Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Painting and hiking around Lizard Head Wilderness

Back from our trip.  I spent part of the afternoon doing finishing touches on two of the paintings, by which time a monsoon storm had moved in, forcing me to wait until today to photograph them.

From this trip, I learned how to work around heavy monsoon activity:  1) paint near the car; 2) wait for any window of opportunity, no matter how small, to head out with the easel; 3) be prepared to return at a different time when the weather is amenable, to finish; 4) small paintings at camp.

First up, is my favorite from the trip.  Started Sunday afternoon during a short break in the weather, and finished up yesterday morning before we headed home, it was a "two-for-one", so to speak:

San Miguel Colors - 8x16", plein air
pastel on board with Golden pumice ground + black acrylic
© S.Johnson
This is painted from the area I mentioned in my last post:  "the meadows".  The meadows themselves were striking, with a variety of summer grasses and small meandering stream passing through.  Hills with scattered groups of spruce/fir, and aspen lead up to the base of the southern edge of the San Miguel range.

I'm always struck by the colors of the mountains within the southern San Juans (of which the San Miguels are part of).  A geology query of the San Miguel range tells me that the colorful purples, greens reds and yellows are due to the sandstones, breccias, tuffs and claystones of the San Juan Formation and Telluride Conglomerate.  Volcanic intrusions into these sedimentary layers, referred to as "stock", are what form the mountains themselves.

So, having the colorful southern edge of the mountains combined with the meadows was like being handed a gift as a painter.  But, I had to work fast:  less than 40 minutes after I set up my easel and began painting, rain started suddenly, and I was thankful I was set up 2 feet from the car...and not painting on LaCarte paper.

view from the driver's seat...two minutes earlier, I had been painting
Earlier in the day, I'd painted just down the road from this rainy view - a cabin complex situated at the end of the meadows.  I got most of it finished on location before the rain started, and pulled it out later at the campsite to work on it more between rains.

 Morgan Cabin and Dolores Peak - 12x12", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
I didn't take any photos of this cabin, but at some point (as we will be returning to this area - a new favorite for everyone), I plan to revisit this building complex from a different compositional approach.

Finally, two small pieces done from the seated comfort of our campsite yesterday morning - fun and fast, while I chatted with Sarah, and before I headed out to finish the San Miguel Colors painting:

Mountain Morning - 6x6", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
Morning Sky - 6x6", plein air
pastel on brown cardstock

Saturday was spent hiking (and dodging lightning storms).  The Kilpacker trailhead was a mile up the road from our camp, so the four of us headed out on our chosen methods of transportation:  foot and horseback.

Morning along the trail

falls along Kilpacker Creek
Sarah and Jypsi in the meadow near the Navajo Lakes trail junction
Ominous skies and tree appropriate to the mood along the steep switchback section of the trail (Sarah and Todd opted to turn back before this section, thinking it might be too narrow and of loose scree)
Navajo Lake, from the basin, almost 6.5 miles from the trailhead.  Mt. Wilson,
one of CO's fourteeners, is visible from the saddle 
We were lucky that the thunder and hailstorm we got caught in on the way back didn't last more than about 25 minutes before fading off to the west.  Lightning flashing overhead, followed by immediate loud cracks of thunder, were a reminder that hiking in the high country during monsoon season is not to be taken lightly.

Approaching the trailhead (cars in stand of trees to right), with another storm over the Yellow Mountains.  Thankfully, we were back to the RV by the time this 3-hour rainstorm hit us.

More photos from the campsite:

Saturday sunrise 
Dramatic afternoon light over the Yellow Mountains (the same in the small paintings above)


  1. Awesome photos - breathtakingly beautiful. And I love the San Miguel painting.

  2. Thanks LeAnn - I think the southern part of CO - the San Juans - is by far the most scenic of all the Rocky Mountains. Maybe I'm a bit biased, but I also know I'm not alone in thinking that ;). I'm lucky to live in the area, that is for sure!


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