Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Superstitian Mountain, a challenge

 watercolor painted from Apache Junction in 1995
A giant monolith, Superstition Mountain, rises to the height of 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor and dominates the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley east of the metropolitan area of Phoenix.

When I lived in Scottsdale I loved hiking to Weavers Needle or up the Siphon Trail, but I always found the iconic shape of Superstition Mountain an intimidating and awkward topic for a painting.  Last week I tried again to meet that challenge. It was the third time I think. With more distance, I'm living in Tucson now, I approached it after acquiring  a little more background knowledge which always helps. But I think most importantly, I didn't try to sit out there in June to do a plein air study. I did that before: it's too hot for watercolors (and me). So I turned to my old slides for inspiration and did a studio painting.

Plein air study in June of 1997
From the web site of the Apache Junction Public Library I got a little more than the usual 'Lost Dutchman Mine Story'. To the Apaches the mountain was the home of the god of thunder. Having seen huge anvil clouds amassing around the mountain top before summer monsoons, I understand that notion.The Pima Indians called it Ka-Katak-Tami meaning "The Crooked Top Mountain." The Spaniards called it Sierra de espuma (Foam Montain? not quite clear to me). The Pimas had many fearful stories about it, which seems to have given rise to the name Superstion Mt. among white settlers. It appears under this name on military maps from 1870.

The website explains the geology of the strange shape that rises so abruptly out of the desert flats: 'This land of towering spires and deep canyons was formed by volcanic upheaval some 29 million years ago during the tertiary period of geologic time. Superstition Mountain was formed during a tectonic maelstrom which resulted in a massive caldera. The caldera was almost seven miles in diameter. After the lava cooled, magma pushed the center of the caldera upward forming a mass of igneous rock. The mass was slowly eroded for millions of years by running water and wind forming the mountain we see today. Superstition Mountain in the distant past was a thousand feet higher than it is today. Uplift, subsidence, resurgence and erosion have all played a role in shaping Superstition Mountain.' 

Large studio painting, watercolor, 2014
 Superstition Mountain close to Apache Junction is only the most well-known part of the Superstition Wilderness Area containing some 242 square miles or 159,780 acres of Arizona's rugged desert mountain terrain. Mountain peaks tower 6,000 feet above sea level and deep canyons dissect this vast wilderness region. The lower slopes are a great place to experience exuberant spring flower blooms in years with just the right pattern of winter rains.  Down there, the summer heat can be brutal. But I did see my very first Collared Lizard there, running on two legs like a miniature Tyrannosaurus rex. The higher, more remote areas support even Ponderosa Pines and are the home to Bighorn Sheep, Black Bears and Mountain Lions.   
This year I'll definitely be back for more exploration, hikes, and maybe paintings, who knows.

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