Seeing things differently

Life at Shadowcliff continued at a steady pace over the last few days. After a 7:30  breakfast we muster for a morning activity at 8:45, followed by lunch, then an afternoon activity. While the days seem packed there are always moments of rest to sink back into one of the comfy chairs in Shadowcliff Lodge or to play a heated game of poker.

On Tuesday we conducted water testing with the Grand County Water Information Network. Yesterday we returned to Grand Lake to meet with Geoff Elliot, an environmental scientist with Grand Environmental Services. Geoff helped us take samples of invertebrate life in the lake to help determine the status of the lake water. The presence of certain invertebrates, like caddis flies, might suggest something about the clarity, temperature and turbidity. The absence of such species or the presence of others might indicate that something is out of balance. While the boys certainly enjoyed the process of sweeping the water and turning over rocks, they would probably admit that the highlights of the experience were putting on waders and putting all the insects into one observation tray for a “Grand County Lake Insect Fight Club.”

After lunch we headed off for a hike to Adams Falls and the East Inlet trail. The East Inlet Trail climbs the rock ledge through which Adams Falls passes, then levels out into a sublime marshy meadow framed by Shadow Mountain to the south and Ptarmigan Mountain to the north. Ahead to the east, far from our reach, stood Mount Craig. On a rocky outcrop overlooking the East Inlet valley we got out our journals and continued to sharpen our observation skills.

Sketching in the field helps us see things in a certain way. In a series of sketches, we draw an object as it is and as it seems to us. In the example above, the memory drawing is the journaler’s attempt to accurately depict a dandelion. In a five-second gesture sketch, one is hopeless to draw with fidelity, so what emerges is either a sloppy cartoon of the dandelion, or perhaps a drawing that evokes the essence of a dandelion. Regardless of the product, the exercise is to see with intention.

A second sketching technique we practiced in this spot was a “soundscape.” Drawing a circle in our journals, we drew ourselves as a dot, perhaps a little human figure, in the middle of the circle. For five minutes we drew every sound we heard–a bird calling or flapping its wings, a twig breaking, the river rushing, wind blowing, the sound of restless boots over gravel, etc. Pictured above, Walker closed his eyes, looked to the sky and let his pencil drift across the page to make the sounds he heard.

We drew these sounds as if they were small symbols on a map legend, perhaps we labeled them by identifying the thing that made the sound, perhaps we wrote out the sound itself onomatopoeically. However we chose to illustrate we sought to see the landscape using only our sense of sound.

So many things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park. And so many ways to “see” them.


Today, Thursday we said farewell to Shadowcliff and Grand Lake and made the long drive to Green River, UT. Rather than hop on I-70 and turn our senses off we decided to follow the Colorado River along some mixed roads of dirt, gravel, and pavement. It added a bit of time to the trek, but it also added incredible vistas of Gore Canyon, the Gore Range, and the Flat Tops Wilderness.

This route also led us to a serendipitous exchange with a friendly rancher. We pulled off to the side of Trough Road to take a look at some meanders in an unknown tributary to the Colorado. While doing a whiteboard lesson about cut banks, fill banks, and river meanders, the owner of the property drove up and invited us to feed her cows, which some of us did…tentatively.

After a bit of discussion about what we were doing poking around in a carved out meander, this nice lady named Martha Carlton invited us up this stretch of what we now know to be called Sheephorn Creek to take a look at her irrigation ditches. After a short jaunt along her property Martha taught us about how irrigation gates work, and for the first time this season, she opened up the irrigation gate to begin the process of flushing out the ditches. While she invited us to stay to clean out the irrigation ditches, we politely demurred.

That brings us to Green River, UT. Tomorrow is our launch day. We meet our guides from Canyonlands Field Institute tomorrow morning and push off for six days of paddling. In a rare moment of tyranny, we insisted that each of the boys call home to speak with their parents before we depart.

We will be back in touch in six days, with much to recount and many pics to share. Thanks for following our journey.

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One Response to Seeing things differently

  1. Julie Sadtler says:

    Very impressive sketching! Have a great time on the river, Team Colorado!! Can’t wait to see videos and pictures, and hear all the stories!

    Liked by 1 person

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