American Kestrel - Heart over Height

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest and most widespread falcon. This pocket-sized bird of prey is extremely adaptable as she can be found anywhere in the Western Hemisphere from Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

The most colorful of all the raptors, she is distinguished by brown wings as opposed to the male’s beautiful slate blue. Perceiving her identity is practically unmistakable while she’s perched on a small pine scanning the grassland for her favorite food; grasshoppers.

She owes much of her success to a broad diet that includes almost any insect, lizards, snakes, mice and voles. She’s a ferocious predator that has the ability to take red squirrels and small birds especially sparrows while still on the wing.

She’s the fearless matriarch of a tight-knit group as both parents are equally active in rearing the young. Often, the whole family will go out on a hunting foray as it’s an effective way to teach the fledglings how to stalk prey.

American Kestrels nest in cavities but they lack the ability to excavate their own. They rely on old woodpecker holes, natural tree hollows, rock crevices, and nooks in buildings and other human-built structures.

With plenty of available resources, this sparrow hawk is a permanent resident of the Rocky Mountains. Colorado is her home and she’ll spend her entire life here, flourishing happily even during the region’s cold and snowy winter.

Despite her small size, this little bird is a courageous warrior so don’t dismiss her diminutive nature. When it comes to the physical attributes necessary to survive in this crazy world, I’d take her heart over height any day.

The smallest and most widespread falcon

A colorful raptor

Scanning the grassland

A ferocious predator

A fearless matriarch

The sparrow hawk

A permanent resident

Flourishing happily

A courageous warrior

Heart over height

Bear Gulch - A Dragon's Den

Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch is a steep ravine knifing through the forested foothills of Genesee Park, Colorado. Once you enter into the forbidding chasm, a rocky trail goes downhill all the way.

Upon leaving the land of brilliant light, this seedy underworld is thick with thorny brush and tangled trees. A murky creek cascades quietly through the secluded gorge.

Further in, the trek heads down a slippery slope where every step must be taken with extreme caution. A misstep at this position could result in a fall filled with painful repercussions.

At the soggy bottom, water falls over black boulders and broken logs. The sun’s rays barely make it to the base of the canyon but where they do, autumn bushes glow with yellow when set against the somber shadows.

Closed in by rock and mud, the narrow crevasse is cold and damp. You’re separated from the sky and sunny topland but there’s still a bright side to being stuck inside this complicated scenery.

The consolation garnered from descending so far into the dark depths of this smoldering dragon’s den - there’s nowhere else to go but up.

Forested foothills

A seedy underworld

A murky creek

A slippery slope

Water falls over black boulders

A narrow crevasse

The sunny topland

Complicated scenery

A smoldering dragon's den

Nowhere else to go but up

Butterflies and Bison - Beauty and the Beast

Painted Lady Butterflies

During a sunny Saturday while searching for the elusive Genesee bison, a seemingly insignificant insect stole the show. In one day, we must have seen a thousand painted lady butterflies perched on purple thistle and yellow rabbitbrush.

The painted lady prefers the warmer climate associated with the desert southwest and Mexico but after an especially wet winter, they have migrated north en masse. During the hurried return south this fall, their population has exploded.

Fueled by favorable weather conditions and abundant food, they are churning across the American landscape like a cloud of orange smoke. This rare phenomenon is one of nature’s great spectacles, containing an air of mystery and unparalleled beauty.

As for the beasts, we found the buffalo grazing peacefully on a steep hillside near the forest’s edge. At one time, more than a million of these impressive animals roamed without hinderance across the vast Great Plains.

With their numbers greatly reduced, the bison are now confined to public preserves or private ranches. On the other hand, the painted ladies are currently prospering as they can cover 100 miles per day while traveling freely across the entire continent.

These small creatures look fragile but they’re actually quite resilient as the race across our rugged foothills at nearly 30 miles per hour. They don’t have much time to waste because their brief lifespan only lasts for about fourteen days.

During their short existence on this earth, the painted lady butterflies flutter about with a joyful enthusiasm. When contemplating the impending future, take your cue from these fun-loving insects and always try to live your life to the fullest.

The Genesee Bison

Perched on a purple thistle

They've migrated en masse

The population has exploded

Unparalleled beauty

Grazing peacefully

An impressive animal

Painted ladies are prospering

They travel freely

They look fragile

They're quite resilient

They don't have time to waste

A joyful enthusiasm

Live life to the fullest

Cub Creek Park - A Quaint Woodland

Cub Creek Park

Drifting down out of Brook Forest, Cub Creek is a docile stream graced with a friendly disposition. Cut through a quaint woodland, the usually lively stream has been constrained to a trickle this time of year.

Sitting still in the crook of a wide s-curve, the shallow ravine is more like a reflecting pool than a restless torrent. The smooth pond of clear water mirrors the local arrangement with surprising clarity.

A discreet canyon covered with towering pine and spruce encompasses the winding waterway. While wandering along the wide rim, the setting sun's warm rays penetrate the forest's dark interior.

The quiet countryside is suffused with peaceful solitude so it's the perfect place to escape from a chaotic life. Adding to the ambiance, a solitary mule deer has secured a secluded break in the hillside where he grazes with a purpose.

Wishing this belt of paradise would never end, the excursion concludes at the tributary's terminus where it joins Bear Creek just above town. I'm already looking forward to a return to this wilderness where next time maybe I'll get lost and never be found.

A quaint woodland

A reflecting pool

Towering spruce and pine

A discreet canyon

The setting sun

A quiet countryside

Mule deer

I could get lost here

Founders Trail - A Gradual Transition

Dispersing clouds over Bergen Peak

On an early morning in Colorado's Front Range foothills, Founders Trail was blurred in a haze of smokey fog. Dawn broke dark and cold because the sun's warm rays struggled to reach the earth's shrouded surface.

As the day progressed, a west wind was funneled through the pass, dispersing the clouds into tufts of transparent mist. The bleak atmosphere was fractured and translucent beams created a curious pattern of dark and light across the orange meadow.

With the low-lying areas swept clean, only the mountains were embroiled in a tussle with overcast weather. Big peaks braced for action as they pierced the gray blanket while crowning a landscape reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings.

Look closely and you'll see that Mother Nature is making slight changes that are fueled by the rhythm of shifting seasons. Autumn is approaching just as gradually as the last storm that has now receded.

About the same time that the cyan sky broke clear, bluebirds and butterflies appeared en masse during their remarkable migration. As far as the winged travelers are concerned, it's a worrisome transition - I hope they make it home safely.

Dawn broke dark and cold

Wind was funneled through the pass

The clouds were dispersed

Curious patterns of dark and light

An orange meadow

A Lord of the Rings landscape

Shifting seasons

Autumn is approaching gradually

A cyan sky broke clear

Bluebirds

and butterflies

Pass Lakes - A Picture of Perfection

Pass Lakes, Colorado

The ascent begins in the foothills and gradually transforms into an alpine environment where only the strong can survive. Ultimately, the wide open wilderness emerges from a dense woodland called Arapaho National Forest.

High on the Continental Divide, a trio of cobalt-colored lakes dot the tundra landscape. The shimmering, blue jewels are set in a spectacular, flower-filled basin just below the summit of Loveland Pass.

Taking place above tree line, a ring of purple peaks towers over the scenic cirque. Fixed boulders have cascaded onto the plain in a random arrangement, forming a nice foreground for a picture of Colorado perfection.

As beautiful as anywhere in the state, the convenient locale sits smack in the middle between bustling ski resorts. A persistent jaunt will lead you away from the pack and into a paradise of mountainous proportions.

After spending such a glorious day so close to the sun, it's hard to imagine that in a couple of months this place will be buried under deep snow. It's still summer in the lowlands but up here the cool air and swept grasses indicate that a drastic change is blowing in the wind.

Arapahoe National Forest

Cobalt lakes dot the tundra landscape

A flower-filled basin

Just below Loveland Pass

Purple peaks

A scenic cirque

A cascade of boulders

Colorado perfection

A beautiful locale

Mountainous paradise

Windswept grasses

The Old Stone House - A Crumbling Reminder

The old, stone house

Deep in the sandhills of western Nebraska, the old stone house is ruined. It's settled in a secluded valley, serving as a crumbling reminder of days gone by.

One can only imagine what it must have been like during its heyday. Maybe a peaceful retreat far from the bustle of city life as the nearest town was across the river bridge some ten miles away.

It was probably a difficult life dominated by the region's circulation of seasonal weather patterns. The summer sun was searing and the winter storms were brutal.

Raising cattle was the only way to make a living with lush prairie grasses supplying the perfect subsistence for the grazing herd. A deep well was dug and capped with a windmill that poured precious water into a rock-hewn tank.

Wooden planks and posts are scattered across the yard, indicating where the horses were once corralled. Out back in a ravine filled with purple wildflowers, a now rusted pickup would have been a more modern mode of transportation.

There's not another living soul in sight but the dilapidated homestead is haunted by more than just ghosts. Real-life creatures that have learned how to survive in the high plains are still thriving.

The eerie cry of coyotes, echoes through the canyon and prairie rattlesnakes wind their way through spiked yucca. The white-tailed deer moves cautiously through a dry creek while a gray jackrabbit leaves you in his dust.

The mountains are where I like to be but it's always nice to get back home because here, the world's a simpler place. At the end of the day, it’s fitting to watch as that humble box turtle so eloquently expresses this land's slower pace of life.

Deep in the sandhills

The old, stone house is ruined

Settled in a secluded valley

A crumbling reminder

A broken windmill

Horses were corralled here

A rusted pickup truck

A dilapidated homestead

Snakes wind through the yucca

A Talk with the Woods - Learn How to Listen

A Talk with the Woods

“Go sit under a tree and listen and think.” ~ Walt Whitman

This week's post is written by my uncle, Jerry Covault. Jerry is a retired United States Forest Service Ranger. During his 33 years spent working on National Forests in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, he has learned about the relationships between mountains, forests, soils, weather, fire, animals and people.

Jerry shares some of his unique experiences in his new book "About Forests and People". He resolves to stimulate interest and curiosity about trees and forests and how people use them both through the ages and at present time. Jerry also discusses the problems our forests and environment have today and he suggests a few things that can help.

The following essay by Jerry Covault is taken from his book "About Forests and People".

A Talk with the Woods


Fragment: From the Alfoxden Notebook (I)

And never for each other shall we feel
As we may feel, till we have sympathy
With nature in her forms inanimate,
With objects such as have no power to hold
Articulate language. In all forms of things
There is a mind

~ William Wordsworth

The forests’ brilliant colors, spring wildflowers of many kind, is how urgency looks. There’s growing to do! And only a short time to do it. Every plant, from the tallest tree to the smallest forb has to gather “food” and energy to itself and convert that into leaves, stem, roots and flowers. Each flower competes with every other flower in the neighborhood to attract a bee, a wasp, or other bug or breeze to do the pollination so a seed can grow. The motivation for all this activity is nothing less than the life for the individual and perpetuation of the species. That is purposeful action.

But, I’m here in the fall, the season of intensity is over for what we people call “this year”. The growing during the intense season is done, the flowers have done their job, or not. The grass has turned brown, the leaves of the mountain maple and the nine-bark are red, the pine needles are getting a deeper green and the larch needles are beginning to turn yellow, soon they will fall away. On this day the woods are very quiet, here-and-there is the skeleton of a gentian, spring beauty, balsamroot, or any other plant that was green a few weeks earlier. The seeds they produced are tucked into the small spaces between fallen pine needles, grass stems, shallow roots and bodies of insects that made their living eating such stuff. It’s a quiet time. And the woods will tell you that, -- if you listen.

“Listen?” “Listen to what?” “Trees and forbs can’t talk.”

True. But, there is tremendous pleasure in listening, feeling, seeking what the poets know about nature. For millennia those special people have talked about a “consciousness” that exists throughout nature.

“Consciousness?” “What’s that about?”

Start with us, we are conscious beings, that is, we are aware of ourselves and what’s going on around us, and, we have a subconscious somewhere deep within us. If we listen, that subconscious can guide us, more or less, to our own good. It lets us know what we should do and it may provide premonitions. Also, we people have a big, powerful, “what’s happen’en and what to do now” brain that can, and often does, override our subconscious mind. All this is pretty much common knowledge (wives tales) that is now being backed up by the scientists studying the human brain, mind and behavior.

Let’s take that “consciousness” thing into the forest. Every individual there performs certain actions at certain times to perpetuate its individual life and its species. That would seem to qualify as a consciousness, even if there is no big powerful brain to override it (as far as we know). The poets “feel” that consciousness in nature, and so do a lot of non-poets. American Indian stories are about people being “plugged into the natural world” and so are the stories of other cultures. With the fall of a waring and cruel Assyrian king, (700 BCE) the prophet Isaiah wrote about the earth’s reaction saying, “The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us” (Isaiah 14: 7 and 8).

War takes a huge toll on forests, Isaiah is making it clear that forests have a consciousness and awareness of abuse.

Try this. Go to a natural place, leave your troubles, leave economics (not the national debt stuff, the “I want --” stuff - whether it’s catching a fish today, or getting rich), leave science, leave political stuff, leave religion in the rig. Get out and walk on the land -- mountain, plain, forest, grassland, wherever, with your mind like a clean erased blackboard. Be in the now. Really see beauty and feel what there is to feel, let nature write on your blackboard. Sense what’s going on in this place, how it’s doing. What is right and good for this place will start to seep into your mind. You’re becoming aware of the consciousness of that place. The sense of urgency in spring, the sense of quietness in fall, a sense of deep concern when there are threats (fire, disease, human impact), or, if the ecosystem is ill. This is the place’s consciousness.

OK, that sounds like knowing the science of nature, and it is, but science is about collecting and analyzing data to draw conclusions. This is different, if you walk quietly and let awareness rather than facts seep in, that awareness is about the place’s consciousness, that place’s capabilities, purpose, health and susceptibility.

So what? Will all that make anyone any money? Will it help write a paper that will be accepted in a peer reviewed scientific journal?

Probably not. But, it’s a tool that we have never tried to used. We make decisions concerning using natural resources based on economics, laws (influenced by economics), political power (influenced by economics), and (hopefully) science. By now we should be figuring out that there is another player in this equation, NATURE. We need to be consulting nature. What we’ve been doing is like the health insurance company and the doctor deciding to operate without ever consulting the patient. Seeking nature’s consciousness is outside science, outside economics, outside politics, outside man-made laws, and we don’t know how to determine what it is or how to take it seriously in our decision making. We need to learn. We’re facing some big questions that could use some insight - and input - from Nature.

Should we genetically alter animals to grow more food? Have we done right by genetically altering plants to produce more insecticides within their bodies, or resist certain herbicides? Should we be deep drilling for oil in the oceans? Are we right to bring back wolves? If so, where? What do the elk think about that (what’s their consciousness)? What do the aspen forests think about wolves? How many people can our Earth support? At what life style? Global Warming - human caused or not - is telling us something. How can we listen beyond science and economics? How can we use what we and nature “feel” in decision making? How can we use what the poets have been telling us? You can fill in other big questions, and small ones.

Understanding Nature’s consciousness can be the next big tool to help people live better with one another and with our home, Earth. That kind of knowing is beyond science and it is not the pure faith that religion requires. It is an area of knowledge we haven’t developed the tools to investigate, we need to get to work on it, because this Earth is talking to us.

The Tables Turned

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds ands hearts to bless --
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

~ William Wordsworth

There is a real good chance all this will illicit the response, “This is just nuts.” “This would cost us money.” OK, -- Assume that NATURE has no consciousness, no purpose, and we will just forget the whole thing and keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. But, WHOA, do we really think that’s working all that well? Will the way we’re doing things sustain the Earth and us people for the next 400 generations, 10,000 years, and help us to live in harmony with each other and nature? Our present performance isn’t that reassuring.

It’s clear, if we will listen, Nature is not without its own purpose - not without “being” (as in “to have or to be”) - and, she has a lot to say. We can benefit by learning how to listen.

The Logos is Eternal

One must talk about everything according to its nature,
how it comes to be and how it grows.
Men have talked about the world without paying attention
to the world or to their own minds,
as if they were asleep or absent-minded

~ Herakleitos (5th century B.C.)

If you're interested in exploring more about the relationship between people and our forests, please check out this link: About Forests and People

Trees and forbs can't talk

Do trees have a conscience?

Go to a natural place

Go out and walk on the land

Walk quietly

Understanding nature

Let nature be your teacher

Live in harmony with nature

Nature has a lot to say

The Old Stump, Elk Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"The Old Stump, Elk Ridge" Colored Pencil

The morning after a spring storm, Elk Ridge is buried under a blanket of fresh snow. Irregular shapes undulate across the drift's smooth surface as blue shadows exaggerate the billowy folds in the landscape's white tapestry.

Scattered across the high ground, a few resilient evergreens call this hostile place home. The subalpine zone is a harsh environment where few organisms are adapted to survive.

A single cloud, floating just above the horizon, is a last remnant of the passing storm. The sun's warm rays stream through the brilliant, blue sky inspiring hope that better days lay ahead.

Twisted by ferocious winds, the old stump is a weather-beaten warrior that fought until the bitter end. The bare tree trunk symbolizing the strength and perseverance required to survive at such a high altitude.

A fantastic Englemann Spruce forms a dark halo around the poor tree snag. In the background, smaller spruce are a new generation eager to fill their role in this extraordinary ecosystem.

As these long-lived conifers reach maturity, their individual traits imbue each of them with a unique personality. Their will to survive and perpetuate the species seems almost superhuman.

Do trees have a conscience, a spirit or soul? I don't know but if we take the time to listen, I believe the forest speaks to us in ways that we can comprehend.

Their verbal testimony, though, would be of priceless value to anyone investigating nature's great, unsolved mysteries. If only trees could talk.

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

Extraordinary antlers

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

Mar Pacifico

The peaceful sea

Hardly peaceful

Southern California coastline

Unsurpassed beauty

Exotic palm trees

Colorful flowers

Powerful waves

The waters continue to churn

Until the end of time

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - An Energetic Visitor

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

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

Hearty birds

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.

Goliath Peak

A steep warmup

A warm welcome

A carpet of wildflowers

Distant Views

Your wildest imagination

A glacier-filled cirque

Silver peaks

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

Ghostly spirits

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

Spectacular scenery

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

Spotted Towhee

Yellow bull snake

Colorful cliffs

Green foliage

Seasons have changed

A solitary sojourn

Fragrant wildflowers

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

Deep snow

Bergen Peak looms over the white meadow

Blue shadows

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

Abundant foliage

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

Turbulent weather

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

Impressive views

Secluded Ute Canyon

A thoroughfare of scrub greenery

Exquisite scenery

Austere beauty

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

Ramshackle cabins

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

Offering refuge

A Spring snowstorm

Fresh blossoms

A fountain-filled pond

Canada Geese

Blurry reflections

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

Strange shadows

A rugged contour

Others have come before me

High country

Snug comfort of a long winter

Mostly alone

Fluffed Stellar's jays

Sisters Pass - Perfect Solitude

Sisters Trail

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.

Dedisse Park

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

Dramatic twilight

An eerie experience

Perfect Solitude

Genesee Bison Herd - Majestic Animals

American bison

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

Majestic animals

Resilient survivors

An escape from urban stress

Casually grazing

A rare and precious animal

Blue Friday - A Subtle Thaw

Blue Friday

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

Cold air

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

Crystallized trees

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

Golden, Colorado

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

Daybreak silence

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

Temperatures dropped

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

Vail Valley

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

Therapeutically serene

Gliding quietly

Absolute freedom

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

Temperatures plummet

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

Wildflowers abound

Bluebirds sing

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

Glorious yellow

Kestrel Pond is mostly cattails

Grasshopper

Garter Snake

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
Rocky Mountain thunder cracks across the gray, November sky. Heard for miles around, the stirring echoes are from the violent clash between massive combatants who are desperate to prove their masculine dominance.

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

Sparse vegetation

Only the most tenacious survive

The sound of silence

Far-reaching views

Breaking tree line is exhilarating

Remote terrain

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

Lush meadows

Secluded forests

Bountiful wildlife

A prelude to Mount Evans

A network of rugged trails

A historical reminder

Winters are especially harsh

Blanketed with snow

A monochrome mountainscape

Wild Irises

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

Diffused sunlight

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

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

Mirrored symmetrically

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

Saddle Rock

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

Rolling hills

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

Innocent creatures

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

Overcast skies

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

Superb sunset

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

Pure California

Tremendous waves

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.

Unforgiving land

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

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

Rugged cliffs

A turbulent sea

Green surf crashes about the rocks

The overlook is lined with palm trees

A safe way down

Laguna Beach Lifeguard

Churning waves

A hypnotic force

Heermann's Gull

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

Big clouds

Create complications

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

Vesper Sparrow

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.

Decidedly nondescript

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

Black-headed Grosbeak

Western Scrub-jay

Spotted Towhee

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

Bullock's Oriole

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 Courthouse

Jailhouse Rock

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.

Spring greenery

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

Reflections

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:

Courtney Turner
Maui Jungalow Giving real information for people who live on Maui or people who are curious about what life on Maui is really like.

Barbara Radisavljevic
Paso Robles in Photos Daily photos of the Paso Robles / Templeton area of the California Central Coast.

David Kravetz
Less Beaten Paths Enjoying the ride on the back roads of America.

Tawnya Rivers
Authentically Living Authentic Inspiration.

Allyse
The Frog Lady Engineer by Day; Frogger by night!

Rhonda Albom
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

Xenia, Colorado

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, Colorado

Xenia, Colorado

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.

Utah

Utah

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, Colorado

Ouray, Colorado

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.

Northport, Nebraska

Northport, Nebraska

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.

Kittredge, Colorado

Kittredge, Colorado

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.

Flatirons, Colorado

Flatirons, Colorado

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.

Carhenge, Nebraska

Carhenge, Nebraska

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

Alpine views

Dramatic sunsets

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

Red-winged blackbird

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

Deep snow

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

Gnarled trees

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

Noble Meadow

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

Bleak countryside

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

Indian peacocks

African guineafowl

Majestic bald eagle

A hungry hawk

Unsuspecting sparrows

A mysterious, white horse

A dormant cornfield

Dried sunflowers

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

Zion Narrows

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

Beautiful scenery

Unstable footing

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

Came closer

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

Solitude

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

Ruffled feathers

Patiently strolling

Sharp eyes

A sinewy neck

Coiled into the shape of an S

An unsuccessful hunt

A lanky waterfowl

Straightened up

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”.

Evergreen, Colorado

Nature is inspiring

Photographing the Colorado landscape and beyond

Observation Point - An Unreachable Destination

Zion Canyon

“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

Sequestered woods

Marvelous vista to the west

Beauty during all seasons

A hidden gem

Pristine wilderness

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

Always alert

He tolerates a peaceful approach

A rockhound

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.

Guanella Pass

A less crowded location

Thickets of prickly willows

Wide open space

Clear air

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

Chief Mountain

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

Evergreen Lake

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

Bergen Peak

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

Steep switchbacks

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

Western Kingbird

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

Angel's Landing

A Mecca for hikers

The Zion Narrows

Wading through water is the only way

The gorge is wet and wild

A bad weather day

Astonishing beauty

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

Bronze sculptures

Ornate architecture

Colorful flowers

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

Rugged badlands

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

Cherished memories

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

Canada goose

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

Abundant wildflowers

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

Cradling Wheat

Desert Still Life

Lewis and Clark at Eagle Creek

People of Chilmark

Plowing it Under

Sheepherder

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

Deep snow

Rock slabs

Cold silence

Unfiltered light and long shadows

Perched on top of the world

An array of snowy peaks

Late fall

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

Perilous drop-offs

Mount Evans Wilderness

A wide expanse of pristine terrain

Snow-capped peaks

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

Spring Snowstorm

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

Mountain Bluebird

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

Mount Evans

The big peaks

Embroiled in a picturesque storm

Rebellious light

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

Shark's teeth

The rugged Gore Range

The sky was shattered

Darkness began to devour the landscape

Silvery summits

Mysterious behemoths

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

Gray cornfield

Bridgeport, Nebraska

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