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Light Pixie Studio – Sharyn Richardson » Preserve your memories | fine art portraits that tell a story | photographs and paintings by Sharyn Richardson | Light Pixie Studio | What do you want to remember? | worldwide

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Montrose Candy Co.

Montrose Candy Co.

Life’s Short Eat Candy! In the foothills of Los Angeles above North Glendale is a wishing place for your sweet tooth. The Montrose Candy Co. is an old-fashioned candy emporium for everything sweet, where childhood favorites compete for your attention with precious bon-bons, jewel-toned gummies, French macaroons, and other gourmet treats. It is a lure to the unwary, calling out, “See me! Over here and scrumptious! Can you really resist?” When in doubt their motto is, “Life’s Short Eat Candy!” and repeated twice for effect.

Retro-Hip and Flamboyant  The entire candy store boasts a retro-hip décor and a note on the store website invites tv and film crews for location shooting. But it was the flamboyant store front that attracted this itinerant photographer on an April night. With no tripod at hand, a nearby parking meter stood duty for a three second exposure at ISO 800 f/4.5.

What’s the big deal? The double carousels in the window are lit with flexible neon strips casting their hot pink glow over all while the store’s exterior glows orange from energy-excited sodium street lamps. On a cool spring night this combination of hot colors was just right to warm me. I might have been tempted inside had the store been open.

Yes, life IS short and I’m no purist. But the less candy I eat the better–at least this time in Montrose standing before an iconic and beautiful candy store.

A new portrait of three Golden Retrievers is finished. It takes months to complete a major commission but it’s a satisfying enterprise. This client was a good communicator and the story came together nicely. Having spent months thinking about Champ, Max and Sam, now is a good time to tell their story and to describe some of how I work, how I determine what to paint, what’s most important to convey, and how the process works from the client’s perspective.

Golden Retrievers At Play in the Northwoods

Meet Champ, Max, and Sam

Golden Retrievers: On the right is Powerful Sam

Meet Champ, Max and Sam! They show the main features of their Golden Retriever breed and were loved for individual personalities by the family who knew them well. Firstborn Sam sitting proud and tall at right was a big puppy with huge feet. He grew into his size in physique and in character as well. Outgoing, stately, and strong, he was leader of his pack, obstreperous at times and a bit of a rebel. He lived a hearty life and left it all too soon.

Mild-mannered Max

Max in the middle shared with Sam the retriever’s classic red-brown coat. His smaller frame suited his more reluctant personality, the result perhaps of being elbowed aside regularly by powerful Sam. Max was the steady, calm one, quiet in the house and a mild-mannered fellow in the field. He may have been a timid soul but he won everyone’s heart and is still missed. “Just because you don’t say much doesn’t mean people don’t notice you. It’s actually quiet ones who often draw the most attention. There’s this constant whirlwind of motion and sound all around, and then there’s the quiet one, the eye of the storm.” Amy Efaw in After.

A show ring washout, Champ won blue ribbon success as the family dog

Standing at left is Champ, bred for show where he didn’t quite make the grade. It was his great good fortune to be adopted as an orphan pup and to succeed as the family dog. His paler coloring reflects Lord Tweedmouth’s earliest cross-breeding efforts with the Highland yellow retriever. Gentle of spirit, last born Champ is accommodating and helpful, beloved by all. At nine years of age his energy is flagging and there are serious health concerns on the horizon which prompted this painted reverie, a collage of memory across more than twenty years that unites three beloved dogs.

At Play in the Northwoods

There is a respite in the Northwoods where canine and human kin go to play hard and relax hard. It is a magical and loved place in the Pinelands, backdrop to so many glad memories. Imagine the dogs here after a romp in the woods having found a bright beam of sunlight as it lowers across the flat landscape toward end of day, happy together in the leaves, all three in their vigorous prime, imagined as it might have happened but in fact did not. As their family wants to remember them.

Painting an imaginary scene to recreate a fond memory?

Several months ago I was contacted by the family of these dogs. Sam and Max have been gone for a long time and Champ was recently diagnosed with the same terminal illness. Time is short as it is for us all. Having decided that they cannot bear to think of the coming loss, they wanted to do something positive to remember the best times with all three of their dogs and to permanently honor them in their home. And so began the conversation that resulted in this scene. I listened to their many experiences, how the dogs differed from one another, and heard what were the most important abstract qualities to capture in each. In other words, who were these dogs as individuals? Along the way there were many clues and I took lots of notes. Over the weeks several packages of photos arrived in the mail and emails recounted newly recalled stories. Now that the painting is finished, they say I’ve captured eloquently their much loved furry friends, their buddies. Soon all three will stand guard together for the first time to watch over the family and remind them of glorious days at play in the Northwoods.

Subtle details in the plan and layout of the painting

An important benefit of working as I do is that, within reason, there’s a broad spectrum to play with shapes, color and lighting long after oil paints would have shut me down from tweaking. I work at the surface of an idea for a while and then begin to burrow deeper into details as I get to know the subjects. Photos can be helpful at the beginning but remembered insights matter far more. For one thing the camera distorts—shapes, colors, lighting, and it knows nothing of experience or insight. I sketch on paper, then experiment with color. In this case, I explored techniques for showing light through fur. Poses came from their unique personalities. I looked out my own window for inspiration on the forest though mine is northern hardwood and not pine.

Better than a photograph

What I do is very different from a photograph. It’s rather magical to take an abstract idea and develop it. Not all of my clients are as communicative as this family and their collaborative team of friends and neighbors who were invited in to see each new version and to comment. The basic question was, “Have I captured what you remember, not just their appearance but the essence of the dog you know or knew?” So far every client has come to love their particular painting though, unlike this very helpful client, some commissions evolve with limited conversation between them and me.

I chose the Northwoods on a cool autumn day as the scenic backdrop because that is the favorite place. Sam sits turned slightly away to show his independence, Max rests at Sam’s feet and looks into a vague distance in keeping with his reluctant self. Both dogs are grounded while Champ is up at the ready with a smile on his face in an invitation to play because he continues to make that effort in spite of age and illness.

 Last thoughts

As for my professional opinion, I like the overall scope of the painting very much as it tells a story and preserves a history. The dogs intrigue me as they interact with one another while retaining their separate lifetimes. I like rich color in the foreground and in our heroes; behind them are dusky shadows making it about the dogs more than their environment. I believe this family will come to appreciate At Play in the Northwoods even more as time passes. That is my hope.

Golden Retrievers are the Best Friends Forever of the canine world

A final note: Golden retrievers are the gregarious BFF of the canine world and one of the most popular breeds in the US. These large dogs are enthusiastic about life and make good companions and family members. They were bred to collect the hunter’s quarry from marshes and open water. In the 1880s Scotsman Lord Tweedmouth crossed the common yellow retriever with a water spaniel and over the years the bloodline added Irish setter and Bloodhound to develop today’s Golden Retriever characteristics. Provide them with vigorous play and keep their minds challenged with games and training and you’ll have a happy dog.

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

Wilderness, a secret place that draws us in and renews the spirit. Root Ranch in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is hard to find on the map and even harder to visit. Once it was a rustlers’ hideout and there are still no roads, just pack trails leading to it through the mountains of central Idaho. The nearest neighbor is several miles away at a US Forestry service camp. But tucked deep into the hills that surround the Root Ranch is a narrow grass landing strip, good for a visit if you have an STOL aircraft (short-takeoff and landing) along with your own stout heart. This small piece of paradise is a bush pilot’s dream come true and a photographer’s living landscape.

Root Ranch

Hay rake

Huskies and other bush planes open wide the door to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

Every summer a congenial group of Husky fliers along with a Super Cub or two find there way here from all over the western States. That’s the easiest way, the only practical way to embrace this particular wilderness where every necessity must be flown in, ridden in, or walked in. Arriving at Root Ranch on a mid-August Friday with plans for the weekend, it is an annual conclave of adventurers with competent airplanes and piloting skills to fly them. While there is hiking to do, trail crew tasks, and hearty food with lots of front porch conversation, the real attraction is the chance to compare airplanes, discuss the latest accessories, debate aviation headlines, the merits of one thing over another, and find common bond with those who would rather punch holes in the sky than just about anything else. People leave their city lives behind and here are just folks . . . and pilots–two among us are women.

Wilderness is better when you share with your best friend

Most of the weekend guests come alone, their tandem back-seats filled only with camping gear rather than a best friend. We’re fortunate to have each other so we can review at end of day and share the moments with our most special somebody. While that limits what else we can carry, I never mind leaving the tent at home. (Paul says, “What tent?”) We get a luxurious log bunkhouse with solar lights and hot water for the shower! Now that’s my idea of wilderness camping. Big thanks to the other Paul.

Root Ranch


Wilderness! Ah, the chance to find ourselves in nature

There’s a summer crew of those who trade labor for their member fees preparing three good meals for the group each day while finding time for their own vacation pleasure. And there’s the wrangler and his wife who manage the horses and the laundry. It’s an idyll when you love the place and what you do there, when your work is important and you’re thanked for it. Every autumn Wrangler leads the pack horses down to warmer pastures and brings them back again in spring. Winter visitors come too but they’re here to hunt deer or elk or, for the few with coveted tags, there might be a Big Horn Sheep to sight. They enjoy frosty mornings by the fire instead of flying low among the hills and just above the trees.

Root Ranch

Wrangler Takes His Bow

Huckleberry anything, the best in the west!

Each morning, pilots preflight their airplanes then head out in groups to fly to other mountain strips. Late sleepers awake to revving engines followed by the whine of serial departures. Some are collectors of places taking pride in the number of different runways challenged and won that day. Below is Wilson’s Bar perched on a narrow ledge above the Salmon River. Navigating the curves downstream of the river you cannot see runway 24 or its threshold until you’re no more than a quarter mile away. Pilot’s are advised to watch for the ripples in the river, fly left and prepare to turn back across the river and into the hillside for landing as soon as you see the second, larger set of ripples. Pass over the shale rock slide and make a good landing, good ‘n’ short!

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

In the years of good fun, we’ve made friends and learned much. Did you know that there’s no city in Elk City and no river in Elk River? (The City got the river and the River has the town.) The best huckleberry anything can be found in Elk River though and a first rate lunch is huckleberry lemonade and warm-from-the-oven huckleberry pie topped with, you guessed it, huckleberry ice cream. Each year a certain famous Husky pilot doesn’t come. He’s has friends among us but a busy life and career keep him away. He’s missed though.

If you wonder what it might be like to fly close to terrain and land on a rough strip, here’s a Go Pro look over one pilot’s shoulder while landing at Root Ranch.

Root Ranch

Work Party

Root Ranch

The Wrangler

Leave a comment below to tell us where you most like to go for fun and what you enjoy doing there.



  • Bill Mecozzi - Beautiful place. What a wonderful spot to fly intoReplyCancel

    • Light Pixie - Indeed it is, Bill. There are lots of beautiful places in the world and there’s the whole “in the eye of the beholder” thing. I’m intrigued by hidden things, places that are off the beaten path. Then there’s the undeniable idea (for me) that it takes some nerve to launch into wilderness, find the coordinates, plot an approach and land. They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. A great landing is when you can use the airplane again. That’s meant only to be funny but there’s a grain of truth in it. So beautiful yes and a little scary followed by an emotional high.ReplyCancel

  • Light Pixie Studio - I’m getting close to finishing the hundreds of photos from last summer’s adventures. Can’t wait to see what this summer brings. I also have two new paintings completed and hope to post one in the next week after it’s delivered.ReplyCancel

Grand Teton Up Close and Personal_900px-60pct-sRGB

Grand Teton, highest peak in the Teton Range

One hundred miles north of Afton, Wyoming, is Grand Teton National Park which shares its northern border with Yellowstone NP. The peak for which the park is named, Grand Teton–at 13,776′ (4,199 m), is the highest peak in the Teton Range and the second highest after Gannett in the State of Wyoming. The first ascent of Grand Teton was made in 1898 and it remains a principal mountaineering destination in North America. Looking at it eye to eye like this, it’s benign until you imagine picking your way from one hand or toehold to another, hoping not to disturb loose rock or to slip on late summer ice, wishing the winds away.

Dramatic peak to valley distance

Grand Teton together with ten others over 11,000′ in height cluster to make a grand vista called the Cathedral Group. Higher mountains elsewhere in the world are much less dramatic because their foothills make a gradual slope upward. Tremendous peak to valley distances were formed as the young Tetons lifted along a tectonic fault with the east face falling to form the Jackson Hole valley.  Such steep elevations rising abruptly 5,000′ to 7,000′ from the valley floor make a dramatic impression. Today’s Jackson Hole is a playground where once it was a cow town and the whole area plays host to film crews seeking landscape, movie stars and wannabees, tourists, and just plain folks.

Grand Teton, up close and personal

While I’m not especially fearful of heights, a mountaineer I am not! Thanks to a lovely little airplane named Fire Horse we were allowed our own assault on Grand Teton. On a hot August day last summer I was flying a little more than 2,000′ below the top of Grand Teton, high enough to safely clear surrounding terrain up close and personal with the mountain, near enough to feel that a little stretch would just about touch! It was a dry summer of high winds and smoky fires. You can see a layer of dense smoke below the cloud deck and above that clear blue. The white patches are glaciers. Nearly a mile below the right side of the airplane I could see Jenny Lake at the base  of the mountain. Several years ago I painted a couple at their engagement on the shore of Jenny Lake with part of the Teton Range behind them. No wonder he chose that spot!

Good news!

I’m smiling! Today I received the flippie from The American Surveyor where FIVE of my photographs were published as part of this month’s cover story, “Arrows Across America.” It was an adventure fulfilled to land at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and then to explore what was left of the original beacon tower and generator shack. As exciting as it was to land on the rugged dirt strip last August after chasing antelope out of the way, it was a wonderful reward to see five of that day’s photographs in print together with photo credits to Sharyn Richardson – Light Pixie Studio in the leading journal for professionals in land surveying and GPS technology. One of the photos is showcased with a 2-page spread leading the article.

Arrows Across America- Medicine Bow, Wyoming - remnants of aviation

Arrows Across America- Medicine Bow, Wyoming – remnants of aviation’s first radio navigation system

Arrows Across America

Almost one hundred years ago, there were hundreds of these giant arrows stretching from coast to coast. They guided pilots through harsh weather and dark of night to deliver the mail as part of the first radio navigation system. In the wildest parts of the American west many remain, weather stripped of their original bright yellow color and with the beacon towers that topped them harvested for iron during the Second World War. I photographed this one in Wyoming at Medicine Bow and another nearby at Rock Springs; they’re derelict now but more or less whole.

Can you help us find the others?

There are many others too, hidden away in wilderness for the adventurous to find, a lost part of American history and the technological past. So if you know of one near you, please do let us know!

Tail draggers are old-fashioned

You have to fly a tail dragger even when you’re still on the ground. Ours surprises everyone who discovers its full glass cockpit and modern options. One of the things that guides our travel is exploration of the unusual and we’re always game to launch to find it.

Flying for pleasure

Flying a few hundred feet (or a few thousand) above a scene offers a totally different perspective, a living map of sorts and a history textbook too. It changes how we think of things. I’m a licensed pilot and fly for pleasure alongside my husband who is a very senior pilot. He’s instrument rated and I’ve passed the IFR written, hoping to take the FAA check ride soon. We both love our time together in the cockpit. The huge respect we’ve always shown each other has grown in depth and range as we interact in this, a challenging enterprise with no room for folly; we’re safer for the full participation of the other.

And did I mention that it’s oh so much fun!


Hollywood Beach plays temperature tricks

One of many colorful lifeguard stations on Hollywood Beach, Florida

Hollywood Beach: Making the cool seem hot!

If you’re keeping track, it’s another cold day in the Midwest. March is supposed to come in like a lion but we’re still in the throws of deepest winter. Three more inches of snow overnight and spring nowhere in sight!

This is how Hollywood Beach deals with a cold winter day along the boardwalk. Winter temperatures in the subtropical south lure northerners to the beaches when locals stay home. It’s a trick, a temperature trick, as it’s still pretty cold on the beachfront under a dazzling, distant sun. It’s a personal temperature trick too, reminding us that summer will come . . .  eventually, somewhere!

Lots to see and do

The boardwalks are wide and make a long walk easy. Runners start the day early with sunrise inspiration to go just a little faster, just a little further. There are lots of good restaurants at all price points. People watching is excellent. Impromptu musicians as well as free concerts delight the ear. It’s a fine entertainment whatever you choose.

Where’s the coldest place in the nation during August ?

So for everyone who still needs a double dose of sweaters and hot tea, take a look at how Hollywood Beach deals with winter cold. And remember, the coldest place in the nation during August will be at any indoor mall in South Florida!

Another Mighty Midwestern Winter

Another Mighty Midwestern Winter

Cold-hearted beauty

When first snow fell in November Winter said, “Four months, maybe five and it’s over.” We’re saying, “About time!” Weeks of deep cold, painful cold, frost on the windows and ice on the walks, Midwestern winter be gone!


Another mighty Midwestern winter and still below zero

By mid-February the first crocuses should poke through mulch where earliest sunrays fall, but not this year. Twenty-four below zero one night, nineteen below the next. Last night it was minus nine Farenheit, warmer than four other nights this week but bone-chilling for sure. This is the Midwest after all. We’re used to it. We have the clothes for it. Long-johns under dresses and layers five sweaters deep.


Road salt camouflage

Yesterday I stopped at the carwash to see if there was still a white car underneath the grey road salt and brown sand. Then I drove home at twenty miles an hour to keep it clean for one day longer–in vain.


Spring, where are you?

Somewhere in the mid-South, Spring is making first feints, getting ready to move north along the rivers and plains, spreading life-giving warmth into Wisconsin and Minnesota. While we’ve been distracted by Midwestern winter, the sun is growing stronger and the days are measurably longer. Perhaps we’re tougher now than in November but it does seem a little warmer. Finally!

Oh winter, you are beautiful and mighty! Go now and leave us memories of your loveliness to cool us through the heat of summer.

A NOTE: What inspired this reverie? Nightly news from New York City spends a great deal of time bemoaning winter. TV meteorologists exaggerate normal winter weather as if a mighty winter is intentional abuse from Mother Nature. In the Midwest we endure the worst while New Yorkers whine. Weather is weather. Get over it! Be strong. Embrace the beauty. It’s good for you!


Explorations near Salmon, Idaho

Imagine being a very young child raised by loving parents, suddenly snatched from your mother’s arms to new life among sworn enemies. Imagine losing contact with all you’ve ever known–torn from peace into a harsh and lonely life among Hidatsa captors, the years of hardship only ending when as a young woman you’re sold to a stranger as the prize in a game of cards.

From Captive to Heroine

Kidnapped from her Shoshone childhood Sacajawea became a slave in the Dakotas worth only what her labor bought. Tears would not move her captors’ hearts. Remember, Readers, what you were told of Sacajawea and know that you only learned the smallest part of her remarkable story; she was so much more than an Indian guide and so completely the reason Lewis and Clark survived to succeed in their Discovery Expedition!

Birthplace of Sacajawea

In August 2013 we landed our Husky in Salmon, Idaho. There are still places where you can expect a friendly welcome in the midst of strangers. Pilots in general aviation find generosity everywhere. No matter how big or small the airport, it’s typical to have a comfortable place to rest, a computer terminal, snacks, kindly advice, and most often the use of a free loaner car with a full tank of gas. In Salmon that loaner car took us into the countryside to discover the real Sacajawea, an unlikely heroine of the American west.

Salmon Idyll

Sacajawea Interpretive Center

The Sacajawea Interpretive Center outside of Salmon tells of her capture and then shows you what her native Shoshone culture (known among themselves as the Agaidika, the salmon eaters) was like. You learn that the stranger Toussaint Charboneau who bought her became her great rescuer, making her not just his wife but his full partner as trail scout and guide. She was a clever student, skilled in finding food and herbal medicines, and able to recall the difficult route back into the mountains to Shoshone lands. Her wise negotiations in two Indian languages saved them again and again. The Lewis and Clark party survived the harshest of seasons because of what she knew. And so it was that she found herself back in the summer retreat of her people introduced at campfire as interpreter to a great chieftain whom she recognized as her very own brother.

Sacajawea and the Shoshone Tradition

Shoshone Tradition


Long on accomplishments in a very short life

After her homecoming was warmly celebrated among family and while many months passed in gathering supplies, she and her husband Charboneau and their infant son, Pompy, continued the route west with the Discovery Expedition through the upper Columbia basin eventually to the Pacific Ocean. At the age of twenty-five Sacajawea was dead leaving Charboneau heart-broken and truly alone. For when the great journey ended at St. Louis their son went with Meriwether Lewis to be educated and apprenticed according to his parents wishes for his better life.


Sacajawea and Pomp

Within the 71 acre Interpretive Center she and her son Pompy are commemorated in this beautiful bronze sculpture by Agnes Vincens Talbot. Standing before the statue below the Beaverhead Range in the Lemhi River Valley surrounded by a garden of natural rock and flowers, it seems a fitting tribute to the little girl returned.

Sacajawea earned her place in American history by overcoming every kind of hardship and bias. She was fortunate in having a good mind for solving life’s thorniest problems and smart enough to give her loving heart to a good man who worked just as hard alongside her. While the full extent of her contributions are not widely known, be one of those who knows and remembers.

[To learn what the modern Agaidika think of Sacajawea, read the essay by Rozina George which evaluates the Lemhi Shoshone qualities in Sacajawea that helped share her culture and knowledge.]

Sacajawea and Pomp

“Sacajawea and Pomp” by Agnes Vincens Talbot

William Clark compared these to the “Pirimids of Egypt”
Lewis and Clark

In our adventuring into the backcountry hills on August 22, 2013, north along the Salmon River to Tower Creek, we discovered these just as the Discovery Expedition did more than two hundred years earlier. Their Shoshone guides led them along old Indian trails eventually toward the Columbia River and the Pacific. Along the way they camped at The Bluffs and the next day started into the hills where the travelers were amazed at sights like this.

The waist of Idaho is formed of sedimentary deposits where harder caprock protects softer limestone creating uneven erosion, odd promontories, and weird shapes. When William Clark explored beyond Tower Rock seeking a passable route through the mountains to the Pacific, he found these formations and wrote in his journal that the shapes reminded him of descriptions of the Egyptian pirimids and his name and spelling have stuck! Clark also wrote that the lead pack horse tumbled backward from the steepness of the terrain on the first morning out. It happened right here.

Salt River Valley

Salt River Valley

Afton, Wyoming, may be small but it’s the biggest little town in the Star Valley

Exhausted Mormon travelers emerged from the Lander Cutoff and settled in the Star Valley to build their futures. At fewer than 2,000 people in the 2010 census, Afton is the largest town among Smoot, Thane, and Etna strung along U.S. Highway 89 south of the Palisades Reservoir. It is ranch country for raising horses and cattle along with the grains to support them in rich pasture land beside the Salt River. Country people, cowboys and cattlemen live side-by-side with newcomers attracted by the pastoral calm of a gorgeous place. There is world class fly-fishing in local streams. The town’s water supply pours out of the world’s largest Intermittent Spring in the crotch of mountain peaks high above the town.

They ride horses, drive cattle, and they build and fly airplanes

The second family vehicle is often a horse trailer, an RV, or an airplane. Seventy-five miles north, the more famous Jackson Hole anchors Grand Teton National Park and the southern entrance to Yellowstone. But here in Afton the day-to-day is working class normal. This is a place where generous people judge your character and may offer you a place to rest or even perhaps their brand new truck to drive for the week. We know because it’s happened to us. Oh, and about those airplanes . . . the Aviat Husky factory occupies a hodge-podge of nondescript buildings which look like war surplus, the Second World War, that is. That’s what takes us to Afton! We fly a Husky A-1C 200 and return each year for its annual inspection.

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at KAFO

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at the fixed-base, the Afton Municipal Airport (KAFO)

Skilled employees build a world-class bush plane, the Aviat Husky

In 2010 we drove into Afton for the first time to take delivery on our plane. A Husky is a superbly competent little bush plane with excellent performance and short takeoff and landing capability. We tease that we spent our children’s inheritance which isn’t too far from the truth. Imagine then, arriving in a small western town with one main street, armed with an address to which we’d sent our money, and what did we find but a shabby collection of derelict grey buildings hard on the narrow sidewalk. (Since we first saw it, there’s been a makeover and last fall was nicely repainted.) Don’t judge this book by its cover! Inside is a factory employing a few dozen industrious employees who basically hand-build the aircraft. They know each one intimately by the time it’s finished and they take great personal pride in putting a bit of themselves into each one by building it right!

Star Valley and Afton WY

What is it about Afton Wyoming? THIS is what it is!

Afton, Wyoming

The Corral

The best food in Afton comes from the sea!

There are several good restaurants that serve generous fare but the most unexpected, and for our tastes, the most outstanding is Rocky Mountain Seafood run by the colorful Larry and his partner Julie. He’s a retired ship captain and she a harbor master transplanted from Pacific seacoast to interior mountains. And they still have good connections in the coastal fishing industry! The seafood arrives as air cargo and is trucked from Salt Lake City direct to the restaurant, deliciously prepared and on your plate before the tang of fresh salt air has faded. The menu is simple, a mix and match of basic preparations where one type of fish can be switched with another. The whole point is for the flavor and quality of fish to shine rather than indulging a cook’s conceit. If you have a kid’s tastes or don’t like fish, there’s always an excellent steak or Julie’s fine mac ‘n’ cheese. The atmosphere is dockside fish market, casual with sturdy picnic table seating, a diner where you can take your catch home in a sack or have it prepared, seat yourself–among friends or friendly strangers. Don’t look out the windows at majestic western mountains and you just may forget you’re in Wyoming!

Where dreams come true and those dreams can FLY! At the Aviat factory, home of our very own Fire Horse.

And for us there is the added inducement of this, the Aviat Aircraft Company where our very own Husky named Fire Horse was born. They also build the Pitts Special, the renowned competition aerobatic plane, as well as the Eagle II which is available as a kit or factory complete. But we’re partisans for the Husky given our 900′ runway below 200′ cliffs–we need a bush plane!

Corgi Merry Christmas
Let the Feasting Begin
One successful painting begets another!

A year ago I painted a commission of a very special Pembroke Corgi which I posted here as Lifetime Achievement together with the portrait and story of Northwynd Everlasting “Sprite” who won the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club National Specialty. Recently that commission brought another.

A Corgi Merry Christmas!

A white and Merry Christmas is upon us. Here we have two other Pembroke Corgis, Lu Lu and Aggie, who were invited to the holiday table. Through the back window cold snow and freezing rain lay heavily upon the lawn. This pair waits patiently for what they hope will be more than savory smells but a true Corgi Merry Christmas! Sharyn finished this painting called Let the Feasting Begin just in time as it is to be a surprise found under someone’s Christmas tree next week.

Corgis are easily recognized for their beautiful fur and short legs. As a breed they are known for intelligence and loyalty. Vigorous, lively pets, they are good with children and make excellent watch dogs. When bound for the show ring, animals are trained with food as their primary reward so it took great discipline for this pair to pose with such inviting smells so near! A product of careful breeding at Encore Corgis where traits of beauty, confirmation, and disposition are prized, these two were also the beloved pets of the client who commissioned this painting as a special gift for his wife’s Christmas.

A good chance to learn

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about animals that are famous in their own circles but about which I knew nothing. Their owners are always generous to share with me the qualities of character and nature that make their animals special. It is my job to figure out how to illustrate these abstractions in a concrete way.

A successful year for Light Pixie Studio

It’s been a very busy year for Light Pixie Studio. This is the last commission promised for Christmas giving. Phew! There are three more to begin after New Year. I know my readers are very busy too. My goal at the Light Pixie blog is to show images that tell good stories and write in a compelling, concise way. I want to inspire creativity, give a bit of knowledge and pleasure, and to never waste your time.

A renewed resolution!

I am renewing last year’s resolution once again–it is to keep writing and painting and photographing and moreover to post more regularly if not more often. Thank you for stopping by to look and to read. I value each one of you and the likes or comments you share. Thanks especially to those who buy my work and the many others who’ve signed up for blog updates.

Wishing each of you time to spend with those you love, joyous memories, and a warm place to shelter from winter’s cold. May the New Year bring happiness to you and yours!

Sharyn Richardson

At the southern tip of the Wind River Range is South Pass, one of the loneliest and most inhospitable places in the American West. This is hot August yet snow pockets the peaks above icy lakes. The ground is rock. Small plants cling to scruffy soil in a few protected cracks and crags but for the most part it is just rock. Flying close overhead is not recommended except on rare clear and calm days like this one when the wind doesn

At the southern tip of the Wind River Range is South Pass, one of the loneliest and most inhospitable places in the American West. This is hot August yet snow pockets the peaks above icy lakes. The ground is rock. Small plants cling to scruffy soil in a few protected cracks and crags but for the most part it is just rock. Flying close overhead is not recommended except on rare clear and calm days like this one when the wind doesn’t blow

A New Life in the West
We left the westward bound emigrants outside of Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, as they struggled through rutted and rough terrain, the stone monuments of Nebraska’s panhandle. Weeks of burden and drudge later, having buried weaker members beside the trail, their provisions were low but they’d crossed South Pass at the end of the Wind River Range and were working their way through sloping inter-mountain valleys toward the Salt River in western Wyoming near the Utah and Idaho borders. They saw it as a paradise and it is.

The Lander Cutoff on the Oregon Trail
Under the direction of Frederick W. Lander an improved trail called the Lander Cutoff was surveyed across the Sweetwater and the Green Rivers bypassing the worst of the Wind River Range before crossing the continental divide, over high passes in the Wyoming and Salt River Ranges at the headwaters of Grey’s River before making a sloping descent into the Star Valley south of Smoot near Afton, Wyoming.

An Unpredictable Shortcut
One hundred Utah men moved 62,000 cubic yards of earth to complete Lander’s road in three months’ time. It opened in 1859 and, although records are incomplete, it seems the road saw fewer wagons in each successive year. Pioneers did find clear water streams, wood for their camp fires, and good grass for their animals, but the transit was so high and steep with unpredictable, violent mountain storms that this shortcut–seven fewer days and 85 fewer miles to Fort Hall for provisions–was harder than lower and leveler routes further south, even the desert ones.

Overflying the route in August 2013
Today it’s possible to fly the entire route or follow the trails on Park Service roads or off-road vehicles. It  is both beautiful and austere, life-affirming and deadly at the same time. It makes a person respect the courage and determination of those who passed through so long ago in the course of building a modern nation. For them it was a struggle; for us it’s relatively easy. What follows is the route–with my photos to map it–in the same east to west order as the pioneers discovered it from Scotts Bluff to Afton in the Star Valley.

Flying over Grey

Flying over Grey’s River as we near Afton the terrain looks more benign. The long central creases were easy enough to travel but there were still many peaks and passes to cross.

One of advantages of the Lander Cutoff was easy access to water which trails through the southern deserts couldn

One of advantages of the Lander Cutoff was easy access to water which trails through the southern deserts couldn’t provide. But there was no easy transit here either. Water was given but the storms, deep snows, and rugged peaks wore people and animals out and many died.

Surrounded by 10,000 foot peaks this area is prime cutthroat trout habitat that attracts outdoor-adventurers whose resources and creature comforts allow them to enjoy the experience rather than just surviving it as the emigrants had to do. As this sign attests a single drop of rain water can flow into one of three great continental basins. It is majestic!

Surrounded by 10,000 foot peaks this area is prime cutthroat trout habitat that attracts outdoor-adventurers whose resources and creature comforts allow them to enjoy the experience rather than just surviving it as the emigrants had to do. As this sign attests a single drop of rain water can flow into one of three great continental basins. It is majestic!

This is Cottonwood Lake in the hills above the trail into Smoots. It is one of those rare places easy to see from a small airplane but that is otherwise unknown except to the locals who love it.

This is Cottonwood Lake in the hills above the trail into Smoots. It is one of those rare places easy to see from a small airplane but that is otherwise unknown except to the locals who love it.

This beautiful plant is salsify, a more robust near cousin to the dandelion. It

This beautiful plant is salsify, a more robust near cousin to the dandelion. It’s native and the root is edible–another way the difficult trail made some amends for the hardships.

Craggy peaks press against the sky. Look closely at center left and you may see before we did the ice boulders camouflaged by soil and sticks. On August 30th the air was hot and dry but the glacial ice was protected in the lee of mountain shadow and by a micro-climate of cold water running from the Intermittent Spring above Afton. We only discovered the ice boulders by walking close enough to feel the very cold air. This is a massive canyon which dwarfs their true size.

Craggy peaks press against the sky. Look closely at center left and you may see before we did the ice boulders camouflaged by soil and sticks. On August 30th the air was hot and dry but the glacial ice was protected in the lee of mountain shadow and by a micro-climate of cold water running from the Intermittent Spring above Afton. We only discovered the ice boulders by walking close enough to feel the very cold air. This is a massive canyon which dwarfs their true size.

This spring up Swift Creek is the largest of three periodic springs in the world. To learn a bit more about it including how it works  click here.

As mountains give way to foothills the terrain is easier and today

As mountains give way to foothills the terrain is easier and today’s recreational roads follow the old wagon route on their way to the Star Valley. Once again we see why this is called Big Sky country.

Can you imagine the relief, the pure joy of seeing this scene after weeks underway? You might have left a child in a lonely grave on a high mountain pass. Your animals too may have sickened and died. You have been exhausted, cold and hungry forever it seems. But now you are here at the head of an easy downhill path into the Star Valley flush with verdant grasslands watered by the Salt River. Hallelujah they surely thought! Their lives would never be easy and there were heartaches to come, but they

Can you imagine the relief, the pure joy of seeing this scene after weeks underway? You might have left a child in a lonely grave on a high mountain pass. Your animals too may have sickened and died. You have been exhausted, cold and hungry forever it seems. But now you are here at the head of an easy downhill path into the Star Valley flush with verdant grasslands watered by the Salt River. Hallelujah they surely thought! Their lives would never be easy and there were heartaches to come, but they’d found a home.

So Many Children A loved one from us is gone. A voice we loved is still. Even after the settlers found a good home near Afton, life wasn

So Many Children A loved one from us is gone. A voice we loved is still.
Even after the settlers found a good home near Afton, life wasn’t easy. The cemeteries in Fairview and Thane and elsewhere are full of them. And too many were children. Among the Lander pilgrims were many Mormons, also known as Latter Day Saints. The marble LDS marker denotes that affiliation. Although the modern population of the area is only a few thousand, many are Mormon and in 2011 the Church president announced plans to build a new temple in Afton.

To pick up the earlier part of the trail, see Scotts Bluff National Monument

  • Paul Richardson - Wonderful essay.


It’s hard to photograph a black dog!

If you’ve ever photographed an all black dog, you know the problem. It is almost impossible to capture the texture of fur or to see clearly the interior contours of shape and body. Black is made of all colors and it absorbs light very efficiently. As a result it’s often easier to paint a portrait than to take a quality photograph.

Black dog Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel

Here we have dear Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel whose mission in life is to love Mark and Mary. And in return they love her abundantly. So how can you take a photograph of your black dog? So, how do you polish a black dog?

Polishing a black dog for maximum impact

Dear Janey

Strategies to photograph something furry and black

If you have a studio full of equipment, speed lights, beauty lights, and reflectors you already know what to do. But if your photos of an all-black animal (dog, cat, horse, rabbit or whatever) are indistinct, if the eyes blend seamlessly with the ears, if the fur is flat and you cannot tell if it’s curly or straight, front end from rear, take heart. Simple tools at hand and simple strategies give a much better result.

It’s about the light, beautiful light

Light is key and, in the case of an all-black animal, more is better than less. Plain natural light is more pleasing than onboard camera flash which tends to look harsh and often produces the animal-equivalent of red-eye, fixable but a nuisance. Black guard hairs can be made to shine in sunlight if the angle of light is right. In this case Janey faced into the setting sun seated at a glass table top and beside a broad expanse of lake shore. So the natural sun at late-day and low angle shown directly into Janey’s face at the same time that it reflected up from lake and table top. It was a beautiful light! And Janey’s eyes glisten with lovely catch-lights! Look closely at them and you see the bright western horizon.

Get it right: tips and tricks to photograph a black dog

Newer consumer-level cameras have many features that once were available only on professional models. Prices for these specialized features are now reasonable and competitive. If your camera has selectable modes, choose higher contrast. Use a higher dynamic range. Increase vibrancy to better distinguish blue-black from brown-black from grey-black. Ensure sharp focus with a tripod or set the camera on a level, solid surface. If all else fails, hold your elbows tight into your waist, take a deep breath and hold it while you squeeze the trigger–don’t push or punch.

Polish the black!

Once last thought: I often prefer shallow depth of field–lower f-stop/larger aperture–because an out-of-focus background contributes more abstract color and interesting patterns without distraction. Here the effect isn’t pushed toward a strong bokeh, a Japanese term for blurry background circles. Even if you don’t know the term, you will recognize the technique. It’s popular because it’s a beautifully creative use of light. Show your black animal to advantage. Polish the black!

To see how I solved a similar problem in a different way with two black Labs: see Best Dogs Ever for their painted portrait..

Giant arrows are for pointing the way!

Once there were hundreds of giant arrows made of cement pointing the way across America, directing traffic for transcontinental airmail routes. In some wild, lonely places where the weeds grew faster than towns, the arrows remain, forlorn without fresh yellow paint, cracked and waiting to be rediscovered by the adventurous or the lucky few.

Giant Arrows across American

This is the beacon tower and generator shack sitting atop one of the giant arrows at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, still standing in September 2013


Giant Arrows included infrastructure for ground maintenance and transient pilots

At right is the same station as it looked in the early 1920s–the two forefront buildings for administration and crew quarters are long gone. In the background you can see the generator house with the prototype black band and the tower.

We’d heard that one of the giant arrows could still be found at Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Last month offered a chance to fly a low course down the wild runway chasing antelope out of the way before flying a proper pattern to land. Later that same afternoon we found the beacon tower at Rock Springs as well.





One of the Giant Arrows is at Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Back-country wilderness strip at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and our Husky.

In 1920 the world’s first ground-based air navigation system was authorized by the Congress of the United States

Pilots flying their wood and fabric taildraggers needed guidance from station to station. This first continent-spanning airway was an impressive beginning but in inclement weather with reduced visibility or in the dark of night a pilot couldn’t reliably follow railroad tracks and early road maps. These open-cockpit airplanes only had a magnetic compass for navigation plus a turn and bank indicator and altimeter for flight instruments.


A system of lighted beacons atop giant arrows was needed to keep the airmail moving

In a fierce blizzard (1921) a relay of six airplanes and six pilots flew routes coast to coast in opposite directions. One determined pilot named Jack Knight flew three segments of the trip from San Francisco to New York. He succeeded in large measure because of a long series of bonfires along the remotest parts of the route that were tended by postal employees.

As a result of this grand proof of concept, funds were appropriated in 1923 and work began immediately on the first segment of lighted beacons from Cheyenne to Chicago. Why here in the middle of the country? A pilot could start at either coast and reach the long stretch of numbered and color-coded beacons by nightfall to follow them through the dark landscape.

Giant arrows across America

The beacon towers were placed on the mid-point of the concrete arrows to shine their lights forward and back along the route.

By 1926 a 650 mile route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was marked every 10 to 15 miles with a yellow painted arrow and a 51 foot steel tower topped by two 100,000-candle 24” rotating beacons pointing back and forth along the airway. A generator shack for continuous power and quarters for crew to keep it running completed the scene. At night pilots could see the flashing lights over forty miles away and flying closer to the beacons a clear panel at the top projected light onto the overlying cloud deck to help determine the ceiling.

The first of the giant arrows and its beacon were built at Rock Springs, Wyoming

By 1929 the giant arrows spanned the continent with 13 intermediate stops. Mail could now travel from New York to San Francisco in just 30 hours. So much achieved in so little time!

Another of the giant arrows can still be seen at Rock Springs

In 1930 a spacious hangar was built at Rock Springs with room for two 18-passenger airplanes and a waiting room. Amelia Earhart visited here and hangared her “Little Red Bus,” the Lockheed Vega she flew across the Atlantic, the one that’s in the Smithsonian. $45,000 bought a lot of hangar in 1930!

One airmail pilot offered route advice; decades later his words give a pretty good idea of the challenges faced by aviation pioneers:

  • CHE + 0 (miles from) Cheyenne Wyo. — Can be identified by the barracks of Fort Russell. The Cheyenne field is three-quarters of a mile due north of the town and due north of the capitol building, whose gilded dome is unmistakable. The field, though rolling, is very large and landings may be made from any direction. A pilot landing here for the first time must “watch his step,” as the rarified atmosphere at this altitude (6,100 feet) makes rough landings the rule rather than the exception. Fly west over or to the north of Fort Russell, which is about 4 miles from town, following the Colorado & Southern tracks to the point where they bend sharply to the north.

CHE + 80.   Elk Mountain Wyo. — To the north of the Medicine Bow Range, a black and white range of mountains, the black parts of which are forests and the white snow-covered rocks. Elk Mountain is 12,500 feet high. Fly to the north of this conspicuous mountain over high, rough country. The Union Pacific tracks will be seen about 15 miles to the north gradually converging with the course.

  • CHE + 134.  Rawlins Wyo. — Follow the general direction of the Union Pacific tracks to Rawlins, which is on the Union Pacific tracks. The country between Walcott and Rawlins is fairly level, but covered with sage brush, which makes landings dangerous. Rawlins is on the north side of the Union Pacific tracks at a point about a mile east of where the tracks cut through a low ridge of hills. Large railroad shops distinguish the town. The emergency field provided here lies about 1¼ miles northeast of town at the base of a large hill.  Landings are made almost invariably to the west. Surface of field is fairly good, as the sage brush has been removed. Easily identified by this, as the surrounding country is covered with sage brush. Landings can be made in any direction into the wind if care is exercised. Several ranch buildings and two small black shacks on the eastern side of the field help distinguish it. Leaving Rawlins follow the Union Pacific tracks to Creston.
The Rock Springs beacon and arrow are hidden behind newer buildings and forgotten

The original beacon house and light tower still stand at Rock Springs, Wyoming, surrounded by newer buildings. Rock Springs was a favorable place to begin the beacon system as somewhat lower terrain gave safer passage through the mountains. It served as the region’s Flight Service Station for 70 years until decommissioning in 1991. The current FBO staff was unaware of its long history.

CHE + 231.  Rock Springs, Wyo. — After passing Black Butte, Pilot Butte will be seen projecting above and forming a part of the Table Mountain Range. This butte is of whitish stone. Head directly toward Pilot Butte and Rock Springs will be passed on the northern side. The field is in the valley at the foot of Pilot Butte about 4 miles from Rock Springs. It is triangular in shape, the hangar being located in the apex. The surface of the field is good. The best approach is from the eastern side.

  • CHE + 246.  Green River, Wyo. — Follow the Union Pacific double-tracked railroad from Rock Springs. There is an emergency field here which is distinguished [on] account of its being the only cleared space of its size, near the town. Green river is crossed immediately after the city of Green River is passed. Here the course leaves the railroad which continues in a northwesterly direction. By flying approximately 230˚ compass course from here, Cheyenne [Salt Lake City] will be reached.
Original station interiors were utilitarian spaces

The original station interior at Rock Springs

Technologies have always changed us and made new opportunities

But technology never stands still–within twenty years the giant arrows were outdated. Most of the steel in the decommissioned towers went to the war effort. In most places the evidence is entirely gone.

There are exceptions. The Aviation Heritage Museum in New Mexico, has successfully restored one of the old sites, similar to those rediscovered in Utah and elsewhere which inspire hopes for their preservation.

Others like Medicine Bow are mouldering away in the sun, backdrop to cattle ranching and wilderness. An incredible place to visit. Whether you’re a pilot or not, AirNav gives particulars for the primitive airstrip (80V) that are fascinating. I learned for instance that there are on average only 20 aircraft operations a year, that the runway we landed on is graded annually and is in fair condition (the other is not maintained and is considered poor), that there is a lot of wildlife in the vicinity of both runways. There are gopher and badger holes, berms, ditches, fence obstructions, soft when wet, rough and uneven the entire length. And of course, there are no services.

Except we learned that the small hotel in town would pick you up if you called. Nice!

NOTE: In March 2014 five of my photos (with credits to Sharyn Richardson – Light Pixie Studio) were published in The American Surveyor magazine (the top journal for professionals in land surveying and GPS technology) to illustrate the cover story, “Arrows Across America,” by Mike Mickelsen, including the two-page lead. Check it out here.

Wild west at the Medicine Bow station

A bull stands guard with his harem at the old beacon station in Medicine Bow

Checkout Carhenge in the panhandle of Western Nebraska

Carhenge is whatever you want it to be: art or engineering, silly amusement or serious philosophy, life and death.

  • Carhenge has been celebrated in movies (Carhenge: Genius or Junk?) and books (1000 Places to See in the USA and Canada Before You Die), as well as in music.
  • The local high school class of 2004 turned a relic Cadillac into a time capsule to be opened in 50 years.
  • Three foreign cars rest under a Toyota headstone, “Here lie three bones of foreign cars; They served our purpose while Detroit slept; Now Detroit is awake and America’s great!”

1962 Cadillac Heelstone

Time Capsule to be opened June 2044

Spawning Salmon Sculpture

Lookin’ down life’s long road all the way to the end

. . . And a Willys Jeep truck too

This is why they call it Big Sky Country

It can make you feel very small


Classic America

Carhenge echoes ancient Stonehenge, but unlike its prototype on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, it has no mysterious past or unknown purpose; it is not an imitator but is its own American classic. Call it a lesser cartoon of ersatz culture if you will–I admire it for innovation and playfulness within the envelope of technical know-how. So Jim Reinders, creative engineer, remembers his father who passionately loved cars and gives a glimpse of immortality on the open plains of western Nebraska. Winking broadly Carhenge was dedicated at the summer solstice of 1987 over a 1962 Cadillac heelstone. Thirty-eight vintage vehicles from the 50s to the 80s, bolted, fused together, inserted head first into the ground. This is modern Stonehenge American style. A site worth seeing according to 80,000 visitors each year!

Carhenge breathes new life

The city of Alliance, Nebraska, acquired Carhenge in 2011 after the Reinders family unsuccessfully sought a willing buyer at $300,000. The madcap car crowd that travels here are penny souvenir types, in some respects as unique in their tastes as the odd place that attracts them. The town fathers and local business owners hope to keep the stream of people coming. It’s an iconic part of local history and they’re committed to improve and elaborate the total experience.

Leave a note below to share what you think. How far off the beaten path would you be willing to go to visit Carhenge?


An airplane is a marvelous way to discover a place, to see its colors and contours in scale. It is a living geography textbook! We’ve just returned from three adventuring weeks flying our Husky west to learn America. Along the way we discovered Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Scotts Bluff is an impressive natural feature in western Nebraska designated in 1919 as a National Monument for its unique geology and heroic human history. On the morning of our first night out, we left the town of Scotts Bluff in instrument weather disappointed that heavy cloud cover would deny us a look from our airplane. But with a bit of weather luck the low overcast parted briefly and voilà–a hazy but recognizable view, not the more famous Scotts Bluff, nor the Jail and Courthouse rocks, but right next door beside the Old Oregon Trail. This is what our early emigrants struggled to cross in their ox drawn Conestoga wagons.

Hover your mouse over the image to see what it looked like straight out of the camera. The goal is ALWAYS to get a great shot from the camera but that isn’t always possible as atmospheric conditions can vary widely, as does our actual distance above or sideways from the target shot. For those times when nature has another plan and a do-over isn’t possible, a photographer needs other workflow tools: What worked here: Multiply and Soft Light blend modes, a Layers adjustment expanded to the right of the histogram, then contrast, white balance, and saturation adjustments. A bit of sharpening was required and almost always is because a small airplane is an inherently unsteady platform and handheld shots are the rule. I generally avoid electronic IS and use a faster speed, higher ISO with f11 for depth of field. While my favorite lens is a 100 mm prime, this time I had a 17-85 mm telephoto in place which let me get several shots at differing focal distances into a few seconds. I think of these decisions during and after the shot as a kind of forensic retouch as necessary.

Eons of wind and water layered areas of hard limestone over softer deposits of sand, lime, fossils, and volcanic ash; uneven erosion left behind unusual shapes high above the Platte River. Geologists are especially interested in the exposed 740 strata of Scotts Bluff. But early travelers on horseback cared less about how they were made and more about how to overcome them.

One early traveler described it this way as, “a large and deep ravine . . . very uneven and difficult, winding from amongst innumerable mounds six to eight feet in height, the space between them frequently so narrow as scarcely to admit our horses.” Mid-19th century emigrants in wagons following the Platte River west along the Oregon Trail were halted by such impassible barriers until improvements in the trails were eventually made and they found new and better passes out of the valley.

But the terrain features had advantages too as Westward bound emigrants of the Lander, Mormon, and California groups used these huge structures as landmarks to lead them along the base of the bluffs. In our airplane we used them to point the way west toward Afton, Wyoming, the home of Aviat which builds the Pitt Special, the Christen Eagle, and our own Husky.

For the next leg of the journey read about the treacherous Lander Cutoff on the Oregon Trail.

It’s another year of wildfires in the American West, not unusual but headline grabbing for sure. We’ve just returned from our third annual trip to Afton, Wyoming, home of Aviat and birthplace of our very own Fire Horse Husky! And it’s the second year for smoky transits across Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. California makes big headlines for their raging Rim Fire at Yosemite, while Oregon and Utah also do battle with Vulcan.

After refueling at Pocatello, Idaho, I flew north toward Salmon, Idaho, over Craters of the Moon National Monument. Big Southern Butte is one of the largest lava domes on earth, a coalescing of two domes rising 2500 feet above the surface west of Idaho Falls. Take a look as seen from 12,500’ MSL. When I’m shooting my husband flies, otherwise I’d rather be flying than almost anything else.

Notice the band of grey-brown band above the horizon and at the same approximate altitude as we are. Dense smoke makes aerial photography more time-consuming because filtering and color adjustments are required in post-production. Only afterward could I see the scene as clearly as you can here! [To see what I mean, hover your mouse over the image. That’s what it looked like straight out of the camera.] One trick is to use blending modes in several layers—Darken and Multiply work well for mid-to-dark tones while Overlay and Soft Light often work for mid-to-lighter tones—and then paint-in the effect where you want it while varying opacity. Experiment to find what gives you the best result from each image. Yes, you will need a photo editing program like Photoshop or Topaz FXLab. Hover your mouse to see the original, unretouched.

A rugged, back country taildragger like our Husky can land almost anywhere. It’s a 200 horsepower “pack leader” that’s made for short fields and rugged terrain. There’s a rough strip (U46) northwest of the Big Southern Butte that gives ready access to climbing, hiking and mountaineering as well as amazing views of the Snake River plain and the Rocky Mountains. We’ll save it for another trip in sky clear conditions.

A week later we landed for fuel at Glacier National Park north of Kalispell in western Montana to find a pair of airtankers on the apron at the Glacier Jet Center. It’s a Canadair CL-215 firefighting flying boat designed to operate in the heavy winds and gusts found over forest fires. As for the skilled pilots who fly them, it’s a career for the bold and the brave as it takes mad flying skills while navigating perilously close to active fires, rising thermal currents, and thick smoke.

Amphibious aircraft like this are water bombers called Scoopers for the efficient way they deliver their payload of up to 1,176 gallons of water or 12,000 pounds of foams, gels, or retardant chemicals. Despite their size and 20,000 pound empty weight they are capable short takeoff and landing aircraft. This Scooper was built in 1986 and is owned by a company in Arizona on duty in the summer of 2013 to fight wildfires in West Yellowstone and the Shoshone and Flathead National Forests.


A love of butterflies at Fairchild Tropical Garden

This is a very personal post. I have always loved butterflies. It is the idea of butterflies even more than their beauty that is compelling. That they evolve into a new form, transform themselves from lower life to higher, crawling to soaring, that is the inspiration for a lifetime. They struggle at it, they persist, and the life cycle is glorious. So it can and should be for us as well. Butterflies have always been my personal icon and a reminder to keep at life and never give up!

Click any thumbnail to see a Lightbox gallery of fullsize images.

Paper Kite ButterfliesAsian Atlas MothBlue ButterflyDoris LongwingLongwing
Wings of the TropicsLongwingPupilo Rumanzovia, the Scarlet MormonMating pairMoth
Wings of the TropicsWings of the Tropics

Thousands of butterflies on jeweled wings

Three thousand butterflies are on display at the newly opened Wings of the Tropics conservatory at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami. Every day shipments of butterfly pupae arrive from tropical regions of Central and South America and Asia where they are nurtured to hatching and then released to delight and inspire you. It is a photographer’s dream location. Last month I was privileged to spend two sessions on a hot Miami day together with best friends from our Miami years exploring and photographing. My friend is one of the backbone volunteers, one of the knowledgeable many who help to make your visit special.

My friend Marjory

Long ago I kept an annual garden membership, spent countless hours there with members of Tropical Audubon and the Friends of the Everglades on the boards of which I served, and had my own key to the side gate. Most memorably I was the friend and professional collaborator of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, best known for her book Everglades River of Grass but who was so much more. She wore her wisdom solidly and her floppy hats with charm and determination whether she was fighting for the women’s vote, the Baby Milk Fund, or to stop development in the Everglades. She lived with passion and a strong embrace for life. Years later I introduced Freda Tschumy to Marjory toward what became the iconic Sit By Me sculpture of a bronze Marjory seated on a wooden bench near the Fairchild gatehouse. Marjory died in 1998 and was recognized by Congress with the 1.5 million acre Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area of Everglades National Park where her ashes were released. We two shared many years of late afternoons in her writer’s abode on Stewart Avenue, aftershocks in San Francisco, an appreciation of ice cream and Willy Terwilliger, new hats and gloves for our audience with Queen Elizabeth II, afternoon tea at the Waldorf, three days and nights as resident guests of the Clinton White House, and an abiding love of nature’s beauty. She wrote and I photograph inspired by a single attitude.

Scientific research and great beauty go hand in hand

One of the world’s greatest botanical gardens was created by the inspired collaboration of a renowned plant explorer, a successful Miami businessman and plant collector, and the leading landscape architect in South Florida’s 1930s boom years. Opening in 1938 on the coral ridge south of Coconut Grove, it was then and is now dedicated to the study, assembly and showcasing of outstanding tropical and subtropical plant varieties of practical use and great beauty. Its long history demonstrates work of scientific rigor, propelled by strong personalities and Miami’s intellectual elite, including my friend Marjory. Read more at http://www.fairchildgarden.org

In July 2015 I wrote about some of the great botanic gardens in North America with a list of personal favorites in Botanical Gardens to Love. Find your own local favorite!

  • Jo Preston - QE II? White House? Layers upon layers of you; thank you for this beautiful writing, and the beautiful photos of course. Can’t decide which is more inspiring to me. I remember the butterfly theme from the first time I met you.

    Ever evolving, see you soon if it does ever warm up enough for a summer motorcycle ride. JoReplyCancel

  • Paul Richardson - Very nicely done. So beautifulReplyCancel

Welcome to the province of Perugia in the Umbrian region of Italy. First the Romans built to honor Minerva, goddess of wisdom; Christians later claimed the area for St. Mary, St. Francis and his Claire. Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis and serves, as it has since the Middle Ages, as the backdrop to olive groves and winding streets. It is quietly beautiful along its cobblestoned Medieval passageways. Monte Subasio sits high above the town and casts morning shadows that connect the old churches, monasteries, fountains and courtyards. The high fortress of La Rocca hovers too, a darker place where Frederick Barbarossa spent his childhood. From here you can overlook the town and the valley below. A small lion fountain sits in the center of the Piazza del Commune that anchors a peaceful gathering place with small shops, bakeries, taverna, an information center, the Museum of Antiquities, and purveyors of the best Italian gelato in dozens of flavors. I arrived here in 2006 naïve to the pleasures of Italy and took home a generous helping of memories.

See bakery delights, the Monastery of St. Claire, a pair of garden cats basking in sunshine, and down the orchard covered hill to the valley where the majestic basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli is a favorite destination from Assisi where a tourist might visit the Porziuncola, the tiny building where Francis died.

Bakery off the central piazza, Assisi Italy, 2006

Piazza del Commune bakery window

Monastero Santa Chiara, Assisi

Sun Cats di San Pietro, Assisi

Via della Madonna dell Olivo, Assisi

Landscapes by common understanding are large in scope and scale. When we think landscape we think big and it’s no less so for the photographer behind their lens. Regular readers know that I’ve been thinking a lot about the big melt, anticipating, hoping that it would happen soon or even eventually. Night temperatures are still single digit but the sun is getting stronger every day. This morning I found first evidence that the big melt is underway . . . finally!

This photograph shows a small scale landscape with all the elements of larger ones. In this Lilliput world there is a moss meadow with grass blade trees, falling water, base rock, an ocean creek, and a glacier mountain hollowed out by rising warmth as frost comes out of the ground. Bigger is not always better. I like this small, simple scene–serene, focused, uncomplicated, natural. What a beautiful way to say farewell to winter and welcome spring!

This image does fair justice to the ice crystal cavern at center right. To get it right I blended five images, not bracketed shots for exposure but to capture color in the ice. I added a vignette centered on the crystals along with a wide gaussian blur on the edges to draw your eye into the recesses of that cave and your thoughts. Do tell what you think of it please.

The Big Melt

  • Jo Preston - This picture makes me happy. There are a lot of things in life that are beautiful, but none more creatively so than nature. You captured such a surprise here!ReplyCancel

Imploring the weather gods

Springside Pond

It’s been warming all morning and well into the afternoon finally reaching 10 degrees by mid-afternoon. That’s in Farenheit for my Celsius friends who will recognize minus twelve. It may be spring by the calendar but it’s still deep winter here in Richwood Valley! And in the frame below all the tracks in the snow? There are many odd terms for animal congregations some of which are known only to specialists or those who work crossword puzzles. These tracks are not those of an exaltation of larks nor a wake of buzzards, a murder of crows nor a convocation of eagles, but a rafter of turkeys. You’re seeing their tracks, marching multiples still looking for food!

Does this look like the first day of Spring to you?

Richwood Valley