Mount Hopkins, Take Two; The Top.

Well, we didn’t make it up to the top last time so it’s To The Top this time…but first we must navigate the humid valley….and horror or horrors….witness the most skin-crawling of phenomena. I am so glad I am not riding a bicycle through this.

Holy Flying Ants Batman!


It’s a “hatch” or “mating frenzy” (help me out bug people) and it goes on, thick as can be, for at least 5 miles until we gain some altitude. Never a dull  moment for the plein airistas!

Our destination.


And this is about as close as we can get due to access restrictions.  We retrace for the perfect spot.


We are on a “sky island”.  An isolated vertical strata of differing ecological systems. What grows at one elevation doesn’t usually grow at another but there is still plenty of diversity in each strata. Visually we see patterns and colors shift as we travel through different zones.

Top zones include old pinion juniper and oak forests. Greens are more “blue” up here.

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Can’t forget the Killer view.


Major weather happening in the valley.


Check out this “crashing wave” stratocumulus a.k.a. Kelvin-Helmholz. This formation of cloud is very rare, occurs for just a minute or two and is caused by wind shear at a cold/warm air boundary. Very rare, cloud people.

Valerie goes for the big picture!

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I’m all google eyed for the observatory. It’s odd to see a square topped mountain.


The first “swish” in.


Uh, oh, there it goes…


Plein air is , “action painting”…


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Bigger is better, despite the technicalities.

The weather is moving in on us so we pack up and roll back down the hill.


Fresh petite sages, penstemon, firecrackers and ferns take advantage of the road gutter.


We barely miss this snake.


Closer observation indicates non poisonous.


We wait until it moves off the road to continue.  WOW. gopher snake, go.



As we descend flora appears more conservative and protective leaf-wise. Greens are “yellow”. The agave palmeri has a pink tinge to its blossoms.


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And our fave-the delicate pink mimosa dysocarpa.



Meredith Milstead, Whipple Observatory, 9x12, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Whipple Observatory, 9×12, oil on canvas, 2013

Santa Rita Wilderness: Mount Hopkins

Today we venture up Mount Hopkins.



On our way we pass the Smithsonian visitors center (with mirror)  which supports the defining feature of the area, the Whipple  Observatory a top the mountain.

It has just monsooned and everything is refreshed, revived and very green. Bird call is especially spirited -two red tails scream-accoustics here are remarkable. The diversity of flora is exciting. For the visual artist the abundance of color, texture and light is stimulating…and challenging.



Firecracker Bush: bouvardia ternifolia, really stands out-like little stop signs across the landscape. This species is native to Southern AZ above 3000 feet and likes rocky canyons just like this one.

It is very red!

Hummers love it.

So do we.


We’ve pulled off the narrow road to look back at this green valley and funky foothills. Way off in the distance is the town of Amado. To get here,  take the Arivaca or Canoa exit off of I-19, then take Elephant Butte Rd off of the frontage, then Mt. Hopkins Road. Roads are usually passable (flash flooding during monsoons may limit access).



The sun creeps rapidly up on us. Here is a good example of a common plein air predicament know as “chasing shadows”.


Valerie looks up the canyon.


Holy monsoon cloud!


Valerie Milner-Graham, Mount Hopkins, oil on canvas, 2013

Valerie Milner-Graham, Mount Hopkins, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Green Valley, 9x12, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Green Valley, 9×12, oil on canvas, 2013

Dark Sky Mountian

As we become more familiar we become more expressive because we are getting to know this place now. Experimental and creative things start to happen…

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This is another obviously overcast day. But this time the sky is so full of energy/texture that the lack of a consistent light source is not an issue. Less light, less saturated color.



Plus, earth tones work well for overcast. And, horror or horrors, Ivory Black is my new favorite color. It has such fabulous light-sucking aka absorbing qualities.

Because if it weren’t for photons and axions ivory black would be it.

That’s all, really.


Meredith Milstead, Sentient Stone, 9x12, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Sentient Stone, 9×12, oil on canvas, 2013

Valerie Milner-Graham, Windy Point IV-Abstraction, oil on panel, 2013

Valerie Milner-Graham, Windy Point IV-Abstraction, oil on panel, 2013

Desert Plants and Floral Portraits in Pastel: The Drawing Studio

Desert Plants and Floral Portraits in Pastel

Wednesday, August 28, 1-4 p.m.

 Class runs for 4 sessions at Casas Adobes



Meredith Milstead, Sunrise Cholla, 32×20, pastel on board, 2013

This is a studio class designed to familiarize you with desert plant and flower-form basics and color harmony in pastel. (Some basic drawing skills should come with you to these sessions…)

To register call The Drawing Studio 620-0947 or online at

Why not sign up Today!

Windy Point

Suns Out!



I see a head with no teeth and pin eyes..and a beret. Blah, this will not do.The light is working great but it needs something major.


I really want to convey this fabulous texture, but how?  More Paint! lot’s more...



Valerie’s tackling some serious complexity with this tree and shrubbery.




We are getting a real handle on Simplification. Yay!


Meredith Milstead, Resolute Rock, 9x12, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Resolute Rock, 9×12, oil on canvas, 2013

Valerie Milner-Graham, oil on panel, 2013

Valerie Milner-Graham, oil on panel, 2013

Monsoon on The Mountain

One more time and we’ll have a habit…or maybe not if the lightening gets us first…Hello hazardous weather, brrrrrrr.



We decide to tough it out. This does not look good.  Que sera sera….


Today I have the guts to try the view. Look at all those people on that rock-paint that…ha!

We are not having much luck because there is no light source! So, we are calling it quits for today, we put in our time, now it’s all cocoa with marshmallows.

I heard it emphatically stated (some plein-air head), “don’t worry if you don’t complete the painting in one sitting, you can always go back later”. This works great in theory…but it’s never the same later…really; we change, nature changes, the sun comes up at a different time, at a different angle…never the same. What you’re really doing is painting perception. Granted, “perception” or better yet “impression” depends on observation. In the case of this painting, I picked an impression and developed it in studio. Because it comes from Windy Point, which is familiar now, there is a connection.


Meredith Milstead, Hoodoo Halo, oil on canvas, 9x12, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Hoodoo Halo, oil on canvas, 9×12, 2013

Morning on The Mountain #2

We’re up! Whoa.

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We wait until the sun peaks the ridge. This gives us time to explore.

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Notice how reflected light cools in temperature as the sun rises.


I’m looking for a compositional anchor in the view so I focus on an outcropping to the north.



Starting to loosen up.


Valerie approaches the outcropping from a different angle.



Meredith Milstead, Juniper Sparkle, 9x12, oil on canvas, 2013

Meredith Milstead, Juniper Sparkle, 9×12, oil on canvas, 2013