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painting morning light on albuquerque’s la luz trail

by | May 25, 2016 | Uncategorized

When My Good Man revealed this weekend that he is on the “waiting list” for this year’s La Luz Trail Run, and that he wanted to do a training run up there this weekend, my painter’s mind started scheming.

My last plein air painting excursion was in early April. After an enthusiastic kickoff to plein air season with 12 paintings made in March and early April, I fell photo by artist dawn chandler of early morning on the la luz trailoff to zero this month. ‘ Just got busy with other things. Busy with studio painting. Busy with computer work and the busy business of being an artist. But we’ve been having another unusually moist and green and gorgeous spring, and really it’s been frustrating that I haven’t been out painting it.

So there we were: 6:15 Sunday morning at the La Luz Trail. My Good Man took off running in shorts and a t-shirt and a plan to turn around in an hour and hike back down. I set off in my paint-spattered “man pants” (a pair of Orvis canvas men’s pants handed down from my brother and which I utterly love due to their supreme baggy comfort) + a raggedy paint-gungy sweatshirt + a broad-brimmed straw hat purchased on a blindingly sunny day at Ojo Caliente last summer + my small paint pack (as opposed to my large paint pack). [We left The Pup back home to enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning to herself. Much as we love to take her with us on our trail excursions, if one of us takes off ahead of the other, then she pulls on the leash fiercely and incessantly trying to bring us all together, making it most unpleasant for whoever is holding the leash.] My plan was to hike uphill for 15 minutes, find a spot to sit and try to pull together a painting before catching My Man on his descent a little while later.

Off he went, and off I followed. The morning was cool enough that, despite already wearing two layers, I threw in a wool sweater just in case I got chilled while sitting and painting.

Fifteen minutes later my phone alarm buzzed and, looking around, I spotted a great vantage point just above one of the switchbacks. Got comfy, opened my mini paint box and…. DAMNIT! No paint thinner in my little jar. Ugh. This meant I had no way to clean my brushes between colors, nor any way to moisten the stiff paint. Grrrrrrr. . . . My first plein air painting in weeks and already I’m off to an inauspicious start. Crap.
I was half tempted to just call it quits right then, but DANG IT! I really wanted to paint! So I decided to make due with stiff paint, and just wipe my brush with paper towels, which fortunately I had plenty of.

Of the three panels in my kit, I chose one that I had stained a dark purply-blue brown. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I usually stain my panels a warm orange. But if I know the scene is going to have a lot of deep shadows, sometimes I stain the panel dark. And being so early in the morning, most of the landscape was still in deep shadow, with the sun still low behind me and the Sandias.

Sometimes capturing a scene with paint is a real struggle. This morning though, despite lacking paint thinner, something just clicked. So much for inauspicious!
dawn chandler early morning plein air painting along albuquerque's la luz trail


Okay. That was fun. And satisfying. And peaceful. And meditative. And it felt kind of sneaky, too, for as I sat there, at least a dozen hikers and runners passed not four yards from where I was sitting, yet I went completely unnoticed. ‘felt like I was getting away with something.

Indeed, I enjoyed myself so much, and so reveled in the light and color and refreshing coolness of the early morning trail that I decided to do it all over again the next day.

Monday morning 6:45, armed with coffee and my trusty sidekick whining in the backseat with barely bridled anticipation, I turned off Tramway Blvd. onto Forest Service Road 333. With an 8:30 appointment to meet a friend for breakfast at Flying Star, I was feeling a little pressed for time and wondered if the La Luz Trail was realistic.
No, it wasn’t.
Rather, I took the first right up to La Cueva Picnic Site — some place I’d never been, having only learned about it the day before from a USFS elder volunteer, who described it as “underused.” I’d say that’s an understatement, for The Pup and I had the place to ourselves and— AND!—we saw not one speck of trash nor bit of graffiti.

Incidentally, the pay fee here and at La Luz is $3. But because it’s Federal land, my handy America the Beautiful National Park Pass gets us in. Best, most worthwhile $80 you’ll spend all year. Get one.

A scramble up an unmarked trail, and soon we found ourselves perched on a rock above the morning city.

early morning view of albuquerque from la cueva picnic site — photo by dawn chandler


Once again we were hidden just a few yards from a trail, and once again we went completely unnoticed by hikers. The Pup seems to know the game of stealth, and knows to sit alert and still, watching quietly as the hikers walk by.


artist Dawn Chandler painting en plain air at la cueva picnic area above albuquerque with her brave companion standing guard


Two perfect mornings in a row. You can be sure we’ll be coming back.
And next time I may just purposefully leave my paint thinner at home!


early morning light from a luz trail, plein air painting on panel by artist dawn chandler

early morning light from a luz trail ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 5″ x 7″ ~ en plein air


morning across albuquerque from la cueva, plein air oil painting by artist dawn chandler

morning across albuquerque from la cueva ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 5″ x 7″ ~ en plein air