National Parks in 3D–New book brings 150-year-old views of America’s greatest parks to life

Review by C.J. Bunce

No photographer is more synonymous with U.S. national parks than John Muir, and the world has marveled at his look at the precious national wonders of America for more than 125 years.  Lesser known are 19th century photographers who crossed the country snapping stereographic–three-dimensional–images of these magical places.  3D Disneyland author David A. Bossert has amassed a collection of vintage stereoscope images spanning several U.S. National Parks, and as with his previous book (reviewed here), he’s converted, cleaned-up, and enlarged those stereoscope cards into 3D anaglyph format.  Now they can be viewed by a new generation via those 1950s movie theater-style 3D red/cyan blue glasses in the former Disney Imagineer’s latest book, 3D National Parks, available for pre-order now here at The Old Mill Press.

Teddy Roosevelt in 3D?  You are going to love the result.  You can almost smell the sulfur burbling from the mudpots or hear the deafening sound of the waterfalls at Yellowstone, as these images of the past snap to life before your eyes.

For 3D National Parks Bossert has worked with 3D enthusiast Patrick Swinnea to turn vintage Victorian and early 20th century stereoscopic image cards into 3D images viewable in a single volume via anaglyph 3D glasses (a pair is included in the book).  In the book the converted images look like this:

But with the 3D glasses…

… they will come to life like you’ve probably never seen the past before.

The biggest visual pops may come from the waterfall images, which emphasize the contrast of foreground and distance, and reveal the grandeur that President Ulysses S. Grant harnessed with Yellowstone becoming the first National Park back in 1872.  Or maybe Yosemite’s striking, high cliff drop-offs will wow you the most.

The vintage images, many from the 1870s-1880s and 1920s, are predominantly in black and white, since the stereoscope cards were created years before the creation and later perfection of color in film (most color cards from the era were hand-colored).  Stereoscopic, three-dimensional imagery, invented by Charles Wheatstone in the 1830s, actually pre-dated the invention of photography.

A key use for this book would be for grandparents and their grandchildren, or parents and kids of any age.  I’d recommend getting an additional pair or pairs of 3D glasses and viewing this book together, as part of a vacation trip, or to reminisce about past travels.

Ever since I was a kid in the 1970s, I’ve been a fan of View-Master’s vacation-stop and “tourist trap” reels, which were sold between 1939 and 2008 and use a similar technology to the anaglyph method used in the book.  View-Master’s variously changing owners over the years (from Sawyer to GAF to Tyco to Mattel/Fisher-Price) hired legions of photographers to travel the world and capture images for their thousands of reel packets.  Most reels of seven images each offer one or two that are better than the rest, and I think readers will find Bossert’s images offer a better selection than found in the corresponding View-Master reels.  This book may very well open up readers to the idea of tracking down their own vintage stereoscopic viewers and cards, as well as View-Master viewer types and reels that are no longer sold in stores.

I’m a sucker for animals, and the 3D photographs of buffalo and horses (and a bear!) may be my favorite to marvel at.  Horses were a bigger part of the American experience 150-100 years ago and these images reflect that clearly, whether backed by rider President Theodore Roosevelt or drawing a family via stagecoach or carriage into Yellowstone in its first decades as a park.

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite.

If you want a good preview of what you’ll get in the hardcover book format, just track down a pair of cardboard red/blue 3D glasses and look at the initially blurry anaglyph images above on your screen.  The resolution is as good or better than via the original cards in an actual vintage viewer.

Some images in 3D National Parks reflect the “Then and Now” feature seen in various book series over the years.  Those books have featured a vintage photograph coupled with a new image as that same place appears today.  Bossert has used that to good effect here, via the stone Yellowstone gate, Yellowstone’s Natural Bridge, Old Faithful geyser, and more.  Geology moves slowly, and readers may expect that the parks’ geological formations and their features have not changed in what may seem like a long time to humans.  But readers may fine some differences here, including a dried-up Minerva Terrace.

Bossert includes images from several parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, Mesa Verde, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, and Mammoth Cave.

If you love history and the idea of traveling back in time to witness the past almost like our ancestors did, if you love going to parks or dream about going, if you love viewing John Muir’s vintage park photography or those fabulous Works Progress Administration posters from the 1930s, or if you just love all things 3D, you won’t want to miss 3D National ParksIt’s available from The Old Mill Press here.

If you’d like to learn more about the National Parks, check out my review of the exciting Lost in the Yellowstone here and my discussions of National Parks posters here.


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