Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gordon drives Dome Valley Arizona - with "the boss"

Gordon took over the driving as we left Yuma and became a captive model for my next sketch! Apparently the likeness is fairly good. It was not too difficult to sketch him as Interstate 8 through the Sonoran Desert is very largely a straight road so he didn't move much! ;)

8.00am Gordon drives Dome Valley, Arizona - listening to Bruce Springsteen
pen and ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Sketching is an activity which I can highly recommend for passengers on a long trip who'd like to practice their skills at sketching people. The trick is to hold the pen fairly lightly. Let it skip over the page and don't mind too much if you hit a bump - it only adds authenticity to the sketch! ;)

"The boss" in this instance is Bruce Springsteen who started playing just as I began to title the piece. Louise's husband had lent us his satellite radio as reception on normal radio stations in the desert can be very patchy. Gordon managed to work out how the radio worked and then kept us tuned to a radio station which played a lot of Jimmy Buffet for most of the journey. Everybody was amazed I'd never heard of him......

Once we passed Yuma and the Fortuna Foothills we were driving through Dome Valley - very near to the trail of the old Butterfield stage coaches which carried both mail and passengers in the nineteenth century.  In effect we were travelling eastbound along the I-8 but very near to their Butterfield Division 3 route between Fort Yuma and Tucson (click the link to check out the old stagecoach stops on this route)
The schedule was very specific. The westbound stage was scheduled to leave Tucson, Arizona, for instance, every Tuesday and Friday at 1:30pm, arriving at Ft. Yuma, California three days later at 3am.National Postal Museum - Butterfield Overland Mail Record Book
After a while I began to realise that there was an opportunity to sketch The Sand Tank Mountains south of I-8 (located within the Sonoran Desert National Monument) from the car because the view is the same for mile after mile so accuracy in terms of what you can see from an exact spot becomes rather redundant and it's also easier to get a good sense of the place.

Although everything in the desert landscape looks really washed out at first, the desert colours in the desert are actually quite complex and quite unlike any other landscape. I found that I could see more and more colours the more I looked at it - which then became reflected in the coloured pencil work where I was trying for an optical mixing effect.

Thus the next sketch (pen and ink and coloured pencil in my Moleskine travel sketchbook) is a composite of the desert landscape we were passing. The hills come from one bit of the road, the sky from another and the shapes of cacti in the Saguaro Cactus Forests were filled in as we passd them.

Composite Sketch of The Sand Tank Mountains
sketched from the car driving along Interstate 8
pen and ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Saguero Cactus at San Xavier du Bac
- this was a BIG one!
The large cacti in the sketch of this particular part of the Lower Sonoran Desert are called Saguaro Cactus (see left for one I photographed at the Mission) and there are a number of Saguaero Cactus Forests in the area.

Ocatillo in Arizona - this is not a cactus
 The other main vegetation we saw everywhere on this part of the trip is called the Ocotillo - and it's not a cactus, its a shrub. Below is a photo of what an ocotillo looks like close up.

One of the main features of the trip that day were the cloud formations. We had great big cumulus clouds initially over the various mountain ranges in the distance and then just before we turned right on to Interstate 10 Louise and I both spotted an anvil cloud - which usually means there's a storm hovering somewhere in the vicinity.

We drove past Tucson heading for San Xavier du Bac Mission on its outskirts The history of this church is explained in the history section of its website.

In outline, the first church foundations were built in 1700 and the present church was built between 1783 and 1797. It's suggested to be one of the very finest examples of Mission architecture given the blending of various styles and the dazzling ornamentation and colour of the interior.

Storm clouds gathering at San Xavier du Bac Mission
It was incredibly hot and humid while we were there. As we began to leave we could not help but notice that there was a dramatic change in the sky - the storm clouds were gathering.

As we started the next leg of the journey to Tombstone the rain started - and it 'bucketed down' I feel it necessary to point out that I announced that this was nothing to do with me ;) as England currently has a ban on the use of hose pipe due to a lack of rain. I felt it much more likely that it had something to do with the man from Maine (and by the end of the trip I was calling him the 'rainmaker'). Two weeks later the area we were moving through had some really bad summer flash floods.

Then we arrived in Tombstone, home of the OK Corral........

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