Saturday, June 23, 2018

Urad Lake - A Successful Reclaimation

Urad Lake, Colorado

With help from the Henderson Mine and some concerned humans, nature has successfully reclaimed the Woods Creek Valley. The centerpiece of this spectacular area is a slender reservoir called Urad Lake.

This new State Wildlife Area is teeming with, well, wildlife. Deer, elk, moose, black bear, red fox, pikas and golden-mantled ground squirrels have all been seen frequenting this high altitude habitat.

At almost 11,000 feet, it’s one of the only places in the world that offers a suitable territory for the critically endangered boreal toad. They eat insects and depend on shallow ponds with warm water in which to breed and underground dens in which to hibernate.

At the far west end, a few streams come rushing in, bringing even more fish into an already well-stocked pond. A fisherman’s paradise, the lake is chock full of small brook trout, pretty rainbows and plenty of cutbows.

As for the lake, it’s pinched into a steep, forested gorge where the water is deep, dark and freezing cold. A rugged trail traces it’s contour allowing one to fully inspect the indigo blue lagoon.

Reaching this subalpine environment requires negotiating a dangerous four-wheel-drive-only road. Off of the radar for most travelers heading to the mountains, Urad Lake is truly a peaceful sanctuary hidden within a realm of high peaks.

Woods Creek Valley has been reclaimed

The centerpiece

A slender reservoir

A high altitude habitat

The west end

Streams come rushing in

A fisherman's paradise

A forested gorge

An indigo blue lagoon

A subalpine environment

A peaceful sanctuary

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Loveland Pass Lakes - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Loveland Pass Lakes" Colored Pencil

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." ~ Georgia O'Keeffe

Situated above timberline, a pair of high mountain tarns are pure blue under a late-summer sun. Known as Loveland Pass Lakes, the shimmering jewels are set just below the Continental Divide.

Looming majestically in the background, a ring of rugged peaks encloses the isolated valley. Dark patches of far away forest cling to the steep mountainside and fade away as they reach ever higher.

The rolling hills of rough terrain around the reservoirs are covered with rows of pine that follow closely the contour of the land. The water is calm, clear and cold with the larger lake reflecting trees in its upper left corner.

Sweeping across the foreground, tundra grasses are ablaze in fiery colors. Conveying the sure sign that seasons are changing, an assortment of flushed vermillion hues are dragged across the textured surface.

Anchoring the right side of the page is a giant, gray rock that’s shaded with strong contrast. Balancing the composition on the other side is a thicket of brush and willows that come streaming in at an angle.

This drawing is not a rigidly faithful representation of the actual scene. It’s more an experiment that blends abstraction with realism, producing a work that emphasizes the primary forms of the mountain landscape.

Nonessential details have been removed in order to focus on the most important elements. The intense observation of nature results in a sensitivity to her dramatic scale and subtle nuances, culminating in a more real portrayal of this Colorado landscape.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Red-sided Garter Snake - A Docile Nature

Red-sided Garter Snake

Speaking of serpents, with summer in full swing, the reptiles are out searching for sun. Slithering out from the depths of his crowded winter den, a red-sided garter snake spends the afternoon in a shady patch of tall grass.

The red-sided garter snake rises early in order to begin regulating his body temperature. He’s warmed up by solar rays and becomes most active in the morning before it gets too hot.

He spends much of his time near water because that’s where he finds his favorite foods. This common snake eats earthworms, amphibians, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, small fish and other snakes.

He’s uniquely immune to the toxic secretions of toads and can eat them without harm. While hunting, the red-sided garter snake uses his superb sense of smell and vision in order to capture prey.

He strikes with precision using sharp teeth and quick reflexes thus immobilizing his unfortunate victim. Harmless to humans, his saliva is slightly toxic to smaller animals making it easier for him to manage his meal.

A data-collecting tongue emerges from an imposing head that looks like its been constructed from fitted bits of chiseled stone. The perfectly circular eyes are razor sharp and shimmer with metallic hues.

The red-sided is a beautiful snake distinguished by his geometric symmetry. He’s cream-colored with two red stripes running the length of his body that are overlaid by a black checkerboard pattern.

Despite his undisputed beauty and docile nature the garter snake is often persecuted by people. In reality he plays a vital role in the ecosystem and when confronted by a human, he’ll hastily retreat.

If he’s backed into a corner, he’ll coil, hiss and flare into a dramatic display of self-defense. Truthfully, though, he’s not much different from most of us because I believe he’d rather be left alone to live his life in peace and harmony.

Slithering out from the depths

A superb sense of smell and vision

A chiseled head

And metallic eyes

Red stripes run the length of his body

A docile nature

Live his life in peace

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Sandhills Summer - Fraught with Beauty

Dugout Creek, Nebraska

So far this summer, the Nebraska sandhills have been hit with heavy rain and sizzling temperatures. The combination of heat and moisture has the heavy air dripping with humidity.

Fortunately, just north of the farm there’s a shady oasis offering cold water, a cool breeze and infinite solitude. It’s a happy place where cattle, birds and wildlife congregate in order to escape the hostility of the Great American Desert.

The centerpiece of such paradise is a muddy creek that winds its way through a cottonwood forest. This year it’s more of a deluge as the water is rampaging through the canyon like a wild bull, making a crossing inconceivable.

Staying safely on one side of the torrent was still a satisfying experience as I saw wood ducks, woodpeckers and wild turkeys. The trees were topped with a fresh canopy of dense foliage that cast blue shadows across the lush grass.

This precious swath of verdant green is a unique environment fraught with beauty and peril. You can’t let your guard down while exploring this serene habitat because even in such an idyllic landscape as this, you have to be careful.

This time of year the prairie can be a dangerous place susceptible to fire, flooding and rattlesnakes. Somehow, though, no serpents were seen so the withdrawal from this Garden of Eden was a matter of free will.

The Nebraska sandhills

A shady oasis

A happy place

A muddy creek is the centerpiece

Dense foliage

Blue shadows

A unique environment

A serene habitat

A matter of free will

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Evergreen Lake - A Washed Landscape

A washed landscape

On a soggy, spring morning at Evergreen Lake, a steady rain came pouring down out of the slate-blue sky. The relentless drizzle soaked anyone resolved enough to stray outside in the drenched domain.

The surrounding mountains were shrouded in a dense mist that blocked the early morning sunlight. The water’s smooth surface was broken by raindrops that created small ripples in the silky reflections.

The pleasant reservoir was formed 90 years ago when Bear Creek was dammed just above the old downtown. This time of year there’s a furious deluge that flows over the modest spillway.

On such a dreary day there wasn’t much wildlife to be seen but there were some bird species that seemed to thrive in the wet weather. Red-winged blackbirds didn’t miss a beat and the Canada geese were out in full force.

Near the shoreline, a few fat goslings tried to stay dry by nestling under their mother’s outstretched wing. A colorful kingfisher buzzed about while a hooded merganser swam in the narrow inlet.

Walking around the lake in less than perfect conditions was a wonderful start to the weekend. There was peace to be found in the middle of a storm that washed the landscape and cleansed the soul.

A soggy spring morning

A drenched domain

Shrouded in mist

A pleasant reservoir

A modest spillway

Red-winged blackbird

Canada geese

Goslings under the wing

A cleansed soul

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dinosaur Ridge - An Earthen Hogback

Mount Morrison from Dinosaur Ridge

Down around Morrison, ancient crags are uplifted and thrust into the sky creating a dynamic landscape. Since the 1800s, this area has been a hotbed for fossil hunters as bones and footprints from all sorts of dinosaurs have been discovered here.

A thin slice of mountainside spans across this Jurassic Park offering magnificent views of Red Rocks and the sheer foothills. Called Dinosaur Ridge, this earthen hogback requires a steep ascent to reach the narrow crest.

Traversing the knife’s edge is a dizzying endeavor as the cliffs fall away precipitously on both sides. At the summit, a few pine trees have been sculpted into interesting shapes by a relentless west wind.

The lofty heights of this rugged escarpment is a prime place to watch for migrating raptors riding the powerful thermals. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single bird of prey but I did see a mule deer, magpie and a few spotted towhees.

Up on the rim, the sun sears through thin air causing the climber to sweat with profusion. After the snowy spring, it seems like the heat has been turned on with a switch so I don’t have any reservation in saying I believe the warmer weather is here to stay.

A slice of mountainside

Magnificent views of Red Rocks Park

A knife-edged ridge

Sculpted pine trees

A rugged escarpment

Mule deer

And magpies

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Evergreen Overlook - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Evergreen Overlook" Colored Pencil

Out of all of the drawings I’ve ever done, this is one of my favorites. An ambitious project, the composition is larger than usual for me so it took a tremendous amount of time and patience to complete.

It was deeply influenced by master artists such as Benton, Kent and O’Keeffe. The arrangement was thoughtfully simplified in order to capture the essence of our mountain corridor called Evergreen, Colorado.

From the southern slopes of Genesee Mountain, the Front Range foothills are carefully unfurled. Filled with smooth gradations, the billowing landscape is shaded like a piece of wrinkled clothing.

The verdant mountains get gradually lighter and bluer as they recede into the distance. Crowning the rugged skyline, the snowy Mount Evans Massive is partially obscured by low-lying clouds.

The dead ponderosa pine is the focal point as a halo of reflected light glows against the darkest passage. The skeletal structure of the red snag is shown in striking contrast to the lively, green tree that stands behind.

In front, the golden shrubs are overlapping elements that are arranged across the page in an orderly fashion. The row of brush encloses a swath of swirling grasses that lay in all different directions.

Above, a scattering of soft, white clouds stretches thinly across the vibrant blue sky. The upper atmosphere is darker at the top and gradually lightens as it approaches the rugged horizon line.

From such an incredible vantage point the lonesome wilderness yearns for the visitor’s undivided attention. Landmarks like Bergen Peak, Black Mountain and Elephant Butte can be discerned upon close inspection.

The vast expanse of meadows, trees and mountains unfolds before your eyes. This part of Colorado is beautiful countryside brimming with water, wildlife and wildflowers. I’m lucky to call this countryside home.