Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A trip along the San Juan Skyway, plein air and photos

Phew.  Over a week since my last post!  Where did the time go?  All good intentions to paint after last Tuesday's outing went by the fact, I spent probably 1 1/2 hrs. walking around with my gear along the Animas River trail on Wed, but never found a spot that suited my fancy to paint.  On Thursday, I opted to take a hike instead of paint outside.  More on that later.

But, that changed with our 3-day camping trip up near Rico, CO.  Temps have been in the low '90's here in Durango, so it's a great time to head to the higher elevations of the San Juans before the monsoon season kicks in (which, at the moment I'm typing this, could be today).  At my suggestion, we decided to head up along the scenic highway known as the San Juan Skyway.  This 230-mile loop drive has to be one of the most scenic drives in the country.

We are dedicated car campers, so with our cat in tow (his first camping trip), we hit the road early Sunday morning.  Plan:  hike, paint, fish and just hang out.

Snow Spur Creek
9x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

We stayed at the Cayton campground north of the small mining town of Rico along Hwy 145.  Aside from having an unlimited potential for painting, it's close to our favorite locations:  Lizard Head Pass and Trout Lake.  Unfortunately, Wayne forgot his tackle box for the trip, so his plan to fish the Dolores River and Trout Lake was foiled.  He improvised by buying some worms and hooks in Rico, and on Sunday afternoon, we headed up to the trailhead for Lizard Head to paint and fish.  

Snow Spur creek drains part of the Lizard Head wilderness area, and is incredibly scenic as it forms a meandering path down the hillside on its way to the Dolores.  In fact, this area is so scenic that it's hard not to be inspired by views - both grand and intimate - as an artist.  Lots of whitewater in this shallow creek, which made for a challenge to paint.  The meadows were lush shades of green with grasses and low shrubs, and lots of bright yellow dandelions.  I know these flowers get no respect, being so commonplace, but they really add some beautiful color to the hills and meadows, and at these elevations (~9,800'), they are the only thing blooming in abundance.

I did two other plein air pieces during the trip.  I've decided to split those into separate posts, mainly as an excuse to spread out some of the photos I took along the trip.

Here are some photos from the first day of the trip:

Dolores River from the bridge leading to Cayton campground

Jacob's Ladder 

Prairie Smoke

Yellow Monkeyflower
Thyme Leaf Speedwell

I don't think most readers know this, as it has been close to 1 1/2 years since I've posted any, but I love shooting abstract images of water - the small ripple patterns formed by the water, the reflected light from both the surface and creek bottom, along with the random motion of the water itself are mesmerizing to watch.  You can see more here, here and here.  Small streams and creeks are excellent sources for new material, so I obtained many new photos from this trip.  These are from a tiny stream alongside the road leading to the campground: 

Water Abstract #1 - Blur

Water Abstract #2 - Starry Night 02

Water Abstract #3 - Bubbles!

Aspens on the hillside
This was the basis for another plein air piece done from our campsite on the same evening

More tomorrow!


  1. Car camping! I love car camping! I haven't heard the term for so long, I wondered if anyone else appreciates what a refined way to it is to enjoy the open road in the great outdoors. Stealth Subarus! Such a safe and easy way to keep your powder (and chips) dry. You can take necessary toys like pastels, cameras, telescopes, (ahem) fishing poles, and the cat. And dogs. Much more low-impact than bullying the bushes by "hiking in". And no soggy sleeping bags; monsoons are nothing but beautiful.

    Your water abstracts are quite beautiful. I love their dimensional depth.

  2. Sam - yeah, I grew up car camping (didn't know it was called that...we just called it "tent camping") as a kid. Did some in college, none in medical school, and resumed it when I met like-minded people in Flagstaff and beyond. We make do with W's Civic for these trips, tho a Subaru would be awesome.

    We got a brilliant teaser of the monsoons here this afternoon, with a short, furious burst of rain and a small lighting-caused fire nearby. I love monsoon season!

    I'm glad you like the water abstracts too!

  3. Nice job on the water again! I don't know how you get it so real looking.
    Yay, more flower closeups and water abstracts.
    How did Nelson like it?

  4. Thanks, Jala! One thing I realized as I've been doing these various moving water paintings is that it's actually easier to do from direct observation than from photos....the photos freeze the movement of the "white" water and add too much detail, and it ceases to look like moving water. Much like the water abstract photos, in fact.

    Nelson did really well on this trip, actually. We decided to bring him because he just hates being left alone (and expresses it by peeing outside of his litterbox...). He stayed in the tent, usually buried in my sleeping bag, but enjoyed going out for walks around the campsite after dark, when he thinks it's "safe". I should have gotten some pictures of him in his purple harness and leash :).

  5. I'm amazed at how you make the water look so real! And, of course, I love purple wildflowers :-)

    LeAnn aka pasqueflower

  6. Nice movement in the water, and variety in your greens. I agree with you about moving water and photos.

  7. Thanks, LeAnn - I am finding that I really enjoy painting water, so maybe that's why it looks so convincing? More wildflowers on the way....

    Hi Dan - thanks on both counts. I actually just got in my pastel order from Blick the day before we left, so I was able to add several much-needed greens to the box, save for the two dark Ludwigs. I was trying to be mindful of the subtle differences in value and temperature for the immediate foreground greens vs. those on the slope behind the creek. It's rather amazing how many different greens you need to accomplish this, isn't it?

  8. I thought as much, nice choices by the way. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too many green pastels during the summer months.

  9. Thanks Dan, and I have to agree about the greens...this is the most I've ever used them in pastel landscapes, I think. Last year when I was doing more green landscapes, it was primarily in oils.

    BTW, many of the greens I bought were Mt. Visions. They are a good compliment to my favorite greens, which are Senns. I can tell already that the two Ludwig greens I bought are going to be indispensable as well.

    By the time we are all sick and tired of painting with green, fall will be here.


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