Soapstone Prairie Open Space Plein Air Painting

"Bison Overlook" at Soapstone Prairie Open Space 6x8 Pastel © Nelia Harper
“Bison Overlook” at Soapstone Prairie Open Space 6×8 Pastel © Nelia Harper

Can you feel the wind blowing across the prairie?  It was a cold, blustery day for sure!

Each Friday, the Plein Air Artists of Colorado Fort Collins group meets at a designated location to paint “en plein air” (outside).  This past Friday, we met at the Soapstone Prairie Open Space Park located along the Colorado-Wyoming border.  As I drove north, I left the houses and traffic behind and slowly began to imagine the scene as it was a hundred or even thousands of years ago.  The grasses swept across the vista in undulating shades of ochre and soapstone and sandstone ridges rose in the distance.  Two thoughts entered my mind: #1 It’s going to be cold and #2 This looks like snake country.

I was running late that morning.  By the time I arrived, everyone was set up under a ‘shelter’, painting the broad expanse.  Looking to the west, snow capped mountains peeked out from the clouds.  To the south, waves of clouds and virga (moisture that falls from clouds but evaporates before reaching the ground) pulsed through the sky.

Sure enough, walking along the trail to the group, I heard the buzz of a rattlesnake.  Now, I have to say, that in 15 years living and hiking in Colorado, I’ve never seen a rattlesnake.  I’ve seen bull snakes and garter snakes.  And, more than once, I’ve been startled by a snake basking in the sun on a hiking trail, but this was my first rattlesnake sighting.  Thankfully, it was very cold and the snake was moving slowly.  From a safe distance, I watched it unfurl and move into its den.  It was really cool to see.

Actually, it was cold!  My car said it was 37 degrees in the parking lot, but the windchill quickly moved the temperature below freezing.  We were quick with our brushes and pigments as the cold seeped up from the ground and the wind blew through the shelter opening.  (I guess it’s designed for sun and rain – ha!)  Even with hand warmers, our fingers quickly went numb!

Under the 'shelter' - the Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado
Under the ‘shelter’ – the Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado

While it wasn’t the best painting, or the best weather for painting, the day was great fun!  I tested my ‘quick draw’ skills, painting this 6×8 in less than an hour.  And, several folks came by as they looked for the recently released herd of bison.  One visitor told us that the spot we had chosen was once an overlook for the local Indians.  Pretty cool to image this scene only a 150+ years ago, long before Fort Collins ever existed.

And, our group was filled with laughter and joy – the most important element of all!

Photo by Patty Hughes: Left to Right Marguerite Meier, Nelia Harper, Alisha Lee Jeffers, Andrea Gabel, Ken Knox, Laura Young and Christine Torrez
Photo by Patty Hughes: (Left to Right) Margueritte Meier, Nelia Harper, Alisha Lee Jeffers, Andrea Gabel, Ken Knox, Laura Young and Christine Torrez

If you are in the Fort Collins area, come join us at our next paint-out.  Be sure to dress in layers and prepare for the elements!

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