Views from our camp in Death Valley. Copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
Since Death valley is the lowest (and driest) place in North America it wasn’t surprising we had a 13 mile decline to get there from the highway. Into the valley and cross the desert we went, past huge sand dunes and halfway up a mountain on the other side to a free camping area. What a great place to watch the sunset over the mountains.
Into Death Valley. Copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
In the morning we headed back down the mountain, past the dunes again, but turned before the 13 mile uphill climb and travelled through the park. Our friends told us to check out “artist pallet,” a small mountain range in the park not too far off our course. By the time we got to the visitors center is was already 101 degrees. I may have been able to paint in that heat, but Bucky probably wouldn’t of had fun just watching me paint. So off to our next tourist attraction - Las Vegas.
Sand dunes in Death Valley. Copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
We came in through the north and pulled over to get some supplies and some 3g reception so i could download the Lake Mead Recreation Area motor vehicle use map to find a place to camp for the evening. Right before we took off towards the strip we saw two men running from the store. The first one tripped and dropped a arm full of stuff, Then the two started jumping around like kangaroos trying to intimidate each other. No fight broke out; the first ran off and the second picked up the merchandise and brought it back into the store. F that noise. One week in the woods and we were over the city.
We never planned to hang around Vegas anyway- we aren’t gamblers and it would have been way too overwhelming for Bucky to try to walk around. So we cruised down the strip in the bus for a drive by (photography) shooting. The lights and action on the strip were a far cry from the serenity of nature we have gotten so accustomed to. These (mostly out of focus) snapshots do a better job of describing how weird it felt then I could in words.
Disforia in Las Vegas. Copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
As soon as we crossed over to Arizona we found a forest road off the highway to camp. It was a super small dirt road crawling up the mountains north of the highway. Sherman found a great place to set up camp and we watched the sunset. It was the first night so far we were able to see the stars - it was a full moon when we first left and it was overcast the majority of the way through Nevada. In the morning we were headed to the Grand Canyon.
Death Valley. Copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
Camp at Willow Creek. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
We woke up early at Willow Creek and most o four fellow campers were already gone. We packed up camp, said so-long to our new friend and headed to our next destination. In a few hours we were in Winnemucca NV and stopped for gas, water and ice. By the time we were about to get back on the road a dust storm hit. One of the locals said it was a normal occurrence, but to be careful on the highway. We decided to wait it out in a truck stop parking lot. Luckily it only took about an hour for the visibility to improve and we were back on the road.
Our next excursions were on the rout south, right next to Austin NV. As we approached another set of snow capped mountains Sherm asked if we had to go over them. “No,” I said, “we’ll go between them.” Boy was I wrong- we really to to get a topographical map! We chugged along up the mountains through Austin. Soon we were in the snow looking down onto the town. We may not of had anything to smoke on April 20th, but we sure got the bus high - 7484 ft above sea level (I had to though that pun in). Even though the bus is tuned for sea level we made it up - slowly - and then back down into the valley. Before the sun set we made it to Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area and set up camp.
Hiking in Nevada. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
It sprinkled a little the next morning after breakfast, but it was nothing by Pacific Northwest standards so we walked up the trail to see the petroglyphs. I know there are some in the Columbia River Gorge, but since moving down from Seattle to go back to school all my focus has been on my studies so I don't get out of the studio much. This trip has made me realize that getting in to nature is so important to my work. I was introduced to studio art through life drawing but ever since living in a city my work has been influenced more by industry.
The first petroglyph was a few lines carved into a beautiful rock formation. A little further down there were half circles on a horizontal line resembling a landscape. It was wonderful to see marks lefts by ancient people, especially since searching for patterns in landscapes on this journey.
Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
It started to sprinkle again when we got back to camp so we buggied a small tarp from the bus to the picnic shelter. I was all about constructing an awning before we left, but Sherm was took busy shaking down the bus. Good thing we brought that small tarp, its come in handy many times this trip. Plus I get a chuckle out of the fact that it is camouflage since the bus is such bright colors.
While we waited for the rain to pass I finally had some time to record some of our journey in my sketchbook. I intended to blog on a regular basis like I did on our last cross country trip, but this trip has been more about getting into nature than finding wifi.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
The clouds broke in the afternoon and we were off to find the next hot springs. Down an unmarked road we turned off the highway. As soon as we slowed down Bucky stuck his head out the window and barked his “Hello!” bark to any wildlife that may be in the vicinity. This wildlife bark is a new thing to us on this trip.
These springs were different than the first one we visited. The water was so hot where is come out of the ground so there were protective screens over them and the water was piped to a cow trough. The one we camped near had tiers of pools dug into the hill as the water overflowed out of the trough.
As we walked Bucky around to (unsuccessfully) sniff out a jackrabbit he saw on the way in, a traveler came up the road. We exchanged stories as we soaked. He was moving from the midwest and said “I haven’t found home yet.” That is exactly how we felt when we first moved across the country six years ago. This trip is different having a home to go back to. Before the sun set we scavenged some firewood from the vacant campsites. This valley was cold after three days in 80 degree weather in southeast Oregon.
After one last soak in the morning we headed south again, this time to Death Valley National Park. I didn’t originally plan to go there, but our friends just went on there recent road trip and told us it was definitely worth seeing - and man it was!
BLM camping. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
The Steen Mountains, Oregon. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019.
We rounded one range of mountains to see snow capped mountains in the distance on the other side of the valley. Turning off the state highway we started down our first desert road. “Livestock on roadway signs were no joke. I’ve seen them before, but one once (six years ago in Wyoming) have we had to stop for cattle. Bucky didn’t know what to think about the giant creatures; he’s only ever seen them from a distance. Over a hill and into the middle of the valley there were enough ranches clustered together for a school bus sign - and sure enough a few minutes later there was a school bus behind us. Sherm pulled over to let him pass us since he was on a job and we were taking in the sights.
"Livestock in roadway" is no joke. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
A few miles later we found a hot springs. We drove by two other vehicles camped there and continued a few yards to the springs and set up camp on the other side thinking we would leave first thing in the morning. It was so nice to be in nature - and the sun! Fellow campers were in t-shirts and we still had on hoodies from being in the mountains earlier that day. As the sunset we set up the grill and ate dinner under the light of the full moon.
The next day it was so warm I had to pull out a pair of shorts from the Tule. All the summer close were packed away; I thought we wouldn’t need them till as least southern Nevada. After breakfast Sherm walked up the hill to the east of us. He came back and told me about the view so the two of us walked back up with Bucky to check it out together. We took the binoculars - something that proved to be the best thing we could have found in the junk drawer in the kitchen before we left. At the top of the hill you could see Willow Creek meandering through the marsh. Small beaver dams were scattered throughout and the sound of falling water echoed up the hill.
Willow Creek, Oregon. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
Back at camp I pulled out my paints and started painting the mountains to the west. As the sun moved across the sky the landscape changed dramatically. It’s amazing what a few hours will do. It’s been such a long time since I’ve painted a landscape. As we travel I’ve been looking for patterns, pallets and textures in nature to bring into my color field paintings when I get back to the studio. It was so relaxing to paint (and just be in) nature and we couldn’t get enough sun after another Portland winter so we decided to spend another night.
The wind picked up across the valley the next morning, but it was still warm. It looked like the storm over the mountains might head our way. Our neighbor camper came over before we started packing up. The dogs played together as he told us about other good hot springs in the area. As we started talking about our vans and he mentioned he’s been wanting to get his spare tire cover repainted. Sherman volunteered me and I was more than happy to leave some art along our journey. We ended up hanging out all afternoon as I painted the creek, mountains and cat tails for our fellow camper. He asked if we had any stickers for his van and silly us forget to make more before we left.
After a pot of afternoon coffee the wind showed no signs of letting up so we made the decision to wait one more night. Late in the afternoon a couple more campers showed up. Then more - and more still after we crawled into bed. Turns out it was Easter weekend. It had only been a couple of days since we left the city and all ready we lost track of time!
"Willow Creek" commission piece. spray paint and oil on metal. Bernadette Mae. 2019
copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
Desert Bound copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
We were both anxious leaving home. Some was good anxiety from the anticipation of the trip; on the other hand, some anxiety was from thinking of all the possible things that could go wrong. The best way to get over it was to hit the road. The bus was set and ready anyway. There was nothing left to do but go.
Worries started to fade as we hit the road, but soon after we got out of town the tach was running a muck and the bus seemed to be misfiring. At the last rest stop before we headed over the Cascades we stopped and pulled the out the tool box. As expected, the points needed to be adjusted, and after a little roadside maintenance we were back off again. That first hiccup proved to rid us of the last of our stress. There was no stopping us now - we have all the tools and all the extra parts we might need.
It took the entire afternoon to get over the Cascades, though Detroit toward Bend. We've been city slickers for too long both of our eyes got wide once we got into the woods. Winding roads up the mountain with little waterfalls along the road. It was a good thing we waited for the bad flooding to pass before we took off or we wouldn't have been able to make it though some of those roads.
Soon it stated to get chilly. Then we started seeing snow on the side of the road. I never thought I would see Sherman excited to see snow (but then again, we were just passing through and didn’t have to shovel it).
Snow covered Cascades. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
Our first off road excursion took us down an unmarked forest road through the trees to a cinder pit. The bus climbed up to the top and there was a bit of a view. I thought the cinder pit was more for off roading, but it was littered with shotgun shells and junk used for target practice from kids having fun.
It started to get late as we got through Bend, so as soon as we got into Deschutes National Forest we looked for a place to camp. By the time we got to a forest road it was a dark so used our flashlights to find an established camp site to pull into. (We may not have upgraded to fancy modern headlights, but we sure have a killer heating system!) I made us sandwiches for dinner without even getting out of the bus and we fell asleep right after.
The heating was so worth it - when we woke up we saw a pile of snow on the ground that still hadn’t melted. We took our time drinking coffee and walking Bucky though the trees. Before heading out of Deschutes we tried to find the trailhead for the Lava Cast Forest. I must of had the wrong directions because we ended up on a road that isn’t even on the map. We were close though - there was lots of lava rocks on either side of us. While trying to traverse the incorrect road we drove up a steep incline and heard a smack on the bus. He was running fine so we didn’t think anything of it, but still decided to head back to the highway.
Evergreens and desert shrubs. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
Out of the Cascades and into the desert we went. First, the forest got less dense, then small desert shrubs started popping up in between. Soon we were going through a desert valley. In Brothers we stopped to stretch our legs. Bucky saw his first new critter: a prairie dog - boy did he want to catch that!
Bucky looking for a prairie dog. copyright Bernadette Mae 2019
Eventually as we wound through some low mountains the exhaust started roaring. We pulled over in some kind of dirt fill off the road and let the engine cool down. So we could investigate. Sherm popped his head under the bus and found the cause: the exhaust was hanging by one bolt! It seems the bump that morning was actually a rock and dented the muffler with enough force to crack the bolts off two of the joining pipes. The high temp adhesive on the gaskets managed to keep it together for a couple hours, but it finally came loose - thank goodness there was one bolt still or we would have been looking down the sides of mountains for our elbow pipe. Sherm looked for any more damage and found everything else was ok. It seems we were in the Car Gods' favor that day.
How I intend to evolve my studio and professional
practice during my 2019 cross country road trip.
By: Bernadette Mae
As my spouse, our dog and I travel across the country I will be inspired by my observations of nature, archaeology and local arts. I will explore methods of block printing and plein air mixed media drawings of the changing landscape throughout our journey. In addition to creating art on the road, we will uphold our most important value as professional artists to spread our love of art to everyone by (1) creating high quality crafts out of repurposed materials and (2) promoting emerging artists through our studio’s website, which is guaranteed from past experience to get increased web hits as we travel in our 1978 Volkswagen Bus.
Living out of the bus for three months means I have to downsize my supplies and (most importantly) the scale I work in. As an abstract studio artist my mixed media practice will be scaled down from 4 x 5 foot canvas to boards no larger than 18” x 24”. In my studio practice the editing process of each piece is so different and organic it is hard to know what the final product will be. Plein air mixed media drawings, whether the end result is a classic/traditional landscape or an abstract piece, will be inspired by my direct observations of nature. Like the changing landscapes I will be inspired by, my creating and editing process also evolves over time.
I will also need small things to do at night in the bus when it is cold or rainy. Leather working and block printing are great ways to keep my hands busy. The aesthetic of leather pieces will start with purely design elements, but I intend to bring inspiration from the landscapes into leather working. Block printing is a travel-friendly* medium in the bus, but also a great way to expand the quantity of my final product and therefore expose it to more people. Again process and studio research will dictate the final product, but I anticipate a series of block prints (roughly 11” x 17”) and a collection of greeting cards or postcards depicting the changing landscape we travel through.
This sabbatical will challenge and expand my studio practice through the inspiration from nature and solidify my professional practice through cross promotion with other artists and creating brand awareness for Ditchwerks Studio and Workshop so we can continue to create awesome things from repurposed materials.
*I have a grey water receptacle, but no way to try to wash out a silkscreen. Also, it would probably be a pain to try to coat a screen or even use drawing fluid and screen filler.