In August 1961, LIFE magazine published an ambitious, 10-page tribute to the American Northwest with an unfortunate title: “Where God Sat When He Made America.” The title of the article, LIFE claimed, was inspired by a phrase uttered by an awe-struck visitor to Glacier National Park. Now, there’s nothing unusual, cheesy or suspect about the deep emotions that grand vistas can inspire in most anyone. Teddy Roosevelt, after all, reportedly wept upon first seeing Yosemite Valley.
But the phrase “Where God Sat . . . ” still feels a little weird. Would God, in anyone’s conception of an omnipotent being, really be seated while creating a landscape as vast, dramatic and humbling as the Tetons. Or Mount Rainier. Or the Oregon coast? Wouldn’t a Supreme Being feel compelled, by the very nature of the occasion, to stand while in the process of bringing forth such beauty?
At any rate—we’ve no such qualms or questions about the brilliant color photographs in this gallery, shot by long-time LIFE staffer J.R. Eyerman: we can state, unequivocally, that they’re wonderful.
When he was a boy, Eyerman took thousands of pictures in Yellowstone, Glacier and other national parks while traveling and camping with his dad. Decades later, the professional photographer spent weeks in late 1960 traveling throughout Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and even as far south as San Francisco for the magazine’s tribute to “the stunning majesty of the Northwest.”
We hope you enjoy the view.