Field exploration by scientists in the late 1800s illuminated the American West. One of the most charismatic of these men was Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden. Born in 1828 in Massachusetts and trained as a physician, Dr. Hayden first journeyed to the Great Plains at the age of 24. A skilled student of geologic history, Hayden made some of the first dinosaur fossil discoveries in North America.
Following the Civil War, Dr. Hayden persuaded Congress to fund natural history surveys into the territories of Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. Assembling the brightest observers of nature for his field teams, Hayden fed the public's hunger for knowledge about the resources of the upper Rocky Mountain West from 1866 to 1878.
During the 1871 field season Dr. Hayden described the geothermal features of the Yellowstone River region and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. With his party were landscape painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson, whose works are among the best visual interpretations of the grand vistas of the West.
Modern students of geology and the natural sciences are indebted to the work of Dr. Hayden and his men, as well as that of John Wesley Powell, Clarence King, and George M. Wheeler, each of whom led diverse surveys of the great American wilderness.
As historian Richard A. Bartlett concluded in Great Surveys of the American West, these scientific studies "confirmed an impression that the rest of the world has cherished for a long time: the American West is a wonderland."