While on a photographic assignment in 1869, Jackson had a chance meeting with geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, the leader of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories (“USGS”). This encounter changed the course of Jackson's life.

Impressed with his landscape photography, Hayden invited Jackson to join the USGS as a photographer for its 1870 expedition. Following the success of his first season of fieldwork, Jackson participated in another eight seasons with the USGS, earning him widespread renown, and contributing to the establishment of the National Park Service.

The Hayden expeditions combined the work of botanists, biologists, and mineralogists with that of photographers and artists. Cooks, guides, and hunters kept the team fed, and members camped in rugged conditions for months at a time. Pack mules and horses carried the scientific and photographic equipment. The voluminous collections of plant, paleontology, geology, and biology specimens were processed at USGS headquarters at the end of each field season. Many of these collections, generated prior to the establishment of the National Park Service, are housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

The expeditions in which Jackson participated included:

1870: Wyoming, primarily along the Oregon Trail. Jackson was one of 20 survey members.

1871: Yellowstone, with the survey now including over 35 members, including artist Thomas Moran. The area surveyed would become Yellowstone National Park the following year.

1872: As the survey had expanded to 60, two teams were formed to maximize the areas covered. Jackson’s team surveyed the Grand Tetons for ten days before rejoining the main group led by Hayden in Yellowstone to photograph areas not previously covered, such as the Firehole Basin.

1873: The survey broke into three scientific teams to cover the Colorado Rockies. Jackson led a fourth photographic team that documented the scientific teams’ activities. Jackson accomplished one of the crowning points of his career: his photography of the Mount of the Holy Cross.

1874: The survey moved from central Colorado south to what is now the Four Corners region. Jackson documented Ancestral Puebloan sites, and produced the first known photographs of Mesa Verde.

1875: As the survey moved throughout the Southwest, Jackson’s versatility qualified him to lead the team that covered northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. In addition to Ancestral Puebloan sites, Jackson also photographed and sketched daily life at the Hopi Pueblos.

1876: While Hayden continued fieldwork, Jackson was among those selected to prepare an exhibition of the expedition’s work for the Philadelphia Centennial International Exposition.

1877: While Hayden’s team surveyed Colorado, Jackson documented northern New Mexico. While all his photographs from that year were lost, his sketches and drawings remain.

1878: Jackson rejoined Hayden’s survey party in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the team was beset by inclement weather and equipment failure. This was the last year of Hayden-led expeditions.

Dr. Hayden and assistants - 1874
Photo Outfit at the Summit of Mt. Washburn
geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden
Commemorative Medal

Wyoming (1870)

First pack outfit with Hayden Geo. Survey. HYPO carried the parfleche
Jackson Canyon, Wyoming
U.S.G.S of 1870
Independence Rock
Ayres Natural Bridge formation
Badlands on Black's Fork
Native Americans standing around Tipis

Yellowstone 1871

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Boiling Sulphur Spring
Hot Spring Cone
Grotto Geyser
Earthquake Camp
Survey Party, with pack train, en-route upon the trail between the Yellowstone River and East Fork, showing the manner in which all parties traverse these wilds
Hayden and Beaman

Yellowstone 1871: Jackson & Moran

Thomas Moran (1837 – 1926), a prominent Hudson River School painter, was a member of the Hayden expedition during the 1871 survey of Yellowstone. Moran's compositional knowledge improved the framing of Jackson's photographs, and Jackson’s photographs served as reference for Moran’s paintings.

Unlike Jackson, a seasoned outdoorsman, Moran had only camped once before joining the Hayden expedition. Despite their differences, the two became fast friends. After Moran's death, Jackson stayed in contact with the Moran family.

Thomas Moran, 1871
Yellowstone Hot Springs
Gelatin chloride print on paper featuring Thomas Moran
Portrait of Thomas Moran
Liberty Cap, Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone & Tetons 1872

Mt . Hayden or the Grand Teton
The Teton Range, S.E.
Mountain Sheep
Tower Falls
Distant View of the Castle Geyser in Eruption
Crater of the Grotto Geyser
Old Faithful in Eruption
Hot Spring Basin, Lower Fire Hole
Gardiner's River Falls
Gardiner's River Falls
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Great Falls of the Yellowstone

Four Corners 1873

Estes Peak, Head of the Big Thompson
Chicago Lake, Near Georgetown
Eroded Sand Stones, Monument Park
1873 Hayden Survey
Camp Study, 1873
Mount of the Holy Cross

Southwest 1874-77

Berthoud Pass
Camp Scene Near Blue River
Packing 20 x 24
USGS 1874
Cliff House - Mancos Canyon
John Moss, 1874
Group of the USGS at Colorado Springs)
Rocky Trail
Photographic Division, US Geological Survey
Ruins at the Mouth of Hovenweep
Cliff Dwelling Ruins
Hopi Village of Walpi
The Hopi Village of Shipaulave
Moon House
Montezuma Canyon
William Henry Jackson and Charles Aldrich
Painting of Woman in Blue Dress