I started driving south a few days ago, getting up early in the morning to avoid rush hour traffic on a stretch of I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs. A few hours in, the sun rose to meet me, slanting up from the east to illuminate Pikes Peak as I passed. The highway through south Central Colorado and North Central New Mexico intersects vast open expanses to east and the Rocky Mountains to the west. The colors are similar to Nebraska's in January, but at elevation the powdery blue shadows and washed out yellowed grasses are sharp and somehow vivid. The sun is closer. I was driving a pickup with a cab-over camper, and my plan was to intercept my partner somewhere between Albuquerque and the Arizona border. He left our home in Nebraska the same time that I left Northern Colorado, but he had farther to go than I did, and his path would cross mine somewhere in New Mexico. He was driving a new RV that he rebuilt onto a semi truck, pulling an enclosed trailer with his rock crawler and all of its accoutrements.
I switched from a podcast to the radio after passing Santa Fe. For the rest of the day I listened as the events at the Capitol unfolded, my stomach knotted with disgust and disbelief. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing when this event happened. For me, it was driving through Albuquerque and veering west onto Interstate 40, following the sun which had by now gotten in front of me.
I’ve never seen so many trucks on an interstate highway as I did the rest of that day. There must have been a big storm to the north which diverted the commercial east-west traffic across the country to a more southerly route. The trucks seemed like a long segmented snake across the high desert. The truck stops, pull-offs, and fueling stations were full of semis and their goods. Driving while surrounded by trailer rigs is stressful. Most of the truckers have little patience for other vehicles, and they’re not afraid to throw their weight around. There was a weary tension backed by tons of rolling steel that made it exhausting. Ten hours after starting my journey, I pulled over in a crowded truck stop and waited for my partner to catch up to me, crawling into my nest in the camper and resting. He rolled in a few hours later, we ate a quick supper and got back onto the truck-infested highway.
The sun beat us to the Arizona border. It was only 8pm or so when we arrived at our next stop, but it was pitch dark and unusually cold with a biting wind. There is a sandstone cliff that overlooks Speedy’s Truck Stop, but in the darkness we could only see its faint outline from reflected lights. (BTW, during non-pandemic times I would have run inside for one of their amazing Navajo Tacos). We fueled and tucked our vehicles into a corner as far away from the other trucks as possible. Truckers understandably don’t like RV’s taking up spaces in their lots. Most RV’ers are on vacation, and the trucks are working, and when the lots are full they have to park on highway interchanges. We didn’t sleep much. The headlights and growling engines from the trucks coming and going didn’t stop all night. At 4am we got up, warmed our own engines, and pulled out once again. The highway was much quieter. We passed trucks lined up on interchanges and at stops, resting and waiting for morning. The heater blasted as I listened to the news of the night's events. The cold dark nothing outside was oddly peaceful with daylight still hours away. I was inside a protected little pod flying across a frozen desert, disconnected from the lonely blackness outside but at the same time very small and vulnerable.
If you approach the San Francisco Peaks during the day, you see tops of the mountains sticking up from the floor of the desert plateau from a hundred miles away. In the dark morning, I didn’t see it at all until we were climbing the eastern slope. (This range is fascinating geographically and historically.) The sun had barely begun to tint the eastern horizon, and as we climbed, the outlines of the peaks and pine trees appeared. The town of Flagstaff is in the middle of this archipelago of mountains, and it was there that we turned south toward Phoenix. On the southern edge of the prominence there is a vast, steep drop to the warm desert below. The pine-covered hills give way to a starkly different ecosystem of the warm, rocky, cactus filled Sonoran desert. We stopped at an overlook just as the sun crested the horizon. A few hours later, we pulled into Phoenix, shedding our winter coats and the weight of a frozen chaotic world.
A New Challenge
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to master watercolors. Most of my life they intimidated me, so I avoided them. Now, in my older years, I listen to the voice of fear or unease and promptly tell it to go to hell. I spent a few winters struggling with it until I felt that I was finally getting a feel for it. Haven't reached mastery yet.
Along comes gouache. Another media that I feel inept and awkward with. One that has left me dissatisfied and frustrated when I've dabbled with it. So guess who is going to learn to paint with gouache this year? Yup, that would be me. I am in the kicking and screaming stage right now, but am confident that we will eventually become friends.
The other day, when I was at the art store in Boulder, I made a commitment and bought a few tubes of new colors of gouache. I thought that I had the rest packed in my art supplies. Fast forward, I am far from any art supply store, and just discovered that I don't have the other colors that I thought I did. Not willing to give up so easily, I ordered some online, and hopefully they will be shipped to a friend who we will see in a week or two at our next destination. I'm not going to give up so easily, gouache!
Below are some sketches that I did from the drive. The left is the open highway in New Mexico. The middle one is the truck stop with the trucks lined up in the darkness. On the right, the sun peaking up over the mountains in Flagstaff. I substituted watercolor for my missing gouache colors. If you've painted with gouache, let me know your experiences!
Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
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