Fifty-six years ago on September 3rd, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law preserving over 9 million acres of wilderness – a place where people could experience nature with minimal impact on the environment and wildlife. Since then Congress has added more than 100 million acres of wilderness area creating a natural legacy for future generations, and a sanctuary to recharge our creative and spiritual batteries apart from today’s fast-paced urban world.
The legislation established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which recognizes wilderness as “an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Unlike the National Parks, there is no management plan for traffic flow, employee housing or curio shops because there is simply no need. It is truly wild – nature in all its unprocessed beauty.
In this sense the two compliment each other nicely. Where the National Parks serve to protect iconic landforms and historic sites that might otherwise be subject to erosion, vandalism or overuse, wilderness areas often lack the spectacular formations which draw the masses and are instantly recognizable, but provide instead a subtle beauty and remote quality that begs for exploration and contemplation.
Ansel Adams spent the better part of his life working to preserve wilderness through his photographs and tireless appeals to Congress, and his images continue to define the power that nature has in our lives. I feel fortunate to be able to share my own view of the natural world through photography, but more importantly I’m glad those who came before me had the foresight and courage to preserve these special places where we can find renewal and experience our planet in its original untouched form.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” – Charles A. Lindbergh
August 25th is the 104th birthday of the National Park Service, and all entrance fees are waived as part of the celebration. Established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service was created to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…for the enjoyment of future generations.”
From its humble beginnings with just thirty-five parks administered under the Department of the Interior, today the National Park System includes over 400 units including parks, monuments, and historic sites. Ken Burns’ recent film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea rekindled the connection many feel with the parks, and is a wonderful tribute to the history and originality that first made them possible.
The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and a great resource for staying in the loop about events and activities at nearby parks or putting the finishing touches on planning your next big adventure.
It’s been said that you don’t need to circle the globe to find wonderful subjects to photograph. And while shooting close to home may not sound as exciting as travelling to far off exotic destinations, quite often those grand landscapes and intimate details can be found right in your own backyard.
I’m fortunate to live in Southern California where icons like Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks are within a day’s drive, yet I’ve discovered many less frequented local spots that can be just as rewarding for photography. Los Padres National Forest is one such place that includes a large portion of California’s coastal mountains from Ojai to Monterey. Nearly half of the forest is designated wilderness that ranges from semi-desert in the interior areas to redwood forests on the coast, providing a wealth of photographic potential.
So the next time you’re scouting photo locations or just searching for a quiet place to call your own don’t forget the state parks, national forests, and other public lands nearby. You won’t experience the crowds or expense that come with the bigger parks and international travel, and you might just be surprised by the quality images and visual opportunities that can be found close to home.