Lonely Planet Writer

Take a nostalgic look at US National Parks tourism through the decades

As well as showcasing beautiful and unique destinations all over the world, travel photography can often capture intriguing slices of history, offering insight into a nation’s culture at specific periods of time. One such example is “Sightseer”, an ambitious, wide-sweeping project that spans decades, taking viewers on a nostalgic journey through tourism at National Parks across the United States of America.

Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park in California, 1980.
Woman with scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park in California, 1980. Image by Roger Minick

Created by Roger Minick from Oklahoma, the project first began in the mid-1970’s, when the photographer took a summer trip through the west of America, visiting Yosemite National Park for an Ansel Adams workshop. “Waves of tourists were continually arriving at the overlook’s parking lot in cars, buses and motorhomes for a clear view of the famous vista, but also for the obligatory snapshot of themselves proving they were here. After witnessing this recurring bit of theatre over several days, I found myself becoming increasingly fascinated with these visitors, recognising what a striking cross-section of humanity they were,” Roger said.

Twins with Matching Outfits at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, 1980.
Twins with matching outfits at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, 1980. Image by Roger Minick

Three years later, Roger and his wife set out in a VW Camper on a road trip along the western United States with the sole purpose of photographing sightseers. Shooting in black and white, after completing his journey and printing the images, the photographer realised that in order to capture the correct aesthetic for the project, he would need to make the change to colour. “The irony and humour I had seen in the vivid colours of the people’s dress juxtaposed against the surrounding landscape, with its infinite palette was getting lost in black and white. So the following year we retraced out route from the year before,” he said.

Girls in Matching Pink Dresses at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, 1980.
Girls in matching pink dresses at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, 1980. Image by Roger Minick

Roger took two more photographic trips for “Sightseer”, in 1980 and 1981, before returning to it in the 1990’s, visiting sites in the Midwest and east. “Throughout my hours of driving and time spent at hundreds of overlooks – from Yosemite National Park to Blue Ridge Mountains, from Old Faithful Geyser to the rim of the Grand Canyon, from Niagara Falls to the St. Louis Arch, from the Crazy Horse Memorial to the World Trade Center, from The Alamo to the Washington Mall, from Zion Canyon Nation Park to the Great Smoky Mountains – there was there was one question that continued to press upon me for an answer. What was it that motivated people to visit these far-off places of wonder and curiosity?”

Couple with Matching Shirts at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, 1980.
Couple with matching shirts at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, 1980. Image by Roger Minick

As well as striving to find an answer to what motivated sightseers to travel, Roger was interested in the historical context behind his project, hoping to create a kind of time capsule of what Americans looked like towards the end of the 20th century. The result is a fascinating collection of images that when viewed together showcase not only famous sites and landscapes, but the intriguing dynamics of American families, as well as changing fashion throughout the years.

More of Roger’s work is available at his official website.