These views of the American West evoke a wide range of memories, myths, and regrets associated with America’s final frontier. In the nineteenth century, that frontier began at the Missouri River. Beyond it lay a landscape of natural grandeur and purity, challenging the spirit and promising redemption. At the time the pictures were made, the hand of man had not so much disfigured as domesticated that paradise, leaving its mark of intrusion almost casually, with the assurance of absolute triumph. Adams recorded this intrusion with neither judgment nor irony; the land he shows has simply been changed, reduced, made ordinary. Yet a second look makes it apparent that the hand of man has, after all, its limitations. The simple natural facts imposed upon by civilization still exert a mysterious counterforce: they abide, in a kind of triumph of resignation. That counterforce is present in all of Adams’s images, recognizable as the same silence and stillness that once summoned pioneers into a wilderness, and now summon their descendants to remember.
—From the book