Hiking for Art

The main attraction for the Utah portion of our trip was Horseshoe Canyon to check off a “bucket list” item for my husband – seeing the art galleries on the canyon walls.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Art in a canyon?  What?”  Yes, art in a canyon.  But first, we had to get there – and that posed potentially the greatest challenge of all.

Horseshoe Canyon is located in eastern Utah and is a satellite part of Canyonlands National Park.  That doesn’t mean it’s close to anything – it’s just in the middle of nowhere.  (Sensing a pattern here with our trips yet?)  To reach the trailhead, you have to traverse 32 miles of dirt road that’s only sometimes passable by a 2-wheel drive vehicle with enough ground clearance.  4-wheel drive is recommended, but even then it can be a crapshoot with the road conditions if winds suddenly pick up and bury the road in fine red sand.  So, it’s a tricky trek to the trailhead that also requires a touch of luck to make it all the way.

Away We Go

We had more than a little luck on our side the day we attempted our hike.  The vicious winds from the day before had died down and didn’t blow too much loose sand on the road.  Considering the conditions this road sometimes sees, it was in really good shape.  That didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking for my husband doing the driving though.  Thankfully we didn’t encounter any iffy areas along those 32 miles on the way in – win!  (Getting back to camp we’d deal with later in the day, then breathe easy once we were done.)

As soon as we reached the trailhead, the canyon was a sight to behold.

Horseshoe Canyon Panorama

The hike starts with a quick trip down to the canyon floor about 750 feet below.  That first mile was full of treats too.  We saw some fabulously interesting rock formations, some sort of old watering or irrigation trough, and a dinosaur print!  Not too shabby for the first mile.

A little further into our descent, we came across a horse gate that is used to limit access via horseback into the canyon.  (Access via horseback is by permit only.) . I thought the sign was absolutely fabulous – even if the letters may have been a little too small to drive the point home to some visitors, in my opinion.

Serious Reminder

Just past the gate, we were greeted by some of the native burros that live in the canyon.  These burros were left in the canyon by the Spanish ages ago and have thrived in the environment since then.  They were on the opposite side of the canyon from us, so not close enough to be bothered by our presence (or for me to get a really good picture of them – look for the white & brown creatures near the middle of the picture below).

Burros

The canyon floor itself became a real treat for my photography eye as we trekked… much to my husband’s chagrin because he came to see the art in the canyon, not be slowed down by me making art.  The mud had cracked and curled all over the canyon floor.  To me, it looked like a vast expanse of chocolate curls.  (Yes, my brain always goes back to food someway, somehow.)

Clay Cigars

The near-frenetic pace of sights and things I wanted to take pictures of pleasantly surprised us a little.  And we hadn’t even reached the first art gallery!  Finally, I did put the camera away long enough so we could pick up the pace and we arrived to see what we came for – ancient pictographs & petroglyphs!

There’s 4 galleries in the canyon with panels that are considered to be the finest examples of Native American rock art in North America.  The first gallery we arrived at was the High Gallery.  When you see how high up it is, you realize how that panel got its name and then you start to wonder, “How in the world did they get up there to make those images?!”

Not too far after the High Gallery, you reach the Horseshoe Gallery.  This one was also fairly high up on the canyon wall, but not as much as the previous display.  It was also in the sun on light-colored rock, making for a completely different photography challenge for me.

Horseshoe Gallery

After that one-two punch of the High and Horseshoe Galleries, we meandered through the canyon bottom following the dry stream bed and trail.  Thankfully it wasn’t too terribly hot that day since it was autumn, after all.  I couldn’t imagine doing that hike in the middle of summer where temperatures would be well over 100.  Ugh – too dang hot!

About halfway down to the next gallery, we heard a loud squawking noise in the canyon.  We couldn’t believe how loud it was and started looking up for birds.  We didn’t see anything in the sky or tucked into the rock walls, so we had a little mystery on our hands.  Something to ask the ranger about if we ran into one back at the trailhead at the end of the day.

Eventually, we saw a huge alcove that almost looked like the shell of an outdoor amphitheater.  That’s precisely when we realized we were nearing the 3rd gallery – the Alcove Gallery.

The Alcove

Where the first 2 galleries were high off the ground, the rock art in the Alcove Gallery was smack at ground level (behind a thin chain fence to deter visitors from touching it, naturally).  Being able to get up close to the art was really cool.  I was able to get some lovely detail shots of the images.  We even noticed places where cowboys coming through the canyon in the 1920s had etched their names in the rock – with pretty decent penmanship no less!

The grand finale was still about a mile ahead of us.  So… trudge, trudge, trudge… walk, walk, walk.  That brought us to the Great Gallery.  It’s the oldest and most elaborate panel in the entire canyon.  This panel is what my husband came to see, and boy did he ever enjoy it!  (Click on the pictures to enlarge them & check out the detail of the rock art.)

After a spot of lunch, it was time to head back to the trailhead.  Since the sun was more or less straight above the canyon, that lit up some of the features that were in deep shadow when we set out on our hike that morning.  Yay for me!

Heading Out & UpAlmost Up & Out

Not long after I snagged that 2nd shot above, we heard that squawking again.  Only this time it was really, really loud.  We had just seen some of the burros on the other side of the canyon and that’s when it clicked – the squawking we heard in the morning at least a 1/2 mile from where we first saw the burros was the burros!  Holy hell they’re loud in that canyon!!

Once we got back to the rim and the trailhead, it was time to pack-up and go after a fabulous outing.  Before we left, I did snag a quick shot across the canyon up to the northeast since the La Sal Mountains were shining out on the horizon with a fresh coat of snow on their peaks from the storm that passed through the day before.

La Sals Far Away

With the gear stowed, we were off to conquer the 32 miles of dirt road once more.  Some sand blew across the road while we were hiking, but thankfully it remained passable.  Back at camp we cracked open some beer and celebrated a really good day of hiking and an item successfully checked off of my husband’s “bucket list”.

– JC

Outdoor Furniture Art

On the way home from Great Sand Dunes National Park, we stopped in Buena Vista for a spot of lunch.  Buena Vista is a cute little mountain town that’s in the middle of reviving their riverfront property along the Arkansas River.  What’s emerging in that pocket of town is really, really cool.  They’re doing an excellent job with mixing styles of architecture, keeping the historic buildings, making things pedestrian friendly, and giving the area some charm with cute shops and restaurants within the residential neighborhood.  We liked Buena Vista before, but this little chunk of town is really turning into something.

During this year’s stop in town, some new art had been installed – seating areas made to look like living rooms but made entirely out of decorative tiles and mosaic work.  It was so fun and funky!  While I might not want to sit on this stuff on a bright, sunny, hot day for risk of searing my tush off, it’s quite something to look at.

Sit a Bit

Stay a While

Fun and as cute as the sets are on their own, you really start to marvel when you get in close on the detail.  There’s a ton of intricate mosaic work or painted tiles on each piece.  Unfortunately, we had some time constraints on our drive home, so I couldn’t take it all in, but I did get a few shots of those details.

Mosaic Madness

Oh, Kitty

Here, Doggy

Just another fun find along our annual journey to and from Great Sand Dunes!

 

– JC

Art Around Town

First, a quick bit of background:  Longmont is growing as a destination for artists to hone their crafts.  It’s become so big in creative circles and known for the variety of art around that Longmont’s downtown area was recently certified as a Colorado Creative District!  Getting that designation was a long time coming and it was a big deal when they finally landed it since it made Longmont the 12th official certified Creative District in Colorado!

Back in the day, I thought having the art around town was just a nice touch.  Something to make things pretty or cute as you’re walking around town.  Over the years, as pieces on public display have changed, it’s been fun to see some really cool works go on display – especially when they’re works I know I could never conceive myself.  It’s taught me a new appreciation for different forms of art I may not have noticed or been interested in before.

While shooting the “Play the Plaza” installation the other week, I did catch what I think is a new piece on display in the area around the St. Vrain Historical Society headquarters.  It was a tall and fairly slender white stone sculpture called “Protection” by Jade Windell.  The structure and curves in it reminded me a lot of the First Nation totem poles we saw during our trip to Vancouver last year.

Luckily for me, the light was hitting it in such a way I thought I could make a couple of dramatic black & white shots of sections of the sculpture:

I think I need to go back and really fiddle with some shots with this sculpture on a bright & shiny day to get sharper shadow lines that could create some extra drama.  Considering my goal was merely testing out my camera on whatever was around town that afternoon, not bad for a quick snag of a few shots.

My test shots weren’t done just yet though.  As we were almost back at the car and ready to head home, we walked through one of the cute alley ways and passed benches covered with mosaic tile that we’ve probably passed hundreds of times before.  But on this day, my eyes were a little more attuned to what was around me.

I noticed that the one of the benches was sponsored by the computer hardware & storage company Seagate.  (Seagate is one of the larger employers in town.)  Being that my schooling was focused on computer engineering back in the day, the first thing I noticed was the binary numbers incorporated along the edge of the mosaic.  Very cool!

Binary Bench Mosaic
Binary Bench Mosaic

My binary-to-decimal conversion skills aren’t nearly as sharp as they were – gasp! – 20 years ago when I started college, but I did take a shot at converting the numbers to decimal.  Best I can tell, the numbers on the left (from top to bottom) are 4, 6, 1, 5, 1.  The numbers on the right (top to bottom) are 6 and 5.

Not sure what – if any – significance there is to those numbers.  Of course, I’m assuming the breaks in the tile are also breaks in the binary strings and that I should read the numbers top-to-bottom.  Maybe they’re really huge numbers (9897 on the left, 53 on the right)?  Maybe I’m reading them backwards and should be reading bottom-up?  See what kind of questions art can provoke even in the most techno-centric minds?!

Maybe one of these days I’ll get an answer to my binary inquires.  For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the different art pieces as they pop-up throughout the town we’re fortunate enough to call home.

 

– JC

Playing the Plaza

I just need to say this straight out at the start – I love the town we live in!  When we landed in Colorado nearly 3 years ago, I had no idea we’d end up in a place we’re really proud to call home.

We live in a little town called Longmont about a 45 minute drive northwest of Denver and less than an hour’s drive from Rocky Mountain National Park.  We picked this town mainly because of proximity to job markets and RMNP.  Little did we know that the first day we walked through downtown we’d fall in love with it instantly and made it our goal to call this town home.  My husband hadn’t been through the town in 15 years and it grew up – a lot – since then and they’re still doing so many cool and smart things in the town and the community that we just feel so fortunate to be part it.  (Oh – and beer… so much good beer in this town!!)

Last weekend, we popped downtown for a spot of lunch (including yummy beers, of course) and I brought the new camera with me for test shots because I knew there were some lively colorful things downtown that I’d been wanting to get shots of – perfect test subjects for the new sensor and exposure meter I’m getting used to.

This summer, the public art installation around downtown is called “Play the Plaza“.  They’ve taken different childhood games and set them up so they’re larger than life in the alleys and parklets throughout downtown.  Seems like every corner you turn, there’s something to play with or something insanely colorful and fun waiting for you.  Yay interactive art for all ages!!  (Isn’t there a kids’ game with the label of “fun for ages 9 to 99”?  Which game it is eludes me at the moment, but that label certainly applies to “Play the Plaza”.)

Play the Plaza
Play the Plaza

I started with “Candy Lane” – the take-off on “Candy Land”.  I spent most of my time here probably because it was the biggest and most colorful installation.  The setup has spinners every few spaces and people move themselves down the painted sidewalk as the pieces through the different lands to the end of the game about 50-100 feet down the way, curling around the old church that houses the St. Vrain Historical Society.

As we wandered down “Candy Lane”, we noticed they temporarily converted the permanent tables and chairs installed in the parklet to games too – complete with bags attached to each table that hold the game pieces to use on the game boards.

One of the last shots I took near the end of “Candy Lane” was a classic – Tic-Tac-Toe.  The eternal child in me loved spinning the pieces around like a spaz while the adult in me loved the simple industrial elegance of how it was constructed.

Tic-Tac-Toe
Tic-Tac-Toe

Definitely not a bad way to spend some time for a Saturday afternoon.  If you’re located near Longmont, I highly recommend stopping by and checking it all out before it’s gone!

At the risk of being a little cliche, Longmont is our Home Sweet Home…

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

– JC