There are only two places I've been to multiple times in my life that seem to me perfect. One is the Aspen Institute in Colorado, where I stayed several times while participating in arts symposiums. Originally designed by Bauhaus artist and architect Herbert Bayer, even today every element--right down to the doorknobs, faucets, and trash cans--is thoughtfully conceived, elegant without a trace of ostentation, functional and just right.
The other place that I always have that feeling is Camp Denali --a wilderness lodge near the end of a 90-mile gravel road, within the boundaries of Denali National Park and Preserve. It is a place where people from around the world who are more interested in understanding the Park's land, animals, climate, character, and their interrelationships with people than in staying in air conditioned comfort or luxury come for a few days, a week, or occasionally more. The cabins in which guests stay are perfectly proportioned, beautifully built and maintained, rustic but charming. Electricity is available in several larger structures--a science/study area, a group library/lounge, and a dining hall. The food served each evening is thoughtfully, beautifully, and inventively prepared, and simply served. Nothing is for show. Nothing is fancy. It's all just perfect.
Denali Splendor is a view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) from there--just the top of it, looming above a ridge in the middle distance, from just above a small tundra pond on the Camp grounds. Every time I've seen it from there, it's seemed impossibly big. There's something about realizing that all that's showing is the top of that enormous massif that makes it even more astounding. It is one of my favorite views of what we call here simply, "The Mountain."
Missy and I just spent a week in the Park, in an even more rustic but equally magical place, the East Fork Cabin . Located 43 miles along the Park Road, close by the East Fork of the Toklat River, it is the cabin in which Adolph Murie stayed during 1939-41, when he did his landmark study of wolf/dall sheep and other predator/prey relationships in the Park. Today it serves primarily as a stopping place for Park Service dog team patrols that travel the Park in winter, occasional guests of the Park Service, and Artists-in-Residence who stay in it for ten-day stints in summer.
The cabin is in a location that is not only spectacular, but is a natural funnel for wildlife, between Sable and Polychrome passes. As usual when we've stayed there, we saw grizzlies and caribou passing close by, dall sheep on the surrounding mountains, golden eagles soaring over the adjacent hills and ridges, and more. Within a few miles of the cabin, on this trip, we watched wolves chasing caribou and an encounter between a mother grizzly with her three yearling cubs and a lone male bear twice her size. Another day we watched a grizzly that had taken a big bull caribou from the group of wolves that just killed it, and having feasted on it, lay warily down practically on top of it to nap. On the drive out we stopped to get out and get a better look at a merlin in a tree near the road, and a whole family of them proceeded to call at one another from the tops of trees on both sides of the way.
It's the feeling of gratitude I have for such opportunities, the sense of what a privilege it seems to me to get to be in such a place, and my wonder at it all that I try to get into all my paintings of Denali National Park and Preserve. I've been visiting and painting in and about the Park for more than a quarter century now, and each time I go, I come back excited about having more to say about this place. The 4' x 5' painting Denali Splendor was started weeks before the recent visit, fueled by my anticipation, and was finished this week in the wake of a fresh encounter with The Mountain.