Saturday, August 9, 2014


Last June I mentioned our drive through the Colorado San Juan Mountains and one of the adventures we had on our scenic drive along the twisting stretch of two-lane black top between Durango and Ouray also known as the “Million Dollar Highway.”

Most of the watercolors I paint are landscapes of favorite places.  There is not enough lifetime to paint souvenirs of all the scenery we saw on this trip through New Mexico and Colorado, but this is one I just finished.

 I started with a value sketch using a combination of photographs I took of a huge mountain we could see across the valley as we climbed out of Durango and over Coal Bank Pass, elevation 10,640 feet.  I think this one is called Twilight Peak.

I transferred the sketch to 140 cold press watercolor paper, stretched it, taped it and put down a couple of washes over the drawing and some masking I applied to save the white snow.

From there I added details to the mountain and more colors to the hills that drop down into the steep valley.

The final piece is 11x14 inches and would look really good matted and framed and hanging on a wall in our living room.  But for now I have it listed for sale on my Etsy site, Watercolors by Leenie to see if there is anybody out there with a similar appreciation for this classic Colorado scenery.

A quote from a web site about US-550 which includes the Million Dollar Highway:

 Even the origin of the “Million Dollar” name is clouded in myth. Some say it was first used after an early traveler, complaining of the vertigo-inducing steepness of the route, said, “I wouldn’t go that way again if you paid me a million dollars.” Others claim that it derives simply from the actual cost of paving the route in the 1930s. But the favorite explanation is also the most likely: When the highway was first constructed, the builders used gravel discarded by nearby gold and silver mines, only to find out later that this dirt was actually rich in ore and worth an estimated “million dollars.”

Monday, August 4, 2014


That afternoon we got off the school bus to find our parents were gone to town to run errands.   Town was an hour away and the errands almost always took several hours.  So my brother and I had the place to ourselves with a list of chores to do before the evening milking.

Of course the thing to do when confronted with a list of unpleasant duties is to discover countless, pointless activities to fill the allotted time. 

After reading the comics in the paper we split up to dawdle in our own individual ways.  Brother settled down to watch “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in black and white on our old television.

I somehow ended up contemplating a large brown paper shopping bag.  If the bag could hold several pounds of groceries could it hold several quarts of water?  How long would it hold the water? And if it held the water would I be able to drop it off the roof of the house and make a big splash?

There was already a ladder propped against the house because of some on-going roof repairs so it was not too difficult to carry a pitcher of water and a paper shopping bag to edge of the roof. 

This time I didn’t fall.  Not like the time I fell off the snow covered shop roof and not like the time I fell in the hole where the new basement would be when I tried to walk the two by four that held the concrete forms in place.

No, this time I made it to the edge over the door, filled the bag with water and at the same time called loudly for Brother to come outside to see what I had.  Fortunately he quickly poked his head out because the bag of water had reached its saturation point.  I let it fly and missed Brother but the splash still got him wet.

He let out a yell and ducked inside.  I scrambled down the ladder and ran for cover but caught a glimpse of Brother coming after me with a bucket of water. I almost made it to the dairy barn before he drenched me. 

I called him a name that I knew would rile him up, ran into the barn and had the hose on just as he followed me in the door.

 Now we were both soaked.  I could defend the whole wash room of our cinder brick barn with the hose but the milking area had a hose too.  He slipped around through the back and got me before I could duck behind the bulk tank. We battled fiercely and yet held our positions.

Posing beside our dairy barn with my 4-H heifer.

I don’t remember who finally called a truce but I do remember the calendar on the wall and a box of milk filters received collateral damage.

Since the weather was warmish we didn’t bother to change into dry clothes and simply went about our duties to prepare for milking time.  Brother started setting up the milking machines and I called the dog and went to get the cows.