Saturday, December 7, 2019

Big Snowmelt - A Burst of Mild Weather

Big snowmelt

In between winter storms, there are short periods of warm sunshine that result in big snowmelt. The snow slides down off of the tree branches dousing the wanderer with a shower of cold water.

During these fleeting bursts of mild weather, treacherous trails into the lonely forest are packed with rocks and ice. If you dare to venture out during this muddy interlude, tread with caution and expect to get wet.

It may not be the most beautiful time of the year but there is a certain elegance inherent to the dull color scheme. The ochres, browns and grays sparkle in the clear light, contrasting sharply with the morning’s dark shadows.

The meadow has been swept clean by a strong, west wind blowing down from the highest peaks. It has been nice to receive a respite from the repeating cycle of historic storms because it gives us some time to document their impact and prepare for the ones still on the way.

In between snowstorms

Morning's dark shadows

A fleeting burst of mild weather

A muddy interlude

A certain elegance

Short periods of warm sunshine

The meadow is windswept

A nice respite

Snow slides off of the branches

Sparkling, clear light

Preparing for more snow

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Winter Storms - A White November

Winter Storms

This year we have skipped fall and descended directly into the dark season as winter storms Aubrey, Bessie, Caleb, Dorothy and Ezekiel have already pounded the foothills with heavy snow. It is generally during the month of March that we receive most of our moisture but the amounts dumped this autumn have been historic.

It is not just the excessive precipitation that is remarkable but also the arctic cold as the deep snow is piled into drifts of feathery powder. The mountains are cloaked in a robe of glittering gray while the limber pine are bent by the weight of thick frost, creating an arched pathway into the frozen, forest kingdom.

When ploughing across the pale meadow, your footsteps make a distinct crunching sound that can only be heard when walking on soft snowpack. December is usually dry so it is unpredictable as to whether we will awaken to a classic Christmas Day but I know one thing for certain - dreams of a White November have already come true.

We have skipped fall

Storms have pounded the foothills

Descended into the dark season

Arctic cold

Historic snow this fall

Deep snow

The mountains are a glittering gray

Winter Storm Caleb

A pale meadow

Excessive precipitation

A frozen, forest kingdom

A White November

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Sheep Lakes - Eternal Shades of Pastel Blue

Sheep Lakes

A bitterly cold wind sweeps down through Fall River Canyon and the frigid air settles in a scenic gorge named Horseshoe Park. Scientists call this place a glacial outwash terrace, I call it a glorious gateway to one of the most beautiful areas in Colorado.

Ensconced in Rocky Mountain National Park, the gorgeous meadow was sculpted by a 500-foot-thick glacier during the last ice age. That glacier crept down the valley and reached its maximum extent about 15,000 years ago.

The powerful force of nature gradually retreated and as it did, the glacier released sizable chunks of ice and rubble. The dynamic combination of melting ice and strewn debris wreaked havoc on the thawed earth, creating cavities in the soft ground.

When the deep depressions, resulting from the event’s epic aftermath, are filled with water - they are called kettle lakes. These ponds are special because they have no surface drainage and the land surrounding them has been transformed into a natural salt lick.

Locals call this place Sheep Lakes because Bighorn Sheep, attracted by salt deposits in the ground, congregate here during the summer. They come down from the Mummy Range in order to graze on grass and eat the soil, obtaining minerals not available in their alpine habitat.

Horseshoe is a paradise for all kinds of wildlife during the summer but the winters are brutal as the park is laid to rest in a snow-covered tomb buried below picturesque peaks. At this time of year, the forbidding landscape can only be described by dead quiet and eternal shades of pastel blue.

One of the most beautiful areas

A glorious gateway

Winters are brutal

Horseshoe Park

A glacial outwash terrace

A snow-covered tomb

Picturesque peaks

Eternal shades of blue

Friday, November 15, 2019

American Bison Trail - A Secret Passage

American Bison Trail

Tucked away in the Front Range Foothills, a discreet meadow is home to Colorado’s treasured herd of buffalo. Broken by rocks and ice, a muddy pathway circumnavigates the sturdy enclosure while offering unobstructed views of the Continental Divide.

The American Bison Trail traverses the lower slopes of Genesee Mountain, winding its way through an old-growth forest of ponderosa pine. The morning sun has just slipped over the ridge so bright light floods into the open woodland.

Sequestered in the backwoods, the trail is a secret passage through the wilderness that even the locals don’t know exists. One of the most common inhabitants in this netherworld is the cautious mule deer but encounters with this shy creature are transient.

It is pretty quiet in the deep interior but if you listen closely, you’ll hear a whole chorus of resident birds. Crows drift across the treetops as woodpeckers and nuthatches tap tree bark while Stellar’s jays squawk noisily, disrupting the peaceful ambiance.

Tiny, black specks graze in a golden grassland unfurled below an impressive expanse of blue mountains and big white peaks. The hardy beasts are settled in the center of the pasture so a long camera lens is required to reach out and capture their shaggy silhouettes.

Sweeping down from the high country, an autumn chinook eats through the frost still drifted in the dark shadows. It is a clear day and the calendar says it is fall but down in this secluded valley, the deep snow and bitter cold make it feel like the dead of winter.

The Continental Divide

An expanse of mountains and white peaks

A ponderosa pine forest

A discreet valley

Shaggy silhouettes

The wilderness

An open woodland

A secret passage

The sun has slipped over the ridge

The deep interior

Feels like the dead of winter

Sunday, November 10, 2019

In the Forest, Bear Creek - Colored Pencil Drawing

"In the Forest, Bear Creek" Colored Pencil

It is late summer in the Colorado foothills and Bear Creek is flowing steadily through a narrow, forest-filled canyon. The pastoral scene is a study in contrast involving shapes, edges, values and color.

The forest interior is one of the most alluring places on earth providing asylum from the cold steel, glass and pavement found in the city. Life slows down along the creek where earth, trees, water and air create a comforting atmosphere.

The flickering landscape makes a gradual transition towards abstraction as the indistinct edges of the riverbank melt into the rushing water. The calm ambiance is disrupted by an explosion of streaming light that shatters into small shards of pure color.

It is a natural patchwork of opposing pigments where a warm highlight streaks across the creek’s cool surface. The rock cliff’s sharp angles convey action and dynamic movement that spreads across the unusual drawing.

A murky silhouette of pine trees suggests the tangled canopy of a dense woodland. The vibrant palette is scumbled over an orange-toned paper that permeates throughout the entire piece, unifying the intricate composition.

The depiction of this splendid niche in the planet is meant to express the mystery of an untamed wilderness. Just like the white cloud drifting into the background so will the forest’s fiery mosaic fade into the icy tones of winter.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Rocky Mountain Columbine - A Vivid Buttercup

Colorado Blue Columbine

Winter is here now but not so long ago, the snow-covered meadows were blanketed with colorful blossoms that attracted bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and the artist’s eye. The most revered of these lovely wildflowers is the iconic Rocky Mountain Columbine which blooms from mid-May through July.

An avid hiker named Edwin James first discovered the blue columbine while scaling the steep slopes of Pikes Peak. This hardy perennial thrives at high altitude in the mountain west from the foothills up to the alpine.

Because of its magnificent display of blue-violet petals, white cup and yellow center, the Rocky Mountain Columbine was designated Colorado’s official state flower in 1899. The elegant, triadic, color scheme is a perfect fit because the blue symbolizes the sky, white our eternal snow and yellow our rich gold mining history.

Reclusive despite its beauty, the lovely flower favors moist, rocky soil and it prefers to hide along small streams, near an aspen grove or in the shade of a ponderosa pine tree. After an especially wet spring, I find them more showy in the damp gulches where they sway gently in the warm, summer breeze.

Even though the columbine is successfully adapted to growing here, every fall it must still obediently succumb to the natural rhythm of life. We may be descending into the dark season when the fields are barren but I have bittersweet memories of last summer and those vivid buttercups clinging so delicately to the edges of a dusty trail.

Along the edges of a dusty trail

They thrive at high altitude

A magnificent display

Colorado's state flower

Reclusive despite its beauty

A revered wildflower

Showy in a damp gulch

They favor moist, rocky soil

Bittersweet memories

Prefers to hide in the shade