The Big Sur Highway
Tammy and I are known for making spontaneous decisions for the good of the greater adventures in life, a characteristic that is often a virtue and occasionally a flaw. Upon our arrival in California, we stopped for fuel at Interstate 5 and made a last minute decision to postpone our northern movement in favor of heading straight for the coast. I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur, a seventy-mile stretch of coastline with waterfalls, cliffs and crashing waves. What a perfect opportunity to pull off at a roadside stop or two, snap some pictures and maybe even pull out the easel and lay down some paint en plein air.
Its funny how the experience that is anticipated in our imaginations is almost never the experience that remembered after the fact. Highway One did offer incredible views and this stretch of road did indeed earn it’s reputation as one of America’s Most Scenic Drives. But somewhere around the second or third narrow and winding turn I began to wonder what we had got ourselves into this time. Turn too wide and risk colliding with oncoming traffic and perhaps fly over a thousand foot cliff, turn too tight and scrape the side of the motor-home on the cliffs and with each turn the situation became more sobering. Where are all of the other 40-foot long rigs and where would a guy turn around if he had to?
For over three hours we found ourselves being tested by the Big Sur Highway and by our nerves. The thought of pulling over at a wide spot in the road to capture images and impressions of the spectacular setting was quickly over-ruled by the desire to get safely out of the situation before the sun set. Onward I pressed, both hands firmly gripping the wheel, bits and pieces of my life flashing before me. When I was a kid, My Dad made a spontaneous decision to attempt to drive the family over Schofield Pass in a Lincoln Continental. Schofield Pass is one of Colorado’s most challenging four-wheel drive roads. After he realized his miscalculation, he put the car in park and ran up the road a bit to look for a place to turn around. I remember seeing him slip on a patch of melting snow, falling and breaking a number of ribs. And now, here I was in a similar pickle wondering if impulsive ignorance is hereditary.
Well, we did make it to Monterey just as the darkness of night fell. Relieved and exhausted we found a place to camp and quickly fell into a nightmare-riddled slumber. One day we will go back and drive the Big Sur Highway and see those waterfalls and crashing waves from the comfort of a much smaller vehicle.
Colorado River at Laughlin, Nv.
Heading West, I-40 makes a gradual descent from the cool timbered forests of Flagstaff and one can literally watch the mercury rise as the altimeter drops. We arrived in Bullhead City, Arizona as the late afternoon sun brought the mercury to a blazing 117 degrees Fahrenheit and I wandered how and why anyone would live here in the summer. It seems as though all of the riddles of the Southwest can be solved with one simple substance, Water.
Sand beaches and abundant crops line the banks of the Colorado River as it threads it’s way between Laughlin Nevada and Bullhead City and it is bizarre to see jet skis and pleasure boats zipping around in the middle of the desert on a river that flows from the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. Indeed it is impossible to imagine what the Southwest United States would be like without the Colorado River. Natural wonders like the Canyon Lands and the Grand Canyon would simply be a vast rolling wasteland. Recreational Jewels like Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas would not exist at all.
I guess I feel a certain sense of pride and admiration for the powerful Colorado River. I am compelled to paint creeks and rivers because of the time that I have spent on and around the creeks and rivers of Colorado. The Gore Creek and the Eagle River, the Blue and the Roaring Fork, the Yampa and the Gunnison, all of them tributaries to this river that brings life to the Desert.
Historic Route 66
Hum a few bars of the iconic Nat King Cole song “ Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and you will find yourself trying to recall the lyrics and the names of the cities mentioned in them. A lot has evidently changed since the song was written. Today’s route 66 is more commonly known as I-40, and Kicks? I was “kickin” it into high gear and awful lot trying to keep up the eighteen-wheelers heading west. Gallup, Flagstaff and Kingman are all still visible from the four-lane ribbon of asphalt but the song says “don’t forget Winona” and I missed it altogether. The Eagle’s hit song “Take it Easy” also came to mind as we zipped past Winslow, Arizona. I couldn’t help but think that today’s lyrics might be “I was standing at the exit in Winslow, Arizona” and somehow it just doesn’t have the same magic.
Back on the old route 66, I’m sure that there were plenty of attempts to pull people off the pavement to see two headed snakes and buy moccasins and sand paintings. I have to admit I felt both gullible and nostalgic while taking the exit to the Meteor Crater in the middle of the high desert east of Flagstaff. The colorful signs billed the crater as the “First Proven” and “Best Maintained” meteor crash site” on earth and I pondered how in the hell do you maintain a meteor crash site?
Up Close and Personal with an Extra Terrestrial Rock
It turns out that Meteor Crater literally is a national landmark worth seeing. At some point in time, a rock, about 15 feet wide found its way through the Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up. It hit the earth with such an impact that the crater was immediately formed, 500 feet deep and three quarters of a mile across. This site proved to be the chosen training grounds for NASA to train the Astronauts for the Apollo Moon Missions. What better place to prepare them to drive rovers and collect rock samples on the crater riddled Moon?
Besides walking along the rim of the crater, snapping photos and looking through lousy telescopes we had an opportunity to view and touch a chunk of the meteor itself, a dense chunk of rock about two feet wide that weighed 1406 pounds. After wandering through the meteor museum and watching the ten minute meteor movie, we found ourselves in the gift shop ordering a Subway Sandwich and I realized that we were after all having the modern experience somewhat akin to seeing the two headed snake.
As for the gift shop, they need a bit of help from an artist type in designing their hats and shirts. I wish I had snapped a picture, oh well. And so back on the road we went, my mind spinning with marketing ideas for the crater. What about a hard had that says “watch for falling rocks”? How about I had a Blast at Meteor Crater, Meteor Crater-America’s Holy Ground, Meteor Crater Rocked My World, Meteor Crater -Conveniently Located Next to I-40 and Hey! Whatever Happened to Winona?
Coos Bay, Oregon 2004
Why would anyone wish to leave the high country of Southern Colorado in August? This is the time of year that most folks head our way to escape the heat of summer in the southern states, looking for daytime temperatures that are tolerable and a sensory shift that can only be found at elevation. You know how the saying goes however, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, a perception that is often reality.
A change of scenery is good for the artist’s soul. Traveling not only gives us the opportunity to escape our routines and habits long enough to see the world with a renewed clarity of vision, it helps us see that which we are most familiar in a new light upon our return home. And so for the next two weeks, Tammy and I will call the road home. Our plan is to leave the dogs and cats with our beloved pet sitter, jump into a thirty foot motor home and head west to the coast of Oregon, a 4000 mile, 15 day journey. The last time we made this journey, we had three teen age kids with braces in tow, this time it will be all about us.
Working hard in the Tea House Studio
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Edison
I’ve been a bit absent from my blog and social networking lately, not because of laziness and certainly not because I’ve lost interest in art. To the contrary, I’ve been really working hard and I am growing in my craft. The thing is, I just have a hard time multi-tasking, especially when it comes to art. Currently I find myself challenged with new subject matter, new techniques and a new palette in my painting pursuits. Some days end with a great feeling of achievement and some days end with nothing more than paint covered hands and discouragement.
There is a lot to be said for the person who moves through life on a path of calculated security, methodically dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in adherence to the proven formulas and paradigms that have been established and re-established time and again. To many, it seems only logical to buy in completely to the virtues of having a solid job, a 40-hour work week, a 401k and a life in which occupation and personal gratification are separate, yet noble goals. Some of the happiest people I’ve met belong to the group that I just described and at times I envy the apparent simplicity and wisdom of their course, but at the end of the day I have to acknowledge that I dance to the beat of a different drummer and like Lady Gaga, I find myself singing “Baby, I was born this way”.
Artists don’t choose to be artists because it is easy. The truth is that most artists have an incredibly strong work ethic, working every waking hour and often in their sleep as well to create something that has never been created before. In that respect, we are not at all unlike the great Thomas Edison, driven to transform our thoughts into something tangible that will somehow make our world better. The desire to create is an unquenchable thirst and if we are fit to be artists, we must be prepared to live a life of trial and error just as Edison did. It really makes no difference whether we are self taught or highly educated, the greatest test for the artist is in the classroom of perseverance and desire.
The inspired artist and teacher Robert Henri said it best when he said “That necessity is the mother of invention is true in art as in science”. “ The only people that ever succeed in writing, painting, sculpture, manufacturing, in finance, are inventors”.
Mid-Summer in the high country of Colorado is a sight to behold. It always amazes me how quickly and completely the transformation occurs as the winds of winter and sub freezing temperatures subside, creating an opportunity for all of nature to revel in a playground of sensory overload, an explosion of life. This season is short, usually lasting for only about eight or ten weeks but it is so dynamic that even the earth itself seems to grow.
Upper Taylor River - Fly Fishing Heaven
This July, I was particularly fortunate to have spent a dozen or so days camping in the rugged and spectacular beauty of the Gunnison National Forest with my Wife, our two dogs and with my Wife’s Parents. It was in these mountains that I spent my college years and it was long overdue to re-visit the place where I have climbed so many mountains and fished so many rivers. Just as I draw my inspiration to paint winter landscapes and skiing adventures from my memories in the Gunnison National Forest, I realized that my inspiration for painting summer also comes from that place and time.
In the past few weeks, after returning home I’ve been busy. I find myself painting again, making the transition back into the world of color. My mind is racing with ideas and a desire to paint fly fisherman and lakes and streams and the magic world of summer in the Rockies. The time I spent on the trip taking photographs and painting in plein-air, has provided me with the material that I need to re-capture the essence of those experiences.