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My painting “Saguaro Lake Sunrise” was recently accepted into the “Arizona: From the Outside” show at Shemer Art Center in Phoenix. The painting has a story behind it, and yes, skunks are involved. Read on.

I took up kayaking as a hobby in 2015 and had been contemplating a solo kayak camping trip for a while. When Columbus Day 2016 weekend was approaching I saw my opportunity. I planned a simple overnight trip for my first outing, and the perfect place would be Saguaro Lake, which is about an hour northeast of downtown Phoenix. I would start at the Butcher Jones Recreation Area, paddle to the Bagley Flat campground, stay overnight, then paddle back the next morning. I made my preparations, packed my dry bags and headed to Saguaro Lake at noon on Sunday, October 9, 2016. I got there around 1 pm and proceeded to unload my van. I packed my kayak, headed for the water and paddled off at about 2 pm.

I headed south out of the cove at Butcher Jones, then headed east up the lake. There is a beautiful canyon with high cliff walls at this point, and the sun behind me was casting beautiful shadows. I continued paddling for about 90 minutes, and before I knew it I was at Bagley Flat. I scouted for a take out from the water, pulled my boat up onto the smooth round river rock shore, put the kayak cart on and wheeled it up a small incline to the campground. I scouted the campground and decided to take the spot nearest to where I landed. There was a metal picnic table, a BBQ, a fire ring and a clearing for my tent. I proceeded to unpack, set up my tent, and prepare my kitchen and food for dinner.

I made dinner, and as the sun went down behind the trees, I began packing up and putting my things into the kayak’s locking hatches. Then an interesting thing happened — I noticed a skunk near the bushes by the water, then another, and another behind me. I apparently had set up camp near a skunk burrow, and now that it was getting dark they were coming out of the trees behind me to dig for bugs in the dirt (there were at least 8 or 9 total I saw as the evening went on). I also saw a pair of eyes reflected in my flashlight in the bushes, which I later figured out was a raccoon (he also had two friends which I saw later in the evening). Anyway, no big deal, I just made sure I kept my flashlight trained on my new camp mates, finished packing everything into the boat, sealed up the hatches and put on the cockpit cover, and retired into my tent for the evening.

Then I just hung out in the tent and relaxed, listening to the calls of the birds, the chirping of the crickets, and the sounds of the boats and boaters enjoying the evening on the water. As the sky grew darker, many stars were visible, away from the light pollution of the valley. The air cooled to a pleasant, cool temperature, and I soon drifted off to sleep. I woke up about 5:30, just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I quickly changed and got out of the tent, greeted by a beautiful, cool morning.

I went down to the water, which was as smooth as glass, there were a few fishing boats out but not any boat traffic to speak of. As I waited for the sun to come up, I noticed an amazing glow growing over the mountain to the east. As the sun came closer and closer to appearing, I took several pictures with my phone, and when the sun finally showed itself over the edge of the mountain, it added an amazing highlight to the warm glow at the top edge of the mountain (the pictures don’t do it justice). It was an incredible view, one that created an indelible memory that I’ll never forget, it was just one of those magical moments. 

I walked back to my campsite and made breakfast, packed up the tent and my breakfast kitchen and loaded everything in the boat, putting everything where it needed to be for the paddle back to Butcher Jones. I wheeled the boat from my campsite to the water and paddled away from the campground about 8:30. I had a nice, peaceful paddle back down the lake, and stopped a few times to take some pics with my phone. I saw several birds, including mud hens, egrets, and turkey vultures. The fish were jumping too, and there were several fishing boats out taking advantage of the ideal fishing conditions. In about 90 minutes I was back at the beach at Butcher Jones — I wheeled the kayak back to the van, unloaded the boat, packed the van, put the kayak up top, secured it and got back on the road, and made it home by noon.

Later, when I got back home and into my studio, I made a sketch in my sketchbook from my memory of the sunrise that morning — that sketch became the basis for the painting you see in the gallery below. I created both the sketch and the painting mostly from memory, I did refer to the photos I took for some of the elements, but I really wanted to focus on the feeling I had that morning on the shore of the lake. I’ve had some nice reactions to this painting, and am honored to have it included in the show at Shemer.

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