It's been a while since I have posted anything here and having just recently seen Dave's post and thread about his experiences in Big Bend NP, I thought I would share mine.
It all began after I had seen that Gregory Summers was having a plein air workshop there and it gave me a justifiable reason to leave home. I'm a stay at home dad with a 15 and 14 year old who have busy lives of their own, so getting away isn't always easy for me. But, we found a way this time.
Although impracticable for the 1300 mile trip out there from my home in Kentucky, I decided to take my Jeep because I knew if I took the minivan, I would likely tear it up on those roads that I wouldn't be able to resist exploring.
So, one early morning in February, I kissed the wife and kids goodbye and headed west. I drove straight through and arrived at Panther Junction early the next morning and quickly secured myself a backcountry camping permit.
I chose the Robbers Roost campsite, based on my internet research. It was very secluded and lived up to my expectation of a remote site. On the way into the site, while still on the paved road, a rear break cylinder began to leak badly...of course!! I turned around and drove back to Panther junction to the little gas station there to buy more brake fluid and find out that the nearest auto parts store was 100 miles away.
Chisos Mountains From My Campsite
Campsite With Elephant Tusk
I decided to just use my emergency brake to limp to my campsite...my Jeep is a manual trans which also helps with engine braking. After getting to my campsite I decompressed for a bit after the long drive just to get there and figured out my gameplan to fix the Jeep. I had tools with me and decided to just cut the hard line and crimp it off with vice grips. Works all the time for trailside repairs in my past. This time was no different.
With that done and camp set up, I just sat there and listened to the silence. The alien landscape around me was incredible. I was taking photos every 30 seconds of the changing light on the Chisos Mountains and ate my dinner watching the Earth's shadow cross the land. At some point, the International Space Station passed overhead. I was getting the full show!!
The next day I had to be in Terlingua to meet up with Greg and the other hardy painters for the workshop. For the next few nights I would be living civilized in a cabin.
Our first painting day in the park we drove to Santa Elena Canyon and spent the day painting there. First, Greg did a demo and then turned us loose to paint and get instruction along the way. Greg was very good at making it around to all of us and offer his points and suggestions. I always find it helpful to have another set of eyes on my work. I may not always take on what is being offered (I'm hard headed, ask my wife. LOL) but I do listen, consider it, and even sometimes accept it.
Santa Elena Canyon
A Rio Grande View Into Mexico
Our second day of the workshop, we drove up to Chisos Basin. We hiked a short ways and once again Greg painted a demo and then it was our turn. I kinda struggled on this day and wasn't too happy with what I accomplished. But, that usually the case for me.
Greg Summers Demo Painting
Yours Truly, Todd Derr
Day three and our final day of the workshop, we painted around the Terlingua ghost town. Even though this was in February, the sun becomes very intense on cloudless days. I think I about went blind with my first painting that was contre jour, but it turned out pretty well. My last painting Greg wanted me to get away from the vistas and focus on something, so I chose an old rusty air compressor.
Terlingua Ghost Town
With that, the workshop was over. We had a little critique session and then broke off to go our own ways. I really enjoyed painting with Greg and my new artist friends. I would recommend Greg as an instructor if you get a chance.
From there I drove back into the park and camped with some friends at the Rio Grande Village campground.
I was up early the next morning and drove to Boquillas Canyon to get right back to painting. Unbeknownst to me, I ran into Greg on the trail. He was already slinging paint. I walked on deeper into the canyon and found a cool spot with a nice contrasting rock formation against the distant canyon wall.
I quickly setup and got to painting. Soon, I heard a lovely tune being sung in Spanish as it echoed out of the canyon. I was intrigued but needed to finish my work.
It wasn't long and I was done and headed further along the trail into the canyon. I came into a small thicket of trees and all around were small handcrafted trinkets and hand painted and adorned hiking sticks. A small figure wandered up wearing a cowboy hat and a smile. It was Jesus, and he was who had serenaded me while I worked. I purchased a few things for my kids, thanked him for his songs, and made my way to find another painting.
The trail peters out as the walls of the canyon come down to meet the Rio Grande. I turned around and painted the view out of the canyon.
View Out Of Boquillas Canyon
I still had half the day, so I drove back up to Chisos Basin and parked at the Lost Mine trailhead, determined to hike up and do another painting.
I threw on my pack and headed up. The higher and more exposed I got, the wind and rain began to make things interesting. The rain wasn't bad and blew through pretty quickly, so i continued up until I found a nice overlook. I quickly sat up and got to work. Sporadic rain would appear, but the wind was relentless and may times found myself holding onto my easel with one hand while painted with the other.
Lost Mine Trail
I wanted to press on to the top and I knew I was running out of time, because I still hadn't secured a campsite for the night. Prudence be damned, I'm going up.
I hiked and hiked, and the end of the trail was near...but my calculations had me really pressing my luck on exiting the trail and getting my campsite, so I turned around just short of the top and hightailed it back down to my Jeep.
I didn't even try in the park, so I ended up at a nice private campground west of Terlingua called Rancho Topanga. It was getting dark, so it was a quick shower, some food, and into the sack.
The next morning, I was out and on the road bright and early. This time westbound along Hwy 170. I stopped at the Big Bend Ranch State Park visitors center to purchase a permit because I knew I'd be wandering off somewhere along the way. I had no clue about the place, but something was sure to catch my fancy.
I ended up pulling into a trailhead for a slot canyon called Closed Canyon. I hiked back into the canyon with my gear...hoping I could make it to the river, but there is a reason it's called Closed Canyon. It gets stupid dangerous to go past some drop offs if you are alone and without climbing gear...which is discouraged by the park anyway. So, I turned around and headed back, but not before stopping at a spot and doing a painting. I guess being alone doesn't bother me to often, but there I was getting a little creeped out. I finished up and got back to the Jeep. This was to be my last painting of the trip.
I drove from there up to Marfa, TX. then on to Davis Mountains State Park to camp. I made it that evening for the Star Party at the McDonald Observatory and got to say hello to a friend from my old high school who works there. What a cool place.
The next morning I woke up to freezing cold temps and an ominous sky. I debated on my route, thinking I might try to swing up through New Mexico before heading back east. I made it to Pecos and saw a tire going low, so I stopped to get it repaired, which ate up three hours. While waiting, I decided it was time to get on home. It should have been straight-forward, but the weather decided to make my trip interesting as a huge winter ice storm blanketed everything between Midland to Dallas.
Suffice it to say, it was a long night behind the wheel, but I made it home safely...albeit worn out. I slept for a day.
Oh, by the way. My trail side repair got me all the way home.
Thank you for making it this far. I will be adding the paintings soon.
Todd Derr - pigment mover. Observer of nature.