Monday, November 23, 2015

Is That Snow?!? (Week 4 in Zion NP)

the water droplets in the clouds acted as miniature prisms, 
causing the colors of the peak to change moment by moment

Each day in Zion Canyon is filled with wondrous delights, and the first day of my final full week in the park was no exception. I awoke, as usual, before dawn and, at first light, was treated to wispy white clouds dancing about the sun-drenched canyon tops. It was amazing and continued for much of the morning!

with ever-changing views like this I'm amazed that anyone opts to drive a car in Zion

For most of my stay (in fact, until the PAAI painters arrived) I seemed to be the only painter in the park. (There's lats of space to choose from and it's easy to avoid tripping over one another.) But the same can't be said for photographers. In fact, as fall color has finally begun to appear, a daily late afternoon "feeding frenzy" has become the norm at the Canyon Junction bridge, with dozens of photographers vying for position to capture the "perfect" picture of two very iconic subjects: the Watchman and Virgin River. (Ironically, I think a much better view of the pair is to be had from one of the bridges on the Pa'rus Trail, and it's crowd-free. But that's just my personal opinion.)

my "mystery flower" and one of the Arizona Sisters I encounter along the Grotto Trail

The flora of Zion Canyon has turned out to be something of an enchanting paradox; at the very same time that fall color is beginning to appear, and mornings are often marked by frost, wildflowers are popping up along the riverbanks and butterflies are seen on the canyon floor flitting about in the midday sun. The butterflies all seem to be Arizona Sisters, but there are several species of flowers, including this mystery. (If anyone has any insight as to its identity I would be most grateful if you could leave a comment or drop me an email.)

comp sketch have proven a wonderful tool in zion, as has my 
Zion NP Green Bike "studio on wheels", and the "phase 1" results

And then there's the plein air painting. Normally I would expect to have an hour to an hour and a half to work on a panel before the light changes too much (and with some subjects in the park that has proven the case.) But -- with a canyon that runs more or less north and south, and the canyon walls so close -- the lighting on some subjects changes in mere minutes! Fortunately, as a month-long resident, I've had the luxury of being able to return to a subject on following day(s) and pick up where I left off. 

and, when exploring afoot, my lightweight 6x8 ThumBox has been perfect

And, yes, toward the end of the week we experienced yet another dip in the temperature... and snow in the higher elevations. That required that I bundle up and venture out to the (ice covered) foot bridge to photograph the west wall peaks (and a Dipper that was fishing for her breakfast) at first light. And the whole experience was so delightfully sublime. (But was it really in the mid 80s when I got here? How things do change!) 

as the sun came up those areas of snow in direct light gradually melted, 
but those areas in shadow remained all week (and resulted in a few nice oil sketches)

Then, last but certainly not least, I had a visit -- from none other than the original Guerrilla Painter himself: Carl Judson! With the Grotto House bathed in warm afternoon sunlight we chatted for several hours (about plein air painting, my residency, and how much the park has changed since Carl's last visit some tow decades ago) before he had to hit the road again. (Carl had just returned from a business trip to China and was on his way home.) 

two typical guerrilla painters (who seem to enjoy what they do)

Next week I hope you'll join me for my last few days in Zion -- and for a little surprise. Hope to see you then.



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Autumn's Here! (Week 3 in Zion NP)

the first splashes of autumn color

Zion National Park was experiencing an Indian Summer when I first arrived, with daytime temperatures still reaching into the mid-80s and everyone enjoying shorts and t-shirts weather. Unfortunately for some, that also meant that the brilliant fall colors that sometimes paint the canyon floor as early as September hadn't even begun to make an appearance for most of October. Not so this week!

the cool weather jacket is a most welcomed addition to my AiR uniform

Nighttime temperatures have now dipped down into the nippy range (and stay that way in the canyon shadows well into mid day.) And the leaves on the cottonwood trees are finally beginning to turn golds and yellows that luminesce in the bold afternoon sun.

my workshop crew (with the afternoon sun now quickly retreating up the east wall) 

On Friday, October 30, I held my free place-based journaling workshop in the Grotto picnic area and was thrilled at the over-booked (only slightly) turnout. Everyone received a complimentary Strathmore Softcover Toned journal and Sakura Gelly Roll and Micron Pigma pens (and two lucky participants received Sakura pen sets and pen cases as "door prizes.") The introductory workshop was originally scheduled to last only one hour but everyone was having so much fun (and both the scenery and the sun's warmth were so beckoning) that everyone stayed on for an extra hour and a half (leaving then only because the shadows, and the accompanying chill, had returned.)

I have established a very enjoyable and productive work schedule (if you can call this "work"): up at 5:30; draw, paint, write and edit in the studio until the sun comes up; and then (after breakfast and two cups of tea) out! Sometimes I return home for lunch, sometimes I just eat one of the MREs my wife purchased for me. (The high dessert air may have something to do with it. The scenery and the invigorating physical activity certainly do. But the food never fails to taste stupendous.) Home in time for afternoon tea; dinner; and then abed by 8:30 (although stargazing occasionally gives me a late-night energy boost.)

the abundance and diversity of this high desert oasis' fauna is amazing

Now that I've settled in, I'm also being visited by some of my Grotto neighbors: the little Bluebird (above) popped by to say "Hi!" while I was waiting for the down-canyon shuttle this week; and on Saturday, as I walked into the kitchen for another cuppa tea, I thought to myself "That spot of dirt on my bike tire looks just like a lizard." Well.... (This is the second lizard now that has paid me a visit. I don't know what the kitchen's attraction is, but they're well behaved house guests so I don't mind.)

ten paces in hang a left and the trail comes out on the other side!

On Monday I spent some time exploring the Kayenta Trail to Lower Emerald Pool before taking the Emerald Pool Trail back to the Lodge and Grotto Trail back to the house (a leisurely 2-hour loop) -- and, of course, found some awesome subjects as the trail gradually took me above the river and tree line. Along the way I had a chat with a group of visitors from Spain, and spoke for awhile with one of the trail crews about the park's growing popularity and its impact its fragile desert eco-systems.

 one of the PAAI painters at work with an audience of visiting school kids

This week marks the annual Zion Plein Air Art Invitational and, for the first time since my arrival, I don't feel like the only painter in the park. (There have, of course, been other painters. But, in a park of this size, it has been easy to give one another plenty of working room.) The PAAI is an annual fundraising event for the Zion Natural History Association and is immensely popular with the public.

watching these clouds as they drifted along the canyon walls was mesmerizing

For a change of pace we were treated to a gentle rain and swirling clouds that obscured the peaks (very reminiscent of Chinese landscapes) on Wednesday -- perfect weather for getting lots done in the studio, and drinking more tea. But, despite the inclement weather I was very pleased to speak to a near-full house during my PAAI lecture, where I spoke about being an art adventurer and what I was achieving during my residency in Zion NP.

I was particularly pleased by the number and variety of questions following my PAAI presentation

One more week down, but I think the best one yet is still to come. So, I hope you'll join me again next time as my adventure in southern Utah continues. And, as always, thanks for letting me share it with you.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Greetings from Mukuntuweap! (Week 2 in Zion NP)

Mukuntuweap means “straight up land” and is the name given the canyon by its earliest Paiute inhabitants. It’s also the name of the National Monument first established in 1909. (The name was changed to Zion in 1918)

the view of Straight-Up-Land from partway up the Wiggles

Wow, yet another week has zipped by! Half way through my stay already but (Oh, boy!) I’ve got some delightful work done already, I’ve identified enough subject matter to keep me busy for half a dozen residencies, and (with the arrival of autumn colors) things are only getting better!

Getting About

Zion canyon is a parade of towering visual delights and, as you might imagine, the best way to explore is afoot. But, if you want to explore every nook and cranny of the canyon floor (and especially if you need to be able to reach a particular point of interest when the light is “just right”, you really need a means of transportation. The park is so popular, however, that touring the dead-ended Canyon Scenic Drive by private vehicle would be horrendous — resulting in gridlocked congestion, devastating air pollution, frayed nerves, and short tempers.

the shuttle -- the easiest, most environmentally friendly way to view the canyon

Fortunately, the Park Service has provided a brilliant alternative — free clean-burning, propane-powered shuttles that run from the Visitor Center at the South Entrance to the top of the canyon and back from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (with a new shuttle arriving at each stop every 8-15 minutes.) And Springdale operated its own free shuttles from the park’s south gate to the far end of town.

my "studio on wheels"

And, if visitors want to explore the canyon floor between shuttle stops, they can load one of the Zion Green Bikes (or their own bike) onto the shuttle’s bike rack and get off at any of the 8 stops up and down the canyon. (On my first outing I rode the shuttle to the top of the canyon, and then slowly cruise down canyon, stopping as often as a new vista caught my eye.) 

The Weekly Wrap-up

Mornings begin around 5:30. (I’ve tried sleeping in once or twice but get so excited about the trails I want to hike, and places I want to explore, that getting back to sleep just isn’t going to happen.) First light comes around 7 and the top of the west canyon wall catches the first rays of the rising sun around 8. The canyon floor remains in shadow until noon and, being high desert, the temperature can easily climb 30-40 degrees between early morning and mid-day (and then drop again as much as the canyon moves into shadow in late afternoon. Dressing in layers(and carrying plenty of water) is the norm for a day on the trails or in the backcountry.

late morning view from the Wiggles (late afternoon is even better!)

The park’s high season officially ended with my first weekend here and, accordingly, the daily shuttle service I’ve raved about was scheduled to shift to weekends-only for the winter this past Monday (Oct. 26), with the Zion Scenic Drive then opened to what has historically been a reduced number of visitors. Unfortunately, the park continues to grow in popularity and there were literally hundreds of cars waiting to turn up the road at Canyon Junction on the first day of the “off season.” I stepped out my front door and was assailed by the pungent smell of car fumes for the first time in a week and a half. And, by 10 a.m. Scenic Drive had reached its 400 car capacity (the maximum number of vehicles that can be allowed up-road and still permit emergency vehicles to respond to calls up-canyon). Park officials had to remain on the canyon floor and try to cope with the flood of would-be visitors and the parking dilemma, but I had the option to escape and headed up Walter’s Wiggles to Angels Landing for some peace and quiet and fresh air. Both the hike and the destination were sublime delights, and everyone on top seemed to be all smiles. (Why not? After all, we were among the angels.)

the west canyon wall illuminated by moonlight (go full screen and you should be able to see the stars)

moonrise over my cottage

To compound the traffic problem there was a brilliant full moon Monday night, so visitors could easily walk about the canyon floor after moonrise without the need for artificial lights. (In fact, the moonlight was so bright that everything in the canyon cast shadows and everything from the canyon walls themselves to the cottonwood leaves on the ground were clearly visible.) I blissfully recorded the amazing experience with camera and tripod, but had dozens of park visitors for company. And the Grotto parking lot (which had been empty for the past week and a half) had vehicles coming and going till midnight!

By Tuesday evening it was clear to park officials that the problem of overcrowding was not going to dissipate soon and contingency funds were found to reinstate the shuttles beginning Wednesday morning and continue the service till November 8, when it will return to weekend-only through Thanksgiving. (Hopefully, the visitor counts will be down by then.) 

New Tools 

After I’ve identified a particularly interesting subject during “scouting outings” this year I’m using a few new digital tools to help me determine the best time of day to paint or sketch it, and to enable me to navigate back to the exact vantage point when the time is right.

Theodolite -- this is the digital version of a traditional surveyor's tool; great for gathering details about subjects and vantage points. (And helpful in navigating back to them.)

GPS Essentials -- this app is chock full of useful features (but could use more tutorials for novices.) I especially like this customizable dashboard.

BackCountry Navigator -- is great for visualizing waypoints on a map (and for putting names to the landmarks you're looking at.) You can even specify which map system you wish to utilize. (I've used USGS here.)