Monday, May 19, 2008

The Tushar Mountains

From the top:
- Mt. Belknap and Mt. Baldy from downtown Beaver
- Little Res (reservoir)
- Robber's Roost
- Delano Peak, Mt. Holly and Lake Peak from Puffer Lake, frozen at 10,000 feet.
- Finished painting at 3 PM
- Mt. Holly in Spring, oil on linen panel, 6" x 8"

After a decent flight, I arrived in Vegas at about noon. There was a bit of trouble with the rental car, but I was able to get into a Trailblazer (a 4x4, but like most big American cars, the steering, acceleration, and brakes were mushy) and hit I-15 for a 250 mile drive north to Beaver.

The desert just blew me away with vast, hardpan emptiness. It looks so very neutral, yet I knew it was ripe with strange life and the possibility of stranger death. Just over the Arizona border, the highway leads to a mass of cliffs, and suddenly one drives into the deep cleft of the Virgin River Canyon, providing a fantastically radical change of scenery after the desert. Then, once past St. George, Utah, the canyons and red tumbles of rock become more structured, raising up into peaks and valleys, with the latter becoming verdant with cultivated horse and cattle ranches. Then the peaks to the east rise above the snow line and become the Tushar Range. To the west are the smaller, but far more jagged Mineral Mountains. The valley is quite wide and Beaver appears on the east side of the highway.

Being such an Easterner, the town's layout seemed a bit alien to me, what with ramshackle horse paddocks mixed in with the typical Main Street of post office and pharmacy. Regardless, my mom's place lay northeast of town, about 4 miles up a rise, past larger ranches, nestled in a hill of pinyon pine. Just outside of town, I pulled over to get an overview shot of the wonderful expanse of clouds and mountains (above). A herd of a dozen rather large mule deer greeted me on the way up the North Creek Loop Road, giving me a bit of pause at their lack of care by the roadside.

Mom and her husband, Paul, live in a real, hardwood log cabin. It's older as far as log cabins go, and it is the most solidly built one I've seen. The view from the porch is basically a closeup of Belknap and Baldy, with hints of Delano Peak and some other heights in the range. Seeing the snow all across these 12, 000 footers, I knew the going up there was not to be for my amateur hiker aspirations, but I felt compelled to see them closer and perhaps pull a painting out of the alpine air. Route 153 out of Beaver goes up through a pass, and one can get fairly close, but the pass itself is cordoned off until at least June, due to the snows above 10K.

The following morning, with Mom as guide, we took my vehicle up to Puffer Lake, the last view available before the road closure. On the way up, there were more than enough wonderful sights. The Beaver River comes down in a sparkling rush this time of year, and it is harnessed by some well-engineered pipes in sections, and brought down to the ranches in the valley. There is also a series of alpine reservoirs, the most cozy of which is the "Little Res" (above), where one might cast for trout, though I saw an osprey there who would no doubt find such competition unwelcome. Once you hit 8,500 feet, some switchbacks begin, and wonderful formations like Robber's Roost (above) can be seen from the turnoffs. The snow was now earnestly deep as we neared the old ski area (now defunct) near Mt. Holly. Before the road ascends once more, a barrier ends our climb.

Puffer Lake is barely thawing about the edges, and from its western end, one looks straight up at the pointed peak of Mt. Holly, with Delano Peak behind and to the left, Lake Peak to the right, and City Creek Mountain to the right of that. The snow was crystalline, and hard-packed enough to support our weight as we tracked across to the spot I thought would be best for painting. Well, I did fall through to my waist in one or two spots, but future cave-ins were avoidable once I understood how to read the snow surface for telltale anomalies (a change in surface patterns due to spaces between buried boulders).

I set up and began painting at noon and finished at 3. Mom hung around, watching, as she had never seen anyone, let alone her son, paint en plein air before. I struggled a little bit with getting the curvature of the descending Aspens and Douglas Firs, but in the end, I began to read the landscape. Fortunately, the palette was pretty similar to a Maine maritime palette, so I didn't have to read into color too deeply. In all, I felt good about the work. So, while Mom ate a sandwich and rested in the truck, I hiked up into the woods past the lake, though it was slow going, picking my way over the snow. After an hour, I returned, and felt it would be more fun to hike over more stable ground.

We went back to the house, and my mom had to run errand in town, so I drove about a mile up the road to a place where I thought I could tackle Rattlesnake Mountain, an 8000 foot mound, a foothill to the Tushar proper (you can see it in the far right of the first photo). I did enjoy the hike immensely, though there were no discernable paths, and I began to run out of light before I could summit. At this point, I was rather hungry, and felt I deserved a beer or two after a successful painting day.

And anyway, I needed to rest up, because the following morning we were to head out early to Bryce Canyon. So... to be continued!


Martha Miller said...

Wow, what a spot! Do you ever work from your photographs after being on location? If so, do you use them purely as reference or do you sometimes do a painting directly from the photograph? I read that Neil Welliver would do small sketches in the woods then go back to the studio and make a drawing on the canvas from these studies - he then painted the canvas from the top down!! They do look sort of paint by number...

Rob S. said...

The thing I love about Welliver's work is the fact that he used just primaries and no earth pigments. Yet, he painted landscapes all the time. That's a lot of mixing.

I have been changing things up as far as the photo reference is concerned. I used to use it more often, but lately, I've been more into doing a painted study, and using any photography for detail only. The post Time and Timeless explains this process.

As far as the studies I did in Utah, they will remain studies. I waned to do them to really get a feel for the place, to really look deeply into what makes it so interesting and grand. Much better than a snapshot, wouldn't you say?

Martha Miller said...

yes, much better than a snapshot!!! altho your photos here are pretty spectacular!