Yosemite’s waterfalls is in the spring during peak snowmelt. By this time of year, many of the falls have slowed to a trickle! Vernal Falls is visible all year, but by late summer, it has generally separated from one curtain of water to two or three different streams.

Carleton Watkins first began photographing the Yosemite Valley in 1861 and his work proved to be instrumental in persuading Congress to legislate the first federal protection to Yosemite. Several decades later, after camping in Yosemite with John Muir, President Teddy Roosevelt said “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most attended National Park, with more than 10 million visitors in 2015. Hiking, biking, and fishing are all popular in the park, but the way that most people experience it is through the scenic mountain drives, especially when fall foliage is at its height. This image by Eliot Porter showcases the changing seasons and a few of the 100 native species of trees found within the park.

Happy birthday to the National Park Service!

Image Credits:

Ansel Adams. Old Faithful Geyser, Late Evening, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 1942, printed 1950. Photography Gallery Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

Joseph Pennell. Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, from “Grand Canyon Series,” 1912. The Charles Deering Collection.

Carleton Watkins. The Vernal Fall, 300ft., Yosemite, 1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.

Eliot Porter. Poplars and Hillside, Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, October 17, 1967. Gift of Myron and Sara Szold. © Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist.