Saturday, July 21, 2018

Cedar Bend Park - A Midwestern Swampland

Cedar River Bend

Just outside of Waverly, Iowa, a muddy trail descends into a dark passageway that whisks you to a bend in the Cedar River. A winding, wooden boardwalk emerges from the dense cover and expels the foreigner onto a sand dune beach.

The wide waterway snakes it’s way through the midwestern swampland while moving at a fairly fast clip. Connecting separate segments of the jungle trek, lofty bridges are built into the steep, broken hillside.

The damp woodland is overgrown with plants and teeming with reptiles and bird life but the occasional snag is spot-lit by the filtered light. The finish line is decorated with a bouquet of blue wildflowers that so eloquently bid the visitor a fond farewell.

A dark passageway

A wooden boardwalk

A wide waterway

Lofty bridges

A dead tree snag

A bouquet of wildflowers

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Beaver Brook Reservoir - A Dark Inkwell

Beaver Brook Reservoir

Along the trail to Beaver Brook and a grove of aspen is awash in golden ambiance while wavering in a warm, summer breeze. The sun is just beginning to set so the pine trees are backlit, making for a strange silhouette.

Glowing mountains brood over the water’s edge where tall grasses flicker in the fading light. Around the bend it’s blue hour and a rocky, forest outcrop is dipped precariously into the dark inkwell.

The Beaver Brook Watershed is a rugged ravine that has carved its niche into this remote wilderness. At the eastern edge during an unceremonious exit, the evening’s last light floods a soggy bog of orange woodland.

Awash in golden ambiance

Pine trees are backlit

Tall grasses flicker

A forest outcrop

Rugged ravine

Orange woodland

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Offering Inspiration

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

“We came in sight early this morning of the "Courthouse," a hill, or immense mound, which strongly resembles such a building, with wings; it rests imposingly on a bluff; the sides are near a cream color, with apparently, a black roof.” ~ Phillip St. George Cooke (1845)

Composed of Brule clay, Gering sandstone and ash, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are erosional remnants of an ancient plateau. They were formed by intense volcanic activity that happened thousands of years ago.

The Rocks are located just south of Bridgeport, in the Nebraska panhandle, at the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills. The impressive landmark ascends 400 feet above the nearby North Platte River Valley.

They’re an enduring symbol of the pioneer spirit, hope and home. During Westward Expansion, they were a famous benchmark as the Pony Express, Oregon, California and Mormon trails all passed by the geographic marvels.

The formation was first noted by Robert Stuart, in 1812, who from a far distance observed a solitary tower rising out of the open prairie. Only upon closer inspection did he discover that there were actually two.

Stuart thought the larger feature looked like a courthouse, while the smaller a jail. Locals originally began calling the place McFarlan's Castle while passerbys referred to them as the Lonely Tower, the Castle or the Capitol but by 1837, the name Courthouse and Jail Rocks had stuck.

During the 19th century, settlers on the trail relied on natural markers to guide them in the right direction. To emigrants from the European coast who had never seen a mountain or even a bluff, Courthouse and Jail Rocks were described as stunning, geologic features.

Being the first of several impressive monuments in western Nebraska, Courthouse and Jail are a proud palace of solitude. They’re a vanguard of unforgettable scenic wonders that travelers would encounter further west.

Fascinated by the strange peaks and because they knew they would never see them again, many people climbed to the summit and carved their names in the soft clay. Some of those signatures can still be seen today.

The Rocks provided confidence that the party was on the right track and encouraged optimism that everything was going to be okay. When feeling a bit under the weather, a powerful tonic can sometimes be a sliver of hope.

Back then, just passing near the monument gave comfort to weary pioneers struggling to find a better life in this strange, new land. Even today, the mere sight of the eternal peaks offers inspiration to those determined to overcome life's difficult obstacles.

The rocks are erosional remnants

An impressive landmark

Courthouse Rock

And Jail

A stunning geologic feature

The peaks offer inspiration

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Elk Ridge - A Stormy Afternoon

A stormy afternoon on Elk Ridge

It’s another stormy afternoon as Bergen Peak looms over a lush meadow of tall grass. A fantastically-shaped, red pine is a picturesque sentry marking the beginning of a grueling uphill climb.

Halfway there and a patch of rugged vegetation sways wildly in the midst of a midsummer squall. Up at the top of the ridge, a setting sun strains to spread it’s last rays through a murky atmosphere.

During the trek back down, a spiraling spruce writhes towards the sky like a van Gogh painting come to life. Upon return to the bottom lands as the storm drifts away, a last bit of golden light sweeps triumphantly across the grateful land.

Bergen Peak looms over a lush meadow

A picturesque sentry

A patch of rugged vegetation

A murky atmosphere

Like a van Gogh painting

Golden light sweeps across the land

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Urad Lake - A Successful Reclaimation

Urad Lake, Colorado

With help from the Henderson Mine and some concerned humans, nature has successfully reclaimed the Woods Creek Valley. The centerpiece of this spectacular area is a slender reservoir called Urad Lake.

This new State Wildlife Area is teeming with, well, wildlife. Deer, elk, moose, black bear, red fox, pikas and golden-mantled ground squirrels have all been seen frequenting this high altitude habitat.

At almost 11,000 feet, it’s one of the only places in the world that offers a suitable territory for the critically endangered boreal toad. They eat insects and depend on shallow ponds with warm water in which to breed and underground dens in which to hibernate.

At the far west end, a few streams come rushing in, bringing even more fish into an already well-stocked pond. A fisherman’s paradise, the lake is chock full of small brook trout, pretty rainbows and plenty of cutbows.

As for the lake, it’s pinched into a steep, forested gorge where the water is deep, dark and freezing cold. A rugged trail traces it’s contour allowing one to fully inspect the indigo blue lagoon.

Reaching this subalpine environment requires negotiating a dangerous four-wheel-drive-only road. Off of the radar for most travelers heading to the mountains, Urad Lake is truly a peaceful sanctuary hidden within a realm of high peaks.

Woods Creek Valley has been reclaimed

The centerpiece

A slender reservoir

A high altitude habitat

The west end

Streams come rushing in

A fisherman's paradise

A forested gorge

An indigo blue lagoon

A subalpine environment

A peaceful sanctuary

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Loveland Pass Lakes - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Loveland Pass Lakes" Colored Pencil

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." ~ Georgia O'Keeffe

Situated above timberline, a pair of high mountain tarns are pure blue under a late-summer sun. Known as Loveland Pass Lakes, the shimmering jewels are set just below the Continental Divide.

Looming majestically in the background, a ring of rugged peaks encloses the isolated valley. Dark patches of far away forest cling to the steep mountainside and fade away as they reach ever higher.

The rolling hills of rough terrain around the reservoirs are covered with rows of pine that follow closely the contour of the land. The water is calm, clear and cold with the larger lake reflecting trees in its upper left corner.

Sweeping across the foreground, tundra grasses are ablaze in fiery colors. Conveying the sure sign that seasons are changing, an assortment of flushed vermillion hues are dragged across the textured surface.

Anchoring the right side of the page is a giant, gray rock that’s shaded with strong contrast. Balancing the composition on the other side is a thicket of brush and willows that come streaming in at an angle.

This drawing is not a rigidly faithful representation of the actual scene. It’s more an experiment that blends abstraction with realism, producing a work that emphasizes the primary forms of the mountain landscape.

Nonessential details have been removed in order to focus on the most important elements. The intense observation of nature results in a sensitivity to her dramatic scale and subtle nuances, culminating in a more real portrayal of this Colorado landscape.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Red-sided Garter Snake - A Docile Nature

Red-sided Garter Snake

Speaking of serpents, with summer in full swing, the reptiles are out searching for sun. Slithering out from the depths of his crowded winter den, a red-sided garter snake spends the afternoon in a shady patch of tall grass.

The red-sided garter snake rises early in order to begin regulating his body temperature. He’s warmed up by solar rays and becomes most active in the morning before it gets too hot.

He spends much of his time near water because that’s where he finds his favorite foods. This common snake eats earthworms, amphibians, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, small fish and other snakes.

He’s uniquely immune to the toxic secretions of toads and can eat them without harm. While hunting, the red-sided garter snake uses his superb sense of smell and vision in order to capture prey.

He strikes with precision using sharp teeth and quick reflexes thus immobilizing his unfortunate victim. Harmless to humans, his saliva is slightly toxic to smaller animals making it easier for him to manage his meal.

A data-collecting tongue emerges from an imposing head that looks like its been constructed from fitted bits of chiseled stone. The perfectly circular eyes are razor sharp and shimmer with metallic hues.

The red-sided is a beautiful snake distinguished by his geometric symmetry. He’s cream-colored with two red stripes running the length of his body that are overlaid by a black checkerboard pattern.

Despite his undisputed beauty and docile nature the garter snake is often persecuted by people. In reality he plays a vital role in the ecosystem and when confronted by a human, he’ll hastily retreat.

If he’s backed into a corner, he’ll coil, hiss and flare into a dramatic display of self-defense. Truthfully, though, he’s not much different from most of us because I believe he’d rather be left alone to live his life in peace and harmony.

Slithering out from the depths

A superb sense of smell and vision

A chiseled head

And metallic eyes

Red stripes run the length of his body

A docile nature

Live his life in peace