I've been getting out to SE Utah for the past four years, a couple of times a year, to paint those huge expanses of sandstone buttes and canyons, and that clear air and those dramatic skies.
I started in Escalante, at their annual Everett Ruess Days painting festival (usually first week in October), where there are 50 - 100 artists painting daily throughout the area. Worth a side trip! They end the week with an exhibition on Saturday, with a great variety of work, from amateur to polished professional.
One of the most spectacular drives in the US is the 12 miles between Escalante and Boulder on UT Highway 12. The road threads a high narrow ridge, with 2000 ft + dropoffs on either side. There are immense views, 50 + miles, extending in 360 degrees. You can also head south from Escalante, over a roughly graded 50 mile road, to the Hole in the Wall on the Colorado River, where a party of Mormon settlers built a road down a 2000' high cliff to the river. This is true. With hand tools, a few hundred pounds of black powder, and 6 months they made a way for loaded wagons and livestock to get to the river. They then crossed it, and covered an additional 200 miles to found the town of Bluff Arizona on the San Juan River.
For the past three years I've been staying at the Maynard Dixon historic home and studio in Mt. Carmel Junction, painting a good deal around Zion and south to the Vermillion cliffs. There is a very high quality gallery there, The Thunderbird Foundation, which shows a large number of professional classic western painters. Classic meaning quite representational, naturalist/reaist, and often quite romantic. The gallery may say 'by appointment', but the director and his wife are very often there and willing to provide tours. Very worth a stop.
Shortly north of Carmel Junction is Orderville, named after a Mormon commune of the 1890's. In the local Cafe is an elaborate scale model of the original compound, where several hundred of the faithful lived several years under a quite pure communist governing structure.
I've been fascinated by the history of the Mormon settlers, and the amazing things they did to wrest a living from that desert. The community water systems they dug by hand in the 1880's are flowing today in many towns along Highway 89.
I'm also fascinated by the geology and the history of early Pueblo peoples there, and have done extensive reading and visited many intriguing sites. None of this gets into my painting, but it all feeds my fascination and, frankly, my love of that place.
There is a lot of excellent reading available; I recommend Wallace Stegner and Greg Childs particularly. Stegner for his history of the Mormons and his outstanding bio of John Wesley Powell, "Beyond the Hundreth Meridian". Greg Childs for his accounts of trekking in the desert, very romantic and also fascinating..."The Secret History of Water" and "Which Way Out".
I'm determined to start walking a lot more there and driving a lot less.
My paintings from over the years are archived at: http://brucemarsh.net
I write an occasional Blog about painting at: http://brucemarsh.wordpress.com/