That's JJ at his best - wet, covered in burrs and happy. He's traveled all over the western part of this country with us. He chased gulls on the Oregon Coast, stared down a buffalo in Yellowstone, snatched and eviscerated a mole during a ranger talk in the Tetons, retrieved sticks from the Colorado River outside of Moab and survived almost a dozen hornet stings after he stuck his nose down the wrong hole in New Mexico. But his real job is guarding me while I paint. He explores for awhile then comes back and makes a nest out of my jacket. He does his best work while sleeping. Our latest trip was last February to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas - almost a million acres of cactus, creosote, scrub oak, cottonwood and yucca scattered amid odd volcanic formations and encircled on three sides by the wild Rio Grande. Elevations in the park vary dramatically from only a couple thousand feet near the river in the Chihuahuan Desert (which makes up 98 percent of the park) to the rocky Chisos Mountains in the park's center which rise to almost 8,000 feet. This trip, we took our '66 Airstream and parked it under towering cottonwoods at rustic Cottonwood Campground on the Rio Grande. Only vault toilets and limited drinking water are available. No generators are allowed. The closest showers and supplies are in Study Butte, about 40 miles distant. But isolation brought with it great gifts. At night, the Milky Way was so full of stars I could feel their combined weight almost literally pressing on me. Shooting stars were everywhere. And the silence, except for the occasional hoot of a Great Horned Owl or the slight rustle of a breeze in the cottonwood trees, was complete. While we were there, temperatures swung wildly from near freezing at night to 102 degrees in the middle of the day. A nice, dry breeze kept the temperature during the day quite bearable. My favorite times, though, were evenings, as the sun finished its low winter arc across the sky and raked the rocky, broken land with its orange light. Colors, hinted at during the day, suddenly popped - it was as if the whole landscape had begun to shout. Truly a magical, painter's paradise. I am currently working on a series of paintings from Big Bend. You can see some of them in the Wild Traceries Gallery. This summer and early fall we will be heading to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico on an extended painting trip. The mountains hold much appeal - the light is strong and clear, making colors dance. Cool weather and dramatic rock and tree formations afford great places to paint and sketch, though the extremely low humidity makes water media a challenge since everything dries so quickly. When we go, we stay in our 22-foot Airstream the Plein Air I. She is an exceptionally well-made little trailer and is still pretty much original. We only upgrade her when we have no other choice. With a solar panel and catalytic heater, we can boondock (camp without hookups) wherever that is allowed. It's only fair here that I include a photo of Todd since he has become an integral part of the painting team. His job is to get me in shape by walking him even when I'd rather paint - or sit or flyfish. His hound nature (dachshund? bassett? beagle? best guess?) does not allow him to be unleashed in unknown territory as he would only follow his nose into trouble.
Evening light falling through Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande took eons to cut through a wall of rock .
The Plein Air I, our 1966, 22-foot Airstream.
(There are more photos of JJ in The Artery™ painting profile - click on the picture to go there)
© 2009 Carol Dickie, All Rights Reserved.