Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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Travels in Arizona: March, 2007
Image Gathering in Sedona
(The difference between paintings and photos)

From Bear Mountain, Sedona (photo) Michael Baum
From Bear Mountain, Sedona (photo) Michael Baum

Thursday, 3/29/07
It's a clear, cold morning in the low 40s. Perfect for a good hike. We drive back up Dry Creek Road in search of Bear Mountain. The directions I downloaded soon prove to be outdated due to new highway construction, but soon we find the trailhead--the very same one we hiked from yesterday. There is a sign for Bear Mountain Trail, but it's unreadable until you walk right up to it. We were not the only ones having problems. At least three others asked us if we knew where the trail was.

We started up the trail around 9:20. the trail climbs up a slope, through a rocky gap in the first tier of cliffs, up another slope, around and up a wide ledge to another rockier gap in an even larger cliff. This is what you can see from the parking lot. From the gap, we emerge onto the mesa top and see our goal in the distance, still a considerable climb. We explore the mesa top and decide whether to continue to the top. As we move across the mesa, the route up the mountain looks more and more interesting, so we bushwhack over to where we estimate the trail to be. Trouble is: the trail at this point is indistinct and marked only with cairns. We transect the area and eventually find the cairns  We're back on track. 

The trail climbs a long hill then down the other side to a narrow saddle and another hill. As we climb and descend, the view gets better and better. Fay canyon falls off to the right, rugged and deep, red, and white peppered in green. More cliffs and buttes beyond into the distance. then we turn and look to the left. A shear cliff drops at our feet. Beautiful! I spend a lot of time snapping photos. It is overwhelming. If I can capture even some of this, the dizzying depths of the canyon, the sweep of open space, it will make a terrifyingly beautiful painting.

From Bear Mountain, Sedona (photo) Michael Baum
The Sweep of the Landscape (photo) Michael Baum (possible very large painting)


From Bear Mountain, Sedona (photo) Michael Baum
Another possibility (photo) Michael Baum

We climb up and over the next hill. The view is multiplied by the altitude. I start singing the old song "It's all too beautiful." It almost is. We cross another thin neck balance on the razor-edge of cliffs dropping all around. Ahead, a change. Eroded by eons of wind and water, are white petrified sand dunes, deeply scored into pancakes and slabs and domes. Cross-bedding. Where sand dunes form when the wind blows from one direction. Then new sand dunes pile on top brought by winds blowing from another direction. The dunes have a distinct grain, a bedding. Each time the wind shifts, the angle and direction of the bedding change as well. Over time, it all gets buried, and is petrified into sandstone. Then erosion exposes it as it does here at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Freezing and thawing create and enlarge cracks in the bedding. Sand saturated wind scours and etches the stone rounding its edges. The result is this crisscrossed domed and stacked landscape in white.

And all around, as we climb, more cliffs and canyons are revealed. Fay canyon becomes a gulf at our feet, the sculpted rock plunging to its rim then disappearing into the chasm. It is too much. I've taken over 100 shots by now. It's just too great to pass up. We pick our way across this sloping slick-rock around another hill then another narrow neck before the final climb. There is evidence of a fire break cut across this narrow saddle, a fore-warning of the burnt area ahead. We climb the last long hill and reach the summit at about 6400'. Here, the juniper pinon forest is burnt. Grasses and flowers are taking advantage of the newly sunlit, ash-rich soil. the view from the top, not as spectacular as the trip up, but still spectacular. the Colorado Plateau spreads to the north capped by the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. The cliffs plunge all the way to the floor of a great basin yawning before us to the west. We sit at the edge and have a snack, rest, take in the bigness of it.

The hike down is even more beautiful. The afternoon light is better. I take another hundred photos. By the time we reach the trailhead, our knees and feet are hurting from the long steep and rocky trail. It is the longest five miles and the highest 1900' we have hiked in a while. But our eyes are full. And our souls.

Driving back, we take a little side trip down a rough dirt road heading for the Devils Bridge Trail. But within two miles, the sky clouds over and rain showers are not far away. We abandon the trip and head for town. Late lunch: fish tacos Tacos del Mar. Back in the room, exhausted, we decide to stay in for the evening. Gentle rain falls now. I download the photos and take a first look.

Photos (my photos at least) never entirely capture the immediacy of a place. They only record factual information, sometimes a mood.  My job as an artist is to use those hints to recreate the deeper reality of a place, that thing that overwhelms you when you are actually there.


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