Conserving Yosemite’s Beloved Bridalveil Fall

Announcement: For every Ansel Adams Bridalveil Fall Modern Replica purchased, our Gallery will donate 10% to the Yosemite Conservancy Bridalveil Restoration Fund.

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Facelift, and the Spirit of Conservation

For Ansel Adams, few landscapes held the creative potential of Yosemite National Park. Though he photographed many thousands of miles of America’s wilderness during his prolific career, Yosemite remained his particular passion and artistic muse. The photographs he made there—of rugged El Capitan, the iconic Moon and Half Dome, and many, many more—are some of the most iconic images of our shared natural history.

Photo courtesy of Yosemite Facelift Facebook

Throughout Adams’ decades photographing our national parks, his unwavering commitment to their conservation was a constant. Through his advocacy and leadership in the Sierra Club, he was and remains a powerful voice for the preservation of our wild spaces.

Adams’ legacy is present wherever people come together to care for our public wilderness, but it’s safe to say few events would have thrilled him more than the Yosemite Facelift: an annual initiative put on by the Yosemite Climbing Association to clean up the park after its heavy use during the busy summer months.

The Yosemite Facelift is the single largest organized volunteer cleanup of any national park.

Fresh off of celebrating its fifteenth year, the Facelift—organized by the Yosemite Climbing Association—mobilizes some 2,000 volunteers annually for a six-day, five-night cleanup. According to Ken Yager, President of the YCA, Volunteers remove garbage, scrub graffiti, and even remove non-indigenous plant species. So far, he says, the total garbage collected weighs in at well over one million pounds.

Photo courtesy of Yosemite Facelift Facebook

What’s more, the Facelift isn’t stopping in Yosemite. In addition to maintaining the organization’s roots in Yosemite, Yager says, they’re hoping to expand to other parks soon, offering their expertise to other wilderness areas looking to develop similar volunteer communities.

It would be easy to measure the importance of the Yosemite Facelift in pounds of garbage recovered, or volunteers assembled. But far more than an afternoon spent picking up trash, the Yosemite Facelift is an opportunity for dedicated volunteers to form an enduring relationship with the park—and with one another. Armed with trash bags and reflective vests, volunteers fan out across the park, after the summer crowds have gone home, seeking out its hidden places and grand vistas to ensure that no trash or debris from its busy season pollutes the rainy and cold months of winter.


Facelift Volunteers photographed by Dakota Snider

For many, it’s a rare opportunity to give back to the wilderness they love, and to reaffirm their relationship with it as the seasons begin to change.

What better way to deepen one’s relationship with Yosemite than to participate in a form of communal stewardship?

That kind of relationship—one based on conservation and service—is one that’s truly in the spirit of Ansel Adams’ legacy.


Get involved!

At this year’s Facelift, the Yosemite Climbing Association invites you to download the @litterati App and help track the trash in Yosemite. It’s easy: Just photograph the piece of litter, tag it and then discard it properly. The YCA will be able to see what kind of trash volunteers are finding! Download the app on the App Store or Google Play.

Unable to make it to the park this year? Plan for 2020! The Yosemite Climbing Association’s website lists details for each annual event as plans are made and shared with the public.

#YosemiteFacelift #YosemiteFacelift2019 #Litterati #PackYourTrash #Yosemite

Camping in Bodie: An Adams Family Camping Trip

It should probably come as no surprise that Ansel Adams loved spending time outdoors, his legacy being so deeply connected to the natural wonder of the American West. But even though his time spent in the wilderness was often connected with his work, Ansel still loved to partake in a classic American tradition: the family camping trip.

It was in 1938 that Ansel, his wife Virginia, and their children, Michael and Anne, set out for a camping trip to Bodie, California. In 1938, Bodie was well on its way to becoming one of America’s most notorious ghost towns. However, if you’d have visited it at its prime, you would have found some 30 gold mines, 65 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling halls, along with a number of legitimate businesses. Like many other booming mining camps during the time, Bodie earned a wide reputation for violence and lawlessness.

“Bodie, California, 1938” by Ansel Adams

“Bodie, California, 1938” by Ansel Adams

The Adams family camping trip in 1938 saw a different side of Bodie. At one point, the prodigious boomtown had produced some $90 to $100 million during the peak hunt for gold. By the time Ansel and family arrived, most everything was abandoned. Mines had long been shut down, and with business collapsing, residents left whatever they couldn’t carry behind in Bodie. The once lawless town of the wild, wild West gave way to a much quieter, though undoubtedly spooky, place to explore during their camping trip.

“It was probably the first time I’d ever camped out,” remembers Michael. “I may have slept out in the valley—we kept beds outside the house there—but this was the first time I remember camping where we built a fire and cooked over it.”

Michael was five years old at the time. After the family headed up to Tioga pass, they parked the car, and hiked with backpacks to a small tarn to the south. “We camped that night at one of those little tarns,” says Michael. “We had a campfire, and we cooked over it. I can remember looking up at the stars after we went to bed.”

Ansel, son Michael, and Virginia in the old mining town of Bennettville, CA during their camping trip to Bodie. Photo courtesy of the Adams Family memorabilia archives.

Ansel, son Michael, and Virginia in the old mining town of Bennettville, CA during their camping trip to Bodie. Photo courtesy of the Adams Family memorabilia archives.

In the morning, Michael was tasked with getting some water for the morning’s pot of coffee. From there, things went downhill. Michael took a small can down to the lake, and found a large log covered with frost jutting out over the water. “I managed to step out on it, and dip down to get some water,” he recalls. “But just as I was done filling the can, I slipped off the log and into the water. It was probably only up to my knees, but it was freezing cold.”

Even for the most determined campers, a cold, wet five-year-old has a way of throwing off the day’s agenda. “We decided to walk back to the ranger station at Tioga pass,” he says. “The ranger was really nice; he had a fire going in his stove, and I was able to get warmed up.”

Once Michael was warm and dry, the family continued on to explore the abandoned ruins of Bodie. “We stayed there most of the day. Ansel took a number of photographs,” recalls Michael, among them, his now iconic images of two abandoned buildings, and an abandoned horse-drawn hearse. From their appearance, the buildings in Ansel’s photograph look as if they could have been burgeoning saloons from Bodie’s golden days. And the hearse…a mystery perhaps owned by a businessman during the town’s boom, only to leave it behind during its quick decline.

“Abandoned Hearse, Bodie,” by Ansel Adams

“Abandoned Hearse, Bodie,” by Ansel Adams

After leaving Bodie, the family came back through Lee Vining. “There was a Bodie Mike’s there—you could get a bite to eat, but they also had slot machines,” recalls Michael. “Ansel played the slot machines, and I remember being fascinated by them.” Perhaps, after a morning spent drying off a cold, wet kid, even a great outdoorsman like Ansel Adams just needed a little bit of indoor fun.

Color on the East Side of the Sierra

Fall Colors Destinations near Yosemite National Park

While Summer lingers in Yosemite Valley, the east side of the Sierras prepare for Autumn’s transcendent glow. As the season turns, patches of color and patterns of golden light ripple through the hillsides. The air cools, the crowds thin, and Yosemite awakens from its Summertime slumber. Now’s the time to plan for Fall on the east side of the Sierra Mountain Range and experience Fall Colors like nowhere else. Pack that bag (don’t forget your camera!) and prepare to be mesmerized.

“Aspen, June Lake Loop” by William Neill | Original Fine Art Photograph, Signed*

The Eastern Sierra: Where to explore?

Whether you’re returning to the eastside of the Sierra, or experiencing it for your first time, there’s a handful of locations worthy of visiting time and again. Let’s start with North and South Lake, where the first of Fall colors erupt with breathtaking vistas.

North and South Lake

What it’s known for: Typically the first place to freeze and get snow. The window for peak Fall colors can be short, but so worth it when timed correctly.
Why we love it: It’s normally the first place the Fall colors begin to emerge. There’s also several good hotels, breakfast and lunch spots back in Bishop. If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, stop in at Black Sheep or Looney Bean.
Learn more:

Upper and Lower Rock Creek Canyon

What it’s known for: Rock Creek Canyon is famous for Little Lakes Basin, where a string of high-elevation lakes are linked by leisurely hiking trails surrounded by 13,000 foot peaks.
Why we love it: It’s got some great ‘From the Road’ photography opportunities, gorgeous creekside terrain, and lots of good hiking.
Learn more:

Mammoth Lakes (Reds Meadow) and Convict Lake

What it’s known for: A great home-base when out exploring. When Reds Meadow is open, it offers a variety of places to stay (mountain cabins, motel rooms, hiker cabins) and supreme location one mile from Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls. Also great access to Ansel Adams Wilderness and the Thousand Island Lake region.
Why we love it: The incredible Fall Colors hiking trails in Mammoth Lakes. Hiking around Mammoth Lakes Basin is a good midday activity for those looking to get some fresh air and high altitude. Here’s a list of 7 hikes to enjoy during a Fall visit to Mammoth Lakes.
Learn more:


“Aspen Circle, June Lake Loop,” Archival Pigment Print by Michael Frye*

June Lake Loop

What it’s known for: A vacationer’s retreat, available all four seasons of the year. A spectacular drive following a horseshoe shaped canyon, and world-class trout fishing. Photographers, enjoy the early-to-late morning and late afternoon-to-early evening, when the light is more even and less contrasty. Hungry? Check out The Double Eagle for late breakfast, and The Lift for dinner.
Why we love it: It’s dramatic mountainous backdrop and aspen-lined hiking trails! At June Lake, there’s lots of opportunity for wide angle and zoom shots. Several groves are accessible from the road and more adventurous photographers can wander up the hillsides to the West of the road. Normally, June Lake is one of the longer-lasting Fall colors destinations. Try photographing with a long lens after autumn’s peak when isolated bits of color still linger.
Learn more:

Silver Lake (Part of June Lake Loop)

What it’s known for: Home to the oldest “fishing retreat” in the region, Silver Lake hosts people from all over California and the West who have been visiting the area for generations.
Why we love it: We recommend the Silver Lake Resort, especially for breakfast. Ask for the Garbage Omelet – you’ll be glad you did! There’s also a pack station at Silver Lake and the trails offer a short, but steep climb into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Once you’ve made it through the initial climb, it starts to level out a bit for an enjoyable hike.
Learn more:

Lee Vining (Lee Vining Canyon, Mono Lake, High Country Access)

What it’s known for: Called “The Gateway to Yosemite,” Lee Vining offers epic fishing, spectacular hiking, and pristine spots for camping. Usually, the groves up Power Plant Road are the last stands of aspen to turn color.
Why we love it: It’s a short trip from Lee Vining to Mono Lake where one can experience the tufa formations. If you have a 4-wheel-drive, we suggest circumnavigating the lake and stopping at Navy Beach and South Beach. Best to have two vehicles in case one gets stuck in the mud! Or, take a left turn off Highway 395 at the top of Conway Summit, and head to Virginia Lakes – a photographer’s dream at every season.
Learn more:

“Aspen Leaves, Lee Vining Creek,” Archival Pigment Print by Keith Walklet*


Lundy Canyon

What it’s known for: Its enormous beaver ponds, and location in the heart of the High Sierra’s Hoover Wilderness. Along the Lundy Canyon Trail, you’ll pass historic ruins, waterfalls, abundant meadows, wildflowers, and soaring cliffs. Keep climbing and you’ll reach the beautiful granite playground of Twenty Lakes Basin. The climb can be treacherous, leading up a talus-filled chute that is precariously steep and unstable.
Why we love it: The abundant Aspens and cottonwoods are especially striking here during the Fall time of year. It’s also got some great photography from the road.
Learn more:

Conway Summit

What it’s known for: Some of the best autumn photography north of Bishop. Bring a wide and long lens! It’s the highest point on U.S. 395, and offers spectacular views of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Why we love it: From Conway Summit, there’s a great adventure to embark on. Head to the east slope of Dunderberg Peak, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Only available by 4-wheel-drive, you’ll find the outlet of a lake that has wildflowers late into the season. You’ll be well above the tree line, with incredible views of Aspen groves below. Be sure to check weather and road conditions before venturing out on any unpaved roads. Check out the Mono Lake Vista on the South side of Conway Summit (big pull out along the road) for some great sunset opportunities.
Learn more:


What it’s known for: It’s a historic California Town sometimes called the gateway to High Sierra canyons, peaks, lakes, streams, and beautiful pastures.
Why we love it: It’s a great home-base for lodging when venturing out on day trips into the Sierras. Enjoy an easy drive to Yosemite National Park, Bodie, and Mono Lake. Photographers, venture to Sonora Pass where jointed and fractured granite lined with Aspen can make for intriguing foreground details. Stay at Mono Inn between Bridgeport and Lee Vining. Mono Inn offers unsurpassed fine dining in the Eastern Sierra. Dinner there is a must, especially around the full moon when it rises in view from the Inn’s veranda above the White Mountains beyond Mono Lake.
Learn more:

“Sunset, Mono Lake and White Mountains,” Archival Pigment Print by Charles Cramer*


Bloody Canyon Trail

What it’s known for: Historically, the Bloody Canyon Trail was used to cross the Sierras before wagon roads were built. It is named for the injuries to stock that made this rugged crossing. The trail is still not recommended for stock.
Why we love it: The colors: a dramatic contrast of the cliffs with the Aspen leaves. The trail through Bloody Canyon is lesser known, and therefore offers a quieter excursion. There’s a great climb up to Lower Sardine Lake, along with some beautiful waterfalls on the way up. Keep on going to Upper Sardine and check out the view. The trail dips briefly into Yosemite and eventually gives access to the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.
Learn more:

“Shepards Crest and Macabe Lake,” Archival Pigment Print by Keith Walket*


*To purchase an Eastern Sierra fine art photography print, please email or call (209) 372-4413 ex. 204.

The Color of Black and White

  • The Color of Black & White
  • Cabin, Grand Tetons
  • Light Storm
  • Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park
  • Spring Rain, Yosemite
  • Corn Lily
  • Bridalveil Fall, Stormlight
  • Courthouse Valley, Arches National Park
  • Moon and Clouds, Banff National Park
  • Rocks, Moon and Clouds, Alabama Hills, CA
  • Rocks, Moon and Clouds, Alabama Hills, CA
  • Joshua Tree and Rocks

Purchase these photographs

Join us for the Artist Reception Saturday, October 12th, 3-5pm

For the photographer, the art (or skill) of seeing the finished print in the mind’s eye is not to be taken lightly. It is a trait of true dedication – a sixth sense. Ansel Adams was a proponent of the task, and something he developed right here in the heart of Yosemite National Park around 1927. Today, Alan Ross, following years of side-by-side engagement with several giants of the medium, continues this tradition of visualization. Alan has said:

People often ask me if I actually “see” in black-and-white when I’m photographing. And the truth of it is, I do. For me, once the limitations or expectations of reality are eliminated, shapes, textures, relationships and nuance that might otherwise be missed come into view, and the image takes on a life of its own. Black-and-white, by its very nature, is an abstraction of reality and therefore tremendously liberating. With the “colors,” or tones, of black-and-white, I am free to skew the emphasis of the elements in the scene…a green leafy plant in front of a red sandstone wall can either be the hero of the scene, or recede against the wall, depending on what I want viewers to see. I can see the reality of color in my own way. These “colors” between true black and harsh white are also what give me a visually rich, elegant and expressive silver image.

Opening on August 18th and running through October 13th, 2019 The Color of Black and White – Original Photographs by Alan Ross will be on display at The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. A closing reception for the artist will be held on Saturday, October 12th with the artist in attendance. Come on by and witness Alan’s skewed views and ‘colorful’ visualization of The West.

“Sierra Meadow” by Ansel Adams

A Visual Incentive to Protect our High Country Meadows

In 1930, Ansel Adams ventured to Yosemite’s high country and photographed “Sierra Meadow,” a work of art that depicts the lush beauty and intricate flora of a garden-meadow. The wildflowers in Ansel’s photograph glow with a luminosity made through a soft focus lens, a technique Ansel almost entirely abandoned five years earlier. Though “Sierra Meadow” does not illustrate the high contrast and sharper style of Ansel’s more well known photographs, it was a piece that remained close to his heart for the rest of his life.

“Sierra Meadow” by Ansel Adams, Negative Date: 1930


As lovers of nature and beauty, how can we interpret “Sierra Meadow” as a source of inspiration today?

Yosemite’s high country meadows have become increasingly overrun with visitors each year. Particularly in the summertime, who wouldn’t want to bask in the sublime beauty and cooler climates of the Sierra? Undeniably beautiful, the meadows evoke a natural simplicity, yet their ecology is very complex.

John Muir described the Sierra Nevada’s intricate meadows as:

“…so complete that you cannot see the ground and, at the same time, so brightly enameled with flowers and butterflies that it may well be called a garden-meadow, or meadow-garden.”

The beautiful meadows of Tuolumne in Yosemite’s High Sierra, which have been undergoing a restoration plan for 171 acres of meadow and riparian areas within the park.
Photo by QT Luong via

According to an article published by the Yosemite Conservancy, the meadow-gardens were first threatened in the 1850s, when Euro-American settlers came and transported cattle and sheep onto the meadows, planting non-native forage species for grazing purposes. The settlers also stopped anthropogenic burning of the meadows by the American Indians, which historically promoted meadow stability by reducing the encroachment of surrounding forests.

Today, the most notable threats to these beautiful meadows include changes in climate, including less snowpack and earlier snowmelt, and us—the constant flow of people visiting and crossing these meadows, sometimes exploring off-trail.

Keep an eye out for signs like this when visiting meadows in Yosemite.
Stay on the trail to conserve the natural landscape.

So, how can we help?

It’s important to protect the meadows before they are too deeply impacted to recover. Hundreds to thousands of people crossing these meadows each year cause stress on the land and its inhabitants, resulting in lasting change. The Yosemite Conservancy asks us to:

  • Stay on designated trails. “Multitrailing” or wandering off trail can result in meadow closures in order to restore the damage done.
  • Walk, don’t drive. Wherever you visit in Yosemite, tread lightly, and avoid decorating nature’s meadows with tire tracks—or footprints, for that matter.

We at the gallery ask you to share this conservation message with friends and family, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. Ansel’s “Sierra Meadow” is a gorgeous representation of the magic and abundance of high country meadows.

Let’s work to keep them that way.

Experience another of Ansel’s soft focus photographs, “A Grove of Tamarack Pine,” and the story behind the image.

Two Friends & A Burro

The Story of Banner Peak, Thousand Island Lake

(The Ansel Insider)

Ansel Adams and Burro in the High Country, Photo Courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

“I held Ansel’s ass while he made that picture!”

What’s that again? That statement remained a joke between Ansel Adams and his lifelong friend Herold Seville for decades. The two took a venturesome trip to High Sierra in 1923. While photographing Banner Peak – Thousand Island Lake, Ansel tasked Harold with holding his reliable donkey “Mistletoe” while he managed his camera equipment.

With Harold’s firm hold on the burro, Ansel captured his iconic photograph of the serene lake, luminous peak, and weathered sky. In his autobiography, Ansel recounts details from the trip:

“I made many drab shots and suffered some embarrassing failures.” But one image proved an exception. “I can recall the excitement of the scene,” he went on. “It seemed that everything fell into place in the most agreeable way: rock, cloud, mountain, and exposure … This picture still has a unity and magic that very few others suggested in those early years.”

Banner Peak – Thousand Island Lake, Original Vintage Ansel Adams Photograph, Signed “A. E. Adams”

Almost 90 years after Ansel and Harold’s 1923 trip, Michael (Ansel’s son) and Matthew (his grandson) ventured to Thousand Island Lake on a mission with National Geographic.

Their goal? To uncover Ansel’s “tripod hole” or vantage point from which the photograph was taken. In the published story “The Mountains that Made the Man” author Peter Esseck describes the expedition, where the team successfully discovered the point for Ansel’s final photograph.

Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake is situated in what is now known as The Ansel Adams Wilderness. Originally protected as wilderness by the 1964 Wilderness Act, it was first called the Minarets Wilderness. Renamed and expanded to honor Ansel Adams in 1985, it spreads over 230,258 acres, ranging in altitude from about 7,000 feet to 14,000 feet.

Ansel would be thrilled to know that the peaks and lakes of his 1923 expedition would someday be named in his honor. #Anselwouldbeproud

Says Michael:

“He loved the Sierra, and worked tirelessly to protect these special areas of wilderness.”

A “Tragedy” on the High Trip

(The Ansel Insider)

As an avid outdoorsman, Ansel Adams was no stranger to the hardships of camping in the backcountry. Far from the creature comforts of home, hiking miles upon miles each and every day, even America’s most famous outdoorsman could find himself overwhelmed. But for Ansel, the harsh realities of the outdoors were not merely a source of frustration. They were a source of great humor as well.

Which is why on the Sierra Club’s 1932 High Trip—the High Trips were the Club’s large annual excursions into the mountains of the American West—Ansel decided to debut his One-Act mock-Greek Tragedy, Exhaustos.

Cast members of “Exhaustos” fully costumed for the performance.
Photo courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

The 1932 trip proved itself exceptionally difficult, even for the most hardened campers. Frozen water pails, piles of snow, and elevations north of 12,000 feet made the going slow and tough. But, as a means of lifting the group’s spirits, Ansel collected the campers to put on a production of Exhaustos: A Lyric Tragedy.

Ansel did not admit to writing the play, rather insisting that he was merely its translator—a nod to his farce that it was some long-forgotten text of Euripides or Aristophanes. The play, containing “One-Act, Thank God” was performed by the campers themselves around the evening campfire.

Exhaustos tells the story of King Dehydros—ruler of the land of Exhaustos—and his antagonist, Rhykrispos, a would-be king from a different camp. The play pokes fun at the many discomforts of life on the High Trip—from the banality of beans and hardtack, to the annoying ants in the King’s bed. Says the King:

By Hades! We have fallen in the ways of overeating!
But tomorrow we shall climb the ten thousand feet Our Glory must continue over-rising!
Tell Ali to groom Pegasus, my Mule!
And shake the ants from out Dehydros bed.
Last night they drove me wild.

Replacing the traditional Greek Chorus with the “Chorus of Weary Men,” and the “Chorus of Sunburnt Women,” the play offered campers a cathartic laugh at their own discomfort. The complaints of the campers registered dramatically in unison:

Woe! Woe!
Our soles have parted from our boots
Our pants are torn in much to many places.
Woe! Woe!
Last night it rained. Aihr, Aihr
We are too tired to even wash our faces
Woe! Woe! forever Woe!

TAKE TWO: A similar photo as above, but this time with Ansel Adams dressed as the Spirit of the Itinerary in the foreground. Sierra Club High Trip, California, 1932. Image from “Looking at Ansel Adams” by Andrea Stillman

Costumes were derived from what could be found on hand. Ansel himself played the “Spirit of the Itinerary”—perhaps the Greeks would have called him Fate—with a bedsheet toga, an ivy crown, and a lyre fashioned from found wood and fishing line.

With Pegasus, his trusty mule, by his side, Dehydros finally squares off against Rhykrispos at the Summit of North Palisade. When King Dehydros finally dies—it is a Greek tragedy after all—by falling on his ice pick, the Spirit of the Itinerary offers this parting monologue:

Thus ends the sad epic of Dehydros the King
Who ruled Great Exhaustos, his glory we’ll sing.
But Destiny favored the reign of a Nomad
Who made Clymenextra depart home and go bad.
Now this is the Moral, match men, envy and food
Lest you be disgraced by a wandering Dude.

Sound advice.

Glowing Luminosity: A Grove of Tamarack Pine

The Story of Soft Focus on a High Sierra Expedition

(The Ansel Insider)

The Ansel Adams Gallery is pleased to offer a rare vintage photograph of “A Grove of Tamarack Pine,” one of very few soft focus images known to have been made in Ansel Adams’ photographic career.

In September 1921, Ansel Adams set out on a ten-day excursion with friends into the Lyell Fork of the Merced River in the vast High Sierra. It was on this very trip when Ansel captured his dream-like photograph of “A Grove of Tamarack Pine” in the soft focus style hardly ever seen again in the entirety of his career.

“A Grove of Tamarack Pine,” Vintage Kodak Vellum Photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative Date: 1921. Print Date: 1927. Originally titled “Lodgepole Pines”

Ansel and friends headed out from Merced Lake and made the ascent from the McClure Fork Trail to the junction of the Isberg Trail. The crew stopped to camp in a stream-side clearing at high elevation close to the rim of the Merced Canyon. In a piece Ansel wrote for the 1922 Sierra Club Bulletin, he describes their campsite view:

“At this point, a marvelous panorama is obtained⸺all the peaks of the Merced group are in full view⸺but the most startling feature is the vista of Lake Washburn, over two thousand feet directly below.”

Ansel Adams resting beneath his tent during an early High Country trip.
Photo courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

Following this marvelous vista, Ansel and pack continued their ascent. They made it all the way to the summit of Mount Florence and then onwards to the Lyell Fork of the Merced. There they scrambled, burros included, up the rugged canyon, maneuvering carefully to escape windfalls. In less than a mile, the canyon’s ruggedness disappeared and opened up into a tranquil and level meadow.

It was there in that meadow, at 9,000 feet elevation, where Ansel captured his image of “A Grove of Tamarack Pine,” altering the scene before him with a soft focus lens. The soft focus lens refracted the highlights, producing a glowing luminosity that captured the mood of a magical summer afternoon.

Ansel photographing at the summit of Mt. Lyell, early Sierra Club High Country trip.
Photo courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

Ansel’s first photographs were published in the Sierra Club Bulletin within a year of making “A Grove of Tamarack Pine.” It was in these early years when the artist experimented with pictorialism, engaging soft focus, diffused light, and other techniques.

Despite a dramatic shift in his career in 1925 towards sharp focus, heightened contrast, and darkroom craftsmanship, in a biography of Ansel Adams, author Mary Alinder notes:

“His whole life long, Ansel had a soft spot in his heart for [A Grove of Tamarack Pine] and the memories it held.”

Photograph taken on Ansel’s 1952 return to the Lyell Fork of the Merced River on a pack trip with his wife Virginia, and their children Michael and Anne. This was Ansel’s last pack trip utilizing burros to carry his gear and camp material. Photograph courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives.

Sierra Club High Country Trip: The Story of “Frozen Lake & Cliffs”

(The Ansel Insider)

In 1932, Ansel Adams set out with Sierra Club on their annual trip to Yosemite’s high country. Even in summertime, the high sierra can still be found rimmed with icy cliffs and snowy peaks. Equipped with lighter clothing for warm days and sturdy boots for slippery climbs, Ansel and crew scrambled over the vast high country, stopping at favorite spots along the way.

Ansel leading mule over snow in an annual Sierra Club High Trip. Photograph courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

As the Sierra Club was passing Precipice Lake, just before crossing the Kaweah Gap into the Kern River drainage, Ansel took several photographs of the lake with ice on its surface. It was here that he captured “Frozen Lake & Cliffs,” his favorite of a series of five iterations.

Ansel took the photograph while Virginia and girlfriends paddled about in the still waters of the lake, which was dotted with patches of melting ice. Cedric Wright, Ansel’s best friend, had set up his own camera quite near Ansel’s. He was later to exclaim that he was shocked to see Ansel’s image, so very different and much more beautiful from what he himself had seen.

Ansel Adams (left) and Cedric (far right, playing the violin) on Sierra Club trip. Photo courtesy of the Adams Family Memorabilia Archives

“Frozen Lake and Cliffs” is one of the earliest abstract photographs made directly from nature.

In Mary Alinder’s biography of Ansel Adams, she describes his composition:

“Mirrored ghostly upon the inky waters, a shattered black cliff descends into a partially frozen lake. The reflection is separated from its source by a band of white ice, a crumpled crust of grayed snow, and a tumble of scree.”

Visit Precipice Lake today and you’ll find it hard to visualize Ansel’s photograph in the surrounding landscape. He captured it with a keen eye, extracting his composition from an elegant nook in a sweeping scene. When Ansel’s daughter-in-law, Jeanne, asked him what he considered his most sophisticated image, Ansel replied, “Frozen Lake & Cliffs.”