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Toward the end of July, I took the family on a 6 day adventure with Dvorak’s Expeditions. It started with a short drive over to Grand Junction where we stayed in the Grand Vista Hotel looking out at the Colorado National Monument at sunset. The next day we were up at the crack of dawn to board a small passenger cessna aircraft which flew us 45 minutes to the north and west of Grand Junction. We landed on a small plateau overlooking the put in at Sandy Wash on the Green River in Desolation Canyon.
We first strapped all of the rafts together into a giant floatzilla and motored for about 15 river miles on the first day. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire trip and a light haze in the air kept the heat from being sweltering! I thought the first day was interesting and could see the reason for the namesake of the canyon, Desolation. We were in the middle of NOWHERE and there wasn’t much vegetation outside of the watercourse. The canyon walls looked to be a crumbly kind of sundried limestone. We did spot a small herd of wild horses on the Ute Indian Reservation side of the river.
The second day of rafting I found the canyon to be a bit more sculptural. The rock turned from limestone to sandstone and I thought this to be more aesthetically pleasing from a painting standpoint. I ended up doing both a painting at our stopping point that night and one in the morning. The morning one was right in the direction of the Groover which I did not know and probably embarrassed a couple of river rats. This one is called “Groover View” in the painting gallery below.
On the second night of the trip and after a few on river water battles, the group was forever bonded in our floating adventure. The food on the trip was absolutely stellar. We had five guides for the almost 20 of us so everything was taken care of and we ate like kings and queens. I snapped pictures while floating during the day and tried to paint like a madman as soon as we stopped for the evening and as everyone loaded the rafts in the morning.
By the third day everyone knew the drills and was on task. My mom and I took duckies out on this day and had a blast running some of the whitewater in the canyon. A few of the other river rats got a hold of my camera one night and had a little fun!!
Some of the haziness in the weather created a flat light on some of the evenings, so I painted trees and other subjects on those days. While the sun set over the canyon walls, a few of us got into a pretty impressive bocce ball tournament. Not a moment later while listening to one of the guides, Nathan, strumming away on the “guit-fiddle” an adolescent bear thought he would like what we were eating at camp…happened to be salmon on this night!! We jumped up and made a lot of noise like a bunch of savages, and the bear took for the hills!
The 4th 5th and 6th days were the best of the Desolation and Gray Canyons I thought. Along the float we stopped a couple of times to see petroglyphs, old homestead cabins and farms and a really refreshing tributary called rock creek. I think it’s so intriguing to think about the recent history (last 100+ years) and the ancient history of the watershed. Native Americans must have found the place bountiful and probably wandered and traded goods up and down the canyon and beyond. Not to mention the formation of the area in the super ancient geologic history of this river.
If you ever get a chance to do this float, I highly recommend it! Artist or not, you will enjoy yourself very much. I would calle Dvorak’s Expeditions to book a trip as soon as possible and especially if you have young ones in your group. There are sandy beaches the entire way, the water temperature was about 70 degrees, and the area is stunning. Please also enjoy the body of work below from the trip. Check the availability of the paintings by using the navigation bar above.
After the Telluride and Aspen Plein Air Invitationals, I went on to the Durango, CO area to meet up with my Sister, Mom, and past assistant, Frank. We all met up at my sister’s place there in bustling Durango in order to do a backpacking trip in to the Chicago Basin of the Western San Juan Mountains. It’s been a wet Summer here in Colorado, and the monsoons have been very busy. The state may be the greenest I’ve ever seen it before. It’s bitter sweet because while the state needs the moisture, I prefer the drought conditions for painting. Long story short, there was a stationary front that was sitting on top of the Chicago Basin when we boarded the Durango to Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad. We rode the train to a small ghost town along the Animas River in the San Juan Wilderness called Needleton. That’s where our ride ended and our 8 mile hike in accompanied by 2500 feet of elevation gain began. We loaded our packs on our backs and started up the Needle Creek watershed to the basin in a light drizzle. It was a foggy way up the trail and the rain was intermittent. One place about two miles up the creek, the trail got close to a beautiful cascade and I stopped and painted while the others continued trekking on. One more short painting session on the way in and I arrived a few hours later to the camping spot. It was a gloomy evening with low lying clouds hovering above the basin. They started to clear off about the time I was ready to turn in and we saw a very nice half moon in the night sky promising us a clear morning. Well, it lied. The next morning Frank was up about 4:30 am in order to bag Eolus and North Eolus, two of the four 14ers(14 thousand foot peaks) in the basin. I woke up again at about 7:00 am to a completely socked in valley..Fog so thick in spots you could only see 30 ft or so. It wasn’t raining though, so I grabbed my painting bag and a quick lunch. I hiked up and out of the treeline and across some magnificent cascading tributary streams. The high population of mountain goats in the area made their presence known all over the area on this day.
I painted a cascade on the way to Twin Lakes at the base of the namesake of the creek, the Needle Mountains. At the Lake it was so fogged in that the far banks were indiscernible, but as I started painting the fog lifted over the course of the next 4 hours or so and I filled a camera card with amazing highly dramatic shots. Be on the lookout for some of these paintings in the near future. I ended up painting
4 paintings of the lake during this time and felt very fortunate for there not being rain involved in the scenario. We had a wet and rainy dinner back at camp, but the sky actually cleared after that and we had an amazing sunset in the basin. The next morning was actually clear and beautiful. Frank again got up earlier than anyone and hiked up the hill again to get one of the toughest 14ers in CO’s lineup, Sunlight Peak with the all feared “leap of faith” to summit. Rumor has it that Frank got a bit scared up there and was not able to complete the summit, but I don’t believe it!! I painted another three paintings of this gorgeous morning and then as the rain came back, we cleaned up camp and headed for the train stop at Needleton once again. It rained the whole way down, but never downpoured on us luckily. With a couple of cold beers on the train, it was a fantastic end to an amazing trip!! Thank you Universe!
The next week I met up with an old Army buddy, Edmund Rudell. Him and I have a hobby, or maybe an obsession with seeing the bowels of the planet Earth. We very much enjoy doing slot canyons. Most of the ones that we have done are in the Zion National Park area. We’ll hike down a creek a bit and then come to a cliffed out off-camber drop of sometimes up to 200 feet… and then that’s into a deep carved out pool of freezing cold water. Sound AWESOME!?? We put on our rockclimbing harnesses and set up a rappel station from the top. We then rappel down the rope and continue on our adventure. Well, I was surprised to find out that there are some subalpine and higher elevation slot canyons right here in CO. There are many in the San Juan Mountains especially concentrated around Ouray, CO. He had done the research on them, and met me in Durango the night I returned out of Chicago Basin. We headed for Ouray and slots early the next morning.
Thing is with Ouray, they call it the Switzerland of the United States, it’s got a lot of vertical elevation to it. Every slot we wanted to do requires an over 1000 foot climb in order to then descend a slot canyon watershed. We did Oak Creek the first day which I absolutely loved, and Cascade Creek the second day. Cascade had more angular breaks to the erosion of the rock which I found more attractive from a painter’s view. On the third and final day of the slot canyon fun trip we did Bear Creek just outside of town off of the Million Dollar Highway. That was a geologic wonder. From Crestacious period megaripples in the rock from being at the bottom of a shallow inland sea for eons, to tilted layers of metamorphic schist, and water carving through it all. Extremely beautiful!! Be on the lookout for paintings from this slot canyon adventure in the near future.
Enjoy the body of work from the Chicago Basin trip below: