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April 23, 2014 / pleinairman

Road Trip, West to East: Zion Canyon, Part 1

We arrived in Springdale, Utah, on a glorious day filled with air so crisp it was like biting into a good apple.  I imagine it was the kind of day that the first Mormon settlers experienced when they pulled their wagons into Zion Canyon.  They saw it as a place of not only peace and beauty but also as a place of refuge.

The Sentinel, 9×12 oil
(The sun was still out when I painted this one.)

This is, I think, my fourth trip to this land of cloudscraping towers, weeping springs and light-filled canyons.  My first time here, back in the 90s, I hiked Angel’s Landing, a 1488-foot climb, after suffering a bout of food poisoning that I acquired in Moab the day before; my next time was in 2011 as an Invited Artist at the Zion National Park plein air painting event; then, shortly after that, I joined a group of artists to spend a week painting here.  (Click here for past posts on Zion.) Now, I’m doing that again.  I’m finding that with each visit I get to know Zion better and better as a painter.

We got to our rental house, which is right in downtown Springdale and close to galleries and restaurants, on Easter Sunday, a day early, which gave me an opportunity to refresh my memory.   Town and the Park were incredibly busy – every lot in the park was filled, and the town’s streets were lined with RVs and cars.  Not only was it Easter, it was also a “free weekend” at the National Parks across the country.  Trina talked to one ranger who said that Saturday had been a record, with 27,000 visitors.  To us, Sunday seemed just as busy.

The Watchman, 9×12 oil
(The clouds were beginning to move in.)

But the town and Park have a great shuttle system.  We left the car parked at the house and rode the shuttle, which was filled to capacity, into Zion Canyon and along the North Fork of the Virigin River.  Every stop was a rich painting spot.  You could spend an entire day painting at any of them.  We rode all the way to the end, to the Temple of Sinawa and the Narrows trail, to take the 2.2-mile hike there.  Columbines, Zion Shooting Stars and other flowers clung to the canyon walls, dripping with moisture.

The next day, we prepared for the other artists, buying food at the local grocery store (literally a one-minute walk from the house) and running around making sure we had enough towels.  The first arrival came mid-afternoon, an artist from British Columbia, and while we waited for the others, we did a little sketching in the shade of the house.  Neither of us wanted to get too messy just yet, so he did a pencil sketch and I did a little digital painting.  I continue to play with Sketchbook Pro and find that I’m getting better at quick color-mixing; but even in the shade, on that bright day it was somewhat difficult to see what was happening on-screen.

Digital Zion

The others – a total of nine that included six artists – arrived by dinnertime.  We headed across the street to the Flying Monkey for pizza and then bed.  We were from everywhere, east coast and west coast, and what with the travel and time zone changes, we were beat.  Artists hailed from not just B.C. but also New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

From Tennessee

Tuesday morning we all woke up early, had a light breakfast and then headed out.  A big spring storm to the north with high winds in our area were predicted.  But dawn came surprisingly calm and clear.  We set up, two pastel painters and four oil painters, along the Pa’rus Trail near the Nature Center, with views of the peaks to the west.  I did two paintings, and then the sun disappeared and the wind began.  We headed back to the house for lunch with the idea of everyone taking the shuttle ride in the afternoon to get familiar with the terrain.  Some of us had been here before, others not, but I thought it’d be good for all of us to scope out painting spots for the week.  By the time we reached Big Bend, the wind was howling.  By the time we headed back down the canyon, the air was so full of dust the canyon looked like Peking on a bad day.  We’d made the right decision to not paint in the afternoon.

The cold front moved in quickly, though, and by the time we finished our dinners at the Flying Monkey, the air was clear, the setting sun bright on the cliffs, and we knew the next day would be beautiful.

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