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Glories of the Sonoran Desert

A MEMORY  It was the spring of 2003. And it was a Saturday when Sangha and I had started off on an extended two-week long adventure. We headed south on the 101. The local rock station had faded in and out as I dipped and turned down the twisting route dotted with majestic oaks and rolling hills. I had memories of my rebel biker days: the wind rushing through my hair, the belly-drop surge of adrenaline as I leaned into the turns, the click of the playing cards in the spokes of my Schwinn.

There is an excitement that can only come from a much-anticipated trip finally being realized. Traveling the back roads, I noticed a remarkable common thread, an enduring symbol of America that says life can be simple if you let it. In front yards, from my buffeted home in Northern California to the desert ruins in Southern Arizona, the weathered picket fences helped me feel like I've arrived.

Don't let anyone tell you that there's no productivity in inertia. Sometimes the most unstructured warm-weather days can elicit the best of times. Maybe a long overdue girl’s weekend at the cabin, a stroll through the fiery glow of California poppies, or quality time with my dog on a secluded Catalina lake.

There was an almost perfect lull: the summer sports nuts hadn't arrived yet. My dog and I had the lake all to ourselves for long, hushed meanders. The sun traced an arc across the sky, and we wandered paths suffused with the first colors of the season in blissful solitude.

Crossing on Route 60, great shadows of clouds stampeded the hills like ghostly buffalo. When they reached the road, I was tempted to match the speed of my truck to that of the shadows ahead. The "John Wayne" room at the Legends West in Wickenburg and endless pastures of majestic horses were waiting for us. I knew that my five days in Wickenburg would not be any less than pleasurable with having had the opportunity, once again, to paint the landscapes while being instructed by a few of the instructors of the Plein Air Painters of America group. 

At the Glories of the Sonoran Desert Workshop, there must have been 35-45 painters invading this little town nestled in the desert. Landscapes of cacti and rocky peaks yielded to the bright sky and a play of gentle clouds above an emerald carpet of undulating thickets of sage. The changes in elevation, the sudden curves, and jagged horizon have an exciting yet soothing effect on the eye and spirit.

To see the landscapes of Wickenburg, we went slow and on foot. We painted at the Vulture Mine, and as the colors in the sky changed from early morning to late afternoon, I was awed by the way the sun cut through shifting clouds to spotlight and scatter deeply hued shadows over the rocky landscape. By day two, I had seen enough jaw-dropping scenery to send me into cardiac arrest.

On a list of essentials, espresso and chocolate rank somewhere close to food and shelter. So, I was delighted to have found the "Pony Espresso" downtown but even more delighted to have stayed at Legends West with my golden retriever among the eclectic variety of cowboy paraphernalia while being tutored by some of America's finest Plein air painters of today.


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