Ansel Adams.

Conversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 online

. (page 63 of 76)
Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 63 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

more. He felt that they should encourage capital to come into the


Adams: the parks and provide the services and operate under strict
supervision. And being a very honorable man, he assumed the
people he would get to do that would be equally honorable. I think
most of them were; some of them were not. But there was no doubt
as to who directed the parks.

There's a very wonderful story about the Glacier Park people,
when they built the hotels and the lodges. Mather was indef atigably,
constantly touring, checking everything himself, you see. So they
opened the chalets at Glacier National Park, and he approved, said,
"It's fine, but that shed's coming down, isn't it?" They said,
"Oh yes, it's temporary." He said, "Well, get it out before next
season." He came around next season, in the spring, and the shed
was still there. He said, "I thought you were going to take that
out." He said, "Well, Mr. Mather, we just haven't been able to get
around to it." He said, "Well, I insist that it be out without
delay. It's an eyesore. Get it out." He came around in the fall
and the shed was still there. He called the trail crew. He said,
"Bring some dynamite, put it under that shed, and blow it up."

"Mr. Mather, is that really legal?"

"We'll decide that later. Get that shed out. Two hours from
now, that shed isn't going to exist." And it didn't. They blew
that thing to "Whew!" [Laughter]

From there on, they realized he meant business. They could
have sued him. Now, there would have been all kinds of legal
problems, "due process," etc. But he gave them the warnings. It
was of no consequence. It was just an ugly shed, maybe as big as
this room. But ever since then, they had a tremendous respect for
him. When Mather said something, they said, "Yes sir!" [Laughter]
Went about and did it. He had very high standards and, I think, did
a very wonderful job.

Teiser: Do you remember him at Sierra Club events?

Adams: Oh yes. He went on outings of the Sierra Club in 1927. I saw him
several times. I had letters from him. He was very cordial and
very firm. Francis Farquhar was his assistant and chief accountant
for the Service. And Farquhar, of course, could be dynamite too
too much so, sometimes.

There's a wonderful story about Farquhar and old Dr. [Kaspar]
Pischel. Dr. Pischel was a famous eye, ear, nose, and throat man
in San Francisco. A very sturdy, wonderful, erudite man had a
white beard. Used to go around in what do they call that?
lederhosen, those leather pants. Great hiker, brown as a berry,
and that white beard! So here he was in his little abbreviated


Adams: leather pants, way up near Cold Canyon, in the northern part of
Yosemite Park, and along comes the district ranger, who arrests
him for not wearing the routine attire. There must be a sleeve
less shirt (it's in the park regulations, believe it or not the
equivalent of a sleeveless shirt) on the traill And of course
Pischel was spluttering like a bunch of fireworks. The ranger said,
"Sorry," and gave him a citation. He said, "I can't take you in,
but you'll have to report to the headquarters when you get back."

Along comes Francis Farquhar down the trail. Pischel is
spluttering and Farquhar says, "What is this?" (It was Ranger
Banner, I think.) He says, "Mr. Farquhar, I'm sorry, but this man
is violating park regulations. He's not properly dressed." Mr.
Farquhar says, "I think it's a very strange thing in the wilderness
that a man can't go out without wearing a shirt; in fact, I'll take
mine off right now if it will make you feel any better." Banner
said, "I'll have to give you a citation." Farquhar said, "By the
way, do you have your credentials with you?" Banner didn't have
his star! He didn't have anything! He didn't have a scrap of paper
to show he was a park ranger! [Laughter] Farquhar said, "You're
absolutely without authority. You can't make any arrest of any
kind without your credentials^ you have nothing to say." So- Banner
went back to Tuolumne Meadows and that was the end of that, although
Farquhar, I think, brought it to the attention of the director of
the National Park Service as a ridiculous interpretation. They
applied the regulation in the midst of Yosemite Valley in crowds,
they wanted people to have although now people go around in bikinis,
practically. But at that time it was a regulation, and this man was
interpreting it rigidly. It was so funny!

And it's the truth, you know. If an FBI man comes to talk to
you, and if he can't show you his card, he has no authority. I have
a press card (I'm on the ASMP [American Society of Magazine
Photographers]), and I can go to a news event, if there's something
happening, and I can show my press card. But I can't say, "I'm
a member of the ASMP and I have a card." Which is right. You can't
drive a car without a license, and so on.

The first ranger group was a very fine, specially selected
group of people. Some of them came from the army, I guess. Chief
[Forrest] Townsley in Yosemite was a real character and did a
wonderful job. And the rangers in those days were really rangers
in the sense that they were trail riders, woodsmen, and lawmen in
the best sense. They were after poachers and many hunters and
stock men who'd try to get in on the fringes of the park. And
they'd get caught. The rangers would fight fires and take care of
people in emergencies.


Adams: The ranger now is pretty much a briefcase man who must have a

degree. He's sort of a sublimated police officer plus naturalist.
And they've had some trouble getting rangers to staff the outposts
because they don't know enough. It's very seldom that you find a
man who can really be a ranger in this sense of the word, who goes
to Merced Lake or Tuolumne Meadows a district, as they call it
and [can] run that district, and know all about fire and all kinds
of problems that are both wilderness and human problems.

Teiser: Did Mather set the standards for them?

Adams: Yes, Mather set up a marvelous organization. You see, that was

under [Woodrow] Wilson. And this is typical of what I think is a
good administration. Wilson was very much of a Democrat, Mather
was a pure Republican, but he'd always had an interest in
conservation and proposed the Park Service, and Wilson listened
to it and thought it was a wonderful idea and said, "All Right.
You direct it. It will be set up in the Department of the Interior."
It was a crossover of political lines. And in a sense the Park
Service has kept pretty intact. Basically they're very good.
They've fired a lot of secondary people to fit party lines, but the
directors, as a whole, and the superintendents and the top staff
group they've been relatively untouched. Probably the cleanest
bureau there is.

Teiser: Who was in charge of the national Forest Service during that

Adams: I forget whether that was Pinchot or whether he'd died. But he set
up the basic organization, a very capable one. It's part of the
Department of Agriculture. They still have the chief forester, and
the regional foresters, and the actual forest chiefs of the many
national forests.

Teiser: Has it developed as strong a tradition, however, as the Park Service?

Adams: It's much more powerful politically. It relates to far more people.
Far more people visit the National Forest areas, I'm told. And they
do an excellent job with their campsites. I think they're a very
admirable crowd of people. Their ideals aren't the same. But thank
heaven we've got them, because they have listened and have followed
on pretty well with the wilderness bill provisions, with certain
obvious exceptions because, after all, their job is to protect and
develop commercial forests.

Teiser: When Horace Albright succeeded Mather, did he continue

Adams: Oh yes, Horace is one of the great people. In fact, I suppose well,
Mather remains the top man. He's the instigator. As his memorial
plaque says, "We'll never know the good that he has done." Albright


Adams: really carried it on in the most noble way. Albright was practically
mentor for the Rockefeller sons. Old John D. entrusted the boys to
Albright in many cases outdoor life and counseling. In some
questions of taste, I would say Albright was probably deficient.
Everything he did, he did with the highest motives, but he did some
questionable things, like putting roads across the middle of meadows
so that people could get the greatest views. Nobody knew then what
the impact on the meadow was going to be, so many of those roads are
coming out. You can't blame people for doing those things that they
felt were the best thing to do. His motives were always of a very
high order,,

Teiser: He did not remain in that position long, though, did he?

Adams: Well, he was superintendent of Yellowstone. Then he came to Yosemite,
then became director. Now, I'm hazy as to whether he was director
before or after his superintendences.*

Teiser: After. After Yellowstone, anyway.

Adams: Yes, but I don't know whether he came to Yosemite as an emergency

fill-in or not. Then of course he resigned and became president of
the U.S. Potash Company, which I think Mather was affiliated with
in some way. Mather represented the Borax people Twenty Mule Team
Borax, for example.

Teiser: How did Albright happen to resign after ?

Adams: Well, I think he just had to look for himself, his future. He did
his job and then got to be president of this huge company with
offices in Rockefeller Center and worked for the Rockefellers too
on other things. And I think he did pretty well for himself I

Teiser: Did he prepare a successor for himself, as apparently Mather had
prepared him?

Adams: Oh yes, the Park Service prepares. The Park Service has rarely

brought people in from the outside. They move up from the ranks.
And there was Arno Cameron. Quite a number of very fine men were
directors. Some men had more imagination than others, but as a
whole they were good. We have a live wire now in [George B., Jr.]

*Horace Albright was superintendent at Yellowstone from 1919 to 1929
and temporary superintendent at Yosemite in 1927 and 1928. He was
director of the National Park Service from 1929 to 1933.


Adams: Hartzog, who is getting great opposition because he's being firm

about things. I always got along very well with him. I always got
along well with secretaries of the interior. I think, as a whole,
it's been pretty good. Secretary Albert Fall was a big catastrophe.
But [Harold] Ickes certainly was wonderful.

Teiser: But didn't Fall actually do some good things for the

Adams: Yes, he did. He was all right in conservation. But he got caught
in that oil scandal.

[Oscar L.] Chapman was a very good man; he was a power man.
His concern was primarily power, like the Columbia River develop
ments. But he had good sense in appointing the park people. You
see, you have the secretaries, then you have the undersecretary who
is in charge of certain divisions. An undersecretary will be in
charge of the national parks and the Biological Survey, and another
undersecretary will have the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It goes
down to the regional directors, then to the superintendents.

Teiser: You had a good deal to do, at one time or another, with Ickes, if I

Adams: Oh yes, I was appointed photo-muralist for the Interior Department.
And from the point of view of rank, that was very high; actually,
I outranked all superintendents and even regional directors!

Teiser: Is that right I

Adams: Not in the money sense. It was only a matter of being on the books.

But I could go to any park and commandeer a truck. I say "commandeer;"
I could say, "I want a truck. I need help." I was working for the

My funniest story is when I once 'got to Boulder Dam. The
secretary asked for a real good picture of Boulder Dam. I went to
the director of the whole business down there, and I said, "The
secretary wants a knockout picture. What I'd like is, with your
help, to pick the ideal location, and I'll arrange the photographic
setup get the right lens and everything. We'll really make this
an outstanding picture." I said, "I'd just like that wonderful
aspect of the dam where you open the spill gates and see the great
arches of water."

This man put his hands to his head. He said, "You know what
that means?" I said, "No." He said, "It means at least a month's
preparation. I have to send a notice to every water user below here
to the Mexican border that there'll be so many million acre feet of


Adams: water released. The dams below here will have to reduce their
capacity to take over flow. That has to be planned." He said,
"It'll cost somewhere near the order of $50,000 to $75,000. Does
the secretary know that?" I said, "No, but he will. I can't be
part of that." [Laughter] And Ickes understood. I wrote a letter
and I said I wanted to get this picture with all these plumes of
water, but when I heard what it represented in water and reclamation,
I said I think we'd better forego that. "I've got to hope for the
secretary's agreement. It would be an unwanted extravagance."

Teiser: Was Ickes a good conservation man?

Adams: Oh yes, one of the greatest. He was a what do they call it? a
curmudgeon? Because he could really be tough. One of my most
extraordinary experiences in Washington was going to a dinner given
by some organization I forget what 'it was at which Ickes and Henry
Wallace were to debate. They both gave a short address, and then
there was a debate. And you wouldn't have believed it; I never
heard such vituperative comments from both sides. It was
outstanding! I mean, everybody was sitting there goggle-eyed. When
they got through, they got up, shook hands warmly and left.
[Laughter] But it really was vituperative. "Not only do you not
know what you're talking about, but you have no intention of telling
the truth on this matter."

"My dear Mr. Ickes, I have always considered that it was
possible to talk to high government officials in our departments,
but any semblance of courtesy which I expected is completely

"My dear sir, I consider you really beneath the floor."

And they went on that way for an hour, you know. [Laughter]
And of course Wallace was a conservationist too, but had an awful
time with his Forest Service undersecretary. It's a very long,
complicated story which I just don't remember and I have no
authority to talk about because I know only a little of these

Teiser: There's a story about Ickes having met with the board of the Sierra
Club about the Kings River in 1938 and getting mad.

Adams: Well, as I remember that (I had nothing to do with that) they had

this meeting and he came, and .a couple of members of the board took
the occasion to openly criticize him, and he claimed that he'd come
to talk about the Kings Canyon and that this wasn't a public hearing,
and that he resented the inquisitorial attitude on the part of these
people. And I think he was quite right. I mean, he was all full of


Adams :



Adams :


Adams :

fire. He went east and he talked to senators and congressmen and
tried to promote the idea. But this wasn't the time to criticize
him for other things nothing related to the parks. But we had our
fanatics then too. And Farquhar was very much against Ickes just
because he was I don't know perhaps a Democrat!

And I one time got up and said to the Sierra Club board, "In
view of the fact of what Ickes has done, and supported conservation
for so long, we should send him a letter of appreciation." Farquhar
opposed it very strenuously, saying that no public servant needs a
letter of appreciation for doing his duty. And I was not alert
enough to pound on the table back and say, "I insist on a vote."
many people came up afterwards and said, "I'm so ashamed I didn't
speak up. But what in the world was the matter with Farquhar?"
Farquhar just had those strange acts of intolerance every once in a
while. There's probably a psychological reason for them.

I think this is going fine. We're getting a lot of ideas.


Yes. You had, I

guess, a fairly active part in the Kings Canyon

Yes, I did in a sense. I don't know how potent it was, but I
called on at least thirty senators, and more than that number in
Congress, and had a set of pictures, and got a very good response
except one. One man said, "Too many parks." I said, "I guess we
can't talk to you." He said, "No, but I'm glad to see you. I'd
like to take you to lunch if I didn't have a meeting. But we can't
talk about this matter. There's too many parks." I forget who it

Was there anybody in the Sierra Club opposed to the Kings Canyon?

Oh, nobody on the board. There probably was among the members.
There are always members, for instance, who were for Mineral King.
We were officially opposed to Mineral King, and yet we have
thousands of members who want to ski in Southern California. They
disagree violently.

There was a protest against a road through the Sequoia National Park

That's the basic sound protest, that the road will do a great deal
of damage. Originally it would cost $26 million, but now it would
cost nearly $50 million, and it has now been turned down by the
state senate. So the road won't be built. On the other hand,
Disney said they'll put a cog railway in, which is all right with
me. That'll just go up the foothills in a beeline and won't do any
real damage. I can't say that I'm against the ski thing. I don't


Adams: think many people are against the actual ski development, and even
Disney had the idea that they'd park way down the canyon and come
in on buses. Now, the danger of the ski situation is that it does
cut trees and it takes people to the top of the ridge, and that
means probably some development on the other side of the ridge and
on the wilderness area.

My main objection is the "coyness" of the projected village,
which is a sort of pseudo-Zermatt. But I think that if they can't
have the road, and people come in on a cog railway, crowds will be
cut down to a reasonable number. And knowing the paucity of ski
areas in the south, I just have to believe that it would be fair to
give people a good place to ski if it can be accomplished without
doing any damage. This road must go across ten miles of Sequoia
Park. Mineral King was not put in Sequoia Park because of the
existing mineral rights. Mineral rights cost money, and I don't
think anybody's ever done mining there to any extent. I forget the
dates, but Mount Ritter and Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake
and Garnet Lake and Shadow Lake Canyon and the Minarets easily some
of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra originally were in
Yosemite Park. The mining people had a lobby and thought there
was a lot of juicy minerals there, but Mr. Colby had proven by
careful study and exploration that the veins were shattered and that
it was uneconomical.

They wouldn't listen to him. They influenced Congress to make
a trade (this shows you that a park is a vulnerable thing) of so
many acres thousands of acres for sugar pine forests in the
northern part of Yosemite. So that beautiful part of the Sierra is
now out of the park. They went in there and they spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars in mines. It's just as Colby said, the veins
are shattered they've faulted. So you get a lot of nice juicy ore
for fifteen feet and suddenly you come up against a blank wall,
literally. And where is the vein? So the mines just petered out.
And the Forest Service won't put it back in the park, and some
people think it's better where it is. It has practically no timber
value at all. And Devil's Postpile National Monument is adjacent to
it. So it's a strange situation. It is park status, but I don't
see it's been hurt at all by not being in the park. There's some
relics of some mines there which have now become historic.

Trans-Sierra Highways, Continued

Teiser: There were suggestions of a road into the Kings Canyon

Adams: That was very bad. This brings up a whole point that is terribly

important. Many years ago, say in the middle thirties, we recognized
there was a pressure for a road across the Sierra. And the chambers


Adams: of commerce have been working for what they call the Porterville-
Lone Pine road, and that would go through Golden Trout Creek and
really penetrate some wonderful wilderness area. And the Sierra
Club vigorously opposed this. There was another road up the Kings
Canyon (we have a road into Kings Canyon proper), but this was to
go up Paradise Valley and over Independence Pass. We opposed that.
The opposition was balanced by the fact that we approved of a big
road over what is called Minaret summit from Huntington Lake and
that country over the Sierra and if that road were put through,
we would support it with the provision that the Lone Pine-
Porterville and other trans-Sierra roads would not be built. The
Highway Division agreed to that. They couldn't be legally bound,
but they said this makes sense; it gives a basis for negotiation,
"and we can assure you that the present administration will not
press for these other roads."

Well, that has been the policy of the club for years. The war
came and no roads were built. Then the pressure started again.
Then the new group of people (I call them the "activists") opposed
that road and said, "There should be no trans-Sierra road." Well,
with a million people coming to the southern San Joaquin Valley it
would be awfully hard, realistically, to say you can't have a road
across the Sierra. I asked Wayburn one time, "I wonder what in the
world has got into us? I mean, here's a chance to build a road
which would go through the least interesting part of the mountain."
[Wayburn answered,] "It bisects the John Muir Trail." I said, "What
do you mean? You put a tunnel under the road or an overpass. It's
uninteresting country." He said, "Oh, it'll open up the north and
the south." And I said, "No, it can be built as a parkway without
access," which is the truth. But they're adamant, you see. On some
what do you call it? tautologic point?

The result is now that they're starting up activity again for
a road across the southern Sierra. The governor goes down and he
says, "We'll never build a road over Minaret summit." Well, he's
an absolute idiot because there's going to be a trans-Sierra road,
and that's the only logical place, where it would do the least

I know Mr. Colby was very strong on that. I have a great
admiration for Colby's strong feeling about it. But, realistically,
we have to have a road, and that's the place to put it. If we'd
have had that road, we wouldn't have the present development of the
Tioga Road. The re 'd be no need for it at all. I just keep trying
to be realistic, and I'm accused all the time of being a traitor and
destroying conservation ideals. But, believe me, a road across
Minaret summit would do no damage of any consequence compared to
one further south, or even what the Tioga has done. Just look at
the east side of the Leevining Canyon. It is just a great excavation!


Teiser: I've seen your photographs recently of that.

Adams: And then they build the new road by Tenaya Lake; they cut right
through a granite slope. Those are terrible things.

Teiser: The Sierra Club has apparently been working on that one for years
and years to try to

Adams: We tried to control it, and at the last minute they weasled. I was
very anxious that the road never go to Tenaya Lake it should bypass
the lake, go up the canyon, come over Polly Dome and follow up
Cathedral Creek and then to Tuolumne Meadows. And they weasled out
on it. I got so mad; I came home and I sent a telegram resigning
from the board of the Sierra Club. Then I sent four hot telegrams
to Washington, duplicates to the director, to the secretary, to the
Bureau of Public Roads, and the director of the Corps of Engineers.
Before I sent them I called up Dick Leonard, fortunately, at eleven
o'clock at night and said, "I want to send this telegram." I read
it to him. I had accused them of acts of criminal negligence in
this destruction. Dick said, "Put in 'approaching'. Don't get
yourself out on a limb." So I changed it. Boy, within two days
there were fifteen people from Washington in Yosemite. The
superintendent was talking about seeing his lawyer; he's accused of
"criminal negligence." And that word "approaching" is what saved it
because it really approached ruining this country. And I had plenty
of people that would stand back of it.

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 63 of 76)