Carleton Watkins: Solitary tree at Yosemite

All photos: Carleton E. Watkins/public domain

John Muir, the celebrated 19th century naturalist, is often credited with spearheading the movement to establish Yosemite Valley as a national park in 1890. While this is true, it's important to recognize another environmental visionary who was paving this path decades before Muir: Carleton Watkins.

Carleton Watkins self-portraitAs one of America's earliest landscape photographers, Watkins (right) was one of the first people to document the natural glory of Yosemite Valley.

Using his massive large-format camera that produced 18x22 inch glass-plate negatives, the sheer detail and staggering scope of his documentation is something that had never been viewed widely by society before.

Watkins' photographs were so stunning that they even inspired President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Grant of 1864, a bill that shielded the valley from commercial development and exploitation.

While this grant didn't explicitly name Yosemite as a national park, it did set a precedent that later paved the way for the designation of Yellowstone as the country's first-ever national park.

Want to learn more about Watkins and the mission to save Yosemite? Check out this recent video put together by photo editors and historians at Getty Images Archive:

Much of Watkins' works were sadly lost forever after his photography studio was destroyed in the San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake, but luckily for us, his Yosemite images continue to live on. Continue below for a selection of these important historical works:

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite Valley

Carleton Watkins: Solitary tree at Yosemite

Carleton Watkins: Three Brothers at Yosemite Valley

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite's domes in the distance

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite along Pohono trail

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite's Sentinel Rock

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite Valley from the Mariposa trail

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite's Mount Starr King

Carleton Watkins: Half-dome vista

Carleton Watkins: MErced River at Yosemite

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

How Carleton Watkins saved Yosemite Valley
Learn more about this 19th century visionary whose work paved the way for the creation of the National Parks System.