Category Archives: Cheryl’s Journey

Landforms and Emotions: Can Landscapes have an inherent personality?

Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal

November 22, 2020

I am currently touring the American West: first, California, then Nevada, Utah, now Arizona. I first noticed that a landscape can have a distinctly unsettling effect on me at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, which is in Gold Butte National Monument.

WHITNEY POCKET, grotesquely distorted rock forms

The mountains there are violently twisted, and no two grotesquely distorted mountains are similar, even within a one mile area. The earth seems like it has been ripped in  every direction just yesterday. I know the mountains are old (the red Jurassic sandstones are 180 million years old), but the force required to tear them apart feels very present, as if the dust had yet to settled. 

Paleozoic limestones form most of the ridges in the northern portion of the monument. There were deposited on the shallow sea floor during the Paleozoic Era (between 540 and 250 million years ago). Generally speaking, these are the same sedimentary formations that are exposed in the Grand Canyon. The key difference is that in Grand Canyon the layers are horizontal while in Gold Butte they are tilted. This tilting occurred when this region of North America was pulled apart by tectonic forces roughly 10 to 15 million years ago, during the Miocene Epoch.

This fascinating landscape is endlessly interesting. At first, I was transfixed by the range of hues, the extremes of color from vermillion to corals, to dove gray to black. I saw so many opportunities to paint. 

After three days, we started to leave camp frequently. Yes, we were exploring the area as there is lots to see. Then I realized that I was psychically uncomfortable. I did not feel threatened by the landforms, but they unsettled me and made me oddly unable to focus. I stopped painting, and it felt like time to move on. My husband also felt restless, and we agreed that we didn’t need an explanation. We broke camp.

WHITE HOUSE CAMPGROUND, Paria Breaks, Utah

I compare the Whitney Pocket location with the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of the Colorado Plateau, where we camped for a week. The wilderness is composed of broad plateaus, tall escarpments, and deep canyons. The Paria River flows through the wilderness before joining the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

The  landforms in the area we explored are smooth, reflecting white, the blue of the sky, and red orange. I perceived the energy there as ancient, calm and sacred. I wonder at the contrast between the two landscapes and the dynamic ways they affected my eye and mind and spirit. 

Neither area has been greatly impacted by human presence. It was something else that moved in me in ways both unsettling (Whitney Pockets) and grandly peaceful (the Paria Breaks). In both areas, I felt these to be energies not to be ignored but to be respected. I see now more than ever that certain natural areas are not, as we might say, vibrationally resonant with humans and others profoundly are. I respectfully let Nature have her space in her own way. I do not have to understand.

Walker Creek, Camp Verde, Arizona

Currently, the day after Thanksgiving, we are camped outside Winslow, Arizona, in an area very like my home landscape of eastern Washington. Rolling foothills rise up to become mountains. Our camp is surrounded by juniper trees and creosote bushes, prickly pear and rocky dry washes. 

This feels like home to me, and I am painting every day.

My plein aire set up at Walker Creek

Evening Walk in vermillion and blue

I am walking alone down a wash, a dry river bed in Southern Utah. The sun is low enough to cast a vermillion glaze of color over the highest rock formations.

My route takes me along an increasingly rocky dry river bottom. It is late in the day and I walk in the shadow of the canyon walls. My husband and dog are well ahead of me. I can hear only my own breathing and silence. 


The canyon walls are gouged and violently ripped by recent  flash floods. Ten foot piles of dry mud and piles of sharp shale, ripped off the canyon wall block my way. I navigate crossing with my alpine poles with relative ease. I am careful. A fall on the sharp rocks would not be good.

But… I have a feeling memory for a moment. I recapture the feeling of being twelve years old again and full of unconscious faith in my own body. I feel once again that I am strong, confident and capable. 

And I remember that I was raised for this connection, this integration with nature. My family spent every available hour in wilderness. I was born to this. Rare, lucky, visionary parents. 

I continue walking the canyon riverbed. The cerulean blue banding in the cliff looks like clay. I touch it and I distinctly feel the presence of a native woman harvesting the clay for body paint. I can see the red earth and the blue clay on her face and on her pony. They prepare for a ceremony. 

The canyon opens into an amphitheater, lit vermillion by the ever lower sun.

The air in the canyon begins to chill and I pause to add a sweater. I hear the jingle of Juneau’s tags on his collar. He has come to herd me more quickly toward Tom.

I can see the white rock forms near our truck. There it is. We pile in, comparing the rock collections of the day. Our trailer is only three miles away. The sun is nearly down. 

A passion for a plant: Sacred Datura–a new painting emerges

A year or two ago, I returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico with a head full of ancient Native American history and a mysterious sensing that then is still now.

 While I was in that wild place of ancient civilization, I saw and photographed the flowers of the Sacred Datura. They were growing in a dry, weedy area in an alley behind a small town restaurant. They didn’t look like much, but I was beyond excited to see them.

Sacred Datura carries both myth and fact. It appears to be deadly poisonous to contemporary humans and animals, yet it was used extensively in puberty rituals by the tribal people of southern California. It is said that Lucrezia Borgia was the last Westerner to be able to control the dosages of datura accurately. Witches were said to apply datura vaginally with a broomstick, so witches “flying on broomsticks” derives from this ancient practice.

However, the ancient ways of controlling datura dosages seems to be a lost art. For 21st century humans, Datura is deadly, and kills hundreds of people a year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Thousands of others, the group says, are treated for Datura poisoning each year. Consuming Datura is something you do not want to try at home…or anywhere else.

And of course, no discussion of Datura, no matter how brief, would be complete without a nod to the great painter of the West, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Sacred Datura blooms at night when it is pollinated by the Hawk Moth.

Today as I began my open-ended journey across the American West with my husband Tom and dog Juneau, I hiked along the American River and spotted large white flowers in full bloom among the bike trail.

I knew what they were right away, but, I wondered to myself, how could it be that the Great Spirit was showing me a night blooming flower in the morning? My guess is the smoky October skies in California reduced the light enough that the flower was running late. 

This is my original watercolor done after that now far-away journey to Chaco Canyon, and I feel it only partially expresses my fascination with Sacred Datura and its companion the Hawk Moth.

Now I have begun a new painting to ask myself, “What secret is Sacred Datura still trying to say to me?”

These are some images from my emerging process with a new painting exploring the powerful source image of the Datura flower.