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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Deep Snow - Beauty Beyond Comprehension

Deep Snow

On an early-autumn evening, another weather system entombed the valley in blizzard conditions. The precipitation poured down out of the dark sky in a waterfall of huge, white flakes that accumulated indiscriminately onto all exterior surfaces.

A torturous wind whipped down through the meadow, making the intolerable matters much worse. The temperatures crashed to well below freezing and crystallized the foothills into a frozen land of enchantment.

By the next morning, the Rocky Mountains were buried in deep snow while radiating beauty beyond comprehension. Overcast early, the normally rich-hued forest was pared down to black and white.

Ascending the mountain through knee-deep powder was a breath-taking, heart-pounding, sweat-breaking struggle. Upon reaching the summit, blue skies burst through the last remnants of soft cloud cover exposing the storms gorgeous aftermath.

Deep inside the woodland, unavoidable confusion was defined by a wintry mix of strong shadows and filtered sunlight. As the lodgepole pine shook free from their white robes, I got soaked by a cold shower.

From a secluded clearing on the steep hillside, an apparition of gray peaks began to reappear in the vast expanse. The most striking thing about being in the wilderness after a storm is the perfect stillness that exudes an eerie calm.

Going out on a day like that may seem crazy but if I’m going to create honest expressions of the local landscape with pencil and paper, I feel like I have to experience everything the mountains have to offer during the good weather and bad.

While appraising my artwork one day, my college art professor told me that in order to paint the mountains properly, you have to live in the mountains. I took his advice to heart and moved to Colorado, searching for a more personal way to express my passion for the American West.

I’ve lived in the mountains for 30 years now where I’m out in the field every single day no matter what because I want to better understand how snow drapes over the high summits, how rivers shape the lush meadows and how sunlight streams through the deep forests.

A frozen land

Buried in deep snow

Radiating beauty

Inside the woodland

The wilderness after a storm

Good weather and bad

A gorgeous aftermath

The foothills were crystalized

Strong shadows and filtered sunlight

An eerie calm

Blue skies burst through

The gray peaks reappear

Perfect stillness

A passion for the west

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Winter Storm Aubrey - Fall's First Snow

Elk Meadow and Bergen Peak

This year’s first snow was right on schedule as the Front Range Foothills were laid on the fringe of a freak winter storm named Aubrey. It was remarkable because of the precipitous temperature plunge that accompanied the autumnal weather event.

The arctic-cold air bottomed out at a breathtaking seven degrees Fahrenheit while heavy snow fell hard from a steel-gray sky. The flakes were more like icy pellets that piled up on the ground in drifts of gritty powder.

Fortunately, the wind was not a factor as a battle against the north breeze was something that never developed. Blurred edges were an eerie effect produced by the diffused light, exaggerating the atmospheric perspective so prevalent from the apex of a rugged ridgeline.

On the morning after, clear skies unveiled a vision of the countryside in its finest form. Most of the accumulation in the meadow had melted into the warm earth but the big peaks were still plastered with a frosty glaze.

The fleeting mirage was a rare phenomenon that only occurs in late fall when the orange fields, yellow trees, blue foothills and white summits combine to create a sublime kaleidoscope of fading color.

Within a few weeks, the woodland will be abandoned by most visitors but I enjoy spending time in the empty forest during the dark season. Winter in the deserted wilderness is a sanctuary for absorbing nature’s finest details while tramping in a solemn environment of peace and solitude.

First snow was on schedule

A remarkable temperature plunge

The flakes were like pellets

Arctic, cold air

Heavy snowfall

Blurred edges and diffused light

Drifts of powder

Clear skies unveiled a vision

Most of the snow in the meadow had melted

The big peaks had a frosty glaze

A fleeting mirage

A kaleidoscope of color

The wilderness is a sanctuary