Plein Air Expedition: Rarefied Air: Part II

We head north once again to higher, cooler climes to see friends, family, Rocky Mountain sites and most importantly to paint. El Jefe is team leader…very exciting.

After a stint  in Ouray ( more on fabulous Ouray later), we outskirt Delta, “The breadbasket of Colorado”, before continuing east towards Crested Butte.  This arable part of the state is famous for Palisade peaches and Olatha sweet corn. Back-scenery is surprisingly badlandish; an Eco-Park.

Gunnison Confluence

Climbing to Crested Butte, we skirt the Gunnison river, which flows through the  Black Canyon and irrigates this area.  Atop Kebler pass, we stop to get some history from the cemetery there.

Most sites in memorium with few actual 19th century burials.

I love the varied typography of the above marker and cowboy sentiment below. sniff..

A bear crosses our path. We stop to snap a pic of the bruin down mountain at a lower creek.

Bear crossings are fortuitous….esp. from the safety of a car with bear speeding away…. El Jefe is most alert. I hear the Chihuahua was bred to “hunt”  bear by subduing them through torment…can you believe it?  Can you?

Onward and Upward

Marcelina Peak

Arriving in Crested Butte, we cruise the streets. There are many pleasures (and many, many shiny cars). We tour a bit in town but soon wish for quieter, grander vistas.,_Colorado

Montanya Rum, distilled on site in copper, very smooth, as rums go; “ornamaganic” .

The towns’ namesake, once a glacial Nunatak, now a Horned Peak, with premier ski run’s down it’s backside.

We find a fantastic spot up the valley. There is enough plein air wunderment here for many summers…if not for the dearflies (always something…).

Toned , sanded Wallis paper with rough sketch/outline.

Morning and time to get busy!  It’s a slow start, like first gear but, I prefer to stew a bit in the environment before visual studies commence (as each work is specific to environmental influences)…and of course planetary alignment is essential. Supportive ” Team Pepe” looks on.


little distractions…or grist for the mill…

Same mountain, different hour.


Passing  through world renowned high altitude bio-research facility in the aptly named historical town site  “Gothic”…

Adios Crested Butte

On the way out of town a shiny glint catches the eye. It’s the “chrome bumper” artist again.  His work appears throughout the area. Must take a picture:

Crested Butte, CO

Poncha Springs, CO

Oak Creek Canyon, AZ  

Up and over Owl Creek Pass at 10k ft.  The defining mountain feature here is a formation referred to as “The Courthouse” range, an ideal site with outstanding geology, surrounding pinnacles and local blue-green reservoir:


Quick hike to the base of the dam where a giant drain is set in a rather linear intrusion to the otherwise serene setting.

P.M.  camp                                                    A.M. camp


Tooling around out here begs special equipment. Lack of 4 WD limits.

Looking south to the Courthouse Range, you can’t miss “Chimney Rock Tower”.

Comfychair and sammie for  lunchtime pastelwerk:

Surprisingly all this driving, hiking, camping and pasteling is exhausting.  We head back down to Ouray for a relaxing hot spring soak.


Before nightfall we climb a little way up the Camp Bird/Yankee Boy Basin high road for the outstanding views. The road is trecherous and nearly impassable without a Jeep-type vehicle. Luckily, Ouray is where Jeeps come to…breed.


Our camp is just above town with tall trees and views of the violet shear of the canyon.  Townie? Try The Western Hotel, a period Victorian, for the best rates, good vittles, and local color.


The more I practice the looser I get: I take more risks, make better decisions and am more in tune with the  scene: evidence of the benefits of immersion in a place. This is day five, so you’ll need at least a week, if not two, for your plein air expedition.

We head towards Silverton over Red Mountain pass, through the Red Mountain mine.  Red, iron rich, waters color the rocks cadmium orange-deadly and beautiful…Sublime.

Red Mountain Mine

Red Mountian, 2011, notice; snow on the mountain at this time last year.

I keep up the pace with about two plein air studies per day. This way, I’m always checking out the scene for potential promise. Simply put, I look at light; analyzing it’s quality and direction. Interpreting the landscape this way makes me feel more like a participant and less a passive viewer ( light as physical sensation). Whatever I choose to focus on is burned into my memory and remains, in my mind’s eye, influencing life’s choices and bringing joy to the heart.

And now Southward; destination Tucson. There is even more beauty and plein air opportunity.

Salt River Canyon

Along the way, I pass through the mining towns of Globe, Superior, Miami, Winkleman, Aravaipa, etc. All exceptionally beautiful places with exceptional anomalies. This Fall I plan expedition to this area, within 100 miles of Tucson,  to record “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

Stay tuned!

Sego Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii)

All post photographic and text content copywrite Meredith Milstead and photos; James Kamuf.

3 thoughts on “Plein Air Expedition: Rarefied Air: Part II

  1. Meredith, I am enjoying your travels and the plain air work. Please let me know if you will take a group to Superior/Globe area. I have been enjoying the plain air I have been doing. I hope to discuss when you return. Safe travels, Nancy Evans

  2. Love your postings! I feel Iam transported there, looking over your shoulder. Looking forward to seeing you. Elena

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