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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | MIGRATIONS

Colorful high-country lure

September 07, 2004|Mary Forgione

"For the first time in my life, I slept out in the open air," Thomas Moran wrote in his diary in 1871. The newbie camper sketched Yellowstone's fumaroles, thermal pots, geysers and canyons as "expedition artist" on a 40-day trip into the bubbling landscape. His paintings, like the one below, enticed adventurers to set off on foot or on horseback to see the waterworks -- and helped stir politicians to create the first national park a year later. Another pilgrimage, this time to the Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage) in Griffith Park, begins today with the opening of "Drawn to Yellowstone." The exhibition spans more than half a century. "Moran created wonderful watercolor sketches in the field and made detailed notes about color," says Amy Scott, the show's curator. Its other influential works include Thomas Hill's 1884 painting -- roughly 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 feet -- of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, which reportedly spurred John Muir to visit the park. "The painting lured who knows how many people to Yellowstone," Scott says, noting that the naturalist who championed more national parks probably saw it on display in New Orleans. His eloquent insights and descriptions drove the next generation of painters to dabble in geysers and, as Yellowstone's popularity skyrocketed, people and cars. Frederic Mizen's 1932 painting shows a distant Old Faithful erupting while visitors -- and bears -- guzzle Coca-Cola in front of the inn. Upcoming exhibitions about national parks at the museum include Yosemite in 2006 and Death Valley at a future date. Go to www.autry-museum.org.

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-- Mary Forgione

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