Driving up to the Canyon on 180 from Flagstaff is a rather ho-hum trip. You go through many miles of mixed juniper and ponderosa territory, broken only by the occasional hill. (I put on the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty” to keep me company.) But once you are past Tusayan and the Park entrance gate, and wander up toward Mather Point -- all of a sudden, the earth splits open.
Even though I’ve visited the Canyon many times, its vastness and complexity still awe me. When I perch on the edge, one body-length away from death, my hamstrings still sing with fear. And when I set up my easel and first dip my brush in paint, I still pause: Do I have any idea how to paint this thing?
I arrived at the Canyon about mid-day on Friday. After checking in with my hosts, I headed over to the Kolb Studio to deliver my studio painting. (It turned out that the gallery’s floors are being refinished, so the studio paintings won’t be hung until Wednesday, which is the promised finish date by the refinishers.) Next I drove around a bit to refamiliarize myself with the lay of the land. I even went to the Visitor Center where I parked and walked out to Mather Point, which is probably the most popular spot in the Park. This year, the Park seems particularly crowded with people from all over the globe. Here, English is just one of many languages I hear spoken as I walk along the rim trail.
At 5, I drove over to the Community Center for a meal and orientation. There are 26 artists this year, but not all of them were at orientation. Excused are the artists who will be painting at the North Rim, down along the Colorado at Phantom Ranch, and at Indian Gardens; they were already en route to their destinations. Also at orientation, we were allowed to stamp our canvases. (Just to clarify, canvases are stamped to prove that the paintings in the final exhibit were actually painted during the festival and not prior to it. This puts everyone on equal footing.) Some artists came with ridiculously large stacks of panels. I might be in the category, since I brought around 30 of various sizes. We have only five full painting days, so it’s unlikely I’ll average six paintings a day! But you never know.
Afterwards, I drove out to Yavapai Point, which is a favorite for catching the sunset. There was not a parking space to be found, and some cars were even double-parked. This confirms that the Park is busier this year; I’ve never seen that parking lot full at sunset. On the way to my home, I spotted elk everywhere. The Park has yet to outfit the elk with reflective vests, so drivers need to pay special attention at twilight; elk really are hard to see. I think there are more elk this year, too.
After a good night’s rest, I left the house at 5:30 a.m. for Yaki Point. This is one of my favorite spots to paint, and a special permit from the Park allows me to drive my personal vehicle there. Civilians have to take a shuttle. (By the way, check out the picture of my rental vehicle this year. It’s the perfect plein air painter’s ride.) I knew exactly where I wanted to paint, as I had painted at that spot before, and it was guaranteed good. I set up as the sun was rising.
After that painting, I poked around for another spot. I wanted to do one more before lunch. I tucked myself down below the trail and in the trees to stay out of both view and sun. This 9x12 was relaxing compared to the earlier 12x16, which required me to paint quickly to capture the light effects of the sunrise.
By the time I finished this second one, the heat had been turned up and I was roasting. I was also a little thirsty. It’s easy to forget that I came from virtually sea level only 48 hours ago, and at 7000 feet, you need to drink more water and take it easy.
Now it’s lunchtime. I’ve decided that, rather than write my blog in the evening when I’m beat, I’ll do it at lunch. Because the sun is intense and the light flat in the middle of the day, it’s the best time to rest and catch up on paperwork. In a little while, I’ll probably head west to the Hermit Road to see what’s shakin’.