Mule Deer Buck - The Crown Prince
|Mule Deer Buck|
While hiking up Elk Ridge on a blue, summer evening, the mountainside is drenched and surprisingly cold. Colorful wildflowers hug close to the muddy trail as the crackle of rolling thunder echoes from down in the meadow below.
Around the bend, occupying a nook in the forest, a young mule deer buck grazes on shoots of lush grass. His orange coat is glistening wet from the downpour of steady rain that seems to develop every afternoon.
If the bull elk is the undisputed monarch of the Rocky Mountains then the mule deer buck is the crown prince. This time of year, these regal animals are bestowed with an extraordinary rack of velvet antlers.
He moves gracefully across the rugged terrain that characterizes the Front Range foothills. The elegant creature seems undisturbed by my presence as he’s become accustomed to sharing his territory with our strange kind.
The new weather pattern tells us that the seasons are changing so this lone deer is feeding with a purpose. He’s going to need all the strength he can muster because the annual rut is just around the corner and soon after that - another harsh winter.
|A blue, summer evening|
|Thunder echoes across the meadow|
|Grazing on lush grass|
|The crown prince|
|They move gracefully|
|Undisturbed by my presence|
|Seasons are changing|
The Pacific Ocean - A Peaceful Sea
|Palm trees on the Pacific|
Our blue planet is dominated by the five great seas from which the Pacific is the biggest, deepest and most inhabited. The vast ocean fills the gap between the Americas on the east and Asia and Australia on the west.
The massive body of salt water is an astonishing 64 million square miles and it's spread across one-third of the earth's surface. In the northwest section there's an incredible chasm known as the Mariana Trench. At 35,797 feet down, it's the deepest point in the world.
The ocean's current name was given by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Spanish circumnavigation of the globe in 1521. He called it Mar Pacifico or the Peaceful Sea because after sailing around the treacherous Cape Horn, the expedition entered into much calmer waters.
The place is hardly peaceful, though. Enclosing the ocean, the volatile land that forms the Pacific Rim is known as the Ring of Fire because of all the volcanos and earthquakes. Tsunamis born from underwater earthquakes have taken a devastating toll on countless inhabited islands.
I've only experienced the Pacific while in southern California where a blue-green surf smashes into the rocks and cliffs, sculpting a coastline of unsurpassed beauty. The exotic foliage of palm trees and colorful wildflowers enlivens the laid back atmosphere.
Since the very beginning, powerful waves have pounded the land in a therapeutic rhythm while shaping the malleable earth. Today, eternal waters continue to churn with relentless force in a graceful sequence sure to last until the end of time.
|The biggest, deepest and most inhabited|
|The peaceful sea|
|Southern California coastline|
|Exotic palm trees|
|The waters continue to churn|
|Until the end of time|
Broad-tailed Hummingbird - An Energetic Visitor
Rocky Mountain summers are distinguished by warmer temps, colorful wildflowers and the metallic trill of thin air whistling through the wings of tiny migrants. Zooming through our high meadows, the broad-tailed hummingbird is an energetic visitor.
Bursting onto the scene around May, they arrive from their sun-drenched homeland situated south of the border. These hearty birds have developed a unique characteristic that allows them to survive the harsh conditions present at such a high altitude.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds save enough energy to survive the bitterly cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.
Torpor is a type of deep sleep where a bird's heart rate drops, breathing slows and its metabolic rate lowers by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird can save up to 60% of its available energy as opposed to when it's awake.
Their diminutive nature is complimented by an elegant palette of iridescent colors that sparkle in bright sunlight. Adult males are described by a dazzling ruby-red throat, green crown and back and white underparts with green flanks.
The females are single parents burdened with the domestic tasks of nest building, incubating the eggs and feeding the brood. The promiscuous males flit about on a quest for the foothill's sweetest nectar while defending their territory with considerable zeal.
These little dynamos perform an impressive array of arial maneuvers when hunting for spiders, small insects and sugar water feeders. Propelled by powerful muscles and a limber shoulder joint, they can flap their wings at an astonishing 50 beats per minute.
By late August these forest jewels begin making their way back to the Mexican highlands where they will spend the winter. Their sudden disappearance is a sure sign of changing seasons and the start of a new school year.
|An energetic visitor|
|Bursting onto the scene|
|A diminutive nature|
|Colors that sparkle|
|A little dynamo|
|A forest jewel|
Sneffels Range Spring - Watercolor
|"Sneffels Range Spring" Watercolor|
Tucked discretely below the Dallas Divide, the Sneffels is a scenic sub-range of the San Juan Mountains. The confusion of untidy crags is a rugged remnant of an ancient volcano. It's late spring but bare rock is beginning to emerge from a shroud of heavy, winter snow.
A row of crooked cottonwoods is an elaborate gateway into the Colorado wild. Patches of delicate dandelions are scattered throughout the lush meadow while an assembly of blazing brush complicates an already busy foreground.
As a gray sky drizzles the landscape with cold rain, receding into the distance, colors cool from violet to blue-green. A series of spectacular buttes is a scenic prelude to an awesome alpine environment where cautious strokes define the ragged peaks.
Composed from equal parts image, experience and memory, this painting was not meant to hang on a wall. It's more of a sketch than a showpiece. A little bit looser and fabricated with less concern, sometimes a simple study is more satisfactory than the final, finished work.
Goliath Peak - A Fighting Spirit
|Mount Evans Wilderness|
Goliath Peak is a steep warmup to the withering heights encompassing the Mount Evans Wilderness. You receive a warm welcome as a carpet of colorful wildflowers is unfurled all the way to the top.
Stretching out in every direction, the distant views reach farther than even your wildest imagination. To the west, ice cold water in a glacier-filled cirque is ensnared by peaks of silver stone.
Even during the summer, white snow is slashed across the spectacular backdrop of surreal mountains. In the sky, milky clouds filter the sun, creating a moody atmosphere charged by the constantly changing stream of light.
Unfortunately, a perfect day was damaged by a heart-fluttering event. The Herculean effort may have induced an episode of mind-numbing paralysis that luckily spared my fighting spirit and eternally grateful soul.
|A steep warmup|
|A warm welcome|
|A carpet of wildflowers|
|Your wildest imagination|
|A glacier-filled cirque|
|A spectacular backdrop|
|A moody atmosphere|
|A fighting spirit|
Little Bighorn Battlefield - Part III
|General Custer fell here|
After destroying Custer's entire battalion, the warriors raced south across the ridges to engage the last remnant of the Seventh Cavalry. Lying flat on the ground, the soldiers formed a perimeter of defense around a natural depression scooped out of the summit of their hilltop refuge.
They managed to hold off a determined siege throughout the evening and into the darkness. Many of the spooked men recalled how down in the Indian village there was a celebration of dancing and singing that lasted all night.
Desperate cries from captured soldiers who were being tortured below filtered eerily through the hills. Troopers who chose to hide in the timber rather than retreat, somehow worked their way back up to the relative safety of rejoining their comrades.
By first light the next morning, the conflict resumed and the remaining 300 or so soldiers continued to hold the high ground. Incredibly, a group of volunteers even snuck down a steep ravine all the way to the river, filled canteens and brought water back to the wounded.
The intensity of the battle gradually diminished throughout the day and by the evening of June 26th, the Indian camp had broke and scattered. The next morning army reinforcements arrived from the north, rescuing the beleaguered battalion.
Retracing the steps of their doomed brethren, the surviving soldiers were shocked to discover the tragic fate of Custer's command. After such a disheartening event, the demoralized men were anxious to get back home.
Before they could leave the field though, the gruesome task of burying the dead still had to be done. On June 28th they hastily dug shallow graves and covered the remains with loose dirt and sagebrush.
All of the mounded sites were punctuated with a stake, indicating where the fallen were found. In order to show where the officers lay, their names were written on a slip of paper, rolled up, placed in an empty cartridge shell and pounded into the top of the wooden marker.
In July of 1877, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sheridan led a column of men charged with retrieving the officers remains from the battlefield. They made a careful survey of the area, reinterred exposed remains and marked the well-packed graves with cedar stakes.
The bones of Custer, 11 officers and 2 civilians were exhumed, placed in coffins and then transferred to eastern cemeteries. Over the next couple of years rainstorms, erosion and scavengers continued to scatter the remains across the hillside.
In 1879 Captain George Sanderson led a unit to the field and placed all exposed human remains in a grave dug on top of Last Stand Hill. A four foot cordwood monument was built over the mound and all the horse bones were placed in its center, creating the first monument.
Replacing that cordwood structure, a permanent granite monument was erected in 1881 by First Lieutenant Charles Roe. All of the soldiers remains were gathered and placed in a mass grave built around the base of the new monument.
Throughout the continued process of burials and reburials, whenever the remains of a man were found, a stake was planted so that future visitors could see where that man actually fell. Finally in 1890, Captain Owen Sweet arrived on the scene and replaced all wooden stakes with the 249 white, marble markers you see today.
The conspicuous headstones are dotted throughout the battlefield like ghostly spirits sweeping across the confusing purgatory of northern plains. While wandering down into Deep Ravine, thunder warns the visitor - the Little Bighorn is about to become the dramatic setting for another approaching storm.
|Custer's command was destroyed here|
|Retracing their steps|
|A disheartening event|
|The first graves were covered with dirt and sagebrush|
|Remains were scattered years after the battle|
|The granite monument was erected in 1881|
|Marble markers show where the men fell|
|Wandering down into Deep Ravine|
Little Bighorn Battlefield - Part II
|Medicine Tail Coulee Ford|
What happened to General Custer after he separated from Major Reno is one of the great mysteries of the American West. Because there were no survivors from Custer's battalion, the truth will forever elude historians, fanning the flames of controversy that are sparked by the multitude of differing theories.
A wealth of information can be gathered from Native American oral history as circulated by the battle's victorious participants, documents containing eyewitness testimony from soldiers who surveyed the battlefield's aftermath and recent archaeological discoveries.
By combining the evidence from these three sources, we can get a pretty good feel for what happened concerning Custer's strategy, movement and ultimate demise. The following is how I believe the events of that fateful day may have transpired.
While Reno and his men were being chased back to high ground, Custer was dividing his battalion into two wings. Companies C, I and L stayed in the hills to the right while E and F began an offensive maneuver to the left.
Mounted on their magnificent gray horses, Company E led the left wing down a dry creek bed. Appearing like apparitions out of the mist, they attempted to cross the river at the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee.
Being a gateway to the Indian's camp, the ford was defended fiercely by a small band of brave warriors. Using repeating rifles, the Indians rained bullets at the incoming threat, forcing the white soldiers to ascend back into the eastern bluffs.
The left wing reunited briefly with the right wing atop Calhoun Hill. With Companies I and C held in reserve, Company L deployed in a skirmish line and the engagement continued with light, long-range volleys exchanged between the two sides.
Custer, still on the offensive, descended from the smooth ridge and tried to ford the river north of the encampment but he was stopped again. As they returned, Company E spread out across a shallow ravine and fired at hostiles creeping up the western flats while Company F gravitated into the basin above.
Most of the Indians that had fought Reno arrived on the scene as the hills became saturated with angry warriors hidden in the gullies and ravines. After Lame White Man's aggressive charge from Greasy Grass Ridge, the clash escalated quickly.
Chiefs Gall and Crazy Horse took advantage of the ensuing chaos and led their followers as they decimated the troops retreating from Calhoun Hill. Most of the horses were killed or scattered so the soldiers fell back on foot across Battle Ridge in an attempt to link up with Custer and the left wing.
Finishing off the frightened, fleeing soldiers was easy pickings for the Indians because it was just like hunting buffalo on the run. Many of the inexperienced, young soldiers became panicked so all tactical cohesion was lost and the rout was on.
Meanwhile at the other end of Battle Ridge, Company E's line was destroyed by the 'Suicide Boys' who also stampeded the conspicuous gray horses. Custer's Headquarters Staff moved up the slope where they were joined by a few surviving refugees from the right wing.
Just below the summit of Custer Hill, about 40 soldiers from the Seventh Cavalry put down their mounts forming a horse-flesh barricade and made their desperate last stand. The men were completely surrounded as arrows sprayed into the center of their precarious position.
Eventually as the soldiers began to fall, the Indians initiated hand-to-hand combat and the tiny swatch of blue coats was completely overwhelmed. At the end, about 15 men tried to make a run for cover by sprinting towards the river but none of them escaped.
Once the last of the troopers were cut down, the process of ritualistic mutilation began. Most of the dead were stripped naked and their bodies mutilated because the Indians believed if they crippled the soldiers' bodies on earth, the soldiers wouldn't be able to harm them in the afterlife.
After they had defeated Custer, the warriors turned their attention back towards the secluded hilltop held by Reno and the recently arrived Captain Benteen. With seven companies dug in and holding the high ground, the soldiers prepared to ward off an impending attack.
|What happened to Custer is a mystery|
|Custer was in the hills during Reno's charge|
|Custer tried to ford the river here|
|A gateway to the Indian camp|
|Troops ascended this coulee to Calhoun Hill|
|Warriors crept up these gullies and ravines|
|Most of the horses were stampeded or killed|
|At the end, soldiers dashed for this ravine|
|Reno's troops dug into this secluded hilltop|
Little Bighorn Battlefield - Part I
|The Little Bighorn River Valley|
Located in south central Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield is a remarkable monument preserving a fascinating piece of American History. Here, General Custer and his battalion of 210 soldiers were massacred by a combined fighting force of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.
What makes this memorial so unique is the scattering of marble markers that pinpoint the exact location of where each of the soldiers were killed. The white headstones' seemingly random arrangement betrays the sobering story they have to tell.
Upon approaching the Little Bighorn in early June, the spectacular scenery is as beautiful as any place on earth. Tall, green grass is windswept across the vast prairie of rolling hills that at one time supported thousands of buffalo.
Upon reaching the river valley, the terrain becomes more rugged as high bluffs to the east are broken by deep ravines and wide coulees. The serpentine-shaped thread of silver water is narrow, cold and deep.
Indians called it the Greasy Grass and this is where they were camped on June 25th, 1876. Custer was ordered to bring in the hostiles and he found them here, resting in the shade of lovely cottonwoods.
Despite the federal government's mandate to confine Native Americans to reservations, the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne had remained defiant, refusing to give up their independence and nomadic way of life.
The Black Hills was their homeland and it was promised to be theirs forever by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. After the Civil War, westward expansion escalated as settlers, trappers and fortune seekers illegally desecrated the Indian's sacred hunting grounds.
As it appeared that conflict was inevitable, the northern tribes united under their spiritual leader Sitting Bull and military leaders Crazy Horse and Gall. Their paradise on the high plains was something worth fighting for.
On that hot, summer morning, the Seventh Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer rode down into the valley from the southeast. Custer divided his regiment of nearly 700 men into three battalions as he expected the Indians to scatter and run.
Captain Frederick Benteen took three companies and swung northwest to scout for stragglers and prevent escape in that direction. Major Marcus Reno was given three companies and ordered to charge due north into the south end of the camp.
Custer took five companies and headed northeast into the hills above. He was hoping to circle around to the opposite end of the camp, cross the river and attack in a pincer movement.
Reno's aggression provoked an unexpected force of 2,000 well-armed warriors. The Indians repulsed the initial attack and sent the terror-stricken bluecoats scurrying for cover in the nearby timber.
Amidst the chaos and confusion of the onslaught, Reno initiated a disorganized retreat across the river and up onto a high bluff. The shell-shocked troopers dug in and began a fight for their lives but where in the hell was Custer?
To be continued...
|A remarkable monument|
|A vast prairie|
|Lovely cottonwoods on the Greasy Grass|
|Conflict was inevitable|
|Paradise on the high plains|
|The Seventh Cavalry rode in from the southeast|
|Reno charged north down the valley|
|Where was Custer?|
Red Rocks Park - Happy Days
|Red Rocks Park, Colorado|
Up out of Mount Vernon Creek in the steep foothills west of Denver, an extraordinary arrangement of red rocks has shattered the western skyline. A network of dirt paths and sheer stairways are woven through the bustling venue.
Taking center stage in this natural backdrop is the unique amphitheater that hosts world-class performances by musical artists. The place is always warm during a summer dayhike while weekend shows heat up the night.
Looping around an ancient garden of sandstone, the Trading Post Trail is a favorite as it features lively songbirds above and yellow snakes below. Here, the park's colorful cliffs contrast sharply with the fresh, green foliage.
Down on the Dinosaur Ridge, seasons have changed but up in the high country there's still lots of snow. This time of year, the semi-arid environment that describes this region is the perfect place for a solitary sojourn.
After surviving a dark winter and a difficult spring, the longer light and fragrant wildflowers fill the air with a sense of guarded optimism. It’s been just a few weeks of subdued patience but now it appears as though happy days are here again.
|Mount Vernon Creek|
|An extraordinary arrangement of red rocks|
|A summer dayhike|
|Trading Post Trail|
|Yellow bull snake|
|Seasons have changed|
|A solitary sojourn|
|Happy days are here|
Gore Range Sketch - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Gore Range Sketch" Colored Pencil|
It's summer in the high country and a blanket of wildflowers covers the steep slopes below Ute Pass. Looming over a slender valley, the Gore Range is composed from an array of incredibly jagged peaks.
Heaped on top of the purple mountains, deep snow still persists even until the end of June. Dark woodlands are curved hastily across the rolling foothills, creating a tapestry of verdant greens.
The beauty of Blue River Basin is an irresistible impression. Sketched quickly in plein air, this pencil drawing might sometime in the future provide the framework for creating a more finished piece of art.
Forest Edge - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Forest Edge" Colored Pencil|
It's an early Spring evening in the Front Range foothills as golden light streams through this quiet corridor. Waves of yellow grasses churn across the valley floor like a turbulent, yellow sea.
The shadows are violet and their strange shapes follow the contour of a rugged landscape. The centerpiece of the scenery is a pair of red bushes that inhabit this special domain.
The forest edge is a dark barrier of scattered pine trees set in the picture's background. Subtle shading helps define the individual forms while a few streaks of lemon break up the deepest greens.
A single Ponderosa seems to have captured the spotlight as it stretches vertically into a powder-blue sky. In the vast expanse a few clouds drift slowly out of the west with trail edges that disintegrate into the atmosphere.
Simplified shapes and exaggerated color are stippled onto the page in a pointillistic manner, recording an impression of a fleeting moment in time. This rendering may not be even remotely accurate but that's the way I see it.
Sneffels Range Spring - Acrylic
|"Sneffels Range Spring" Acrylic|
Tucked discretely below the Dallas Divide, the Sneffels is a scenic sub-range of the San Juan Mountains. The confusion of untidy crags is a rugged remnant of an ancient volcano. It's late spring but bare rock is beginning to emerge from a shroud of heavy, winter snow.
A row of crooked cottonwoods is an elaborate gateway into the Colorado wild. Patches of delicate dandelions are scattered throughout the lush meadow while an assembly of blazing brush complicates an already busy foreground.
As a gray sky drizzles the landscape with cold rain, receding into the distance, colors cool from violet to blue-green. A series of spectacular buttes is a scenic prelude to an awesome alpine environment where cautious strokes define the ragged peaks.
Composed from equal parts image, experience and memory, this painting was not meant to hang on a wall. It's more of a sketch than a showpiece. A little bit looser and fabricated with less concern, sometimes a simple study is more satisfactory than the final, finished work.
Elk Ridge - Scenic Splendor
|Elk Ridge, Colorado|
The morning after a mid-May snowstorm, Elk Ridge is a pristine landscape rising above untouched territory. Breaking trail through drifts of deep snow impedes progress but on this day there is no rush to reach the top.
Frosted Bergen Peak looms over the white meadow where a grove of green aspen accentuates the scenic splendor. Blue shadows undulate across a frozen surface that blankets the rugged earth buried so far below.
While trudging along the edge of the dark woodland, tall pine trees release a deluge of icy snowmelt. Drenched from head to toe, the wanderer in this wilderness is bound to get wet and chilled to the bone.
By late afternoon, the warm sun has begun to release the foothills from the weakening grip of the season's last winter storm. Truly, it shouldn't come as a surprise because this unusual pattern has become an annual event.
It seems outrageous to be experiencing such inclement weather at this time but the snow will not last long. Believe it or not, in a couple of days you won't even be able to tell it snowed at all because it will have vanished into thin air.
|A pristine landscape|
|Bergen Peak looms over the white meadow|
|Along the edge of a dark woodland|
|Tall pines release snowmelt|
|Warm sun in the foothills|
|An annual event|
Holladay Nature Preserve - Dreary Days
|Wallace F Holladay Nature Preserve|
Occupying a rural greenbelt on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Holladay Nature Preserve features a diverse variety of trees and birdlife. Surrounded by a deciduous forest, a small pond is the sparkling centerpiece.
Continuous rainfall has cleansed the dense woodland, saturating the Spring landscape with a glossy sheen. During such a downpour, the brown creek rushes steadily through a rolling meadow.
In the field below a weathered, red barn and a broken-down silo, yellow flowers form a nice border. Nearby, the abundant foliage becomes a tangled mass that's tremendous in both height and width.
Despite being drenched during the remarkable deluge, resilient songbirds keep chirping with an infectious optimism. After a few, dreary days spent in the heartland of Indiana, it's nice to finally see the sun.
|A diverse variety of trees|
|A small pond is the centerpiece|
|A cleansed woodland|
|A Spring landscape|
|A rolling meadow|
|A red barn and a broken-down silo|
|Tremendous height and width|
|It's nice to see the sun|
A Spring Storm - South Table Mountain
|South Table Mountain|
"You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes." ~ Alexandre Dumas
The desolate landscape on top of South Table Mountain is a bleak outlook, troubled under a murky, Spring sky. On this great, windswept plateau, trees are scarce and the sting from abundant cactus is too painful to recount.
Dark skies unveil a curtain of cold rain that soaks all who dare to trespass on this depressing domain. The merciless breeze is a dogged companion that's unsympathetic to a yearning for more cheerful times.
The muddy road leading home is a lonely trek serenaded by the melancholy chorus of field crickets and meadow larks. Just like the turbulent weather experienced on this dismal day, life is a storm.
|A desolate landscape|
|A troubled sky|
|Trees are scarce|
|A painful sting|
|Yearning for cheerful times|
|A lonely trek|
|Life is a storm|
Warren Woods - A Fairytale Forest
|Warren Woods, Indiana|
Situated in central Indiana, Warren Woods is a fairytale-like forest bursting with lush greenery and blue flowers. A little, brown creek flows peacefully through the heart of a deciduous bird dwelling.
An amazing variety of calls can be heard, sung by the canopy's unseen inhabitants. The noisy chatter is a bit comforting for the new visitor as the happy chorus permeates an eerie atmosphere.
Lingering gray skies are evidence of recent thunderstorms whose heavy rainfall has drenched the dark Woodland. The soggy trails are a flooded mess, splattering mud with every step.
Encamped in Eastern Territory for the first time, I'm inspired by the lovely landscape and all of the birds, trees and water. It’s a temperate climate with a humidity that’s as warm as a blanket.
After a few days exploring the flatlands, it’s time to leave. Upon our return to the high country West, we're welcomed by 15 inches of wet snow - it's great to be home.
|A fairytale forest|
|Lush greenery and blue flowers|
|A little, brown creek|
|An eerie atmosphere|
|A dark woodland|
|Birds, trees and water|
Colorado National Monument - Austere Beauty
|Colorado National Monument|
Out in western Colorado, the steep, northern wall of the Uncompahgre Plateau falls away into the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Erosion has shredded this leading edge of orange sandstone, designing a labyrinth of extraordinary canyons.
Wind, water, ice and an infinite amount of time have combined forces to create a natural sculpture garden in the high desert. From the lofty Grand View Overlook, the floor below is decorated with rock chimneys, arches, spires, towers and coke ovens.
Granted special status in 1911, Colorado National Monument preserves a unique piece of the American West and protects a surprising variety of wildlife. Desert bighorns, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, lizards, rattlesnakes and rock wrens are a few of the species who call this place home.
During an evening hike on the heels of a passing Spring storm, beams of soft light come streaming through the steel-gray clouds. While following a broken trail that skirts the chasm’s rim, Monument Canyon is the main attraction but the distant Book Cliffs and Grand Mesa are impressive as well.
Ute Canyon is a secluded tributary that offers plenty of peace and quiet. At this section of the park, the deep gorge narrows and sheer cliffs rise from a rugged thoroughfare of scrub greenery such as cacti, yucca, pinyon pine, Utah juniper and sagebrush.
The exquisite scenery found out here near Grand Junction is the perfect prelude to the surreal landscape that sits across the border in eastern Utah. Some may think this region is a desolate hell-on-earth but it has an austere beauty that can only be found in such a stark wilderness.
|The plateau falls away|
|Erosion has shredded the plateau's edge|
|A labyrinth of canyons|
|A natural sculpture garden|
|Chimneys, towers and spires|
|A unique piece of the West|
|A passing storm|
|Soft light streaming through gray clouds|
|Broken trail on the chasm's rim|
|Secluded Ute Canyon|
|A thoroughfare of scrub greenery|
Soldier Summit - A Ghostly Site
|Soldier Summit, Utah|
Up out of Price, Utah as you head into the high country, there's an expansive meadow that's funneled into a natural passageway through the rugged Wasatch Mountains. Extreme weather shaped this beautiful landscape and provoked its tragic history.
In 1776, an expedition led by two Franciscan Priests stumbled upon this remarkable place and called it Grassy Pass. Fathers Dominguez and Escalante were searching for an overland route from Santa Fe to their Catholic Mission in Monterey, California.
The small party of Spanish explorers got as far as Utah Lake but travel hardships made it impossible to continue so they returned home to New Mexico. The attempt may have failed but their stories, maps and documentation would help guide future travelers as their route became part of the Old Spanish Trail.
In July of 1861 after the Civil War had begun, a group of 40 southern officers and enlisted men stationed at Camp Floyd, Utah were released from duty so they could join up with the Confederate Army in Texas. The soldiers lit out immediately and at the pinnacle of Grassy Pass, they got caught in a terrible Blizzard.
Unprepared to handle a mid-summer snowstorm, the troopers made a desperate camp near the natural, freshwater spring. As night fell, their precarious situation was soon plunged into a maelstrom of heavy snow and freezing temperatures.
By the next morning, exposure to such brutal elements had caused the deaths of eight men and several horses. The weary survivors hastily buried the deceased in shallow graves and promptly marched their way down out of that frozen hell.
Twenty years later when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad was surveying a route over the pass, they rediscovered the graves and learned about the harrowing story. The Railroad officially named the high point Soldier Summit in honor of those who had perished during the disheartening storm.
Incredibly by the 1920s, a town had sprung up at Soldier Summit and was prospering due to Utah's mineral wealth. At its height, the population may have reached 2500 persons. After the mines played out and the harsh reality of life at 7,700 feet had set in, the community gradually disappeared.
Today, there's an open gas station, a couple of ramshackle cabins and the old, two-room jail. As a testament to how successful the town once was, you can still see the concrete foundations laid out in such an orderly fashion as to suggest the once bustling city blocks.
Last month as the cold wind swept down from white peaks, a locomotive chugged its way up the winding Price River. At the summit, most people drive right by but if you take the time to stop, you'll discover that this ghostly site is still haunted by the souls of eight, unlucky soldiers.
|An expansive meadow|
|Extreme weather has shaped the landscape|
|A tragic history|
|First called Grassy Pass|
|Soldiers perished during a mid-summer storm|
|Life at 7700 feet|
|The old jail|
|Concrete foundations still exist|
|The place is still haunted|
O'Kane Park - A Refuge of Greenery
|Snowy O'Kane Park|
Smack in the middle of the city of Lakewood, O'Kane Park is a wedge of greenery offering refuge from the hectic pace of life. Settled by a family from Ireland in 1895, the open space was first developed as a sprawling dairy farm.
During a recent excursion around the park's perimeter, a Spring snowstorm enriched the already delightful ambiance. The color of the fresh blossoms became even more saturated by the much needed moisture.
Down on the far end of the block, a fountain-filled pond was inhabited by a flock of snow-covered geese. The smooth, dark water was like a mirror brimming with glossy reflections of the blurry landscape.
Before finishing a second lap, the weather had turned into a complete whiteout. I know I was just walking in a metropolitan suburb but on that night, it sure felt like I was trekking across the rural, Irish countryside.
|In the middle of the city|
|A Spring snowstorm|
|A fountain-filled pond|
|A complete whiteout|
|Trekking through a rural countryside|
Rio de las Animas - River of Lost Souls
|The Animas River|
Brought forth in a ghost town above tree line, the Animas River comes streaming down through a spirited mountain range called the San Juans. On a recent Sunday during the dead of winter, the river was running shallow and slow while sparkling blue in the morning light.
Flowing solemnly through the vibrant community of Durango, el Rio de las Animas is a River of Lost Souls. The virtuous waterway is an innocent victim scarred by the legacy of Colorado's relentless mining activity.
Almost two years ago the EPA was mitigating pollutants from the closed Gold King Mine near Silverton. The workers accidentally destroyed a retainment plug, unleashing 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Cement Creek and the Animas River.
The waterway changed color almost instantly as a mustard yellow swell made its way to New Mexico and the San Juan River. The contaminants became more diluted as they moved farther downstream where some of the poison settled in the sludge at the bottom of Lake Powell.
Most of the heavy metals such as iron, arsenic and lead became stuck in the thick sediment of the riverbed. After a couple of weeks, the results from water quality tests indicated that everything seemed to be back to normal.
As for the animals, farm crops and drinking water, it's still uncertain as to exactly what damage was done. The disaster was a frightening wake up call concerning the complicated, environmental cleanup involving hundreds of acid-leaking mines in southwest Colorado.
As I walked along the water's edge during a remarkable evening, the Animas River couldn't have been more beautiful or serene. No one knows for sure what the long-lasting effects of the catastrophe may be so we can only hope that nature will find a way to heal itself from our history of destructive behavior.
|Sparkling blue in the morning light|
|Flowing through Durango|
|River of Lost Souls|
|An innocent victim|
|Heavy metals are stuck in the riverbed|
|Everything seems back to normal|
|A remarkable evening|
|Beautiful and serene|
|Hopefully nature will find a way|
Dugout Creek - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Dugout Creek" Colored Pencil|
Carved deep into a secluded cattle pasture, Dugout Creek rushes down out of the rugged Sandhills. The shallow stream is cold and blue as it meanders through the vast prairie.
A pair of framework trees creates an informal gateway into a golden grassland. Here and there, drifts of deep snow are defined by soft passages of cerulean blue.
A furious wind blows with blatant disregard while the white sky foretells that more winter weather is on the way. With all of the elements arrived in full force, it's just another winter day in western Nebraska.
San Juan National Forest - A Faraway Land
|San Juan National Forest|
Sprawling across the southwest corner of Colorado, the San Juan National Forest is a spectacular wilderness. Consumed by severe weather, it's a faraway land featuring towering pine trees and glistening, white peaks.
Buried under a blanket of deep snow, the blue forest is a sleepy dreamland. Still laying low in the cobalt sky, a yellow sun radiates golden rays that warm the frigid landscape.
Bright light comes streaming through the placid interior, creating strange shadows that follow a rugged contour. The wide trail is packed solid, offering evidence that many others have come before me.
This high country embraces the snug comfort of a nice, long winter. Despite the region beginning to wake from hibernation, I find myself mostly alone except for the reassuring company of a pair of fluffed up Stellar's Jays.
|A spectacular wilderness|
|Towering pine trees|
|Glistening white peaks|
|Buried under a blanket of snow|
|A sleepy dreamland|
|The yellow sun radiates golden rays|
|A placid interior|
|A rugged contour|
|Others have come before me|
|Snug comfort of a long winter|
|Fluffed Stellar's jays|
Sisters Pass - Perfect Solitude
West of Evergeen there’s a long ridge of rocky outcrops that divides Dedisse Park from Buffalo Park. The local landmark is known as the Three Sisters because of the prominent spires that rise out of the unique formation.
Scrambling the steep Sisters Trail all the way to the top of the pass is a breathtaking endeavor. During a recent evening-excursion, it was particularly dark and cold as a winter storm was approaching from the west.
Mired in deep snow, the forest was so gloomy that not even the groves of white aspen could brighten the way. Finally above tree line, a panorama of purple mountains and pink skies receded into the distance.
I was expecting to take an ordinary outing so I was surprised to confront such a dramatic twilight. Traipsing around the mountainside after dark is an eerie experience but if you can overcome your apprehension, you’ll discover that a certain solitude found only at night is perfect - just perfect.
|Scrambling the steep Sisters Trail|
|A winter storm was approaching|
|Mired in deep snow|
|Not even aspen could brighten the way|
|Purple mountains and a pink sky|
|An ordinary outing|
|An eerie experience|
Genesee Bison Herd - Majestic Animals
There's a new trail in the Front Range foothills tracing the high, chainlink fence that defines the Genesee Park boundary. Every so often, a red danger sign warns the curious visitor to stay back at least ten feet.
Inhabiting this extensive reserve, a herd of scraggly creatures must be contemplated with caution. They appear indifferent at first but an unpredictable charge launched by one of the massive beasts could do some serious damage.
In the year 1800, 35 million buffalo roamed across the vast grasslands of North America. After nearly a century of senseless slaughter committed by commercial hunters, only 500 of these majestic animals remained.
With the disastrous consequences becoming obvious, the resilient survivors were rounded up and placed, mercifully, within the protective confines of the world's first national park - Yellowstone.
At about the same time, Denver was building a series of mountain parks to offer citizens an escape from urban stress. In 1914, the city purchased two bulls and five cows from that beleaguered Wyoming herd and introduced them into the newly created preserve.
Casually grazing just west of town, the Genesee Bison Herd features about 60 purebred descendants of those original seven. It's a privilege to be able to observe, so close to home, such a rare and precious animal.
|An extensive reserve|
|A herd of scraggly creatures|
|They appear indifferent|
|This bull could do some serious damage|
|Millions once roamed the vast grasslands|
|An escape from urban stress|
|A rare and precious animal|
Blue Friday - A Subtle Thaw
The morning after a dusting of fresh snow, the cold air is filled with an eerie silence. Diffused sunbeams stream through the clearing sky, permeating the forest with an ethereal light.
After slogging through a long week surrounded by a dusky landscape, clouds have parted revealing a blue Friday. It's a wonderful time to be in the mountains enveloped by my favorite color cast.
Swirling, pale pine are scattered throughout the meadow offering a fine foreground below Bergen Peak. The cool tones are usually reserved for a more somber setting but on this day, they express a joyful mood.
A subtle thaw has occurred as songbirds gradually appear and ice-covered lakes start to crack open. Enjoy the white wilderness while you can because the mud season is about to begin.
|Morning after a fresh snow|
|An eerie silence|
|Sunlight beams through a clearing sky|
|An ethereal light|
|Pale pine are scattered throughout the meadow|
|A fine foreground below Bergen Peak|
|Cool color tones|
|A joyful mood|
|A subtle thaw has occurred|
|Enjoy the white wilderness|
Mule Deer Fawns - Innocent Creatures
|Twin Mule Deer Fawns|
One of the things I love about living in the mountains is observing the abundant wildlife. We routinely see elk and mule deer grazing peacefully around the townsite.
The highlight of every spring is the same, mule deer doe that comes back to the yard and gives birth to twin fawns. They must feel safe in this locale because they stay all summer long.
The fawns are up and moving almost immediately as they follow closely behind their mother. If she leaves the area, the little ones are given strict orders to get down and remain still.
I've seen them lay and remain completely frozen for several hours. When mom returns, the curious fawns pop back up and continue to explore their surroundings.
At such an early age they are extremely vulnerable to numerous predators. Ochre color tones and white spots allow the fawns to blend perfectly into the mountainside.
The tiny creatures seem helpless at first but within a few days they're able to move around very quickly. Just don't let their innocent look fool you.
It won't be long before they're stirring up trouble in the neighborhood - eating flowers, running out in the street and just causing a general ruckus. They kind of remind me of my own, two kids.
|The highlight of every Spring|
|They stay all summer|
|Following mother closely|
|They remain still|
|Exploring their surroundings|
|They are vulnerable|
|Ochre colored with white spots|
|They can move around quickly|
|Not as innocent as they look|
|Causing a general ruckus|
Lake Isabelle Storm - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Lake Isabelle Storm"|
“Through art we can change the world.” ~ #twitterartexhibit
It's springtime in the Rockies as rain clouds rumble across the Great Divide. They descend into an isolated glacial cirque, signaling a soggy afternoon.
Throughout this season of optimism, fresh greenery is revealed during the annual snowmelt. A ring of gray mountains forms an impressive backdrop, looming over the icy reservoir.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is known for its severe storms, rough trails and natural beauty. Attaining the turquoise tarn named Lake Isabelle can be a struggle, especially during bad weather.
Ascending this steep valley is an unforgettable experience because reaching the remote paradise under such harsh conditions requires great strength and courage.
Things will get tough on the rugged trail so stay positive, have faith that your being guided in the right direction and most importantly - don't give up, don't ever give up.
Lake Isabelle Storm is my contribution to the upcoming Twitter Art Exhibit: UK. This unique event is an international exhibition of original postcard art benefiting Molly Olly's Wishes, supporting children with terminal or life threatening illnesses and their families to help with their emotional wellbeing.
They grant individual wishes to children. This may be in the form of equipment, to help a child with day to day living with their condition, it may be an alternative therapy treatment to compliment traditional medicine, or a special occasion for a child that would otherwise be isolated from everyday events due to the restrictions of their illness.
They are professional and personal and never forget that those they help are going through extremely challenging times. They always strive to be empathetic and compassionate.
All proceeds from sales will support children aged 0-18, and their families, who need additional help to ease the burdens of living with a terminal or life threatening illness.
Twitter Art Exhibit: UK is the seventh installment of this open international exhibition of handmade postcard art for charity, donated by artists from around the world.
Social media plays a major role in Twitter Art Exhibit. It is their intention to tweet, share and promote contributing artists to thank them for their participation, and to make this event a success for all involved.
The event will be highly publicized and well attended by art buyers and enthusiasts, members of the press, local artists and the TAE community.
For more information, please check out this link: #twitterartexhibit
Morning in the Mountains - A Monochrome Monday
|Morning in the mountains|
On a frigid morning in the mountains, the dark landscape is coated with a thin layer of sparkling ice. Tired and cold, it's difficult to get going on such a dreary, winter dawn.
By late January, the Front Range foothills are quiet and colorless. On this day things are different as a large herd of elk have gathered in the monochrome meadow.
Strung out along the crest of a wide ridge, cows, yearlings and bulls forage together in the ochre grass. Patches of broken snowpack slide into the narrow draw below.
After such an unusual weather event, the pure-white Evergreens look like crystallized Christmas Trees. In the low light, their grey shadows stretch across the watery gulch.
It's a melancholy Monday but the morning march is a therapeutic necessity. It looks like it's going to be another hectic few days, working for the weekend.
|A frigid morning|
|The dark landscape is covered with ice|
|A dreary, winter dawn|
|The foothills are quiet and colorless|
|A large herd of elk|
|A monochrome meadow|
|Patches of broken snowpack|
|A watery gulch|
|A melancholy Monday|
South Table Mountain - The True Frontier
|South Table Mountain|
During a mid-winter morning on South Table Mountain, the treacherous trail was a muddy mess. Unusually tepid temperatures had triggered rapid snowmelt, softening the dark earth.
Rising out of an authentic western town called Golden, Colorado, the natural turret was a lovely landmark. The steep ascent was distinguished by long switchbacks that snaked across a dormant hillside.
Up on a rounded ridge, yellow grasses blew in a soft breeze and contrasted sharply with the clear, blue sky. Easy to imagine I'd stepped back in time, the peaceful approach was a true frontier experience.
Before reaching the top, a maze of rock spires was situated just below the mesa's wide rim. After a wild week of commitments and work, it was nice to find some free time for a warm, winter's day walk.
|A mid-winter morning|
|The natural turret is a landmark|
|A dormant hillside|
|A soft breeze|
|A peaceful approach|
|A frontier experience|
|A maze of rock spires|
|A warm, winter walk|
Cold Mountain - A Harsh Wilderness
|Bergen Peak is a cold mountain|
It’s a frigid morning in Evergreen, Colorado and Bergen Peak forms a dark backdrop, brooding over a lonely meadow. A strange ambiance engulfs the landscape as morning light struggles to leak through the dense atmosphere.
Plastered with a coating of fresh snow, the pine trees are glittering white against the windswept grassland. After the frigid sunrise, lemon-colored clouds swirl ominously across the northern sky.
Ascending the icy slopes is a cautious endeavor achieved during the morning’s daybreak silence. The perilous trail leads seductively into a wonderfully crystallized forest.
I have great reverence for the harsh wilderness and I mostly enjoy being out in the thick of this dour season but today I can’t stop shivering as I gaze quietly upon that cold mountain.
|A frigid morning in Evergreen|
|Brooding over a lonely meadow|
|A strange ambiance engulfs the landscape|
|The pine trees are glittering white|
|Yellow clouds swirl ominously|
|A crystallized forest|
|Great reverence for a harsh wilderness|
|A cold mountain|
Evergreen Mountain Summit - Watercolor
|Evergreen Mountain Summit|
It’s an early-summer morning at the summit of Evergreen Mountain and the thin air is clear and crisp. The strokes of pure color brushed loosely onto the page are confined by the black ink that traces the mountain landscape.
The yellow foreground is a jumble of rocks and tundra, gleaming gold in the bright sunlight. Clinging to the treacherous top, a limber pine is a textured tree with needled branches that splay into the brilliant, blue sky.
Across the valley below, Mount Evans Wilderness recedes into the distance through layers of pale green. Strung out across the skyline, a row of mighty peaks are still shimmering white with tons of packed snow.
Currently steeped in the depths of a dark-blue season, only our memories can summon the warmth of those sweet, summer days. With each new dawn, the light is lasting just a little bit longer offering hope that soon we’ll be enjoying nature moments just like this.
Hubbard Mesa - A Surprising Spectacle
|Hubbard Mesa at Rifle, Colorado|
I’ve travelled all over the backroads of Colorado searching for beautiful places to photograph. Earlier this winter, I stumbled upon a remarkable area that really caught my attention.
If you head north out of Rifle, you’ll discover a unique landscape distinguished by enchanting sunsets. My experience below the staggered mesas of that region was nothing short of surreal.
After a gray day shrouded in mist, the clouds began to recede and the sun started to set. Warm tones mingled with cool tones, resulting in a broad spectrum of colorful twilight.
The muddy desert floor was decorated with patches of piñon pine and splashes of blue sagebrush. Up above, the dark peaks were laced with stripes of white snow.
As the curtain of darkness continued to descend, shafts of filtered light permeated the wide valley. The moist atmosphere hung over the canyon, washing it to a glossy sheen.
I was lucky to be rewarded with such a surprising spectacle after wandering into the wilderness that evening. Standing out there during dusk was a moment of solitude I’ll never forget.
|A remarkable area|
|Heading north out of Rifle|
|A unique landscape|
|An enchanting sunset|
|Below staggered mesas|
|The region was surreal|
|The clouds began to recede|
|Warm tones mingled with cool tones|
|A colorful twilight|
|Patches of piñon and sagebrush|
|The canyon was washed clean|
|Light was filtered through the valley|
|A surprising spectacle|
|Wandering into the wilderness|
|An unforgettable moment of solitude|
Dugout Creek - Before and After the Storm
|Dugout Creek, Nebraska|
On the day before the storm, the December weather was unusually warm. Dugout Creek meandered slowly through a golden pasture of prairie grassland.
By late afternoon, the sprawling sandhills were saturated with yellow sunshine. Along the curvy creek bank, a barren forest of twisted trees was glowing orange in the last light.
Just when it was beginning to look like a yellow Christmas, the sky turned ominous, temperatures dropped and a terrible blizzard ensued. The old homestead appeared divine while cloaked in the western Nebraska whiteout.
Morning after the storm and the place was covered with deep snow. The cold water creek was crystal clear as it faithfully reflected a broken blue sky.
After a surprising delay, winter has finally arrived on the Great Plains. The past year has been an unpredictable barrage of challenges and change so it’s nice to see that maybe things are starting to get back to normal.
|The weather was unusually warm|
|The creek meandered slowly|
|Saturated with yellow sunshine|
|Glowing orange in the last light|
|The sky turned ominous|
|The old homestead|
|Covered in snow|
|The creek is crystal clear|
|Reflecting a broken blue sky|
|Winter has arrived|
|Maybe things are getting back to normal|
The Eagle River - Absolute Freedom
|Eagle River at Edwards, Colorado|
Emerging out of the lofty Continental Divide, the Eagle River descends freely from the remote rooftop of the Rockies. There are no dams to impede its progress so the wild waterway rushes uninterrupted through Vail Valley’s western slope.
Early Native Americans observed that it had more tributaries than an Eagle has feathers, which is how the river got its appealing name. During the Eagle’s 60 mile journey to its confluence with the Colorado, as the number of tributaries increases so does the river’s size and speed.
I encountered the Eagle River at Edwards, Colorado the morning after a terrific snowstorm. Still dark and blurry under the cover of dense clouds, the vigorous creek wound its way into a black forest of frosted pine trees.
Treading lightly along the frozen riverbank, the thin ice cracked ominously with every footfall. During the dead of winter, the river runs at its shallowest so the rough edges of exposed boulders were softened by caps of fresh snow.
Blanketed in black and white, the Christmas Card setting was therapeutically serene. Just like its namesake nesting in the steep cliffs above, the Eagle River spreads its wings and glides quietly through the landscape, evoking feelings of absolute freedom.
|A wild waterway|
|After a terrific snowstorm|
|Under dense cloud cover|
|Winding through a black forest|
|The river is at its shallowest|
|Exposed boulders softened by snow|
|A Christmas card setting|
Clearing Storm - A White Wilderness
|A clearing storm|
The morning after a fresh snow, I’m first to enter the white wilderness. Propelled by cautious footsteps, I break a powdery trail through the silver forest.
A sharp breeze sends temperatures plummeting to ten below. My bare hands feel as if they’re frozen solid and my exhaled breath looks like gray smoke.
Around the bend, below a row of bleached aspen, cheerful elk have gathered into an energetic herd. These hardy beasts are built for the cold so they celebrate by bucking, playing and prancing around.
Blue skies begin to show through as the milky sun wrestles with gray clouds. The winner will determine who dominates the local weather forecast.
Winter is a long and difficult season but after the last few days being mired in a gloomy darkness, there’s something comforting about watching a clearing storm.
|The morning after fresh snow|
|A white wilderness|
|A silver forest|
|An energetic herd of elk|
|Bucking and prancing around|
|A milky sun and gray clouds|
|Winter is a difficult season|
|Something comforting about a clearing storm|
Silver Fox Trail - An Enchanting Moment
|Silver Fox Trail Sunrise|
It’s a cold, autumn morning at Alderfer Ranch and the landscape is dark and blue. Suddenly, a crack of sunlight streaks across the foothills, permeating the web of tangled tree branches.
Shafts of that persistent light stream through a dense layer of clouds, illuminating the big peaks to the west. Due to the dearth of birds, the eerie silence is a noticeable side-effect of the changing seasons.
Draped over the rugged contour of rocky terrain, long shadows are in pursuit as I hike the Silver Fox Trail. I pass through a dormant grove of wiry aspen, glowing bright white against the dark woodland.
Slivers of low light continue to creep across the meadow until the valley is filled with a comforting warmth. During this first golden hour, fluorescent rays infuse the area with a tinge of orange.
Despite being an industrious night owl, the pre-dawn excursion is worth the chilling discomfort. The November sunrise is an enchanting moment, radiating encouragement and inspiration. It’s time to seize the day.
|The landscape is cold, dark and blue|
|Sunlight streaks across the foothills|
|Shafts of persistent light|
|A dense layer of clouds|
|Big peaks to the west|
|An eerie silence|
|Long shadows pursue the hiker|
|A wiry grove of aspen|
|A dark woodland|
|Slivers of light creep across the meadow|
|Infused with a tinge of orange|
|An enchanting moment|
|Seize the day|
Stellar's Jay Summer - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Stellar's Jay Summer" Colored Pencil|
Perched within a coniferous forest, a solitary Stellar's Jay contemplates its familiar surroundings. Unassuming and reticent near home, this intelligent bird takes on a much different public persona.
When on the quest for food, it reveals itself by squawking boisterously. Now bold and confident, the Stellar's Jay will bully the smaller birds away from its favorite feeding areas.
This bird can become one of the forest's more raucous, year-round residents. While hiking through its territory, I've often found myself on the receiving end of an unprovoked scolding.
The Stellar’s Jay’s striking appearance reflects its obnoxious behavior. Its blue plumage is accented by dark bars of color, creating an interesting pattern on the wings and tail.
An unkempt tussle of feathers adorns the bird's head. From this distinct crest, a beautiful gradient of indigo blue blends down through the crown and chest into the cerulean coloring of the body.
This Rocky Mountain native shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range. The jays in our foothills are distinguished by white facial steaks that define the black eyes and beak.
Stellar's Jays have found their niche in the Subalpine zone between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. I frequently see them in the trees on Bergen Peak, especially in the transition area where forest meets meadow.
These birds symbolize intelligence and because it is thought that they mate for life, fidelity. Christian tradition also uses the bird to symbolize the human soul representing joy and goodness.
Noble Meadow Barn - A Resilient Landmark
|Noble Meadow Barn|
Constructed in a narrow gulch, the Noble Meadow Barn is a long-standing structure built to withstand the elements. The resilient landmark is a rustic reminder of the past that’s frequented today by various wildlife.
The exquisite architecture is erected from local timber, blending peacefully into the mountain environment. The wood work harmonizes gracefully with the flowing meadow grasses and broken forest that seeks to reclaim it.
Taking the brunt of arriving storms, the western wall is in shambles from the force of heavy snow. Just like an old bull elk after the rut, the weather-beaten barn makes its lonely winter stand on a windswept hillside.
The humble stronghold is reminiscent of a battered warrior rising from the earth as he’s born with the strength to fight another day. Storms that descend into the slender valley are intense for sure but most of the time the sky is clear, wildflowers abound and bluebirds sing.
Situated on a golden ridge, the insignificant touch of humanity gets lost in the vast wilderness that overwhelms it. Upon careful observation though, the building becomes a compelling element anchoring an iconic expression of the Evergreen landscape.
|A long-standing structure|
|Built to withstand the elements|
|A resilient landmark|
|A rustic reminder of the past|
|Frequented by wildlife|
|Blending into the mountain environment|
|Harmonizes with the meadow grasses|
|Taking the brunt of arriving storms|
|The western wall is in shambles|
|The weather-beaten barn|
|A lonely winter stand|
|A humble stronghold|
|The storms are intense|
|Situated on a golden ridge|
|Lost in a vast wilderness|
|An iconic expression of the Evergreen landscape|
Curious Red Fox - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Curious Red Fox" Colored Pencil|
A red fox emerges from the lush undergrowth of a dark forest, watching quietly from atop a granite platform. A keen observer of the world around him, this resourceful creature has earned a legendary reputation for intelligence and cunning.
The fox is nimble afoot and has remarkable paws built for rough terrain while his black stockings blend impossibly into the vermillion coat. More orange than red, he moves easily through the thick brush and across a rockfall of strewn boulders.
Cropped out of the picture, the bushy brown tail lends some balance to the agile critter as well as to the composition. The textured, pine tree trunk is pushed into the background because of its low contrast, enclosing the scene.
The depiction is awash in morning light as limber ferns cast a pattern of peculiar shadows across the interior space. This resurrected drawing was freshened up with layers of rich color and completed with cautious realism.
The deep woodland is a mystical dwelling inhabited by all kinds of birds and wildlife. During an excursion into the wilderness, I enjoy seeing them all but there’s one local resident I admire the most - the curious red fox.
Crown Hill Park - A Golden Gateway
|Crown Hill Park|
Crown Hill Park is an expansive hilltop risen above a sea of amber waves of grain. The far off Flatirons form an impressive backdrop, giving an imaginative wanderer the feeling he’s walking in the wilderness.
The centerpiece of this wide, wheat ridge is a placid lake that’s cobalt blue and smooth as a mirror. Almost perfectly oval in shape, the reservoir and its adjacent wetlands are a birder’s paradise.
During an Indian Summer, the sun-drenched forest exterior is a glorious yellow and full of life. Buzzing about the gnarled cottonwoods, energetic kingfishers happily call this place home.
Nearby, Kestrel Pond is mostly a soggy bottom filled with cattail willows. The ground floor is crawling with creepy, little creatures such as spiders, grasshoppers, praying mantis and garter snakes.
You’ll notice the landscape is distinguished by contrasting colors and textures while romping across this countryside. An isolated haven nestled in the sprawling suburbs, Crown Hill is a golden gateway to Colorado’s mountain west.
|The Flatirons are an impressive backdrop|
|Walking in the wilderness|
|A blue lake is the centerpiece|
|Smooth as a mirror|
|A birder's paradise|
|An Indian Summer|
|Kestrel Pond is mostly cattails|
|Contrasting colors and textures|
|An isolated haven|
|A golden gateway to the west|
Dillon Reservoir - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Dillon Reservoir" Colored Pencil|
It’s a dreary, November day at Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, Colorado. Observed from an astonishing overlook, the watery encompassment is hit with a precursor to the volatile winter weather that defines this elevated area.
As temperatures continue to plummet, the passing storm fills the air with pellets of frozen moisture. On land, the foothills feature broken terrain expressed with indistinct outlines erased by the murky atmosphere.
The dark foreground of brush and foliage is enlivened by an inconspicuous grove of orange aspen. Stretched across the textured sheet of paper, the water is steel-blue, taking on the tone of the turbulent sky.
The thin strips of shoreline are jigsawed carefully into the dense forest. Also, horizontal passages of infinite shades of green are succeeded by a string of gray mountains whose contours fade into the distance.
Where the sun’s rays are allowed to touch the earth, patches of vermillion warm the low-key landscape. Those shafts of surreal light stream through the imperial heavens and conclude the composition by highlighting the innocent, white peak.
Bighorn Sheep Winter - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Bighorn Sheep II" Colored Pencil|
The battles may last for twenty-four hours but the exhausted victor earns exclusive mating rights. The weapons of choice are the impressive, coiled horns that are the distinguishing feature of Colorado's state symbol, the bighorn sheep.
They are the ultimate gladiators built to live along steep ridges and in rugged canyons. This fragile species must also carefully navigate the precipice of extinction as the sheep are extremely sensitive to artificial disturbances in their natural environment.
It's a familiar story but the numbers are staggering - before 1800, two million bighorn sheep populated North America. By the year 1900, only a few thousand remained as hunting, loss of habitat and disease spread by introduced livestock decimated their numbers.
In 1936 the Arizona Boy Scouts mounted a sympathetic campaign to rescue the bighorn sheep. A "Save the Bighorns" art contest launched in schools throughout the state garnered national attention. Once made aware of the dire situation, other wildlife organizations joined the effort.
Intense conservation methods such as reintroduction into their former homelands, a decrease in direct competition with domestic sheep and protection from National Parks have all been successful. In areas where the bighorn sheep are allowed to roam unimpeded by man-made obstacles, the animals are thriving once again.
Sheep Lakes - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Sheep Lakes" Colored Pencil|
Set in a lush meadow, Sheep Lakes is another outstanding locale displaying the surreal beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Framed by a chain of purple peaks, the pastoral scene is a sight to behold.
The thin, mountain air is infused with brilliant light that saturates a natural canvas already painted with pure colors. The small, reflecting pond is like a liquid mirror, reproducing the scene with remarkable precision.
Even during summer, a current of cold air flows down through Fall River Canyon and seeps into the horseshoe-shaped park. The cool breeze permeates the pristine landscape and softens edges with a subtle motion-blur.
As the region’s most recent glacier retreated, an outwash of braided streams deposited chunks of frozen debris across the valley floor. The ice-mass melted, creating cavities in the earth and when those depressions are filled with water, they’re called kettle lakes.
Bighorn Sheep are attracted to this place because of the salt deposits still found in the ground. Every summer they descend from the remote Mummy Range in order to graze and eat soil, obtaining minerals that are unavailable in their high mountain habitat.
Moraine Park - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Moraine Park" Colored Pencil|
It’s late fall in northern Colorado and the Big Thompson River is a gray waterway meandering through the spacious meadow. An overhang of ochre grasses forms an elegant border that channels the slow-moving stream.
At its lowest level this time of year, the cold creek reveals a wide range of fantastically-shaped rocks. The blue forest in the background fringes the gateway of jagged spires and conceals the river's mysterious source.
Named Moraine Park, this ancient landscape was formed by mighty glaciers thousands of years ago. Today, the spectacular valley is enclosed by snowy peaks and it’s the centerpiece of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Autumn is a favorite time of year as it provides a pleasant distraction while waiting for the cold season to return. In this drawing, the bright colors are gone and the white sky is a ominous indicator of an approaching winter storm.
Above Tree Line - Something Spiritual
|Snowy peaks from above tree line|
Most of the summer was spent grounded in Colorado’s graceful foothills, a vibrant ecosystem bursting with activity. The forest was flush with lots of wildlife while the trails were packed with tons of tourists.
Things got considerably lower during a visit to the Pacific Ocean where the crowded West Coast descended to the depths of sea level. There, the sizzling California sun scorched the skin but excess oxygen filled the lungs.
Back home, along with the cool, autumn breeze came a yearning to climb into thin air. There’s something spiritual about getting above tree line that opens your heart and clears your mind.
You’re released from the stifling clutter of the complicated lowlands and gifted priceless time in a wide open space. It’s a simplified landscape composed from the basic ingredients of earth, rock and sky.
It’s a special domain with sparse vegetation and few inhabitants where only the most tenacious survive. The sound of silence is paired with far-reaching views that expose the hazy curvature of our blue planet.
Emerging from the lodgepole pine into such a unique environment is exhilarating and if you continue to make the solitary trek across remote terrain, you’ll begin to feel like this isolated kingdom is all yours.
|A cool, autumn breeze|
|The yearning to climb into thin air|
|There's something spiritual above tree line|
|An escape from the lowlands|
|Gifted priceless time|
|Wide open space|
|Earth, rock and sky|
|A special domain|
|Only the most tenacious survive|
|The sound of silence|
|Breaking tree line is exhilarating|
|The kingdom is yours|
Laguna Beach - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Laguna Beach" Colored Pencil|
It’s a warm, summer evening in southern California. The vast, Pacific Ocean is counterbalanced by steep, yellow cliffs that are decorated with a bouquet of complicated foliage.
Rolling green waves are washed ashore in a white foam that laps against the rocky beach. The endless sea stretches into infinity, creating an obvious horizon line.
Rigid clouds are dispersed casually across the upper part of the composition. They veil the blue sky with an opaque layer of pebbled white pencil.
Crowned with a tussled canopy, sinuous palm trees form an intriguing silhouette against the fading light. Hinting at an untouched tropical paradise, the exotic growth is unfamiliar territory.
The air is filled with the smell of salt and the sound of squawking sea gulls. As the sun begins to set, there is no doubt that the West Coast experience is a feast for all the senses.
Three Sisters Park - A Diverse Habitat
|Three Sisters Open Space Park|
Three Sisters Park is a diverse habitat featuring rocky crags, lush meadows, secluded forests and bountiful wildlife. The wide open space is nestled below and serves as a prelude to the spectacular Mount Evans Massif.
A complicated network of rugged trails is laced throughout the lonesome reserve. There are a couple of deserted cabins that are historical reminders of the hardy souls who first homesteaded this unforgiving area.
Winters are especially harsh as high winds continually batter the resilient landscape. Cold temperatures descend into the foothills and a heavy blanket of pure-white snow transforms the scene into a monochrome mountainscape.
Spring in this environment is cool and wet which is just perfect for the annual profusion of wild irises. During the oh-so-short summer, mule deer are quite common and seem to be the park’s most popular occupant.
Fall is the colorful time of year that revolves around the intense rutting period. Tormented with a nasty temper triggered by shorter daylengths, the Rocky Mountain elk are intimidating beasts that dominate the local animal kingdom.
Autumn is the ultimate transitional spell as all creatures great and small prepare for the difficulties that lie ahead. A last bit of light radiates from the small pockets of aspen gold before the sudden descent into our season of darkness.
|The Three Sisters are rocky crags|
|A prelude to Mount Evans|
|A network of rugged trails|
|A historical reminder|
|Winters are especially harsh|
|Blanketed with snow|
|A monochrome mountainscape|
|Mule Deer are common|
|The elk are intimidating|
|A small pocket of aspen|
|Our season of darkness|
Wildlife Encounters - Early Autumn
|Mule Deer Fawns|
It’s early autumn in Evergreen, Colorado and animals are on the move. Hiking along the edges of Bear Creek Canyon, I’m lucky enough to experience some remarkable wildlife encounters.
Up on top, a pair of mule deer fawns and their mother skirt the wide ridge. They forage furiously as their winter survival depends on the calories they consume now.
On the lush, north-facing slope, more muleys are like gray apparitions emerging from the shadows of a dark forest. As they pass through a stream of diffused sunlight, their movements are sheer stealth.
The trees are quiet because most of the birds have gone but down in the creek below, a curious fellow still remains. Watching the American dipper hunt in the midst of whitewater rapids is an absolute delight.
Across to the other side and the eerie bellow of a Rocky Mountain elk can already be heard. Upon reaching the impressive creatures, I find them resting and grazing in the cool shade.
Browsing on the community’s fringe, a young male still has fuzzy velvet on his stubby antlers. With the rut about to begin, I’m afraid the massive bulls will keep him at bay on the outside looking in.
Finally, a fat ground squirrel with cheeks full of food is a fitting symbol for fall. Before long, the cold weather will settle in and we’ll be looking at our first snow.
|Bear Creek Canyon|
|A mule deer mother and twins|
|A wide ridge|
|A gray apparition|
|Upper Bear Creek|
|The American dipper is a delight|
|A big bull elk|
|A young male|
|On the outside looking in|
|A fat ground squirrel|
Viele Lake - An Urban Oasis
Viele Lake is a pretty reflecting pool located below Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. The man-made reservoir is an urban oasis that clearly attracts lots of people.
The Flatirons rock formations create an impressive backdrop that’s mirrored symmetrically across the placid pond. On this September morn, structural white clouds float across a deep-blue sky.
During this season, trees display their yellow leaves through a flickering pattern of light and shade. As summer comes to an end, the birds are full of nervous energy before their eminent departure.
The community park is a fisherman’s delight as the lush habitat harbors big catfish and giant carp. A purple bridge is a photogenic arch that spans the lake’s narrow midsection.
The tranquil setting is perfect for a peaceful nature walk in order to clear your mind. It’s time to put your head down, don’t look too far ahead and just keep doing what you’re doing.
|Nestled below Fairview High School|
|An urban oasis|
|The Flatirons are an impressive backdrop|
|Structural white clouds|
|The trees are turning yellow|
|A flickering pattern of light and shade|
|A lush habitat|
|A tranquil setting|
|A peaceful nature walk|
Saddle Rock - The Wild West
On a sweltering summer day in Nebraska, we hiked at Scottsbluff National Monument all the way up to the top of Saddle Rock. Unfortunately, a natural roadblock forced a detour but that didn’t diminish our resolve.
Just like the first pioneers, we approached the remarkable formation by crossing the rolling hills of a flower-filled prairie. Recent rainfall had transformed the vibrant grassland into a kaleidoscope of vivid color.
The spacious summit was a unique habitat featuring steep ledges, ponderosa pine and dangerous rattlesnakes. Views were far-reaching as a wide vista included the Twin Cities and most of the North Platte Valley.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to migrate across this vast landscape so many years ago. Things are different now but when you visit a place such as this, you still get a sense for what it was like when the West was wild.
|Scottsbluff National Monument|
|From the top of Saddle Rock|
|A flower-filled prairie|
|The grassland was a kaleidoscope of color|
|A spacious summit|
|Steep ledges and rattlesnakes|
|A wide vista featuring the twin cities|
|I can only imagine what it must have been like|
|A sense for when the West was wild|
Animal Portraits - San Diego Zoo
|The San Diego Zoo|
The San Diego Zoo is a beautiful, 100 acre park known for its lush gardens, naturalistic habitats and transcendent animal encounters. It’s an extravagant home to more than 3700 rare and endangered animals representing about 660 different species.
During my visit to the seaside sanctuary, I had the chance to observe, in person, animals that I would otherwise never have the privilege to see. It was a bittersweet experience because it hurt my heart to watch as some of the animals suffered from being held in captivity.
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve had a passion for studying wildlife and my parents have passed down to me an acute sensitivity to animal’s feelings. I have a knack for perceiving their joy, curiosity, anger, fear and pain.
With camera in tow, I wanted to create an intimate picture of the animals I saw there so I focused on portraiture. Hopefully, the following collection of photos captures the beauty of these innocent creatures and expresses the sympathy I have for them.
Zoo critics claim that wild animals in zoos suffer physically and mentally because their complex social and behavioral needs cannot be met in unnatural manmade environments. They say many animals show signs of anxiety caused by the stresses of being held captive.
Lack of space is a major issue with animal rights activists as they believe most of the larger animals aren’t allowed the necessary room to roam. Some of them are forced into small cages where their every move is on display in front of the bustling crowds.
Zoo proponents argue that their main priorities are animal welfare, conservation and education. They believe that zoos give people from all walks of life the unique opportunity to experience and learn about the animal kingdom.
Today in this troubled world, wild animals must negotiate a labyrinth of challenges such as habitat loss, destructive weather, poaching and war. Proponents hope a visit to the zoo will inspire people to participate in protecting animals and conserving their environments.
I do think zoos offer a sort of protection as they play a critical role in the survival of threatened and endangered species. I just have a feeling that if the animals could talk, they would probably say - “We’d rather be free.”
|An extravagant home|
|3700 rare animals|
|A bittersweet experience|
|Hurts my heart|
|Sensitivity to animals feelings|
|An intimate picture|
|Focused on portraiture|
|Animals need room to roam|
|Wild animals must negotiate a labyrinth|
|Proponents hope a visit will inspire|
|Zoos play a critical role|
California Beaches - A Place to Chill
|Mission Beach, San Diego|
I love exploring the Rocky Mountains of Colorado but it was nice to encounter the Pacific Ocean during our recent trip to southern California. We managed to hit a few beaches and it was surprising to discover how different they were from each other.
Each beach seemed to have its own, unique personality based on the type of people, waves and scenery that distinguished it from the others. There were also similarities between them that went far beyond the obvious basics of salt, sea and sand.
A common theme running through each visit was the sublime sunsets, persistent seagulls and tight parking. I’m not sure I could survive for very long in the Golden State as the behavior there is unbelievably intense but maybe you just get used to it.
Fast-paced traffic is a fitting symbol for the frenetic, California lifestyle but the beach is someplace where everybody slows down. The hypnotic nature of the crashing waves seems to chill all of those restless natives.
Mission Beach down in San Diego was probably my favorite because I was able to get out on the sand early, before the crowds arrived. The morning skies are overcast and the air is cool as a pink sunrise permeates the gray clouds. The water is warm with choppy waves that pound the shoreline with relentless force.
|Early morning before the crowds|
Seal Beach is a local hangout so it’s not quite as touristy as many of the others. The wide stretch of sand offers plenty of space and relief from the sizzling interior. The water is dark and cold as the swells recycle in a nice rhythm. There’s a rickety, old pier stretching into the ocean that’s a favorite perch for opportunistic sea gulls.
|Dark, cold water|
|Persistent sea gulls|
Newport Beach is a glamorous locale brimming with beautiful people. The water is a bit colder but the smooth waves are perfect for boogie-boarding. The wooden pier is superb for watching the yellow sun disappear in an instant. After dark, the party really gets started as this oceanside resort enjoys a vibrant nightlife.
|A beautiful, wooden pier|
Venice Beach is a trip. This place is a tourist’s delight as the atmosphere overloads all five senses. It’s pure California with bright colors, big crowds and cool characters around every corner. The green waves are tremendous as they curl over on top and crash into a rocky outcrop. Featuring fitness, shopping and surf, Venice is a diverse community with something for everyone.
|A tourist's delight|
San Rafael Swell - An Undiscovered Natural Wonder
|The San Rafael Swell|
“As we approached the river yesterday, the ridges on either side of its banks to the west appeared broken into a thousand forms - columns, shafts, temples, buildings, and ruined cities could be seen, or imagined, from the high points along our route” ~ John Williams Gunnison, 1853
Gunnison had arrived in Mormon Territory, leading a survey team in a futile attempt to chart a route through unforgiving land for the transcontinental railroad. They had followed the Spanish Trail and just crossed the Green River before encountering the remarkable San Rafael Swell.
Unable to find a plausible passageway through the maze of cliffs, spires and slot canyons, the dogged crew skirted the barrier and headed west. Soon after leaving the swell, things turned tragic as Gunnison and his group were attacked by Pahvant Indians on 26 October 1853 while camped beside the Sevier River. Gunnison and seven of the eleven men in his party were massacred.
Today, the uninhabited region appears just as forbidding as it did back then. Access into the spectacularly beautiful area is dangerous, untamed and unrestricted. It’s a place where antelope, desert bighorn and wild horses roam freely.
Part of the Colorado Plateau, the San Rafael Swell is a unique geologic feature formed in central Utah 60 million years ago. Bulging out of the flat terrain, the massive uplift is a giant dome-shaped anticline that is roughly 75 miles long by 40 miles wide.
The San Rafael River and Muddy Creek cut through the high desert creating valleys, gorges, mesas and buttes. The relentless force of running water and high winds have eroded the sculptured sandstone revealing multi-colored layers.
Along the entire perimeter of the swell, the transition zone becomes extremely rugged. Distinguished by arches, pinnacles and goblin-shaped knobs, the magnificent borderland is known as the San Rafael Reef.
The impressive eastern boundary is especially breathtaking as it has been chiseled into a dazzling array of folds, fins and shark’s teeth. Strata at the reef’s edges are dramatically exposed and angled near vertical.
Upon arriving at this fantastic place, the lonely landscape is almost indescribable. Indians called the strange formations “Sau-auger-towip” or Stone House Lands while the first white settlers named it the Silent City.
Located in one of the emptiest and least developed regions of Utah, the swell has been repeatedly proposed as a National Monument. That may never happen but that’s okay because the locals like it just the way it is and so do I.
Utah is well known for its unpolished beauty and deservedly so as crowds throng to the state’s Mighty 5 National Parks. I just prefer the solitude of the San Rafael Swell so I hope it remains an undiscovered natural wonder of the American West.
|The remarkable San Rafael Swell|
|A maze of cliffs, spires and canyons|
|The uninhabited region is still forbidding|
|A spectacular area|
|The swell is a unique geologic feature|
|Ghost Rock at the swell's summit|
|The rugged perimeter is called the reef|
|The eastern boundary is breathtaking|
|A lonely landscape|
|Stone House Lands|
|The Silent City|
|Located in Utah's emptiest region|
|A natural wonder of the west|
Laguna Beach - A Pacific Playground
Laguna Beach is a beautiful boardwalk bustling with dynamic energy. The Pacific playground is crowded with people participating in volleyball, basketball and boogie boarding.
Around the bend, rugged cliffs drop off into the turbulent sea as the green surf crashes about the jagged rocks. Up above, a tiered pathway to the overlook is lined with exotic palm trees.
From the top, a spiral staircase is a safe way to get back down to the water where a lifeguard station surveys the scene. Here, the churning waves of the vast ocean are a relentless, hypnotic force.
Taking a seat just before dark, there’s still salt in the air as the purple sunset is almost surreal. It was a good day spent watching sea gulls, studying shells and searching for sand dollars.
|The beach is dynamic|
|A Pacific playground|
|A turbulent sea|
|Green surf crashes about the rocks|
|The overlook is lined with palm trees|
|A safe way down|
|Laguna Beach Lifeguard|
|A hypnotic force|
Fillius Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Fillius Ridge" Colored Pencil|
It’s a cold, winter evening in Evergreen, Colorado as Fillius Ridge remains awash in warm sunlight. The subtle row of background brush appears more gold than green.
We get most of our snow in the Spring but even now there’s a fair amount drifted into the shadow areas. Patches of ochre and orange grass enliven the inviting foreground.
Olive-colored rocks are strewn across the summit creating an aggregation of sharp contrast. A few trees are dark silhouettes that form a perfect foil for the main subject.
Curving gracefully into the cerulean sky, the red pine is a fantastically-shaped organism. It’s greenery is a smooth gradient of color, ranging from yellow to indigo.
Hiking to the top on this day has taught me a certain truth - the February landscape doesn’t always have to be a dreary subject described by grays and blues.
Elk Studies - Watercolor
|"Elk Studies" Watercolor|
Browsing along the forest’s edge, the Rocky Mountain elk is a force of nature that thrives in Colorado’s foothills. Being one of the largest land mammals in North America, the bull of this species is an impressive creature.
The monarch of the mountains is distinguished by large antlers which are shed annually. Big bulls usually have eight or nine tines on each antler but there is no correlation between the number of tines and the animal’s age or maturity.
The elaborate antlers start growing in the early spring and are shed each winter. During growth, they’re protected by a soft cover-layer of fuzzy skin known as velvet. The velvet is worn off during the summer, revealing the fully developed bone antler.
Each fall massive males engage in a ritualized mating behavior known as the rut. During this strenuous season, mature bulls compete for the attention of cow elk and try to defend the females already included in their harem.
Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to garner the strength needed to survive the harsh winters brewed in the Front Range. To prepare for such hardship, they spend the entire summer gorging on lush, meadow grasses.
Rival bulls challenge each other and display dominance through aggressive posturing, bellowing and occasional sparring. Much of the intimidating body language is for show but in extreme circumstances, a minor conflict escalates into a real brawl.
Vocal males are rewarded as females are attracted to bulls that bugle more often and have the loudest call. For everyone else around here, the distinctive sound is a haunting indicator that summer’s gone and winter is almost upon us.
Beaver Brook Reservoir - A Blue Pearl
|Beaver Brook Reservoir|
Situated below Old Squaw Pass Road, Beaver Brook Reservoir is a blue pearl offering some solitude in the bustling foothills of Colorado. Getting to the shore is just a short saunter through a dense forest of aspen, pine and fir.
A converging perspective and big clouds always seem to create complications in the background. Constructed for confinement, the wonderful watershed allows a steep outlet into an infinite, green gorge.
After spending numerous hours near the water’s edge, I’ve never actually seen the lake’s nocturnal namesake. Despite the unfortunate absence, many other creatures are quite common.
Deer and elk skirt the forest boundary while out on the rocks, garter snakes seek the sun. Betrayed by its distinctive trill, the elusive kingfisher flees from my camera like a desperate fugitive.
Luckily, the mountain landscape is more cooperative as it always keeps perfectly still. I envy the stoic peaks and their unchanging nature because down below, the seasons are moving way too fast.
With life streaming at lightning speed, there is much work to be done. A sense of urgency exists at the studio and in the field where I know I’ve got to hurry if I’m ever going to catch that blasted king-bird on film.
|A blue pearl|
|Solitude in the foothills|
|A short saunter through the forest|
|A wonderful watershed|
|An infinite, green gorge|
|Near the water's edge|
|The mountain landscape is cooperative|
|The stoic peaks are unchanging|
|The seasons are moving fast|
|Life is streaming at lightning speed|
|A sense of urgency exists|
|That blasted kingfisher|
Cattle and the Canal - A Peaceful Retreat
|The Nebraska Sandhills|
Flowing through the southern Sandhills of western Nebraska, an irrigation canal offers some relief from the sweltering, summer heat. A ditch road that runs alongside the waterway is the perfect path for a morning hike.
Rain from the night before creates a thick haze that burns off into white clouds as the day begins. Even though filtered light glazes the landscape with gold, the pastures seem greener than normal this year.
A bunch of shaggy sheep are vocal inhabitants while swallows skim across the water’s smooth surface. Sometimes I’ll see wary jackrabbits or a white-tailed deer but in this big sky county, cattle are king.
They are voracious grazers but when confronted by peculiar visitors, it piques their interest. Cows and calves come running in order to get a closer look at the unexpected newcomers.
The deep, blue water is a natural barrier between us and the domestic beasts so the situation remains completely harmless. As we continue on our prairie trek, it starts to get scorching hot.
We head back to where it all began, hoping to get some much needed rest and a cold drink. Still full of life, the old homestead is our peaceful retreat in the middle of the Great Plains.
|The irrigation canal|
|The ditch road is a perfect path|
|A thick haze burns off|
|Filtered light glazes the landscape|
|The pastures seem greener than normal|
|The water's smooth surface|
|Big Sky County|
|Cattle are king|
|It got scorching hot|
|A peaceful retreat|
Gore Range Wildflowers - Colored Pencil
|"Gore Range Wildflowers" Colored Pencil|
Drawn mostly from memory, this landscape depicts the vista from Ute Pass, looking across the Blue River Valley. The summery scene is an optimistic vision of a fruitful future.
North out of Silverthorne, the gentle mountains turn jagged, purple and picturesque. As golden clouds glide overhead, the chaos of opposing angles creates an exciting composition.
A bouquet of colorful wildflowers fills the foreground as the natural beauty is a garden of earthly delight. Delicate details of dark and light define this beautiful arrangement.
Rising sharply out of the fertile plateau, the rugged range is still laced with an intricate pattern of white snow. Finally, the forms are intentionally simplified in order to better express the mystique of these heavenly peaks.
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Sharp-shinned Hawk" Colored Pencil|
Perched patiently on a rusty fence, a sharp-shinned hawk has appeared in a flash. It’s winter in western Nebraska and a flock of sparrows has congregated in the farmyard, feeding on chicken scratch and corn.
Relying on stealth and camouflage, the sharpy prefers ambush to capture its prey. Decorated with a gold-leaf pattern, the pale chest is cloaked by dark wings that are detailed with the suggestion of broad feathers.
The raptor’s noble head is a remarkable profile distinguished by streaked spear tips and bright yellow eyes. Just a juvenile, this bird of prey is a natural born hunter that’s still trying to find its place in the forest habitat.
The unsuspecting sparrows are easy pickings for this woodland warrior. While living on earth can be a struggle for most of us, it’s not so for the sharp-shin. This confident creature seems to have the world by the tail.
Western Bluebird - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Western Bluebird" Colored Pencil|
The Western Bluebird is an energetic pioneer always looking to expand his territory. It’s early spring at Noble Meadow in Evergreen, Colorado and this male has recently arrived, robed in his finest breeding plumage.
Backlit by golden light, the diminutive monarch oversees his vast domain from a mullein stalk perch. With his abstract background framed by a simple border, the confident bluebird sits comfortably in the spotlight.
Upon close inspection, the triadic color scheme becomes obvious. Multiple shades of red, yellow and blue are applied in translucent layers on textured paper, resulting in a finished piece that sparkles with luminosity.
In order to capture the essence of this scene, the photographic accuracy of the drawing has been simplified. Also, the color saturation has been exaggerated in a way that better expresses the lively spirit of these vibrant, little birds.
The focal point of this creation is the bluebird's remarkable eye and head. By carefully rendering the details in the bird’s eye and head with more precision, the viewer's attention will be directed to that part of the composition.
Artist friend Ann Kullberg asked me to thoroughly document the unique methods required to produce this work of art. The painstaking process of drawing, scanning, writing and re-writing has been compiled into a small step-by-step booklet.
Published by Ann Kullberg, the drawing guide is part of a series of JUMPSTART lessons for beginners. They feature simple instruction that includes pencil stroke and pressure descriptions, promising that even a novice will learn the ropes in a flash by following ten easy steps.
If you’d like to learn more about drawing in colored pencil, please check out this site: Western Bluebird Step by Step
Vesper Sparrow - A Happy Grass Dweller
So far this summer, the bird I’m seeing most frequently in our foothills is the decidedly nondescript vesper sparrow. His name is Latin for ‘evening’ a time when this bird loves to sing.
At first glance, this stout sparrow looks rather drab but if you take the time to look closely, you’ll discover that he’s really quite beautiful. His overall light-brown color is intensified by a bright orange patch on the shoulder.
A pattern of dark streaks helps him to blend perfectly into the environment. Barely visible in the vast meadow to even the keenest observer, his exuberant song is what gives his presence away.
If you happen to cross paths with him, he’s not shy and he can be photographed rather easily. He tolerates a friendly encounter and watches curiously with his white-ringed eyes.
He hops down the dirt trail searching for his favorite foods, insects and seeds. If you get too close though, he will flash his white outer tail feathers as he alights to a nearby mullein stalk.
From this summer perch, the vesper sparrow vocally declares ownership of his nesting territory. This happy grass dweller loves to bask in the sun but even on a dreary, gray morning, his cheerful song will brighten your day.
|This bird loves to sing|
|He looks rather drab|
|He's really quite beautiful|
|An orange patch on the shoulder|
|He's not shy|
|Tolerates a friendly encounter|
|Vocally declares territory|
|His cheerful song will brighten your day|
White Ranch Park - Summer Unfolds
|Summer at White Ranch|
It’s really hot and dry down at White Ranch Park in Golden, Colorado. Van Bibber Creek is running low and slow as the rocky watercourse cascades through a grassy, green gulch.
On a warm Saturday afternoon there’s not a cloud in the hazy sky. Ascending the steep Belcher Hill Trail on such a dusty day is definitely a sweaty endeavor.
During the climb, a looping traverse opens up and offers sweeping views across an impressive valley. To the right is Ralston Reservoir and the Hogback is an arched ridge connecting a rugged rock formation known as the Devil’s Thumb.
Back down at the bottom, the forest canopy is a priceless sanctuary of cool shade. Compared to what we usually see in the high country, the place is bursting with all kinds of colorful birds.
The black-headed grosbeak sings with passion and a Bullock’s oriole is a flash of brilliant orange in the tangled brush. Donning a black mask, the blueish scrub-jay is a striking creature while a spotted towhee’s fiery red eyes seem almost supernatural.
As summer unfolds, the usual cast of characters continues to return. The tourist season is one of my favorite times of the year because back are the aspen, irises, columbine, hummingbirds, bluebirds, squirrels and of course the thunderstorms.
|Van Bibber Creek is running low and slow|
|Belcher Hill Trail|
|An impressive valley|
|A long ridge connects Devil's Thumb|
|A cool sanctuary|
|It's tourist season|
|Summer is one of my favorite seasons|
Dugout Creek - A Pastoral Scene
|Dugout Creek, Nebraska|
Winding its way through the southern sandhills of western Nebraska, Dugout Creek is a lively waterway that becomes even more energetic during the spring. The riparian habitat supports a wide variety of wildlife and offers a lucrative bird viewing experience.
Upon entering the pastoral scene, an abandoned homestead is sunken into a hill overlooking an expanse of farmland. The creek’s name is most certainly a reference to the submerged structure that’s half-buried into the soft earth.
A herd of curious cattle are wary of conspicuous intruders and their constant chorus of bawling makes the visitor feel unwelcome. A massive, black bull is irritated by the disruption to the herd and angrily paws at the ground.
A great blue heron wades downstream, searching for prey while a great horned owl is flushed from its daytime perch. Wild turkeys are up on the ridge sneaking through sagebrush and as for the orioles, they’re happily singing during the nest-building process.
Everything seems perfect now but before the end of the season, a powerful swell of icy runoff will transform the brook into a destructive torrent. Combine the annual deluge with an afternoon thunderstorm and the potential for flash-flooding becomes a reality.
Evidence of past disaster is everywhere as enormous cottonwood trees have been uprooted and strewn across the restless stream. Any critters unfortunate enough to be caught in the draw during such an event have surely met their end.
Continuing along the watercourse leads the explorer ever deeper into a tangled woodland. It’s an astonishing discovery as the place is an oasis of lush greenery snaking through a semi-arid grassland often disparaged as the Great American Desert.
|Winding its way through the sandhills|
|Dugout Creek is a lively waterway|
|It's a pastoral scene|
|An abandoned homestead is sunken|
|The submerged structure gives the creek its name|
|The cattle are wary of strangers|
|A bull was irritated by the disruption|
|Everything is perfect|
|Enormous cottonwoods have been uprooted|
|An unfortunate critter|
|Lush greenery in an arid grassland|
|The Great American Desert|
Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Ghosts of the Great Plains
|Courthouse and Jail Rocks|
On a wintry morning in western Nebraska, I wandered around Courthouse and Jail Rocks, photographing the countryside in bad weather. The megaliths were like ghosts of the Great Plains as they were barely visible during an extreme whiteout.
It was no easy task trudging through a foot of deep snow but any type of moisture is a blessing for the parched prairie. The blizzard could only be truthfully documented in black and white because there wasn’t even the slightest hint of color.
During a cautious approach across the bleak landscape, the formation was a gray apparition that flickered in and out of view. Just as resilient as the first settlers, a solitary tree was somehow still standing fast in the face of fierce, northerly winds.
The return to the roadside was a gloomy venture provoked by bitter cold. Along the way, a cheerful robin singing in the tangled brush was a surprising ray of hope that brightened the dreary day - spring may actually be closer than it appears.
|I wandered around the rocks|
|The countryside in bad weather|
|Ghosts of the Great Plains|
|Moisture is a blessing|
|A bleak landscape|
|A gray apparition|
|A solitary tree|
|A cheerful robin|
Beaver Brook - An Extraordinary Snowscape
|An extraordinary snowscape|
The morning after our latest blizzard, I wanted to photograph open water set against the extraordinary snowscape. I trudged down into Beaver Brook and discovered a wilderness that had been reduced to nothing but white space.
The stoic pine trees were smothered with heavy snow, resembling an eternal landscape frozen in time. The vista was incomplete as an oppressive, gray fog had lurched into the valley and erased the big peaks from view.
The placid lake was encrusted with a thin layer of textured slush while the rocky shoreline was smoothed over by two feet of fresh snow. After receiving so much precipitation this season, the mountain environment has become a wetlands.
The swollen reservoir had flooded into the forest’s edge, creating an arctic swamp of tangled trees and small islands. The frigid water was perfectly tranquil as it reflected the unusual scenery with stunning precision.
The place was saturated with peace and solitude as glittering snowflakes continued to gently fall. The only disruption came from a stubborn woodpecker who tapped furiously into the loose bark of a lodgepole pine.
The summer birds are here, waiting anxiously for better weather. Usually by this date, the snow line has receded back to the summits but with this year’s cooler temps, we’ve been mired in a persistent winter since last October.
|Open water and deep snow|
|The wilderness was a white space|
|The trees were smothered with heavy snow|
|Frozen in time|
|Gray fog lurched into the valley|
|The lake was encrusted with a layer of slush|
|Flooded into the forest's edge|
|An arctic swamp|
|The reflections were stunning|
|Mired in winter|
Houston - A Treacherous Travel Experience
|Houston during a monsoon|
Mid-April, we flew to the nation’s fourth largest city for a hoops tournament and survived a truly treacherous travel experience. We departed Denver during a blizzard and landed in Houston during a monsoon.
H-town is a polished metropolis distinguished by sweltering heat, high humidity, heavy rain and unexpected u-turns. Punctuated by a profusion of palm trees, the spring greenery seemed especially exotic.
A network of elevated highways weaves its way through the glittering domain of glass and steel. While I don’t have anything against the urbane and sophisticated, I just feel more at home in the high country.
The basketball jamboree was a dream come true for my son who played against some of the best players in the nation. Getting out of town on Monday was a nightmare as bad weather forced the cancellation of our pre-dawn flight.
We frantically scrambled to find a way back and after a long day filled with worry, we luckily managed to board a plane bound for the West. After spending a few soggy days down on the bayou, it’s good to be home.
|A glittering metropolis of glass and steel|
|The basketball was a dream come true|
|Our departure was a nightmare|
|After a few days on the bayou|
|It's good to be home|
Reflections on the A to Z Challenge
April was even more difficult than I could imagine as it was marked by snow, the A to Z Challenge, limited artwork and a travel adventure in Houston, Texas. I wasn’t able to get much drawing done but my hand is still sore from all of the writing.
My theme was travel photography so most of the posts were about places we’ve already been but I had to use GPS to find Xenia’s location. X always seems to present problems as we made a special trip in order to truthfully document the abandoned townsite.
Posting every day is difficult enough but keeping up with the commenting is a struggle so that’s something I’m still trying to finish. All in all, it was another great experience because I met lots of creative people and discovered some inspiring blogs.
Formatted below is a list of my favorite sites from the last month. If you get the chance, please check them out:
Maui Jungalow Giving real information for people who live on Maui or people who are curious about what life on Maui is really like.
Paso Robles in Photos Daily photos of the Paso Robles / Templeton area of the California Central Coast.
Less Beaten Paths Enjoying the ride on the back roads of America.
Authentically Living Authentic Inspiration.
The Frog Lady Engineer by Day; Frogger by night!
Albom Adventures Living in New Zealand and traveling the world, expat Rhonda Albom takes you on a vicarious adventure through travel photography, stories, tips and humor.
More about Houston next week…
|April was difficult|
|Marked by snow|
|The theme was travel photography|
|Another great experience|
Zion National Park, Utah
|Zion National Park, Utah|
Sculpted out of the Colorado Plateau, Zion National Park is a dragon’s lair of rock towers, caves and hanging gardens. The narrow slot-canyon gradually widens to where the Virgin River escapes into the Utah desert near St. George.
Looming above an emerald forest of twisted trees, orange sheer-cliffs create an intimidating profile set against the summer sky. Overhead, the morning fog has burned away and wispy clouds are arranged in a pattern of complicated design.
The place is a hiker’s paradise so if the astonishing beauty doesn’t take your breath away, then climbing up to the rim certainly will. Though Zion is difficult to describe with words, luckily, the unique landscape is photogenic from every angle.
Yankee Boy Basin, Colorado
|Yankee Boy Basin, Colorado|
Famous for its turquoise lakes and sparkling waterfalls, Yankee Boy Basin is an alpine garden bursting with brilliant wildflowers. Up out of Ouray, Colorado, the spectacular valley is settled in the shadow of an ancient volcano.
The green passageway is enclosed by a castle of sculpted peaks with peculiar names like Teakettle, Cirque, Kismet, Gilpin, Stony and Potosi. The undisputed ruler of this extraordinary kingdom is a rigid monarch called Mount Sneffels.
In this mountain paradise, an exuberant creek is a ribbon of white water that cascades through fields of blue columbine. Unfortunately, an afternoon thunderstorm awakens the dreamy traveler and forces a retreat back to the land of reality.
Xenia was established in 1883 as a construction campsite on the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad about seven miles west of Akron, Colorado. It never had a post office or a school.
You can use GPS to find the location but when you get here, everything’s gone. All I found was a broken-down fence and its futile attempt to contain a vast expanse of idyllic prairie.
Lit by a low sun, spring clouds drift overhead as a western meadowlark sings his heartfelt song. I can only imagine what it was like 100 years ago but if I were passing through back then, I believe I’d like to stay for a while.
Wasatch Mountains, Utah
|Wasatch Mountains, Utah|
The Wasatch Mountains are a verdant range of massive peaks that loom above Sandy, Utah. Rising out of the nearby desert, they form an impressive barrier insulating the secluded corridor from the rest of the world.
The serene hillsides are laced with steep switchbacks that reward the tired traveler with shimmering, blue lakes. Tumbling down from above tree line, raging torrents form hidden waterfalls that are difficult to discover.
Mornings are warm and peaceful with only the sound of birds singing in the brush. Up here, darkness doesn’t go down without a fight so seeing those first rays of light in the Wasatch are always an ethereal experience.
Virgin River, Utah
|Virgin River, Utah|
The Virgin is an enigmatic river that sweeps through southwest Utah shaping the deep chasm at Zion National Park. Contradicting the vibrant colors of the canyon landscape, the shallow stream is a muddy brown.
Cut through an arid desert, the cold river is a life-giving force offering fresh water to a diverse selection of plants and animals. The forest of arched cottonwoods is a peaceful oasis that also provides plenty of shade.
The compressed end of Zion must be approached with caution as flash floods are a serious hazard. Despite drenching the hiker with peril, this awesome waterway rewards the risk with spectacular scenery at every bend.
Blessed with untamed rivers, deep canyons and green mountains, the state of Utah is celebrated for its diverse scenery. Established on a painted desert, the topography transitions dramatically up to the lofty Wasatch Mountain Range.
The winding waterways rush towards the southwest while carving surreal chasms out of an uplifted plateau. Heavily eroded by wind and water, the unique landscape is littered with an interesting array of arches, pinnacles and hoodoos.
I enjoy wandering around our local foothills and I could spend a lifetime exploring the vast Rocky Mountains. I must admit, though, that the territory to our west has definitely cast a spell. Our home is Colorado but my second favorite state is magical Utah.
Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska
|Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska|
Nebraska is known for its flat countryside and endless fields of corn but if you’re willing to veer off the main road and head to the northwest corner, you’ll discover the rugged badlands. It’s a place that time forgot and hiking here is treacherous, tiring and hotter than hell.
Just like the red planet, Toadstool Geologic Park is a harsh, sun-baked environment gouged by a desolate chasm. Down at the bottom of the gorge, you’re tempted by a devil's playground of balancing rocks, sandstone spires and a maze of sidetracks.
This portal to the center of the earth is an arid landscape that’s awash with spectacular scenery. God may have forsaken this grim abyss long ago but after my remarkable experience here, I’ve come to cherish happy memories of exploring this damned canyon.
Square Top Lakes, Colorado
|Square Top Lakes, Colorado|
Out of Georgetown up at the top of Guanella Pass there’s a faint trail heading west into the wilderness. Bushwhacking through muddy bogs and thickets of prickly willows, the alpine trek to Square Top Lakes is an uphill battle all the way.
Stair-stepped into the ochre grassland, the cobalt reservoirs are a striking study in color contrast. Twilight softens the landscape and radiates onto the jagged peaks in the distance as passing clouds cast peculiar shadows across Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge.
Spending an afternoon above tree line on a secluded thirteener is a precious experience. While tramping back across the tundra on a warm autumn evening, it’s obvious that the wealth of beauty amassed by these mountains can’t be measured in anything but gold.
Rushmore Mountain, South Dakota
|Rushmore Mountain, Colorado|
Exhibited near Rapid City, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a magnificent monument sculpted from a granite mountain. The massive memorial is a group portrait featuring presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
It took artist Gutzon Borglum 14 years to complete the government commission. Concealed in a sacred wilderness of rock and pine called the Black Hills, the work looks unfinished but rough hewn edges give it a certain sketchiness that blends into the natural environment.
Upon entering the busy complex, a grand boulevard leads to an amphitheater where the sculpture can be closely contemplated. Rushmore definitely exudes patriotism and as an attraction luring tourists to the remote High Plains, the astonishing work of art is certainly a success.
Queen of the San Juans, Colorado
|Queen of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado|
East out of Ridgeway, Colorado, the quiet countryside is a subtle landscape of lower hay fields that give way to a riot of colorful wildflowers and quaking aspen. Rising above tree line is a sweep of rugged terrain composed of sharp pinnacles and serrated ridges.
A scenic sub-range of the San Juan Mountains, this confusion of untidy crags is an everlasting remnant of an ancient volcano. Positioned majestically amongst these picturesque peaks is Mount Sneffels, also known as the "Queen of the San Juans".
I've photographed Mount Sneffels from every direction, during different seasons and in all kinds of weather so attaining the summit was an awesome experience. This region is one of the most beautiful destinations in the west and probably my favorite place on earth.
Pikes Peak, Colorado
|Pikes Peak, Colorado|
Dominating the view at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has been inspiring explorers, gold seekers and artists for over 200 years. It’s named after the accomplished adventurer Zebulon Pike who first beheld the majestic, purple mountain in 1806.
When gold rushing 59ers set out for Denver in a quest for mineral riches, they emblazoned their wagons in fresh paint with the famous words "Pikes Peak or Bust!" The rocky monolith still commands the southern skyline and has become a lasting symbol for the entire Front Range.
American songwriter Katharine Lee Bates was so influenced by the extraordinary vista from the summit that she wrote the lyrics to America the Beautiful. The popular anthem is actually a superb tribute to the unique beauty and vastness of the Colorado landscape.
Ouray is a small, mountain town wedged into a steep canyon below the San Juan Mountains. The magnificent setting is reminiscent of the European Alps so the high altitude community is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America”.
The vacation resort is famous for it’s Box Canyon Falls which offers superb ice climbing during the winter and a relaxing hot springs that’s open all year round. It’s also the gateway to Yankee Boy Basin, a beautiful valley chock full of mining history and summer wildflowers.
Connecting Ouray to the lofty city of Silverton, the Milion Dollar Highway is considered one of the most dangerous roads in America, but if you can handle the sharp turns, steep ledges and lack of guard rails, I believe its the most scenic passageway in Colorado.
On a warm, summer evening in western Nebraska, Northport is a wonderful relic set in an infinite prairie of yellow grass. Still standing in a secluded pasture, the abandoned little-house seems like an idyllic place.
As the setting sun drenches the landscape with golden light, a rickety windmill still works but the rest of the neglected grounds is in ruins. A rare spectacle in the vast sandhills, the big tree looks to be in vigorous shape.
Erected by spirited pioneers so many years ago, the ramshackle homestead is a cordial reminder of glorious days gone by. As another one comes to an end, so perfect is this peaceable kingdom that it must be a dream.
Mills Lake, Colorado
|Mills Lake, Colorado|
Dwarfed below Longs Peak, Mills Lake may be the prettiest place in Rocky Mountain National Park. Black like an inkwell, the reservoir is exhibited at the bottom of a breathtaking gorge that has been painted by an artistic creek.
The beautiful landscape is littered with a muddle of giant boulders and dead snags that have sunk to the shallow bottom. The fearsome array of jagged, blue peaks is reflected faithfully by the water’s crystal clear surface.
Enos Mills was a distinguished author, photographer and nature guide who tenaciously promoted Colorado's pristine wilderness. Inspired by the peaceful setting, I’ve discovered that his lake is the ideal place to ponder nature’s great mysteries.
Longs Peak, Colorado
|Longs Peak, Colorado|
Longs Peak is a monstrous beast brooding over the northern Front Range near Estes Park. The sheer, east face is a diamond-faced dilemma forcing most climbers to take a grueling detour around the backside of the mountain.
Making it just to the Boulderfield is no easy task, where the tundra environment looks like something from another planet. Passing through the unique Keyhole formation delivers the determined to a new dimension named Glacier Gorge.
A quick traverse ends at the bottom of the Trough, a steep, rocky slot leading towards the crest of an exposed ledge. After negotiating the frightening tightrope known as the Narrows, the final push up the Ramp is a piece of cake.
From the flat, football-field-sized summit, there is a celebration of spectacular scenery that rewards your strenuous effort. That exhilarating sense of accomplishment you feel after earning the top is what mountain climbing is all about.
Straddling Bear Creek, Kittredge is a small village tucked into the foothills between Morrison and Evergreen. Terraced into the mountainside, the picturesque community resembles something you’d see on a Christmas card.
Integrated into the town’s edge, Lair O’ the Bear Park is an alluring canyon gouged by a winding, black waterway. Bordered by a forest of gnarled cottonwoods, the riparian landscape reveals color during all seasons.
Blessed with beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and a rural demeanor, the humble township is more than appealing. If you’re ever looking for someplace new to live, Kittredge would be the perfect place to put down roots.
Juniper Pass, Colorado
|Juniper Pass, Colorado|
Halfway up Squaw Pass Road, Juniper Pass is a rugged link connecting the towns of Evergreen and Idaho Springs. The harrowing highway has steep drop-offs on both sides as the expansive Mount Evans Wilderness is stretched out as far as the eye can see.
The view from the pinnacle is classic Colorado as the wide expanse of endless forest is crowned with snow-capped peaks. A narrow strip of spruce and fir trees clings to the sheer headwall while stately cypresses of juniper decorate the edge of this rocky realm.
Often ignored on the way to Echo Lake, these seldom seen crags are secretly hidden in a beautiful, sub-alpine setting. Situated just below the Continental Divide at 12,00 feet, this wonderful watershed of imposing cliffs is a must-see overlook.
Isabelle Lake, Colorado
|Isabelle Lake, Colorado|
Located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Isabelle is another high mountain lake enclosed by incredible scenery. Filled from the melted ice of Isabelle Glacier, the bowl of frigid water is contained by a steep-walled basin at the top of a spectacular, flower-filled gorge.
On an overcast afternoon, serrated summits are crowded around the shimmering jewel, creating an intimate space of solitude. As dark clouds continue to descend, the silky tarn is a remarkable mirror with clear reflections that become shattered by afternoon thunder showers.
During our inevitable return, close observation reveals a sculpted landscape carved by an artistic power for hundreds of years. Featuring a chain of turquoise lakes and a pristine woodland, the resulting valley is a natural masterpiece.
Haiyaha Lake, Colorado
|Haiyaha Lake, Colorado|
Haiyaha Lake is a secluded cirque nestled deep in the heart of a cluttered canyon. Located in Rocky Mountain National Park but well off the beaten path, it's a rocky sanctuary far removed from the stress of civilization.
Confined by a ring of enormous boulders, the dazzling emerald is set right at tree line. A slight breeze sends ripples across the green water as afternoon clouds begin to gather just beyond the dramatic skyline of craggy cliffs.
Hikers who are persistent enough to endure the uplifting trek will be rewarded with a tranquil setting. Water, rocks and trees form a harmonious landscape that nurtures a perfect balance between the head and the heart.
Great Salt Lake, Utah
|Great Salt Lake, Utah|
During the last Ice Age, prehistoric Lake Bonneville’s banks were breached and a catastrophic flood ensued. Still lingering in the high desert of western Utah near Salt Lake City, the Great Salt Lake is an enduring remnant of that ancient ocean.
Today, the landlocked basin is endorheic, it's a terminal drainage where freshwater streams come to an end. Channeled by three major rivers, water flows in freely but with no release point available, it becomes trapped in the salty reservoir.
In a region influenced by the Mormon religion, the American Dead Sea remains defiant as it’s virtually uninhabitable. Even though the destination is distinguished by turquoise water and white sand beaches, this inhospitable place is not a tropical paradise.
The Flatirons are a unique rock formation set in the Front Range foothills. Originally called the Chautauqua Slabs or the Crags, they were ultimately named by pioneer women who thought the uplifted peaks resembled the flat, metal irons used to press their clothes.
Their rugged beauty attracts hikers and photographers while curious geologists say the arrangement was forced upwards and tilted about 45 million years ago. It’s a Mecca for climbers as some of the world’s best have honed their skills on the rocky outcrops.
Mornings at the the park are just perfect as the Flatirons appear golden yellow and a lush, green meadow is dotted with colorful wildflowers. Furthermore, those five, peculiar pinnacles certainly form a fitting backdrop for the quirky town of Boulder.
Elk Meadow, Colorado
|Elk Meadow, Colorado|
Located just down the road from our home in Evergreen, Elk Meadow is a vibrant grassland teeming with wildlife. This foothills life zone supports a wide variety of species such as the mule deer, Abert’s squirrel, coyote and of course Rocky Mountain elk.
Laced with a few looping trails, the open space offers unsurpassed beauty from every angle. Through art, photography and writing, I’ve logged several years documenting my impressions of this diverse landscape in all kinds of weather.
My favorite time in the park is during a spring storm when gray clouds blend heaven and earth as blue mountains dissolve into the atmosphere. When caught in heavy rain don’t worry, ponderosa pine will provide shelter but when out in the open, beware of lightning.
Dallas Divide, Colorado
|Dallas Divide, Colorado|
Rising out of Ridgeway, Colorado, the Dallas Divide is an elevated overlook with remarkable views of the spectacular Sneffels Range. Summer evenings are the best time to visit because the southern light saturates the landscape with gold.
The rugged mesa of sage and pine stretches across the vista before uplifting into a chain of staggering peaks. The wilderness scenery is complicated but here the space is defined by dark shadows that follow every contour of the land.
I’ve traveled all over the western United States and visited some extraordinary locations. I’ve swam in the Pacific, hiked the Grand Canyon and climbed in the Tetons but I have to say southwest Colorado may be my favorite place on earth.
Rising conspicuously out of verdant corn, Carhenge was constructed 29 years ago as an exact replica of southern England's Stonehenge. Today, people from all over the world arrive in the agricultural town of Alliance, Nebraska to visit the quirky roadside attraction.
At first, it was considered a despicable eyesore haphazardly fabricated by a crazy farmer but in fact, it's an admirable display sculpted by a serious artist. Over time as the structure has blended into the environment, locals have come to accept and embrace the work.
At the casual site, visitors are encouraged to explore freely so children happily climb cars and kick tires. Whereas the stone slabs of Salisbury are the "Domain of the Dead", the arrangement of American automobiles near Alliance appears to be a celebration of life.
Blue Lakes, Colorado
|Blue Lakes, Colorado|
Blue Lakes is a frosty reservoir concealed high in the Tenmile Mountains just south of Breckenridge, Colorado. The forbidding glacial cirque is enclosed by jagged, black peaks that form an impenetrable barrier of rock and ice.
Pictured above is the colorful landscape still covered in snow and mostly frozen. It’s early summer and warmer temperatures have brought Monte Cristo Creek to life as cold water gushes down into the steep gulch.
Gouged by a row of sharp summits, the glossy-blue sky is veiled by misty clouds that create a translucent lighting effect. Up here, the weather is uncertain as I’ve seen a sunny day transform into a blizzard in an instant.
Animas Forks, Colorado
|Animas Forks, Colorado|
Animas Forks is a rickety ghost town teetering high in the San Juan Mountains just east of Silverton, Colorado. It used to be a bustling community during the silver boom of the late 1800s but today only the miner’s spirit permeates the cool, mountain air.
Pictured above is the best preserved building, an impressive residence known as ‘the bay window house’. Broken down and beaten after enduring years of nasty weather, the resilient structure rises defiantly out of a dense thicket of green willows.
I can’t imagine how people lived up here all year long, extracting precious minerals from the generous earth. There’s no debate that they enjoyed breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks but struggling to survive the harsh winters must have been absolutely brutal.
Travel Photography - The A to Z Challenge
|Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska|
Looks like it’s going to be an active April as I’m participating in the annual A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each spring, this unique event unites fellow creatives who are grinding towards a common goal. We’re all hoping to successfully finish the ultimate blogger’s marathon.
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet.
On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 4 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day.
My theme for the month is going to be Travel Photography. Although I’m not an international tourist, I’ve spent a lifetime exploring the Rocky Mountain region. I’ve covered countless miles driving on dirt roads, hiking to lakes and climbing mountains.
My plan is to write short posts about some of the more remarkable locations I’ve visited and describe why those places are so special to me. I’ll also upload a favorite image which I believe best expresses the essence of the destination.
It’ll be fun to rummage through the archives resurrecting photos, recalling faded memories and offering some information about the Great American West. I’ve been down this road before so I know how bumpy it is. Fasten your seat belt and hang on tight because it’s going to be a wild ride.
|Lower Falls, Bells Canyon, Utah|
|Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California|
|Grand Canyon, Arizona|
|Grand Tetons, Wyoming|
|Mesa Verde, Colorado|
Buffalo Park - A Spirit of the Old West
|Mount Evans Wilderness|
Buffalo Park is a wide meadow settled beneath the magnificent Mount Evans massif. Today, there are no bison to be seen so this area is best known for its bountiful wildlife, uninterrupted alpine views and dramatic sunsets.
Forged out of an expansive pine forest, the open grassland is an important oasis for horses, deer and elk. All three species are often seen peacefully grazing together below the gleaming white peaks looming in the background.
Forming a nice foreground for the lovely, fall landscape, a row of silvery aspen is a precise seasonal indicator. Whiteout conditions like howling wind and frigid cold are a common occurrence as winter weather in this vast valley can be wild.
Generating thunderstorms almost every afternoon, unusual cloud formations swirl across a deep-blue sky in the summer. During the spring, a pretty, little pond is concealed by willows and it’s the undisputed domain for a family of red-winged blackbirds.
The park is a place with working ranches where the barns are weathered and horses are a viable mode of transport. To get there you must travel to Evergreen, then head out past Elephant Butte and once the road turns to dirt, you’ll discover a land that still exhibits a spirit of the Old West.
|Magnificent Mount Evans|
|The open grassland is an oasis|
|Elk and horses graze together|
|A row of silvery aspen|
|Howling wind and frigid cold|
|Winter weather is wild|
|Unusual cloud formations|
|A pretty, little pond|
|There are working ranches|
|Horses are a viable mode of transport|
|A spirit of the Old West|
Indian Peaks Wilderness - Watercolor
|"Indian Peaks Wilderness" Watercolor|
Drenched in golden light, the Indian Peaks Wilderness is renowned for it pristine lakes and spectacular mountain range. During summer, the kaleidoscope of subalpine colors becomes even more intense.
Confined by a jagged shoreline of fiery willows, Long Lake reflects a deep, blue sky. The forested hillside of patchwork greens juts into the picture and offers some relief from the blazing sun.
Looming over a narrow valley, the ochre peaks are monolithic in appearance while timeless snowfields continue the sculpting process. The ancient crags are recorded with broken brushstrokes of analogous hues.
Accessible as a sanctuary from civilization, primitive countryside is coveted with special reverence but I’ve never been able to do this place justice through photography. Hopefully, the painting above expresses my admiration for the Indian Peaks because my photographs do not.
Mountains at Collioure - Watercolor
|"Mountains at Collioure after Derain" Watercolor|
This watercolor was painted as a study after the French artist, Andre Derain. The original was made in 1905 while he was working with Henri Matisse at the seaside village of Collioure, France.
They had developed a startling new style that emphasized painterly qualities and vibrant color over representational depictions. It was a radical shift from the polished salon art that was currently in vogue at that time.
Conservative art critics were outraged and labeled the loose group of Modern artists les Fauves (French for “wild beasts”). Fauvists believed the arbitrary use of pure color offered a more expressive way of depicting the subjects they loved to paint.
Contemplating the picture above, we can sense Derain’s exuberant reaction to visiting beautiful Collioure. The picturesque fishing port is tucked away between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains.
The blades of grass are like sticks of dynamite that explode into long brushstrokes, radiating across the paper’s surface. The impressive peaks are simplified into planes of flat color where turquoise and vermillion clash.
Beneath their blue canopy, twisted, red trees are writhing towards a jade-green sky. The southern, summer sun saturates the landscape with lemon yellow but in this picture shadows don’t dare exist.
Color theory is a complicated but fascinating subject. When it is applied masterfully, there is no doubt deliberate color can elicit an emotional response from the receptive viewer.
I’m a great admirer of the Photo-realists and the amazing technical skills they possess. Even so, there’s something to be said for those artists willing to break from convention and take a risk.
Distorting reality in such a way that results in a more powerful expression is often more difficult than it appears. That’s why of all the art movements I’ve ever studied, one of my favorites has to be those creative colorists known as les Fauves.
The Forest's Edge - A Lively Corridor
|The forest's edge|
Separating two distinct life zones with a broken line, the forest’s edge is a photogenic feature of the mountain domain. It’s an especially striking place during the winter as black conifer trees contrast with the white meadow.
When wandering through the silvery woodland at dusk or dawn, an array of filtered light produces a surprising variety of color. Big peaks dissolve into the misty atmosphere as an approaching storm glazes the landscape with gray.
Beaten by bad weather sweeping through the gully, an old barn is a broken-down structure that’s barely standing. In this unforgiving area, many of the trees are bent and some have even been knocked completely to the ground.
Lots of wildlife can be seen foraging along the lively corridor of aspen, spruce and pine. The elk move effortlessly through this their favorite haunt while the smaller mule deer experiences more difficulty plowing through the deep snow.
After observing the plants and animals that survive up here, you begin to comprehend just how strong they really are. I can’t imagine how arduous it must be, roaming through this wilderness every day living a life always on the edge.
|A photogenic feature|
|A silvery woodland|
|An approaching storm|
|An old barn|
|A broken down structure|
|An unforgiving area|
|An aspen corridor|
|Elk move effortlessly|
|The animals are strong|
|Life on the edge|
Black Forest - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Black Forest" Colored Pencil|
The black forest is a sinister woodland that enforces a bleak outlook. Devoid of even the slightest sign of life or liveliness, the dark season is defined by shorter days and shallow light.
Creating a brighter backdrop, wind-blown clouds stream across a cerulean sky. The rest of the scene has an underlying wash of gray that neutralizes all succeeding layers of earthen hues.
The somber meadow spends its entire day suppressed by a cold-blue shadow. The mountains are silky white but purple and pinks are smudged onto the scene, giving the rugged peak a gritty coarseness.
The low-key landscape is a desperate attempt to express the grim nature of this stark wilderness. Stepping forward, the skeletal remains of pale aspen trees offer hope by reminding the viewer of a forgotten spring.
Along with the warmth of summer comes an endless throng of hikers and bikers. It’s then that we’ll be searching for the same type of peace and solitude that can only be found during the harshness of winter.
Bear Creek - A Dicey Waterway
|Bear Creek, Colorado|
Brought forth from a secluded cirque, Bear Creek is a dicey waterway that rushes right through Evergreen, Colorado. Winter twilight in its namesake canyon is best described as snowy, quiet and cold.
Normally fast-flowing, the little river is partially frozen from prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures. Set along the blurred shoreline, a forest of gnarled cottonwoods creates a tangled web of trunks and branches.
This time of year, the scenic gorge carries more color than you might expect. The perceived intensity of available hues is heightened by the dramatic clash of fiery orange and icy blue.
As the dark walls close in, only the tip of the rugged chasm remains illuminated. With the last light fading fast, an early evening intrudes upon the landscape and expels the frostbitten wanderer.
Sloshing around in this remarkable area, I’ve discovered one thing for sure. The beauty of that little, black creek certainly makes this season’s brutal weather at least somewhat bearable.
|Bear Creek Canyon|
|Winter twilight is quiet and cold|
|The river is partially frozen|
|A tangled web of trunks and branches|
|A scenic gorge|
|A surprising amount of color|
|Last light fading fast|
|A remarkable area|
|The black creek is beautiful|
Noble Meadow - A Troublesome Gulch
Located below Chief Mountain, Noble Meadow is a moody monarch wielding a ruthless demeanor. Especially during winter, the stark grassland expels even the most determined visitor.
This time of year, bad weather born in the big mountains is funneled through the narrow valley. Marching into that icy gale feels as if a thousand, tiny daggers are piercing your skin.
Windblown grasses hiss like a disapproving crowd, heckling the hiker to turn back and go home. Seeing that lonesome, weather-beaten barn, it’s a fitting symbol for this bleak countryside.
Strange clouds are strewn across the cobalt sky. Below, the treacherous trail is no walk in the park as the sweeping, white landscape bears down on you like a freight train.
Sunrise is a dicey subject as murky clouds hang just above the horizon, absorbing most of the warmth. Just a few, thin slits of filtered sunlight radiate across the waves of drifted snow.
Streaming down through the gully, a ribbon of black ice is known as Troublesome Creek. Getting across the soggy bottom is solved by a concrete bridge that spans the problematic gulch.
It’s definitely more enjoyable to stroll through these hills on a warm, summer day but in order to fully comprehend the mountains, you have to contemplate their realm in all conditions.
|A moody monarch|
|A stark grassland|
|Bad weather is funneled through the valley|
|A lonesome barn|
|Strange clouds are strewn|
|A white landscape|
|Sunrise is a dicey subject|
|The sunlight is filtered|
|Troublesome Creek streams through the gully|
|A bridge spans Troublesome Gulch|
|Contemplate the mountains in all conditions|
Western Nebraska - A Winter Eden
|Winter in western Nebraska|
This season, the weather in Western Nebraska is absolutely wonderful. Wading through waist-deep snow, the stark Sandhills are a white oasis.
Spread across the blank space, a humble homestead appears in the distance. A halo of soft light is a soothing beacon of hope, offering sanctuary from the frigid cold.
After a week of severe weather, the entire region is transformed into a pristine snowscape. An arctic chill unique to this place, seeps into your aching bones.
Cradled in the Great Plains, this fertile crescent is inhabited by hardy settlers and exotic animals. Surprisingly, the Garden of Eden is located here, near the banks of the mighty North Platte.
Along the slippery edge of a brown creek, arched cottonwoods form an intricate corridor into a lush reserve. Golden rays of afternoon light permeate the frozen wilderness, warming an icy bog.
The secluded marsh is home to timid species that are spooked by my unwelcome appearance. Flushed from hiding are a family of white-tailed deer, a few northern flickers and a blue jay.
Strong, west winds wreak havoc during the long, restless night. By dawn, beautiful patterns of drifted snow are engraved into the rugged landscape.
Indian peacocks are a precious commodity perched high above in the barren trees. Down below, African guineafowl peck at the frozen ground, foraging for sparse food.
White-headed eagles are majestic monarchs ruling over this dominion of land, water and sky. A hungry hawk is a visiting dignitary, searching for unsuspecting sparrows.
Like a pale apparition, a mysterious, white horse grazes along the edge of a dormant cornfield. The eerie atmosphere is enhanced by the chorus of coyotes howling in the forest.
Dried sunflowers are a bitter reminder of our fleeting existence but now I know where it all began. If you thought paradise was a tropical garden, you’d be wrong, because I’ve discovered that Eden is actually a winter wonderland.
|A humble homestead|
|North Platte River|
|A brown creek|
|Afternoon light is golden|
|An icy bog|
|Majestic bald eagle|
|A hungry hawk|
|A mysterious, white horse|
|A dormant cornfield|
|Paradise is not tropical|
|Eden is a winter wonderland|
Elk Ridge Evergreen - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Elk Ridge Evergreen" Colored Pencil|
“Through art we can change the world.” ~ #twitterartexhibit
It’s the morning after an early-winter storm and Evergreen’s Elk Ridge is dusted with a layer of fresh snow. Gloomy clouds have passed so the clear sky forms a bright-blue background.
The far foothills are expressed with graduated tones of cool gray that blend into the distance. Sparkling under a radiant sun, a row of silvery spruce is stretched along the steep hillside.
Up front, the dark pine is a rigid focal point that carries weight into the corner. Cast by the red tree, intricate shadows form an abstract pattern that’s spread across the snowy surface.
It’s fascinating how an idea born in the brain is nurtured in the heart and transmitted through an eager arm, resulting in an expressive piece of art that’s completely handmade.
Elk Ridge Evergreen is my contribution to the upcoming Twitter Art Exhibit: NYC. This unique event is an international exhibition of original postcard art benefiting Foster Pride’s “Handmade” Program, in which young women in foster care learn to create and market a unique line of goods.
The young women in HandMade create and market their own line of highly original crocheted goods under the HandMade by Foster Pride label, which is sold in New York boutiques, in Paris at Milk on the Rocks and online, at Etsy.
Students learn about design, marketing, and small business skills, and develop personal and interpersonal qualities such as motivation, collaboration, and sustained effort that will be valuable to these young women as they age out of the foster care system.
All proceeds from sales go to the talented teens who run this small business, and who also have the opportunity to secure internships with industry professionals.
Twitter Art Exhibit: NYC is the sixth installment of an open international exhibition of handmade postcard art for charity, donated by hundreds of participating artists from around the globe.
Social media plays a major role in Twitter Art Exhibit. It is their intention to tweet, share, seed and promote the artists to thank them for their participation, and to make this event a huge success.
For more information, please check out this link: #twitterartexhibit
Bergen Peak First Snow - Colored Pencil Drawing
|'Bergen Peak First Snow' Colored Pencil|
It’s late fall in Evergreen, Colorado and Bergen Peak is flecked with the season’s first snow. The warm palette of autumn hues is kindled by an orange undertone.
Placed in a patch of fiery grasses, an abiding boulder is the obvious focal point. Rendering the unwavering rock is a simple study in the sharp contrast between dark and light.
Drifted across the open meadow, an opaque snowfield dissolves into a corner of cool shadows. As a prelude to the looming peak above, a few ponderosa pine are painted indigo blue.
The big mountain in the background is drawn with a bumpy line and tinted a verdant gray. Frosted with sparkling white, the summit’s complex contour is clarified by sun and shade.
Overhead, a dispersing cloud is drawn back like a curtain, revealing a periwinkle sky. The entire landscape is posterized into a pattern of interlocking shapes filled with flat passages of color.
The trails are cold and quiet as we anxiously wait for winter to come barging into the high country. Despite the disruption, there is something special about the mountains on the morning after first snow.
Yellow Pine - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Yellow Pine" Colored Pencil|
It’s another gray day in Evergreen as the entire landscape is shrouded in an eerie mist. Stationed at the forest’s perimeter, a yellow pine is a sturdy sentinel standing watch over Elk Meadow.
The tree’s transparent bough allows flecks of the orange field to stream through. Edges become softer and the colors less saturated as grayish hills are stair-stepped into the background like paper-cut silhouettes.
Gnarled branches twist and turn, creating an intricate web of limber, red wood. Writhing towards a lemon sky, the spirited lookout is a living, breathing organism with a personality all its own.
The foothills are a fascinating mix of plants, trees and animals, each depending on the other to survive. Though engulfed by a sea of ochre grasses, the ponderosa pine is perfectly suited to life on golden ground.
Resilient in the face of fierce winds and heavy snow, the fearless straggler is an essential part of the alpine setting. It’s an unflinching inhabitant eager to endure the worst weather Colorado has to offer.
Living in these mountains will test your patience and perseverance. Just as it does for this resilient tree, withstanding the unruly elements in such a harsh environment will only make you stronger.
Zion Canyon - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Zion Canyon" Colored Pencil|
Celebrated for its rivers, lakes, mountains and canyons, the Colorado Plateau is a complicated composition. It would take a lifetime to fully explore and comprehend this unusual place.
To express southern Utah’s unending beauty through perfection would certainly fail. Devoid of tedious details, this desert landscape was drawn freely from an etched memory.
It’s a sizzling, summer day in Zion Canyon where the clear air is hot and dry. An orange undertone permeates the textured paper and infuses the dreamy rendering with a warm glow.
Providing some relief from the heat, a row of crooked cottonwoods lines the muddy riverbank. Exiting at an angle, the Virgin is a refreshing river whose color reflects the powder-blue sky.
The soft edges of a wispy, white cloud seem to melt into an infinite atmosphere. Photographs are unable to interpret the scenery with acceptable realism so a vivid imagination is required.
As a cactus anchors the corner, trees form an archway leading to the sculpted spires that were carved so many years ago. The sheer, cliff walls are massive and the suggestion of their strange forms is defined by dark shadows.
When broken down to its basics, the true power of this chasm may be understood. Upon each return, a new lesson is learned and hopefully the experience gained will result in an honest expression of the stunning Southwest.
Zion Narrows - A Startling Labyrinth
Deep inside Zion National Park, the red-rock walls start closing in. There, our first experience in the dark chasm was negotiating that startling labyrinth known as The Narrows.
At first you follow a traditional pathway but after a mile, the river becomes the road. From this starting point, the shallow stream is about ankle high but before long you’re wading through water that is waist deep.
Tinted a muddy green, the Virgin is an unpredictable force propelled by a swift current that gets even stronger as the canyon becomes compressed. Thunderstorms that occur miles upstream can create a dangerous situation for unsuspecting hikers in Zion.
Heavy rainfall can send a powerful swell through the unforgiving gorge, trapping anything unlucky enough to be stuck inside. Fortunately, our canyoneering experience was filled with nothing but beautiful scenery and blue skies.
Due to unstable footing, attaining the mysterious slot was a slippery endeavor but well worth the struggle. The way out went much better as the brisk water swept us smoothly back to our original port of entry.
I found the Southwest to be anything but desolate as the unusual landscape shocked my senses with wonder and awe. I’ve spent years observing how things work in the mountains but life in the desert remains a mystery.
Traveling through Utah was such an eye-opening experience that I’d like to record my impressions with pencil on paper but I’ve found it too difficult to describe. Maybe if I close my eyes and dream about the extraordinary colors everything will turn out fine.
|Red-rock walls start closing in|
|A startling labyrinth|
|The river becomes the road|
|The shallow stream|
|The virgin river is muddy green|
|A swift current|
|An unforgiving gorge|
|An unusual landscape|
|The desert is a mystery|
|It was an eye-opening experience|
Mule Deer - A Curious Creature
|Curious Mule Deer|
On a wintery afternoon, a hardy visitor unexpectedly appeared out of the mist. A young mule deer buck was out in the meadow foraging for the most nutritious food source available.
Munching on mostly shrubs, twigs and tree branches, our famished friend displayed an enormous appetite. On just such a diet, the disheveled deer had managed to survive another harsh winter.
As I slushed through snow to document our encounter, the curious creature came even closer. Face to face with a magnificent muley, time stood still during an unforgettable nature moment.
I’m not sure what he was thinking. Maybe he thought I had food for him or maybe he wondered why I was out in the middle of a snowstorm. Anyway, after close inspection, he went back to his herd and I went back to mine.
|An unexpected visitor|
|Foraging for food|
|Munching on shrubs|
|Another harsh winter|
|The curious creature|
|Face to face with a muley|
|A nature moment|
|Middle of a snowstorm|
|He went back to the herd|
San Rafael Desert - Lonely Land
|San Rafael Swell|
Positioned just above the sacred Goblin Valley, the San Rafael Swell is a dramatic gateway to some of the best scenery the state of Utah has to offer. Desolate and devoid of life, this lonely stretch of land is more lively than you’d expect.
Traveling west through Colorado, the big, blue and green mountains give way to brown mesas until you reach Grand Junction. From there into eastern Utah, the landscape becomes distinctly barren and beige book cliffs rise out of the sandy soil.
Down around the town of Green River, things really start to look deserted as the terrain becomes flat and featureless with not even a single tree in sight. The desert becomes difficult to understand and you begin to feel like all is lost.
Just when things look bleak, a narrow pass winds its way through a spiny ridge of jagged spires where the earth is uplifted and sculpted by a spectacular canyon. Placed above it all, a gigantic, pale sky overwhelms the pastel-colored plateau.
We’re out of our element as we travel through this empty outback. While hiking here in the wild, you may feel like you’re misplaced but if solitude is what you’re looking for, the desert is one of the few environments on earth where peace can be found.
|A dramatic gateway|
|Some of the best scenery in Utah|
|A lonely stretch of land|
|The desert is difficult to understand|
|A spiny ridge of jagged spires|
|The earth is sculpted|
|A pastel-colored plateau|
|An empty outback|
|Peace can be found|
Winter Storm - A Lonesome Wilderness
|Beaver Brook, Colorado|
Last week meteorologists issued a severe weather warning for Jefferson County. They projected a winter storm for us and asserted that it would progress in the usual, predictable pattern.
That afternoon, a faint wind whispered through the treetops foretelling a frosty future. By morning, a spiraling system from the east had screamed into the Front Range foothills.
Basking in mild temperatures, the mountain landscape dissolved into an opaque atmosphere of wet flakes. Still pretty in gray, the pine trees were coated with a glossy sheen of sparkling silver.
The next day was much colder as pellets of fine powder were drizzled over the entire area. Rocky crags were capped with heavy snow and the evergreens were plastered in solid ice.
It was utterly bone-chilling, hiking out in the open meadow. Luckily, we discovered that once inside the insulated forest, there was a natural, geothermal warmth.
By day three, the storm had passed and clouds cleared but a blast of arctic air swept in. Below blue skies, plowing through Beaver Brook was like walking into the North Pole.
Down at the frozen reservoir, long shadows stretched across the lake’s smooth surface. The surrounding trees resembled an exhibit of exquisitely carved marble sculptures.
Painted with pure white, the transcendent beauty of that lonesome wilderness was absolutely pristine. With so many storms already on canvas this year, I have a feeling it’s going to be a winter to remember.
|Winter storm in the foothills|
|The mountain landscape dissolved|
|Pretty in gray|
|The pine trees were a sparkling silver|
|Fine powder was drizzled over the entire area|
|Rocky crags were snow-capped|
|The open meadow was bone-chilling|
|The forest was insulated with warmth|
|The storm had passed|
|Walking into the North Pole|
|The trees were like marble sculptures|
|Transcendent beauty of a lonesome wilderness|
Great Blue Heron - A Lanky Waterfowl
|Great Blue Heron|
On a chilly winter day near Nebraska’s North Platte River, a great blue heron swooped in searching for prey. After a brisk feather-ruffle, it proceeded to patiently stroll along the shoreline of an icy pond.
Sharp eyes scanned the water’s surface for small fish. With its sinewy neck coiled into the shape of an S, the big bird was ready to strike. A long, dagger-like beak would deliver the final death blow.
After an unsuccessful hunt, the lanky waterfowl became annoyed with the uninvited intruder. It promptly straightened up, delivered a harsh croak and soared swiftly to the safety of a nearby cottonwood stand.
|A chilly winter day|
|Searching for prey|
|A sinewy neck|
|Coiled into the shape of an S|
|An unsuccessful hunt|
|A lanky waterfowl|
About Art, Paintings and Drawings - An Interview
|"Trout Lake" Colored Pencil|
Recently, I had a conversation with my friend Adam Ziemba from Noble Portrait about art, paintings and drawings. Somehow, Adam was able to weave that information together and he published the results of our discussion in an interview format.
It’s always gratifying when someone shows an interest in your creative work so I appreciate Adam’s inquisitive enthusiasm. If you’re interested in learning more about my philosophies of art, photography and nature, please check out Adam’s article.
Prepared by Adam Ziemba
Dan Miller, a top 100 colored-pencil artist, was kind enough to share his experiences with and passion for fine art on our pages of Noble Portrait.
Born to an artistic family in western Nebraska, Dan quickly discovered his lifetime passion for fine arts. Ever since he began with a pencil as a child, he has developed expertise in photography, writing, and oil and acrylic painting. Dan searches and seeks for truth in the world. His inspiration derives from nature, landscapes and wildlife, which truly shows on his many artworks.
In the interview, Dan expands on his education and career path. He talks about some of the most important lessons and most difficult challenges which he encountered on the way to becoming a fine artist. He shares his observations regarding imitating styles of other artists (even most famous art masters like van Gogh, Rembrandt or Dali), as well as painting photo-real portraits. Dan also shares advice with other established and aspiring fine artists.
Please join us for the entire interview “About Art, Paintings and Drawings with Dan Miller”.
|Nature is inspiring|
|Photographing the Colorado landscape and beyond|
Observation Point - An Unreachable Destination
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” - Greg Anderson
Zion National Park is known for its dry heat, clean air and bright colors but on this day the canyon is cool and wet. During a steady drizzle, we begin our steep ascent up the dark, weeping wall.
Despite the limited light, the narrow gorge displays a wide value range. Under such conditions the desert can’t be seen in black and white, it must be expressed with a thousand shades of gray.
Lofty height is earned quickly from a steady effort exerted up the long switchbacks. The far rim vanishes in a veil of dark clouds as the storm descends below and settles over the riverbed.
The dangerous ravine is approached with respect but climbed with confidence. While walking a narrow line, the airy landscape is visually stunning but frightful vertigo is induced to the sensitive viewer.
A slender cavern provides surprisingly dry cover during the heaviest downpour. Pressing ever forward across slippery rock, the massive landscape is completely quiet.
After taking it to the limit, our unfortunate return is reluctantly arranged. Unfazed by the uncomfortable elements, we just miss the vertical max because time expired.
Despite our best efforts, the Point remains unreachable but that’s okay because there’s something I’ve learned concerning life. The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination.
|A steady drizzle in Zion National Park|
|The gorge displays a wide value range|
|A thousand shades of gray|
|Lofty height is earned quickly|
|The far rim vanishes in a veil|
|A storm settles below|
|The dangerous ravine is approached with respect|
|The airy landscape is stunning|
|Unfazed by the elements|
|We missed the vertical max|
|We gave our best effort|
|It's the journey, not the destination|
Hobbs Peak Park - A Secluded Reserve
|Ocelot Cliffs at Hobbs Peak Park|
Hobbs Peak Park is a hidden oasis landlocked by surrounding private property. The centerpiece of the secluded reserve is a photogenic rock formation known as the Ocelot Cliffs.
Native Americans revered the unusual landscape, evidenced by arrowheads that can still be found at the sacred site. The place may have been used for ceremonies and other spiritual activities associated with origin stories and oral traditions.
During the 1970’s, the area was a climber’s mecca that attracted adventurers from all across the country. Currently, scaling the cliffs is illegal and if caught, the penalty is as steep as the rock’s south face.
The little piece of land is bursting with wildlife where red foxes roam through the forest while mule deer graze in the meadows. Rumor even has it that a reclusive mountain lion stalks the sequestered woods.
Featuring the Mount Evans Massif, a marvelous vista appears to the west while traversing the park’s narrow spine. Whether seen in the spring or sprinkled with snow, this special area is blessed with beauty during all seasons.
Protective locals are gracious hosts but they clearly hope the hidden gem remains off the radar and who can blame them. It’s pretty nice to have such a pristine wilderness all to yourself.
|A hidden oasis|
|The centerpiece is a photogenic rock|
|Native Americans revered the unusual landscape|
|A spiritual place|
|Meadows are bursting with wildlife|
|Marvelous vista to the west|
|Beauty during all seasons|
|A hidden gem|
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel - A Lost Soul
|Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel|
Crowned with a russet headband, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is a lost soul living at the forest’s edge. Usually stationed on a fallen log, this solitary creature lives most of his life alone, quietly observing the activity happening all around him.
Always alert, he’s an inquisitive animal that seems to tolerate a peaceful approach. For this rockhound of a rodent, summers are spent lying about in the sun while fall becomes more frenzied as he must fatten up for a five month hibernation.
Specialized cheek pouches allow the golden-mantled ground squirrel to gather generous amounts of food off of the ground. With all fours freed up, he is able to transport the mouthful back to his burrow at full speed.
The edible cache is reserved for winter so if he wakes from hunger, he can gnaw on a mid-slumber snack. It’s also a convenient energy source that can be eaten when the sleepy squirrel reemerges in the early spring.
Because they share the same ecosystem and physical features, he is often confused with the Colorado chipmunk. The golden-mantled is easily distinguished, though, as he lacks the facial striping so prominent in his smaller cousin.
He doesn’t have much impact on the environment and despite human alteration to his habitat, his kind seems to be thriving. It’s our world and he’s just a simple squirrel searching for a nut but if he ever disappeared, he would be sorely missed.
|A lost soul|
|Stationed on a fallen log|
|He tolerates a peaceful approach|
|Fall becomes frenzied|
|He has specialized cheek pouches|
|He gathers food|
|He lacks facial striping|
|He doesn't impact the environment|
|His kind is thriving|
|A simple squirrel|
|He would be missed|
Ornate Box Turtle - A Harmless Homebody
|Ornate Box Turtle|
Inhabiting the arid sandhills of western Nebraska, the ornate box turtle is perfectly content to live life in the slow lane. Sharing some of the same traits as the persistent pioneers that first settled the area, he is admired for his grit, determination and perseverance.
The species was first discovered in Nebraska circa 1795 and described by early explorers as occurring in “vast numbers” all across the prairie. Today, their status is uncertain but the population must be at least stable because I frequently see them during the summer.
This tortoise is a harmless homebody that doesn’t require much room to roam. Active from April through October, he saunters through the brush existing in a small territory that’s just a few acres in size. By the first frost, he digs a shallow burrow and hibernates over the winter.
In his small world there isn’t much competition for available food resources because this easy-going omnivore isn’t a picky eater. His favorite meals are insects, spiders and worms but he’ll also happily consume fruits, vegetables and carrion.
Like most reptiles, his daily activities revolve around thermoregulation. Mornings are spent warming up in the sun but during the hottest part of the day, he rests in the shade. Drawn back out by cool temps, he's probably most active in the evening.
The little land-dweller is distinguished by the yellow paint that’s splattered artistically all over his dark body and shell. Created with a hinged plastron, he can completely withdraw his head, legs and tail into a defensive box position for protection from predators.
He's a sensitive creature that’s terribly vulnerable to disruptions in his homeland. Habitat destruction due to agricultural expansion is probably the biggest threat to his continued survival but surprisingly, the most common cause of death comes from car collisions.
He doesn’t ask for much, just green grass, soft dirt and fresh water but if you’re ever driving through Nebraska, please keep an eye out for our humble friend. If you do happen to see him in the middle of the road, kindly pull over, pick him up and place him on the other side.
|Perfectly content in the slow lane|
|The species was first discovered in Nebraska|
|He doesn't require much room to roam|
|An easy-going omnivore|
|Mornings are spent warming up|
|He's splattered with yellow paint|
|He can completely withdraw into a box|
|A very sensitive creature|
|Keep an eye out for our humble friend|
Square Top Lakes - A Quiet Kingdom
|Lower Square Top Lake|
Stair-stepped below a secluded thirteener, the two Square Top Lakes are connected by a streaming cascade of cold water. Beginning at the bustling Guanella Pass, the alpine trek to get there concludes at a considerably less crowded location.
Bushwhacking through muddy bogs and thickets of prickly willows, it’s an uphill haul all the way. Established at such a high altitude, this quiet kingdom is defined by wide open space, clear air and a steady breeze.
Upon arriving at the cobalt-colored reservoir, the vivid color contrast is simply too much for the human eye to comprehend. It’s satisfying to explore the lower lake’s lovely setting but curiosity may compel you to ascend to the next level.
After scrambling up to the far ledge, you behold another quite shocking color scheme as the long, upper lake is surprisingly green. Squinting into the sun, you can see Square Top Mountain’s eastern slope slide right into the silky tarn.
Dusk is an unquestionable signal that it’s time to depart without delay. As the low light softens the scenery and shines a spotlight on the spectacular peaks to the east, a few fluffy clouds cast curious shadows across Mount Bierstadt and the jagged Sawtooth Ridge.
During the fall, twilight above tree line saturates the already ochre grassland with pure yellow. While tramping across the tundra on a warm autumn evening, it becomes obvious that the wealth of beauty amassed by these mountains can’t be measured in anything but gold.
|A less crowded location|
|Thickets of prickly willows|
|Wide open space|
|A quiet kingdom|
|A cobalt colored reservoir|
|Vivid color contrast|
|A lovely setting|
|The upper lake is green|
|A silky tarn|
|Curious shadows across Mount Bierstadt|
|An ochre grassland|
|Tramping across the tundra|
|The wealth of beauty|
|Is measured in gold|
Chief Mountain - A Pedestal for Panoramas
Rising out of Colorado’s Front Range foothills, Chief Mountain is a rocky pedestal for panoramas. The top juts up just above tree line and offers some of the best views in Clear Creek County.
All of the area’s big peaks can be surveyed from this single spot. Massive Mount Evans looms to the west while beyond, the distinct contour of Grays and Torreys is unmistakeable.
Bulky Longs Peak has a block-shaped summit that can be clearly seen to the north. Down south towards the Springs, Pikes Peak is barely visible as a ghostly apparition painted with pale blue.
During this season, all is quiet so the lonely mountain is delighted to receive guests. Squawking for attention, a pair of gray jays swoop close by and mingled amongst the rocks, chipmunks scurry for cover.
Traveling up Squaw Pass Road, yellow aspen are an obvious indication that fall is here. As pretty as it is now, I’d like to come back in a month or so and see what this place looks like when buried under a foot of snow.
|Rising out of the Front Range foothills|
|A rocky pedestal|
|Above tree line|
|Best views in Clear Creek County|
|Massive Mount Evans Wilderness|
|Grays and Torreys Peaks|
|Bulky Longs Peak|
|Pikes Peak is pale blue|
|All is quiet|
|A lonely mountain|
|Fall is here|
|I'd like to come back when there's snow|
Dedisse Park - An Underrated Excursion
|Bear Creek at Dedisse Park|
Dedisse Park Trail is an obscure pathway unknown to even many, long-time locals. The shady sanctuary starts at the Catholic Church, skirts Evergreen Lake and rises sharply towards Three Sisters Open Space.
Just like riding a rickety, old roller coaster, hiking this rugged trail reveals a remarkable series of high and lows. Rushing through down at the bottom, Bear Creek is clear, cool and inviting especially during the summer.
On up, a wide ridge works its way into Alder Ranch. The place where rocky crags jut into a powder-blue sky. After scaling to the top of one of these towers, the scenic views are as spectacular as any around.
Dedisse is well worth a visit despite the unpredictable ups and downs. Beginning at a humble house of worship, this underrated excursion drops you into a deep chasm but it eventually lifts you out of the darkness and ends on a high note.
|An obscure pathway|
|Remarkable highs and lows|
|A wide ridge|
|From the top of a rock tower|
|The scenic views are spectacular|
|Dedisse is well worth a visit|
|Unpredictable ups and downs|
|A dark forest in the deep chasm|
|Ends on a high note|
Early Spring Evergreen - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Early Spring Evergreen" Colored Pencil|
It’s early spring in Evergreen and a few mule deer are grazing peacefully on the fresh, green grass. Always alert, the young bucks are curious but cautious as they move carefully through the soggy park.
The weather is nicer now but definitely damp as this year’s wet monsoon has left the landscape with a glossy sheen. A condensed vapor of fine mist rises from the ground, defining certain elements with a soft halo.
Elk Meadow is an embroidery of subtle strokes woven together with layers of rich color. The mysterious atmosphere combined with unique texture and simple shading evokes the drawing’s dreamy appearance.
Rising out of a row of dark trees, the hazy foothills are expressed with overlapping shades of beautiful blue. Since the sun is setting, the steel sky is tinged with yellow and a large ponderosa pine emanates warmth from the inside out.
After suffering through a horrendous drought for the last several years, the moisture has been a godsend. It was an extraordinary season distinguished by an unprecedented natural event. It rained every single day in May.
Red-winged Blackbird - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Red-winged Blackbird" Colored Pencil|
On a chilly morning in the mountains, a red-winged blackbird poses before it’s soggy marsh. Nesting in cattails just above waterline, the protective parent will become irritated with the slightest encroachment.
The earthy background is a swirl of subtle strokes that seems to follow the creature’s every contour. Distinguished by its classic color scheme, the volatile vocalist will defend this prime territory to a fault.
Pure black in art can be dangerous because it may deaden a lively depiction. In order to achieve the rich black shown here, several layers of orange, brown and indigo blue were applied tonally.
Amidst the suggestion of delicate feathering, a sharp eye is delineated with precision. The silvery beak and talons are tinged with a touch of true blue but the defining feature is the blazing wing bar that reflects the bird’s fiery character.
This drawing is more than just a realistic portrait of one of nature’s most temperamental personalities. The image is also meant to be an inspirational icon, an indisputable symbol of spring.
Bergen Peak - A Gentle Giant
Looming over Elk Meadow, Bergen Peak is a moody mountain characterized by long trails, steep terrain and abundant wildlife. Morning light gilds the peak with warmth but by dusk, deep shadows can only be expressed with dark blue.
The forest’s edge is always full of activity, featuring a variety of vocal birds, foraging rodents and grazing ungulates. It’s always surprising to spot reptiles so high up but I often see garter snakes stretched out across the trail.
A wet spring has triggered a profusion of wildflowers on the sunny, south-facing slopes while further along, a dense section of lodgepole pine is dark and devoid of much life. Brightening the way, a few aspen are still struggling to grasp some sunlight.
As you get closer, the path starts spiraling towards the top where rocky outcrops offer awesome views all the way around. The secluded summit is crowned with wind-blown trees and governed by a gang of hungry ground squirrels.
The trip back down may take some time but it’s not near as strenuous. Looking up from the meadow, Bergen appears to be a brutal behemoth but if you get to know the peak personally, you’ll discover that it’s really just a gentle giant.
|Long trails and steep terrain|
|Dark blue at dusk|
|The forest's edge|
|It's surprising to see snakes|
|A profusion of wildflowers|
|Aspen struggling for sunlight|
|Spiraling towards the summit|
|Awesome views all around|
|The top is governed by ground squirrels|
|Bergen is a gentle giant|
Evergreen Mountain - An Inconspicuous Incline
|Evergreen Mountain Summit|
Evergreen Mountain is an inconspicuous incline cloaked by a dark forest of lodgepole pine. The secluded trail to the top provides plenty of squirrels, shade and solitude.
Without a soul to be seen, a series of steep switchbacks climbs a rocky spine to the crest. Surrounded by a variety of big, blue peaks, the scenery from the summit is sublime.
The open-air overlook offers an array of unobstructed views. Spectacular Mount Evans Wilderness unfolds to west where it’s bookended by Bergen Peak and Black Mountain.
Energized by a bit of rest, the easy descent flies by as fast as the sunny season. Before long, we’re back down at the bottom where summer is over and so it begins.
|An inconspicuous incline|
|A secluded trail|
|Plenty of squirrels|
|Surrounded by peaks|
|The summit is sublime|
|An open-air overlook|
|Spectacular Mount Evans Wilderness|
|Bookended by Black Mountain|
|Summer is over|
|So it begins|
Northport Canal - A Fleeting Journey
|The Northport Canal|
On a warm summer evening in western Nebraska, wandering along the Northport canal is simply wonderful. Cut through an infinite prairie of yellow grass, the winding waterway satisfies thirsty crops.
Drifting by unnoticed, storm clouds pass silently over the vast Sandhills. Still standing in the secluded pasture, an abandoned homestead seems like an idyllic place.
The rickety windmill looks like it works but the rest is in ruins. Grazing on the neglected grounds, cattle are curious about our unexpected appearance but mostly they’re content to chew cud.
Western kingbirds hold court in the blue grasses that border the slow-moving stream. Around the bend, a great blue heron is startled by strangers and vanishes into the distance like a grey ghost.
As the setting sun drenches the landscape with golden light, this glorious day comes to an end. Like the fleeting journey in Pilgrim’s Progress, so perfect is this peaceable kingdom that it must be a dream.
Though we walk in the darkness of that shadowy valley, we are not afraid. Hopefully, Heaven will be just like this because I could definitely stay here for all eternity.
|Cut through an infinite prairie|
|Storm clouds pass silently|
|The homestead looks idyllic|
|The windmill works|
|The landscape is drenched in golden light|
|A peaceable kingdom|
|A shadowy valley|
|Just like heaven|
Zion Canyon - A Pleasant Pilgrimage
|Zion National Park|
Carved out of the Colorado Plateau by powerful erosive forces, Zion Canyon is difficult to describe with words. Luckily, I found out that the lovely landscape is photogenic from every possible angle.
Insulated from the surrounding desert, the deep corridor of rock towers and hanging gardens is enriched by the Virgin River. It’s a long pilgrimage to get there but reaching the righteous ravine is a religious experience.
Early settlers must have agreed as they labeled the most impressive landmarks with biblical names like Court of the Patriarchs, Altar of Sacrifice and Angels Landing. No wonder the place is a Mecca for hikers from all over the world.
Well-worn trails are woven throughout the National Park but at the north-end Narrows, wading through water is the only way. Splashing through the slot canyon is wet and wild but keep your fingers crossed for no flash flood.
Being there on a bad weather day, really brings out the best. If the astonishing beauty doesn’t take your breath away, then climbing up to the rim in the rain certainly will.
Obtaining an overlook above the clouds demands a maximum effort. Standing on that perilous edge soaked and cold may dampen your body but absorbing the surreal atmosphere from the top will ignite your soul.
|Zion Canyon is difficult to describe|
|The landscape is photogenic from every angle|
|A deep corridor of rock towers|
|The Virgin River|
|A righteous ravine|
|Court of the Patriarchs|
|A Mecca for hikers|
|The Zion Narrows|
|Wading through water is the only way|
|The gorge is wet and wild|
|A bad weather day|
|Soaked and cold|
|The atmosphere will ignite your soul|
Salt Lake Temple - An Uplifting Experience
|The Salt Lake Temple|
Fleeing from religious persecution, Brigham Young gathered his followers and led an exodus of Mormons into the American desert. They wandered over the Wasatch Mountains and settled in the isolated Salt Lake Valley (July 1847) where they hoped to build a New Jerusalem.
Upon their arrival, the pioneers promptly began construction of the Temple (February 1853) and it took almost exactly 40 years to finish. The pious palace is designed to be a portal to heaven and a place where believers can communicate with the Lord.
Salt Lake Temple is the centerpiece of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah and it’s an international symbol of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The actual Temple building is closed to the public and LDS Church members may only enter if they’ve earned a special certificate called a Temple Recommend.
The square, however, is accessible to all and visitors are encouraged to thoroughly explore the rest of the gorgeous grounds. The sacred site features a fascinating mix of exotic plants, dazzling fountains, bronze sculptures and ornate architecture.
Clear light is filtered through a translucent canopy of fragrant maple trees and the allegorical water features are simply wonderful. Meant to be a peaceful place for strolling, resting and meditating, the Temple Gardens are filled with colorful flowers from all over the world.
Missionaries at the Temple Square were gracious hosts and they offered special insight into the church’s distinct history. Regardless of your religious affiliation, you’ll discover that visiting the Salt Lake Temple Square is a unique and uplifting experience.
|A pious palace|
|The centerpiece of Temple Square|
|An international symbol of the LDS Church|
|The grounds are accessible to all|
|A mix of exotic plants|
|A peaceful place|
|Visiting the site is an uplifting experience|
Bison Trail - That Damned Canyon
|Toadstool Geologic Park|
Banished to the remote northwest corner of Nebraska, Toadstool Geologic Park is a land that time forgot. Treking through these rugged badlands is treacherous, tiring and hotter than hell.
Bison Trail begins at the Hudson-Meng archaeological dig site and gently traverses a vast, grassland prairie. A hidden entrance into the gorge appears suddenly and the steep descent is like a gateway to Gehenna.
Once inside the abyss, a maze of sidetracks, slots and secret passageways will tempt the explorer to stray from the true path. Continue on this journey to the center of the earth and the scenery becomes even more spectacular.
Down at the bottom, you’re surrounded by a devil's playground of balancing rocks, sandstone spires and perfect pyramids. It’s useless to resist some slight wanderings but a successful escape from this lonely planet depends on a hasty retreat.
It’s an uphill climb all the way and the battle begins with your first step back. During the strenuous stretch run, you’ll have to dig deep and huff and puff to reach the elusive rim.
Once on the outside, thoughts of comfort will flow freely. God may have forsaken this place long ago but after our intimate encounter with it, we’ve come to cherish our everlasting memories of hiking in that damned canyon.
|A remote corner of Nebraska|
|A land that time forgot|
|Hudson-Meng dig site|
|A vast, grassland prairie|
|A gateway to Gehenna|
|Journey to the center of the earth|
|The scenery is spectacular|
|A devil's playground|
|Sandstone spires and perfect pyramids|
|A lonely planet|
|The battle back begins|
|That damned canyon|
Magical Utah - A Unique Treasure
|Lower Bells Canyon Reservoir|
Summer mornings in the Wasatch are quiet, dark and warm. The rugged range of stingy, green peaks withholds early light from the Salt Lake Valley.
While hiking up to the lower reservoir, Bells Canyon appears particularly blue. Spotted Towhees’ endless chatter fills the air and rock squirrels forage before it gets too hot.
The oval-shaped lake is smooth as glass and its contour defined by an indigo outline. As day develops, the first rays of sunlight fill the deep cirque with a golden warmth.
Now yellow in the afternoon, the place really starts to heat up. Under a cloudless sky, purple-headed ducks seem content to float across the placid pond.
Evening brings fishermen to the water’s edge where butterflies hover in a slight wind. At twilight the mountains are bleached by a brilliant, orange radiance.
Back down the trail, darkness descends as slowly as our pace. Evergreen, Colorado is our home but I must admit that magical Utah is a unique treasure that has cast its spell.
|Summer mornings are quiet|
|A rugged range of green peaks|
|The canyon appears blue|
|Rock squirrels forage|
|The oval-shaped lake is smooth as glass|
|First rays of light fill the cirque|
|Ducks float across the pond|
|Butterfly at the water's edge|
|Utah is a unique treasure|
Bells Canyon Lower Falls - A Hellish Endeavor
|Lowers Falls in Bells Canyon|
Deep in the Wasatch Mountains, Bells Canyon Creek begins its long descent from a remote reservoir. The spirited stream rushes through an infernal gorge where it cascades into a glorious waterfall.
In order to attain the lower falls, you must ascend an unmarked trail that’s been worn through dense foliage. During the summer, a sweaty scramble up to the sheer overlook is a hellish endeavor.
Upon arriving at the demonic destination, you are showered with cold water and a deafening roar. You must proceed with caution near this treacherous torrent or risk being swept into the steep abyss.
Despite the danger, it’s a wish-list destination where angels undoubtedly land. During this difficult journey you may fall into despair but don’t sell your soul to the devil, use only God-given strength to get you there.
|Bells Canyon Trail|
|Deep in the Wasatch Mountains|
|A spirited stream|
|A glorious waterfall|
|The trail is cut through dense foliage|
|A strenuous scramble to the overlook|
|Showered with cold water and a deafening roar|
|A treacherous torrent|
|A steep abyss|
|A wish-list destination|
Green River - A Wild Spirit
|Green River, Utah|
The Green River is a muddy waterway that flows through the desolate desert of eastern Utah. Its steep banks are lined with lush vegetation and yellow wildflowers.
Everywhere around the verdant stream, waves of dry heat rise into a steamy, blue sky. Beyond the pale cliffs, purple storm clouds promise moisture for the parched landscape.
Born in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains, the Green is wide, deep and powerful. Most of its route occurs through the Colorado Plateau where it has carved some of the most spectacular canyons on earth.
During Westward Expansion, most of the main emigration routes had to cross the Green at some point. Because of the river's ferocity, ferry crossings were established to enable pioneers to continue their transcontinental journey.
Conquered by American Progress, the resilient river still retains much of its rugged beauty. Today, the tributary appears to be tamed but as it meanders into the remote Canyonlands, the Rio Verde arrives filled with a spirit of the wild.
|A muddy waterway through the desert|
|The steep banks are lined with lush vegetation|
|A verdant stream|
|Storm clouds promise moisture|
|The Green is wide, deep and powerful|
|The river appears tamed|
|The Rio Verde|
|Filled with a spirit of the wild|
Chavez Trail - It Soothes the Soul
|Columbine on the Chavez Trail|
Down in Beaver Brook it was a sunny day on the Chavez Trail. Traversing a north-facing slope the dense forest was deep, dark and damp.
The little known out and back starts with a steamy descent and you'll finish in a sweaty mess. The strenuous hike is a weekend workout.
After such a wet spring, a profusion of Columbine has collected on the moist mountainside. The pretty perennial is Colorado's state flower.
Swaying in the summer breeze, these wildflowers appreciate sunlight but prefer cool shade. They're usually seen settled up against a tall pine.
Always in the foreground, green grass carpets a cathedral of arched aspen. The altar of open air is a perfect place to commune with nature.
If you're searching for silence, Chavez Trail will fill the bill. It's a great place to exercise the heart and soothe the soul.
|Little known Chavez Trail|
|The forest is dark and damp|
|A strenuous hike|
|Colorado Columbine, the state flower|
|Swaying in the summer breeze|
|The wildflowers prefer shade|
|Green grass and aspen|
|An altar of open air|
|A place to soothe the soul|
Mount Rushmore - A Magnificent Monument
|Mount Rushmore, South Dakota|
Concealed in a celestial wilderness of rock and pine, Mount Rushmore is a magnificent monument sculpted from smooth granite. Commissioned by the Federal Government to create the massive memorial, artist Gutzon Borglum began blasting in 1927.
Borglum chose to depict the featured presidents because of the unique ideals each seemed to possess. George Washington represents the struggle for independence while Thomas Jefferson the idea of government by the people.
Abraham Lincoln was included because he believed in equality and the permanent union of the states. Theodore Roosevelt appears due to his progressive thoughts on the role of the United States in contemporary world affairs.
After Gutzon Borglum’s death combined with a lack of further funding, the project was declared complete in 1941. The work looks unfinished but rough hewn edges give the piece a certain sketchiness that blends into the environment.
Upon entering the complex, a grand boulevard leads to an overlook where the sculpture can be contemplated. As an attraction luring tourists to South Dakota, the structure is certainly a success but some believe the triumph is bittersweet.
That stretch of land is sacred to the Lakota Sioux and in 1868 the Treaty of Fort Laramie granted them the Black Hills in perpetuity. Later, the United States seized the area from the Lakota Tribe after the Great Sioux War of 1876.
Native Americans believe the spiritual mountain they know as the Six Grandfathers has been desecrated. They believe there is an unclean shroud over the presidents’ faces which will remain dirty until the treaties concerning the Black Hills are fulfilled.
There is no doubt that Mount Rushmore exudes patriotism. Visiting the place makes you feel proud of what this nation has become but if you’re a student of American History, you may also feel some regret for how we got there.
|A wilderness of rock and pine|
|A massive memorial|
|Washington represents independence, Lincoln equality|
|The sculpture blends into the landscape|
|The grand boulevard|
|The structure is a success|
|The Black Hills are sacred|
|The Lakota Sioux were granted this land|
|Mount Rushmore exudes patriotism|
|You may also feel some regret|
Elk Meadow - A Melancholy Mood
|Elk Meadow twilight|
“Here comes the rain again. Falling on my head like a memory.” ~ Annie Lennox
Since it has rained almost every day, this spring has supplied us with a silent calm before the sunny season explodes with activity. Currently composed from an everlasting arrangement of cool coloration, the meadow is in a melancholy mood.
There’s not even a peep from the ruckus normally raised by the usual profusion of feathered friends. Under a watercolor sky, the only sign of life in this interesting landscape is a scattering of mule deer.
Marching up the muddy trails in such tranquility is like sleepwalking into an eerie atmosphere. During the storms, dense fog descends from a steel sky and a veil of steamy mist rises out of the soggy earth.
This season, being immersed in the dark beauty of low light is like waking from a fading dream. Enjoy it because a sizzling summer will begin soon and the rain will be just a hazy memory recalled by the fragrance of abundant wildflowers.
|It's rained almost every day|
|A melancholy mood|
|A watercolor sky|
|A scattering of mule deer|
|An eerie atmosphere|
|Another storm over the meadow|
|A veil of fog and mist|
|The earth is soggy|
|Dark beauty of low light|
|The rain will be a memory|
Thomas Hart Benton - An American Artist
|Self-Portrait with Rita|
Recently, Evergreen Fine Art Gallery held an exhibit of work by American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). The outstanding collection consisted of sketches, studies, lithographs and small paintings.
I’ve seen many of his more polished pieces hanging on museum walls in Missouri but the artwork shown in Colorado was more intimate. Here on paper, the artist’s search for a subject’s form was clearly evident.
Born in Neosho, Missouri to a family of politicians, Thomas Hart Benton chose painting as his profession. Benton began studying at the Chicago Art Institute and continued his training in Paris where he met some of the leading artists of the day.
After a stint in the Navy serving as an illustrator during World War I, Benton set up shop in New York City. His early paintings were influenced by the avant-garde but seem uncertain and confused.
Benton eventually embraced his natural style and became inspired by the music, folk tales and working class of rural America. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he co-founded the realist art movement known as Regionalism.
Benton’s large-scale, historically-themed paintings were controversial but they also garnered him great notoriety as a muralist. In the mid 1930s, Thomas Hart Benton appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and was probably the most popular artist working in America.
Benton was also a respected instructor at the Art Students League of New York where he taught the next generation of emerging artists. His prized pupil was a rowdy young man from California named Paul Jackson Pollock.
Under Benton, students were grounded in the fundamentals of composition, drawing, painting and art history. During class, Pollock learned about the importance of structure, preparation and patience.
While they were together on a summer sketching tour of the western United States, Tom extolled the virtues of realism. Benton was like a father-figure to Pollock who eagerly absorbed his mentor’s ideas.
Later though, Pollock changed course and rebelled against realism as he sky-rocketed to fame during the abstract expressionist movement. Many people believe Jackson Pollock is the greatest American painter of all-time.
Frustrated by the people, politics and lifestyle that typified the Northeast, Benton vehemently rejected abstract art and returned to his homeland. Back in the Show-Me-State, he accepted a teaching position at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Always on the go, Benton was a hard living son-of-a-gun whose work ethic was undeniable. He spent so much time preparing sketches, studies and sculpted models that by the time he put brush to board, the painting was finished in a flash.
Benton’s work is a mix of the academic and the modern. His reverence for the Old Masters is blended with his knowledge of the new. His finished paintings are remarkably simplified as all unnecessary details are ruthlessly eliminated.
Benton’s artwork is athletic, it exudes a dynamic masculinity that features strong lighting and bold coloring. His billowy compositions seem to flow like sheet music as his elongated figures swirl dramatically across the scene and look like they’ve been chiseled out of granite.
Critics called him stubborn, arrogant and outspoken but armed with a confrontational disposition, Benton was never afraid to fire back. As a matter of fact, it was his vitriolic rants leveled against the art establishment that cost him lucrative jobs.
After World War II, extreme abstraction steamrolled through the art world. The recognizable form was destroyed as paint was splashed and splattered onto canvases across the country. Benton’s Regionalism was dismissed as a sentimental caricature of days gone by.
Relegated to a mere footnote in most art history books, the Regionalists have recently been rediscovered. A new appreciation for their philosophy and work definitely warrants further study.
At a time when the art world was consumed with all things French, Benton broke from European Tradition and traveled to our heartland where he romanticized the regional scene.
He was a strong-willed searcher from Missouri that always lived life on the edge. Thomas Hart Benton was a teacher, writer, musician and most truly of all, an American artist.
|Arts of the West|
|Desert Still Life|
|Lewis and Clark at Eagle Creek|
|People of Chilmark|
|Plowing it Under|
|Sources of Country Music|
|The Wreck of the Old 97|
|Time Magazine Cover (1934)|
Shrine Pass - A Remarkable Passageway
|Shrine Pass, Colorado|
Up at the apex of Vail Pass there's a bumpy side-road that will take you even higher. Once a vital link between the Blue and Eagle River valleys, Shrine Pass is now considered a scary shortcut to Red Cliff but it's more than just that.
Shrine Pass is a remarkable alpine passageway traversing the spine of a continent. The high altitude realm is know for deep snow, rock slabs and cold silence. An evening arrival will offer unfiltered light and long shadows.
Perched on top of the world, a birds-eye view features a circular array of snowy peaks. From this lofty throne, you'll command views of the stupendous Sawatch, tremendous Ten Mile and gorgeous Gore Ranges.
The roll-call of mountain chains within reach of your retina is impressive. Our late fall visitation was a fantastic experience but I'm looking forward to a warm weather return when the hillsides are transformed into a wildflower wonderland.
|A bumpy, dirt road|
|An alpine passageway|
|A high altitude realm|
|Unfiltered light and long shadows|
|Perched on top of the world|
|An array of snowy peaks|
Juniper Pass - A Lofty Nemesis
|Juniper Pass, Colorado|
"Always do what you are afraid to do." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the pinnacle of Squaw Pass Road there's a crossways notch in the landscape known as Juniper. Often overlooked on the way to Echo Lake, the route is garnished with dangerous cliffs, perilous drop-offs and extreme vertigo.
Here, the Mount Evans Wilderness is a wide expanse of pristine terrain, timber and terror. Crowned with snow-capped peaks, the dramatic composition is classic Colorado. It's a solitary confrontation with a lofty nemesis.
A narrow strip of spruce and fir forest clings to the sheer headwall while stately cypresses of juniper decorate the edge of this rugged realm. Scrambling across this exposed ridge in the open air is a harrowing experience.
Trekking through the forbidding gap will challenge your strength, athleticism and acrophobia but during these times of turmoil and chaos, an indispensable courage will be summoned from places unknown.
Fortunately, the seldom climbed crags are secretly hidden in a beautiful, sub-alpine setting. Just below the Continental Divide at 12,00 feet, what better place to face one's fear than straddling this frightening watershed.
|At the pinnacle of Squaw Pass Road|
|Steep cliffs ahead|
|Mount Evans Wilderness|
|A wide expanse of pristine terrain|
|A narrow strip of spruce and fir|
|A rugged realm|
|An exposed ridge|
|A forbidding gap|
|The crags are hidden|
|A frightening watershed|
Winter Light - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Winter Light" Colored Pencil|
On a chilly winter evening, a pair of ponderosa pine are glowing from the last bit of twilight. As the sun sets, Bergen Peak turns solemn and casts a shadow across the ochre meadow.
Capturing the simple scene is a tranquil form of study. Brown grasses swirl across the foreground’s surface just like waves in the nearby watercourse.
The size, shape and personality are scrutinized while rendered carefully with subtle shades of green. Not every needle is necessary, only the essential character is examined.
The present position is cold, gloomy and dark but just over the rise, everything is bathed in a warm, golden light. Stay on the trail to learn the correct answer.
When it comes to studying under Mother Nature, there’s no need for grades. You’ll soon discover that everything out here is either pass or fail.
Mount Moran - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Mount Moran" Colored Pencil|
On a sunny, summer morning in the Tetons, Mount Moran is a massive monolith that’s been exiled to the northern front. Isolated from the rest of the range, the remote mountain is extremely inaccessible and virtually unclimbable.
The chilling buttress is violet by nature but on this day a golden light infuses the scene with an inviting warmth that tempts the viewer to linger. There are no foothills to soften the blow as the massif rises suddenly out of a decorative forest of pine.
The placid peak deserves a dramatic portrait so crisp highlights and strong shadows define its chiseled features. Great glaciers have gouged its profile and relinquished eternal snowfields that glisten white all year long.
The serene mountain is named after artist Thomas Moran, who accompanied survey expeditions into the Rockies during the 1800s. Moran documented the extraordinary landscape of the American West through drawings, paintings and prints.
A disciple of J. M. W. Turner, Moran’s masterpieces eloquently express the light and beauty of our nation’s early frontier. When his enormous canvases were viewed by the fine folks back East, his work caused a sensation.
There is no doubt that Moran’s pictures were influential in the government’s decision to transform the Yellowstone region into America’s first national park. Awesome, austere and artistic, Mount Moran is a memorable tribute to one of my favorite artists.
Glacier Gorge - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Glacier Gorge" Colored Pencil|
Sculpted in rock by wind and ice, Glacier Gorge is a dramatic dreamscape. The rocky ravine is renowned for its rugged peaks, raging waterfalls and remote lakes. This composition depicts the unforgettable entry into that complicated chasm where morning sun creates strong contrast and dark shadows.
Sharp clouds are settled in a blended-blue sky. The violet backdrop of rocky mountains is capped by the square summit of Longs Peak. Gashed by Glacier Creek, the canyon walls are purple and pink. The rush of turquoise water streams down from Mills Lake and exits the scene.
Luckily, a rock ledge in the foreground lures the viewer back in by promising a perfect overlook. So close to the tundra, the shapes and sizes of weather-beaten trees becomes surreal. Complying with a risky intent, the pine-forest-passage is expressed through subtle insinuation.
Still stored in the mind, a hazy memory from last summer was guided by an unsure left hand. After a winter in hibernation, it’s time to wake from slumber. Although imagination is an option, the search for subject matter continues. So for now, it’s back to the drawing board.
Silverton Colorado - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Silverton Colorado" Colored Pencil|
Silverton, Colorado sits in a deep valley enclosed by enormous mountains. Presiding over the highest district in the United States, the San Juan County Courthouse is seated just above cement creek. Clear and cold, the spring runoff rushes over a rocky creek bed and out of the foreground.
Stretching ever skyward, the stately structure bears a striking resemblance to the silvery peaks that surround it. With an air of unnatural perfection, a grouping of cylindrical pine trees stands at attention. A rickety bridge is a surprisingly sturdy link between architecture and the alpine tundra.
The rustic buildings are as colorful as the town's storied past. Silverton is a former mining camp that was characterized by a rough and rowdy bunch. This melting-pot of personalities partook in a variety of unseemly activities, such as drinking, gambling, prostitution and robbery to name a few.
Distinguished by turbulent weather and long, severe winters, surviving in such a harsh environment requires a hardy soul. At such an extreme elevation, while strolling in the middle of smokey-blue mountains, the sensitive searcher can't help but absorb this undeniable spirit of the San Juans.
Spring Snow - A Monochrome Maelstrom
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
~ Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man
Spring began with a kaleidoscope of bright colors but scarcely into the new season and a surprise snowstorm converted the saturated scenery to grayscale. Moist flakes were dumped for days and eventually exceeded three feet.
The monochrome maelstrom brought much needed moisture to the mountains and composed a magnificent landscape etched in black and white. Pale peaks melted into a misty atmosphere while the forest featured vertical patterns of textured trees.
Traversing across Elk Meadow, the heart-pounding hike was a recurring lesson in faith and patience. Even after a dreary Sunday evening spent trudging through deep snow, it is still human nature to always find fresh cause for optimism.
|A surprise snowstorm|
|The scenery was converted to grayscale|
|Three feet of snow|
|A monochrome maelstrom|
|Much needed moisture|
|A landscape etched in black and white|
|Peaks melted into the atmosphere|
|Vertical patterns of textured trees|
|Fresh cause for optimism|
Bluebirds - Territory, Temperament and Fire
The annual return of mountain bluebirds to Noble Meadow is a sure sign of spring. This year though, curious newcomers have burst onto the scene. Western bluebirds can now be observed foraging in the splendid field. Hopefully, this stubborn pair of creatures can set aside their age-old differences and find enough space to coexist up here.
The longstanding feud between these beautiful birds is based on territory, temperament and fire. After years of intense study, biologists may have discovered a behavioral difference that seems to give the western bluebird an advantage over the mountain bluebird when it comes to this geographical dispute.
Western bluebirds are facultative cooperative breeders. Meaning, some adult offspring postpone breeding for a year or two to help their parents raise nestlings. A young, male western bluebird has two life choices. He can stay at home and care for siblings in exchange for a small piece of family property or he can strike out on his own in search of new land.
In general, the bold explorers are aggressive and independent while the timid homebodies are peaceful and nurturing. The more assertive westerns will outcompete mountain bluebirds and displace them from prime habitat. The passive type of western bluebird soon follows and creates a more stable, permanent population.
Historically, the fascinating relationship between these two species has always been complicated. For thousands of years natural wildfires used to cleanse the valley forests. Woodpeckers were first to colonize these burn areas and create cavities in the dead and decaying trees. Mountain bluebirds arrived next and happily inhabited these ready-made nest sites.
Later, the feisty western bluebirds would gradually appear and within 20 years completely drive out the mountain bluebirds. Able to survive in a harsh environment where the westerns cannot, the mountain bluebirds retreated to the high country and waited for the next lowland fire to re-set the process and start over. This rhythmic tug-of-war went on for generations.
A hundred years ago, humans began to drastically reshape the western landscape. Fires were suppressed and lush valleys were logged and cleared for agricultural use. As a result, fragile bluebird habitat was destroyed forever. Western bluebirds virtually disappeared and a few, adaptable mountain bluebirds fled for the hills. The birds became critically endangered.
Devised by conservationists, ranchers and birders, a desperate plan to save the beleaguered birds featured trails of man-made nest boxes that were placed 100 to 300 yards apart. The miraculous effort was an immediate success as mountain bluebirds came flocking back to inhabit the shiny, new structures.
Just like before, western bluebirds slowly showed up and eventually expelled the mountain bluebirds. The nest box campaign undoubtedly saved the birds but it may have also created an unintended effect. The western bluebirds have established an enduring, low-elevation home and with no fires to reset the landscape, mountain bluebirds have no chance at winning back that life zone.
Currently, the westerns tend to dominate the lower meadows and fields so most mountain bluebirds will be restricted to higher elevations, a place where the westerns have been unable to expand. This is because the negligent explorers don’t support nesting females during incubation and birth. As a result, western nestlings are often unable to survive late-spring snowstorms.
It appears as though these two species will be permanently segregated with some instances of overlap occurring at the middle elevations. This delicate balance of give and take is just another example of the ever-evolving relationship on earth between nature and man.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next at Noble Meadow but with camera in hand, rest assured that I’ll be keeping an eye on the situation. I enjoy the sight and sound of both of these lovely, little birds so if all goes well, I will continue to luckily see their splashes of brilliant color in our ochre meadows.
|A sure sign of spring|
|A curious newcomer|
|Male westerns have to make a choice|
|The westerns are more aggressive|
|Mountain bluebirds have adapted to the high country|
|Mountain bluebird female|
|Western bluebirds dominate the lowlands|
|Mountain bluebirds are restricted to higher elevations|
|Western bluebirds are gradually appearing|
|What will happen next?|
|A splash of color in an ochre meadow|
Echo Lake - A Beautiful Pearl
|Echo Lake, Colorado|
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” ~ Christopher McCandless
Positioned in an area known for its precious metal, Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl set below a string of snow-capped peaks. It’s nestled just beyond Squaw Pass at the base of the Mount Evans massif. Known for its turbulent nature, the passive reservoir was rendered mute during our visit.
We encountered the place during calm weather and experienced an unusual sense of peace and tranquility. Still sleepy beneath a blanket of deep snow, the placid lake was a circle of serenity. From atop a steep overlook, we could see the white wilderness gradually rise above a black forest.
Long shadows were cast quietly across the surface of the frozen pond. The alluring landscape was a perfect place to recapture an adventurous spirit. Trudging through that ghostly forest, there was something mysterious about its appearance that invoked a stoic soul to passionately search for more.
|Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl|
|A string of snow-capped peaks|
|Nestled below the Mount Evans massif|
|A passive reservoir|
|A placid circle of serenity|
|A rocky overlook|
|A white wilderness|
|Rises above the forest|
|A quiet, frozen pond|
|An alluring landscape|
|A ghostly forest|
|Search for more|
Snow Over the Rockies - A Picturesque Storm
|Storm over the Rockies|
"The sun'll come out tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun." ~ Annie Bennett
During a peaceful day in the Front Range foothills, the big peaks became embroiled in a picturesque snowstorm. Unwilling to yield, rays of rebellious light continued to stream through the wild blue yonder.
Full of obvious indifference, great gray clouds descended onto the scene. The outlook turned ominous almost instantly as the gradual process of image disintegration occurred before my very eyes.
As the turbulent weather continued, mountains melted into the tempestuous firmament. The beautiful beginning forecasted a picture-perfect future but after the promising start, just like that, the sun was gone.
|A peaceful day in the foothills|
|The big peaks|
|Embroiled in a picturesque storm|
|Clouds began to gather|
|Dark clouds descend|
|The outlook turned ominous|
|Mountains melted into the firmament|
|The sun will come out tomorrow|
Gore Range Twilight - A Heavenly Glow
|The impressive Gore Range|
North out of Silverthorne on a late fall evening, I made a desperate rush up Ute Pass Road to beat the fading light. Backlit by the setting sun, the blue mountains were outlined with a heavenly glow.
From an elevated plateau on the other side of the valley, the steepness of the rugged range appeared exaggerated. Positioned at such a high vantage point, the horizon looked like shark's teeth.
The jagged Gore Range had shattered the Colorado sky. Shooting across the panorama of pretty peaks, I was able to snap several pictures but as darkness devoured the landscape, a shaky hand forced me back down the hill.
Below on the Blue River, the silvery summits had disappeared. Stretched out across the contours of undulating hills, only dark shadows betrayed the mysterious behemoths looming above.
|Blue mountains were backlit|
|A heavenly glow|
|An elevated plateau|
|Other side of the valley|
|The peaks are extremely steep|
|The rugged Gore Range|
|The sky was shattered|
|Darkness began to devour the landscape|
Wasatch Mountains - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Wasatch Mountains" Colored Pencil|
This drawing depicts a sweeping view of Utah's Wasatch Mountains on a sparkling, summer day. Bordered by great, salt flats, the gorgeous range rises inexplicably out of the dry, desert sand. Here, the Lower Bells Canyon is a lofty oasis providing respite from the lively lowlands.
The foreground is filled with grasses of green and gold while stair-stepped through the rubble of smooth rocks, a shallow stream is a turquoise outlet. It's a place positioned at the mouth of a steep gorge where a murky reservoir is concealed by fresh greenery.
The entire scene is backlit by mid-morning sun as demonstrated by the dark shadows defining the wavy, white clouds. The background features rugged peaks that descend into the distance while a row of blue brush forms a boundary between the forest and high plateau.
A variety of lush vegetation occupies the wet valley where verdant shades of color are too numerous to decipher. Preceded by a remarkable reputation, it's an Eden where the visitor is reminded that the natural beauty of the American, western landscape will always ring true.
Clear Creek - A Transparent Torrent
|Clear Creek at Golden, Colorado|
On a gorgeous evening in Golden, Colorado, Clear Creek is undeniably liberated from winter's icy grasp. As the cold season draws to a close, we are challenged to emerge from our dark den.
The great thaw continues and soon this silent stream will be transformed into a transparent torrent, flowing below a series of rustic bridges. Off towards the setting sun, a deep gorge was hewn by this wonderful waterway.
Rushing down out of the foothills, a deluge of glacial water causes the snowy banks to collapse. Bordering the rock-filled river, bare trees are unable to divert the air of changing seasons.
Packed with deep snow, the canyon trail is mired in an eternal shadow. Backlit beneath billowy clouds, the blue mountains remain anything but glum. A cheerful spirit permeates the entire landscape.
It's on a special night just like this that I'm reminded. When an extraordinary light shines down from above, it reveals a certain truth and beauty hidden deep inside us all.
|A gorgeous evening in Golden|
|Rushing out of the foothills|
|Snowy banks have collapsed|
|Bare trees border the creek|
|The blue mountains are backlit|
|A cheerful spirit permeates the landscape|
|An extraordinary light|
Western Nebraska - A Winter Walk
|Silent Shadows at Dugout Creek|
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." ~ John Muir
This past winter, western Nebraska was a wonderland. Wandering around in bad weather, I wasn't expecting to find much during my nature walk. Surprisingly, the normally stark Sandhills sparkled with a glow not usually seen.
The wide, blue sky was a dramatic backdrop enhancing the deep, white snow. The abandoned Northport school was eerily concealed by a congregation of old cottonwoods. Down the way, strange, dark shadows stretched quietly across Dugout Creek.
Where the river ran high, a persistent heron hunted along the mighty North Platte. Flitting swiftly through a yellow thicket, resident sparrows searched for corn while perched on a high snag, a striking kestrel kept an eye out for unsuspecting prey.
South of the settlement where whiteout conditions existed, Courthouse and Jail were mere apparitions barely visible above the creekside campground. There, jackrabbits burst out of hiding and accelerated across the open prairie, leaving canine pursuers in their dust.
After time spent visiting hills, rivers, the Rocks, creeks and cornfields, it was back to Bridgeport. The town where trails converge. During the holiday season, I always feel thankful but on that day, I was especially grateful for nature's unexpected generosity.
|The Sandhills sparked|
|Dramatic, blue skies|
|Abandoned Northport School|
|The river ran high|
|The mighty North Platte|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Sparrows in a yellow thicket|
|A striking kestrel|
|Courthouse and Jail were ghosts|
Elk Meadow - Blue is Beautiful
|Pine tree shadows at Elk Meadow|
Last Saturday, sloshing through Elk Meadow was an enlightening experience. While breaking trail below Bergen Peak, the winter landscape was presented as an airy palette of pastels.
A dark note set within a sea of snow, an old barn drew the photographer's attention. Built back in the 1800s, the faithful stable has become a scenic symbol for the town's steadfast spirit.
Streaming down from above, a ribbon of icy indigo produced a gentle cascade. Up at the overlook, a cluster of ponderosa pine created cobalt shadows that followed the field's wavy contours.
Still too early for birds to be back, our only companion in the white wilderness was a clever coyote. After a gloomy week of miserable weather, an exuberant sky was sprinkled with powder blue.
Wandering through the mountains warmed our hearts and melted the melancholy. Despite this dreary time being filled with snow and cold, don't be downcast. Look at the bright side, at least blue is beautiful.
|Sloshing through Elk Meadow|
|An airy palette of pastels|
|The old barn|
|A scenic symbol|
|A ribbon of icy indigo|
|A clever coyote|
|A gloomy week of weather|
|An exuberant sky|
|Blue is beautiful|
Golden Eagle - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Golden Eagle" Colored Pencil|
Perfectly integrated into its environment, the golden eagle is a highly evolved bird of prey. The regal dignitary is a versatile hunter armed with an array of deadly cutlery. This keen-eyed, king of the birds may be the most impressive monarch in the animal kingdom.
The imperial eagle has been an everlasting symbol of strength and power. An icon of religious adoration, the golden eagle was revered in ancient Rome as the god Jupiter's personal messenger. Speeding across the heavens with astonishing speed and maneuverability, it was thought to have thunderbolts in its talons.
A world away, Native Americans also worshiped the Thunderbird. They believed this sacred deity was a link between mortals and the Great Spirit. When falconry flourished in Europe, the esteemed eagle was flown by kings only.
Gliding between cliffs from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, the golden eagle is one of the most fierce predators on the planet. If it gets hungry, watch out because almost any species on earth is fair game.
Our early ancestors may have been hunted by gigantic birds of prey. A swooping sneak-attack would have come from above. So, who can blame you for being innately afraid while in the shadow of a ravenous raptor.
Those restless nights of tossing and turning are difficult, I know. Just be careful if you're searching for sleep by counting sheep because a massive, brown bird may soar into the subconscious and transform your sweet dreams into your worst nightmare.
Evergreen Lake Spring - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Evergreen Lake Spring"|
After a tiresome winter, it's finally spring at Evergreen Lake where everything appears back in perfect order. The trout are jumping, ducks are quacking and dippers are dipping. Rushing out of the rugged Front Range, Bear Creek becomes a lazy river as it enters the wide reservoir.
The foreground features sparkling highlights that flicker across the icy inlet. On land, the variety of fresh vegetation displays a rich diversity of size, shape and color. Known as Elephant, the big, gray butte concludes the background while wispy, white clouds sweep across a cerulean sky.
An arched footbridge transports the ambler to a winding boardwalk through a marsh of soggy cattails. The yellow reeds are a place where red-wings make a ruckus over food, relationships and intrusion. Despite the blackbirds' disruption, most creatures consider the warmer weather a Godsend.
Pressed beneath an arctic crush, we welcome spring as an uplifting transition to a short, summer season. At this point, the fate of our fleeting bliss is determined by the courage of a hairy, little whistle-pig. Once again, not surprisingly, we're looking at eight more weeks of winter.
Sneffels Range Spring - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Sneffels Range Spring" Colored Pencil|
Tucked discretely below the Dallas Divide, the Sneffels is a scenic sub-range of the San Juan Mountains. The confusion of untidy crags is a rugged remnant of an ancient volcano. It's late spring but bare rock is beginning to emerge from a shroud of heavy, winter snow.
A row of crooked cottonwoods is an elaborate gateway into the Colorado wild. Patches of delicate dandelions are scattered throughout the lush meadow while an assembly of blazing brush complicates an already busy foreground.
As a gray sky drizzles the landscape with cold rain, receding into the distance, colors cool from violet to blue-green. A series of spectacular buttes is a scenic prelude to an awesome alpine environment where a single, cautious stroke defines the ragged peaks.
Composed from equal parts image, experience and memory, this drawing was not meant to hang on a wall. It's more of a sketch than a showpiece. A little bit looser and fabricated with less concern, sometimes a simple study is more satisfactory than the final, finished work.
Maroon Bells Spring - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Maroon Bells" Colored Pencil|
Years ago after a heartbreaking winter, all hope was lost. The apathetic winds and embittered cold were just more salt in the wound. Unable to recover, an excursion to the medicinal Maroon Bells offered rebirth. The mountain refuge promised restfulness, remedy and reinvigoration.
Springtime in the Rockies is so pretty. Nothing in nature can match its perfection. After a dreary dark-season, the longer luminance sparks a renaissance of optimism, light and life. Decorated with patterns of pure green, the entire landscape is laid out with unabashed affection.
The muddy path to Maroon Lake is an uplifting pilgrimage to Colorado's scenic paragon. The regenerative powers of such an enchanting place is simply undeniable. It's outlet blocked by broken branches, the deep-blue lagoon is bordered by grassy banks and bushes.
Commanding the composition, the rugged, purple peaks are serrated with wedges of white snow. Yellow wildflowers dot the foreground while rock-solid clouds are structured in the sky above. Across the way, a dark, pine fortress stands over a slide of pink rubble.
Often criticized for its naive draughtsmanship and unnatural color blending, this piece was not manufactured as a window into reality. This drawing is an honest expression that's meant to convey true feelings conceived in the heart.
Monument Canyon - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Monument Canyon" Colored Pencil|
Out in western Colorado, the pinon-covered plateau is sliced by a peculiar gorge that appears more alien than Mars. Under a searing, summer sun, Monument Canyon is an inconceivable gateway to the Great American Desert but this sweeping panorama isn't make-believe.
Like some garden of unearthly delights, chiseled sandstone pinnacles tower above a devil's den of arid habitat. The dazzling landscape is distinguished by sharp contrasts in value and color. In order to express the oppressive heat, a palette of warm tones is required.
Beaming down from above, a radiant light polishes the red rocks with bleached highlights and dark shadows. Below, colors clash on the canyon floor where passages of green brush speckle the scorched earth. Behind, a hazy shelf of Book Cliffs becomes blueish-gray.
The piece is meant to be an accurate representation of the view from an outstanding overlook along Rim Rock Drive. So if it seems like a study in Surrealism, nothing could be further from fact. This detailed drawing is a classic case of the truth being stranger than fiction.
Dragon Duel - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Dragon Duel" Colored Pencil|
"Riddles my weapons. Answers my shield. Though you battle with wit, I'll never yield."
Slowly the clamped teeth loosened. The watching dragons collectively sighed in disappointment. But the confrontation was not over.
"My wit is quite sharp," responded the leader, "as sharp as my claws and teeth. One wound means your life as surely as this battle will.
"And if my riddle wounds you?" asked Strange One.
"You and your servant leave here alive. You, as an unnatural dragon, are outcast and banished from the gatherings forever..."
My friend, Cindy Schuricht, asked me to illustrate the preceding passage for the cover of her new book, Secrets of the Flame - The Power to Protect. Considered a magical fantasy the story is categorized as juvenile fiction. Written in a whimsical format, Secrets teaches us the hard truth about letting go. In the tradition of an American fable, this tale spotlights the farm, family and freedom.
Each year, under the eerie glow of a full moon, thousands of dragons gather atop a ring of remote, jagged peaks. At this sacred place, ancient rituals arouse the mind, body and spirit. The cold, mountain air is filled with recollections, racing reptiles and riddles.
In the drawing above, two combatants square off in a war of words. It's a composition chock-full of classic contrasts where the undisputed commander challenges the cocky youngster. The fiery-red behemoth is fuming with white-hot impatience while the strange fledgling exudes a certain innocence.
The desperate, little dragon hopes to stump the sore loser and escape with his skin and an unexpected servant. The chronicles continue at a lively pace as the fate of Strange One's family comes to the forefront. From there, further reading is required to reach the final resolution.
Please visit Cindy's website for more information: Hundred Book Pile-up
The wonderful book is currently available at Amazon.com: Secrets of the Flame
Last Dollar Road - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Last Dollar Road" Colored Pencil|
It's a wet spring day in southwestern Colorado. Along a rough edge of the San Juans, sculpted spires are an astonishing work of art. Standing in an ochre meadow, a grove of gray aspen is topped with a canopy of fresh green while olive-colored hills rise into a seamless transition with the silver mountains.
Hayden is the prominent centerpiece of this fine bouquet of pretty peaks. Slightly offset, the festive summit to the right is aptly named North Pole. This open passage over the magnificent mesa described here will lead the lucky driver on an epic adventure.
To find this place, come down out of the Black Canyon, head south from Montrose along the Uncomphagre Plateau, take a right at Ridgeway and you'll discover the Dallas Divide. Up top there's a dirt path that's an obscure shortcut to the town of Telluride.
Snaking through the Sneffels Range, the scenic side-trip may slow your car down but the divine drive will raise your spirits up. So, if you ever find yourself in Ridgeway, make sure you've got some money in your pocket and take the secret, Sunday drive down Last Dollar Road.
Blue Lakes - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Blue Lakes" Colored Pencil|
On a cold, clear morning near Breckenridge, icy Blue Lakes is a stark land of rock, snow and ice. It's early summer but the orange peaks still dwell in winter's blue shadow. The mountain melt is a gradual process described with gradients of indigo and gold.
After a season of somber gray, passages of fluid color are emerging from beneath the thick, white impasto. Long slides of ochre-stained snow descend to the water's edge and are swallowed by the merciless, dark reservoir.
Due to the warmer dawn, spectacular bergs of emerald ice are beginning to break apart. The foreground is filled with a confusing jumble of fractured frozen-water where shards of sparkling silver frost succumb to the menacing pond.
The array of awesome alps is a monument to an earlier epoch. On this day, the jagged ridgeline is an exciting contour that encloses the entire cirque while a network of slushy snow makes navigating the upper reaches a slippery pursuit.
The struggle to attain a resistant pinnacle examines even the most enthusiastic explorer. Within this simplified circle of rock, the resolute wanderer will hopefully find enough peace, strength and conviction to scramble through another year.
Evening Light Evergreen - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Evening Light Evergreen" Colored Pencil|
"Through art we can change the world." ~ #twitterartexhibit
Regal elk graze peacefully in a rolling meadow near Evergreen, Colorado. Evening light infuses the landscape with a golden hue befitting this heavenly kingdom. It's fall so long shadows form undulating lines across the yellow field.
Stately ponderosa pine swirl towards the cerulean sky, trying to soak in the sun's last rays. In the background, a ring of soft blue peaks enhances an already elegant atmosphere.
It's such a simple scene but it means so much to me. After years of searching while on a never-ending quest, I feel like I've traveled a million miles. I truly believe this place is where I belong. I'm lucky, this is home.
Evening Light Evergreen is my contribution to the upcoming Twitter Art Exhibit: Moss. This unique event is an international exhibition of original postcard art benefiting Home-Start Moss, a nonprofit organization helping families in need.
Home-Start believes that every child deserves the best start in life. By matching experienced volunteers to families with young children, Home-Start provides support that is free to the family, confidential, and based on individual needs.
Volunteers do not make judgements or tell the parents how to live their lives; instead, they try to encourage confidence and independence, and help families build their own networks of friends and other support.
Twitter Art Exhibit: Moss is the fifth installment of an open international exhibition of handmade postcard art for charity, donated by hundreds of participating artists from around the globe.
Social media plays a major role in Twitter Art Exhibit. It is their intention to tweet, share, seed and promote the artists to thank them for their participation, and to make this event a huge success.
For more information, please check out this link: #twitterartexhibit
Bald Eagles - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Bald Eagles" Colored Pencil|
High above a big, blue reservoir, snow-covered peaks form an impressive backdrop as a pair of bald eagles secure their lofty roost. The fish-filled lake will provide the birds of prey with plenty of food for an entire winter.
Always around water, the white-headed raptor is an opportunistic angler. Though an apex predator, it's versatile enough to procure a meal by any means necessary, including hunting, scavenging or outright thievery.
Native to North America, the bald eagle is the undisputed emblem of the United States. Pesticides and hunting by paranoid ranchers almost exterminated our national bird but with proper protection, it has recovered and is prospering across the union.
A powerful patriot, the high-flying eagle is a symbol of everlasting liberty. We watch enviously as the wide-winged warrior soars freely through spacious skies above, while us downtrodden dreamers remain confined to the earth below.
White Ranch Park - The Perfect Showcase
|White Ranch Park|
Located northwest out of Golden, White Ranch Park is an open space that offers plenty of room to roam. Upon entering through an elaborate gateway, you'll discover a rugged landscape carved by Van Bibber Creek.
The lush environment is a birder's paradise that, after crossing an old wooden bridge, gives way to steep hillsides. Teeming with wildlife as well, the scrub forest is most definitely the domain of the mule deer.
Spring is busy. The place is bursting with renewed activity. Filled with cold runoff, the resilient Van Bibber rushes down out of snowy Front Range Peaks. Concealed in the canopy of fresh yellow and green, noisy birds are building nests.
Summer is hot and dry. Quiet days give way to afternoon thunder showers that quench the parched brook. As evening descends and temperatures cool, the park comes to life. A chorus of happy birds serenades the deer grazing on grassy, green knolls.
Fall is pretty. Jagged Devil's Thumb rises out of a hellish furnace of blazing colors. The rocky creek is barely more than a trickle and the birds have flown south. The horses are still out to pasture and rabbits have retired to the briar.
Winter is difficult. Devoid of life, the tradeoff for solitude is bitter cold. Punctured by frosted boulders, the frozen stream is an icy corridor winding through a winter wonderland. The bluffs are brown and serrated by rippled waves of windswept snow.
I don't like change but I've learned to accept it through nature. Over the past few years, White Ranch has proven to be the perfect showcase for observing the evolving seasons. The beauty of the park is its ever-changing nature.
No matter when we go, the varied landscape offers the explorer a unique experience. Depending on the light, weather and color, each season is distinguished by a distinct display of fleeting attributes. Except for winter, it seems to last forever.
|Spring is a time for renewel|
|The Van Bibber rushes down out of the Front Range|
|A resilient, rocky creek|
|Summers are hot and dry|
|Black-headed Grosbeak sings his heart out|
|Mule deer graze peacefully|
|Steep, rugged hillsides|
|Fall is the prettiest time of year|
|Jagged Devil's Thumb Peak|
|The park is beautiful|
|The solitude of winter is bitter cold|
|Frosted boulders and a frozen stream|
|Gateway to a winter wonderland|
South Table Mountain - A Beautiful Bastion
|South Table Mountain|
On a sunny September morn, we got out of our chairs and headed for South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. The inconspicuous trailhead was concealed in an urban environment but after the domestic beginning, we found ourselves in a rugged outback.
Slightly on our way, we encountered a sleepy serpent basking in the warm sunshine. After the rattlesnake rendezvous, we were fueled by a rush of adrenaline. Trailblazing up a series of sharp switchbacks, the heart-pumping path rose quickly.
In the cool, blue shadow of a magnificent mesa, we ascended ever higher. Finally, after a leg-burning scramble through a narrow passage of loose scree, we attained the flat, false summit. Off to the west, a solitary butte was a beautiful bastion overlooking the foothills.
In order to obtain the true finish circle, we mastered the final gut-busting set of steep stairs. From atop the round tower, an oval plateau offered a panorama of the pleasant landscape. After a while, as the sun continued to rise, we began our descent.
The return trek was a knee-pounding drop. A downward spiral emptied into the flowery snake den where the reticent reptile had so unceremoniously slithered off trail. Back at the beginning, hot and tired, a bottle of cold water was welcome refreshment after the weekend workout.
|A rugged outback|
|Rattlesnake basking in the sun|
|A magnificent mesa and its cool, blue shadow|
|The flat, false summit|
|The summit plateau|
|A pleasant landscape|
|A downward spiral|
|A flowery snake den|
Prairie Rattlesnake - An Honorable Asp
"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" ~ Indiana Jones
Dwelling in Colorado's dark underworld, the prairie rattlesnake is a misunderstood animal that always gets a bad rap. Despite its intimidating appearance, the shy serpent is not looking for trouble. As a matter of fact, the reticent reptile does everything in its control to avoid detection and possible conflict. When alarmed, the snake vibrates its tail rapidly creating an unforgettable buzzing sound. The distinct noise is a warning to all who can hear, "Don't tread on me!"
The reclusive rattler is beautifully colored and patterned in such a way that it blends perfectly into the rocky buttes and mesas that fringe the Front Range foothills. During the dog days of summer, it becomes nocturnal. The stealthy snake hunts at night using its innervated pits to detect heat emanating from warm-blooded rodents.
A lightning-quick strike is absolutely lethal. Delivered by two long, hinged fangs, large amounts of toxic venom are injected into hunting bites. Interestingly, some defensive encounters with humans result in a "dry bite". That's when little or no venom is actually released into the person's wound.
If it feels threatened or provoked, the prairie rattlesnake will turn downright nasty on a dime but not without fair warning. The antagonist better proceed with caution because the rattler will fight back fast and furiously. An angry snake will load up with tissue-damaging toxins and strike several times during a single attack.
The honorable asp seems uncannily self-aware of its destructive power and never strikes until it has generously given notice. Luckily for us, the deadly pit viper is distinguished by the beaded rattle on the end of its tail and the snake is conscientious enough to use it.
We encountered the snake pictured in this post while hiking up South Table Mountain in Golden. Comfortable and docile, she was sunning herself in the middle of the path on a cool, September morning. My wife and the dogs unwittingly walked right over the top of the camouflaged snake.
Bringing up the rear, our youngest was first to spot the coiled creature. A scary situation at first, we kept a careful distance and watched the rattler for about fifteen minutes. After a while, probably tired of our persistence, she slowly slithered off of the trail. She never buzzed once.
|An intimidating appearance|
|A reticent rattler|
|Beautifully colored and patterned|
|Buttes and mesas fringe the foothills|
|South Table Mountain trail|
|Sunning in the middle of the path|
|Slowly slithering off trail|
Evergreen Memorial Park - A Pensive Garden
|An impressive bison|
While waiting for practice to end, wandering down to Evergreen Memorial Park is like walking back in time. Set in Colorado's Front Range foothills, the sprawling meadow serves as a cemetery, wildlife preserve and wedding ground. The weathered barn chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, is a symbolic structure and fitting tribute to the early settlers of Evergreen and the Old West.
Just like days gone by, buffalo roam across a golden plain and gather on the muddy banks of a lively watering hole. Occupying a rocky domain, amusing goats and friendly fallow deer greet the visitor with unbridled enthusiasm. Further along the path, an impressive herd of antlered elk is tame enough to be hand-fed. The curious critters use their long, sticky tongues to swipe pellets of compressed hay directly from your clutch.
An interesting ritual is the daily occurrence of congregating clouds that seem to melt into the cool-blue mountains. The fascinating weather effect blesses the evening landscape with a contemplative light not found anywhere else. Surrounded by antiques and artifacts, the pensive Garden of the Pioneers is a peaceful place to remember our past and an inspiring spot to try and foretell the future.
|The weathered barn chapel is symbolic|
|Complete with stained-glass windows|
|Buffalo gather around the watering hole|
|Goats occupy a rocky domain|
|Friendly Fallow deer|
|A herd of antlered elk|
|Tame enough to be hand-fed|
|Clouds and cool-blue mountains|
|Blessed with heavenly light|
|The garden is a peaceful place to remember our past|
Carhenge - A Celebration of Life
On a sultry, summer afternoon, we headed up to the High Plains and investigated a western Nebraska icon. Rising conspicuously out of the verdant corn, Carhenge was constructed 27 years ago as an exact replica of southern England's Stonehenge.
At first, it was considered a despicable eyesore haphazardly fabricated by a crazy farmer but in actuality, it's an admirable display sculpted by a serious artist. Over time as the structure has blended into the environment, locals have not only accepted the work but they have embraced it as their own unique piece of Americana.
Though some may still dismiss Carhenge as the makings of a madman, artist Jim Reinders cleared his field and built it so now we come. Today, people from all over the world arrive in the agricultural town of Alliance, Nebraska to visit the quirky roadside attraction.
The grouping of gray gas guzzlers is a remarkable recreation. Aligned with the summer solstice, Carhenge faithfully replicates Stonehenge's current tumble-down state. As well as the main circle, the exhibit includes two station stones, three upright trilithons, the Slaughter Stone and the mysterious Heel Stone.
For an artisan or photographer, the place is interesting to examine. At the photogenic site, an enormous complex offers tight angles and dark shadows that form interesting compositions at every turn. The cold, Detroit steel contrasts sharply with the undulating Sandhills and billowing, white clouds.
Originally conceived as a memorial, at its core, the monument is a moving tribute to Jim's father. Encouraged to explore freely, children enthusiastically climb cars and kick tires. Whereas the stone slabs of Salisbury are the "Domain of the Dead", the arrangement of American automobiles near Alliance appears to be a celebration of life.
|Constructed 27 years ago|
|Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge|
|A serious sculpture|
|The structure blends into the environment|
|A piece of Americana|
|A quirky roadside attraction|
|Gray gas guzzlers|
|The mysterious Heel Stone|
|A photogenic site|
|Tight angles and dark shadows|
|The monument is a memorial|
|A celebration of life|
Janeway, Colorado - A Rowdy Rest-Area
"Though the white man may take this land, it and everything on it will never make him happy and his endeavors will forever fail." ~ Ute Indian curse after being forcibly removed from the Crystal River Valley
Once upon a time, coal was king...
During the late 1800s, combustible carbon powered locomotives and fired smelters from Aspen to Pueblo. So when "Black Gold" was discovered in Colorado's central Rockies, prospectors, investors and miners saturated the Western Slope. Treaties were broken and the region's native inhabitants, the Utes, were forced to leave their homeland for reservations further removed.
Situated in a rugged ravine, Janeway was a rowdy rest-area for frontiersmen heading into the high country. Originally known as Mobley's Camp, in 1877 the settlement was renamed after its affable innkeeper, Mary Jane Francis. The charming Mary Jane was the most popular resident in this fledgling town of fifty that included a general store, post office, boarding house and saloon.
Wedged into a slender meadow where the Crystal River emerges from a narrow gorge, Janeway offered just enough space for transportation and distribution of goods. At first, serving as a stagecoach stop was sufficient for shuttling passengers to work. Later, more horsepower was required to move the luminous Yule marble being quarried out of the West Elk Mountains.
By 1900, the Crystal River Railway followed the winding watershed all the way to Redstone and Janeway was quickly transformed into a railroad station with a siding for 29 cars. The entire area was prospering with construction, corruption and cash but as prophesied by the "Ute Curse", the success was short-lived.
Around 1910, silver was dropped from the monetary standard and trains were driven by diesel motors so the market for Colorado coal crashed dramatically. During the rapid decline, many of the Crystal River Valley boom towns fell into dark oblivion. Today, all that is left of Janeway are the remains of a lonely, log cabin concealed in the eternal shadow of somber Mount Sopris.
In a greedy rush for wealth, our forefathers may have ultimately failed in their endeavor to rob the land of mineral treasure. Today, one-hundred years later, I believe we've unearthed the true value of the Colorado landscape. I believe we've come to appreciate the precious beauty of these mountains and that does make us happy.
|The Crystal River Valley|
|A rugged ravine|
|Janeway was wedged into a slender valley|
|The Crystal River|
|A lonely, log cabin|
|Somber Mount Sopris|
Garden of the Gods Pikes Peak - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Garden of the Gods Pikes Peak" Colored Pencil|
At first, this unforgettable landscape was a place I could barely remember. Rising out of dark greenery, Garden of the Gods is a glorious gateway to soulful Pikes Peak. The red sandstone slabs stand out sharply against the rugged vegetation resting below.
Above, rumbling with thunder, the swirling sky releases rolling clouds filled with precious rainfall. Receding into the distance, through shades of blue, the massive mountains brace for the incoming storm.
A frequent occurrence in the summer, the entire scene has been simplified into interlocking shapes. Gradients of orange and green describe the desert floor while the peaks are painted with patches of flat, pure pigment.
To really get to know the region, we climbed around on rocky terrain. As for the final drawing, achieving the desired result, required a total recall. Once the misplaced memory returned, finishing this particular project was a piece of cake.
Evergreen Lake Fall - Colored Pencil Drawing
|"Evergreen Lake Fall" Colored Pencil|
It's a cheerful, chilly day at Evergreen Lake in colorful Colorado. Elk are in the annual rut and a bull's haunting bellow echoes through the narrow canyon. Bear Creek remains motionless while fingers of new ice stretch across the frigid stream.
Expressed with disorderly strokes, golden cattails in the foreground are a linear element set against the tonal landscape. Bright, warm tones blaze across the page, contrasting sharply with somber peaks and the icy inlet.
A row of red trees is a transparent partition hinting at the snow-covered lake beyond while whispy, white clouds sail across the clear, blue sky. After such a splendid, sunny season, we're hoping an awesome autumn awaits.
The busy boardwalk is uncharacteristically quiet and most of the birds have bolted for warmer climes. Even so, Fall is probably my favorite time of year. So, enjoy our exquisite Indian Summer while it's here because soon the snow will be flying.
Epaulet Mountain - A Remote Sanctuary
I've been here before, up at the top of Mount Evans Road. But on this day, I'm not sure which way to go. Wasting no more time, I've made up my mind. It's Epaulet Mountain that I'm going to climb. Here I go again on my own.
In the shadow of Evans and Bierstadt, Epaulet is a humble hill that's always been outshone. During this lonely trek of dreams, I'm miles above treeline and totally alone. Across the way there's lovely Rosalie. Pointed peaks pierce the sky like remote islands in a vast, blue sea.
After a solitary scramble to the summit, the extraordinary view is impossible to measure. Hiking the natural pathway out to a farther point is an absolute pleasure. Overlooking a deep abyss of solitude, it's a remote sanctuary where I've gone. I'll keep searching for an answer. Oh Lord, I pray you give me the strength to carry on.
|I've been here before|
|Not sure which way to go|
|Mount Bierstadt and Evans|
|Above treeline all alone|
|Lovely Rosalie is across the way|
|Islands in a vast, blue sea|
|The summit of Epaulet|
|An absolute pleasure|
|A deep abyss|
|A remote sanctuary|
|Give me the strength to carry on|