Spotlight: '27 Trail

'27 Trail, 24" x 48" Acrylic on Wood Panel, 2012

'27 Trail, 24" x 48" Acrylic on Wood Panel, 2012

  By the time the new trail around the "bottomless pit" opened in 1927, it had been 29 years since a young Jim White first stepped foot into the cave.  Noticing a column of bats roaring out of the mouth of the cave while rounding up cattle, he tied off his horse and investigated what he was seeing.  What he found is the first level of what is now known as Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico.  Over the next few days he spent hours exploring the cave, recalling some years later that the oil lantern he was carrying went out during one such expedition, saying "it seemed as though a million tons of black wool descended upon me."

  Over the next few decades the cavern was explored, exploited and then eventually protected as a national monument.  In 1923, W.F. McIlvain took over as custodian of the caverns and began building trails, lighting, and a stairway to replace the "guano bucket" which was used up to that point to enter and exit the cave.

  In 1927, in addition to various other projects around the cavern, a trail was installed around one of the features called the Bottomless Pit.  The pit is not really "bottomless", but if you throw a stone you may wait a while before hearing the faint echo of its strike against the bottom 140 ft below.  It gained popularity as an attraction, and even Amelia Earhart was interested in exploring it, going so far as to be signed up by the park superintendent who fitted it with wire ladders in preparation for her future exploration. Sadly that exploration ever took place as she disappeared on her ill-fated flight before she had a chance to return to the cave.

  The trail around the pit is the inspiration for my painting titled " '27 Trail" and is depicted loosely in it.  In the piece it is shown as if it is wrapped around a mountain peak rather than a pit, but that's just how things progressed during my painting of it.  The trail wasn't even depicted at first; and I had debated many times over a period of days about whether it was finished or not.  So many of my works begin life as one thing and end up quite another, and sometimes along the twisted path to final creation there are simple things which act as a catalyst for further work.

  During a conversation with a fellow artist, I realized that this painting was not finished.  It needed something; a foreground.  Thinking about that, I studied the piece some more and realized that it seemed like mountain peaks to me.  Others saw people, but when I decided to add more structure to the piece I imagined a bridge encircling a giant mountain range, seemingly unsupported, as if it was on some strange planet where technology was to the point of building such a thing.  After this portion of the painting was done and I realized that I had finally finished it, the reality of it became much more down to Earth, and I saw something else.  It now seemed like it was part of an underground, or even underwater, cavern.  

  I spent years of my youth fascinated with Carlsbad Caverns, and it should be no surprise  that I am painting a series dedicated to it.  I visited the cave when I was younger, and have wanted to return ever since.  It is something that made a lasting impression, and now, I have a way to share those impressions with you.  In this piece, named after a pit rather than a mountain, I believe that my experience inside the cave was coming out from the beginning.  I can look at it and imagine standing inside the cave, examining the rock formations, whether they were jutting straight up or endlessly down.  It may have started out as something else, but it became what it is, and it stands as a representation of one of the many travels of a 13 year old boy finding himself in nature.

Mark Roden1 Comment