After the Rain

The desert comes alive after it rains and the topography changes drastically. Once subtle sand dunes take on different appearances and reform to look like rivers or streams. The flow of the land changes and pools of water form in rocks, washes, and imbed in cactus plants for storage to save them in arid days. Being out in the middle of the desert in a rainstorm can be scary and life threatening if it becomes a flash flood. A little sprinkle here and there while out hiking is, however, quite enjoyable and a nice break from the heat. My family and I love heading outside after a great rain to see the new canvas being presented for our eyes. Another sense we love to explore is our sense of smell. The freshness of the air and the aroma of certain plants come alive after it rains. My husband always says, “all weather is good weather,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I did write in a previous post about how hurricanes, blizzards, etc. are leather and dangerous…so all weather, even the scariest of them, can be beneficial to the environment. Not necessarily to humans in all cases. So I will stick with the rain for now.

Seeing the dewdrops and raindrops on flowers blooming from various plants is invigorating. Watching bees and pollinators getting their jobs done and enjoying the fresh nectar is amazing! Finding webs created by burrowing spiders is a real treat because they look like stardust from the milky way after a good rain. All the animals come out and find water sources and if we sit long enough, we can spy some rare finds. One of these being the tarantula hunting for their mate. Burros and Bighorn are also prominent after it rains. These are the most fun for us to spot off in the distance. It almost feels like the book “Where’s Waldo,” from when we were kids finding Waldo while sitting in the dentist’s waiting room. Where is the Burro? Also, if they have a baby it is even more exciting, if that were even possible to be more excited. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and enjoy some time outside! Thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard 

Desert Dogs

Watching my dogs enjoying themselves while bounding through the open desert is a wonderful experience. I was fortunate to have my first pal for almost fifteen years. He was the best trail dog I have met and helped me out of some pretty scary situations. This being said, he also got into some pretty sticky and questionable situations himself. He got a little too anxious around rushing water sources and I had to help him out a few times. The memories he and I shared are endless and replay in my mind on a daily basis. He was a red heeler, Australian Cattle Dog, Queensland, many names for the breed. High energy was his happy place during puppyhood and laying around the house during adulthood. His favorite all time place was being outside on a trail. This is where he always came alive with high spirits and a lot of dog smiles. I was always grateful if the path did not have a cow pie since he lived rolling in them until his white fur was brown. Yuck! When he passed, part of myself fell asleep for a while, then my husband and I decided it was time for a new friend to be added to our family.

Winter Hike|Original Watercolor|Karen Hilliard Art|Animals
Hiking with our dog in the winter snow.

The current beast is a blue heeler which is the same breed and way more calm in comparison. He also loves being outside in the trials and is a gem with our daughter. He is navigating his new role as her companion as well as ours and I long for the days when they will get to run side by side out in nature. Currently he loves chasing balls or just smelling everything outside. Both dogs were and are always leashed around people or animals, and respectful of the natural environment. Watching our dog now enjoy nature is also amazing. He loves running ahead a little bit, hiding, and running back when we call his name. We love how much he blends into the shadows and dark colors outside. Thank you all for reading and I hope you have a terrific Thursday!

-Karen Hilliard


The feel of the Bristlecone trees sculpted by wind and rain is smooth and cool to the touch. One post did not seem like enough of a story about my love for the trees growing on Mt. Charleston. They are pure joy to my sense of vision and I cannot get enough of them. The hike up North Loop trail could be considered moderate to extreme depending on the weather the day of the hike. Climbing up this mountain in the snow is a bit treacherous and it is important to have the right gear and know the trail very well. Luckily we have an amazing dog who is an excellent trail guide! Also, we have hiked the switchback mountain pass many times. I absolutely love the views up there and this one plateau where we relax before going up the ultra steep parts. On our way up, we stop and smell as many Ponderosa Pines as possible.

These majestic trees smell of Butterscotch if you ever get the chance to take a whiff. I highly recommend it. A dear friend of ours taught us about this on my first hike with her, on this very trail. We later learned about how the color of the bark changes when it is struck by lightning and how orange it can get. These trees are tall and fascinating. They remind me of the redwoods in California or the giant Sequoias, however, not as tall. They are the closest tree I can get to feeling home out here in the desert. This is probably why I like this trail so much, because it feels like home. The smells up the path are out of this world and there is hardly anyone hiking on it when we go. Hoping this post inspires you all to get outside and adventure in your own home towns, cities, countries, etc. We have a beautiful world out there and it is just waiting to be seen. Thank you for reading and have a Happy Weekend! Oh, and another dear friend bought me my first coffee! I will tag her on Facebook. Truly thankful for all of you reading these blogs and following my art journey. Thank you for inspiring me daily!

-Karen Hilliard

A Special Day of Love

Happy Valentines Day Everyone!! I hope you are all surrounded by love. Whether this love is felt from loved ones, self-love, pet love, always remembering all love, any kind of love, is a blessing. I remember always being skeptical of this holiday and thinking it was a way to market for consumerism. Then, over the years and through my love for chocolate, I also softened into my creamy center. I do still love to celebrate this day every single day of the year. I find it deeply important to tell the people in my life I love them on a regular basis, often finding an uncomfortable level in others. I hope one day the world gets to a point of spreading love and it filling us all up with kindness. Until this happens, it is nice to see all acts of love and kindness as magical moments. Also, this  is as good a time as any to announce that I am now a mom! As this new role blankets me in all it’s warmth and coziness; I find a new love of holiday spirit.

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes that are full of wonder is truly remarkable. I thought I knew love before. Love for my dog who passed away was intense and a bond I never had prior. Love for my family and unconditional ties. A niece being born on this day, giving me my first Valentine celebration years ago. Love for amazing friends who become family. Love for my husband who I waited a long time to meet, all the while knowing in my heart we would find each other one day. Love for our new puppy, now dog, who is spunky and playful. Currently, the motherly love. Well, there are no words to describe this one. Let’s simply say, my whole world has changed and gotten brighter, bigger, and just more! So on this day, I wish all of you love. Especially skeptical and cynical minds because I understand that place in time. Hope you enjoy this day and take time for yourself to know how special all of you are to even exist on this planet. St. Valentine sent letters of love so this is my letter to all of you. Everyone matters, everyone is special, and you are all loved. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

-Karen Hilliard

Marvelous Mountain in the Desert

 Bristlecone pine along the trails on mount Charleston are sculpted by wind and rain. For example, when hiking the north loop trail in Cayo canyon, you will find beautiful sculptures at the top near Raintree, a very old bristlecone pine, she stands alone. On the way to her majestic beauty, you can find many sculptures of these trees leading  the way to her. I’ve done a small series of artwork on these very trees, because they are incredibly captivating. The colors vary depending on how high the sun is in the sky, if there is an overcast on the day of picture taking, and also depending on my mood while hiking. Sometimes I use a hint of yellow, blue, orange, as well as, of course, the contrasting shadows. I love the moments under an overcast sky where a different mood blankets over the subject I am photographing. The goal of this series was to capture to mood, movement, and possible adventures of these trees. Some of them were still alive and thriving while others were existing without their protective layer of pine needles. Some of these beautiful wonders had been struck by lightning and offered even deeper color hues of inspiration. I hope these paintings spark your interest and encourage you to see the beauty of our natural world.

Thank you for taking a walk, hike, and exploring Mt. Charleston with me. This beautiful mountain in the desert is part of the Spring Mountain Range. The Peak of Charleston itself stands at an elevation of 11,916 feet. There are many different mileage details on the internet of how long the hike is, from 16.1 to 21 miles which is a vast difference. The GO Mt. Charleston Site has the trail leading from the South loop at an 8.5 mile strenuous hike. Here is the information if you would like to go to the peak. We personally prefer the North Loop trail hike up to Rain Tree. It is a nice steep climb and lovely in all weather. You can also keep hiking to get to the summit from here. If you have a favorite hike on this mountain or surrounding areas, please leave it in the comments below.

Thank you all for reading and have a wonderful Thursday!

-Karen Hilliard

Juniper Trees

 Juniper trees are a beautiful sight to behold out at Red Rock Canyon. Actually,  anywhere in the southwest where you can adventure out into the wilderness and find one of these beautiful specimens of foliage is a real treat. The berries are actually called cones and birds eat them, they can also be used to make gin, a drink for humans. The problem with the juniper trees recently has been bird droppings, or ding, with a mistletoe seed in the poop. This then attaches to the tree and sucks the water out of the bark to grow the plant, then the mistletoe eats the tree. The mistletoe is a parasite for the trees. Out in the desert, especially where water is scarce, plants have to fight to survive, and the mistletoe is really taking over a lot of the juniper trees. While we’re out hiking, we love to find these trees and stare in awe at their beauty, always hoping to not see mistletoe. When I stop to sketch these trees I try to capture their needles and show the berries in bright colors. To me, they look like Christmas tree ornaments adorning the tree naturally. What do you see when you spot them? Have any of you seen them in real life, or just in photographs? Here are some paintings of Junipers I have done over the last few years. Let me know your thoughts on the comments!

What are you favorite paintings out of this little collection? What is your favorite tree or bird? I have a few plain air sketches of these trees from hiking as well and fortunately none of those have mistletoe. Please do not ever eat the mistletoe or berries as they are poisonous. I will not even eat a Juniper berry/cone if the mistletoe is growing anywhere on the tree. This parasite affects the structure of the tree. It can be removed carefully and trees can be spared, however that takes a specific skill set and knowledge in that area. Please do not attempt it unless you know what you are doing. Thank you for reading and have a marvelous Monday! Be safe out there!!

-Karen Hilliard 

Desert Life

 Life in the desert is harsh and wondrous at the same time. I say harsh, because the animals have to survive in such dry and air conditions. The plants are pointy, poisonous, and protect themselves with multiple layers of pins or needles. The fruit is hard to come by and the water is scarce. All of this being said, the animals thrive, and survive.

The flowers bloom in the hopes to be pollinated and if so, the wildlife will flourish. Desert Tortoise surprise me with their ability to survive. one of the slowest moving animals, yet, they hold their own with their mighty shells. these creatures need to find a water source and can fill up by eating cactus paddles. the spines of a cactus do not hinder their mighty biting abilities. This is one of the reasons why these creatures are so fascinating. Another, is that when they are babies to yearlings, they can be flipped over and a snack for birds. How do they survive? How does anything in the desert survive? Especially without water! They do however camouflage nicely into the scenery and can also appear as a rock from a birds eye view. Maybe this is how they manage to avoid being eaten. Do you have any thoughts on this subject? For now, I will just share my love for tortoises with this Tiny Painting, “Waking Up.” I wanted to give this little creature some lettuce after a long span of time hibernating. These are amazing creatures who will get to out live most of us if the conditions allow them to. 

Waking Up | Karen Hilliard Art | Tiny Paintings | 4x6

Another animal I marvel at is the Bighorn sheep. I am in awe of their rock climbing abilities and natural agility. One time I was out hiking with my dog and some friends when all the dogs spied two bighorns running atop the mountain’s ridge. They were an amazing site to behold. The dogs felt they could catch the sheep and went bounding after them, yet the bighorn were way too far away to be caught. My dog stayed by my side and watched the others in disbelief. The sheep chased each other and looked as if they were having their own battle with one another and could not be troubled by any visitors. All of this being said, please make sure to leash your dogs and be mindful of the wildlife. We are always visitors in their habitats and do not want to disturb them. My friend’s dogs quickly came back when she called them and they were leashed the rest of the hike. Always be respectful out in nature. The desert is hard enough on the indigenous species living there without the hassle from outside visitors. Thank you for reading and tried lightly this Thursday!

-Karen Hilliard

Red Rock Canyon

The Southwest is filled with marvels from Sandstone and Limestone rock formations to the various vegetation surrounding them. The animals alone are hearty and spectacular. I decided for my first blog on the beautiful landscape should be about my own backyard, Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead Recreation Area. This one will focus solely on Red Rock Canyon here in Las Vegas. The canyon is just outside Summerlin, which is a community here in Las Vegas. Summerlin is a lovely place filled with sandstone topography, and aesthetically pleasing stone walls around the businesses. You can find coffee shops, donut shops, pizzerias on your way out to red rock, or on your way back from the canyon if you are interested in a meal or a snack, after a long hike, or climbing session. There’s also horseback riding near the canyon past the 13 mile loop. Red rock Canyon has a lot to offer for families as well as experienced adventure enthusiasts. The 13 mile loop in itself has many pull outs with different names such as Pine Creek Canyon, Icebox Canyon, Calico Basin, Sandstone Quarry, and more. This has always been Las Vegas to me. Whenever I have friends visit, I try and take them out into nature rather than go to the strip to see the lights. I would rather take people out to the street sunshine and the vast desert surrounding all of Las Vegas.

Personally, I’ve only ever seen a coyote and some road runners inside the loop. I think we did calico basin pull out one and pull out two for several years. I loved running up and down the trail because the topography was nice and hilly. It was a very good workout. This is also where I first started climbing on rope on the panty wall and calico basin. It’s a great start for new or inexperienced climbers. Another activity people like to do in the loop is bike riding and then they often meet at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Summerlin at the end of the ride. I have yet to ride my bike around the 13 mile loop or to run around the entire thing. Have any of you been to red rock canyon and done any of these activities? I started going hiking just outside the loop and I absolutely love the freedom of it. Also, there are a limited number of people. Outside the loop I’ve seen Burroughs, bighorn, sheep, tarantulas, tarantula wasps, and much much more. The flowers and cacti are breathtaking. I am very excited to start taking you on walks out in this beloved desert ecosystem. 

Thank you for reading and have a Marvelous Monday!

-Karen Hilliard

City Parks and Botanical Shows

Parc de la Ciutadella was, and is, beautiful. I had been looking for a place to sketch on our trip, and I needed to be out in nature, yet away from the city while we were in the city. If that makes any sense? So Joanna and I found a lovely park with interesting statues, I sat, and was able to draw for a good amount of time while she relaxed on a bench. The sculptures looked like dragons, or gargoyles, and were made completely of stone. They were at the entrance to the park, and as we walked in, we saw a beautiful fountain with a baby cherub on top of a sculpture. I sat there and drew for what felt like hours, but it was really under an hour, and Joanna is such an amazing travel partner. She just sat taking it all in while watching people go about their day. I always liked to do this too, but I love to have a sketchbook in my hand because my mind is filled with art constantly; it always wants to be drawing, painting, sculpting, or doing something creative. I don’t know if any of you can relate but that is how my brain processes information. After a while, I start to feel for the people that are with me on the trip, even though they don’t mind, or say they don’t mind, and so we make sure to have plenty to do around where we are at in the moment.

While in the park, we were lucky to happen upon a botanical show filled with orchids. We were walking among these beautiful orchids from exotic places all over the world and we saw our first lacy leaf plant from Brazil. I didn’t write the name of it down here, but it looks like the Swiss hole plants that I find on the Internet. Many years later, I ended up getting a plant along the same lines, but not exactly the same as the one we saw that day. The show wais a special for orchids and we were lucky to come across that one plant which stayed in my mind for a very long time. The orchids were beautiful but I did not end up drawing them in the book in time but that plant really stuck with me. I wanted to do a whole series of green leaf plants because I just love the color green. That’s probably why my new series is focusing on trees because I admire how green envelops the Earth. My favorite thing about plants is that when man-made structures turn to rubble, plants will take over and the earth never stops growing; no matter how many times humans try to pull weeds, or re-create nature, it always comes back really strong.

After the orchid show, we walked around the park some more and found an interesting sign on a plaque in memory of lesbians and transsexuals from 2011. We walked farther along into the city, and we came across a protest where the police were starting to come with their riot shield, so we kept walking. We jjust wanted to keep enjoying the city and find more beautiful things to look at. That day ended up being an amazing art day for me, and an amazing exploration day for both of us. We felt like we really got to know the city that afternoon, and the people. I find it important, not only to eat at local restaurants, shop and local shops, but go to local places where the everyday person is walking about. It’s in these moments, where I find my most cherished memories from traveling. I hope this blog finds you well and I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday. I have noticed more people read my blogs on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I will try to keep up my one Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine. Please let me know in the comments what day you prefer for my posting these blogs because that would be really helpful. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Spanish Sea and Sangrias

Tranquility and subtle beauty awaited us on the shoreline of the Mediterranean. Joanna and I put on our dresses and walked down to the Sea. We wanted to just sit and relax while possibly gathering some treasures. We thought a lot about where we were and reminisced about our younger days when we took a trip to Maui. Wherever we go together, we have to find a body of water to sit and be thankful for this life. We feel deeply connected to the water, the land, and the air. These three elements all being in one place is magical. We also brought a bottle of wine to share down by the sea which is always a nice time. As we sat and the sun set, we decided to come back the next day for some daytime relaxation. I wanted time to sit with my sketchbook. The night air was warm and inviting and the moon was beautiful overhead. We had to get back to the campsite so we packed up our belongings, trinkets, the empty wine bottle, and made our way back to camp. We spent all night singing and laughing hysterically about our entire trip. It was one of the best nights I have had on a vacation.

The next morning we awoke to some other tourists cooking their breakfast outside our tent. They were German and very pleasant. After they finished their breakfast, they broke camp. Joanna and I just sat and watched them for an hour and they reminded us of circus performers. They had so much stuff to break down, pack up, and were in and out of their tents many times. After they finally left, we were in hysterics again about the whole experience. We decided to walk around the camp, look at the animals, and treat ourselves to the restaurant breakfast with a Café con Leche of course! When we were finished, we sat a bit and took it all in. Camping Barcelona is an amazing place all on its own. Then, it was time to go back to the sea. Thank goodness I brought my bag and had a hooded sweater inside of it. The weather drastically changed from the night before and there was a chill in the air. I love the unpredictable nature of wind. We sat, I sketched, and Joanna marveled at Mother Nature for a while. There was still a good portion of the day left so we decided to make our way to Mataró for some Sangrias at our favorite restaurant.

The owner and his father were behind the bar when we opened the door. This place was amazing and the owner always gifted us a little taste of a drink he really liked. Each time we went there, the drink was different and always delicious. We ordered the White Sangria and some hush puppies. Both were divine. Joanna and I tried Sangria at different restaurants throughout Barcelona and only the one place in Mataró. The clear, or white, sangria was quite refreshing on a hot day and made us feel hydrated. The red Sangria felt like a dance with a loved one. They both were created with fruit, yet the red tasted like a meal, then made us want to Dane, or move about. The white made us feel like relaxing and sitting at the restaurant. We ended up ordering a few more tapas and talking with the proprietor. He and his father had many stories and we ended up staying to meet his mother. We love finding family owned and run businesses when we travel. It is nice feeling like we are helping an actual person over a corporation. The feel of a family owned business also feels more like home. Where is somewhere in the world you would go back to if you had the chance? 

Thank you all for reading and have a marvelous Monday!

-Karen Hilliard