The Siskiyou Wilderness's rugged terrain and 'magical' natural light entice painters

Rick Tolley says he was in a hippie van when he first ventured into Young's Valley in the Siskiyou Wilderness.

This was in the mid-'70s. Over the years, the Blue Lake artist would discover Raspberry Lake, visit the Bear Basin Butte and Ship Mountain lookouts and climb Preston Peak, the loftiest summit in the wilderness. Buck Creek also became a destination for annual family trips.

"I took my kids when they were 6 and 3," Tolley said. "It becomes a bonding thing with your kids. And the lookouts are really easy to get to; you can drive right to Ship Mountain and drive right to Bear Basin Butte."

Tolley and five other artists captured the beauty of the Siskiyou Wilderness at a retreat to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its creation. The artists went to Ship Mountain Lookout, Doctor Rock and Buck Creek via the South Kelsey Trail, capturing sights with oils and acrylic pencil.

The retreat is one of several hikes and other activities hosted last month by the Friends of Del Norte, which lobbied and met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s and '80s to create the wilderness.

The Siskiyou Wilderness Celebration will culminate with an artists' gala at the Gallery of Arts and Culture in Crescent City on Sept. 26.

"About a dozen (artists) have committed to showing their art at the gala," said Friends of Del Norte Founder Joe


The Siskiyou Wilderness encompasses a 40-mile stretch of the Siskiyou Crest, a north-south running ridge of 5,000- to 7,000-foot mountain peaks dividing the Smith, Klamath and Illinois River watersheds. The area is well-known for its plant diversity and cold clean water that salmon species rely on for survival.

Gillespie said the Siskiyou Wilderness Celebration coincides with a celebration for the nearby Trinity Alps Wilderness, which is also marking its 30th anniversary. A concert celebrating the Trinity Alps Wilderness' anniversary will be held at the Lee Fong Park Amphitheater in Weaverville on Sept. 27, the day after the Crescent City gala.

"We had both planned for Saturday, but I want to go to theirs, and they want to come to ours," Gillespie said of the two celebrations. "We've kinda been working together on these things and helping each other out."

Painter Andrew Daniel, who also attended the artist retreat, said spending time in the Siskiyou Wilderness has reaffirmed how unique the Smith River is.

"Its emerald waters, its breath of life, need to be preserved for future generations to step out of their electronic world and remember in their bodies what a verdant unconstrained wilderness God has provided for us," he said in a written statement last week. "Each time we return, the place becomes a part of us until it eventually occupies that part of our hearts that we call home."

John Crater, who is also a painter, describes the Siskiyou Mountains as a magical place for the artist.

"The variations in the light and texture are fantastic, from the high, ragged ridge tops to the deep, silent forests," he said. "The way the light filters down through the pines and cedars or glints off jumbled stones of blue serpentine and red peridotite - it all gives a painter plenty to work with."

This year also marks a milestone for the Wilderness Act, which turns 50. According to the Wilderness Society, the bill paved the way for Americans to "protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations." There are 110 million acres of wilderness nationwide.

For more information about the Siskiyou Wilderness 30th Anniversary Celebration, For more information about the Trinity Alps Wilderness 30th Anniversary Celebration,

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