This week was marked by writing, weaving, interactions, & unsettled weather. My first week was so jam packed that I was not able to finish writing about it until the middle of my second… my intent was to write in the evenings, but almost every full day was followed by the desire to sit in my new backyard & stare at the cliffs with a relaxing libation in hand & think deep thoughts… or not. Sometimes it is just enough to be in the moment & take in the beauty of the place. To allow the body to stop its motion & the brain to stop rattling those thoughts around. If you have something mesmerizing to gaze upon, doing that becomes pretty effortless.
Last Sunday (April 8th) turned out to be my last “real” hike of the week, in Cathedral Wash. In the Southwest, washes are eroded drainages coming from higher elevations that are dry most of the year, but run with water during & after storms. They are beautiful & dangerous. The beauty comes from the patterns, textures, & forms caused by the rushing water & the scouring debris it carries along—sand, pebbles, rocks, boulders, sticks—& the riparian areas that are sometimes formed along the banks of or in the washes. Riparian areas support plants, trees, birds, & other animals that depend on water to survive, but the wash has to have the physical features so these areas can exist. If the wash is too rocky & steep, most life will be scoured right out of it, including human. A wash hike becomes deadly if the hiker is unaware of an approaching storm… it may be sunny & mild where the hiker is walking in the wash, but if there is a storm on top of the mesa or mountain where the wash begins, a flash flood wall of water containing all of the aforementioned debris can come hurtling along in a matter of minutes, carrying away everything in its path. Hikers caught in flash floods rarely survive because either the walls of the wash are too steep to climb out, or the flood is so rapid there is no time to react.
Lower Cathedral Wash is not on the hiking map for Lees Ferry because it is actually in Grand Canyon National Park, not in Glen Canyon National Park. An interesting mix of government entities occurs here where I am living—on the north side of Colorado River is Glen Canyon NRA, on the south side is the Navajo Nation; the river itself & a tiny sliver of land running along its north bank is Grand Canyon National Park. I hiked down Lower Cathedral Wash first, the wash being divided into Upper & Lower where it crosses through a huge man-made culvert under the Lees Ferry road.
The Lower Wash reaches the Colorado River, but I was only able to hike down it for less than a half mile. This part of the wash is very narrow, with steep drop offs known as “pourovers” where the water flows over drop offs, sometimes forming plunge pools where it strikes the lower rock surface below. In some places even the sand has been scoured away, leaving bare, pale stone that looks like a well worn bar of soap & chocolate walls of sandstone undercut into ledges by the grinding floods. I reached a point where the wash became very narrow, & there were two slick, steep pourovers to negotiate. Their pools were filled with water, so still & glassy that they resembled mercury, reflecting stone & sky. The only way around would be to scramble over high ledges that slanted toward the bottom of the wash, & since the wash turned south here, whatever obstacles were around that corner remained hidden.
I turned around, started to hike back out & when I reached a point where the wash became wider, climbed up to find a perch & do a small watercolor…
Back in March, specifically with this residency in mind, I took a three day watercolor class from Tucson artist Kath Macaulay to learn her “Pocket Sketchbook” technique. She has developed a portable method for producing watercolors on the fly using a marker pen that reacts with water & a field watercolor paint set (which I already had) on 4” x 6” sketchbook pads. It all fits neatly into a waistpack she designed that also has two nifty pockets for film canisters that carry water for painting.
As suggested by Kath, replacing the tiny brush that comes in the field kit with a nice #6 DaVinci travel brush made a huge difference in my painting experience. Since the waistpack is roomy enough to carry a few more small items, I also outfitted myself with #4 & #10 brushes. It was by far the most inspiring & useful non-tapestry workshop I have taken in quite some time & is exactly what I needed to continue my quest to produce less controlled works. If she happens to be coming to teach near you, don’t miss it!
After I finished my little painting, I crossed the road to hike Upper Cathedral Wash. This part of the wash has a completely different character than the lower wash, & I was sorry that my energy gave out before I could hike it all the way to the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. Here the wash is broad & flat where it reaches the road, the Vermilions towering in glowing splendor above.
The elevation rises gradually, & as I climbed the wash narrowed & became more gorge-like. Sheer chocolate sandstone cliffs reaching upwards to a blue bowl of sky traded sides of the wash constantly with smaller sandy eroded cliffs encrusted with sandstone rocks & pebbles in earthen rainbow colors.
Some car & house sized boulders looked so perfectly perched to come crashing down at any second, they made me really consider whether to hike along the inside or the outside edge of the trail, hoping that the laws of physics & gravity would save me from being pulverized if they decided to tumble loose just as I was passing.
The striations & patterns in the earthy sandstones were sensuous & begged to be touched. I knew I would have to return & hike here again.
Monday was spent starting my demo tapestry of the watercolor study I did of the upriver view of the Colorado river from Navajo Bridge, which I will call upriver. I am using a complementary color scheme & a simple palette to make the weaving less complicated. I am hoping to be able to finish this small piece so I can do another above it on the same warp.
The following day, I went to stroll around Lonely Dell, a little historic homestead at the mouth of Paria Canyon (upriver from where I am living) that was inhabited by the different families who operated Lees Ferry over the decades. The original stone buildings & wooden cabins are scattered about behind an orchard of fruit trees, an orchard made possible only because the settlers created a stone-lined irrigation ditch to divert water from the Paria River.
A small cemetery beyond the buildings contains the lonely graves & headstones of the adults & children who scraped out a living here. I hiked only a little ways up into Paria Canyon because this happened to be one of the days during the week when temps reached 90. Hiking further up (which I had done on a previous trip here several years ago with Dennis) requires crossing the milky Paria River in several places through very mucky silt. Although the Paria is more similar in size to a stream, the banks are steep in many places & there are areas of quicksand along its flow.
For the remainder of the hot day, I retreated back to the cool house to do more weaving & blog writing.
Midweek I journeyed the hour it takes to reach the town of Page to access the library’s wi-fi for uploading my blog post entry about my first week & to visit the grocery store. A big weather change began blowing in, with very high wind gusts… on my way home I passed the parking area for the Horseshoe Bend overlook hike & saw it was very full of cars. Just the thought of people perched on the sandstone ledges looking into the void in these high winds made my skin prickle!
On Thursday, I decided I was ready for a “test run” demo, so I loaded my Rover with looms & yarn to drive to the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, just 10 minutes away. Sarah C., the employee working at the Center that day, was glad to lend a hand to unload my gear & happy to have the company.
I ended up staying at the Center for most of the day since the weather continued to deteriorate, & I was enjoying the contact with visitors. I had a few willing subjects try their hand weaving at the teaching loom, all children who have no inhibitions when it comes to art. The adults I asked reacted as if I had offered them a glass of battery acid to drink! Alas, I don’t have photos of the children at the loom because their parents didn’t let them linger long, they had a schedule to maintain, so most kids were only able to weave a couple of passes before they were whisked away. I was focused on helping them weave correctly & enjoy the experience, which I felt was more important than using precious time to snap pictures. I think I will get more time to take photos when I do the demo at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center in Page because it is very large with interactive displays where visitors tend to linger much longer. The Navajo Bridge Center is a small souvenir & bookstore where people stop briefly to walk out on the bridge, get info & maps, shop for a few trinkets, & use the restroom before heading out into Lees Ferry, up to Utah, or over to Page.
Friday was again spent inside, this time finishing the edges & back of the tapestry I had started weaving during my Grand Canyon artist residency, widforss wizards, so I could display it during my demos. But, the weather also played a hand in my burrowing inside the studio—more ferocious wind storms & dust made it wise to avoid being out in the open.
Saturday was my first “official” program at Navajo Bridge. “Official” in that it was publicized by the Park with flyers posted around the area announcing the times & locations. They also made fabulous laminated poster that I attach to my loom with magnets (you can see how I did this in the photo of my demo setup above) so visitors will feel welcome to approach me while I am weaving.
Sarah was working there again & was delighted to lend a hand & have the company. Although I was only scheduled for 3 hours, I decided again to stay for the whole day, it was so enjoyable to interact with visitors. Our conversations ranged from explanations about tapestry in general, to the differences & similarities between contemporary & Navajo weaving, where people were from, where they were headed, whether they were fiber artists or artists of any medium themselves. Surprisingly on this day I had two adults who felt free enough to try their hand weaving at the teaching loom & it was fun to see how quickly they became absorbed by it, almost having to will themselves to stop & continue on to wherever their journey was taking them that day.
The weather again also made it an easy decision to continue my demo longer than advertised… temps, while hitting 90 just two days before, barely hit 50; rain, snow, & wind came & went. Visitors coming in reported heavy snow to the south in Flagstaff & the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Ah, the always unpredictable delights of spring in the desert! On both days that I spent here doing demos, condors were frequently soaring quite low over the bridge; so surprising to feel that I have gone from a having a dearth of condors in my life to having them seemingly coming out of the woodwork (um… stonework?)! I have been able to simply enjoy taking in their beauty & grace instead of feeling that I must scramble for a camera.
The week ended with a day that started sunny, but which later became thick with more howling winds & dust. After attending to laundry & housekeeping chores during the morning, in the early afternoon I drove the 10 minutes into the tiny community of Marble Canyon to get gas & hopefully visit artisan Allison Leigh Schmidt’s Marble Canyon Metalworks jewelry studio tucked into a tiny former service station next to Marble Canyon Lodge.
Allison doesn’t keep this little sales studio open all day, as passing traffic & visitors are spare & sporadic on Highway 89A…
Instead, she leaves a note on the door with her phone number so you can call her to come open it up. The building also does not have space for her metal working studio, which is located at her nearby home. I have yearned to come back ever since I stopped in & bought a pair of earrings from her on my way home from my Grand Canyon residency. As I parked in front, Allison just happened to be strolling over from Marble Canyon Lodge where she had been busy painting a wall mural. Her jewelry is an exquisite mix of mixed metals & semiprecious stones; she specializes in earrings, allowing & encouraging buyers to buy mismatched pairs. I fell in love with 6 different single earrings, so bought them as 3 mismatched pairs—the possibilities for combining them will be endless! I also ordered a necklace that I just couldn’t live without to be made in a choker length.
Visiting with Allison as you select & try on different pieces is like a visit with someone you’ve known for a long time… her dry wit & infectious laugh quickly put you at ease. Buying directly from an artist instead of, as Allison puts it—“from a robot”—is a meaningful experience & you will usually pay much less for something that is much more than said robot merchandise. If driving to Marble Canyon isn’t on your agenda anytime soon, you can visit her website here: www.marblecanyonmetalworks.com
As I drove back to the house, the winds were beginning to pick up & a giant cloud of weather & dust loomed over the Vermilion Cliffs, beginning its descent towards the river.
I tucked away into my makeshift studio & out of the sandblast for the rest of the day, working on upriver. My goal is to finish it during this upcoming week & have another underway before my next scheduled program on Saturday at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Stay tuned to see if I was successful!