Previous
The American River from Cape Horn
Enlarge Zoom in
Gift in memory of Leona Naef Merrill and in honor of her sister, Gladys Porterfield

Carleton E. Watkins
American, California, about 1878 - 1880
Albumen print
8 1/4 x 12 in.
94.XA.113.22

Add to Getty Bookmarks

This awe-inspiring view of the American River was made from Cape Horn, where the Central Pacific Railroad undertook one of its most daring constructions. Laying a roadbed in the steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada mountain range required difficult grading, leveling, and clearing. Trees, stumps, rocks, and other obstructions had to be removed. Hundreds of barrels of blasting powder were ignited daily to clear the three-mile route. Work began in the summer of 1865 and was completed in less than a year.

Carleton Watkins may have been aboard a Central Pacific train when he photographed the canyon lying between twelve and twenty-two hundred feet below the roadbed. He included a tiny portion of the track in the foreground of the composition-the only indicator of human presence in this wilderness image. Trains following this route often stopped so passengers could take in this thrilling view. Gift in memory of Leona Naef Merrill and in honor of her sister, Gladys Porterfield