Two quick trips, looking east, looking west

By trips I mean three-hour trips, in between applying coats of primer to new canvases in the studio, work stuff and family/house stuff. The first trip was east, where I've been determined to explore lately. Sadly it is well-known that public land is difficult to find east of the Front Range. A few state wildlife areas offer hunting, and naturally, some open public spaces. But the vast, vast majority of land is privately-owned farms and ranches. It doesn't take much to know this about the American Great Plains. Yet from an aesthetic point of view, I want a place to get out of my car besides the few feet of gravel and grass separating pavement from private fencing. I want some far-reaching stands of native shortgrass prairie. I want a park, basically. This is pure nostalgia and romance, of course I know this. But I still want it.

I found a pinprick of green on the map adjacent to I-70 40 minutes east of Denver. Traffic thinned after passing Pena Boulevard, and I settled in to the drive as I scanned the piecemeal semi-developed suburb-scape that is growing steadily eastward. The sky was overcast, the land unimpressionable. Yet something always sparks inside when I drive in a new direction, or in a direction where I'm looking for something specific that I haven't been looking for before.

The exit for Richmil Ranch Open Space outside of Deer Trail looked slightly more promising: varied hills and some native-ish vegetation along the road. However the open space itself turned out to be just a swath of cottonwoods, kinda the worst. I would have given it more of a chance but was turned off by the only other vehicle in the small gravel lot, a 20' box truck with no one in the cab and the engine running.

I left the parking lot and cruised through the half-ghost town of Deer Trail, then north across I-70 and up a slight rise toward CO-36. Upon leaving behind the various highway-related things I saw a herd of maybe 20-25 pronghorn not far from the road. My favorite animal! Can't recall seeing that many, especially so close to the city.

I drove another 10 miles or so to the intersection with CO-36 and pulled over to figure out my next move. A clearly marked road heading due north on Google Maps was IRL a rutted two-wheel track past a fence and through a bumpy field. Opting out of that adventure, I headed further east on the smooth CO-36 pavement toward Last Chance. In the next few miles I passed a gun range and a full-on race track. The gun range actually had some nice grasses growing on the few little hills I could see from the road.

About a mile later I pulled over and made a painting of a nearby drainage, a grassy slope carved by erosion just barely enough to wrap an image around. The plains are very challenging to paint. So little information, rarely any foreground. I guess you have to make it up, get creative. Or maybe it's better suited to drawing? But the feeling of space out there is undeniable.

On the way back to the highway I passed a bison ranch. So there you go, herds of pronghorn, herds of bison; sprawl, guns, and fields as far you can see, 100x over.


Yesterday I scoped out some views of Shirttail Peak for another larger watercolor series. Shirttail is way more complicated looking than Bear Peak, but I think I could make a painting work. Seems like the better views are from slightly further away. Plenty of good spots along CO-128 just west of the airport.

I did a painting of the mountain from a closer spot, then one looking south into the sun. The sun was backlighting a high veil of cloud, pale gold ochre with slashes of gray and blue.

Last page of the book (book four) was a painting of NCAR from a road near Carrie and Nicki's in South Boulder. I didn't get the color right. The building looks way too orange and the Flatirons are too dark and purplish. Next time.

Work logChris KannenComment