My hosts included me on a special-permit trip into the famous Wave formation on North Coyote Buttes. So I made my pilgrimage to that celebrated spot in the company of 3 botanists on a mapping/collecting mission. Normally it requires a reservation long in advance or a win in the previous day’s lottery to be one of the 20 people allowed in daily.
It is indeed a world-class spot—but there are so many spots even in the immediate vicinity. From The Wave we climbed up to the top of the butte to view “The Alcove,” – a wind-scooped, semi-circular, light-bounced, fluted cave with its own resident sand dune; then we went along to “Melody Arch,” – really two arches with a picture window out to the north-east. Along the way we traversed ponds full of primitive life, dried waterpockets with oceans of tiny moki marbles (spherical ironstone concretions), gnarled weathered sandstone looking like crumpled paper, and finally a short, purple, slot canyon exit.
A long day: as near as I can tell, botany is as good a rationale for wandering around looking at stuff as geology or painting ; – )
The three botanists wayfinding across Coyote Buttes
The usual Wave photo
Trilobite descendent? About 1/2 to 1-inch long…
Sand Cove Slot – a short canyon in the wash below the Wave, watercolor on paper 11″ x 15″
I join friends for a boat ride upriver. I fill my entire camera card with photos. It was like a mini-Grand Canyon raft trip, similar spectacular scenery but louder and without all the sand in your food. Ospreys and herons every quarter-mile. However it is well-beloved of fishermen and duck hunters; unlike the Grand Canyon solitude is unlikely. And it was bizarre to round the last corner and see the dam. Also strange to see the Colorado so clear and green: because it’s coming out of the bottom of Lake Powell it lacks the silt and sediment of its enormous watershed. I am reading Tim Egan’s Lasso the Wind; he reminds me of the great irony of the lake behind it named for John Wesley Powell, who argued for climate-appropriate development in the arid southwest and failed.
Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River
45-minute sketch of a buttress in Glenn Canyon
Painting on the beach in Glen Canyon
While hiking in the lower Paria River canyon I make the classic tourist mistake. I was boosting myself up a sand bank after crossing the river and put my hand down on a small cactus. In my own defense all the flooding in September covered many surfaces with a layer of grey mud that made it more difficult to see such things. I got most of the needles out with my trusty Swiss Army knife tweezers.
At one point I came around a corner to behold a set of tall towers with giant sand dunes in front of them. I sat down to paint and literally watched the colors change before my eyes. When I began the cliffs and towers were a deep vermilion; within 20 minutes they became a red-brown. Sun angle? Eye fatigue? I don’t know. In any case, I was so struck by these familiar shapes – change the Navaho sandstone to granite and the sand dunes to snow, and they could be the Alps or my own North Cascades.
Lower Paria Towers, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″
*It is a long-standing joke that Zion National Park is “like Yosemite but with color.”
Today just inside the SW ranch gate I found a dried-out old Pink Pearl eraser and not far from it, a broken but beautifully-flaked pink arrowhead (as well as a horse shoe and a rusted top from a baking powder can. How long has it been since baking powder was 25 cents?)
Found baking powder lid, graphite rubbing
It says “25 CTS/KC BAKING POWDER/25 CTS/SATISFACTION GUARENTEED”
(And how long has it been since they stopped putting the cents sign on keyboards?)
I have been thinking about the Grand Canyon Trust’s experiments to improve grazing practices. Out behind the barn lie coils of old barbed wire, laboriously unstrung from fences by volunteers. A smooth lower wire still keeps the cattle in but allows antelope to crawl under them (and me, too). So I set up some of the rusted barbed wire for a tightly rendered study… exactly what I am going to tell my students not to do, “drawing with a paint brush.”
Which Way? Two pieces, each 5.5″ x 15″, watercolor on paper
I revisited Lee’s Ferry to hike the Spencer Trail. It puts you on top of a plateau with wonderful views down into Glen Canyon – as well as the Page airport. Excellent cell coverage while contemplating the trio of puffing smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo plant.
Looking into Glen Canyon
The view the other way was equally compelling, even on a hazy day. I loved serried silhouettes. Is it because of what my 80’s sculpture professor said, that repetition is compelling? Or that seeing a peek-a-boo view of anything occluded by something else is an invitation to exploration?
Vermilion Cliffs from Marble Canyon on a cloudy day
I walked down part of Cathedral Wash. Due to the flooding in September it has a fair amount of muddy waterholes, undesirable for someone who forgot her water shoes. It’s no Blacktail Canyon but the eroded and calcified limestone layer has a certain Halloween-y aspect.
I catch up with some of the drawings yet to be turned into paintings. Reading the log book makes me contemplate what I, as the first Kane Ranch Artist-in-Residence, will have to say two weeks from now.
Art, like the Grand Canyon Trust’s preservation/conservation/restoration is an act of faith, nonsensical to homo economicus. I do it because it brings me – and others – a pleasure of (landscape) recognition and a sense of common treasure. They are “public” lands, a theme that has come up before during my residencies. I always have to do “the pretty stuff” first. Art depicting a place is a way of being deeply in that place. But beyond the souvenir, art can be a mirror, a goad, an encounter with important feelings and issues. What I shall paint to get at the issues here and the Trust’s work is one meditation as I walk.
And anyway, why do we respond so to vast panoramas, such as I see from this front porch? The sense of seeing farther? Fully satisfying those peripheral-vision neurons? Safety that no one can approach unperceived? Room for the new? The peace of solitude, alone with your thoughts?
Near the LeFevre Overlook
I follow guidebook instructions to climb through a cleft in the Vermilion Cliffs. Dramatic, not easy walking, but not technical or terribly exposed, I’m thrilled to be in these places. I have yet to see another soul, though foot prints suggest otherwise. History again hovers – pioneer cabin, rock art and arrowheads this time, though some graven graffiti from 1914 and 1952, too.
Snake petroglyph in the Sand Hills
Near the top of Vermilion Cliffs