Tag Archives: Montana

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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Cut Bank Penguin sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tuxedo twins

Bless their hearts, these birds aren’t quite so elegant as the Topeka Wren, but that’s no reason not to stand proud and proclaim their purpose.

Actually, even that is a little muddled here. Maybe Cut Bank really is the coldest spot in the nation… just don’t tell International Falls, MN. Or, you know, the entire state of Alaska.

Yard Bird sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And Washington’s famous Yard Birds store? Well, it’s defunct. But that’s okay—the 60-foot namesake (12th bird?) is alive and well, and standing for something, at the very least.

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Engineered by mountain goats

When I’m planning a road trip, I try to avoid interstate highways whenever possible. When in doubt, state and U.S. highways are almost always a better choice—both for scenic drives and for interesting road vistas. But even better than that are the roads through most national parks—which are specifically designed to give visitors the most beautiful drive imaginable. And by that logic, Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road might just be the most spectacular ribbon of road in the whole country.

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Going-to-the-Sun Road is both a feat of engineering and a marvel of determined highway maintenance. It’s only open for a few months every year, and takes weeks to clear of snow before it opens in the summer. It’s also not for the faint of heart—I love mountain driving, but I don’t love heights, and even at our crawling pace, all those hairpin curves made my stomach plummet to the floor every few minutes.

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But oh—oh. I’d gather my courage and brave any precarious goat track for this. I’d cross a continent for a view like that.

And since our day at Glacier fell at the very end of a five-week cross-country trip–that’s precisely what we did.

"Toe Truck" sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big tow

Seattle is one of the most tow-happy cities I’ve ever encountered. If you’ve ever tried to decipher the convoluted weekday parking rules downtown here (where signs say things like, oh, I dunno, “2-hour parking except third Wednesdays in months with an “R” in them, between 3 and 6 pm, and then only if driver is wearing red hat and matching lipstick”), you’ll know what I’m talking about.

But you know, if I ever got towed by a tow truck with actual toes on it…I might be a little more forgiving.

Empire State Building sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big Apple, Big Sky

I did both of these sketches on the same road trip. What I love best about traveling this way is that it makes it so easy to see many facets of a complex country—all in one long stretch. If you want to go from a place where the buildings are so tall you have to look up to see the sky…

…to a landscape so vast you can see both ends of a freight train at once…

Montana freight train sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…all you have to do is get in the car and drive.

Moonrise sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Only a paper moon

It’s difficult enough to sketch from the passenger seat of a moving vehicle: keeping a steady hand, drawing quickly enough to keep pace with a changing landscape, etc. But when you throw in trying to sketch by moonlight… Well, I guess you just have to be willing to embrace imperfection—and wait until morning to see how everything came out.

Montana night sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Montana sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Seeing the Elephant*

I have a particular love (and lots and lots of sketches) of treeless landscapes and endless plains. But I have to admit—after driving cross-country over more than 2,000 miles of the flat interior of the continent, seeing mountains again, at last, feels like a kind of reward.

* “Seeing the Elephant” was a popular (and complicated) American expression in the late 19th century, often used by pioneers to refer to the reward awaiting them at the end of their long wagon journey west.

Thunderstorm sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Raindrops actual size

Speaking of stormy weather, it’s a little unnerving to be sitting in the passenger seat, happily sketching along, and suddenly be startled out of your reverie by massive raindrops that sound like rocks hitting the windshield.

To be honest, though, it also makes for a thrilling sketch session—especially when you live in the Pacific Northwest, where the rain mostly comes in the form of thick mist and gentle drizzle.