Plein air painting Wyoming - magic words to a hopeless travel romantic! I did 2 separate trips over the last 6 years. The most recent trip was part of my trip to Paint North Dakota and South Dakota in September 2013. My painting and travel companion for this trip was Eunice Van der Linden of Scotts Valley, Ca. We passed through the North Eastern part of Wyoming on the way and stopped at The Devil's Tower National Monument to paint. Most people are quite familiar with this weird and other-worldly land formation as it was used in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" - the space ship used the Devil's Tower to hover over and land aliens/take up humans! The Devil's Tower is a sacred site to at least 20 different Native American tribes.
The geology of the tower - An extrusion of the molten core of the earth - it is not a volcanic core as originally thought. It rises 1250 ft. or so above the surrounding Black Hills. Here is my painting for the Devil's Tower.
We found a terrific painting spot in the campground near the entrance to the monument (I again used my Senior Pass for National Parks to get in free) - it was about 3pm - we painted for 3 hours. With a subject this bizarre and unique the only thing I could do was to have fun and enjoy the strange shape and indulge my inner expressionist. Prints and cards of this painting available.
Traveling through the western part of Wyoming during a much earlier trip we visited Yellowstone National Park as well as the Grand Teton National Park. They are relatively close together and are a natural fit to visit back to back. In fact, the National Park Pass is a “double header” with both Parks on one entry ticket. So much beauty and fabulous scenery at every turn! I felt as though I was at a sumptuous visual buffet at all times.
Special Note for Seniors – You can purchase a Lifetime Pass to all National Parks for $10!!! You need to be 62 years old to qualify. This has to be the Deal of the Century – It allows the holder of the pass to enter any National Park for free – and anyone in the Senior’s car gets in free too! So, love a Senior and reap the benefits. My husband got one of these great passes and so we were all able to get into Yellowstone and Grand Teton for free. The normal entry fee is $25 per car –the regular pass good for 7 days.
We stayed outside the park in West Yellowstone – which is a mile from the Wyoming State Line and the entrance to Yellowstone Park.
My husband Dennis and I got a packed picnic lunch from a good Deli just around the corner from the hotel - we then drove into Yellowstone National Park to the Yellowstone Falls and Canyon area in the middle of the park. The weather was perfect Fall – ice cold in the early morning, giving way to warming sunshine.
Yellowstone Canyon has two sets of Falls, Upper and Lower. The Upper Falls area is close to a parking area and very easy to get to and close by. The Lower Falls area is accessed by a steep trail skirting the edge of the canyon – I had to hike in about ¾ mile to get there carrying my painting gear in a back pack.
The Lower Falls are even better than the Upper Falls and the subject of the painting you see here. I was thrilled to have the privilege of being able to be in that place and paint in such a setting. One of those times when you feel lucky to be alive and 100% present in the divine moment. At the same time I had a fleeting edge of sadness that I only had a short time to stand in that place and feel so inspired. Lucky me that I can look at my painting and get a piece of that feeling back again each time.
Prints of this painting available - click here. That same evening, my sister Katherine and her husband, Barrie, took us out for dinner in West Yellowstone to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary. I had already been gifted earlier in the day by painting - so everything else was just frosting on the cake.
The Madison River – An Icy Fall Morning
I got up at 7.30am and quickly got dressed in my layers of clothing to go out plein air painting alone on the bank of the Madison River – a few miles inside the park.
The morning light was intoxicatingly golden at that hour – I found my sweet painting spot right next to the Madison River – I imagined envious trout fisherman coveting my painting spot.
It was so peaceful with the river murmuring as it flowed by. The morning light made my color perception hypersensitive – it produced a feeling of euphoria that is quite addictive. Every color seemed possessed by so many variables that it was quite mind blowing – and no, I wasn’t on drugs!
I lost track of time – always the sign of a fully engaged plein air painting experience – and why we keep coming back for more. At 9.30am the sun got higher and the color show started to fade – time to finish up, clean up and leave that beautiful spot
Wolf Watching Tour
Although the Wolf Watching Tour we went on wasn’t designed for painting time, it was still interesting – I have therefore decided to include it as part of my Travelog about Wyoming.
We booked with a private guide – Kevin “The Bear Man” Saunders for our Wolf Tour – and we booked 6 months in advance in order to get the date and time that worked for our group of 4. We met up with The Bear Man at Mammoth Hot Springs area in mid afternoon. We would be out with him until 8.30pm on the Tour.
We headed into the Lamar Valley in North Eastern Yellowstone for our wolf viewing. We saw pronghorn antelope along the way and a wolf kill area. See photo below.
We eventually climbed a very steep hill overlooking the Lamar River and Valley. Kevin hauled up 2 very powerful telescopes and set them up trained on an area about 1 mile distance from our viewing spot. The Druid wolf pack (named after Druid Peak) were bedded down in the grass there. The pack numbered about 17 at the time we were there – We could make out about 6 or 7 wolves – they were sleeping off a kill of 2 days before – they eat 25 lbs. of meat at a feeding – they make a kill about every 10 days. We stayed at our scopes on the freezing hillside (see photo below) until about 7.30pm. Our guide reluctantly agreed that the wolves probably wouldn’t do much other than sleep. The Alphas were away on a territory prowl.
We were treated to a full moon shining on the valley as we drove back to Mammoth Hot Springs. The Wolf Tour was certainly interesting – you need to be a real “Wolf Groupie” to appreciate it. Don’t expect the wolves to present themselves for your viewing pleasure. As with all wildlife encounters, we are privileged when we see them in their natural state being themselves. I wouldn’t recommend the Wolf Tour for anyone with any physical disability as some hiking and climbing steep hills is necessary to reach viewing places.
It’s a relatively short drive from Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park – it took about 2 hours or less of driving but we kept stopping to view geysers, waterfalls and all kinds of interesting wildlife along the way so we allowed 4 hours. This included a stop at the Old Faithful Lodge to see the Geyser put on her eruption (every 90 minutes) – you can look up the timing of the Geyser on-line – She is very Faithful in her timing of course. We had bison chili at the Lodge for lunch – it was very good.
Jackson Lake Lodge
We stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park having been assured that the views were worth the price – and they were.
The Lodge building itself is positioned on a bluff immediately in front of Jackson Lake. The Lake runs parallel to the Teton Range with Mount Moran peak directly in front of the Lodge. Mt. Moran is named after the famous landscape painter, Thomas Moran and is 13,784 ft. in altitude with year round snow.
We stayed in one of the older little cottage style rooms behind the main Lodge building– the beds left something to be desired, so if you go, ask them about the beds – maybe they will have new ones by the time you get there.
As the Teton Range runs North to South, one has to paint this range in the morning with the sun shining directly behind the easel and full on the mountain range. I was able to find a shady spot on the terrace of the Lodge right after breakfast at 8am in order to do the painting shown here.
Another tip: Be sure to paint the mountain shadows first, as they change very quickly – without the shadows you will be sunk almost immediately. To do an afternoon painting of the range you would need to be West of them to enjoy optimum lighting conditions. Or one could try a sunset painting with the Tetons all dark and backlit.
You Could Spend a Lifetime…
Being such iconic subject matter, the Teton Range is very difficult to paint for a first timer. I felt quite humbled as I realized most artists could spend a lifetime just trying to get the hang of it. One just has to do the best you can under the circumstances and not get too put off by the whole thing. Painting those shark teeth-like mountains with all the intricate shadows and subtle lighting is not easy.
I had managed to hide myself behind some trees and so wasn’t readily visible to Lodge visitors as I painted – thankfully!
Jenny Lake, Wyoming
Jenny Lake is short drive from Jackson Lake Lodge with breathtaking views of Tetons as you approach Jenny Lake. The small lake is full of reflections and quite peaceful. The parking lot there is a good painting spot – Again, paint this in the morning because of the lighting situation described in the Jackson Lake Lodge section.