Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I let the sun beat me up this morning, but not by much. Today I will stay home, catch up on mundane adobe chores, a little painting and rest and ice my knee. It is still too windy to paint outside, but otherwise is a beautiful day, enjoyed by the steady stream of RV'ers pulling into the Painted Desert Inn across the street.

Late in the afternoon I can resist it no more. The wilderness below the PDI is calling me. I gather drawing materials and gingerly navigate the switchbacks down to the Painted Desert, telling myself to just keep on even ground and don't go too far.  And don't keep wrenching my knee like I was doing. And avoid climbing over large rocks. Except for these.

But most of the time I can navigate around the pillow-like rocks, fields of shale, and chunks of black petrified wood. I skirt the "foothills" below the ridge, dipping into drainages, most which turn out to be dead ends, but one that contains a treasure of petrified logs inset with quartz crystals.

Before going too far I find a spot to draw. Since my pad was too big for my pack I was going to carry it under my arm and grab it just as I went out the door. WAS going to grab it. FORGOT to grab it.

So a bit bummed, I decide to scrap my plan of sitting quietly drawing and instead explore the rocky terrain which is like a stairway drawing by M.C. Escher. Just when I think I'm at "ground level" I come to a cliff and have to backtrack, only to find myself in a high walled gully, which I  follow only to find myself at the base of the same cliff.

The sun is getting low in the west but I figure I still have a few hours to ramble before heading back up to the Painted Desert Inn. High on the mesa, its visible most of the time from the desert below, and I been within sight of it not long ago. A thin cloud covers the sun and the light dims, which causes me to nervously take stock of where I am. Of course I know in general, but its just the kind of lost I would get, within sight of my destination but hitting dead ends and not able to get there. So I start making my way back. The sun strengthens, the terrain looks familiar and I relax and climb a high shale-covered hill to sit and watch the light change as the sun approached the horizon.

I head back through formations glowing with heat and sun under a deep blue sky and cold white moon, climb the switchbacks in the dusk and sit at Kachina Point overlooking the desert for a long time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After using my homemade pochade paintbox in the field, I've thought of some modifications that might make setup easier. One was to make an indent in the palette to clip in a palette cup. That would also allow me to set out my paints ahead of time and the cup would prevent the palette from touching the lid when closed.  Of course I have no tools, but I do have a single edge razor blade so I proceed to score and cut away at my masonite palette.  Once that's done I set out my colors, close the box and head out for the tepees. (I'll post my modified pochade box on my blog art and nature when the box I shipped from PEFO comes back to me and I perfect it)

The last pullout before crossing Route 40 is the Route 66 marker which always attracts an interesting mix of people. Besides the three major groups of PEFO, foreign tourists, school field trips and retirees, the mystique of "The Mother Road" attracts wanderers and motorheads. As I approach it seems like there are two big groups of motorcycles in the lot. As I get closer I realize that one of the groups is the motorcyclists, not motorcycles, and I find it funny that from a distance, with their leather, chains and helmets, they glint the same in the sun.

After the park road crosses Route 40 it runs for miles over the grasslands. I always look for pronghorns here, and today I spot three in the distance. Because traffic is non-existent in this part of the park this early I can stop my car and grab my binoculars for a closer look. A male and two skittish females stare at my car. Even at this distance I'm considered a threat and the females gallop away. The male follows.

I'm glad they were too far away to photograph, so I didn't waste time trying to get a shot and lose my chance to appreciate their beauty through the intimate view of the binoculars.

I continue on to the tepee area, where a big wall of formations is set back about a mile from the road, across a flat silty terrain only broken by the occasional nub or wash. After a rain the surface turns into  slippery clay — almost impossible to cross. If you were to try, your boots would be encased in inches of "cement' in short order.  That could be why the park service has constructed an elevated gravel trail across it to the formations.

Today, however, is sunny and dry so I hike across the flats to the imposing line of formations, horizontally united by bands of dusty indigo blue and sienna red. As I intersect with the area where the gravel trail ends I can see several large drainage canyons leading into the wall. I choose the rightmost one, and my straight path turns zig-zag as I wind between the high diagonals of crunchy mud walls. With all the twists and turns I don't realize that I'm climbing, but as I follow the drainage upstream the walls get lower and suddenly I'm on top. Here was an area of gentle mounds, colorful petrified wood pieces, and mica.

I walk around for a while and realize that I can see the Blue Mesa and the glint of cars driving the loop that runs along the rim. It's too windy up here to paint, so I go back down into the drainage, where I set my box up on mudflat, the tripod being too unsteady in the gusts. I open the box and see the modification worked perfectly, my palette is laid out and ready to go. I work for awhile but as the morning progresses the sun warms the earth, causing the wind to pick up even more. The drainage now becomes a wind tunnel and I finally surrender, pack up and hike out.


The Tepees, Petrified Forest National Park
Tepees Drainage, oil/canvas
As I sit in my car at the pullout, gusts of wind causing it to rock back and forth, a nagging thought is in my head. The small but beautiful drainage on the far side of the teepees on the west side of the road, that John and I had discovered on our first exploration, seemed very sheltered and could be a rare place to escape the wind. But I don't want to lug all my painting gear out there till I knew for sure, so I decide I'll try drawing in there first. I gather my drawing materials and refill my canteen from the gallon jug I keep in the car, the wind blowing the water sideways making it necessary to position the jug "upstream".

In the drainage it is still a bit windy with small gusts, but nowhere near as relentless as it is a few feet above. I find a place with a mud ledge to prop my drawing pad which is almost in the shade, pull out my charcoal and begin to draw. It feels good to push the charcoal around for a few hours, but my knee is not feeling so good. The combination of hiking, then standing for hours has made it sore and stiff. A thin film of clouds softens and changes the light and I take advantage of the excuse to call it a day.

Back home I make a cup of coffee and have some cookies, take some aspirin and ice my knee, which has begun to feel like a log of petrified wood.

I spend the rest of the day sitting, not standing, to work on my paintings, making dinner, yelling at the mouse, and trying to resign myself to taking a day off to rest my knee.