A Week of National Park Hopping
As busy creative professionals, we need to slow down, get out of the studio and immerse ourselves in natural beauty from time to time. Cultivating a few moments of beauty each day keeps me centered and creative. But every now and then I hit the wall, and my creativity starts to dwindle. The cure for creative block is a dose of awe and wonder—and the best way to supercharge my creative batteries is to take an adventure into a State Park or a trek to a National Park. As an American, I am so blessed to live in a country where there are amazing natural wonders within a short drive or flight from almost anywhere.
Since I have been focused on National Parks travel poster art in recent years, I have tried to carve out time for visits to as many parks as possible. I traveled to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks with my son Nathan, who worked with me to produce and publish our 59 Illustrated National Parks book. Last summer, my wife Patty and I took turns driving a borrowed RV to take our whole family on a tour of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Petrified Forest. And last week, I took a trip with my sons David and Benji (who are also both artists) to experience the wonders of a few breath-taking parks in Colorado and Utah. I have been working intensely for 4 months to expand our National Parks series with a whole bunch of new poster art, a new coloring book, a collection of puzzles, and a new series of illustrated maps. After all that work, I really needed a break, and I couldn’t wait to take some time off to celebrate David’s graduation from Watkins School of Art, Design & Film with Benij by planning a bro-dacious dude trip out West for the three of us.
My oldest son Nathan (age 25) is an expert at planning trips. Several months ago, he worked out the itinerary for this adventure, knowing that he would not be able to join us since he and his wife are expecting a baby. Benji (age 20) and David (age 22) were excited about a week of adventure in the mountains and deserts. Here is a re-cap of our adventure…
Day 1: We took a 6:00 am flight from Nashville to Denver and arrived at 8:45 am to a drizzle and some thick fog. We rented an SUV and after a huge pancake breakfast, we drove to Colorado Springs where we spent the afternoon exploring the Garden of the Gods State Park. Easy hikes around funky rock formations got us warmed up for the National Parks we would be visiting in the days to come. We slept in a bunkhouse in the Garden of the Gods RV Park. It was a small step above tent camping, and we slept in our clothes, since we had failed to pack sleeping bags, pillows or sheets.
Day 2: We headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park. When we arrived, a cold front was blasting through the mountain pass creating a sand storm so severe, we could not keep our eyes open as we attempted to climb the mighty dunes. The wind sandblasted our skin as the dunes shifted like angry moaning ghosts obscuring the epic snow-capped mountains that normally stood as a pristine backdrop to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The wind was calm enough at the base of the dunes for some picture-taking, but higher up, it was impossible to see and difficult to breath. Nature beat us into submission. After taking a few reference and Facebook photos, we retired wet and sandy to our room at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge to rest up for another attempt at scaling the dunes the next day. My son David was the artist who created our Great Sand Dunes poster, so I had him pose with our book open to his poster.
Day 3: The weather on Wednesday morning was drizzly, but much better without the strong winds. So we climbed up the dunes for about 40 minutes to get a better view—it was thrilling, but the summit of each dune revealed a valley and an even bigger dune ahead. Trudging uphill on the soft sand was as challenging as hiking in snow. We only had time to go about 1/4 of the way to the top of the dunes. Even from there, the views were fantastic. We wished we would have rented sand sleds to slide down the sand dunes. But this short trip was a scouting expedition to make plans for a longer adventure in the future—and next time we will come prepared for some epic sand sledding!
After a morning at the dunes, we packed up and headed for Mesa Verde National Park to see the ancient cliff dwellings once inhabited by ingenious Native Americans. We discovered at the Visitor Center that everything in Mesa Verde is a 30-60 minute drive over winding, cliff-hugging roads—many without guard rails. The views are spectacular, and the twisty roads are great for making passengers car-sick! After a 40-minute drive to Far View Lodge, we checked into our room. Once we were settled, we drove to a parking area and hiked around the canyon. After our hike, we feasted on burgers at the Far View Lodge cafeteria. Then we returned to our room, we poured the sand out of our boots, and showered off the layer of Colorado that each of us wore like a spray-on tan. We were dog-tired and we slept like kings.
Day 4: Thursday morning brought us sunshine for the first time on our trip. We took a guided tour of some cliff dwellings and marveled at exhibits in the museums. After scratching the surface of Mesa Verde, we packed up to drive to Moab, Utah, which would be our headquarters for the next 3 days of park-hopping.
Moab is a hip little town, nestled between Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park. We’ve never seen such a concentration of adrenaline junkies, nature lovers, hikers, bikers, and climbers. There is so much to do and see in the area, we soon realized we would need to come back many more times to experience everything the place has to offer. After checking into the Bowen Motel, we headed out to Dead Horse Point State Park to catch a sunset. The view of the canyons and mesas in the painted desert below was spectacular. We watched the sun go down on another perfect day, and we drove in pitch darkness back to Moab.
Day 5: On Friday, we rose early to explore Arches National Park for the day. Arches is a big park with one main road running up through the middle. There are only 2 places to fill up on water—the Visitor Center at the base, and the Devil’s Garden at the top of the road. The National Parks Service recommends taking a gallon of water per person, but we didn’t catch that bit of advice until mid-day after we had gone through all of our water and Gatorade. Up to that point, we had seen the giant Double Arch, several crazy balanced rocks and an array of exotic arches and Road Runner cartoon-like rock formations. We had explored about half of the park, saving the Delicate Arch for last, since it is the most iconic landmark we wanted to see. Rather than risk dehydration, one of the causes of death in most National Parks, we drove all the way up to Devil’s Garden to refill all of our bottles. Near the restrooms we saw a sign that said “Here lies Peter—he only drank one liter.”
We hiked the Devil’s Garden, saw the amazing Landscape Arch, and then stopped at a few other spots on our way to the Delicate Arch. The hike to the arch was all uphill, but totally worth the effort! After watching the evening sun sink over the red rocks, we headed back to Moab satisfied that we had experienced another epic American vista with a crowd of awestruck people from all over the world.
Day 6: We had a dilemma—this was our last day, and we knew we did not have time to explore much of the massive Canyonlands National Park. The guys had heard of a bizarre State Park called Goblin Valley which looked like a set from Star Trek or Ernest Scared Stupid. We just had to go and see it, even though it was an hour and 45 minutes from Moab. It was worth the trip—we had never seen so many crazy natural shapes—like statues of aliens gathered for a conference about how to take over Planet Earth. We felt like the rocks were watching us. It was creepy, thrilling, and just plain awesome.
On our way back from Goblin Valley, we ventured into the edge of Canyonlands National Park to catch a sunset in the Island in the Sky area. We were once again blown away by the daily masterpiece painted across the sky and landscape by the Almighty. We enjoyed a picnic dinner with a few other adventurous souls and reflected on our travels. As soon as the sun set in the West, the moon rose over the trees in the East. It was another perfect ending to another amazing day!
Day 7: We checked out of our motel and drove back to Denver through the mountains on I-70. The drive was beautiful, and while we were exhausted, we were brimming with inspiration, great memories, having relished a joyful connection with nature and each other. Each of us came back refreshed and ready to create.
Here is a look at all the new stuff we have been working on for the last several months. (This is why I needed to take a break and get recharged!)
Deluxe 72-page National Parks Coloring Book—Our intern Derek Anderson (not actually related) worked with staff artist Aaron Johnson to redraw 59 of our National Parks posters plus 5 animal posters to be coloring pages. We laid out the book with 8 full-color pages filled with reference images of our poster art and produced the whole book on gallery-grade paper. The coloring book is being printed now and will start shipping on June 22. You can pre-order your copy now on our site.
Deluxe 500-Piece National Parks Jigsaw Puzzles—Our friend Susan Taylor licensed our art to put on her awesome puzzles. Her company TrueSouth Puzzle Co. is selling these lovely puzzles all over the USA. We saw them for sale in several of the National Parks Visitor Centers on our trip! You can buy these awesome puzzles on our site.
New Posters Featuring Kai Carpenter Oil Paintings—Our buddy Kai Carpenter works for us out of his studio in Seattle, painting beautiful pictures that give our poster collections and books a whole different look and feel. He is a modern-day master, and our prints featuring his art are also available on our site.
New National Parks Map Prints—We have started a series of maps that are all about National Parks. One print features a map of the USA and shows you where all of the 59 National Parks are located. We have also created 6 maps of our favorite parks which feature trails, roads, major attractions, and more. Our map prints are available on our site.
We hope you will celebrate the Centennial of the National Parks Service by visiting a few of the parks this year. You will come back refreshed and inspired. If you need a keepsake of your amazing experience, we happen to know where you might find a cool print, book, postcard set or puzzle featuring your favorite National Park!