Dry Tortugas National Park!

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Dry Tortugas National Park, the least visited national park in the NPS system, is an extraordinary experience and well worth the somewhat difficult route it takes to add it as a stop on a road trip! Seventy miles due west of Key West, Florida and only accessible by ferry, private boat, and seaplane, you find a tiny collection of Keys originally founded by Ponce de Leon in 1513 that named it Las Tortugas after the giant sea turtles he caught there. The name later evolved to Dry Tortugas in reference to the lack of fresh water to be found - 500 years later it is still a marine and bird wildlife oasis and eco-wonderland to behold!

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I will admit that long before Postcards from the Parks was even an idea developing in this artist’s mind, Dry Tortugas ranked high on my bucket list of must see places. Even once this art activism road trip was underway, I wasn’t sure I could manage to get myself all the way to this isolated dot in the Gulf of Mexico due to the remote location and cost to get there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me to see this incredible gem of preserved public land with my own eyes due to a sweet rescue dog named Theo here at home that needs his mom right now to nurse him back to health. That being said, there is only one thing that is even better than me being able to dig my own toes into the white Tortugas sand, and that is to have my sister Stephanie be here with us after over a year of battling cancer and well enough to be able to hit the road and catch a ride on a seaplane to have a dream-like adventure exploring this breathtaking tropical haven. So am I a little bummed I wasn’t there to see it with my own eyes, absolutely, but to be able to gift this experience to my warrior sister and her amazing partner Justin and see it all through their eyes - truly PRICELESS! So, Welcome to Dry Tortugas National Park from the viewpoint of Stephanie and Justin! Thanks for your awe and enthusiasm, your thirst for knowledge and historical contest, your amazing photos and spirit of fun and adventure that is clear to see from the images you are sharing with us! Great works of art will be coming from your interpretations and one of them will be for you <3

All packed up with snacks, water, various gear, and a healthy dose of adventurous spirit, Steph and Justin climbed on board the Key West Seaplane Adventures and took off for a day they will never forget! The flight above the water, views along the way, and crazily cool water landing was second only to Dry Tortugas itself! They used their 4 hours on the island to its fullest: exploring the historic Fort Jefferson and hearing all its lore from the self-guided tour plaques and through their visit with the single park ranger that stewards the park. MANY photos later and sporting their Postcards from the Parks garb (you’re a good sport, Justin!) they headed beyond the fort to explore the coast and get in the water to experience the best of Tortugas which lies under the ocean. It was a feast for the eyes with colorful coral, a plethora of fish and even a school of Barracuda that chased Stephanie out of the water at the end (good thing we spent our childhood on swim teams in Michigan!)

Quick change and back on the plane bound for Key West and meeting up with Ivy and Ranger Celia who had spent the afternoon exploring old town of Key West, eating ice cream, and taking a ride on the Conch Train (Celia even got a new friend to take the ride with her!)

Here is your necessary 60 second history lesson so you can truly appreciate their experience and this one-of-a-kind destination:

Known for its spectacular reefs and marine life, Dry Tortugas National Park encompasses a seven-island archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico and if that isn’t unique enough, the area of the park is only 1% land and 99% water! In 1846 the US Navy began building a fort to protect the Florida coastline. While still under construction, the Civil War broke out and Fort Jefferson was never finished, in fact it served as a prison during and after the war though incomplete. In 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it a National Monument to protect the lands. Next in 1983, the protection was expanded to cover the surrounding keys and marine wildlife and reef areas surrounding Dry Tortugas and finally in 1992 the conservation area was elevated to Dry Tortugas National Park. One of its coolest features for those that can get out on to the water with appropriate gear is that the area possesses one of the richest concentrations of shipwrecks in North America. Nearly 200 ships sank around Dry Tortugas before the construction of the Garden Key Lighthouse in 1825.

Dry Tortugas feature a borderline subtropical/tropical ecosystem that hosts numerous rare, endangered, and endemic species that do not normally breed anywhere else in the United States. The park’s coral reefs are home to barracudas, sharks and wahoos, as well as lobsters, sponges, and sea anemones. Dry Tortugas National Park is also the most productive nesting region for the green and loggerhead turtles in the entire Florida Keys. Five different species of Sea Turtles in the Florida Keys are listed on the Endangered Species Act. Open year-round, for scuba diving, snorkeling, along with birdwatching, marine life viewing, and historic touring, Dry Tortugas sees just 80,000 visitors a year.

Fun fact: Ernest Hemingway is among the many famous people who have been a part of Tortugas history. During a tropical storm, Hemingway and a group of friends were stranded at Fort Jefferson for 17 days with only a short supply of canned goods, liquor, coffee, and the fish they caught from the ocean.

Fun fact: Ernest Hemingway is among the many famous people who have been a part of Tortugas history. During a tropical storm, Hemingway and a group of friends were stranded at Fort Jefferson for 17 days with only a short supply of canned goods, liquor, coffee, and the fish they caught from the ocean.

Kelly and Mark with my brother Chris and me in France this past summer.

Kelly and Mark with my brother Chris and me in France this past summer.

Now before I wrap up this amazing moment from Postcards from the Parks, I need to send a very special thank you to Mark Wills and Kelly Wood of Santa Rosa, CA. These wonderful friends and supporters of PFP came in at the last minute to make a special donation to help this trip to Dry Tortugas a reality! Though their original intent was to help me get there to paint and share this special place with all of you, I’m sure they will agree that helping to make it possible for Stephanie and Justin to get there is even more special. Be on the look out Kelly and Mark for some special creation inspired by the beauty of Dry Tortugas to be headed you way - with gratitude, Alyssa

Stay tuned for my next blog post with exciting news of what’s coming up this winter and spring for me and Postcards from the Parks!

Everglades National Park!

The Everglades are one of the most amazing, unique and important ecosystems on the entire planet. Though they are most commonly known for alligators, snakes, humidity and mosquitoes the size of your hand, there is so much more to this essential wetland, forest, and imperative wildlife habitat… My formidable niece Junior Ranger Celia Jane and her crew were quick to head straight to the visitor’s center, get suited up with the appropriate “ranger wear” and gather information about the area from the amazing educational displays and Park Rangers!

Now geared up and ready to explore, Celia led the charge as they walked, explored, looked closely and learned all about the 3rd largest National Park in the lower 48! Here are some of the quick highlights about the Everglades that our PFP team learned in their explorations yesterday.

Everglades National Park is home to one of the largest wetlands in the world - the park is best known for its mangroves, sawgrass prairies, and freshwater slough that draws water from Lake Okeechobee southward.

The work to preserve the Everglades started nearly 20 years before the park was established thanks to Ernest Coe. In the 1800s, dredging and draining of the Everglades began, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the harmful side effects were apparent. In 1928, landscape architect Ernest Coe began campaigning to create a National Park and nearly 20 years later in 1947, it was established.

The Everglades is overflowing with plant and animal species not found anywhere else on the planet. The Everglades provides important habitat for numerous species like the manatee, American crocodile and the elusive Florida panther, and over 360 types of birds.

The Everglades have preserved evidence of human settlement in Florida’s southern tip dating back thousands of years.

Everglades National Park contains the largest contiguous stand of protected mangroves in the western hemisphere.  Mangrove clusters with impenetrable root systems and the ability to flourish in salty environments are both mysterious and beautiful, mangroves help clean water while also providing shelter to marine organisms.

An intergovernmental partnership is working to restore the Greater Everglades ecosystem, which extends beyond the park’s border. Widely known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, this vast environmental undertaking is critical to the area’s freshwater supply, biodiversity, and flood control.

In simple terms, everything about the Everglades revolves around water, and water is the center of the Everglades greatest threat. From development, clearing for agriculture, diversion of water for farming, pollution, chemical run off and dumping, and flood/hurricane damage, the essential and delicate ecosystem of the Everglades and the wildlife that depend on it are endanger. The EVERGLADES ARE IMPORTANT. The Everglades, a subtropical mosaic of surprising diversity and a wetland of international importance, is a refuge for 13 threatened or endangered animal species. Here, human history spans over 2000 years. Because of this, Everglades National Park became a World Heritage Site  on October 26, 1979. World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage with 187 countries voting to ratify this designation.

Despite its reputation for humidity, bugs, and receiving over 60 inches of rain a year, you also can have a day in the park with comfortable temperatures, beautiful blue skies with puffy clouds that extend for miles and miles and the luck for wildlife viewing that only an almost 3 year old can muster! From Alligators, giant grasshoppers, snakes, and a plethora of wetland birds, Celia, Ivy, Stephanie, and Justin looked closely, investigated, documented and soaked in the beautiful views and fascinating residents of the park. Here are some of the highlights of their stroll through the park and a little look at the Everglades through Celia’s fresh eyes!

The adventure has just begun…stay tuned for what they will find tomorrow along with art work to come inspired by the Everglades!

Family jumps in for PFP Road trip #3

Rolling with the punches…

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Sometimes life happens, and presently for me this means that Postcards from the Parks Road trip #3 was suppose to begin last Saturday, but I am still at home with my sweet dog Theo who is is quite sick. Priorities shift and anyone out there that is a dog owner knows exactly what I mean.

Plans change and we needed to get creative (Thank you Ivy and Steph) but the PFP ROAD TRIP to Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortuga National Parks is STILL ON! I may be sitting on the sidelines of this adventure nursing my dog back to health here in Vermont, but I am with them in spirit and trust them to bring us both the visual highlights and concerns threatening the delicate ecosystems of our Florida National Parks! My brave and adventurous family from Cocoa Beach, FL have taken up the torch for me and are carrying on the expedition. So here is the first installment of Field Notes from the Parks special edition South Florida where they will be my eyes and ears while art is made here in my studio to represent these precious places. 

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Now to introduce you to my incredible

PFP TEAM:

My sister Stephanie:

Absolutely the bravest person I know and fierce warrior battling cancer! She is the most deserving person to hit the road on a “road trip” adventure of the enchanted world of the South Florida National Parks! (Hoping to see some art coming out of her along the way)

My Niece Ivy:

Official Road Trip Photographer, #1 support and cheerleader for Stephanie, problem solver and keeper of our Junior Ranger Celia Jane!

My Great Niece Celia:

The Official PFP Road Trip Researcher, explorer, and comic relief - looking forward to seeing the parks through her eyes!

My unofficial brother-in-law Justin:

Road Trip Chief Operating Officer, Driver, Equipment Manager, and Boat Captain. This guy is keeping the crew together in more ways than one!

I am heartbroken that I can’t be there with them, but know I am where I need to be and virtually with them every step of the way as they make there way from the delicate and endangered habitat of the Everglades across the Keys to the Elusive Island of Dry Tortuga seventy miles off the tip of Key West! There is so much in store for this crew and they have earned the adventure of a lifetime! Here are a few shots from today’s exploration of the Everglades!

Stay tuned for more Field Notes from the the Road, updates on Theo, and hopefully i will be jumping in on the Road Trip to carry it on from the salty shores or Florida to the desert sands and high mountains of New Mexico and Colorado…more to come!

A parting message - GET OUT AND VOTE on Nov. 6th! Your public lands are counting on you to protect them!

 
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Welcome to the Sierra Nevadas: Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks!

Sequoia and King's Canyon - two very different landscapes connected as sister National Parks along the Sierra Nevada Mountain chain.  From the largest trees in the world (the General Sherman and Grant) to the winding mountain trail through the deeply carved river canyon to "Road's End" - Sequoia and King's Canyon offer a little bit of everything for the nature enthusiast!

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I left the Channel Islands and Ventura, CA behind for a long day's drive up along the Pacific Coast Highway exploring Cali's Central coast before heading East to Pick up a special delivery in Fresno before heading into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  My son Chris, hot of a plane from a semester abroad in Scotland, headed out to meet up with me for the last 10 days of this National Parks adventure.  As a International Relations major/Environmental Studies and Anthropology double minor, Chris has a keen interest in the environment and protection of our public lands, monuments and parks.  After 3 weeks on the road on my own, it was so great to have Chris to arrive as my adventuring sidekick and he was ready to jump in with both feet to explore and learn all about the culture of the National Parks and the importance of protecting them.

With a co-pilot and partner in crime, we crossed through endless miles of orange groves and made our way up into the mountains to the small village of Three Rivers, CA which would be our base camp for the next few days of exploration.  First stop the Giant Sequoia Groves of Sequoia National Park.  It probably sounds a bit cliche, but photos just can't capture the immense size of these amazing ancient stands of Sequoia Trees.  Though they are not the tallest nor the widest, The Giant Sequoias in this park are the largest trees by mass in the world and they are an amazing sight to see for sure.  Some of which were over 3000 years old having survived, weather, fire, human devastation, and now the impacts of climate change.  The General Sherman Tree, the largest of the bunch, along with the second largest - the Grant Tree (the official national Christmas Tree) are the crown jewels of the park. 

Panoramic view from the top of Moro Rock

Panoramic view from the top of Moro Rock

Aside from the preservation of some of the oldest trees on the planet, Sequoia is also home to a variety of plants, animals, micro-organisms, and the location of a chain of unique marble caves. I learned how delicate an eco system the Sequoia area is and how endanger the plants and animals of the area are due to drought, smog/air pollution, and the effects of climate change.  The giant Sequoias only grow in an ideal environment between 5,000-7,000 feet of elevation in the dense biosphere that surrounds them.  The combination several years of drought in California impacting the trees and the other plants and animals that live in this zone along with the noticeable temperature increase attributed to climate change is endangering the sustainability of the Sequoia Grove as well as causing a change of supporting plants and migration of wildlife to higher ground to survive.  Combine this with both a poaching issue and dire infrastructure problem as this park (the second oldest after Yellowstone) established in 1890 is working with aging facilities, narrow, steep, winding roads, and lack of man power to protect.  Two days of trekking among the trees and gazing in awe of these multi-century old pillars leaves you with both a sense of reverence and regret for the logging practices of the last 200 years that clear cut away so many ancient growth forests across our continent.  We also searched for the active but illusive Black Bear, and stumbled on many grazing mule deer, and a busy beaver (or maybe gold-bellied marmot?).  A steep, steep climb up Moro Rock gave us an amazing panaramic view of the southern  Sierra Nevada Mountain range including Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 and the end of the famous John Muir Trail.

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King's Canyon is a much newer addition to the National Park deck, it began as a protection site of a small grove of Sequoia trees in 1890 and was called General Grant National Park...it took another 50 years of work including much persuasion by John Muir for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 to both rename and increase the park to what King's Canyon National Park is today.  Everywhere we looked, NPS workers were hard at work repairing and re-establishing areas only newly uncovered from the winter snow.  A deep water-carved canyon of the King's River with many scenic water falls, numerous hikes and climbs, and amazing vistas to take in. King's Canyon was an area near and dear to Muir's heart and he spent much time in this area in the early days of developing The Sierra Club.  Taking groups of conservation minded young people out into the wilderness and giving rousing talks (often from a spot now known as Muir Rock at the Road's End). Many of his now well know quotes came from these days in King's Canyon.  There was truly nothing more inspirational to this traveller, artist, and activist that our early morning drive along the King's Canyon Scenic Byway, feeling as though we practically had the entire wilderness all to ourselves. (the road was only recently opened to the public as a late snow had kept the road closed until now) Stopping and hiking around as we were enchanted with a turn in the road, watching raven, condors, falcons and golden eagles fly overhead, watching for a glimpse of a mule deer or black bear to show themselves from the dense forest...it was amazing.  Chris having just come off a fall class at Hobart and William Smith about American Environmental History, was a great source of information and tidbits about the early days of the parks and the influential players as well.  A worthy traveling companion, he was content to silently take it all in, wander down (or up!) any path we ran across, and dive into deeper conversations about the state of our environment. We eventually made our way to where their are no more roads at the aptly named "Road's End" where we sought out John Muir's puppet of sorts - Muir Rock.  We sat, listened, soaked in the sun, and breathed in the fresh air coming off the fork of the King's River - it was transforming and motivating to keep carrying the torch of action, protection, and preservation of these precious places.  Next stop: Yosemite!

Joshua Tree National Park!

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Four seasons in 5 hours... Yes this is possible and, in fact, is exactly what I experienced on my 5 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree California.  I awoke to a familiar view out my window on the morning of my departure from Grand Canyon Village...snow had arrived to blanket the landscape and wasn't planning to stop any time soon.  As I headed south, the flurries became a squall - this was how May arrived in Northern Arizona.  As I dropped in elevation, the snow switched to freezing rain, then a bit of pelleting hail...rains showers followed until the sun finally broke through and left the desert of Southern California in brilliant color.  Thanks to the sudden rainstorm, I was rerouted, and rerouted again due to flash floods and a washed out bridge, but finally made  my way into the town of Joshua Tree right on cue for the sunset colors that only the desert seems to provide.  A cool 80 degrees in this border town of the National Park, a far cry from the 19 degrees I woke up to that morning...how many layers of clothes had I put on and peeled off throughout the day?  I found myself a local beer and sandwich at The Joshua Tree Saloon and closed the book on a very interesting day of travel.  Sleep was needed and Joshua Tree National Park was calling first thing in the morning!

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I can't think of a better way to be introduced to Joshua Tree than by spending the morning being shown around the park by Ethan Peck, owner/guide of Joshua Tree Adventures!  A native Vermonter, I've known Ethan for over 20 years and thanks to his mom - Martha, she arranged for Ethan to give me the highlights of the park.  After grabbing a coffee at Natural Sisters Cafe in town (Yes, this is a must stop in JT) We headed into the park...In addition to taking me climbing around some of his favorite spots and marking up my map of "must see" spots to explore on my own, Ethan was an incredible wealth of knowledge on the history and geology of the park, as well as the current environmental concerns for the Joshua Tree area and greater Southern California plight.  It was inspiring to hear both his expertise and passion for what he does and this place he now calls home.  Thanks Ethan and Martha, and if you are ever in Joshua Tree (which of course, you should find yourself here some time) make sure to look Ethan up and have him take you scrambling about the park!

Joshua Tree is a unique spot where the ecosystems of two distinctly different deserts meet.  Therefore as you travel through the park you move from the high desert environment to the low desert and find a strikingly different landscape.  Of course this park is famous for the much revered Joshua Tree that lives in few places, but is in abundance here in the high desert section.  But setting the tree aside for a moment, this place is all about rock structure - the fascinating and bizarre mounds and hills that look to have pushed themselves up through the ground at and stacked themselves in impossible arrangements.  Ethan explained the entire geological history to me of how they came to be this way that was incredible to learn...I won't go into the details here (nor would I remember them accurately enough) but needless today, it makes for amazing viewing, photographing, hiking and climbing.  The rocks and hills make Joshua Tree a haven for scramblers and rock climbers - and much to my relief, the rock here has a "super grip' that allowed even a person of my skill set the ability to scale, climb and wedge my way into some pretty spectacular spots!  Now for a painter, these complex rock formations create an incredible task to be solved and choosing a vantage point became a bit tricky.  

I realized that throughout the parks I have visited, I seem to always be drawn to the places where water and stone collide - and seeing the evidence of where water has shaped, enhanced, or carved away at the landscape.  Joshua Tree was no different...in this dry, and somewhat monochromatic landscape of the desert, I kept being drawn back to the same place:  Barker Dam.  The is the one oasis of water in the park that creates not only a brilliant contrast of color between the stone and sand with the bold blue reflection of sky in the water, but also a place where migratory birds gravitate, other animals of the desert commune for an essential life source, and the bright green of trees flourish.  It was a wonderful place to explore, but also to sit in quiet solitude and watch the world around me.  There was a reverent hushed atmosphere here by the visitors as if they didn't want to disturb the play that was unfolding in front of them. As I observed I saw a menagerie of birds of all sizes and color - including water foul though they are far from any large body of water, along with many 4 legged creatures from skinny lizards and squirrels to big horned sheep. Needless to say this spot is critical as a water source to sustain the delicate ecosystem here which creates an almost holy ground sensibility. From an artist's point of view, the pond became a mirror reflecting and enhancing the world around me and allowing me to see it in a variety of ways.  In the end, I traveled back to the Barker Dam area of the park over 5 times.  It seemed to be a place that recharged me, challenged me, and inspired me for the work I am doing with this project.  

In talking with both Ethan and a variety of Rangers in the park - they all seemed to agree that there are two major areas of concern as to the parks sustainability and survival.  The first is the effects of climate change.  As temperatures slowly increase, the delicate ecosphere is in extreme danger.  many of the plants that grow here, especially the namesake Joshua Tree, will no longer be able to survive as at temps slowly creep upward.  With the rising temps, the little bit of water accessible to plants and animals depletes as well which not only affects the flora and fauna that call this place home but also the migratory birds that use this as a necessary layover spot as they traverse from place to place.  For those of you that have never lived in a place like Joshua Tree, it is hard to understand how the threat of temperatures rising even a couple degrees could have such a catastrophic impact.  The other challenge the park is facing right now is us - human traffic to the park.  With its close proximity of only 3 hours to Los Angeles and the Southern California coast, as Ethan put it, "The park is in danger of being loved to death".  This place and the tiny border towns can't handle the impact of over 6 million visitors a year, even well-intentioned visitors who cherish it but unknowingly do things to impair it. This problem opens a pandora's box of issues - Do we impact the park by building more infrastructure to accommodate more tourists like Yellowstone has done?  Do we limit the number of visitors a day by creating a reservation system or jacking up entry fees as Arches may be forced to consider to preserve the delicate structures there?  Do we impose mandatory guided touring an build boardwalks throughout the park to slow the damage done by human treading?  Right now Joshua Tree is a free to roam environment, but can they maintain that free and open feel with a reasonable entry fee to make this accessible to everyone?  These are just a few of the challenges Joshua Tree is facing not in the future, but  RIGHT NOW.  Those working in the park along with the local communities are playing a difficult balancing game right now, but support is needed if Joshua Tree of today is going to survive and that support needs to come in a concerted effort to combat climate change and education about how to protect and preserve these unique places.

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Three days in the desert sun and heat were amazing, but the ocean and islands are calling....I'm ready to be out on the water and explore a dramatically different environment!  Coming up - Channel Islands National Park!

 

Following the Colorado River: Glen Canyon to Grand Canyon

Lake Powell - Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Lake Powell - Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

It was time to bid a fond farewell to Zion and hit the road bound for Page, Arizona!  Page is home to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which includes: Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and a 15 mile stretch of the Colorado River before it heads into the Grand Canyon.  Page is nestled between tow National Monuments - Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase Escalante, so needless to say there are plenty of amazing views to be seen around here. The view of Lake Powell as you descend down toward the Glen Canyon is mind boggling with a combination of glowing white and pink landforms surrounded by water so blue it doesn't seem real.  The awe continues as you drive over the Glen Canyon Dam glancing down at the Colorado River way down below.  Needless to say, Page and the outlying area is a wonderland for outdoor recreation!  From boating and paddling, to hiking and climbing, there is so much to do and beauty to be found at every turn.  the local economy is all about tourism and the small town of Page is focused on housing, feeding, and providing outdoor activity for the masses.

The first thing I quickly figured out is to truly appreciate Glen Canyon I had to get out on the water.  So I booked a Colorado River float trip, starting at the dam and winding its way 15 miles down river to Lee's Ferry.  It was a perfect day - blue skies, a little breeze, fun companions to meet and share about my project with on the boat, and views of the canyon that are 100 times more amazing when seeing them from the water looking up!  My guide Lindsay was full of cool facts about the area, the wildlife, and both Native American and Pioneer Settler history.  The float trip took us through the famous 270 degree turn in the river known as Horseshoe Bend, which I had also hiked out to see from the top - as the edge that is accessible for viewing is on Navajo Reservation property, you could walk right out to the edge of the 100 foot drop to the river below - no fence or guard rails here!  Many people were getting death-defyingly close to the edge to pose for a perfect picture (myself included I guess) while others had a harder time getting close enough to look down...this pair had to crawl up to the edge in order to see the view as the man on the right has an extreme fear of heights (made for a great photo, and a lot of cheering from the onlookers when he finally made his way to the edge!  It is truly one of the most spectacular sights I have seen and had to head back the next day to paint from that very spot!

Horseshoe Bend - Glen Canyon

Horseshoe Bend - Glen Canyon

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area not only provides a destination for vacationers and locals alike to get out into the landscape and on the water, it also focuses on healthy water management, preservation of wildlife habitat, and protection of Special Native American Cultural sites.  Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 world we live in here in America, the threat of terrorism is a high level concern here at Glen Canyon because of the Dam (which is only 16 feet smaller than the Hoover Dam in Nevada).  The impact of a breach in the Dam due to a terrorist attack would impact hundreds of thousands of people as well as having a grave impact on the landscape.  Therefore, now more than ever, a good share of the funding for this area has to be used for intensive security and screenings of tourists.  That is leaving less funds available for staffing, land and wildlife management, and conservation.  To answer this growing concern, there are a couple different local funds that are raising money to help suppliment  the resources needed to keep this special place doing good work for the environment. 

 

After two great days hiking, boating, taking photos, and painting in the 90 degree sunshine, I headed south and west to the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon's South Rim...What a difference 4 hours and a huge elevation gain can make!  I traded my tank top and shorts in for first Jeans and sweatshirt, then eventually a fleece,, wool socks, hat and gloves!  Yes, winter was still hanging on at the Grand Canyon - it went from breezy and in the 40's (dipping into the teens at night) to a snowstorm on the last day of my 3 day visit!  But adding on the layers and eventually giving in to a hotel room (I'm not that diehard of a tent camper!) was all a small price to pay for what is the most astounding view I have every laid my eyes on.  There is a reason this is one of the seven modern wonders of the world and as much an American icon as the Statue of Liberty, your first view literally does take your breath away.  If fact I just sat right there - no camera, no phone, no sketch book - I just looked and let it all sink in.  Eventually a family came up behind me and took this picture.  I think they could sense I was having a profound moment.  Luckily she was kind enough to come up and introduce herself and texted me the photo she took.  I am so grateful to this lovely family from Minnesota, this pictures sort of just sums it all up in one shot.  Being brought to your knees by nature's creation.

My first glimpse of Grand Canyon

My first glimpse of Grand Canyon

The next two days seemed to go by in a whirlwind of driving from viewpoint to viewpoint, hiking down a ways into the canyon on various trails to get a sense of the world beneath the rim, and talking with people from ALL OVER THE WORLD about this place, our national parks, and how one person can take up a torch for a cause.  I could certainly go on and on about the Grand Canyon and have multiple chapters to the story, but I will share two highlights that stuck with me the most...

The first began with a 4:30am alarm to get myself up and out to catch the famed sunrise from Mather Point.  With Sunrise slated for 5:38am, that didn't give me much time to throw on literally every item of clothing I brought with me, grab my camera and a headlamp, and set out for Mather with hopes of arriving before the color show began. When I arrived there were only a handful of dedicated fools like me braving the 16 degrees and bit of wind to capture the shot, but soon that all changed.  As we closed in on 5:30 - more and more people flocked to a good vantage point, talking camera functions, regretting the one too many beers the night before, or cursing their parents that getting up at this ungodly hour was a "fun idea".  There was instant friendship forged around huddling together to conserve body heat and who was smart enough to bring Kleenex for all our drippy noses!  Suddenly the technicolor show began and between my camera, phone, and the hush of the crowd, I captured something that was a truly remarkable sight to behold.  The post-rise comradarie was as fun and the event itself...Some folks came more prepared for the experience than others and I immediately gravitated to the crew of 5 twenty-somethings who were clad in their sleeping bags and were so prepared to enjoy the sunrise moment that they even brought along their French Press coffee pot to the viewing!  This native of Flint Michigan was immediate kin to this group once I found out they were intact U of Michigan alums and had the chance to snap a couple great shots of them and share my story of Postcards from the Parks with them!  Standing in that spot with that cross-section of people from all over America and the world all braving the hour and the cold to share one spectacular moment of awe, you can't imagine that we live in a country that is systematically trying to deregulate equally important public lands in the name of corporate gain and our need and greed for oil....but that is where we are and it will take all of us to stop it.

My other cherished (and some what embarrassing) moment came when I arrived at Moran Point.  This view point encapsulates the view from which Thomas Moran painted his most famous interpretation of the Grand Canyon from his expedition of the area with john Wesley Powell in 1873.  Via wooden boat and mule, Moran sketched and painted the wild landscape as Powell surveyed the wilderness.  I have long been a fan of Moran's work since my undergrad years at University of Vermont where I was a double major in studio art and art history.  He later became a hero of mine as I connected his work to his core beliefs and passion for recording and preserving of the landscape.  But it wasn't until I was standing before the actual view and reading the tribute plaque to Moran and the impact his work had on protecting so many areas of now National Park lands that I realized that I was intact, in my small way, truly doing the same.  With the help of many, a very supportive family, some courage combined with a bit of recklessness, and a leap of faith for the greater good, I was embodying the Moran ideal of Chronicling the Landscape for other to see, appreciate, and protect as a female artist of 2018 - 145 years later.  Yes, I cried, and yes I completely confused a lovely Dutch family who came upon me at the wrong moment as I tried to explain that all was well and I wasn't about to leap to my death.  We laughed, tears spilled, and I grabbed my sketch book...There is great work still to be done!  Thanks to all of you for your support and helping me to share this project and these great places!

 

Zion National Park!

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There are few times in my life where I have had a moment that equals to Dorothy's post tornado opening of the door to step out of the shades of grey old farm house into the technicolor world of Oz!  That is the best way to describe what it felt like to one moment be in the land of grey, snow and rain which was April in Newport, Vermont, an 36 hours later arrive in Zion!  This incredible, lush oasis in the desert is a sensory overload for a visual artist!  It is almost as if I had forgotten how to see colors so vivid.  Thanks to thousands of years of water carving through 7 layers of sedimentary rock, the Virgin River has created this towering canyon of white, yellow, orange, and red rising above the river bed and blanket of lush cottonwood trees in shades of blues, and greens.  Because of this, Zion has and incredible diversity of environments from high desert and cacti to lush wet vegetation and waterfalls, to wetlands and swampy areas.  The diversity is amazing and changes with each turn of the river and rise or drop in elevation.  

Zion is a hiker and climber's paradise with all varieties of walks and climbs from strolling along the River Walk, or donning the gear or trudge upstream through the Narrows to the steep climb up to Angel's Landing or rock climbing straight up the face of several different peaks.  All the while you are very aware of nature being in control here and we, the visitors, rangers, and scientists must yield to its will.  Flash floods are a ever present and real danger in this canyon and can arrive with little to no warning.  Often these floods change the course of the river, wash out roads, rip out old growth trees, and even take lives.  Having that consistent reminder of nature's power makes the ethos of this park much more about allowing the park to be the way it intends itself to be, and less about building infrastructures to force the park to accommodate humans and our needs.

With that in mind, Zion has made some big steps to protecting this place including banning visitor cars in the park - all must use the free park shuttle system that runs continually.  Banning the sale of plastic water bottles inside the park and installing bottle filling stations throughout the area and a user-friendly comprehensive recycling system that is everywhere and well maintained are other examples of Zion moving in the no trace direction for this place.  I was also impressed and touched by the very upfront and deliberate interweaving of the beliefs and heritage of the Native Americans of this area and how they see and strive to listen to and protect the land with the scientific facts about conservation, wildlife habitat, and preservation of ecosystems.  When speaking about this with a female ranger who has worked at Zion for the past 12 years, she said that these two pieces go hand in hand in their ethos of how the park should be managed.  There is a strong presence of the Paiute and Ancient Pueblo People in this area and they respected and protected this land for centuries.  Along with them come the history of the Mormon settlers that is an important piece of Utah's tradition that also is recognized.  The access to information and science that we have today acts as the virtual 'first aid kit" to help us to repair and restore the land from the damage WE have caused in the 20 and 21st centuries.

One of the largest focuses for rangers in this park is about protecting and increasing the populations of the Peregrine Falcons  and California Condors.  At this time of year, the Peregrine are monitored closely as they are nesting high in the cliffs of Zion and rock climbing and hiking trails are limited and often closed to protect these breeding spaces.  In addition Zion has played a major role in the resurgence of the endangered California condor.  in 1996 only 20 known California Condors were in existence and were bound for extinction. With the combined efforts of Zion and Pinnacles National Parks, that number in 2017 has risen to almost 400 with 70% of those birds residing in the area of these two National Parks!

As an artist, Zion is a wonderland or subject matter and the most difficult part was narrowing it down to my favorite spots to paint and photograph.  After a full day of "playing tourist" walking, hiking, photographing, gawking, and chatting with others nearby, I narrowed my sights on three locations for paintings - the entrance to the famed Narrows hike where gear clad hikers head out to walk up river into the slot canyon, sunrising along the River Walk, and the aerial perspective looking down from high above on the Kayenta Trail.  Look for each of these coming to you shortly in gallery!  On this second road trip I am carrying on my tradition (and tipping of my hat to Ansel Adams) and only shooting black and white with my DSLR. I am really enjoying the juxtaposition of sharing the landscape first in just black and white and them in full color through my paintings.  I am also going to try to bring more of the people interacting with these places into my photos at times and capture those spontaneous moments of visitors or workers immersed in their environment as we also play our role in making these places special as public lands for us to enjoy with respect. I think that differentiation is an important one.  Public lands have to strike a balance between preservation, conservation, and public access (within reason) so generation to come can continue to be inspired by these natural wonders, afford to visit them, and be moved to protect them and on a larger scale the planet as a whole.

Well that's a lot for my first major post...I guess I better sign off here before I need to start making chapters of this!  Next stop Page, Arizona - Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument! My fascination with places where water meet rock continues...