The landscape painter as tourist attraction


View from Badwater parking lot. Quick watercolor sketch on a piece of 3.5 x 5″ Arches 300 lb. hot press

I had planned a full day of non-painting sight-seeing with my non-painter traveling companions, but that was derailed when J. realized that she wasn’t quite recovered from a bad flu and she needed some rest.  Fortunately I had packed my watercolors, just in case I had a few moments while the others were hiking. (Always take some kind of painting supplies with you!) When the group decided to go back to the motel, I was able to split off and spend the afternoon painting.

I pulled off the road at the Devil’s Golf Course and set up my easel on the shady side of the car. Even in January, it’s often quite warm in Death Valley and I was grateful for the wee bit of shade.


View from the cutoff to the Devil’s Golf Course. Watercolor sketch on 8 x 10″ Arches 300 lb. hot press.

When painting in public, I often feel like I become part of the scenery. On their way to the Devil’s Golf Course, tourists stopped and from the comfort of their car watched me paint. Some stopped twice: once on their way in and once again as they drove out, checking my progress. One man, a tourist from New York City, asked, “Can I take your photo? It’s a great shot, with you painting and the whole valley around you.”

I must be quite picturesque. I think it’s the hat.

TheHatView of me, painting in the middle of Mosaic Canyon. 

Rain in the desert

Death Valley gets about 2 inches of rain a year. Just my luck, they got a fair percentage of that 2 inches on Friday night with a soft rain that began about 8 pm and lasted until the next morning.

From my first trip there, I remember the skies being a deep but empty blue. On Friday, with the storm front blowing through, the skies were full, competing with the mountains to show the most spectacular scenery. Storms in the desert are otherworldly. Water makes the desert a different place, with dampness on the wind, the smell of creosote and wet earth, and the sound of rain like an unexpected but most welcome visitor.

DeathValleyClouds1The morning after the rain, clouds hugged the peaks around us.


They slid right down to the valley floor, wrapping the smaller hills in damp blankets.


Great banks of moisture left reluctantly in the morning sun.

DeathValleyClouds3And climbed high into the desert air.

DeathValleyClouds4Eventually the valley pushed them back, and went on with its dry manner.

DeathValleySandStormAnd then, in another change of desert heart, a sandstorm clouded the valley floor and made the dunes shimmer and glint like Antarctic ice.