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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day 38: Lower Falls of the Yellowstone (7/12/15)

Today I had planned on sketching and/or painting the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone from a perspective towards the bottom of the falls. I stopped by the Upper Falls overlook and saw the water rushing over to the canyon below. Pretty spectacular and the water was moving super fast. You're right at the "brink" of the falls. After I ventured over the the south rim side, and decided to go down Uncle Tom's trail which I *thought* would take me to the bottom of the upper falls. I started the hike down after reading a sign that there are 300 or so stairs to the bottom. The people I saw coming back up at the beginning of the trail were DYING. Huffing and puffing. I got to the bottom and the view was great. It was a small crowded platform and I secured a primo spot on the only bench down there right next to the railing to do a sketch. I sketched the falls and took extensive notes on the color of the rocks. Maybe not extensive, I probably could have spent an hour just writing about what I saw. Lots of colors, textures, temperatures, details...and it wasn't until I tried describing it in words that I really appreciated the complexity of the canyon. I hiked back up and tried so hard not to be one of those huffy puffy people...and I performed pretty well. Only a little huffy puffy.

I was on a bit of a time table because I was meeting up with Dan's best friend's wife Sydney (who is now my friend too) (so I could just say my friend Syndey) and her sister Molly. Rob (her husband) deployed last fall and she moved back home to Washington. He's coming back soon so she is moving back to Clarksville, Tennessee and happened to be driving through Yellowstone during my time here! I didn't even realize how much I wanted to see someone I knew - it was all kinds of awesome. We caught up and our conversation reminded me of all the great things I have to look forward to after this trip. Her sister Molly is an art major so it was a lot of fun to talk to her too. I didn't have anything else really on my agenda that day so I played tourist with them and went sightseeing around the Canyon area. They had to go catch their airbnb and wanted to see a few more things in Yellowstone so we said bye at Artist Point.

When we were at the Lower Falls overlook I realized the falls I sketched were not the Upper Falls. BUT it was a very interesting and rewarding art moment...I recognized the falls as being the same falls I had sketched earlier that day. I saw the way the water sprayed out to the left, the rock on the left side that started dark, had a light patch, then changed to another color on the rest of the rock face, the overlook on the right, the dark patch of rocks along the right side of the falling water. This moment I realized what plein air drawing and painting is all about: a careful attention to the world around you. Time spent in observation and contemplation, which leads to a familiarity between artist and subject. I recognized the waterfall as if it was the face of a friend I'd just met.

After Sydney and Molly left, I decided to hike out past the incredibly congested Artist Point to find a good spot to paint the next day. It was a gorgeous hike along the south rim, with many overlooks into the canyon. I almost made it to Point Sublime when it started raining and I got the fear and quickly turned around. It only sprinkled for a bit and the rest of my hike back was dry. I sat for a bit and started to journal about the canyon, how truly sublime it is, and stopped mid sentence when I noticed four our five ants carrying huge leaves into their pine needle nest. I was transfixed and fascinated! I sat and watched them hauling loads easily twice their size. Here I was with a view of the sublime canyon and I was watching marching ants...thank you Annie Dillard. Her passages in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek about her love and attention to insects rubbed off on me. Our earth is made as much of canyons as it is ants...and I think finding fascination in both makes for a stimulating and exciting life.

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone
Upper Falls rapids
Hiked Uncle Tom's trail to the bottom of what I *thought* were the Upper Falls...but it was the Lower Falls.
How did Moran capture the crazy texture in his paintings?!
Sketch of the Lower Falls. Very crowded, small platform, but I managed to snag a spot on the bench for 20 minutes.
And many notes and diagrams on color.
"Upper Falls of the Yellowstone" by Thomas Moran. How did he paint those rocks with watercolor?? There isn't a path down to the base of the Upper Falls, so it's good enough for me that I went down to the Lower Falls.
Stunning colors in the canyon along the hike to Point Sublime.
Canyon facing East.
Crazy colors for rocks!
More interesting rock formations.
Indian Red as if it came straight from my paint tube.
Another bison spotting. I know they are wild animals but I just want to scratch his cute fuzzy face.
Another rainbow to end the day and make the rain worthwhile.



  1. Your canyon photos are just stunning!

  2. Somehow I missed this blog! Another beautifully written story. And, your photos are stunning! I love how you describe the colors you see as if they are coming out of your paint tubes!
    Love, mom