Friday, July 1, 2011

San Juan Skyway trip - plein air and a hike

On the second day of our trip, we headed back up to the Lizard Head pass area again.  Across the highway from the trailhead for Lizard Head, is a dirt road that leads to the trailhead for East Fork trail - specifically the east fork of the Dolores River.

Wayne took off on the trail to go fish along the river while I painted:

Road to East Fork Trail
12x9 inches
black Strathmore

Of all the sweeping views I could have done, I instead chose this sort of non-descript view of the dirt road.   Why?  Well, it has a road.  I also liked the small cluster of spruce right at the side, and their cool sky holes.  The clincher?  The patches of dandelions along the sides and in the middle strip.  Seriously.  You just have to appreciate their tenacity to grow in the middle of a road and jazz it up a bit with some color, I think.  

What is puzzling to me is why this simple dirt road was so hard to paint.  It was far harder than painting the creek the day before, which makes absolutely no sense, but there you are.  I got this about 80% finished before I started tuning out, so I finished it up from memory today, and got to try out one of the new dark green Ludwigs I got.  Still something bothers me about the road, but clearly this is as good as it's going to get.  

Another challenge painting at this elevation - close to 10,000' - is that you are stuck with a spruce/fir forest, which consists of tall skinny triangle-shaped trees that pretty much all look alike.  Aspen don't usually grow in abundance at that elevation.

Anyway, I decided that I was a bit too baked to attempt another painting, and after sitting for the 1 1/2 hrs. or however long it took, I walked back up to the car, threw my painting gear in, and grabbed my backpack to hit the trail and hopefully meet up with Wayne coming back.

Let me just say now that if you are a hiker, and you are visiting the area, make a point to do this hike.  It is one of the most scenic I've done in the San Juans, and not strenuous.  

Here are some photos from the hike:

Looking back towards Lizard Head

The singletrack trail starts in a grassy, somewhat boggy, meadow.  After less than 1/4 mile, you'll have this view looking back towards the northwest.  If you look carefully, you can see the trail leading to Lizard head; it's in the center bottom, right above the berm of the meadow.  You have to hike through about 2 miles of forest before getting to the money shot views above timberline.  

A view below

After about 1/2 mile of mild elevation climb, you come to this view.  The east fork of the Dolores river is seen on the bottom left as it meets up with Hwy 145.  The road then follows the river all the way to the town of Dolores.  

Blue and White Columbine - Colorado's state flower

The first columbines of the season - yay!   These lovely flowers grow at surprisingly high elevations, including above timberline.  At this time of the year, they are just starting to bloom in the high country.  I couldn't resist taking several photos of them...

...because they look great from all sides.

Continuing east along the trail

Bi-color violet - variation

Violets, both western blue and white Canadian, were abundant along the trail, particularly in the shaded areas and where small streams cut down through the slopes, as were bluebells and chives.  

Speaking of streams:

Stream abstract #1

Stream abstract #2

View of the San Miguels (including Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak and El Diente)
Seen on the way back.  Hard to beat that view, wouldn't you say?

I ended up hiking about 4 miles RT on this trail; turns out Wayne had gone off the trail to reach the river, forgetting that I said I'd hike after I finished painting.  So, I missed him.  He got back to the car, saw my painting gear, and proceeded to run down the trail until he caught up to me.  Oops.  

Back at camp, we fended off a small army of mosquitos (which, oddly, didn't bother me nearly as much as they did back in CT),  made some boxed Kraft mac 'n' cheese (the fancy one with the breadcrumbs), enjoyed some cold beers, and contemplated how awesome it is to only live 2 hrs. away from this area.   We've already decided we're coming back in August.  


  1. More pretty wildflowers! Incredible scenery.
    Your painted road looks so real!!

    LeAnn aka pasqueflower

  2. You have a marvelous playground in Colorado. Keep the posts coming, please. I enjoy reading them.

  3. Thanks, LeAnn - I wasn't so sure the road worked, but I'm glad at least someone else thinks so :).

    Hi Casey - yes, I feel blessed and privileged to live here, for sure. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts; I try to make them more than just about the art. Thanks so much for reading!

  4. Beautiful! The road looks lovely - I like the bits of yellow the dandelions add, too.

    Sounds like a wonderful hike - just the kind I like ;-) I hope that someday I will get the opportunity to hike in Colorado - the scenery looks amazing.

  5. Once again, I'm in awe of your mini excursion approach complete with some on site painting, and some shots not the mention the fresh air and exercise. The areas that you've visited such as this are so rich with composition choices both up close and distant.

    Inspired by all this, I went out today for a couple hours to seek out some gems around here. Just took the camera for now but boy did it feel healthy.

    I too enjoy reading your adventures as you know, and you're right to make these posts about more than just the art.

    Fantastic painting!

  6. Thanks Debbie! Colorado is definitely worth a visit, esp. in the summer. It's hard to drive more than a few miles without coming across a trail somewhere, and the state is known for its large areas of designated wilderness land (read: untrammeled, undeveloped and only access is by foot or horseback).

  7. Bill, thanks as always for your comments. It is so true about the area being filled with composition choices that could literally suit all painters. Pick your mood, and there will be something to satisfy your artistic needs.

    Can I say how chuffed I am that I inspired you to head out with your camera for a couple of hours? That makes my day. When I was living in CT, summer hiking in the woods there did not suit me at all (can't deal with the insects or humidity), but I would frequently take neighborhood walkabouts with my camera. It is amazing what sort of wondrous and beautiful things can be found literally in your own neighborhood if one takes the time to look. Those walks helped keep me sane as well.

    I find my camera to be the perfect creative antidote when I am feeling "blah" about painting.

    Hope to see some of your walkabout efforts on your blog soon!


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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