Saturday, November 17, 2018

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Watercolor

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Watercolor

It's a breezy, spring day in Western Nebraska. Courthouse and Jail Rocks tower above the open prairie. A row of stately cottonwoods traces the winding course of Pumpkin Creek while a field of fresh hay slices through rugged pastureland. The fiery foreground is accented by glittering, silver sagebrush.

The cloudless sky is a deep blue as the unusual formation appears golden in the evening light and dark shadows define the bold geography. The steep south face is terraced like a Sumerian ziggurat and descends into a labyrinth of mysterious corridors, caves, tunnels and rattlesnake pits.

Composed of Brule clay, Gering sandstone and ash, the rocks are erosional remnants of an ancient plateau formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Later, they became an unforgettable natural landmark that guided emigrants during the 19th century's Westward Expansion.

Back then, just passing near the monument offered hope to weary pioneers struggling to find a better life in this strange, new land. Even today, the mere sight of the eternal peaks provides inspiration to those determined to overcome life's ever-changing obstacles.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Elk Ridge Twilight - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Elk Ridge Twilight" Colored Pencil

It’s early summer in Evergreen and a collection of evening clouds drifts quietly over a broad ridge. The steep-sloping meadow, renowned for its high concentration of Rocky Mountain elk, is a haven for all wildlife.

The field of lush grasses undulates towards a forest silhouette and the blue mountains beyond. The shadowy hillside is splintered with streaks of pure color that flood the foreground and fleck highlights onto the dark brush.

This drawing is mostly about the setting sun’s fading light as it explodes through a temporary breach in the cloud-covered sky. The rays spread across the landscape resulting in an arresting impression that seems surreal.

Described by fleeting effects, the tranquil setting instills the admirer with awe. It’s an artist’s statement exclaiming there’s nothing more spectacular in the state of Colorado than twilight on Elk Ridge.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Mount Vernon Towne - Gateway to the Rockies

Mount Vernon townsite

Just south of where Interstate 70 curves west and begins its climb up into the Rockies, Matthews/Winters Park preserves a splendid plateau and a fascinating past. It’s a unique location because it’s the exact point where the high plains meets the mountains.

The place was first settled in 1859 by an entrepreneurial clergyman named Joseph Casto who hoped to make a profit from the burgeoning gold rush. Second to arrive was a lawyer from Nebraska named Robert Williamson Steele who called the area Mount Vernon after George Washington’s estate in Virginia.

Casto platted the hillside and encouraged development of the small village that became known as Mount Vernon Towne. Casto also started the Denver, Auraria, and Colorado Wagon Road Company, which built a toll road from Denver through Mount Vernon and up the canyon to the gold fields at what is now Central City and Blackhawk.

Almost overnight Mount Vernon was transformed into a thriving transportation hub as the fledgling community swelled to over 200 souls. In 1859 the region was considered Kansas’ western frontier where there was a lack of government and lawlessness reigned.

Frustrated citizens decided to take matters into their own hands and voted Robert W. Steele as governor of a new district named Jefferson Territory after our third president, Thomas Jefferson. As the territorial capital with an endless stream of wagons passing through on their way to the mining camps, Mount Vernon enjoyed immense prosperity.

Unfortunately, the town’s string of good luck only lasted for about two years and after that it suffered from a gradual decline. In 1861, Steele was forced to give up his post because Congress created Colorado Territory and Abraham Lincoln installed William Gilpin as its first governor.

After Steele’s house burned down, he moved a few miles north to Apex and invested in another toll road that ascended Apex Gulch. Travelers also discovered a couple of gentler, alternate routes through the foothills via Platte Canyon or Clear Creek Canyon so in 1864, Casto bolted before things bottomed out.

Once the stage traffic ceased, Mount Vernon’s status as a political and transportation center was dissolved. While Mount Vernon experienced hardship, nearby cities like Golden and Denver rose to prominence, turning the lovely hamlet into a virtual ghost town.

Interestingly, in the twentieth century Mount Vernon Canyon re-emerged as an important traffic artery. In 1937, U.S. Highway 40 was routed along the north side of the gorge and during the 1960s, I-70 was built right over the top of the old toll road.

Because of the extinct township’s historical significance, it was saved from the destruction of modern development. Thanks to the Matthews family, Winters family and Jeffco Open Space, the area has been preserved and has become a paradise for hiking, running and mountain biking.

If you visit the site today the only thing left standing is a few grave markers set in one of Colorado’s oldest cemeteries. When you’re there it feels like a fitting tribute to the tiny boomtown that once billed itself as “The Gateway to the Rockies”.

A splendid plateau

A unique location

The territorial capital

Mount Vernon enjoyed immense prosperity

Historical significance

A paradise for hikers

One of the oldest cemeteries in Colorado

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Clearing Storm - Fleeting Utopia

A fleeting utopia

The morning after our first snow and the clearing storm revealed an absolutely pristine landscape. Glittering in the soft light, a pair of ponderosa pine were glazed with fresh, white powder, creating a pointillistic effect.

The gathering of dense clouds dispersed, unveiling a cold mountain that was frosted from field to summit. Gradually the white peak came into focus, crowning the autumn landscape with a staggering beauty that can only be witnessed this time of year.

Sprawling below a new-blue sky, snow-spackled trees were scattered across an orange grassland. The slow-moving system had finally dispersed leaving the colorful landscape in a state of fleeting utopia.

A pristine landscape

A pair of ponderosa pine

Unveiling a cold mountain

A staggering beauty

Snow-spackled trees

A colorful landscape

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Snowstorm at the Lake - A Scintillating Prelude

Snowstorm at the lake

It was an awesome autumn morning last Sunday as the storm packed a final punch and piled six inches of snow at Evergreen Lake. Giant flakes rained down from the firmament erasing the normally distinctive mountain backdrop.

Too early for winter’s unyielding chill, the water was still fluid and leaves still firmly attached. The ochre marshland wilted under pressure from heavy accumulation, sending songbirds to seek shelter beneath the boardwalk.

Despite gray weather, the dark reservoir was painted with rigid reflections that decorated the smooth surface. After such a scintillating prelude to the somber season, the slow moving storm suddenly cleared leaving behind a pristine landscape.

Awesome autumn morning

Giant flakes rained down

Leaves were firmly attached

An ochre marshland

A dark reservoir

A pristine landscape

Saturday, October 13, 2018

First Snow - A Soft-Spoken Storm

First Snow

On an early October morn, the first snow in the golden foothills could only be described in a soft monochrome. Rooted into a rocky hillside, an elegant forest of lodgepole pine was distinguished by a silvery tone.

The soft-spoken storm snuck onto the scene and enveloped our area with dreary weather for quite some time. At the beginning, most of the moisture mixed with warm air and soaked into the parched ground.

After dark when the temperatures went down, a couple of inches of wet snow accumulated on the grass, bushes and branches. By the next day, the meadow was glistening with termination dust in a picture reminiscent of winter.

A soft monochrome

An elegant forest

Dreary weather

The parched ground was soaked

Snow on the grass and bushes

Reminiscent of winter

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Elk Meadow - A Tranquil Autumn Evening

A cluster of backlit pine

On a tranquil autumn evening, the entry into Elk Meadow is ablaze with a carpet of fiery grasses. A cluster of backlit pine clings to a rocky hillside while broken clouds stream across the powder blue.

Sprawling below the surreal sky, an orange countryside rises steadily to the fringe of a dark behemoth named Bergen Peak. Further up the rocky trail and a patch of aspen makes its last stand before winter as its leaves are just now starting to turn.

From the shallow recess of a secluded hollow, a solitary pine extends its tangled branches in a wooded embrace. On the brink of a broad ridge there’s a lofty overlook where you can watch the last of the day’s light disappear and our colorful season come to an end.

Ablaze with fiery grasses

Bergen Peak is a dark behemoth

Patch of turning aspen

A secluded hollow

The evening's last light disappears