Monday, September 28, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park 2009

I've returned. And although I wasn't able to do everything I’d hoped, I still had an exciting (and productive) time and I'm itching to begin new work. I miss the mountains already.

Day 1: Traveling
The car was loaded. All systems were go. My wife and I left Phoenix, Arizona for the mountains of Colorado at 6:30am — bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (well maybe not bushy-tailed).

Yvonne enjoying the ride

This 12 1/2 hour trek to our first destination, Georgetown, CO, is one of the most extraordinarily scenic drives I've ever been on. It took us through the deserts of Arizona,

The desert just north of Phoenix, Arizona

through Monument Valley and Moab, Utah and finally into the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains — all in a long day's drive.

Just outside of Monument Valley

I stopped along the way to take a few photographs of an antelope, and some of the landscape we traveled through.

This was the location Yvonne and I spotted the antelope

We arrived in Georgetown, CO at about 7:30pm local time. Georgetown is just a short drive from our first stop, Mt. Evans. The plan was to rise early and get to Mt. Evans to photograph mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and do a little plein air painting...that was the plan anyway.

Day 2: Disappointment
We awoke to rain and a rather disappointing weather forecast. A cold front had moved through Colorado in the night and an associated low-pressure system had stalled over western Nebraska. The forecast had changed from sunny skies for the duration of my trip just two days before, to clouds, rain and snow for the next three days. Bummer.

My wife and I still attempted to go up Mt. Evans, but the heavy fog and slick conditions forced us to turn back just a couple miles into the drive. We decided we would head to Rocky Mountain National Park and return to Mt. Evans later in the trip once the weather had cleared. The next day it was announced that the road up Mt. Evans had been closed for the winter. Again...bummer.

One of the many bull elk we saw that day

Luckily, there were late afternoon breaks in the clouds and I was able to photograph elk in RMNP. I was still disappointed about the idea of losing three days of painting and photographing but I felt a little better knowing the sun may make a few appearances over the next several days.

Day 3: Things Go From Disappointing To Very Disappointing
We spent the night with my wife’s cousins in Greeley, CO (about an hour east of RMNP). Again, we awoke to rain. Only now the forecast was calling for as much as 16” of snow in the mountains. A winter storm warning had been issued, blizzard conditions were expected and I was beginning to think we may not be able to enter RMNP the next day. We did spend the day in the park. I photographed more elk, but the poor light and off-again, on-again rain and snow kept me from painting.

Later that afternoon, Yvonne’s bother and sister-in-law arrived from Nebraska to join us for a few days. We had a nice dinner and fully expected to be snowed in the next morning.

I finally had some time to look through the photos I’d taken. It was then I realized that the image stabilizer on my lens was off and many of the images I’d thus far shot were blurry, some too blurry to be used as reference. Again...bummer.

Day 4: Things Begin Looking...Better

My wife's brother, Rick and his wife, Mary enjoying the hike around Bear Lake

Not a single flake had fallen overnight (at least not in the lower elevations of the park). I woke up early and headed out to RMNP by myself. There wasn’t much happening and the poor light conditions kept me from taking too many photographs. I returned to the hotel in Estes just as everyone was waking. Once all were up, showered and dressed, we spent a couple hours driving through the park and hiking around Bear Lake.

Rick, Yvonne and myself

We had a late lunch and returned to the park to take some evening photographs as the sun did manage to peek through the clouds on occasion. Although I didn’t paint at all, or photograph as much as I’d liked to, it was enjoyable spending the time with family and that certainly helped to alleviate some of my disappointment in the weather.

Day 5: Weather Begins To Clear, But There’s Another Small Problem...

The view from the location I painted in Beaver Meadows

I decided I was going to paint rain or shine. I left early in the morning and set up my easel in a very nice location in Beaver Meadows. Cloudy skies prevailed again this morning, but it was atmospheric and the subtle shifts in value made for a challenging plein air painting session. As a side note, while I was getting my painting gear from the car, a curious coyote walked up behind me. I didn’t notice until a photographer told me to turn around. The coyote was standing about 5 feet from me. We looked at each other, he decided I wasn’t going to offer a treat as I’m sure many of the Park’s visitors do, and he went on his merry way.

My completed painting

The painting went relatively smoothly, and I was even joined by another painter who was far more ambitious than I — he set up to paint what had to be at least an 18"x 24" canvas.

After finishing the painting, I began to notice a problem...I was developing a cold.

I returned to the hotel in Estes and once we'd finished eating a late breakfast, the skies began to clear. We toured the park again, I photographed more elk, and we hiked to Dream Lake where I decided to paint. It was there I was reminded of how quickly conditions can change in the mountains. During the course of my painting, it rained, snowed, cleared to sunny skies, and then snowed again. Needless to say, I gave up on the painting, but definitely enjoyed the fun in trying to complete it in such fickle weather.

Dream Lake — sunny

Dream Lake — snowy ( just about 15 minutes between photos)

By that evening, my cold was in full swing. Sore throat, runny nose, congestion, the works.

Day 6: Great Weather, Bad Cold
My wife’s brother and sister-in-law left early. Yvonne and I spent the morning packing up our goods and loading the car as we intended on returning to Greeley that evening to stay with her cousins again. After checking out of the hotel, we entered RMNP once again to photograph and paint.

It was during the early photographing that I ran into fellow artist, Sonya Reid who appeared to be enjoying the elk, as so many were. The good weather had brought in many more visitors and there were “elk jams” on every road in the park.

My completed painting from Storm Pass trailhead

I felt it was a good time to find a secluded spot and do some painting again. Yvonne and I stopped at the Storm Pass trailhead, I set up to paint, and she hiked to Bierstadt Lake.

The view from the trail leading to Bierstadt Lake, courtesy of Yvonne

We spent the evening watching and photographing the elk, and by this time, Yvonne had also developed a cold. When we left the park that evening, we decided we would begin the long drive home — cutting our trip short by two days. With both of us suffering from colds, and there being no opportunity to drive up Mt. Evans, I felt that I had what I needed to start some new work so leaving early and splitting up the long drive into two days sounded better than dealing with the crowds and trying to hike while sick. We both really just wanted to be back in our own bed.

Day 7: The Return Home
We had spent 4 hours on the road the previous night, stayed in a hotel just a bit outside of Grand Junction, Colorado and slept in before attacking the final leg of our drive back to Gilbert, Arizona. We didn’t stop but for gas and bathroom breaks. It was really nice to be back in our own bed that night. My cold got better just thinking about it.

All-in-all, and as surprising as it may seem, we both had a great time. I did get a lot of useful reference material and I’m excited to begin formulating new paintings. In fact, I think I’ll start right now.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Time For A Recharge

My "artist batteries" are running on low. I've got the twitch. You know, that involuntary twitch we artists get when we've been out of direct contact with what inspires us for too long. My wife has forbade me from handling cutlery until the twitch has been settled — my batteries recharged.

For me, this means returning to the high places of the Rocky Mountains — painting en plein air, photographing, hiking and basically immersing myself in all that the mountains of the west have to offer. The Rockies are my muse, my inspiration. They are what move me to paint.

In just short of two weeks, I will leave the heat of the desert southwest and head to Rocky Mountain National Park to spend a week doing exactly what I need to do to fill my artistic reservoir... once again. And although this particular trip is somewhat of a consolation prize (my wife and I were going to spend two weeks in Glacier NP and the Grand Tetons until she was laid off from her job just a few weeks ago), I am no less excited to get out and get inspired.

I will be sure to post some of the highlights from this trip when I return.