Tag Archives: canyon

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Painted desert

Of course, with all this talk of national parks, leaving out the crown jewel of the Park Service would be downright criminal. But until last summer, I’d never been to the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I finally go there, I did my best to remedy the heck out of the situation. And the weather did its best to oblige me—in just two short days I feel like I got to see the Canyon in an incredibly broad variety of moods and colors.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Actually, sketching there sort of broke my brain. Not only is it easy to fall into the trap of trying to document every minute detail, but the light also seems to change every few seconds. I’d look for a bit, mix up some paint, and then look again to find the colors and shadows completely different than just a moment ago.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So whenever the grandeur threatened to overwhelm me, I shifted my focus to my fellow tourists (including the four-legged ones).

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

To tell the truth, I found the tourist trade every bit as fascinating as the canyon itself—especially since it goes back a long, long way. The Grand Canyon might be the most well-known national park, but it was far from the first. And that’s because well over a century ago, commercial interests fought long and hard to keep the canyon private to maximize profits—hard to imagine, considering the number of tourists who flock there today. But those early tourist traps are now preserved right alongside the rocks themselves—and I was just as eager to sketch them as the vistas.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, nothing beats nature for a spectacle. I was one of hundreds lined up on the cliff’s edge this night, but as soon as the sky turned pink I forgot all about my fellow tourists. Seeing something that vast, paradoxically, has a way of shrinking the whole world into a pinpoint of a moment—one that’s every bit as personal as it is universal.

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Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Park rangers of the Mother Road

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

The last post was a big fat tribute to the National Park Service, which celebrated its centennial yesterday. So it’s only fitting to spend today telling you about Petrified Forest National Park, which is the exact center of the Venn Diagram between the national parks and Route 66. In fact, it’s the only national park to contain a section of the original Mother Road.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Of course, even if you didn’t know anything about Route 66, Petrified Forest is still infinitely worth visiting. There is the namesake petrified wood, of course, but it’s the landscapes that touched this artist’s soul.

Petrified Forest National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Around every bend in the road was some new desert vista, each one vastly different than the one before. And with every passing cloud the light changed, essentially remaking the land in a totally new image, all within minutes.

Petrified Forest National Park and Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And just when you’ve all but forgotten what brought you here, you crest a hill and see a telltale line of telephone poles, still marching westward to the horizon.

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Mt. Rainier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Our best idea

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Tomorrow is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. All of America seems to be celebrating right now, and rightly so. In my opinion, our wildest pockets are our true national treasures, and our national parks, as Wallace Stegner said, our best idea.

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

So since I’ve spent a good chunk of my sketching life in national parks both close to home…

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Arches National Park, UT

…and far afield…

Crater Lake National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Crater Lake National Park, OR

I figured I’d add my voice to the celebratory din, in the form of a little sketchbook retrospective.

Badlands National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Badlands National Park, SD

Beyond the centennial itself, I’m always up for toasting the parks. Not only do I think park rangers are the best people on earth,

Redwood National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Redwood National Park, CA

but I also sometimes think they’re the only thing standing between wildness and destruction.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

And anyway, I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a total park nut myself. It’s my goal to visit every NPS property before I die, including national parks, historic sites, national monuments, everything. (Actually, I’ve crossed a goodly chunk of them off the list already—

Guadalupe Mountains National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

—and I even have the stamps to prove it.)

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

I know I have a long path ahead of me before I reach that goal,

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

and getting there won’t be easy.

Big Bend National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big Bend National Park, TX

Yet I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the opportunity exists in the first place—

Rocky Mountain National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

that so many people have fought to preserve these wild places, and won.

Saguaro National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Saguaro National Park, AZ

Best of all is the feeling that no matter how long it might take me to get to each park with my sketchbook,

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Glacier National Park, MT

I know it’ll be there waiting for me, as close to unchanged as humanly possible. Thanks to the National Park Service, the window of opportunity remains open.

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