Stunning Photographs Of One Of America’s Last Wild Places

Take a moment to appreciate the landscape that inspired photographer Ansel Adams, one of the nation’s greatest advocates for conservation, in all of its untrammeled glory.


Nearly 40 years ago, Peter Essick starting taking photos in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, a 251,533-acre space in California’s Sierra Nevadas named after the famed nature photographer, who often took photos of his own in the area. Then, three years ago, Essick snapped photos of the wilderness area while on assignment for National Geographic; he later returned to photograph the changing of the seasons.


To mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964–the legislation that established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which now protects 110 million acres from development–Essick and National Geographic are releasing The Ansel Adams Wilderness, a book of Essick’s stunning digital photographs. The photos are arranged by terrain type (i.e. trees and plants, headwaters and rivers, etc.), and are accompanied by text from Essick and quotes from famous naturalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Sleet from an October storm blankets aspen trees near Parker Lake.
Photo by Peter Essick/National Geographic

Essick has long been inspired by Adams’s style of landscape photography, as well as his status as an environmental advocate and educator. “He believed in what he called the western tradition of ‘passing along’ his knowledge. I learned a lot about photography from reading his camera manuals and looking at his photographs. It is easy to be cynical and sometimes this may be the best response, but when I have to carry a heavy load of gear up a mountain, it helps to be inspired to do great work in the tradition of the great masters,” he explains in an email.

For Essick, who has had the enviable job of taking photos for National Geographic for the past 25 years, wilderness has healing power. “I find it calming, and I feel good about the world after spending some time in a wilderness area. The Ansel Adams Wilderness is protected, but there are many other areas in need of protection,” he says.

Check out some of Essick’s photos from the book in the slide show above.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more