Saturday, September 20, 2014

United States Air Force Academy - Let's Go Zoomies

The Cadet Chapel

"We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. ~ Cadet Honor Code

Below a spectacular summit named Eagle, we spent a stormy, summer weekend playing in a soccer tournament at the United States Air Force Academy. The athletic fields were immaculate and the opening day atmosphere was electric. We were focused on our ordinary lives and our children competing at that time.

Some may have failed to look across the way where soldiers were practicing sports like soccer, baseball and football. Make no mistake though, it wasn't all fun and games for those young men and women stationed in Colorado Springs studying the art of military warfare. We complained about parking, the heat and losing but did that really matter?

The politics associated with youth soccer are just insignificant nonsense compared to the lessons being taught over the wall. Up on The Terrazzo, cadets are struggling to survive one of the most rigorous academic and military training programs in the world. They are required to discard all personal effects and learn to live off of bare necessities.

It's a place where hard work, service and loyalty are truly rewarded. The students learn how to follow orders, survive in the wilderness and become respected leaders of men and women. Bound by discipline and tradition, doolies (freshmen) have significant restrictions placed on their movements and actions. The Fourth-class cadets hustle across campus constrained by a white marble grid decorating the square pavilion.

The spiritual centerpiece of the complex is considered to be a prominent example of modern, American architecture. The artistic, 17-spired Cadet Chapel is a solemn sanctuary where warriors go to pray before being shipped out to hostile conflicts across the globe. The building was designed in a distinct, modernist style, and makes extensive use of aluminum on the exterior, suggesting the outer skin of an aircraft or spacecraft.

I can only agonize over how awful it must be to fight in a war but these brave souls have willfully volunteered to defend our country and our freedom. There has been recent controversy about illicit behavior on the base but cordial interactions with polite cadets made our stay a positive experience. As for the athletic programs, I'm their new biggest fan. Let's go Zoomies.

Soccer below Eagle Peak

The Terrazzo

A rigorous military training program

A spiritual centerpiece

The artistic, 17-spired Cadet Chapel

The place warriors go to pray

Interior design of the chapel

Let's go Zoomies

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nebraska Cornfield - A Circular Stroll

A Nebraska cornfield

I'm a child of the corn, a bug-eater and a husker. I was raised on a farm in Western Nebraska where a colossal cornfield was our backyard. They've been suffering from a terrible drought but this summer the sunflowers have gone crazy and the corn is as high as an elephant's eye.

Follow the dogs around the crop and you'll discover a field full of life. Avoid the stickers and watch for woodpeckers in the old tree stand. The hills are alive with a kaleidoscope of color. A profusion of colorful wildflowers decorate the normally brown pastures.

Atop the fell, an irrigation canal is running high where the views are sublime. It's a far-reaching panorama of farmland featuring Chimney Rock, clearly visible from fifteen miles away. Despite their decay, a pair of Chevy trucks seem surprisingly picturesque.

Backlit against a cloudy sky, Longhorn cattle bring a dramatic dimension to the circular stroll. Down by the creek, trample across a corner of winter wheat. Hot, tired and hungry, we make it back to the old homestead where the smell from the kitchen is unmistakable. Corn on the cob, it's what's for dinner.

I'm a child of the corn

The sunflowers have gone crazy

Watch for woodpeckers

Colorful wildflowers

An irrigation canal

Chimney Rock is clearly visible

Surprisingly picturesque

Longhorn cattle

The bull is a dramatic dimension

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lake Isabelle - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Lake Isabelle" Colored Pencil

"If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint." ~ Edward Hopper

This range is distinguished by an indescribable beauty. Neither photos nor sentences can capture the scale and grandeur of such a special place. An exquisite legacy from the last ice age, Lake Isabelle is as elegant as her name would suggest.

In the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, it's calm before the storm. Bound by the purple sky, thunder rumbles in the background. Rising out of the summer's greenery, the ridge line appears violet while a cobblestone pathway is closed by cascades of sliding snow.

A wonderland in the winter, the warm weather has transformed the entire area into a watery world teeming with flowers and wildlife. The lake is rippled by drops of rain, serrating the surface into a surreal reflection while the moist atmosphere has washed the landscape clean.

Only the essential shapes and colors are allowed to stay. The turquoise water is ice cold and rushes out of the foreground into a soggy moraine. I know we must also leave but I swear I can hear the mountains calling, "Won't you stay, just a little bit longer?"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mountain Lion Loop - Unfamiliar Territory

Mountain Lion Loop

"Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway." ~ John Wayne

One day this summer, we left the safety and comfort of our hearth and headed into the high country. We logged an out and back at Mountain Lion Loop on a warm August afternoon. It was unfamiliar territory, a land where uncowardly lions leap from pine tree limbs. Fortunately, such a frightful encounter never transpired.

Instead, we found flowers, butterflies and bluebirds. Up out of Golden, the gorgeous meadows were gushing with greens and yellows. It was a glorious day in the mountains. We continued ever further, leaving behind the crowds and cell service. We faced our fear with a faith that we would enjoy a triumphant return.

Beyond the crest, we strayed from the path and made a risky, cross-country romp out to a scary cliff edge. Under a cloudless sky, the perch overlooked a quiet creek where white rocks were bleached by the scorching sun. Regaining the right track, our unjustified concerns were met with an unwavering confidence.

So close to the finish, the way was blocked by immovable obstacles beyond our control. We were forced to improvise and boldly blaze a new trail home. Back at the barn, as we prepared for our next misadventure, we recounted our bravery with a laugh. Remember, always be courageous and if you fail... fail with enthusiasm.

Unfamiliar territory

Lions leap from tree limbs

We found bluebirds

and flowers

Meadows were gushing with greens and yellows

A glorious day in the mountains

White rocks were bleached

Fail with enthusiasm

Saturday, August 23, 2014

St. Vrain Mountain Trail - An Epic Journey

The Mantlepiece of Mountain Gods

I heard the stories about a remote trailhead and a hidden pathway to a secret Shangri-la located high above the treeline. Ignored by serious climbers and unknown to tourists, the St. Vrain Mountain Trail is an epic journey to a world I thought existed only in mythology.

Below, an ancient grove of aspen was a natural cathedral of air and light. Up, we followed a rocky creek and climbed a steep stairwell of endless switchbacks. The snow became a formidable obstacle and almost halted our expedition. With dogged determination, we pushed on and soon entered the land above the trees.

As we crossed a shelf of tundra, a spectacular explosion of incredible mountain scenery was suddenly detonated. I'd never seen so many beautiful peaks crowded together in one frame. Stopped dead in our tracks, the landscape was mesmerizing. Each lofty summit and crooked ridge seemed to beg for the photographer's attention.

Veiled in braids of white snow, the violet range struck a dramatic pose. It was a grueling ascent to the Mantlepiece of the Mountain Gods. A roll call of Front Range royalty provided the decorative framework enclosing Wild Basin while Longs Peak was seated on an elaborate throne as the undisputed Monarch.

The artistic design extended all the way to heaven. Hiking up the St. Vrain was truly a religious experience. As we made our way down to earth, there was a rumble of thunder in the distance. We tread softly out of Olympus and back to the transitory life attached to us mere mortals.

A secret Shangri-la

A natural cathedral of air and light

We followed a rocky creek

Snow was a formidable obstacle

We pushed on

A spectacular shelf of tundra

Incredible mountain scenery

Veiled in braids of white snow

The ascent was grueling

Longs Peak is the undisputed landmark

Back to our transitory life

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Longs Peak - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Longs Peak" Colored Pencil

In an eerie breeze, obedient aspen quake with fright before their dark master. Longs Peak is a purple monster streaked with passages of resilient white snow. The Rocky Mountain monarch dwells in an enchanted woodland threaded with creeks, wildflowers and waterfalls.

A trek to the top begins with a march to the Boulderfield. Above treeline, the alpine environment is distinguished by treacherous terrain and spectacular scenery. Proceed with caution through the magical Keyhole, up into the steep Trough and across the frightening Narrows.

A quick scramble up the final Ramp and you're at the football-field sized summit. The struggle for glory is rewarded with bitter cold, ferocious wind and an indescribable illness. At such an inhospitable altitude, the weather will almost certainly take a turn.

Now, the weary traveler must be ever cautious because the bitter rock revels in its dangerous decline. Follow landmarks that lead into the protective forest and you'll soon be back at the trailhead. Bruised, beaten and burned, I begin to wonder why? Because it's there.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sneffels Range Summer - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Sneffels Range Summer" Colored Pencil

Last summer, we attended a Saturday evening service at the altar of one of the world's finest cathedrals. Located in southwest Colorado, the Sneffels Mountains are a divine sub-range of the scenic San Juans. This chain of volcanic peaks may be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the west and probably my favorite place on the planet.

This country of blues and greens is an oasis before the vast sea of desert that extends into the void. A magnificent mesa of brush-covered hills tumbles south until it crashes into a wall of steep rock while a patch of dark piƱon is blended into the soft, red dirt. Below, a meadow of hay is enclosed by a row of crooked cottonwoods.

The heavenly divide emerges out of a soft, blue sky like a dream as the evening light permeates the purple peaks, creating a broken gradient from orange to violet. The clear, dry air evokes a transcendent luminosity that can be found nowhere else on earth so a palette of pastel hues is absolutely required.

Reminiscent of stained glass windows adorning a Gothic church, the scene is composed with areas of flat color. A form of ancient architecture, the Baroque skyscrapers were constructed by the Master Builder eons ago. Here, the wilderness is a welcoming place of worship. After a perfect day breaking bread with nature the mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve.