Crater Lake National Park - Such a Deal...

Craterlake alpine glow

I arrived just as the "campground full" sign went up. I was about to ask where else I could camp when the host said, "I've got one RV site left. You can have it but it's $28 per night".  I showed my senior pass and the price dropped to $14/night! So, here I am a week later, counting my blessings.

Throughout my "walkabout" in our national parks, I have been amazed at the bounty of fresh air, healthful activities, excellent ranger-lead programming, interesting stories from folks all over the U.S. and abroad, and the deep silence at night - heavenly. The real estate can't be beat - oh, did I mention the views? This image appeared just after the sun set on my first night. A highlight of my stay was lying in a meadow at the rim, watching the Perseied meteor shower.  

Crater Lake is open year-round and hosts 400,000 visitors each year. The park covers 183,000 acres; the lake represents only 7% of the area.  In winter,  folks cross-country ski or snowshoe around the lake - it takes 3 - 4 days to do so as they have to route around avalanche areas. Between September and early June, Park personnel plow an annual snowfall of 44 feet of snow  - they can only plow 1/4 mile a day because they also have to cart it away.  

Now, the cost to taxpayers.  200 rangers are on staff during the busy summer months (I'm not sure about the winter staffing). Add in "search and rescue" and infrastructure maintenance. All this for - Crater Lake's annual budget is only $5 million!  Do you think park superintendents should run health care systems?  

Invoking the Tactile Senses at Badlands National Park

Rocky texture castle trail


In the Badlands, I  was most likely to filter my experiences through the sense of touch.  I felt the wind and constant erosion.  Colors were tactile,  broken down into sediments of pigment.   I felt the cycling of light and shadow as wind drove the clouds overhead. The textures of grasses and shrubs were soft, crisp, brittle, porous, and sticky.  Everywhere felt palpable and temporary.

Because of the human scale of the formations, I could move quickly through them on hikes, navigating by their undulations as much as by sight.  The tactile was a more sure way of orienting.  Viewpoint was insufficient as it changed so quickly.  Despite the open trail policy - I stayed on trails.  When I occasionally lost sight of trail markers, I steered by the feel of trail worn down by others.

Here's my favorite, formation, "Yellow Mounds".  I imagined them tasting of butterscotch and caramel. I saw them as soft, warm, and smooth.  But, I  felt them as cold, dry, and brittle as I raked the grasses through my fingers.


Golden mounds

Arriving at Bandlands National Park



On, Sept. 16, 2013, The clouds began to lift as I entered Badlands National Park.  Mid-70's - ah… Pretty full of myself too - feeling proud for being selected for the role and anticipating a teaching gig well within my comfort zone.  My contacts at the park service, Cathy and Julie, gave me a warm welcome.  I introduced myself to last spring's artist-in-residence, Judy Thompson, a dear person and artist of highly appealing watercolors.  She was there as a consultant.  The housing was clean and very comfortable.    My dear roommate, Lainey, a recent paleontology grad, was finishing her seasonal work assignment. Let's just say I eased in with alacrity.   Little did I know what was in store for me…  that my time at Badlands NP was every bit what any adventure should be.

The park encompasses 244,000 acres in southwestern South Dakota.  It is known for its fossil resources (of way-cool mammals but no dinosaurs), an alien-planet style landscape of eroded mounds and buttes, and a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem where the buffalo (bison) roam.

The landscape at Badlands National Park was formed through  deposition and erosion. The sedimentation we see in the Badlands formations began some 69 million years ago when a great inland sea covered the area.  Uplift to the west encouraged rivers to carve down into the sedimentary rock layers in the last half a million years.  The rocky divide where waters flow to either the White or Bad Rivers forms a backbone 100 miles long called the "Wall".  The nearby town of Wall gets its name from this feature.

Badlands National Park is pretty spread out and, as many national parks, quite remote.  Exit 131 from I-90 takes you 7 miles, past the Minuteman National Historic Site, a Prairie Homestead, and then to the northeast entrance.  Here you find the visitor center, housing, main campground, and lodge. Two miles down the road is the town of Interior, South Dakota.

Interior sign

As you can see by the sign, Interior has had an interesting history.   

My first buddy in Interior was, Sue, proprietress of Cowboy Corner (CC). Here I was welcomed into the community with a home-style lunch. I also learned from Sue's employee, Joe, that he relocated from Michigan because the folks are so friendly in Interior.  CC is an eclectic business conglomerate containing a gas station, casino, used book library, an eating area, and grab-n-go grocery stop.  Sue makes homemade lunches weekdays, chicken-fried steak Friday evenings, and prime rib on Saturday evenings. Park employees and locals alike gather daily with everyone sharing tables, and news.

Badlands Cowboy Corner:

Cowboy corners


Next a brief tour of Interior: 

1.  The old jail - ain't no bad guys get'n me!

Interior jail


2.  Infrastructure

Water system


3.  Central Business District.  With my back to Badlands Grocery Store / Post Office, I caught a view of the central business district.


Central business district


4. School.  I took a gander at the elementary school where I planned to teach 3 sessions to each age level.  46 students in all. Yes, I was ready.



Badlands National Park Artist Residency: Thoughts on Ways to Support the Interpretive Staff

Wall Story Time Photo: Artist, Judy Thompson, Ranger Ed, and Beemer helped local pre-schoolers learn about the Badlands at the Wall Public Library.

There is clearly a role for artists in both enhancing the visitor experience of the park and for connecting park resources to its audiences.  As an experiment, I was asked to informally staff the visitor center desk on a Saturday afternoon during my spring 2014 residency.  I partnered with ranger, Alison, who served as the main visitor contact and helped to legitimize my role with signage and a facebook post.   So, without a uniform or formal designation (badge, name tag), I threw out a line to see what I could catch.  I'm listing my interactions here to share some possibilities for engaging visitors.

The set-up:  I stood in front of the desk near the entrance to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center between noon and 4 pm, greeting and engaging visitors based upon their interests.  At 3 pm, I made a short presentation on "Improving  your Photography of the Badlands".


  1. Artist-in-Residence program
  2. Artist, Jessica Bryant's exhibit at the Dahl Museum in Rapid City, SD about the seldom visited South Unit of the Park.  I included a recommendation for Park Superintendent, Eric Brunnemann upcoming presentation at the Dahl regarding the status of plans for the Nation's first Tribal National Park.
  3. A continuous slide show of my photos highlighting beautiful aspects of the Balands landscape, suggesting photo possibilities for visitors
  4. Introduction to my digital silk painting medium and processes
  5. Scenic possibilities and favorite hikes, tying-in with factual background from Ranger, Alison on what visitors might be seeing
  6. With an example from a recent hike, I demonstrated what to look for and how to properly photo-document fossil finds.
  7. The supportive role of the Badlands Natural History Association, highlighting its role in supporting educational outreach in the community in addition to artist-in-residencies.
  8. Directed parents to Junior Ranger materials.  Suggested topics of books grandchildren might enjoy.
  9. At my short presentation,  I offered suggestions for “tuning-in” to what is unique about Badlands and how to develop a relationship with the landscape - finding meaning / interpretative expressions unique to each photographer's experience of the park.  Distributed a handout with compositional and technical advice for photographing Badlands.

Back to the Badlands. Pondering Upon Time and Significance


Why the ambitious title?  Well, I finally happened upon my first fossil.  We were hiking a grassland area near a Chadron formation (from 37-34 million years ago) at Badlands National Park.  Springtime rain had eroded the slopes of the formation, carrying down previously buried fossil remains.  This is of a turtle shell. The find reminded me of the slowness of time yet signified the animal's persistence today.  I heard echoes of the tale, "Turtle and the Hare".  I sure hope that's true for artists, as well -  Persistence + Time = Significance. 

Badlands National Park Residency, Lessons from the Pine Ridge

Lady of lourdes w graphic

The Oglala Sioux live on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The Pine Ridge is a land of contrasts. The rolling prairies and lack of roads, gas stations, chain restaurants, and convenience stores free up landscape vistas.  There is almost no litter along the highway and many people walk along side. There are long distances between poor but close-knit communities where the schools, health centers, Oglala Lakota College centers share pride of place.

I had recently learned that reservations are sovereign entities equivalent to the states.  During my encounters at Pine Ridge, I found it important to respect this separateness and to be vigilant about questioning my assumptions.  At the same time, I intended to be mindful of and to foster connection-making whenever I could to Badlands National Park, the school curriculums, and place.

Lady of Lourdes School

I drove almost 2 hours from the Park to my first assignment, Lady of Lourdes school. I received a warm welcome. The principal told me how much the community appreciates this outreach especially since they have no budget for art supplies and instruction.  A possible donation opportunity?

I taught 3rd thru 5th graders to make kites inspired by the Badlands landscape and prairie ecosystem.  We connected the functions of kite string, sail, struts, and tail to prairie grass structures. I was surprised to learn that the majority of students had never visited Badlands National Park.  (Note to self:  prepare for next gig with more visual references and continue to be mindful of the distances that separate us even to this day.)

Interesting spiritual connections here... The school site contains a grotto where an elder of the tribe was visited by a holy woman.  Thus the name of this Catholic school, Lady of Lourdes, harkens to when St. Bernadette was visited by a beautiful, holy Lady in a grotto near Lourdes (France) in 1858.  I taught in the school's chapel and noticed these beautiful Lakota 10 commandments:

1) Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect.

2) Remain close to the Great Spirit

3) Show great respect for your fellow beings

4) Work together for the benefit of all Mankind

5) Give assistance and kindness wherever needed

6) Do what you know to be right

7) Look after the well-being of Mind and Body

8) Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good

9) Be truthful and honest at all times

10) Take full responsibility for your actions

From <>

Wounded Knee School

Wounded Knee School is near where the massacre of the same name took place. The community is very poor.  A teacher told me that no one in his students' families was employed.  Yet, the school was clean with attractive cultural symbols decorating the halls.  Noteworthy too - the 5h grade students I taught were even less familiar with the Badlands National Park landscape than those from Lady of Lourdes.

I taught a kite-making class as a break from a week of standardized testing. In contrast to the right and wrong answers engendered by the tests, we had fun talking about artistic sovereignty where each of their expressions is valid.  One student asked whether hair stylists could be artists.  What fun it was connecting the images that decorated their kites to hair styles - from wind-blown nonchalance to that "big hair" look inspired by buffalo!  The class had recently learned about simile and metaphor in language arts classes; so we discussed what a visual metaphor was using the wind as an example - here the students came up with a variety of conceptions of how the wind looks.

Kadoka School

Here, the long-standing, familiar and positive relationship the park has established with Kadoka teachers and school administration felt more like collaboration than outreach.  In time, I predict the Park's educational outreach will continue to grow these positive relationsips and bridge the many gaps found in its outlying communities.  I am so grateful for having been given this opportunity for a second time.  Many thanks to the Badlands Natural History Association (BNHA) for its support of this educational outreach. .  I found Gregory Gagnon's book, "Pine Ridge Reservation, Yesterday and Today", 2nd edition very helpful.  It is available from the  BNHA bookstore.


Shining Beneath a Layer of Impermanence, Hot Springs National Park


I began this overview of my residency by exploring the theme of "hope", looking at it from both sides of Central Avenue in Hot Springs National Park, AR.  (The town name does indeed contain "National Park"). 

The city no longer hosts spring training for major league baseball.  Gambling has moved out of the central business district.  The recent economic downturn has dashed the hopes of some of the local business owners - so many storefronts say, "Closed". 

Modern medicine including the widespread use of antibiotics caused all but one of the bathhouses to close.  Only the Buckstaff has remained in continuous operation (since 1912). Even hopes for protecting the water have taken a hit from recent geological findings and the demands of modern times. Development and global warming have threatened the recharge area, the source of the hot springs.

Yet, we continue to value holistic health.  By protecting over 60,000 historic objects, the park has the means to connect us to this universal theme of hope for health and healing. While in residence, I studied the quality and beauty of the architectural details and how they reinforced this theme through craftsmanship, myth, exclusivity, and association.  I was awed by how they shone brightly despite the ravages of time and vagaries of the economy.

Using my medium, digital silk painting, I planned artwork that would link architectural detailing to the natural resources of the park, connecting the extrinsic to the intrinsic.

First, here's some architectural details and features of the park that I've organized into thematic ideas.  Next, I'll show my work.

Craftsmanship Lasts

Individually Hand-set Tiles

Combined tile

Beauty and Functionality

Radiator combo

In radiators

Better hinge

In door hinges

Coat rack

In Coat Racks


 In Bridges, the Grand Promenade, Retaining Walls etc.

Spiritual Cleansing, Symbolism and Myth

Come to the Waters

Come to the water-2

Fish detail


Fountain of Youth

Fountain of youth


Native American Wisdom



Luxury and Exclusivity - "You Deserve It"


Quawpaw skylight bas relief



Pastoral details that imply associations with European spas


A thermostat on a wall mural

My Work

In addition to branching out subject-matter-wise, I pushed myself to use new techniques and to increase my productivity.  Here are the pieces I finished while I was in Hot Springs:

Gift to park

Fire Pinks on the Dead Chief Trail with Border Tile from a Hallway at the Fordyce.  The park chose this piece for its permanent collection.


Fordyce magnolia

Magnolia Blooming Before Stained Glass Window, Fordyce


Turtle talk any better

Turtle Talk - Warmed by the Sun, Bordered by Fordyce Radiators



Ozark Rising

"Ozark Rising" symbolizes its reincarnation as an arts and cultural center.

Hope for the Future

Holistic health as a theme has widespread appeal.  Among the park's programming initiatives, I would like to mention three.

  1. Getting the remaining bathhouses restored and open through quality concessions that support the park's mission.  One recent example is the Superior, a micro-brewery that serves locally-sourced and healthy food to accompany the beer and root beer it makes from hot spring water.  Another, is the Lamar Bathhouse, selling lotions, soaps and other spa products made from the water.
  2. Community building.  Restoration of the Ozark as a cultural center.  It is operated by the Friends of Hot Springs National Park, provides a venue for community arts programming, and houses a gallery featuring the park's artist-in-residence collection.
  3. "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" is an initiative that started at the national level and is currently being implemented at Hot Springs.  These programs are underway:  1) "Let's Move Outside" where you earn incentives for time spent hiking the trails.  2) Geocaching,  3) The re-development of the historic Oertel system of trails that build cardiovascular endurance.

Lasting Impressions

I guess a long-standing tradition of taking care of folks has rubbed off on townsfolk and park staff alike.  Compassion and kindness are everywhere. Thanks to Lisa G, Lisa A, Tom, Mike, Jeff, and Shane (and his wife, Diana).  Thanks to "Friends", Rox, Charles, Bill, Lance, and Dennis.   And to Park Superintendent, Josie Fernandez, who welcomed me as an honored guest.  I promised her that I would serve as a goodwill ambassador for the park.  I look to these pages as a place to start.  Thanks for joining me on the trail.


Story of Water Resources at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Turtle talk any better

Local ecosystems evolve naturally to insure water quality.  A water system will suffer if land is developed without having a system for conserving it in place. Building roads and parking lots, cutting down forests, and re-routing water flow and drainage without regard to protecting water both  locally and downstream can have wide-spread effects on its supply, quality, and other characteristics.  Sustainable development and land protection are two strategies adopted in many communities.  For example, in my own community, Legacy Land Conservancy is protecting land vital to our water supply via conservation easements and strategic partnerships.  The water story is much more dramatic at Hot Springs and its telling may provoke further thought to something we often take for granted at home.

The mission of our National Parks is to protect and serve.  National Parks protect what is unique to them. So, Hot Springs National Park protects its unique water.  Water that is very old and doesn't stink. The minerals in it have been carbon-dated at 4,400 years old. (Imagine water falling in Arkansas when the pyramids were being built in Egypt.)  It doesn't stink like other hot springs because the water is heated by a geothermal gradient and not by volcanic magma.

Superior springs cap

The former equivalent of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior realized the importance of the springs early, in 1832, when the area around the springs became our nation's first "Reserve".  The water system appeared to be locked down until irony of ironies - truth be told through geology - its source had never been protected.



The rocks of the Ouachita Mountains were laid down undersea 356 million years ago.  The Zigzag section of them surrounding Hot Springs show the extremes of deformation from the colliding South American and African tectonic plates. Pressures and temperatures were high enough to melt and deform the rock. It folded into faults, some layers appear to be crushed tubes.  Rain and melt water soaked the ground and found its way more than 7,000 feet below the surface by following the cracks and fissures in the rock.  On its long journey back up the water cools to 143 degrees F, gushing out of the hot springs to the tune of 650,000 gallons/day.

When considering the first paragraph above, about water quality and supply,  one might ask, "Who cares about 4,000 year-old water?"  Well, geologists found that the heated water in the springs travels to the surface through an action similar to a trap in a sink. Water soaking into the ground today pushes the old stuff through the system. The effects of drought and less water soaking the ground during extreme rainfall are immediate.  During one six-month period of drought, the volume of water coming from the springs dropped from 700,000 gallons a day to 600,000 gallons a day.  And the temperature dropped because the water came back up more slowly, allowing it more time to cool.

Indian Mountain stands a few miles away to the east.  A foresting company owned a vast section of it and maintained a healthy forest there.   All this time, the Hot Springs flowed continuously.  Everyone thought the National Park System protected the land surrounding its water supply.  Then, the foresting company sold off some of its land to a developer for constructing a mega church.  During construction a neighboring farmer complained about a significant rise in the temperature of his well water.  Geologists were called to investigate.

No one had realized that the water came from what geologists think today is a five-mile ribbon of ridge on Indian Mountain that had never been protected by the Park Service.  The recharge area, the source of hot springs water, is now known to be at risk from developers and a proposed highway bypass that would greatly impact water flow and drainage.  The Park service simply cannot afford to buy this land at today's prices.   The community realizes how dependent it is on tourism.  The Park is now partnering with conservation groups, working with the road commission, with developers to protect the mountain top, with local zoning boards to disallow water divergence, and with a conservancy to protect land through easements. 


A far greater threat to the Hot Springs, however, is climate change.  Shedding some light on how Hot Springs water supply is at risk through global warming may shed some light on what we see here at home. In Hot Springs National Park, AR, even in light of climate change, no effect on the overall amount of water is predicted.   Ideally, the perfect weather scenario would be a series of light, ground-soaking rains.   But with an increase in temperatures, there are fewer but heavier rain events with prolonged droughts in between.  Native ground cover suffers and invasive plants creep in.  Dry underbrush is vulnerable to fire.  Invasive vines, like honeysuckle and this privet shrub brought in from Asia, take fire up into the forest canopy and lead to hotter, more intense, and devastating fires.  Water runs off, taking top soils and plant matter that could have have directed the water downward.

When I reviewed this information with a friend, she remarked on how we all are part of a system that is running out of control. Depressing, huh?  Gee, I almost made a painting of those pretty privet shrub blossoms.  After I heard the climate change story, I decided not to celebrate it by painting it.  I certainly won't buy one for my garden, one whose flowers smell so sweet.  I can make myself feel better by telling these stories, turning my thermostat down, driving a little slower, riding my bike and walking more.  Something's better than nothing, right?

Hope Springs Eternal at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hope springs eternal

They say there are two sides to every coin - so true at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. 

After the Civil War, veterans took to the thermal waters of Hot Springs Reserve hoping to heal the injuries they sustained in the war. It was a place of last resort for many. Later, in the early 1900's, luxurious bath houses sprang up, offering an American version of the health spas popular in Europe.  A 21-day treatment regimen was offered to wealthy visitors hoping to cure their ailments.  (By now, the "dirty" soldiers had been shunted off to the newly built Army Navy Hospital at the end of Bathhouse Row. This hospital was a predecessor to the VA system hospitals.) 

One wealthy gentleman, Samuel Fordyce, was told he had six months to live.  A trip to the waters in Hot Springs was his last hope.  After treatment, he lived another 42 years.  His recovery lead him to develop the crème de la crème of bath houses, the Fordyce, which now serves as the park's visitor center and museum.

On the other side of the street, another story has played out.  Today, amongst the fudge and t-shirt shops, there are reminders of where else hope has sprung in Hot Springs :  hopes for a winning season, luck of the draw, and someone else to take care of your problems for you.  During prohibition up to the late 50's a certain lawlessness prevailed. Here died the first ranger in the US to be shot and killed on the job. (His killer was subsequently acquitted). 

Sometimes the two worlds intersect, particularly for the players in baseball teams that attended Spring training here. There were times when Babe Ruth needed to get a bender sweated out of him or to do strength training in the gym at one of the bathhouse.  Al Capone and his "gangsta" cronies were careful not to cross the street and risk arrest from Feds just within spitting distance.  At the Ohio Club, you could gamble and drink if you knew the password.  (And they still serve a good hamburger today - you can take a shot at your cholesterol level after a massage at the Buckstaff or Quapaw).

During my residency at Hot Springs National Park, I had hopes too.  In addition to mixing it up artistically, I fervently hoped not to get bit by one of the 6 venomous snakes in the area.  I was lucky - I submersed myself in the waters and my art.  I also logged 16 snake-free miles.  Whoopi!

Colors of Time

Colors of Time

Silk painting, Triptych 90 x 48 inches, $15,000

Inspired by the changing hues throughout the day and the colors of the rock layers representing geologic time, I created this painting of the view from the north rim of the Grand Canyon.