La Sal Snowfields from Arches


oil on canvas, 2012


I painted for a week at Arches National Park in the early spring. Two mornings brought snow and distant storms blasting mesas which could only be hiked with the human eye. A human being cannot walk for long and never in a straight line here. Between these red spires looking East at the mountains lies the Canyon of the Colorado River and dozens of vertical cliffs. Movement is a fantasy of heart and mind not just because the land is impassible but each foot step into the delicate land off the trail way will crush one hundred year old micro plants and bacteria which once thrived as the soil makers laying on top of red and buff silica sands.

Study of early photographs, testimony of early inhabitants and research by botanists reveal this land was once carpeted in grasses which annually grew up to three feet tall in many places. Over grazing and careless management have drastically altered the fragile ability of this landscape to hold moisture and plant life on the same level it did for thousands of years. The result is a staggering loss of plant diversity. What remains is a mosaic dominated by juniper, sagebrush and rabbit bush colonies spreading across valley floors toward the arid depths of canyons and the moist heights of sub alpine zones. Remnant wild flowers, grasses, forbes and sedges struggle to reclaim their place in a magnificent region dominated by surreal towering monuments.

Despite the loss of plant diversity across the Arches plateau there remains a unbelievable complexity of shapes, colors and contrasts. It remains a land of extremes by any aspect of the human imagination.

detail of La Sal Snowfields from Arches
copyright 2007, Matthew Richter, all rights reserved