With the Yosemite Act, which became effective 01 October 1890, Congress declared more than 1,500 square miles of land a “forest reservation.” An area about the size of Rhode Island, that “reservation” was America’s third national park.
However, the park had been conceived during the administration of President Abraham Lincoln. On 30 June 1864, California took possession of a Congressional land grant for “Yo-Semite Valley” and “the land embracing the ‘Mariposa Big Tree Grove‘.” California had only recently joined the union as the 31st state on 09 September 1850.
This marked the first time the U.S. government protected land for public enjoyment and it laid the foundation for the establishment of the national and state park systems. Yellowstone became America’s first national park in 1872.
With part of the valley protected by the state of California and part by the federal government, “many opportunities to fully preserve the valley were missed,” according to NPS.
Muir’s goal was to “unify Yosemite as a single entity under the protection of the United States government.” In 1903, he successfully argued his case while camping with President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, the U.S. government assumed ownership of all of Yosemite.
An avid hunter and conservationist, Roosevelt worked with Congress to put 230 million acres under federal protection. They also created five additional national parks, including Crater Lake in Oregon. Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon one of 18 national monuments.
Adams first visited Yosemite with his family (and Kodak camera) as a 14-year-old. At age 25, Adams “received critical acclaim” for his stark black-and-white image of the ‘Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,’ one of the Yosemite’s “most iconic natural features.”
On 10 April 1927, Adams had set out with a climbing party to photograph the sheer face of Half Dome.
When the group reached the Diving Board, a steep outcropping more than 3,500 feet above Yosemite Valley, Ansel knew this was the perfect vista from which to capture Half Dome’s sheer face. The photograph he made, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” shows the mountain rising from an ink-black sky, its face illuminated by a dazzling midday sun just out of frame… It was a startling expression of emotion and drama from the young photographer, and its technical excellence and artistic mastery would soon launch Adams’ career as one of the finest commercial and fine-art photographers of the 20th century.
Adams and Yosemite would become inextricably linked.
Today, the world’s most comprehensive and compelling showcase for the photographer, Ansel Adams, and his work is the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley. National Park history, original and authentic works of art, and one of Yosemite’s finest collections of books, maps, handicrafts and Native American jewelry are in store for visitors.
Yosemite wasn’t the only focus for Adams. According to the NYTimes, Adams “lobbied Congress and sent the government a book of his photographs of the southern Sierra Nevada range. They strongly influenced President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to make the Kings Canyon area a national park.”
Adams meant his images to convey the emotions he experienced while taking pictures and then heightening their impact in the darkroom. (He was a superb printer.) How lucky it is for the arts that human vision, though it does not register the world in black and white, can respond to colorless representation on a level within reach of its response to color.
Adams demonstrated how visual communication can change hearts and minds. Yosemite and its cousins are direct beneficiaries, as are we.