“Borrrrring,” moaned the young boy as he exited the Robert Adams photography exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

The temporary collection, titled The Place We Live, is a retrospective of Adams’ portfolio on the American West, and Adams is not a photographer set on wowing you with spectacle. Rather, the grittiness of his landscapes capture the West that we don’t often celebrate: the places where human inhabit, for better or worse. I’m a fan of his work, but it surely isn’t the sort of art photography that you’re going to find in the airport terminal welcoming you to Colorful Colorado.

Take his series on Cottonwoods, for example. The exhibit is divided into groupings of various trees, streams and places. In Cottonwoods, Adams focuses on one lonely tree set on the plains of Colorado. Each shot depicts the tree from various angles and contexts, showing the encroachment, at last, of a housing subdivision. By the time you reach the final picture, the tree has been horrifyingly decapitated.

Adams once said that he felt, after all was said and done, perhaps one could only love the specific, singular tree or stream or building. That it was too much to think we could  rescue swaths of land, but to care for the particulars in our own backyard was a good start. To love the singular beauty in a place is perhaps the most straightforward and surefire way to protect the West, piece by piece.