William Henry Jackson’s Hot Spring and Castle Geyser

Providing the earliest photographs of Yellowstone as he participated in the Hayden Geological Survey, William Henry Jackson was influential in creating America’s first National Park. Hayden, the leader of the survey, remarked that “collecting photographs was similar to collecting fossils and natural history specimens,” a convincing way to influence the United States government to protect these specimens found in Yellowstone. One of Jackson’s best photographs is Hot Springs and Castle Geyser. Castle Geyser is located in the Upper Basin of Yellowstone National Park, near Old Faithful Geyser.

As a member of the Hayden Geographical Survey in 1871, William Henry Jackson was the first photographer in Yellowstone. His photographs informed the government of the landscape and geological sites in Yellowstone, and provided artists on the survey like Thomas Moran with references to the sites so they could complete their works after the survey in their studios. Moran credits the accuracy of his paintings to Jackson’s photographs. Jackson’s photographs were also important to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. “As an intelligent, ambitious, and gifted individual working in a medium of great influence, Jackson became a powerful progenitor of the changes in the American conception of the West and of landscape in general,” writes the historian Peter Bacon Hales.

William Henry Jackson wrote, “Pictures were essential to the fulfillment of the doctor's plan for publicizing this Survey; but the basic purpose was always exploration. I cannot be too careful in emphasizing the fact that in this [the 1871 expedition] and all the following expeditions I was seldom more than a sideshow in a great circus.” Perhaps humble, perhaps realistic, Jackson saw himself as a small part to a greater whole, yet his photographs have been cited again and again by participants in the survey, as well as historians today, as highly influential in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Hot Spring and Castle Geyser provides an excellent example of his work. Since much of Europe and the eastern United States do not have geysers as a part of their geological makeup, Hot Spring and Castle Geyser documented a unique aspect of Yellowstone. In fact, Yellowstone has the largest concentrated number of geysers in the world. Castle Geyser may be the oldest geyser in Yellowstone, and although its eruption schedule may not be as predictable as Old Faithful Geyser, Castle Geyser erupts about every 10–12 hours a day. Jackson’s photograph Hot Spring and Castle Geyser was the first photograph that shared geysers with a wide audience.