Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bald Eagles - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Bald Eagles" Colored Pencil

High above a big, blue reservoir, snow-covered peaks form an impressive backdrop as a pair of bald eagles secure their lofty roost. The fish-filled lake will provide the birds of prey with plenty of food for an entire winter.

Always around water, the white-headed raptor is an opportunistic angler. Though an apex predator, it's versatile enough to procure a meal by any means necessary, including hunting, scavenging or outright thievery.

Native to North America, the bald eagle is the undisputed emblem of the United States. Pesticides and hunting by paranoid ranchers almost exterminated our national bird but with proper protection, it has recovered and is prospering across the union.

A powerful patriot, the high-flying eagle is a symbol of everlasting liberty. We watch enviously as the wide-winged warrior soars freely through spacious skies above, while us downtrodden dreamers remain confined to the earth below.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

White Ranch Park - The Perfect Showcase

White Ranch Park

Located northwest out of Golden, White Ranch Park is an open space that offers plenty of room to roam. Upon entering through an elaborate gateway, you'll discover a rugged landscape carved by Van Bibber Creek.

The lush environment is a birder's paradise that, after crossing an old wooden bridge, gives way to steep hillsides. Teeming with wildlife as well, the scrub forest is most definitely the domain of the mule deer.

Spring is busy. The place is bursting with renewed activity. Filled with cold runoff, the resilient Van Bibber rushes down out of snowy Front Range Peaks. Concealed in the canopy of fresh yellow and green, noisy birds are building nests.

Summer is hot and dry. Quiet days give way to afternoon thunder showers that quench the parched brook. As evening descends and temperatures cool, the park comes to life. A chorus of happy birds serenades the deer grazing on grassy, green knolls.

Fall is pretty. Jagged Devil's Thumb rises out of a hellish furnace of blazing colors. The rocky creek is barely more than a trickle and the birds have flown south. The horses are still out to pasture and rabbits have retired to the briar.

Winter is difficult. Devoid of life, the tradeoff for solitude is bitter cold. Punctured by frosted boulders, the frozen stream is an icy corridor winding through a winter wonderland. The bluffs are brown and serrated by rippled waves of windswept snow.

I don't like change but I've learned to accept it through nature. Over the past few years, White Ranch has proven to be the perfect showcase for observing the evolving seasons. The beauty of the park is its ever-changing nature.

No matter when we go, the varied landscape offers the explorer a unique experience. Depending on the light, weather and color, each season is distinguished by a distinct display of fleeting attributes. Except for winter, it seems to last forever.

Spring is a time for renewel

The Van Bibber rushes down out of the Front Range

A resilient, rocky creek

Summers are hot and dry

Black-headed Grosbeak sings his heart out

Mule deer graze peacefully

Steep, rugged hillsides

Fall is the prettiest time of year

Jagged Devil's Thumb Peak

The park is beautiful

The solitude of winter is bitter cold

Frosted boulders and a frozen stream

Gateway to a winter wonderland

Saturday, December 13, 2014

South Table Mountain - A Beautiful Bastion

South Table Mountain

On a sunny September morn, we got out of our chairs and headed for South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. The inconspicuous trailhead was concealed in an urban environment but after the domestic beginning, we found ourselves in a rugged outback.

Slightly on our way, we encountered a sleepy serpent basking in the warm sunshine. After the rattlesnake rendezvous, we were fueled by a rush of adrenaline. Trailblazing up a series of sharp switchbacks, the heart-pumping path rose quickly.

In the cool, blue shadow of a magnificent mesa, we ascended ever higher. Finally, after a leg-burning scramble through a narrow passage of loose scree, we attained the flat, false summit. Off to the west, a solitary butte was a beautiful bastion overlooking the foothills.

In order to obtain the true finish circle, we mastered the final gut-busting set of steep stairs. From atop the round tower, an oval plateau offered a panorama of the pleasant landscape. After a while, as the sun continued to rise, we began our descent.

The return trek was a knee-pounding drop. A downward spiral emptied into the flowery snake den where the reticent reptile had so unceremoniously slithered off trail. Back at the beginning, hot and tired, a bottle of cold water was welcome refreshment after the weekend workout.

A rugged outback

Rattlesnake basking in the sun

A magnificent mesa and its cool, blue shadow

The flat, false summit

Gut-busting stairs

The summit plateau

A pleasant landscape

A downward spiral

A flowery snake den

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prairie Rattlesnake - An Honorable Asp

Prairie Rattlesnake

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" ~ Indiana Jones

Dwelling in Colorado's dark underworld, the prairie rattlesnake is a misunderstood animal that always gets a bad rap. Despite its intimidating appearance, the shy serpent is not looking for trouble. As a matter of fact, the reticent reptile does everything in its control to avoid detection and possible conflict. When alarmed, the snake vibrates its tail rapidly creating an unforgettable buzzing sound. The distinct noise is a warning to all who can hear, "Don't tread on me!"

The reclusive rattler is beautifully colored and patterned in such a way that it blends perfectly into the rocky buttes and mesas that fringe the Front Range foothills. During the dog days of summer, it becomes nocturnal. The stealthy snake hunts at night using its innervated pits to detect heat emanating from warm-blooded rodents.

A lightning-quick strike is absolutely lethal. Delivered by two long, hinged fangs, large amounts of toxic venom are injected into hunting bites. Interestingly, some defensive encounters with humans result in a "dry bite". That's when little or no venom is actually released into the person's wound.

If it feels threatened or provoked, the prairie rattlesnake will turn downright nasty on a dime but not without fair warning. The antagonist better proceed with caution because the rattler will fight back fast and furiously. An angry snake will load up with tissue-damaging toxins and strike several times during a single attack.

The honorable asp seems uncannily self-aware of its destructive power and never strikes until it has generously given notice. Luckily for us, the deadly pit viper is distinguished by the beaded rattle on the end of its tail and the snake is conscientious enough to use it.

We encountered the snake pictured in this post while hiking up South Table Mountain in Golden. Comfortable and docile, she was sunning herself in the middle of the path on a cool, September morning. My wife and the dogs unwittingly walked right over the top of the camouflaged snake.

Bringing up the rear, our youngest was first to spot the coiled creature. A scary situation at first, we kept a careful distance and watched the rattler for about fifteen minutes. After a while, probably tired of our persistence, she slowly slithered off of the trail. She never buzzed once.

An intimidating appearance

A reticent rattler

Beautifully colored and patterned

Buttes and mesas fringe the foothills

South Table Mountain trail

Sunning in the middle of the path

Slowly slithering off trail

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Evergreen Memorial Park - A Pensive Garden

An impressive bison

While waiting for practice to end, wandering down to Evergreen Memorial Park is like walking back in time. Set in Colorado's Front Range foothills, the sprawling meadow serves as a cemetery, wildlife preserve and wedding ground. The weathered barn chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, is a symbolic structure and fitting tribute to the early settlers of Evergreen and the Old West.

Just like days gone by, buffalo roam across a golden plain and gather on the muddy banks of a lively watering hole. Occupying a rocky domain, amusing goats and friendly fallow deer greet the visitor with unbridled enthusiasm. Further along the path, an impressive herd of antlered elk is tame enough to be hand-fed. The curious critters use their long, sticky tongues to swipe pellets of compressed hay directly from your clutch.

An interesting ritual is the daily occurrence of congregating clouds that seem to melt into the cool-blue mountains. The fascinating weather effect blesses the evening landscape with a contemplative light not found anywhere else. Surrounded by antiques and artifacts, the pensive Garden of the Pioneers is a peaceful place to remember our past and an inspiring spot to try and foretell the future.

The weathered barn chapel is symbolic

Complete with stained-glass windows

Buffalo gather around the watering hole

Goats occupy a rocky domain

Friendly Fallow deer

A herd of antlered elk

Tame enough to be hand-fed

Clouds and cool-blue mountains

Blessed with heavenly light

The garden is a peaceful place to remember our past

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Carhenge - A Celebration of Life

Carhenge, Nebraska

On a sultry, summer afternoon, we headed up to the High Plains and investigated a western Nebraska icon. Rising conspicuously out of the verdant corn, Carhenge was constructed 27 years ago as an exact replica of southern England's Stonehenge.

At first, it was considered a despicable eyesore haphazardly fabricated by a crazy farmer but in actuality, it's an admirable display sculpted by a serious artist. Over time as the structure has blended into the environment, locals have not only accepted the work but they have embraced it as their own unique piece of Americana.

Though some may still dismiss Carhenge as the makings of a madman, artist Jim Reinders cleared his field and built it so now we come. Today, people from all over the world arrive in the agricultural town of Alliance, Nebraska to visit the quirky roadside attraction.

The grouping of gray gas guzzlers is a remarkable recreation. Aligned with the summer solstice, Carhenge faithfully replicates Stonehenge's current tumble-down state. As well as the main circle, the exhibit includes two station stones, three upright trilithons, the Slaughter Stone and the mysterious Heel Stone.

For an artisan or photographer, the place is interesting to examine. At the photogenic site, an enormous complex offers tight angles and dark shadows that form interesting compositions at every turn. The cold, Detroit steel contrasts sharply with the undulating Sandhills and billowing, white clouds.

Originally conceived as a memorial, at its core, the monument is a moving tribute to Jim's father. Encouraged to explore freely, children enthusiastically climb cars and kick tires. Whereas the stone slabs of Salisbury are the "Domain of the Dead", the arrangement of American automobiles near Alliance appears to be a celebration of life.

Constructed 27 years ago

Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge

A serious sculpture

The structure blends into the environment

A piece of Americana

A quirky roadside attraction

Gray gas guzzlers

The mysterious Heel Stone

A photogenic site

Tight angles and dark shadows

The monument is a memorial

A celebration of life