Every year (or at least every other year), I make my pilgrimage to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It is a type of holy land for me. It is where I feel at home; where my soul finds a peace and closeness to God that is otherwise challenging to find in a city. Going “home” this time had its bump with altitude sickness on the second day but I recovered quickly as soon as we drove down to 9,000 feet. Traveling to the alpine level at about 12,000 feet was probably not the wisest choice early on in the trip but I had wanted to go to Grand Lake for a couple of days. It seemed best to travel from the Denver airport to Grand Lake first then back to Estes Park, where my friends and I would spend the majority of our time. I had never seen the West side of the park and I wanted to see the moose that resided there.
Having slept only a full hour in the cabin the night before surely contributed to my ill feelings. I decided to let my companions sleep on the bed and I on the inflatable mattress I brought. I had slept on it before and had found it comfortable. I did not realize how cold the floor of a raised cabin could become, however. I shivered most of the night and put every bit of clothing I had on my body. I was too nice to ask my friends for an extra blank or to share their space. My toes were cold for a couple hours after I had woken up. I did survive though and despite nausea and extreme dizziness at the alpine heights, I was able to appreciate the rest of the day…especially sleeping in a bed in a warm room at the end of it.
The first image posted above is in my sketch a day book, based on memory and photo. It is my return to the alpine tundra on the same trip a few days later. This time the landscape had ill feelings – wind, lighting, rain and some thunder. My visit was brief but the clouds were dramatic and moved quickly. I captured what I could. Below is a watercolor sketch of a tundra tree – only a few inches in height but its age questionable. The growing season is short so it could be 20, 30 or more years old. The other study I made from inside the car. It is a quick response to a vast mountain side. It is always so humbling to be in the presence of such complexity.
Back to the beginning of the trip sketch a day book entries. I did miss June 24 but I spent the afternoon simply taking in what I saw on the cabin steps – a distant view of the knoll, one very friendly chipmunk, flora, and insect visitors. June 26 are the broad tailed hummingbirds at the Estes Park cottage – readily available models at the nectar feeders. And on June 27 I and my friends summited the Twin Sisters peak at over 11,000 feet. Time was short since we had started late in the morning and had not realized how long it took us to get to the top. I insisted on a five minute drawing. Long’s Peak was clearly in sight so he was chosen.Watercolor studies of hummingbirdsOn the way to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, we stopped at Nymph Lake. I became mesmerized by eel like creatures in the water only to quickly realize they were leeches but I decided to paint them anyway. Their swimming is done with such grace. At the same time, it is fascinating how you understand their movement is one of searching, of hunting and so there is aggression present as well. I am not sure aggression is the right word – maybe predatory is better. They are simply doing what they need to survive. I put the mountain in for good measure. Sketch a day entries – more leeches plus other pond life, alpine ridge view and prairie dogs at the Celestial Seasonings property in Boulder.Time in the car painting due to a heavy downpour of Long’s Peak as the storm made its way over.Photo of Alluvial Falls and the painting that resulted.Our last day was a trip to the Denver Art Museum. It had been quite a few years since I had visited. It has been beautifully redone with an addition made of angles and exhibits updated. I kept with an animal theme for the sketches – an old postcard with a donkey, a fish weight from Africa and a Sandy Skoglund fox. Also included, an inspiring quote from an African artist. And for the record, I did see a moose in Grand Lake. The photo to prove it – actually two moose – a mother and her young (the person in red is a fisherman). The altitude sickness was worth it.