Saturday, August 27, 2016

California Beaches - A Place to Chill

Mission Beach, San Diego

I love exploring the Rocky Mountains of Colorado but it was nice to encounter the Pacific Ocean during our recent trip to southern California. We managed to hit a few beaches and it was surprising to discover how different they were from each other.

Each beach seemed to have its own, unique personality based on the type of people, waves and scenery that distinguished it from the others. There were also similarities between them that went far beyond the obvious basics of salt, sea and sand.

A common theme running through each visit was the sublime sunsets, persistent seagulls and tight parking. I’m not sure I could survive for very long in the Golden State as the behavior there is unbelievably intense but maybe you just get used to it.

Fast-paced traffic is a fitting symbol for the frenetic, California lifestyle but the beach is someplace where everybody slows down. The hypnotic nature of the crashing waves seems to chill all of those restless natives.

Mission Beach down in San Diego was probably my favorite because I was able to get out on the sand early, before the crowds arrived. The morning skies are overcast and the air is cool as a pink sunrise permeates the gray clouds. The water is warm with choppy waves that pound the shoreline with relentless force.

Early morning before the crowds

Overcast skies

Seal Beach is a local hangout so it’s not quite as touristy as many of the others. The wide stretch of sand offers plenty of space and relief from the sizzling interior. The water is dark and cold as the swells recycle in a nice rhythm. There’s a rickety, old pier stretching into the ocean that’s a favorite perch for opportunistic sea gulls.

Dark, cold water

Persistent sea gulls

Newport Beach is a glamorous locale brimming with beautiful people. The water is a bit colder but the smooth waves are perfect for boogie-boarding. The wooden pier is superb for watching the yellow sun disappear in an instant. After dark, the party really gets started as this oceanside resort enjoys a vibrant nightlife.

A beautiful, wooden pier

Superb sunset

Venice Beach is a trip. This place is a tourist’s delight as the atmosphere overloads all five senses. It’s pure California with bright colors, big crowds and cool characters around every corner. The green waves are tremendous as they curl over on top and crash into a rocky outcrop. Featuring fitness, shopping and surf, Venice is a diverse community with something for everyone.

A tourist's delight

Pure California

Tremendous waves

Saturday, August 20, 2016

San Rafael Swell - An Undiscovered Natural Wonder

The San Rafael Swell

“As we approached the river yesterday, the ridges on either side of its banks to the west appeared broken into a thousand forms - columns, shafts, temples, buildings, and ruined cities could be seen, or imagined, from the high points along our route” ~ John Williams Gunnison, 1853

Gunnison had arrived in Mormon Territory, leading a survey team in a futile attempt to chart a route through unforgiving land for the transcontinental railroad. They had followed the Spanish Trail and just crossed the Green River before encountering the remarkable San Rafael Swell.

Unable to find a plausible passageway through the maze of cliffs, spires and slot canyons, the dogged crew skirted the barrier and headed west. Soon after leaving the swell, things turned tragic as Gunnison and his group were attacked by Pahvant Indians on 26 October 1853 while camped beside the Sevier River. Gunnison and seven of the eleven men in his party were massacred.

Today, the uninhabited region appears just as forbidding as it did back then. Access into the spectacularly beautiful area is dangerous, untamed and unrestricted. It’s a place where antelope, desert bighorn and wild horses roam freely.

Part of the Colorado Plateau, the San Rafael Swell is a unique geologic feature formed in central Utah 60 million years ago. Bulging out of the flat terrain, the massive uplift is a giant dome-shaped anticline that is roughly 75 miles long by 40 miles wide.

The San Rafael River and Muddy Creek cut through the high desert creating valleys, gorges, mesas and buttes. The relentless force of running water and high winds have eroded the sculptured sandstone revealing multi-colored layers.

Along the entire perimeter of the swell, the transition zone becomes extremely rugged. Distinguished by arches, pinnacles and goblin-shaped knobs, the magnificent borderland is known as the San Rafael Reef.

The impressive eastern boundary is especially breathtaking as it has been chiseled into a dazzling array of folds, fins and shark’s teeth. Strata at the reef’s edges are dramatically exposed and angled near vertical.

Upon arriving at this fantastic place, the lonely landscape is almost indescribable. Indians called the strange formations “Sau-auger-towip” or Stone House Lands while the first white settlers named it the Silent City.

Located in one of the emptiest and least developed regions of Utah, the swell has been repeatedly proposed as a National Monument. That may never happen but that’s okay because the locals like it just the way it is and so do I.

Utah is well known for its unpolished beauty and deservedly so as crowds throng to the state’s Mighty 5 National Parks. I just prefer the solitude of the San Rafael Swell so I hope it remains an undiscovered natural wonder of the American West.

Unforgiving land

The remarkable San Rafael Swell

A maze of cliffs, spires and canyons

The uninhabited region is still forbidding

A spectacular area

The swell is a unique geologic feature

Ghost Rock at the swell's summit

The rugged perimeter is called the reef

The eastern boundary is breathtaking

A lonely landscape

Stone House Lands

The Silent City

Located in Utah's emptiest region

A natural wonder of the west

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Laguna Beach - A Pacific Playground

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a beautiful boardwalk bustling with dynamic energy. The Pacific playground is crowded with people participating in volleyball, basketball and boogie boarding.

Around the bend, rugged cliffs drop off into the turbulent sea as the green surf crashes about the jagged rocks. Up above, a tiered pathway to the overlook is lined with exotic palm trees.

From the top, a spiral staircase is a safe way to get back down to the water where a lifeguard station surveys the scene. Here, the churning waves of the vast ocean are a relentless, hypnotic force.

Taking a seat just before dark, there’s still salt in the air as the purple sunset is almost surreal. It was a good day spent watching sea gulls, studying shells and searching for sand dollars.

The beach is dynamic

A Pacific playground

Rugged cliffs

A turbulent sea

Green surf crashes about the rocks

The overlook is lined with palm trees

A safe way down

Laguna Beach Lifeguard

Churning waves

A hypnotic force

Heermann's Gull

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fillius Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Fillius Ridge" Colored Pencil

It’s a cold, winter evening in Evergreen, Colorado as Fillius Ridge remains awash in warm sunlight. The subtle row of background brush appears more gold than green.

We get most of our snow in the Spring but even now there’s a fair amount drifted into the shadow areas. Patches of ochre and orange grass enliven the inviting foreground.

Olive-colored rocks are strewn across the summit creating an aggregation of sharp contrast. A few trees are dark silhouettes that form a perfect foil for the main subject.

Curving gracefully into the cerulean sky, the red pine is a fantastically-shaped organism. It’s greenery is a smooth gradient of color, ranging from yellow to indigo.

Hiking to the top on this day has taught me a certain truth - the February landscape doesn’t always have to be a dreary subject described by grays and blues.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Elk Studies - Watercolor

"Elk Studies" Watercolor

Browsing along the forest’s edge, the Rocky Mountain elk is a force of nature that thrives in Colorado’s foothills. Being one of the largest land mammals in North America, the bull of this species is an impressive creature.

The monarch of the mountains is distinguished by large antlers which are shed annually. Big bulls usually have eight or nine tines on each antler but there is no correlation between the number of tines and the animal’s age or maturity.

The elaborate antlers start growing in the early spring and are shed each winter. During growth, they’re protected by a soft cover-layer of fuzzy skin known as velvet. The velvet is worn off during the summer, revealing the fully developed bone antler.

Each fall massive males engage in a ritualized mating behavior known as the rut. During this strenuous season, mature bulls compete for the attention of cow elk and try to defend the females already included in their harem.

Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to garner the strength needed to survive the harsh winters brewed in the Front Range. To prepare for such hardship, they spend the entire summer gorging on lush, meadow grasses.

Rival bulls challenge each other and display dominance through aggressive posturing, bellowing and occasional sparring. Much of the intimidating body language is for show but in extreme circumstances, a minor conflict escalates into a real brawl.

Vocal males are rewarded as females are attracted to bulls that bugle more often and have the loudest call. For everyone else around here, the distinctive sound is a haunting indicator that summer’s gone and winter is almost upon us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beaver Brook Reservoir - A Blue Pearl

Beaver Brook Reservoir

Situated below Old Squaw Pass Road, Beaver Brook Reservoir is a blue pearl offering some solitude in the bustling foothills of Colorado. Getting to the shore is just a short saunter through a dense forest of aspen, pine and fir.

A converging perspective and big clouds always seem to create complications in the background. Constructed for confinement, the wonderful watershed allows a steep outlet into an infinite, green gorge.

After spending numerous hours near the water’s edge, I’ve never actually seen the lake’s nocturnal namesake. Despite the unfortunate absence, many other creatures are quite common.

Deer and elk skirt the forest boundary while out on the rocks, garter snakes seek the sun. Betrayed by its distinctive trill, the elusive kingfisher flees from my camera like a desperate fugitive.

Luckily, the mountain landscape is more cooperative as it always keeps perfectly still. I envy the stoic peaks and their unchanging nature because down below, the seasons are moving way too fast.

With life streaming at lightning speed, there is much work to be done. A sense of urgency exists at the studio and in the field where I know I’ve got to hurry if I’m ever going to catch that blasted king-bird on film.

A blue pearl

Solitude in the foothills

A short saunter through the forest

Big clouds

Create complications

A wonderful watershed

An infinite, green gorge

Near the water's edge

The mountain landscape is cooperative

The stoic peaks are unchanging

The seasons are moving fast

Life is streaming at lightning speed

A sense of urgency exists

That blasted kingfisher