Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mount Moran - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Mount Moran" Colored Pencil

On a sunny, summer morning in the Tetons, Mount Moran is a massive monolith that’s been exiled to the northern front. Isolated from the rest of the range, the remote mountain is extremely inaccessible and virtually unclimbable.

The chilling buttress is violet by nature but on this day a golden light infuses the scene with an inviting warmth that tempts the viewer to linger. There are no foothills to soften the blow as the massif rises suddenly out of a decorative forest of pine.

The placid peak deserves a dramatic portrait so crisp highlights and strong shadows define its chiseled features. Great glaciers have gouged its profile and relinquished eternal snowfields that glisten white all year long.

The serene mountain is named after artist Thomas Moran, who accompanied survey expeditions into the Rockies during the 1800s. Moran documented the extraordinary landscape of the American West through drawings, paintings and prints.

A disciple of J. M. W. Turner, Moran’s masterpieces eloquently express the light and beauty of our nation’s early frontier. When his enormous canvases were viewed by the fine folks back East, his work caused a sensation.

There is no doubt that Moran’s pictures were influential in the government’s decision to transform the Yellowstone region into America’s first national park. Awesome, austere and artistic, Mount Moran is a memorable tribute to one of my favorite artists.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Glacier Gorge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Glacier Gorge" Colored Pencil

Sculpted in rock by wind and ice, Glacier Gorge is a dramatic dreamscape. The rocky ravine is renowned for its rugged peaks, raging waterfalls and remote lakes. This composition depicts the unforgettable entry into that complicated chasm where morning sun creates strong contrast and dark shadows.

Sharp clouds are settled in a blended-blue sky. The violet backdrop of rocky mountains is capped by the square summit of Longs Peak. Gashed by Glacier Creek, the canyon walls are purple and pink. The rush of turquoise water streams down from Mills Lake and exits the scene.

Luckily, a rock ledge in the foreground lures the viewer back in by promising a perfect overlook. So close to the tundra, the shapes and sizes of weather-beaten trees becomes surreal. Complying with a risky intent, the pine-forest-passage is expressed through subtle insinuation.

Still stored in the mind, a hazy memory from last summer was guided by an unsure left hand. After a winter in hibernation, it’s time to wake from slumber. Although imagination is an option, the search for subject matter continues. So for now, it’s back to the drawing board.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Silverton Colorado - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Silverton Colorado" Colored Pencil

Silverton, Colorado sits in a deep valley enclosed by enormous mountains. Presiding over the highest district in the United States, the San Juan County Courthouse is seated just above cement creek. Clear and cold, the spring runoff rushes over a rocky creek bed and out of the foreground.

Stretching ever skyward, the stately structure bears a striking resemblance to the silvery peaks that surround it. With an air of unnatural perfection, a grouping of cylindrical pine trees stands at attention. A rickety bridge is a surprisingly sturdy link between architecture and the alpine tundra.

The rustic buildings are as colorful as the town's storied past. Silverton is a former mining camp that was characterized by a rough and rowdy bunch. This melting-pot of personalities partook in a variety of unseemly activities, such as drinking, gambling, prostitution and robbery to name a few.

Distinguished by turbulent weather and long, severe winters, surviving in such a harsh environment requires a hardy soul. At such an extreme elevation, while strolling in the middle of smokey-blue mountains, the sensitive searcher can't help but absorb this undeniable spirit of the San Juans.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Spring Snow - A Monochrome Maelstrom

Spring Snowstorm

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
~ Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Spring began with a kaleidoscope of bright colors but scarcely into the new season and a surprise snowstorm converted the saturated scenery to grayscale. Moist flakes were dumped for days and eventually exceeded three feet.

The monochrome maelstrom brought much needed moisture to the mountains and composed a magnificent landscape etched in black and white. Pale peaks melted into a misty atmosphere while the forest featured vertical patterns of textured trees.

Traversing across Elk Meadow, the heart-pounding hike was a recurring lesson in faith and patience. Even after a dreary Sunday evening spent trudging through deep snow, it is still human nature to always find fresh cause for optimism.

A surprise snowstorm

The scenery was converted to grayscale

Three feet of snow

A monochrome maelstrom

Much needed moisture

A landscape etched in black and white

Peaks melted into the atmosphere

Vertical patterns of textured trees

Fresh cause for optimism

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bluebirds - Territory, Temperament and Fire

Mountain Bluebird

The annual return of mountain bluebirds to Noble Meadow is a sure sign of spring. This year though, curious newcomers have burst onto the scene. Western bluebirds can now be observed foraging in the splendid field. Hopefully, this stubborn pair of creatures can set aside their age-old differences and find enough space to coexist up here.

The longstanding feud between these beautiful birds is based on territory, temperament and fire. After years of intense study, biologists may have discovered a behavioral difference that seems to give the western bluebird an advantage over the mountain bluebird when it comes to this geographical dispute.

Western bluebirds are facultative cooperative breeders. Meaning, some adult offspring postpone breeding for a year or two to help their parents raise nestlings. A young, male western bluebird has two life choices. He can stay at home and care for siblings in exchange for a small piece of family property or he can strike out on his own in search of new land.

In general, the bold explorers are aggressive and independent while the timid homebodies are peaceful and nurturing. The more assertive westerns will outcompete mountain bluebirds and displace them from prime habitat. The passive type of western bluebird soon follows and creates a more stable, permanent population.

Historically, the fascinating relationship between these two species has always been complicated. For thousands of years natural wildfires used to cleanse the valley forests. Woodpeckers were first to colonize these burn areas and create cavities in the dead and decaying trees. Mountain bluebirds arrived next and happily inhabited these ready-made nest sites.

Later, the feisty western bluebirds would gradually appear and within 20 years completely drive out the mountain bluebirds. Able to survive in a harsh environment where the westerns cannot, the mountain bluebirds retreated to the high country and waited for the next lowland fire to re-set the process and start over. This rhythmic tug-of-war went on for generations.

A hundred years ago, humans began to drastically reshape the western landscape. Fires were suppressed and lush valleys were logged and cleared for agricultural use. As a result, fragile bluebird habitat was destroyed forever. Western bluebirds virtually disappeared and a few, adaptable mountain bluebirds fled for the hills. The birds became critically endangered.

Devised by conservationists, ranchers and birders, a desperate plan to save the beleaguered birds featured trails of man-made nest boxes that were placed 100 to 300 yards apart. The miraculous effort was an immediate success as mountain bluebirds came flocking back to inhabit the shiny, new structures.

Just like before, western bluebirds slowly showed up and eventually expelled the mountain bluebirds. The nest box campaign undoubtedly saved the birds but it may have also created an unintended effect. The western bluebirds have established an enduring, low-elevation home and with no fires to reset the landscape, mountain bluebirds have no chance at winning back that life zone.

Currently, the westerns tend to dominate the lower meadows and fields so most mountain bluebirds will be restricted to higher elevations, a place where the westerns have been unable to expand. This is because the negligent explorers don’t support nesting females during incubation and birth. As a result, western nestlings are often unable to survive late-spring snowstorms.

It appears as though these two species will be permanently segregated with some instances of overlap occurring at the middle elevations. This delicate balance of give and take is just another example of the ever-evolving relationship on earth between nature and man.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next at Noble Meadow but with camera in hand, rest assured that I’ll be keeping an eye on the situation. I enjoy the sight and sound of both of these lovely, little birds so if all goes well, I will continue to luckily see their splashes of brilliant color in our ochre meadows.

A sure sign of spring

A curious newcomer

Male westerns have to make a choice

The westerns are more aggressive

Mountain bluebirds have adapted to the high country

Mountain bluebird female

Western bluebirds dominate the lowlands

Mountain bluebirds are restricted to higher elevations

Western bluebirds are gradually appearing

What will happen next?

A splash of color in an ochre meadow

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Echo Lake - A Beautiful Pearl

Echo Lake, Colorado

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” ~ Christopher McCandless

Positioned in an area known for its precious metal, Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl set below a string of snow-capped peaks. It’s nestled just beyond Squaw Pass at the base of the Mount Evans massif. Known for its turbulent nature, the passive reservoir was rendered mute during our visit.

We encountered the place during calm weather and experienced an unusual sense of peace and tranquility. Still sleepy beneath a blanket of deep snow, the placid lake was a circle of serenity. From atop a steep overlook, we could see the white wilderness gradually rise above a black forest.

Long shadows were cast quietly across the surface of the frozen pond. The alluring landscape was a perfect place to recapture an adventurous spirit. Trudging through that ghostly forest, there was something mysterious about its appearance that invoked a stoic soul to passionately search for more.

Echo Lake is a beautiful pearl

A string of snow-capped peaks

Nestled below the Mount Evans massif

A passive reservoir

A placid circle of serenity

A rocky overlook

A white wilderness

Rises above the forest

A quiet, frozen pond

An alluring landscape

A ghostly forest

Search for more

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Snow Over the Rockies - A Picturesque Storm

Storm over the Rockies

"The sun'll come out tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun." ~ Annie Bennett

During a peaceful day in the Front Range foothills, the big peaks became embroiled in a picturesque snowstorm. Unwilling to yield, rays of rebellious light continued to stream through the wild blue yonder.

Full of obvious indifference, great gray clouds descended onto the scene. The outlook turned ominous almost instantly as the gradual process of image disintegration occurred before my very eyes.

As the turbulent weather continued, mountains melted into the tempestuous firmament. The beautiful beginning forecasted a picture-perfect future but after the promising start, just like that, the sun was gone.

A peaceful day in the foothills

Mount Evans

The big peaks

Embroiled in a picturesque storm

Rebellious light

Clouds began to gather

Dark clouds descend

The outlook turned ominous

Mountains melted into the firmament

The sun will come out tomorrow