Thursday, February 15, 2018

Road Trip: El Morro National Monument & Ramah Lake, New Mexico

Winter Garden 12x16 Oil - $450 Unframed
(Paintings on this page are available at a special price for a short time, unframed and with shipping to the continental US included.)

To finish off our road trip to Canyon de Chelly and back, M.L. Coleman and I circled back to my home in New Mexico.  Our first stop was El Morro National Monument along Highway 53 (the “Ancient Way”) with a final stop at Ramah Lake.

Inscription Rock / El Morro National Monument

M.L. Coleman
(photo by Trina Stephenson)

Me, with clothes more fitting for Red Rock Country of Sedona
(photo by Trina Stephenson)

If you haven't been to El Morro before, it's a beautiful oasis in the high desert.  Travelers for hundreds of years, including the ancestors of the Zuni and Acoma tribes, as well as Spanish explorers and American pioneers, have stopped there to enjoy the cool water beneath the cliffs of Inscription Rock.  Many of them carved into the soft sandstone to leave their mark.  The most famous of these is the inscription:

Pasó por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate del
descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605

Passed by here, the adelantado Don Juan de Oñate
from the discovery of the sea of the south the 16th of April of 1605

(Photo by Edward Curtis 1927)

I've hiked Inscription Rock many times over the years, from the wall of carvings to the 13th-century A'ti'sina pueblo on top.  I've enjoyed it in all kinds of weather:  monsoon season, with thunderclouds boiling overhead; late summer, when sunflowers carpet the high desert at its feet; and winter, when snow and ice can make the north trail treacherous.  But oddly, I haven't painted there very much.   So I was eager to share this place with M.L. and to paint there.

The 22-foot Lazy Daze
(photo by Trina Stephenson)

We enjoyed a good view of Inscription Rock from a pull-off on the Monument's access road.  At one point, the Chief Ranger stopped by to admire our work, and he expressed an interest in oil painting.

Later, we drove west to Ramah to paint the candy-striped mesas around the lake.  Founded by Mormons in 1876 as a missionary settlement to convert the Zuni and Navajo tribes, the town has beautiful stone houses, old Lombardy poplars and, of course, the lake.  The lake itself is a reservoir the Mormons created by damming up the non-perennial Cebolla Creek for the purpose of irrigation.  Today, the lake is still used to water hay fields.  Coots and ducks enjoy the lake during the warmer months.

Ramah Lake and Cliffs
(photo by Trina Stephenson)

Ramah Lake
(photo by Trina Stephenson)

We haven't had much cold weather this winter, and although the lake has frozen over a few times, on the day we painted it was free of any ice.  A lone Canada goose watched me warily as I set up along the water's edge and below the dam.  The wind had gone up a few notches since morning, and I wanted to be on the lee side. 

It was a good day of painting, and a great end to the week of travel.  I'm looking forward to my next trip, which will be to Santa Fe in April.  Not for the Plein Air Convention, but for my own, small painting retreat with a few students.   The wisteria on Canyon Road should be blooming then.

Winter Colors 6x8 Oil - $250

These are some of the places I may take participants to in my series of one-on-one painting intensives for experienced painters this spring.  If you'd like more information on this program, please visit And don't forget that I also teach all-level workshops in Sedona.  I do have one March 27-30, which you can read about here.

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