Monday, December 13, 2010

Joining blogs...

Dear friends and followers...

I am going to be posting new blog entries on my artwork blog from this moment on...I figure that travel and musings all roll into the realm of art through immediate influences and new experiences..thanks for your continued support and encouragement!

Thus please follow the only blog I will be posting on from here on out...

Heather Horton Artwork

Have a beautiful day wherever you may be,


"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape, the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn't show."

-Andrew Wyeth  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bodie, California: Beauty In Decay

"Men rush to California and Australia as if the true gold were to be found in that direction; but that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where it lies."~Henry David Thoreau

Human beings are by nature a curious and persistent lot. We are constantly seeking to improve ourselves through whatever means necessary. Take gold for example. Gold was the catalyst that created a huge influx of wealth and people into California in the 1800's. Bodie, California lies east of the Sierra Nevada, only 12 miles from the Nevada border. I had the chance to see this amazing town that lives in a state of "arrested decay" with my friend Jay this past August. 

Jay and I were in the midst of spending a week in Yosemite National Park, exploring its many wonders. We decided to leave the park and venture to Bodie for a day trip. A 3.5 hour drive northeast of Yosemite brought us to the dusty and rock-strewn road that breaks off from I-395. We then began a circuitous route around sandy mountains littered with dusty, dry bushes. It was HOT. August. The desert. Enough said. Yet we relished was such a far cry from the cool mists of Vernal Falls and Yosemite Falls in the heart of Yosemite Valley.

Big sky country. Taking a break along the bumpy, 
12 mile stretch of unmaintained road towards Bodie.

As we drove along this road we marvelled at the unrelentingly stark landscape around us. We could not imagine living out here, much less in the ferocious winter months. After what seemed like hours a bend in the road brought us to our prize: Bodie. The buildings scattered on the hillside seemed dwarfed by the sky and sheer scale of our surroundings. 

Bodie's notorious reputation precedes it. Known as a den of inequity and crime in its hay day, all that remains now are whispers and ghosts of its past. As an artist and someone fascinated by the remains of activity in quiet places, it was Xanadu. There were no residents to tell the tales, no miners and bankers, mothers and husbands to share their happinesses and sorrows. There was only what they left behind in the spaces they used to inhabit. Haunting stuff. 

 A small barn slowly accepting the inevitable..
This old bed frame, cast aside, symbolized lives lived and long gone.

Bodie has been designated as a National Historic Site and thus has a small crew that works there on a full-time basis. They take tours out around town and supply visitors with answers to their questions. With a detailed map of present and the footprints of past structures in hand, Jay and I meandered around the town for the afternoon. Here are some photos of what we found...

A chopping block. I found this rather eerie.
Wires like arms outstretched..

 Jim, a convivial guide who offered tours of the mine that is usually closed to visitors.

Relishing the unique climate and feel of such a special place. 
Ontario seemed very far away..

Bodie is a testament to the adage that change is the only constant. The buildings were hastily and poorly constructed when the town began to boom in the 1870's. Thus when winter set, in a lack of insulation contributed to a high mortality rate. Crime was a daily reality as well. The town bell would ring each time someone lost their life. It rang very frequently. One little girl famously wrote in her diary when she learned of her family's move to Bodie: Goodbye God. I'm moving to Bodie."

 The Swayze Hotel in the foreground. Note the beam propping it up.

This side trip to Bodie will always stand out in stark contrast to the verdant climes of Yosemite that we had come to know and love in the days leading up to this day. Bodie in particular is a reminder that life is always hurtling quickly forward. It takes no prisoners. A sign in one building in town had a plaque that showed Bodie in various phases of its existence. "Nothing Endures But Change" Hericlitus said, and this quote lies above the photos. I could have spent weeks photographing this place...the rugged countryside and threatening sky seemed constantly poised to descend and swallow it up. It was eerie. It was beautiful. It was. 

Crumbling remains of the bank in Bodie.

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are."~Bertolt Brecht

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yosemite National Park: Nature's Cathedral, Part 1

Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space. ~Ansel Adams 

It has been quite a while since my last posting but I have been accumulating a lot of blissful experiences traveling and exploring! I seek to embrace as much exploration as possible...there will definitely be a book of artwork and photography that comes from all of these travels!

I had the great pleasure of visiting Yosemite National Park last month. The park surpassed my expectations and let me tell you, they were high. I, like millions of people around the world, fell in love with the park while watching the Ken Burns special "National Parks: America's Best Idea" which aired last year. In fact, one park employee remarked that attendance in the park is expected to increase by 40% in 2010, due mainly to the Burns Special. Truly, Burns' photography painted a stunning wilderness tapestry with his series....he showed the park and the beauty of the High Sierra like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember goosebumps alternating with getting choked up by the beautiful cinematography.

My friend Jay from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I had been planning this hiking/camping trip for over a year. We would camp for a week in Yosemite and then fly up to Denali National Park in Alaska. Pretty much a National Park dream-come-true :) Initially we were skeptical about our campground being so far away from Yosemite Valley but came to relish the cooler temperatures with the 1,000 ft elevation gain it had compared to the valley floor. Hodgdon Campground was beautiful for its giant Mariposa pines and fresh air....but I did have some issues with noisy neighbours for most of the week. Proximity is close between campsites so hopefully there aren't many people who snore :) However the group of ornithologists camped on our other side made for perfect neighbours...they were quiet and respectful.

Looking down an adjacent valley en route to Yosemite Valley...sublime!

The majestic El Capitan took our breath away
En route to Curry Village we stopped and walked through this meadow
Despite temperatures that rose to swelterings level during the high point of the day we relished the cooler evenings and higher elevation of our camp. Yosemite Valley was bustling with lots of people yet rarely felt "crowded". Curry Village was charming and well-equipped with a great climbing/gear store, a souvenir shop, a great pizza place, a larger hall that served buffet style meals every day, a cafe and a quiet area where WiFi was sporadic. Perhaps the granite cliffs all around us thwarted a decent signal but our goal was not to stay connected but to get away and explore. Jay and I have a deep respect for John Muir and Ansel Adams...both of whom were deeply passionate about the park and we understand why now.

Jay sitting by the sign towards Vernal Fals
We caught a glimpse of the falls on our way up. It was a steep, slippery climb but great fun!
Our climb up Vernal Falls didn't take very long but it had a steady flow of traffic and, being a narrow trail in sections, there was some waiting involved. Everyone was happy and excited to be there, you could tell...and who wouldn't be? I enjoyed the Mist Trail...the park was so healthy and clean...we hardly saw one piece of litter the whole time at Yosemite.

Vernal Falls

We hiked up to the top of Vernal Falls, a popular, steep hike with 900 ft elevation in a short time. On our way back down I spotted some Amish people ascending up the trail. I thought that they looked beautiful and was fascinated. I looked away as they passed because I did not want them to think I was staring at them. I took a quick shot with my camera that I lined up quickly and candidly, having no idea what I would capture, if anything....
But there they were in the frame...
Vernal Falls was a great hike for our first day. We acquainted ourselves with the valley and rented bicycles in the afternoon that we rode out to Mirror Lake. Lots of people rent bikes for the day in the park as there is minimal car traffic and lots of paved areas and unpaved trails to travel on. The ride to Mirror Lake was mostly uphill but a low grade which we appreciated given the heat of the day. Mirror Lake is an area frequented by children and families who want to splash in the clear waters and admire the granite cliffs that surround the park. Part of the trail in the area was closed off recently due to a rockslide but just standing at the water's edge gave us a huge sense of peace. I waded into the water and would have spent the entire day there but there was so much left to doesn't have to push oneself to scale up craggy trails to find great joy. I'm sure Thoreau often found bliss contemplating a blade of grass or a flower. I believe it is not the distance that one travels but how you contemplate and feel about what you have seen that matters most.
Mirror is easy to see where it gets its name from..
Half Dome never seemed far away from is so vast you can see it from many miles away.
 Granite veins that seem to provide a life force to the valley and park.

The setting sun filtering through the trees at Hodgdon Meadow

We had read that the Tiger Lillies were blooming in Hodgdon Meadow so we found the trail and walked out in the evening was peaceful and quiet with the perfume of campfires wafting from the campground nearby. The lilt of laughter could be heard from far off...people relishing the place as well..for they, like we had the pleasure of embracing the magic of Yosemite for that week....

I am heading to France for two weeks for a painting commission but I will blog more about Yosemite and Alaska upon my return. Have a beautiful day and savour every moment...


Sunlight through the Tiger Lillies blooming in Hodgdon Meadow

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hiking In The Ibex Valley: Whitehorse and The Yukon 2010

"I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."
~Steve McQueen

I knew for three weeks about this hike. It haunted me a bit, frightened me a bit, thrilled me too. 27 km in 6 hours? It seemed rather ambitious yet I was up for the challenge. My friend Ian, whose house I was sitting (along with his cats) in Whitehorse, YT, told me before departing for Uzbekistan, that a small group of us would do a good hike before my flight back to Ontario. He explained it was across the floor of the Ibex Valley, a gorgeous region of land 25km north of Whitehorse. We would use two cars, one at our extraction point and one at the beginning of the trail. Here is a map of the Ibex Valley. Our hike looped below the Alaska Highway and met back up with it via a side road.

We organized our gear at the start of the trail. I was excited to try my Osprey daypack, a Kestrel 28L, as I knew it would be the perfect place to put it through its paces, as well as being handy for many future day hikes. There were four of us in total, and we headed out on trail which is usually frequented by bikers, ATV enthusiasts and skiers in the winter.

The trail was mostly flat, with a few rolling hills but no steep ascents or descents. We made good time and chatted amiably amongst ourselves. I was glad I had packed lots of water and some Gatorade, as well as lots of food. It is amazing how quickly you become depleted when hiking, especially if you are hiking at a good clip. I had forgotten my Camelbak in Ontario but it was easy to drink while hiking with the side pockets on the pack. I didn't want to slow the group down and was determined to keep pace with them. All three of my friends are consummate Yukoners, seasoned hikers, used to multi-day treks and much more ambitious excursions than this one. Thus I wanted to prove my mettle by not lagging on the trail.

As we crested a ridge I caught sight of a beautiful perspective...snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see. I looked out, loving the thought that they were so untampered with, not trodden upon by many people at all...the land free to breathe as it wished.

You can see from this photo the angle of the sun was quite distinctive. I wish I could articulate what it is about light and the North, what makes it so unique. I'm sure it must have to do with the latitude and angle of the sun, but from this artist's perspective I can only appreciate the effect it has on me rather than analyzing why it is the way it is. At times it is almost diaphanous, thin like the air, gauze-like. It's rays reach like a filigree over the earth. It bewitches.

Here are a couple of the many MANY bear tracks we saw on the trail. The earth was sandy and it was easy to make out the tracks...fortunately they were going in the opposite direction! The top photo shows an adult black bear while the shot below is a cub. We had bear mace and tried to make noise so as not to surprise them and reduce the chance of a potentially nasty encounter.

About 9 miles along the trail we approached a lake where my friends knew would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch. I asked Ian and the group about living in the Yukon and listened to them talk knowledgeably about animal tracks and previous adventures in the North. It is certainly a land of extremes: extreme climate, beauty, potential, serenity, and certainly extreme fortitude.

The vista took my breath away. My heart sang with gratitude that I was seeing this and experiencing this special place. We only passed a handful of people on the trail, all of whom were on bikes. They seemed a bit incredulous that we were hiking rather than biking the distance. As we neared the lake I could discern that it had a glorious turquoise colour, a quiet gem in the wilderness. A few birds were around but, as in Alaska, the enormity of the landscape made birdsong few and far between...silence predominated.

So many greens and soft colours composed the landscape. It was as though the earth was waiting to open with vibrancy and colour in a few weeks of warmer weather.

Although I knew the waters would be frigid I had an urge to jump into the lake, to break that still mirror reflecting the mountains above it.

After lunch we continued on, covering ground quickly. We spotted a few elusive Dall sheep up on the mountains to our left...small specks of white contrasted with the dark shale. We marvelled at their habitat, such a precarious life, their survival depending on their surefootedness.

After six hours we made it back to the car that we had left as a shuttle for ourselves. My feet ached but the rest of me was happily exhausted, a great day of exploration and companionship behind us. In times of sickness or fatigue, when I am in a crowded waiting room or on the subway, I think back to this day, use these memories as food to carry me through the trying times. It takes one to truly appreciate the other.

We discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth,
able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-
themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures. ~Edward Abbey

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Whitehorse to Haines Junction: Experiencing the Sublime

"It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves"
~Sir Edmund Hillary

In an area of Canada as large as the Yukon Territory, you would think that the distance between towns would be vast. In many cases it is, but there is a whole lot of beautiful country that separates nearby day drives to Skagway, Alaska and on this particular day, Haines Junction.

My friend Allison and I headed out on a drive to hike and explore Haines Junction during February and March of this year while I was housesitting for my friend Ian. It was a perfect distance...2 hours to reach Haines Junction, another couple of hours to hike and then the drive back. Most of my days during the month I was in Whitehorse were spent working on new paintings brought with me from Ontario. Thus this excursion further afield held great appeal.

The view about 30 minutes northwest of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway

I had heard great things about this drive, and I was NOT disappointed. In fact, that drive from Whitehorse to Haines Jct rivals any I have ever driven...we stopped to take a lot of photos as we made our way north and west. Haines Junction is a perfect jumping-off point to explore the gorgeous Kluane National Park.

A sign indicating the Kluane region that we were entering along the Alaska Highway

Last summer I went hiking and camping in Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Alaska. You can read about that adventure here! These two parks are joined together and encompass some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.

The mountains continued to rise out ahead of us as we drove along.

We drove through the Ibex Valley en route to Haines Jct. A week later I would be hiking through the Ibex Valley on a 27km trek that I will never forget. Look for that post in the next two weeks! The weather was typically quite changeable. The big skies of the North enable you to see shifting weather at great distances. The air is very dry in The Yukon. I couldn't believe how arid it was. One's skin becomes dry, the air is thin, and this is in the spring and summer. Ian informs me that this dry climate is even more pronounced in the winter.

Tempestuous clouds and far off rain seen on the horizon..

There were very few people on the fact, not many people period! The highway is so quiet that you look every time a car goes by if you are stopped by the road taking photos...It was the antithesis of Toronto, a far cry from the typical traffic found in Burlington too. The lack of congestion brought as much peace of mind as the mountains and clean air. Looking out over miles and miles of pristine forest, across untrodden slopes of snowy peaks, is catalyst for calm and inward reflection.

Such beauty made me catch my breath

We detoured into a popular campground where only a week previously there had been an incident with a bear. Bears are very frequent in the North...especially in the Kluane area. I was quite surprised that I didn't see any during my time in and around Whitehorse. Only some tracks. Perhaps this is for the best:)

The view across the lake by the campground. Sheets of rain can be seen on the right.

As we neared Haines Junction I continued to be awestruck by such great swaths of beauty. Haines Junction itself only has a few hundred people. It is very small but has a great sense of community. We stopped in at a local bakery/café after paying a visit to the Visitor Centre for some information. We were warned about bears in the area. Fortunately I had borrowed some bear spray from Ian's brother and I had it in my side pocket to retrieve it quickly should I need it. Fortunately I didn't!

Arriving in Haines Junction

We opted to hike along the Dezadeash River. It is an interpretive trail that is 6 kms long but we didn't read the signs, we just enjoyed the hike and surroundings. Allison was a bit on edge with the knowledge that bears were in the area but we continued on. The trail parallels the river for quite a ways and then loops back to rejoin itself. Although technically in town, the trail was sufficiently remote for us to feel the true benefit of the hike.

The foliage was still minimal as the temperatures were quite cool still. Nonetheless the landscape had a particular type of beauty that only the spring can possess. Seeing the trees bare and leafless makes you appreciate the transformation that will happen in a few weeks.

Across the river there was a wonderful view of the mountains. The perspective and scope of the land continued to inspire and humble me. I was half tempted to become a landscape painter then and there, as landscapes and their faces change just as frequently as any individual's. We continue on and as we passed this sign were reminded about whose territory we were really in:

This sign says "You are in bear country".

The Yukon is home to an abundance of black bears and grizzlies. I would not want to tangle with either kind. When bears attack people often it is because they have been startled, or feel that the lives of their cubs are in danger. Thus making noise is always wise, and one of the most important things I took into the Wrangells with me last year was a simple whistle. That and talking loudly and making lots of noise will hopefully alert any nearby bears to your presence and thus reduce the chance of a potentially deadly encounter.

This sign informed us that the area was a part of a Grizzly Monitoring Project

We hiked the loop and decided to make our way back to Whitehorse at a leisurely pace. On the way back we were fortunate to see a bison walking along the highway, along with some horses that had been abandoned by a defunct outfitter. They appeared to be enjoying their freedom and still had thick winter coats on.

Bison along the Alaska Highway

Wild horses

The drive back to town was certainly eventful, as threatening weather brought bouts of rain intermixed with sunshine. We chatted amiably and Allison's dog Nugget had provided us with some entertaining moments throughout the day. To be a small part of such a big place caught me in moment of overwhelming peace and terror, but a good terror. The knowledge that our lives hinge on the smallest variable out here in the vast and unrelenting wilderness gives one cause to pinch oneself and also to sober us in the face of this reality.

"All good things are wild, and free.." ~Henry David Thoreau