Ansel Adams.

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

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want to reduce it so they can ski down the east side. There's
always a definition of the borders. You see how complicated it gets.

[End Tape 28, Side 1]
[Begin Tape 28, Side 2]

Adams: Well, so I think we have to bear in mind that the wilderness concept
is really one of the great steps, and of course every one is being
resisted and subject to hearings. However, we have to bear in mind
that the democratic process really includes the concept of logical
variance. If enough people go to a hearing, and if there's enough
protest, then the protest is bound to have an effect, and there may
be a variance to the basic ideal plan. And I think there's no other
way we can do that unless we have a dictatorship, which would have
repercussions in other directions.

You get awfully mad sometimes and you say, "Well, why in the
world don't they just take these valleys like those in the North
Cascades and put them in the park?" Well, timber industry and the
Forest Service power is too great. We couldn't have the park unless
we have full consideration of the variances. And sometimes they're
absolutely anti-aesthetic. They're just recorded as percentages of
areas on maps. And remember, a wart on the face of Venus really
does a lot of harm to the whole face. It isn't a matter of area.

Teiser: One of the things that you've mentioned is the position of the

Sierra Club in relation to the Save-the-Redwoods League. Did Brower
antagonize Newton Drury of the Save-the-Redwoods League?

Adams: Well, yes. But Newton Drury is a very big man, and the Redwoods

League is composed of very big people, and they were very sorry that
they had this very stupid opposition, which again was based on ego.
And the Save-the-Redwoods League operated on a basis of raising
money and buying redwoods. On a realistic basis, the redwoods are
private property. As long as you live in this particular system,
you just don't appropriate private property. The government can do
it under eminent domain, but even then its value has to be proven
and paid for. So the Save-the-Redwoods League started many, many


Adams: years ago. Colby was terribly important in it. They would raise
money. They'd go to a lumber company and say, "Well, we want to
buy Bull Creek Flat. How much?" That whole area was worth several
million dollars. They go out and they get the money, a very
considerable amount. It's called the Rockefeller Grove. Then they
found that the redwood lumber people really yielded a little and
said, "Well, if you're going to buy the whole thing yes, we'll give
some," because they were just suddenly realizing a good amount of
capital. The redwood forest is not a reproducible capital. When
they cut out a redwood forest, they plant other trees, you see,
fast-growing trees, because it isn't economic to cut out a redwood
forest and then plant redwoods and wait a hundred years. But the
other trees are ready to harvest in twenty, twenty-five years.
That's why the Monterey pine is the mainstay of the New Zealand
lumber industry, because it's harvestable every twenty years, I
think, for pulp and twenty-five to thirty years for timber.

The Save-the-Redwoods League really made the great, monumental

A Western Club or a National Club

Teiser: You mentioned Mr. Colby. In the 1950s and '60s, did he become

somewhat out of patience or out of sympathy with the Sierra Club?

Adams: Well, yes. I think in about the sixties he felt that we had a
particular job to do and we were diverting from it. And I used
to say, "Well, I think the diversion to the chapters is a wonderful
idea." He said, "Well, let other organizations do that." He said,
"I think we ought to stick to our guns and be concerned with the
Sierra Nevada and the western areas; we shouldn't concern ourselves
about the Everglades, because we just can't spread ourselves." Now,
I think he was wrong in the sense that what we have now is like a
United States of America. We have all these chapters, and I would
like to see them all send delegates to the "senate" and have the
"senate" run the club. I think it'll have to come to that. The
"senate" would appoint top people as executives.

In an organization the size of the Sierra Club, the president
should be in the $40 ,000-a-year class. We could have someone like
Russell Train or I don't know the new names that are coming up.
But it really is a terribly complex thing because you have to be in
constant contact with the pulse of Washington, and in theory we
should move our headquarters to Washington. That was suggested, and
that bothered Colby because he was conventionally a westerner. I
think, in the objective sense, the Sierra Club should be based in


Adams: Washington, and let the chapters take care of the regions. Most of
our environmental suits, which are many, are all over the country.
So why should we be in San Francisco as a head office? We ought to
be right in Washington along with the other groups and have a
western regional office.

Otherwise, we just stay as a club, which suggests a group of
privileged gentlemen who like to go on outings. Many of them had a
lot of money and they could help in larger things, but I wouldn't
want to go back to those days; that would be futile. The American
Alpine Club, for instance, and the Appalachian Mountain Club. They
very seldom do anything except just titillate their own members,
have lovely banquets, outings, and birdwatchings. But they have
little force in the national scene that I know of, unless they've
suddenly changed lately.

Protecting and Administering Public Lands

Teiser: In the Everglades matter, I think the club, again, was quite active,
wasn't it?

Adams: Very active. There again, a chapter was very effective the

Southeastern chapter. And I think Audubon helped in that. But the
Everglades to me, and I hate to say this, seemed to be kind of a
losing battle. It isn't the Everglades that are being affected,
it's the surrounding area that feeds the Everglades. They'd have
to make about one-third of Florida a national park to protect it.

You see what happened. Again, it's a terribly important thing.
We got the Rockefeller Grove, and we have all these beautiful things
in Northern California. Bull Creek Flat a great place, but we
never thought that the present logging tactics would clean off the
land in the watershed all around. Tremendous logging went on. Then
the first heavy rains appeared and there was fantastic erosion, and
there was six to eight feet of water for the first time in history
in the redwood rivers. So these great trees would topple, and it
was a great loss. And that was due because of our inability to
control the surrounding environment.

So if we had really known what was going to happen, we would
have bought up everything all around, which of course wasn't all
redwoods. It was all kinds of lumber. I guess spruce and chaparral.
I don't know what else grows up there I guess some pine. And they
clear-cut the whole area, so the erosion was fantastic.


Adams: In the areas north of the Everglades they have taken water, and
things are drying up. There are fires. It's awfully hard
sometimes to define what JLS_ a national park. Yellowstone to me
is a daisy chain of national monuments. And the whole Sierra
should be a national park. It should be one great park Tahoe,
Yosemite, and Mount Ritter and all the way down to the Kern River,
and call it Sierra National Park, with Yosemite Valley a part of it.

Now, there's no need to have two national parks in Hawaii, and
they're talking about three. Why can't they have Hawaii National
Park in three sections? But it's political, you see. The different
islands these people live on have national parks. Hawaii National
Park in itself is really marvelous. And Haleakala is the top of
one great volcano. It could just as well be a national monument.
But it could be part of the park as a section, which is all right.

Now they want a national park at Kauai, the northern island.
And why have a whole separate national park, when it could be a
part of the big Hawaii National Park? But the people there demand
that, and the tourist industry wants as many national parks as they
can get, because they think that attracts people. Just to have one
national park, although it covers three great areas, is not as good
as having three national parks, with all the attendant costs. A
national park's a very complicated thing, with all the water rights
and all the operational details. It's complex and expensive. So
if I were a dictator, I would have Sierra National Park and include
Sequoia, Kings, and Yosemite districts in one great area.

Teiser: Are there other big campaigns that the Sierra Club has waged that
we haven't thought of?

Adams: Oh, we've had a lot we've had Olympic Park, and of course Cascade
National Park, and very satisfactory too. Now we're very happy to
hear that we've partially stopped development in southeastern
Alaska, probably saved that for a while. But the Forest Service
did a terrible thing they turned over 95 percent of the forest
land for cutting, and a lot of that lumber is going direct to Japan.
Southeastern Alaska's one of the most beautiful places in the world,
and here it would just be cut off, and for a very low grade of

timber. It isn't really good timber, you see.
chiefly good for pulp.

It's scrub I think


The Alaska Pipeline

Adams: Now, of course, we're putting on the big fight on the pipeline, and
that is something that I believe has to be very well thought about.
The oil proponents say the Middle East is liable to blow up at any
time, and South America can go communist (the Rockefellers are
holding Venezuela together). If they deny us oil and say only the
communist countries can have the oil, then we're cut off from very
important supplies. So, they say, we'll have to take the north
slope oil. Well, the north slope is very vulnerable, but it is still
under our control. Now, how to get the oil down here? No matter
how they do it, it's potential pollution. The best of all would be
huge air tankers, because if they did crash, they'd burn in one area.
Submarines and ships could pollute. So the club has fought the
pipeline. And I think we forget that Alaska is huge, and the pipe
line is small. We're accustomed to seeing a map with a line down it,
which is probably actually two miles wide on the map, you see. So we
could have pollution along the lines by breakage (they do have
cutoff valves rather frequently) . But if there were any international
trouble or any sabotage, the whole pipeline could be demolished in
one day with a few high-flying bombers, even low-flying machine-gun
jets. And there would be a lot of pollution in that particular area.

But I don't think that would be as bad as the pollution of a
big tanker grounding. You're really on the horns of a dilemma.
They're trying to put it through Canada. Well, that still pollutes,
and how do you know you're going to get the oil? Suppose you have
a terrorist group like at the Olympics, which was an awful thing.
They could come in there when that pipeline is up; they could
completely wreck it. Just hire a jet and drop a series of small
bombs blow up the pipeline in about twenty places. You'd have a
terrible situation. You'd have pollution in a small restricted area,
but you wouldn't get the oil. Whether the Sierra Club is the
organization to get into this kind of thing is still a question for
me. I don't know whether we're taking on more than we can possibly
handle. In other words, there should be groups, anti-pollution
groups that really should lead, and we could support them. But
whether we should take the lead on that and on population control,
I don't know. It seems like riding horses in all directions at once.
Whether we'd ever get them back to the corral is [Laughter]

I'm not trying to be negative; I'm just trying to be realistic.
The chapters are doing a wonderful job. They have local problems
they spend all their energies on, and they do well. What can we do?
We get a plea from a group, and that goes through a committee, and
they say, "If you'll put that on the next meeting," and that's one of
fifty items, and it probably won't get heard until the third day when
everybody is in a state of collapse. So we pass a resolution saying,


Adams: "Yes, we agree." So then what?
the head office agrees." Fine.

Then the local people say, "Well,
It's a year late. By that time, the

whole thing's gone. It's like the Red River Valley in Kentucky and
all kinds of problems such as the Indiana Dunes. I just don't know.
The problems are just fantastic, and should really be passed on to
younger and more knowledgeable people than I am.

"The Conscience of the Board"

Teiser: I think we quoted to you before that Dick Leonard said you were the

"conscience" of the Sierra Club board. And you said, I believe, that
you weren't sure what that meant.

Adams: I think Will Siri really said it. I really don't know what they mean,
except that I was always standing up for matters of quasi-principle
as against fact. They were talking about controlling hunters, and I
said, "Why should there be any hunting today? It's a barbaric I'd
forgive anybody to go out and kill game to eat. But just to go out
and destroy a resource " And they all shook their heads and said,
"Well, you're not realistic." So I was always more or less anathema.

Then I shocked them all by saying certain things that they feel
is a deviation of their conscience, like favoring a tramway instead
of a road. That to them is just a kind of shibboleth statement, you
see. They don't realize that a road does a thousand times more
damage than any tramway will do. So it becomes a matter of, I guess
the difference between free love and motherhood [laughter] I don't
quite make out the idea in some of their arguments. I was victimized
myself in not supporting the cableway to Glacier Point. And then the
first time I saw the road I realized I'd really made a profound
mistake. The road did so much damage, and the cable railway could be
little more than a power line.

Teiser: So it was that sort of thing that gave you the reputation of going
your own way, at least?

Adams: Yes, yes. I went my own way. But that's a little exaggerated.

Teiser: Leonard said that your vote was a crucial one in the Kings Canyon
road fight. And I think he said that was one of the things he'd
told you in order to try to get you to stay on the board.

Adams: Well, that whole road business is very complicated, because when I

first went on the board, the Lone Pine-Porterville road was a pet of
the chambers of commerce and the highway department. It would be a
very dangerous invasion of real beautiful wilderness country. The


Adams: alternative was the Minaret summit road. We made a gentleman's

agreement with the highway department that if we supported a Minaret
summit road, they would pull off support from the Porterville-Lone
Pine road.

All of a sudden the club shifts: they're against all roads.
So I said to Wayburn, "Look, how about all these people from
Bakersfield and Fresno that are counting on this."

"Oh, let them go up the Sonora Pass."

Well, it's that kind of thinkingl It's like what Brower said,
"The country down here is getting too populated. Stop the people
coming down to the Big Sur." I said, "Well, how are you going to do

"Well, stop them. I don't care how you do it." [Laughter]

It's still the United States of America; you're still not going
to put barricades on public roads, you see. This is the crazy think
ing. It's so glamorous, and it excites a certain kind of emotional
response. But you can't do these things, you see.

So I blew up on that. And then the Tioga Road was developed.
If we'd had the trans-Sierra road at the Minaret summit, the Tioga
Road would have not been developed to its present state. The damage
in the Leevining Canyon they just simply went in there and slashed.
I still claim that if they had held to the original plan, it would
really have put a handsome four-lane parkway right over the Minaret
summit with no immediate access. It would have solved the highway
problem. Nobody else would have had a leg to stand on.

Teiser: That is the one that you said would have cut the John Muir Trail.

Adams: Every time I fly across the Sierra, I'm cutting the John Muir Trail,
believe me.

Tuolumne Meadows two years ago, at my workshop, I was there
from eight in the morning until six at night, and I counted thirty-
two transcontinental flights going over the Sierra. I'd recognize
some of the planes DC8s, 747s, 707s back and forth. Well, if you've
got anything to do with the wilderness mystique, that's quite a blow,
especially at night in the sleeping bag. I remember one time, many
years ago, I spent the night oh, toward the end of September, I
guess it was, at Tuolumne Pass. I remember there were two of us Mr.
Holman and myself. We put the donkey down in the meadow below us.
We were in the sleeping bags up there and the stars were wonderful
no satellites and no planes. And the silence was absolute. There
wasn't a bug, there wasn't a mosquito you know, there wasn't the













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Adams: sound of water, there was no wind. And I'll never forget it it's
impressive (and sometimes depressive). Finally Mr. Holman said,
"My God, it's quiet." I said, "Yes, it's getting me a little. Can
you sing?" [Laughs]

Now you can't possibly have that situation. You have airplanes,
and you have satellites. You lie out in the open and look up at the
sky and hear planes and see things. Of course, you see them several
hours after sunset, the lower altitude ones. But all the way to
midnight, you see really high-altitude satellites. They're in the
sunlight when they're passing. Then, when you're up [in a plane] at
thirty-eight thousand feet and look down on the Sierra, it looks like
God has stumbled on the rug. You have to look very carefully to see
Mount Goddard and Muir Pass the days of your youth when you spent a
week just going over this much small area!

So the wilderness mystique is getting harder and harder to
support and justify as far as the people are concerned. In a sense,
it's a serious situation.

Well, don't let me ramble on too much. Keep to your questions.

Teiser: Back to the board of the Sierra Club I don't know if this is an

appropriate question to ask you or not, but can you assess what your
chief contributions were over that very long number of years that
you were on the board?

Adams: In the beginning, you see, the emphasis was much more on

mountaineering, the outings, the Bulletin, and problems immediately
relating to the parks. I think that I was probably effective with
the photographs, and the pictures were used to very good advantage in
the publications. I think the greatest contribution I might have made
made was the idea of the exhibit at LeConte Lodge. I said I had a
friend, Nancy Newhall, who was awfully good at exhibits, and she said
she'd help (she doesn't know we're talking about her). So we put
together this exhibit called "This is the American Earth," and instead
of two weeks for completion, it took six weeks. We had a terrible
time getting $1600 out of the club to do it.

Teiser: You took only six weeks putting that together?

Adams: The exhibit, yes. She was a fast worker, and the club was small you
see, the reason for that whole thing (this is very interesting) was
that the government had a museum a very good one and they quite
rightfully said that the LeConte Lodge (it is now known as the LeConte
Memorial) was not serving any particular function. All we had was a
few isinglass sheets with dried grass in them and a few books. They
wanted to use it as a geological museum, which was very sensible.
They could have had a valid geological museum [Joseph] LeConte was a


Adams: great geologist. But I felt that the club should be represented in
Yosemite as a conservation organization to the public. So I got
hold of the directors (as a director, you see, I could do this) and
I said, "For God's sake, let's try to do something to keep this
lodge going as a 'front 1 for the club. We need an exhibit of our
whole conservation approach."

So I got through $1600 at a meeting and secured Nancy, and we
did it. Well, then when this exhibit was up, it made quite an
impact, and we made, I think, three more [duplicate exhibits] for
overseas and the East. And then Brower said, "Well, why don't we
make a book of it?" That started the whole book idea, because we
took the theme and many of the pictures used, of course, and added
quite a number and put together This is the American Earth, which
was a great definitive job.

So it's that contribution that I'd like to be remembered for
on the board, as much as anything, because I don't think, if I had
not been on the board, I'd have been as effective in doing it.

Teiser: Did you initiate some projects and ideas for the club to follow?

Adams: Yes, we had albums of pictures, we had much to do with developing
the first wilderness conference. I had the Wildflower conference
[Festival] in Yosemite.

You're a director, so they expect certain things of you. But I
must say that an awful lot of the members, who were never directors
or members of any committee, really did tremendous things, which is
the way it should be.

The transition from a quasi-elitist, outing-mountaineering
kind of literary organization into a front-line legal and political
organization in the late sixties and seventies was a complete change
of character. In fact, the name "club" is a very bad term. It was
a club, but it's not a club now by any stretch of the imagination.
I can't conceive of a club with a hundred and something thousand

Teiser: Mr. Leonard told us that you had wanted to resign from the board

before you did, and he had urged you to stay on longer. Why did you

Adams: Well, I felt I was absolutely ineffective in relation to what a

board member of the organization should have been, as it was at that
time. Before that time, we were confronted with simple things like
outings and internal matters and the Bulletin, membership, how to get
money for the Tappaan Lodge, and all kinds of little recommendations
for this, that and the other thing. But when it came to the fact of


Adams: conducting lawsuits and trying to make decisions on nuclear plants

and handling a multimillion-dollar budget, I just felt more and more
out of it not being expert on those things.

Teiser: Did you feel that the other members of the board were fairly expert?

Adams: Many were, but I think a lot of them weren't, but they should have
been; a lot of people should have resigned and given place to other
people that could really function. On the other hand, you can't
resign and designate a particular person to take your place!

Then I was getting tired, I had my own creative work, which was
piling up. And living down here in Carmel to fly up to San
Francisco and attend a "yak" meeting which accomplished practically
nothing was tapping my energies. I felt I'd be of more value off
the board than on. Besides, I couldn't stand the whole Brower
administration, and Wayburn's weakness in controlling Brower, and
the terrible impractical loss of prestige and cooperation with
agencies. All that was very distasteful to me. I had many friends
in these agencies. They'd look at me and they'd say, "What the
hell's going on?" And I'd say, "Well, I wish I could tell you.
We're taken over. We've got a poltergeist." [Laughter]

It's a very difficult thing to define, except that I knew that

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 71 of 76)