Plein Air Painting Road Trip Through Red Rock Country

It’s time to hit the road for a plein air painting road trip through red rock country.


Leaving Colorado, the mountains were covered in snow.  Driving through snow, canyons, tunnels and desert, my brain was so full of images, I felt overwhelmed.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal. (Scroll down for the photo highlights – this ended up being a loooong post.)

From the Journal – Fort Collins to Palisade, CO

It’s but a glimpse
and then


Sunlight on dry winter grass
Lit stalks
A halo of light
Against a rock wall in shadow

We hurtle down the road, 75 mph
The moments flicker past

Rocks capped with snow edge the Colorado River
The water, sea green
Edged in deep violet and maroon
Islands of golden yellow ochre

How does it do that?

Flowing to Mexico
It won’t get there

Buttes of sandstone rise in steps for giants
Powder coated juniper jut from crevices
Wind sculpted cornice
Backlit pines
Wet sandstone
Undulations of silt, clay, basalt, gypsum

Crackled rivers of earth

Embattlement and Grand Mesas
A sandstone prow
A headwall of layered ochre umber and sand

What would that look like at sunset?

The wheels turn
Around the corner
Through the tunnel
Over the pass

A rotoscope of images

Composing in my mind
Union Pacific, American Flag, river,
rising red sanstone, weathered, crumbling
Willow, grass, sage, leafless cottonwood

Fallen rock
Gullies of snow and ice
Frozen waterfalls
Undercut formations

Who did it a shelter?

Warm sun
Cold air
Melting already

What will this look like in spring?

Photo and Painting Highlights

Much of the time has spent driving, and the wind has been relentless.  There hasn’t been much time for painting. Yet.  In the  meantime, here are a couple of highlights from the trip.

Glenwood Canyon

The light barely washes over the tops of the pines.

Colorado River.

Isn’t the soft color reflecting in the water beautiful.  Notice the red of the bush and the darker red of the rock.

Fisher Towers in Castle Valley.There was a heavy blue haze in the air.  Coming around the corner, the valley opens up.  Notice how green the river is?

Mexican Hat

Aren’t the colors of the rock incredible?  And, this is through a car window going 65 mph!  I wish we’d had time to stop here and paint.  The colors and textures are too cool.

Rock Totems

Just behind our cabin, these rock formations were constantly changing in the light.  Sometimes deep orange, other times red, purple, and even a light mauve

Watercolor Journal

I took a little time to update my sketchbook with some of the passing images and snapshots that I wanted to hold in my head.  Amazing how a little memorizing and a quick cell phone shot can be just enough to create a small painting.

The towers of Monument Valley.

I’m in love.  Red rocks, rabbitbush, blues sky…ahhh…

Left Mitten and Jesus. I think this might be my favorite shot from Monument Valley.

As I was painting a similar scene later that day, a man came up to me and started speaking Navajo. Once he realized I was a tourist, he switched to English and asked if I found Jesus. I laughed. I sure did, I replied. I’ve been looking all my life, and there he is.

Have you found Jesus? He’s right there, looking out on Monument Valley.

(I think that’s his favorite joke.)

Sedona – Schnebly Hill – Both Monument Valley and Sedona offer a view at every turn.  Not too far from where we are staying, we found this.

I’m excited about a week of plein air painting in red rock country. Traveling, painting all day, getting so much sunshine, being in an energy vortex, and taking in a new location can be pretty exhausting, so feel free to follow along on Instragram (@nelharpart and @nelharpix) for the highlights as I may not be able to post much here.


What do you think?