Researchers retake vintage Yellowstone photos
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. ” A group of researchers has been lugging heavy, 70-year-old camera equipment to the park’s highest points and taking pictures.
They’re shooting photos from the same vantage points as did Leonard M. Moe, who took dozens of panoramic photographs in the park in the 1930s.
Moe’s photos were marked with peaks and other landmarks and kept in fire towers to help rangers be able to describe where a fire had broken out. Over time, however, the photos became less useful as the Yellowstone landscape changed.
Now, researchers hope to document exactly how the park has changed by taking the same photos Moe took and comparing the images after 72 years of fires, bark beetle infestations, climate change and other factors.
The project is a joint effort by the Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. It has required not only finding the exact perches where Moe shot his photos between 1933 and 1935, but also getting acquainted with the rare, 23-pound, box-shaped camera that was specially designed to take those pictures.
“There was a bit of a learning curve,” said Ian Grob, a photographic technologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s office in Missoula, Mont.
Grob and his small crew have shot photos from seven spots, including Mount Washburn, Mount Holmes and Mount Sheridan, where three fire lookouts are still in use. Eight more sites will be photographed over the next year or so.
Some spots are accessible by helicopter or road. But most required hiking up steep slopes with 75 pounds of equipment.
Grob typically teamed up with three or four young firefighters who were eager to get to places in the park they hadn’t seen before, according to Andy Mitchell, Yellowstone’s acting fire management officer.
“They loved it,” Mitchell said.
Moe spent four years shooting panoramic photos from 200 existing and proposed fire lookouts in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and elsewhere in the West.
A Park Service bulletin announced the project’s completion in June 1938.
“This photographic work, done by Junior Forester Moe, entailed many hardships not only in packing the necessary equipment weighing upward of 100 pounds to lookout points, but also in climbing trees, poles, temporary towers, or roofs of lookouts with the equipment and facing the extreme winds that occur so frequently at high elevations,” the notice said.
The camera was custom designed by W.B. Osborne, inventor of the Osborne fire finder. The disc-shaped device was used in fire lookouts to give rangers a directional bearing when reporting forest fires.