Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall comes to the San Juans

Back when I lived in AZ, I always loved the fall.  In the desert, it meant a break from the hot temperatures and resuming outdoor activities, like backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  In the higher country, the mornings are crisp, the air is dry and there is a distinct change in the quality of the light.  And, of course, fall colors.   In the west and southwest, that means patches of broadleaf deciduous trees interspersed with conifer forests, and coupled with the mountains, canyons and plateaus of the region.   Greens fade to yellows, rusts and brown as the grasses and wildflowers fade away and go to seed.  The whole land has a warm, inviting glow to it.

People rave about "fall colors" in the east coast, particularly in New England.  They are hit or miss, I found, and the season is short - about 2 1/2 weeks.  One good wind or rain storm, and it's over sooner.  Once the leaves are gone, the forests are completely barren and lifeless for the next 6 months.  I found that depressing, and never looked forward to fall.

Now that I'm back home, the excitement over fall has returned.   Everyone waits for the aspen to turn, and turning they are!  Yesterday, we hiked the trail that we did the day after we got into town:  the Purgatory Creek trail.  It goes through several stands of aspen, and we hoped that we'd see some of them in full color.  We weren't disappointed.  The trail starts across from the Durango Mtn. Resort (formerly known as Purgatory Ski Resort), follows the creek down the mountain and onto a valley where Cascade creek runs.  The views of several mountains are spectacular.  

I'd originally planned on doing another series of landscape paintings, focusing on oils, but I couldn't resist doing another small pastel today, based on one of the photos I took along the trail yesterday.  Another piece is on my easel, probably finished up tomorrow.  This is a good way to include some photos from the hike without a separate post, so below are some of my favorites.

"aspen trail"
7x5 inches
Strathmore paper on foamboard

It was just great to pull out the high-key yellows for this painting.  The sky looks a bit flat in the photo; we had overcast skies and rain all day, so the actual painting looks better in person (don't they always, though?).   

"Aspen curves"
A tall aspen with a graceful, curving trunk, is flanked by smaller trees and evergreens on the trail

"West Needles in Shadow"
This view to the east along a rock outcropping shows the patches of aspen, both yellow and green, amongst the fir and spruce forest on the West Needle Mtns.

"Engineer & Aspen"
Engineer Peak is visible to the northwest in this view from the Purgatory Flats river valley

"Cascade Creek"
Just under two miles from the trailhead, the trail approaches this perennial creek, which attracts fly-fishers as well as hikers and backpackers

"Color Study"
These stands of aspen show off their range of colors in this abstracted image, shot at 70mm

"An Intimate View"
A small branch of aspen leaves, backlit by the afternoon sun, shows color detail and shadows, in contrast to the bokeh of the distal trees and sky

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