Arches in March

March 31, 2014  •  4 Comments

Arches in March


When I go to Arches I’m always amazed by the visitors there from other countries. Holland, Canada, China, Japan. The same is true of Mesa Verde. These places are our national heritage, and evolve, collapse, recreate, and crumble daily. Arches is never the same. Why our neighborhood is not more frequently visited by locals I’ll never know. We are an ironic nation.


Devil’s Canyon amphitheater pastel              

There are just  under 2000 arches in the monument at this time. To be classified an arch the opening must be three feet (or a meter) wide. Baby arches seem impossible but the thin-ness of the spires seem impossible, too. Courthouse rock stands solid and impregnable, and Sheep Rock thin and wafer-like.

PARK PLACE ARCHESPARK PLACE ARCHESstone formations at the start of Park Place trail

Park Place pastel

I hiked Park Avenue this visit. I bought a new hiking stick and it helped immensely with the steps down. The slick rock canyon bottom waved and rippled under my boots. I walked on sand and sediment petrified in the Cenozoic Period, eons ago. Dropping down the waterway, I looked up and saw Courthouse rise incredibly tall. 


    Courthouse  pastel                        


COURTHOUSE ROCK, ARCHES, UTAH_7092 (46)COURTHOUSE ROCK, ARCHES, UTAH_7092 (46)Courthouse Rock view from Park Place

Courthouse Rock from Park Place

Perspective and the eye. Amazing how the tallest structure is chiseled down as we draw nearer. 

Rivulets in the sand, tectonic tears in the surface, erosion by wind, water, the   dissolution of the salt beds below. Millions of years in the making, and I felt so small.



canyon floor park place arches_7092 (33)canyon floor park place arches_7092 (33)

Trail from Park Place to Couthouse

We rode the ATV to Gemini Bridges near Dead Horse Point. After a lunch of grapes and roast beef sandwiches, Pat and I took out our art supplies while the guys rode the Metal Masher trail on their ATVs. We drew, studied, and watched. We talked about value. 


GEMINI BRIDGES 2014-03-19 12.50.09GEMINI BRIDGES 2014-03-19 12.50.09Near Moab Gemini Bridges opens up into the canyon floor

Gemini Bridges

Gemini Bridges is the top of the mesa, where the erosion has cut through the surface and left an arch (pair of arches) below. We cautiously approached the edge where the ground slid another fifty feet beneath us. Under the rim sagebrush and juniper held on tenaciously while the rocks lay toppled beside them, their falling action held in a breath and a heartbeat. It was as if it happened yesterday, or would happen again tomorrow. This is BLM land or Utah State land, and there are no warnings or guard rails. I held my breath. My phone rang.

Plein aire painting is simply painting outside. With a box of Girault pastels and a pad of Colorart paper, I scramble onto a boulder atop a dome of slick rock and try to choose a manageable amount of landscape. I’m working with values, getting the foreground bright and clear, the middle ground interesting, and the background (the LaSals) dim and misty. It is best to keep plein aire simple, choosing a small area, a bush, a rock formation and  then three values. If one wishes to be successful, that is.

For the first time painting in the vast canyon country of Utah, I suggest a taped down piece of paper (Canson or Art Spectrum) and three pastels, a dark --not black--a pale--not white--and a medium. This sounds easier than it is. Medium value pastels are hard to separate from the dark in the sunlight. Yellows are almost always light, and seldom a medium value. Hard to tell, but the Courthouse sketch has a pale lavender, a medium burnt sienna, and a darker red (caput mortum). It was painted on a tannish sheet of Canson. Park Place is burnt sienna (medium), Prussian blue(dark), and two lights (pale blue and pale green) on a pale blue sheet of Canson.

Back at the campground I hiked on the trail to Broken Arch. It was interesting the number of people who I met scrambling over slick rock and slogging through sand. The cryptobiotic soil hangs on, surprisingly well, as I looked for the cairns to guide me. 

The first walk I took was to Tapestry Arch. It was evening and the wind was ferocious. I fought the pull of it, the sand that lodged in eyes and throat, and the goat-tempered slick rock that took me closer. Back at the camp they thought I was nuts. Of course I laughed, but they were right. In some ways, that is. The wind blew my footprints away before I left the trail onto slick rock. The slick rock left me unbalanced and hesitant. Sand replaced the trail with new surface as I returned, not getting to the arch. But I have a telephoto lens, and the trek was inspiring. Later I took photos, but never did take the goat walk over the ridge.


tapestry arch_7171 (3)tapestry arch_7171 (3)

Tapestry Arch Devil’s Garden 

Dale helped the couple from New Zealand find their campsite. They’d forgotten to write the number down and were trying to find it on a dead laptop. I met a young man on the trail asked if I make it to Broken Arch. He was pleasant when I said I was hiking alone and no one knew where I was so I was heading back. We actually chatted a little about the juniper that hogged the trail with its monstrous roots and flailing branches.  The Ft. Collins family helped with our solar panels, putting them down so the wind didn’t remove them from the planet. All was good in our tiny family. The big empty space that is everywhere was good, too. The hoodoos have dimples and belly buttons. Belly buttons the size of pizza platters. Or larger. A full moon softened their over-sized lumpy features, and Dale and I cuddled while the wind blew away the squally weather.

Oh, and by the way, my phone call was from Roger Hutchison, the art teacher from Delta High School, asking me to judge the Regional High School Art Show. Reality is never far behind, wherever one is.


park place arches_7092 (10)park place arches_7092 (10) contrails over Park Place



jeanne though(non-registered)
I am having a difficult time being again after all these years. I will go to the gallery the 15th to hopefully be inspired and not intimidated.Your work is so unbelievably wonderful.
Oh so beautiful, written so that I could feel myself there. Do you remember the time you and I were on the rim of a canyon, the sunset so intense we looked at each other and realized that we had been transformed into crimsoned skinned bodies. It was so intense.
Carol Ann(non-registered)
This is so beautifully written Barb. Made me wish more than ever that we had been there.
I have never hiked in this area, but this prose, photography, and artwork makes it so real and rare. What a precious heritage. Just stunning.
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