New Mexico - High Desert Paradise

November 04, 2017

Some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced I witnessed in New Mexico. The distant Sandia Mountains and the Jemez range form the seemingly never-ending skyline to the west that plays as the backdrop to the magic that is a Santa Fe evening. As the sun descends behind the mountains, the rich colors of the changing night sky begin to shift, change, evolve and morph in a magical color spectrum that is visible in only very specific areas of our globe. And that is if the night sky is without clouds. When you catch this scene with some of the amazing cumulus, altocumulus or stratocumulus clouds that often factor into the otherworldly skyscapes that develop and hold the viewer captive, you have the recipe for an unforgettable evening. Then of course there are the cumulonimbus cloud formations; the enormous vertical thunderstorm formations that ratchet the drama up even more. Then the scene takes on an even more mystical allure, especially when the lightning strikes begin their display. As beautiful as the sunsets are, they were just one of many intoxicants that drew me into the southwest high desert of Santa Fe.

Santa Fe New Mexico sunset cloud painting Johnathan Harris Taos Rio Grande Gorge New Mexico Art Print Johnathan Harris  Santa Fe Sunset Desert Landscape Art Johnathan Harris 

I first visited this area when I was 10 years old. It was on a family vacation during spring break. We had planned on visiting Colorado, then driving south to New Mexico on our journey of discovery. We headed west from Arkansas, destination Colorado Springs, by way of Kansas. Luckily, for me at that age, we drove through Kansas at night, and I was able to sleep until Dodge City. At that point I woke just long enough to have images of the old TV show “Gunsmoke” flash in my memory before trailing back off to dreams in the back seat of the family Oldsmobile. When I woke up again, my paradigm would shift forever.

We had made it to Colorado and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I was experiencing the West, albeit through the shadowed, veiled hues of a pre-dawn morning before the sun had made enough of an appearance to show the highlights or details of the unexplored landscape surrounding us. My first vision of the mountains in this part of the world came briefly while peering between the front seats while precariously balancing on a knee on the front arm rest. And there they were… the Majestic Rocky Mountains. And I was hooked. Addicted.

 Aspen forest autumn fall southwest art Johnathan Harris Santa Fe Rocky Mountains autumn fall southwest art Johnathan Harris   Santa Fe Aspen forest autumn fall southwest art Johnathan Harris

A few days later, we were planning on driving south to Northern New Mexico. Our destination: Taos. By this time, I was already enamored by the beauty of Colorado and wondered if this leg of the journey would be able to compare to where we had just been and the landscapes I had experienced. We had seen snow-capped Pikes Peak and driven up as far as possible in the early spring in a rear-wheel drive automobile. We hiked the Garden of the Gods, witnessed the depth and vastness of the Royal Gorge and experienced an early morning snowfall in the capital city of Denver.

Upon arriving in Taos, I knew that this part of the trip was going to give Colorado a run for the money. The adobe architecture was a beautiful surprise to me. The subtle colors, the tranquil setting of the homes and buildings among the mountains was captivating. I loved the shape and design of the coyote fencing that bordered many of the properties and the rugged nature of that form of fencing, using the branches of native trees wired together. We toured the many art galleries on the plaza and those on the adjacent streets and I was introduced for the first time to Contemporary Southwestern Art. The introduction of vivid, expressive colors and textures capturing the landscape that had so recently surprised and intoxicated me was very powerful to me. We journeyed into the mountains near the ski basin, witnessed the awesome expanse of the Rio Grande Gorge carved into the desert outside of town and walked among the sagebrush dotted across the desert floor, as far as the eye could see.

We followed the Rio Grande further southward and towards Santa Fe, passing through small desert towns and witnessing the transformation of scenery in this part of the Enchanted Circle. The desert landscape between Taos and Santa Fe is one of the most magical places I have ever seen. The distant mountains, the desert stretching on seemingly forever with the Piñon and Juniper trees that rule this landscape and create the mesmerizing shapes and shadows that spoke so strongly to me. We drove through Espanola, Pojoaque and Tesuque on our way to Santa Fe. The desert had me fully and completely in its grasp, and does to this day. 

Santa Fe Forest Aspen Tree Stand in Fall Johnathan Harris Fine Art Santa Fe El Dorado Desert Mountain Landscape Johnathan Harris Fine Art  Taos Desert Rio Grande Gorge Mountain Landscape Art Johnathan Harris Fine Art 
We visited the many amazing art galleries on Canyon Road and on the Plaza while in Santa Fe. Here I was introduced to the vivid brilliance of John Nieto and so many other artists whose work spoke deeply to me and influenced me for years to come. I saw Aspen trees for the first time on this trip, and some of the most memorable were those at the Santa Fe ski basin. The city as seen from the overlook near the basin spreads out far beneath the high country setting of Aspens and evergreens. The sound of Aspen leaves in the trees being rustled by the wind was an unexpected experience I witnessed for the first time here. The sights, the sounds, the fragrances and the passion I felt for the landscape of this area made an indelible mark on me.

I was fortunate to live in Santa Fe for several years after university. My time there was instrumental in the evolution of my art and discovering and developing my painting style. I felt that while living in that area, my senses were under constant bombardment by beauty. I tried to look at every scene as though for the first time, even the places I had visited dozens of times before, seeing something new in the afternoon sun or the early morning dawn. The vivid colors of the landscape in this part of the world begs to be captured with some proximity of the intensity that exists in the natural. I attempt to do that with every painting I create of this part of the world. Cheers.


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