Thursday, January 23, 2020

Arches National Park, Ohioans, and the Moon

Delicate Arch from the upper viewpoint. This is the closest we could get
without a strenuous hike, and I don't have a telephoto lens!
If you read my post before last, the one about Mars and Bryce Canyon, you know I recently found a batch of unpublished stuff all about Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, and some of the creative inspiration behind that project. Well, today I'm coming at ya with another of those forgotten blog posts... the inspiration for my depiction of the moon. Good ol' Luna, Earth's beautiful moon...

But before I get started, I want to share a quick note of thanks to the first person to look at Moonhorse in the Brooklyn Art Library! Last week I got an email notifying me that someone looked at it. Thank you, Audrey, wherever you are! I hope you liked my fanciful little story!

Okay, back to business... One of the highlights of my family vacation in 2018 (yes, you'll be hearing about that trip as long as I live; no, I don't feel bad about bringing it up all the time) was seeing Arches National Park. Arches is located in Moab, Utah, one of the "Big 5" national parks in Utah, and a must-see if you're visiting the area.

The entrance to Arches is dramatic. The visitor center is at the foot of huge cliffs rising up around it.

To enter the park, you have to drive up and around the sides of the cliffs as if the road is gradually curving and switch-backing up the sides of a funnel. The visitor's center is 4,085 feet above sea level, the lowest elevation in the park. By the time you reach the top of the "funnel" and are truly inside the park, you've gained over 500 feet.

At the top you're met with Arches' beautiful natural spires, walls, fins, columns, of course arches.
Tall, narrow fins of rock, aptly named Park Avenue in a double-pun, rise above the entrance road like skyscrapers. Much of the rock in southern Utah is bright orange and golden-brown sandstone, and the colors only push the drama further.

Arches Entrance Road curves deep into the park, with numerous viewpoints and other roads breaking off from it. Most the sites are easy to see from the car, and there are lots of short trails up to and around the enormous stone features.

Of course we were all eager to see the famous Delicate Arch, a beautiful, free-standing arch near the eastern edge of the park. Unfortunately, getting to the arch required a more serious hike than any of us were up to at that point. This was the last real day of our grand adventure, before driving halfway across Colorado and flying home. Between our exhaustion and the elevation, we settled for the sight above, from the upper Delicate Arch viewpoint.

Balanced Rock, Arches Nat'l Park, Utah. November 2018.
Detail from Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse.
Balanced Rock, Earth and Mars. Watercolor, ink,
gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth.
Nine miles in, Balanced Rock is easily recognizable from the main park road. Balanced Rock is what inspired my drawings of the moon in Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse! I wanted to convey the near-weightlessness of the Moon, while echoing familiar terrestrial nature.

I imagine rock formations which would be impossible on earth might in fact be plausible in lower gravity. I'm no physicist, but I like the idea that the moon could have a response to our Balanced Rock. Don't you?

There's something almost surreal about finally seeing these things in person after admiring photos all my life. It's entirely changed my perspective.

One amazing rock formation we got to see is the Parade of Elephants. This is a series of massive rocks that really do look like a heard of elephants.

We climbed up to get a closer look at it, and it really was marvelous to stand up close and realize just how enormous these rocks were. They weren't just rocks or boulders. They were immense.

They say everything's bigger in Texas, but if my whirlwind tour through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado is any indication, I actually think everything's bigger west of the Mississippi. Photos can never show just how massive these things truly are. In photos, Balanced Rock looks like something I could reach out and tip over with one hand, but it's actually a 55-foot boulder naturally cemented onto a 73-foot base, reaching well over 100 feet into the air. Compared to many of the rock features in Arches, Delicate Arch stands relatively small at 52 feet.

Arches National Park, November 2018.
Walking around these stone structures that absolutely overshadow Ohio's forests, plains, and foothills, I could hardly believe that the stone of Arches is actually wearing down, shrinking away over time, thanks to the constant (believe me, constant) wind on the high plains.

Arches is composed mostly of mudstone and sandstone, which crumble and wear away easily. Delicate Arch is, in fact, becoming more delicate with each passing day. One day, Balanced Rock may fall. The Parade of Elephants is very gradually crumbling, tiny grain by grain of sandstone.

We often believe stone is as close to eternal as anything can be, but the truth of the matter is that even rock wears away, falls, shatters, turns to sand and dust. This was a sobering thought, a faint shadow at the edges of our visit at Arches, and the buffeting wind served as a constant reminder.

But Arches is also a reminder that you shouldn't dwell on that distant future. All you can do is enjoy what is here now, and do your best to conserve and not harm the environment.

With that in mind, we had a lot of fun. We took goofy pictures, peered through ginormous openings like windows, enjoying every moment. We stuck to simple hikes, but had no regrets.

O-H-I-O pose!
Buckeye Fans at Parade of Elephants. Pen on paper, 2018.
As Ohioans will, we had to take plenty of pictures posing with our arms spelling out O-H-I-O.

My brother-in-law, who hails from Florida, was thoroughly unimpressed by our repeated shows of state pride, but that didn't stop us from doing the O-H-I-O pose every chance we got. His scoffing wasn't going to stop these devoted Buckeyes.

There were so many reasons to be excited for vacation, and one of them was my hope to get reconnected with art after a long time of feeling unable to draw, paint, or even look at art. I was burnt-out and dealing with heightened anxiety after some major life-events.

Indeed, this trip out west was the reset I needed! I came back physically worn out but creatively refreshed. It's like the art centers had my brain had been numbed for months on end, but this trip woke them and got me back on track.

It felt amazing to come home and finally paint again.

Sometimes a major change of scenery and break in routine is all that's needed to cut the burnout and creative frustration. This trip was such a big deal for my family and me, and such a big creative boost, that you'll just have to deal with continuing to hear about it more than a year later. I hope you'll forgive me...


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