Ansel Adams.

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

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"Cedric, you know, you've got to do something." A doctor friend
told me, "This man's going to kill himself. It's serious." And
finally it got up to 300, and then he had a stroke and never
really recovered. It was very sad, and it shows what can happen
when you get out of sync with the things you need most. You don't
monkey with high blood pressure. Of course, you may not know what
you've got, but you usually know something's wrong, and a good
doctor will quickly find it out. I have what they call labile
blood pressure. All of a sudden it will hit me. I feel perfectly
fine for a long time, and then I begin to feel funny. I can
take my own blood pressure, and if it's up, I have a little pill
which brings it down. I haven't had it now for several months,
but it could come right here, talking to you. I first begin to
feel a little strange not really dizzy. I take a little tablet,
and in ten minutes I'm all right.

But if I kept working against that pressure, it would go up
and up and up. That isn't good. And it seems that people who
have done a lot of strenuous work, like climbing around mountains
and so on, are inclined to it. Because for some reason, I suppose
the heart gets enlarged from the extra-heavy work, and then when
you ease off you've got a lot of heart muscle that isn't quite
needed, and it apparently sets up funny rhythms and causes these
effects. I'm not worried at all about it, because I know what it
is. But poor Cedric had a terrible persistent set-to with it, and
it finally put him a little bit off his rocker; he became very


Adams :

erratic. He spent the last several years of his life writing a
tirade on education. He apparently hadn't had good luck as a
child in school, and he was trying to reestablish his wrath and
wrote hundreds of pages of mimeographed stuff an absolutely
hysterical tirade.

But that's what happens so often with gifted people,
extremely gifted, and he was a marvelous teacher violin.

He was

And he

was an extremely smart and shrewd person, but he prided himself on
being unscientific. Something like Edward Weston. He and Charis
[Wilson Weston] would berate science. And I'd say, "You're using
a sensitive film, and that's pretty much of a technical triumph.
And that lens you've got that isn't made with a flint knife, you
know, or a hoe." Well, that kind of science I guess was all right.
It was very strange.

I got the funniest letter about this Datsun ad [a television
commercial in which Ansel Adams participated; a tree was to be
planted for every Datsun test-driven] from a man who agreed with
my philosophy of photography. He didn't see anything wrong with
planting a tree, but the fundamental dichotomy was to drive a car
and plant a tree. Now, those were two opposites of ecology, and
it simply did not make sense. "But of course," he said, "I drive
a car." I didn't know what he was trying to get at in the letter.
I'm going to ask Bill Turnage to answer it, because I don't
understand this person. His conscience is eating him in some way.

Teiser: Ask him how many cylinders there are on his car. I don't believe
there's any car that has fewer cylinders than a Datsun. You can't
have three

Adams: You can. The old D.K.W. had three, but it really acted as six at
high speeds. It was a two-stroke engine. I had a couple of
those. It was a wonderful automobile. It was two-stroke. When
it idled it sounded like a cocktail shaker, but when it was
running, and you got to any speed at all it would buzz along, like
a watch. The engine had only seven moving parts.

Teiser: When did that come out?

Adams: That was ten, twelve years ago. Called D.K.W. made by the Auto
Union. And then the Volvo, I think, had a three-cylinder. And
they're very efficient, but they do pollute, because the oil is
mixed in with the gas. They're extremely high rpm 9000, 10,000
cycles per minute. So when you're going along a highway at fifty
or sixty, you purr. It was a very well made car.

Teiser: Going on to some of the other people. Aldo Leopold


Adams :

Adams :


He was the father of [A. Starker] Leopold who is a professor at
the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. And he has another brother.

Was the elder Leopold a member of the Sierra Club?

Oh, I think so, but I think it was pretty much before my time.
I don't remember him. I might have met him. I remember Vernon

Vernon Bailey?

He was a naturalist. I don't really know where he came from. He
was an important man in his field. He tried to dissuade people
from being afraid of snakes. He would show how a rattlesnake
can't stand direct sun. He had a big clearing in Pate Valley, and
he put the snake in it and kept it in the sun. It just curled over
and died. It's a cold-blooded animal they can't stand the heat.
They live in the shade and under rocks, etc. Bailey gave very
interesting talks, at an entertaining level, at our campfires.

Sierra Club Campaigns


Adams :

Teiser ;

I made a list of things that the Sierra Club was either for or
against that are recorded in the Bulletins and the 1971 Sierra Club
Handbook. Admiralty Island, off Alaska. Do you remember that

Oh, I remember something about that.
a wildlife situation or a scenic one,
had some discussion on it.

I don't know whether that was
I don't know. But I know we

And the expansion of Death Valley. This was in the early thirties.

Yes, that was very important. As I remember there, we tried to get
the mining privileges out, and we couldn't do that because the
congressional act which set up the monuments specifies that mining
rights would be protected. But we did get the expansion in, and
the reason I think was largely a matter of desert flora and fauna
and a general rounding out of the area.

You see, you'd always have to remember that there 'd be
certain groups in the club who'd get a bee in their bonnet about
doing certain things. It's a good idea, but it, for them, became
absolutely total importance; nothing else mattered. Like saving
the tule elk, which has been a big campaign lately. You'd think it
was really saving Holland! It's one of the most really complete


Adams: campaigns. (They've saved them they've got a state bill now that
assures a preserve, and 1 think they're all right.) But there 'd
be all kinds of small groups who'd go after specific projects.
Sometimes the things weren't really worthy of national attention.
And that would cause hard feelings because the main club office
would say, "We just can't! We have so many things to do. That's
a local problem." But, boy, some people have got an unbounded
energy for discourse. [Laughter]

We just have a situation now about reprinting a mountaineering
book, and this man is challenging the first ascent records. Again,
you'd think it was a major constitutional decision of the Supreme
Court. I mean, there's been reams of paper written about it and
mimeographed and circulated ten, fifteen, twenty people involved.
And I got this stuff from Tom Jukes, and I sent it back because it
was incomprehensible. Jukes suggested we take all the registers
off all the mountains, then ask everybody to go up and make a first
ascent, because there's no previous record. And this man would
say, "I made the first ascent of Crag 12,850, which is the third
crag south of the North Palisade, and I made that ascent in 1917,
and that's the first ascent. Somebody in your book says he made
the first ascent in 1920 and that is wrong. I demand that that be
corrected." You know, that kind of monkey business, and what
difference does it make? It wasn't climbing Mount Everest. I
always say, all arguments like that are making a Montaigne out of
a Moliere. [Laughter] (That's terrible.)

Teiser: I have next Olympic National Park. It was proposed in the thirties,
and it wasn't until the fifties, I guess, that it was pretty well

Adams: Yes, we had a lot of trouble with the timber people there. You see,
lumber is the prime industry of the Northwest. They allowed the
Mount Rainier area to come in. There wasn't much forest. But the
Olympic took in quite a lot of timber. We wanted it to go all the
way to the ocean, and the timber interests objected. So it became
very "legal," with lots of lobbying and congressional contacts.
It was pretty complex. That's where people like Colby were superb,
because they had all the legal knowledge of the means of acquiring
it. It's not easy. You are asked, "What's the status of a certain
area?" And you've got to do a ton of research before you can reply.
You can rest assured the other side's done it too, and is using that
part which is favorable to them.

Teiser: In the creation of national parks, in general, would the National
Park Service be with the conservationists, or did they try to stay
out until it was ?


Adams: They were usually very good. But if they felt something was a hot
potato, they'd be rather passive. Some of these things were
political hot potatoes, and that's why the director of the Park
Service has got a terrible job, because he can exist only by the
sufferance of Capitol Hill. And when our friend George Hartzog
goes up on the Hill and starts working for parks that invade timber
industry areas, bang! all the timber senators and congressmen come
right down on him and write letters to the secretary: "Let's get
rid of this destructive character." You see, it's really very
potent and very dangerous.

The Park Service may propose something and then sit back and
wait for a response. And then organizations like the Sierra Club
or the Wilderness Society and others will take it up. It never
works the same, but that's more or less the way they propose a good
idea, then see what the support is and act accordingly.

Teiser: What's the answer really? Is there any reasonable compromise on

Adams: Well, yes, what we're doing is setting up these wilderness areas

and, of course, trying to get the Forest Service to save the prime
forests. But after all, as I said before, the Forest Service's
function is to control the flow of use, not to preserve nature for
scenic reasons. I guess the only answer is just to allow certain
areas to be recut and replanted. Now, there was great talk about
this last night because of the controversy about clear cutting and
selective cutting. I'm personally in favor of the clear cutting,
because I think it's much cleaner, and while it does leave a scar,
it depends where it's done. For instance, all the big mountains
back of Santa Fe have been burned off in the fire of, I think,
1923, and now great groves of aspens have grown up. And now I can
see conifer trees growing up among the aspens. In time the forest
will reassert itself. That had never been replanted. It's not
true to say it takes thirty years for a forest to grow. I've
photographed them perfectly beautiful stands of young trees that
are fifteen, twenty, ten years old. For instance, this tree [outside
the window] was just up to the floor ten years ago. A Monterey pine
is one of the fastest growing trees.

Teiser: How tall is it now?

Adams: Oh, it goes up to about thirty feet, I guess.

So if they do clear cut and then immediately plant, and if
they can in some way avoid clear cutting to straight edges, then
you wouldn't have this checkerboard feeling. But the surveyors go
in and draw lines. Now, if they could just make a ragged or random
edge, it wouldn't be such an eyesore.


Adams: But the selective cutting going into a forest, cutting down a good-
looking tree, cutting off the slash and taking it out does an awful
lot of aesthetic damage. As long as you don't plant trees in rows,
like I understand they do in Europe, you will approach a natural

Teiser: We did it with eucalyptus.

Adams: Well, that was largely windbreak, and they found they couldn't
continue it, because it took too much water out of the ground.
There's very few left now; they're taking them down.

Teiser: Have you ever known any lumber men whom you thought had good ideas?

Adams: Oh yes, a lot of them. Most of them are very fine gentlemen.
They've got their business to attend to. They're mostly very
sincere. What they're trying to do is to get maximum yield. Their
goal is 96 percent yield in forest products, and it's been 50 and
60 percent so far. Now it's going up to around 70 I forget what
the last figure is. That's using chip and slash and bark and
tailings all the stuff that was formerly thrown away and burned
up. They use a lot of it chemically. Well, if they can get it up
to 90 percent it will be most favorable.

One of the big companies has about 180,000 acres and they
told me, "We have enough now to keep us going indefinitely. As
soon as we cut, we plant, and when we get around there again, why,
it's lumber; but sometimes it's used for pulp." I think it's
absolutely ridiculous to say you can't cut trees. It's where you
cut them. I think, as a rule, they've been fairly cooperative. Of
course, the Redwood National Park matter was so vague that they
got mad, and they went in and they cut ruthlessly. They were
trying to prevent a larger park, that's all. While the squabble
was going on to get a larger park, they were cutting down the
timber that was hoped to be in the larger park.

Teiser: Which

Adams: Redwood National Park. You see, as I said before, practically

every other area we think of is either Bureau of Land Management,
Bureau of Public Lands, or Forest Service land. The redwoods are
on largely private land. So it's more than a matter of
congressional shift of control. You [can] take it from the Forest
Service and put it in the Park Service. When you come to private
lands, then you have to buy them and, of course, the redwood is
very expensive. A hundred thousand acres would cost something in
the order of I don't know something like $25 million, at least.


Adams: But you see what happens is, there are things we didn't figure on.
The Rockefellers gave this big fund for the Bull Creek Flat. The
Bull Creek Flat is one of the most beautiful redwood groves. And
we thought, "Well, this is safe." Then the lumber companies work
back in the watershed and clean out the spruce and the pine (there's
little redwood up there) , and create an erosion problem. Along
comes the heavy rain storms, and the redwoods are severely inundated
as they've never been in their history. We have lost some of the
finest trees because the roots are fairly close to the surface, and
when they have six or eight feet of water around them they become
saturated, and the trees topple. Now, under natural conditions
that never could happen. But the hillsides were cleaned off; then
came the rain. With clear cutting, of course, you could have that
situation in sane places!

No matter what you do, it's well, it has its effect!
Teiser: And if you don't do it, it has an effect. [Laughter]

In connection with Redwood National Park, there was some
controversy between the Save-the-Redwoods League and the Sierra

Adams: Yes, that's a long and unfortunate story. The Save-the-Redwoods
League did, I think, an incredible job and conducted themselves
very well, and all the people they worked with were friendly and
realistic. The League would raise, say, $100,000 to buy redwood
land timber. And they'd bargain for a good rate, and they'd acquire
it. I don't know of another way to do it. But the whole Sierra
Club attitude was that all these lumber men were just total bastards
and that they are fighting to prevent the parks. You see, there's
always this negative attitude. Actually the lumber people are
fighting to protect themselves; they don't want to prevent the park.

The first park plan, I think, had the approval of the Save-the-
Redwoods League because it enlarged many of the areas the League
had worked on. And quite a number of people thought that was fine.
Then, as I said, there was Wayburn and a few others who decided it
wasn't right, and we needed more, and that more caused a great delay
and loss of some valuable areas. So now we have a park which is
inferior to what it could have been.

Teiser: There was something about the Save-the-Redwoods League wanting to
enlarge Jedediah Smith Park and the Sierra Club wanting instead to
include some lands in Humboldt County.

Adams: I don't know the particulars of that. But the Save-the-Redwoods

League had the big plan, and what they were trying to do was to get
these nuclei established, these state parks, and then build around


Adams: them. You see, the Avenue of the Giants, composed of several

memorial groves, was on a two-lane road, and the Save-the-Redwoods
League, instead of buying a lot of land, bought the land along each
side of the road as fast as they could. Somebody put up ten,
fifteen thousand dollars and they'd buy a big strip, and it would
become part of the avenue. Really quite a wonderful thing to do.
But then private land began just a hundred yards or two hundred
yards beyond the borders of the avenue. The lumber people cut down
to the borders, so you can't go in any distance beyond the narrow
strip of trees.

[End Tape 26, Side 1]

[Begin Tape 26, Side 2]

Adams: This was anticipated some day, but not so soon. That meant we did
have a corridor with little depth.

Then the freeway people came along and said, "We're going to
put our freeway through the Redwood Highway area," which would have
practically removed all the trees, most of the important ones. This
would have left a very narrow band of a few trees. And the club put
up a terrible squawk on that. All power to Governor [Edmund G.]
Brown. In some way, he finagled the funds to put the road on the
other side of the river. I understand it was not really legal, but
it was very important to do it. I mean, he just transferred funds
and said, "Now, come and get me." It wasn't personal; it was for
the good of the cause. I understand it was really quite a brave
thing to do. They had to buy land, but they saved the Avenue of the
Giants. You see, it's always these problems give and take, win
this and lose that.

Then the Save-the-Redwoods League had bought quite a lot in the
area of Fern Canyon, and the lumber company gave Fern Canyon to the
state. It is a very beautiful gorge I guess about a half a mile
long, with vertical walls covered with ferns. One of the most
beautiful places. If you are a company and you have stockholders
with money invested, you have to protect it; you just can't laugh
it off. Eminent domain is always there, but it's expensive.

Now, another thing that's terribly important about the redwoods
that a lot of people don't realize the labor situation. You see,
the general people were very much against the park because it cost
jobs, lumbermen's jobs. The next thing that happened: the Park
Service said, "Well, we'll employ more people in the end than the
lumber industry would in this area." Yes, but they're different
people. Lumberjacks aren't going to be rangers or concession
operators, you see. They had a terrific opposition from the
population, the taxpayers. That is still seething; I think people
resent that very much.


Adams :





Adams :

And on various occasions, masses of people in the area will protest
a park because it does potentially cost jobs, and of course, their
jobs. A job is not abstract as far as they're concerned.

Something of that sort came up in connection with Jackson Hole.
Very much so, especially taxes.
What was the story there?

Well, you see, the Rockefellers had this great preserve. They were
paying taxes on it, and it was quite a considerable amount to
Wyoming. The Teton National Park came right down to the base of
the mountains and stopped. The people in that area wanted dude
ranches and cattle running, you see private property to pay taxes.
So Rockefeller then offered to give the whole area to the national
park system providing it would become part of Grand Teton Park.
Then there was a terrible roar. Well, it turned out that after
Rockefeller gave the area, the taxes were double what they would
have been, you see, from all the developments that came. The town
of Jackson boomed, as did the settlement of Moose, and many of the
private holdings, ranchers and concessioners. So the state of
Wyoming has done extremely well, because that's a very popular park.
So now they think it's wonderful!

It was a matter of taxes and not just of disgruntled people not
wanting a lot of tourists coming in?

Might have been some of that, but I think that was minor,
it was primarily taxes.

I think

I'll go back again to an earlier period of the club's campaigns.
I don't know if you were involved at all with the one against the
Yellowstone Lake dam.

Yes, we were very active on that. I just voted against it [the dam],
as I remember. I didn't get into the science of it at all. We won
on that, I think, and they found another site. Now, when it came to
the Echo Park dam, that was one of our most intelligent projects.
Because here was this extremely beautiful place, and they wanted to
dam it. And it was perfectly obvious that the district needed the
water. Well, the most sensible element in the club said the only
thing we could do was to provide an alternate. So we hired some
very competent engineers. I forget who really did this I think
Walter Starr or somebody was active in it. And they found, after
rather expensive surveys, that there was another site. And the only
objection to that site was that it would have a higher rate of
evaporation because it was bigger. But that the cost of the dam
itself was much less. So with that ammunition we were able to save


Adams: Echo Park. A lot of people in the club take personal credit for

these things when it's really a collective effort. And also support
from the outside too that we sometimes don't acknowledge, and we
should. It's silly that there should be competition between
organizations working for the same thing. But that's happened
quite a few times when some want to take all the glory it's been
a little depressing.

We are now, I guess, the biggest conservation organization,
in a sense, but there's some other very potent organizations the
Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy and Resources for the Future,
and others. A lot of them are not flamboyant; they work behind the
scenes, but they have a terrific pull in Congress, with all kinds
of problems in the works timber and wilderness, etc. We have our
smoke-filled rooms just like the regular politicians'. There is a
lot of discussion and persuasion involved.

Teiser: When did the Echo Park controversy come up? What period was that?
Adams: I think that was shortly after the war, right around that time.*
Teiser: Was that part of the Dinosaur National park?

Adams: Yes, it's in Dinosaur National Monument that's the area. Again, a
monument has only a quasi-protection. It's not as secure as a park.

Protection and Overprotection

Teiser: Somewhere in the late thirties there was a threat to both national
and state parks about oil and gas exploration leasing or selling.
Was that ever anything more than just a threat?

Adams: One thing is very important to realize: the National Parks Act is
not in the constitution. It's only an act, an enabling act, which
could be rescinded at any time. It's perfectly conceivable that we
could have a Congress that could abandon the parks, turn them back
to the Forest Service, turn them back to private ownership, put them
up for sale. It's all a matter of congressional power. Of course,
the people, I don't think, would stand for it, but it's theoretically
conceivable. So while the regulations and rules prohibit certain
things, those things can be approved by an act of Congress, approval
of the President and so on. It's always a matter of sitting on pins
and needles.

Teiser: There was a proposal to repeal the Antiquities Act



Adams: That's the national monuments. That's called the National
Antiquities and Monuments Act, I think the full name.

Teiser: And if that were repealed, what would the status of the national
monuments have been?

Adams: Well, I suppose if they're forest, they would be cut. If they're

open to miniTig or to tourists, they probably would go to the Forest
Service and come under that administration.

Teiser: Was that a real threat?
Adams: Oh yes, it was a threat.
Teiser: Who wanted to do it?

Adams: Oh, I guess people of the Congressman [Wayne N.] Aspinall type
pretty much determined to reduce public ownership. He's from

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 65 of 76)