Saturday, September 19, 2020

Arkansas River Canyon - A Cauldron of Fire

Arkansas River Canyon

Conceived in some of Colorado’s highest country, the Arkansas River rushes down through its namesake valley. Upon leaving the state, it continues an incredible journey across the southern plains until its confluence with the Mississippi River.

Near CaƱon City, at one of its most volatile sections, the Arkansas’ whitewater rapids are threaded through a chasm of devastating beauty. The timeless crevice is sliced out of red earth and its jagged, rock walls are defined by eternal shadows of violet-blue.

While wandering up to the rim of this royal gorge, a satanic sun scorches the savage landscape. The devil’s domain is a vicious mixture of greasewood, cactus, yucca and sagebrush brewed in a cauldron of fire.

Upon reaching the cliff edge, the true elevation becomes an awesome reality whose dizzying concept is difficult to comprehend. The tiny ribbon of blue, winding its way through a graveyard of broken spires and collapsed structures, seems so far away.

Descending into this hellish environment from our milder, mountain climate is a stark revelation burned into a thirsty mind. Unfairly denounced as desolate, this mystical habitat is home to extraordinary plants and animals, instilling in me the utmost respect for life at the desert’s fringe.

Devastating beauty

A timeless crevice

The rim of a royal gorge

An awesome reality

Stark revelation

A satanic sun

The Devils's domain

A hellish environment

A cauldron of fire

A savage landscape

Difficult to comprehend

A mystical habitat

Life at the desert's fringe

Denounced as desolate

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Ghost Horse - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Ghost Horse" Colored Pencil

Floating out of an eerie windbreak, a white apparition confronts the viewer face-to-face. It’s a piercing dawn in the Sandhills as the ghost horse haunts a prairie hacienda.

The pale wraith is peaceful and harmless as it drifts through a moat of tall grass. Trying to bridle him in, a rough-hewn stockade is suggested by an irregular grid of interlocking, geometric shapes.

Defined by a steel-blue shadow, the phantom’s head is the portrait of simplicity. His shaggy, winter robe is conveyed by the purest of white with touches of cool gray smudged into the shape.

With the rapid rise of technology, automation and manufacturing, we creep ever closer to becoming the ultimate, urban civilization. It’s heartening to come home to western Nebraska where vast tracts of ranch land scenery can still be found, summoning the resilient spirit of the Old West.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Helms Lake - Into the Abyss

Helms Lake

Ensconced in the granite bowl of a spectacular gorge, Helms Lake is an aqueous repository of visually stunning scenery. The soaring tarn lies tacitly above tree line but still far below a fortress of towering peaks.

The difficult journey to this remarkable, alpine refuge begins in a forest of lodgepole pine and progresses through tremendous groves of radiant aspen. A cascade of icy snowmelt traces the trail and the comforting sound of rushing water placates the soul.

It’s a dim aurora as the morning light yearns to infiltrate the dense interior of the primeval wilderness. The diverse geography is a succession of tiered plateaus creating a grand staircase that culminates in a basin of otherworldly beauty.

While straining upward through different life zones, the tenacious trees gradually become more stunted and twisted before suddenly giving way to a glorious tundra. A maze of willows insulates the remote reservoir, creating a buffer between a rugged world and smooth water.

Piercing the placid surface, a cavalcade of large boulders is strewn haphazardly within the pond’s oval border. The cold water is clear like glass as it perfectly reflects the gathering clouds, painting the picture of an approaching storm.

During the descent, light rain comes down as well - offering some relief from the unusually unbearable heat in the high country. Following a brisk creek out of the big valley, numerous, single-log bridges are perilous crossings bringing us closer to home.

Back in the bottomlands, it’s a paradise for wildlife because of the vast bounty of food, water and shelter. Bighorn sheep graze across the lower meadows, red squirrels dominate the woodland, moose tread through the marsh and marmots scurry near rocky outcrops.

The unforgettable expedition was a strenuous trek that pushed personal stamina to its maximum limit. It was worth the colossal effort as Helm’s Lake sits in an isolated abyss shielded by sawtooth peaks while confirming faith in the healing power of pristine nature.

Moose in the marsh

Yellow-bellied marmot

Paradise for wildlife

Morning light yearns to infiltrate

Cascade of snowmelt

An alpine refuge

Perilous bridge

Rushing water

A big valley

A brisk creek

A rugged world

Primeval wilderness

A strenuous trek

Diverse geography

Glorious tundra

A maze of willows

Ensconced in a granite bowl

A soaring tarn

The cold water is clear

Cavalcade of boulders

Stunning scenery

Gathering clouds

An isolated abyss

Pristine nature

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Abert's Squirrel - Give and Take

Abert's Squirrel

Some years I barely see them at all but this summer the Abert’s Squirrel has been unusually conspicuous. They have allowed me to document, through photography, their delightful behavior. 

The younger ones are especially curious and playful as they scurry down within arm’s length, taunting me to come closer. If I resist the dare, they continue to close the gap but if I make the slightest twitch, they rocket back to the tree trunk.

Exhibiting no fear of heights, the mature adults perch safely on tree limbs high above the forest floor. Early mornings are spent on the ground cautiously collecting pinecones for breakfast.

The large, bushy tail and long ear tufts are the distinctive features of this endearing creature. Compared to the rowdy, little red squirrel, who thinks it owns the forest, the Abert's is quite charming.

A story about the simple life of a squirrel may seem tedious but we can learn much from its interesting and complex partnership with the ponderosa pine tree. Also known as the tassel-eared squirrel, it is strictly confined to ponderosa pine forests.

The tree provides not only a home but also most of its diet. In exchange for food and shelter, the squirrel spreads fungal spores around the tree that are beneficial to the pine's health.

The squirrel has to manage its fragile resource wisely because if the exploitation becomes too extensive, the tree will go into defense mode. It will produce extra terpenes (chemicals that give pines their scent) to ruin the squirrel's appetite.

The tree's reaction evicts the squirrel but at the cost of reduced vitality and a slower growth rate. In other words, they need to get along in order for each species to thrive. Just like any prosperous relationship between plant and animal there must be some give and take.

They have been unusually conspicuous

Delightful behavior

Curious and playful

They scurry down the tree

Taunting to come closer

Quite charming

Large ear tufts

It manages its resource

Tassel-eared squirrel

Confined to a ponderosa pine forest

Give and take