by the earth and planetary sciences

Earth and Planetary Sciences Building, UC Davis

This is the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building at UC Davis, with the big water tower in the background. there are actually a couple of big UC Davis water towers on campus, plus at least one more like this in north Davis, but this is the good looking one, the leader, the big brother. The ‘Barry’ of the Water Tower Bee Gees, standing tall over the others with a huge mane of lustrous hair. Ok maybe not the hair, maybe it’s more Clive Anderson. You remember that interview, the one where they walked out? The one where Barry Gibb got up, said “You’re the tosser, pal” and left? Classic TV moment. I’d always liked Clive Anderson, funny man, and when that first happened I didn’t really warm to Barry Gibb much, but watching it back again Clive Anderson was pretty out of order, and the Bee Gees were well right to say, yeah we don’t need this smug little guy taking the mickey out of us for a few aren’t-I-clever-and-hilarious giggles on late night TV on channel 4 or whatever it was on. Ok, this is obviously a very specific early-90s-British-TV tangent, let’s get back to the drawing. I drew this while on campus during a late lunch (I think I had Zoom meetings during lunch), this is very close to my office. Earth and Planetary Sciences is right across the street from us, and I drew this at the edge of the Arboretum, by the newly reopened LaRue bridge. The water tower is a big presence, and likes to appear in official photos, like a sentinel of education. That metaphor doesn’t, hehehe, hold water. I like the STOP sign in the foreground, with the unusual orange and white striped signs around it, I don’t know what they are for.  They add a nice bit of colour into the scene. The Earth and Planetary Sciences building is very interesting. I remember when they had the groundbreaking for it, I went over with my old supervisor to watch the special ceremonial laying of the first brick, and then they went full steam ahead to build it. There used to be a small wooden building on this site not dissimilar to the ones I draw so often at the Silo area, and I remember saying “I should draw that some time” but never did, and then it was knocked down. I did draw a tree with the empty space of the future building behind it. I was really into drawing ALL of the branches.

you tree davis

That was in March 2008, which seems like a very long time ago, but it was actually only a week or so after Spurs last won a trophy. The same trophy that we will be (probably not) winning in a cup final at Wembley in a week or so.

One thing I really like about the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building (apart from the name which is really future-thinking, considering we have been to zero other planets yet) (apart from with robots of course) (we have visited them virtually via Zoom, I suppose) (actually they have some amazing space rocks in there, I lifted one up on Picnic Day a few years ago and it was super heavy) (or maybe it was kryptonite and it just made me weaker? We’ll never know for sure), anyway the thing I like the most is that there are these huge rocks all around the outside of the building, all with labels, some are volcanic and all are interesting. My son is really into geology (or he was, before he discovered looking at his phone all day) (admittedly he does play a lot of Minecraft which is technically still about geology) so when he’d come to my office during the summers we would sometimes go down and look at the rocks. It’s brilliant working at a university where lots of very clever scientists work. In the building next door is the Entomology museum, where they have loads of interesting and frankly frightening creepy crawlies. On the other side is an actual nuclear lab with big nuclear machines in them, yeah I don’t visit that one. These aren’t very good descriptions, they sound like a 9 year old has written them; it’s late, it’s been a long day, and I’ve forgotten how to write, if I ever knew. I can’t wait for campus to all be open again. Soon, soon!

Variety Hatters

Varsity Theatre...without its sign

This is the Va… wait what? This is the [insert name here] Theatre on 2nd Street in Davis, which as you can see is currently going by The Theatre Known Formerly as Varsity. (Sorry, “Theater”). Regular listeners will recognize this building from the 500 or so times that I’ve drawn it before, but there was one big difference. Can you tell what it is yet? (Um, that sounded a bit like Rolf Harris, you might be a bit more careful with your catchphrases) That’s right, the ice cream shop is closed. No I’m kidding, it’s the historic “Varsity” sign which ahs been taken down temporarily to be cleaned, or fixed or something. The movie theatre itself has been closed during this pandemic you might have heard about, though coming soon, folks, coming soon we will have cinemas open again. I miss going to the pictures. Nobody says that now, “going to the pictures”, it sounds like something people said in the 1930s. “Oh you’re going to the pictures, eh grandad? Don’t forget your penny farthing and your flat cap!” Oh right because “movies” doesn’t sound old-fashioned at all, like you have to make a distinction between watching a film that moves and one that doesn’t? “The movies eh grandad, well see ya later gramps, I’m off to the talkies“. In Britain we generally say “film” rather than “movie” (though my nan, who was from Dublin, used to pronounce it “fill-um”) and “cinema” rather than “movie theater”, and “theatre” rather than “theater”, and that is the end of today’s unwanted transatlantic vocabulary lesson. But I miss going to the pictures, it was something I used to do a lot. I’d go and see a film / movie here in Davis at one of the three cinemas / movie theaters in town, and then go for a pint / not quite a pint* at a local bar / pub. (*They like a 16oz “pint” in America, as opposed to a 20oz pint in British pubs). And of course I would then sketch the bar/draw the pub. As for the Varsity, I wonder if they will “accidentally” rearrange the letters when they reinstall the sign, Fawlty Towers/Watery Fowls style? It could say “Travisy” maybe, or “Sir Vyta”, or “Sty Vira”, , or “Rayvist” (which sounds like a magazine for techno -clubgoers), or “Stray IV” (people might think it’s a sequel movie about a cat, from the streets, who makes it big against the odds, and in this one he has a catfight against a Russian cat – wait, I might have to sit on this idea, it is Hollywood gold), or “Artsy VI” (about six artists stuck in a room with only one brush, one pot of paint, and a lollypop) or “Try Visa” if they want credit card sponsorship, or “Try Avis” if they want sponsorship from car rental companies. Or maybe sponsorship from the Swedish crispbread sector and call it “Ryvitas”. Do it, Varsity people! This is our chance for some Flowery Twats style silliness.   

sorority now

Delta Gamma, Davis

A late afternoon/early evening “need to get out of the house” sketch, sat at the desk in the kitchen all day I escaped on the bike despite the threat of sneezes, and cycled toward the UC Davis campus where we’re currently working away from. I stopped at Russell, and drew one of the many fraternity/sorority houses that line that long avenue. Sorry, boulevard. Street, boulevard, avenue, road, I don’t mean to be rue’d. Sorry I’m juts avenue on. Right, now the obligatory weak puns are out of the way, this is Delta Gamma. It’s a sorority and as I have mentioned before, the whole fraternity/sorority thing is highly alien to me, for two reasons: one, I’m from Britain and we don’t have those there at our universities like they do in the US (not to say that certain old universities don’t have their posh-person clubs, but that’s also very alien to the likes of me), and two, well I have never been one of those “member of a social club” types. Some people just are, some people just aren’t. So I’ve always found the whole thing fascinating, but not so fascinating that I want to know anything about them. I work for the university, but I have never interacted with them, and I’ve mostly worked with international graduate students who are probably as nonplussed about these organizations as I am. The Greek lettering they use for the names means you can come up with funny pretend ones; Terry Pratchett once joked about the rowing club “Rho Rho Rho”. I always liked Theta Xi, where future cab drivers go to learn The Knowledge. (For non-Americans, The Knowledge is something that London black-taxi drivers have to learn in order to be eligible to drive one of the famous black cabs. It’s not something you learn overnight or by taking an online course. You learn The Knowledge over the course of a couple of years or more, by studying the A-to-Z every day. My brother did it, but gave up. My former brother-in-law did it too, but also gave up. He had a huge map of London on his wall while trying to learn it. They both drive all over the country for a living and could tell you the quickest route from Penzance to Penrith, but the Knowledge requires you to learn every single street in London and the shortest route between them. I know quite a few black cab drivers back home who’ve driven for years. You would see trainee cabbies riding around London on their mopeds, easy to spot because there would be a huge map board on their handlebars. There was a little test book you had to study. I never wanted to be a cab driver myself, but I was fascinated by The Knowledge and loved the idea of being able to store all of that information in your bonce. This is why cabbies have such great general knowledge, they are used to soaking all that in. Now as I write all of this, I’m writing from memories about this stuff when my brother was doing it, so it might be completely different now. Even since I have moved to the US, the world has changed. With smart phones and more accurate GPS, with all these Uber and Lyft apps, black cabs and their Knowledge might seem a bit old fashioned but I still admire them. Not that I’d hail black cabs very often, a bit expensive. I like to walk about central London. How did I end up talking about London taxis? I should draw one sometime. In the meantime, here’s another fraternity/sorority house. To get into one of these, you don’t need to do The Knowledge, you just need to do whatever they do in their ‘Rush’ periods, I don’t know, wear a different dress every day is one I was told about, or hazing, which I think involves beer. I remember the first time I ever met “Frat Boys” at an American party in Provence, and my American friend explaining to me “these lads are typical Frat Boys” and the idea of them stuck. Very drunk, huge muscular frames, nasal voice, glazed expression. Long time since I was a student, and this would have all been alien to me. Except the beer, of course. (And the glazed expression, and the nasal voice; it was the muscular frame my skinny-boned stick figure body didn’t have). Many British universities are actually built around the campus pub. I suppose the closest thing I can think of to these institutions in British universities are the rugby teams. I remember at Queen Mary, being in the pub at the same time as the university rugby team was not fun. I remember one rowdy night when the rugby team were all partying around one table and one shirtless bloke was stood on a chair drinking massive amounts of cheep beer (the student union pubs always had the cheapest beer, like a quid-twenty a pint), vomiting into a bucket, then drinking more beer all while stood up, with his fellow rugbyers singing something one of their public school rugby field songs (by the way, a “public school” in England is a private school, not a public school, which is a state or comprehensive school, and both rugby and cricket are very popular at those) (the one I worked at for a while had strong rugby and cricket teams, but didn’t even have a football team, that’s more a sport for the oiks, like at my school). Anyway I seem to recall he was then encouraged to drink the vomit from the bucket as well, which he gladly did, to much public schoolboy merriment. The antics of the British public boarding schools and university rugby teams are more worlds of mystery to me. But I studied drama, and I’m sure they thought we were all bonkers as well, and they were probably right. I took part in a multilingual performance show once where I had to play a drunken old man doing a solo piece on stage drinking a bottle of wine and ranting about, I have no idea what, it was by Raymond Queneau. Anyway I was given a bottle of real wine and I got through about three quarters of it during this one very silly speech, which only wet on for less than ten minutes. Needless to say there was plenty of ad-libbing by the end of it. the vice-chancellor of the university was in the audience and he actually came up to me and said how much he enjoyed the show, but because I had so much wine in me by this point I immediately asked if there could be more funding for the university theatre company, as if I had any idea about that at all, I’d just heard they were well short of dough These days I am part of university bureaucracy so I navigate such things differently, but when I was a kid I thought “the multilingual absurd performance piece is the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the vice-chancellor!”. Ah, student life was fun.

yard days night

old bikes in my back yard

I mentioned gardens in my last post, and this is my ‘garden’. It’s a small back yard that we could do a lot of work in, if I were a garden person, which I’m really not. Although I say that, I have spent a lot more time out working in this yard than any other, pulling up weeds and trimming down branches, but it’s not a space we spend a lot of time in. We did have a lot of unwanted junk out there that we ended up bringing to the dump, which made it much nicer out there, although there are still two old bikes (one of which is not actually old, it was just not ever really ridden, but has been out in the yard for quite a while now so probably needs a good servicing before it can go out on the road). The other is an old bike of my son’s when he was smaller. The tarpaulin has largely perished. Against the fence that is a foldable table, we don’t really use that much. The thing with the orange net is a rebounder, useful for soccer practice, if we ever used it for soccer practice. It’s too big to bring with us, and our yard is too small to use it effectively out there. This is only one corner of our small back yard. Let’s not talk about the black widows. We have an understanding, I pretend they don’t exist, and they don’t get stamped on when they come out. There are a lot of them in Davis, but we aren’t talking about them. So yeah, I’m not a garden person, but I think maybe I should spruce it up a little. I have all these ideas, but I’m not super handy, or practical. But it’s a lot better than it was. A few years ago there was this massive bush, a tree really, sprouting out of the ground there. It grew fast, and had big ugly lemons on it, and its branches had these sharp thorns about an inch or so long that would go straight through your hand, and destroyed a few bike tyres. It grew high, right over the fence, dropping those big lemons with faces like Victorian thugs onto the path below. It took a while and several sharp cuts, but I defeated that bush, with my massive lopper and my sharp garden scissors. It remains one of my greatest victories. I put it on my CV. That lemon bush thing has never returned. There was another tree, an actual tree rather than an upstart bush, growing much closer to the patio door. It was ok at first and provided a bit of shade, but eventually it got a little wild, and started rattling against the windows. Despite lopping off as many limbs as I could, this one required professional help so we got someone out to take care of it. And I mean “Take Care Of”, I don’t mean we got someone to come round and give it a foot massage. That tree’s days of knocking on bedroom windows are over.       

gardening leave

Covent Garden Tube Station

For this year’s Pence Gallery Garden Tour show, they couldn’t actually have the in-person garden visits like they have done in years past, with the artist painting or drawing in the garden (and sneezing, in my case) while visitors looked about at the pretty plants and flowers and then we exhibited our finished artwork at the Pence later. I’ve done it a few times and it’s fun (apart from the sneezing). But as I say, they can’t do that this year so instead they are having a garden-themed show, and asked us to submit our garden-themed artwork. I don’t have a garden (just a small back yard with not much in it) and haven’t been sketching much foliage this year yet, but…well I have been drawing old Leslie Green tube stations from London, and I hadn’t yet got around to drawing Covent Garden…that is garden themed, right? It’s one of my favourite gardens after all, and I really love drawing these old Leslie Green stations. I drew a whole load of them last summer, using only three colours (QOR watercolor paints Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine, and Quinacridone Magenta – I don’t often use a limited palette but these very strong paints were a winning combination). I just realized while searching for those old posts to link to that I never actually posted them here, so I guess I’ll need to write a new post about those old stations…soon. Maybe I will draw a few more first. 

I miss London, and I especially miss wandering about the little shops of Covent Garden. I don’t miss the tube station itself (I never get off there; coming down on the Northern Line I always get out at Leicester Square and walk up, it’s quicker) (the distance between the tube stations of Leicester Square and Covent Garden, which is on the Piccadilly Line, is one of the shortest in London – the tube actually takes twice as long as walking, especially as you have to get into a crowded lift at Covent garden tube, ugh). (Plus I use all the short cuts to beat the crowds). After living away from London for sixteen years now though, many of those short cuts through the centre of the city are becoming lost to me, not just through memory but through construction. The CrossRail project demolished many buildings around Oxford Street and changed a lot of the geography. There was a really useful unsignposted short cut between the central and Northern lines inside Tottenham Court Road station that meant avoiding the escalators, but that is now blocked off.) Thankfully Covent Garden isn’t too changed, it’s a labyrinth as it is, but some landmarks are gone or moved, such as Stanfords map shop, which is now smaller and around the corner from the old Long Acre site. I used to run through Covent Garden’s narrow streets on the way from the 134 bus-stop at New Oxford Street to my classes at King’s College London on the Strand when I was doing my master’s degree, that was a long time ago now. I miss London. I miss the pubs, and the people from all over the world, and the stories, and the sounds, and the smells, and the memories it makes me think of every time I dash round a corner. I love living in California, but blimey I miss London.  

Utah 5: Moab and Salt Lake

Utah hiking trip

This was my ‘journal’ page in the sketchbook where I wrote a bit about the trip. I always mean to do things like that in my sketchbooks as I go along when I travel but sometimes forget, or I draw it with stupid cartoony Petes doing stuff badly, but I liked the tone of this in pencil, and it kept with the pencil and paint theme of my sketching in the parks. I always worry that the pencil will smudge as I used my book (one of the reasons I don’t draw much in pencil, though when covered in watercolour it doesn’t seem to happen as much). On the last day in Moab I went for a walkabout; Moab reminded me a lot of Radiator Springs, the town from the movie Cars (which we watched about 7000 times when my son was younger); the backdrop mostly, but some of the shops too. So it was quite funny to see one of the auto repair shops had converted a truck into Lightning McQueen’s buddy Mater (full name “Tow Mater”). I had to draw him! There were a lot of vehicles in Moab I could have drawn, and by that I mean (1) Jeeps and (2) ATVs. So many ATVs. ATVs are all-terrain vehicles are those funny looking buggy things, and they look like they are only driven by people who would not like them being called “funny looking buggy things”. But my descriptive skills are tired from all the hiking. You see? That sentence doesn’t even make sense. Well dad-gum, as Mater would say.

Tow Mater in Moab

We left Moab for the long drive back to California, which would take two days, across mountains and deserts, through snowstorms and sunshine, but boy were there snowstorms across the Great Salt Lake Desert. We stopped off in Salt Lake City once again, so we could get some more delicious waffles and frites from the little Belgian place we discovered, Bruges Bistro. This place was amazing, and I had a nice chat with the Flemish guy who ran the place. I had once more a huge waffle covered in s’mores (a nice mix of the Belgian and American), with sauce andalouse to go with my frites. This is the place below (I drew that after I got home).

Bruges Belgian Bistro SLC

After lunch we headed off to Temple Square to see the Tabernacle and the historic Salt Lake Temple. You can’t go inside the buildings (and the Temple is undergoing a major renovation, it looked like the foundations of the church itself were being completely updated) (that’s not a metaphor by the way, I mean the building itself). You’ll know of course that Salt Lake City is the epicentre of the Mormon church (real name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) (which is a long official name; I like long official names, like “Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club”, “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles” (the real name for L.A. though not really the official name) and of course “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (still correct at the the time of writing but check back again soon)). They usually go by “LDS” but are mostly known as Mormons. It was interesting to learn that the streets in Salt Lake City all emanate out from Temple Square. I did a very quick sketch of the Temple while we explored the square, which is permanently walled off but still open to visitors. there were many friendly guides about to give information, but we didn’t stay long. It was interesting. Surrounding the square were a great number of large and very corporate buildings for all of the church’s global administration. The city itself was surround an most sides by mountains capped with snow; I forgot that would be the case, but they did have the Winter Olympics here many years ago. The Great Salt Lake is just to the north, and we drove past that on the way back towards Nevada. 

Salt Lake City Temple Square

I didn’t draw on the rest of the journey; we listened to podcasts, and an audio book (Neil Gaiman’s “An Ocean At the End of the Lane”; appropriate as there was a Great Salt Lake at the end of the road), stopped in Elko again and eventually made it home. A long road trip. Next time we go we will fly, but it was fun to see a bit more of America.  

Utah 4: Devil’s Garden

Landscape Arch sketchOn the third day in Moab we returned to Arches and this time started our day by exploring the popular Devil’s Garden area. This place is packed with arches, and I’m glad we got there early because before long it was packed with hikers too. People like to do the Devil’s Garden loop, a seven mile or so hike that includes some tricky scrambles over rocks but gives some amazing postcard views. We didn’t do that whole thing, but just went part of the way in. The walk to the long and fragile Landscape Arch was really pleasant, a well-worn path through some short narrow canyons, easy to get to. My son had done a state project on Utah at elementary school a couple of years ago, the main reason we wanted to come and explore Arches with him, as he had made a model of Landscape Arch and wheeled it around the playground in the “parade of states”, this is a popular thing kids learn about at American schools. This particular arch used to have a bit more to it, and the trail would pass underneath it, but then about thirty years ago a large chunk of it fell off, so now you can only get so close, in case more comes down. I overheard a geologist say to his kids while I was there, “hey kids,” (I might be paraphrasing) “he kids, I’m a geologist and I think that more of that rock might come down. All it needs is an earthquake, maybe even a bit of wind, and that rock’s gonna tumble like a lizard in a blizzard,” (Yes I am definitely misremembering what he actually said, I think the Wild West scenery probably clouded my memory a bit). Below, that’s me sketching the Landscape Arch.

sketching at arches national park

We didn’t go a great deal further along this trail, because it reached a spot with a very steep and narrow rock that needed scaling, and we weren’t feeling that brave. We watched some other people bounce up the rocks, and a few others scale cautiously, while others also sat that one out and there was a group of people in what I thought of as the ‘waiting room’ while their family members hiked on the higher grounds. I gave it a go; first time I wasn’t feeling brave enough, but after a little bit of time I thought, ah why not, and I made the climb. It was only a short climb but the drops were quite rocky, but I made it up top and went bounding around for a little bit to look for the Navajo Arch and the picturesque Partition Arch. I didn’t stop to draw as the family were still in the waiting room below, and I didn’t march off to the Double O Arch, so I’m saving the rest of the Devil’s Garden for next time. We had plenty of other arches to explore.

 

 

We went and looked at Pine Tree Arch, before doing the sandy trail between the narrow slot canyons around Sand Dune arch. That was a huge sandpit full of kids playing, while others bounced about the rocks. We then walked across a plain of cacti and desert brush to reach the magnificent Broken Arch. That one isn’t actually broken at all, but was definitely one of the more impressive arches we saw. There were a number of people there making large echoes boom through the arch but when they left the silence was grand. A good time to stop and rest up the feet; a good time to sketch. This was one of my favourite ones to draw.

Broken Arch

(Interjection – can I just say I really hate this current WordPress editor with all these clunky blocks? The old editor was much cleaner and easier)

After this arch we were getting tired, so we made only one more stop, and what a stop. The Park Avenue trail is short but looks exactly like the backdrop of a Western. I walked into the valley for a bit before heading to the giftshop and back to the hotel for a rest. Arches was well worth the effort, and now that we are officially hikers we’ll be back some day. 

Park Avenue, Arches

 

Utah 3: Island in the Sky

Mesa Arch

On our second day in southern Utah we drove to a much larger National Park, Canyonlands. The elevation was a bit higher than Arches, and it was a cooler day with more cloud, so we even had a few flurries of snow as we made our way out to the Mesa Arch overlook. While Delicate Arch is the place to watch the sunset, Mesa Arch is the sunrise spot for people who like being around lots of people watching the sky go from a bit dark to a bit light. We went well after breakfast when the sun was already up, so it wasn’t too crowded. Canyonlands is so big it is divided into three sections that aren’t easily connected (there are literally massive canyons in between them): the Maze, the Needles and the Island in the Sky. They sounds a little like Marvel comics prisons or Dharma stations from Lost. We went to Island in the Sky, and it’s easy to see how it got its name. The plateau floats about a network of enormous canyons that seem impossible to believe, like you are inside an enormous IMAX cinema or looking at a vast painting. I have been to the Grand Canyon years ago and the impact is similar. Well it’s the same river, the Colorado, just further upstream. Canyonlands is where the Colorado meets the Green river, making all kinds of fun patterns on the planet surface. Out at Mesa Arch the family bundled up beneath a blanket while I spent a few minutes drawing, as best I could, and various people took photos inside the opening that looks out onto another world. I had decided that I would probably not attempt to draw any canyons, they would be a little bit beyond me, as someone who typically draws fire hydrants and pubs. I wanted to catch some of the colours I saw, but I also wanted to just stop and stare, and take in the vastness without thinking about how to translate that into scratches and splotches on a sketchbook. Below, a couple of photos, looking out toward Mesa Arch, another looking out at the Candlestick, and another of the strange and otherwordly Upheaval Dome, where we hiked to next.

Upheaval Dome was a place of some mystery, a large crater filled with rocks of a very different colour from those around it, like the remains of a large green asteroid. I hiked as far up on the overlook as I could, but there is a much longer and arduous primitive trail that runs around the entire thing and can be quite a challenge. Not a challenge we were up for. The second day was going to one of shorter hikes with massive views, so once we were done with Upheaval Dome we drove down to the Grand View Point for a really impressive ‘Grand Canyon’ moment. I can’t really get over how spectacular the southwestern United States is, and that the National Parks do such a great jo of maintaining them so that we can enjoy them respectfully. I spent a fair bit of time in the park shop that morning getting souvenirs and what not, including metal pains, so now I want to start some collection of those whenever I go to a new one, seriously, great idea but what am I going to wear them? Grand View Point was stunning. There is a massive maze of canyons that looks like a galactic animal footprint from above. We walked along the trail going along the rim, until the family could bear no longer to be on the edge of the cliff and went back to the car. I stayed out and hiked a bit further, before heading back to the Point and deciding, sure why not let’s have a quick sketch. So I got out the Moleskine and a pencil and started just quickly drawing as much as I could see. Around me I heard as many American accents as license plates in the parking lot. It’s interesting to actually hear other North American accents in person, living in California where the accent gets homogenized into TV American, the only time you really hear different US accents with any strength is in TV stereotypes. I added in some paint and then finished off later; it was snowing, though very lightly. I was pleased with the result though, this isn’t a type of landscape I would ever get much chance to experience. Click on it to see it in more detail.

Canyonlands view from Grand Point  

We had planned to swing by Dead Horse Point state park after our day in Canyonlands, but decided that would be a ‘next time’ visit. We had our fill of amazing views, and the park experience was so different from Arches, so we drove back to Moab for dinner and rest. We had one more day in Arches to come before our long journey back home, and the next day we would be hiking some of the Devil’s Garden.  

Utah 2: Delicate Arch

Sketching Delicate Arch

When I was growing up I had this book on my bookshelf called “The Atlas of Natural Wonders”. It was one of those hardback books you get from mail-order book clubs, my dad got a lot of those for a while, so my bedroom bookshelf was always full of interesting things to read before bed. I had two massive books about Mammals; a huge book all about the settling of the western U.S. called “The West” (which I still have); books about Britain’s Haunted Heritage or Strange and Mysterious Things like the Beast of Exmoor and the Cottingley Fairies; books about ancient European legends of Magic and Wizards; two amazing books about old Horror movies which I would devour cover to cover, scaring myself with images of Lon Cheney, skeletons in big hats or hands coming out of an open grave; and I even had this massive dusty and utterly boring book about the Soviet Manned Space Program, though I think that might have been a library book that was never returned (or even read, but was pottering about the house for decades). But best of all was The Atlas of Natural Wonders”. It wasn’t an atlas at all but a book (in no particular order) about forty or fifty of the most stunning places of natural beauty in the world. I don’t know what criteria meant a place did or didn’t make the list, but to me the list was absolutely gospel, these were, as far as my young mind was concerned, The Best Places On The Planet. I resolved as a kid that I would go to every single one. It included places like Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, Iguaçu Falls, Badlands, the Ürgüp Cones, the Great Barrier Reef and loads of other places. Right there on the cover (and thinking back, it probably wasn’t on the cover, but it imprinted in my mind more than anything else in the book) was the Delicate Arch, in Utah. I knew I wouldn’t make it to every place in the book, but at some point in my life I had to go there.

And now I have!   

Delicate Arch

We had to psych ourselves up for the Delicate Arch trail. We watched some videos on YouTube and there is one particular bit where you walk along a ledge next to a big drop that I knew would be a bit of an ask, but we did it. The hike is described in the guidebook as a ‘moderate-strenuous’ 3-mile roundtrip, with a pretty big elevation up some slickrock; while it was more testing than most hikes we’ve ever done, I get the feeling that it’s more of a schlepp on hotter days. We had sunshine but no desert heat, perfect conditions really. We made it up to the scary ledge part, taking that easy, not looking at the big massive drop next to us, hugging the rock face, but we made it alright. I was more concerned it would be massively crowded, and while there were a good number of people up there it wasn’t as bad as it gets for sunset. I climbed up a little bit more for some good views but chickened out while scaling around the rim of the bowl to get a closer view. We were fine where we were, we sat and look, I drew on a little perch out of the way, we took some photos and geared up for the journey back down. There was some brave fool doing handstands on the edge of the cliff inside the arch itself, showing off, while up at our spot we had to wait a while to take a quick family selfie while a classic stereotype mother-from-hell with a massive camera and a compliant grandpa or someone holding up a special light took about a thousand photos of her two twin boys (Tarquin and Timmy they were called, though I didn’t hear their names being said) in their matching outfits. Other groups settled in to stake their spots for the sunset later on, like people waiting for the parade at Disneyland.  It was a stunning view. The colours of the landscape were otherworldly. After we got our selfie and had our fill of the arch, we made our way along the Ledge of Certain Doom and back to safer paths, back down to our car. 

Sketching Delicate Arch

Come to think of it, the chapter about Delicate Arch might have been titled “Rainbow Arch”, which is a different arch at a different park, but this one was definitely pictured. This is my memory reaching back over thirty years. I can’t remember all of the places in “the Atlas of Natural Wonders” any more, but at a push I could probably recall most of them. Those places I have been to already in my lifetime include: The Grand Canyon, the San Andreas Fault, Cheddar Gorge, the Gorge du Verdon, and… dammit, I think that might be it. I need to get a move on.

Utah 1: Arches!

sketching at Arches National Park

A couple of weeks ago, we took a Spring Break road trip to Utah. It took two days to drive from California across the mountains and high desert of norther Nevada (which is a much wider state than I thought; you look on the map, there’s a town or two but a lot of nothing, but in reality there’s a lot of grand scenery) (plus a few prisons; we saw signs for ‘no hitchhiking’) We stopped off in the Elko for the night, which seems to be a popular place for sleepovers when travelling across the country. I-80 goes from coast to coast, even through Davis. We passed into Utah the next day, crossing the expansive Great Salt Lake Desert, followed by a lunch of Belgian waffles and frites in Salt Lake City, before crossing snowy passes and sandy valleys to reach Moab, in southern Utah. I feel like I’ve seen a bit of America now, outside of the Sacramento valley. If we’d have flown, we’d have missed all of that. (But next time we will fly). Moab is the gateway town to the two national parks of Canyonlands and Arches, and there are even more amazing parks in southern Utah to explore, such as Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, not to mention various state parks. Now that we are officially hikers (we have the boots to prove it) we plan to explore more of these parks some day. On this trip, we started with Arches. We got into the park early, as all the videos say to do, and headed for the Windows section. That’s me above sketching one of them. My plan was that alongside our hiking and exploring I would stop occasionally to do quick pencil and watercolour sketches of the arches, taking no more than 10-15 minutes. This worked out well, so that we could have good rest stops. I practiced a lot of quick sketches before our trip, trying to find the right palette, the right approach, because this isn’t the same as drawing buildings at UC Davis. I started off with a quick sketch of the ‘Turret Arch’: Turret Arch

Next I sketched the ‘North Window’. There are two big arches next to each other, ‘North’ and ‘South’ windows, with incredible views over the plateau that makes up arches National Park. We learned a lot about how the arches were formed, that there was once a great sea here, and as the face of the planet shifted it was lost, but the salty waters evaporated to create a vast bed of salt, that for millions of years lay below the layers of rock, before it eventually evaporated causing the landscape to collapse into a world of arches and unusual rock formations. This is roughly what I remember. I want to study geology a lot more, looking at the rocks was illuminating. We are indeed fleeting specks in the lifetime of the planet; but what specks we are. I’m glad the National Parks exist to help protect these landscapes. They call the National Parks “America’s Best Idea” and I can’t really disagree there. It’s right up there with democracy, s’mores and having Diana Ross take a penalty at the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony. The Windows section was a good way to get oriented with the park, do some fairly easy short hikes, and take in the breathtaking landscape of red rocks and petrified dunes.

North Window Arch

 

We then walked over to the nearby Double Arch. There were a lot more people in the park by this point, and the parking lots were filling up. We looked at a site that showed us the busiest times of day for each parking lot and planned accordingly, I’d say we couldn’t have planned it better. The Double Arch (not to be confused with the “Double O” Arch on the Devil’s Garden trail) was one that I had practiced sketching, but of course being there in person the real thing raises the heart rate. I felt like Anakin Skywalker would come whizzing through them in his podracer, chasing down that slimo Sebulba. I drew this in pen (the only one I did in pen). There was a family from India we spoke to, some of the kids went into the arches and played some music to make big echo sounds. The acoustics were surreal. I didn’t climb far into these arches myself, but could have spent all day looking at them , drawing and cacthing the light as it evolved through the day. But we had many more arches to see. I’ll write about Delicate Arch in the next post, that is the one everyone knows.

Double Arch