Western landscapes, western images: a rephotography of U.S. Highway 89



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Kansas State University


The American West is a land of great diversity and stark contrast. It is also a landscape marked by rapid change as a result of such forces as globalization, population growth, and heightened interest in natural resources (either for recreation or extraction). This dissertation investigates these changes to the region through a repeat photography analysis. Between 1982 and 1984, Thomas and Geraldine Vale traveled along U.S. Highway 89 from Glacier National Park, Montana to Nogales, Arizona. Their subsequent work, Western Images, Western Landscapes: Travels Along U.S. 89 (University of Arizona Press, 1989), contained fifty-three photographs from this journey, representing a cross section of the West from border to border. Nearly every facet of the region was represented, from the remote prairie landscapes of Montana to the bustling Phoenix downtown, and from the largest open pit mine in the world to seldom visited corners of Yellowstone National Park.
Between March 2009 and August 2010, I retraced the steps taken by the Vales and successfully rephotographed all of the locations contained within their book. The observed continuity or change is examined thematically in order to address the landscapes and cultures of the West in greater detail. Specifically, chapters within this dissertation visually and textually describe changes that have occurred along national borders, within Native American reservations, throughout the rural landscapes and national parks of the region, within the many resource extraction industries, and within towns and cities of every size. Significant findings, which are well depicted in the photographic pairings, include heightened national security along the borders, problems of overuse in many parks and protected areas, the transition of traditional small towns into communities increasingly dependent upon tourism for survival, and both beautification and revitalization efforts taking place in the urban cores of Phoenix and Salt Lake City. By painting a vivid picture of recent Western geography, this research provides for greater ability for residents and scholars of the region to understand the forces at work within their communities and surroundings.



American west, Repeat photography, Landscape change, National parks, Natural resources

Graduation Month



Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Geography

Major Professor

Kevin Blake