American Beauty

Noted nature photographers look beyond our familiar landmarks and monuments for images of America

04-01-2002 // NWF Staff

American Beauty magazine layout - americanbeautyspread

STANDING ON THE SUMMIT of Colorado's Pikes Peak in 1893, Katharine Lee Bates felt what she called "a great joy." From that vantage point, wrote the poet from Massachusetts, "All the wonder of America seemed displayed there." Soon afterwards, she penned the words to "America the Beautiful."

More than a century later, Californian Galen Rowell climbed atop another mountain-this time in the eastern Sierra Nevada--to seek refuge from the fear and grief that gripped our nation in the wake of last September's tragedies. He, too, felt a sense of exhilaration. But rather than the "amber waves of grain" or "fruited plain" that Bates so admired, Rowell focused on different views of America the beautiful: the great diversity of undeveloped landscapes that sprawl from sea to shining sea. "I have encountered and photographed more visual surprises on my home continent," he observes, "than on 30 exotic journeys to the Himalaya and Antarctica."

Rowell is among the country's top nature photographers who have spent many years pursuing images of America's natural beauty. Most of them have something in common: a passion for protecting the wild lands that their photos depict, a passion that in many respects represents the true meaning of democracy. "When I shoot a landscape," explains Pennsylvania-based Bob Krist, "I'm trying to capture a quality that Lawrence Durrell called 'the spirit of the place.' I want to show not only what a place looks like, but also what it feels like." In doing so, Krist, Rowell and other photographers provide us rare glimpses of American beauty that we might otherwise never see--and remind us why we must continue to protect these national treasures.


American Beauty magazine layout - mount humphreys

Galen Rowell came upon this scene in the hills above Bishop, California, last June while searching on foot for a mountain lion with kittens. "All over the Eastern Sierra," he says, "the wildflowers were the best they'd been in a decade." To get this photo, he headed out each morning an hour before dawn, but it wasn't until day four that conditions were right. Rowell, who recently moved to Bishop, says that the Sierra Nevada is his favorite mountain range on Earth, "unexcelled in my travels on seven continents. No other mountains combine so many virtues of beauty, fine weather, biological diversity and wilderness to form such a complete alpine paradise."


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Photo: © ART WOLFE

While photographing brown bears feeding on salmon runs in southeast Alaska, Art Wolfe noticed a few bald eagles, including this one, "hanging around in the big trees waiting for leftovers." He was struck by the sight of two American icons-the eagle and an ancient, old-growth forest-together. Born and based in rainy Seattle, Wolfe has always been drawn to the "wet and luxuriant landscapes" that typify southeast Alaska's rain forests. "One of North America's greatest strengths," he says, "is that it offers such a diversity of environments. Europeans think of America and picture dramatic panoramas of the West. But we also have places like this."


American Beauty magazine layout

"If a mammal were chosen as a symbol of North America, it might well be the bison," says Jim Brandenburg. He photographed this herd just after a storm. Like the bison, he says, the animals' prairie habitat "epitomizes the grandeur of pristine America."

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