Rigsby’s painting from Yosemite National Park

Robert C. Rigsby, Jr. has brought new meaning to extreme plein air, as the artist spent much of 2016 trying to paint each of our nation’s 59 national parks in observance of their 100th anniversary. Did he reach his goal? His amazing story is here!

It’s an objective that’s probably on the bucket list of every outdoor/camping junkie in the United States: visit all 59 national parks. Robert C. Rigsby, Jr. had similar aspirations, but he’s an outdoor painting junkie. The story of his incredible journey is one that combines travel, art, and the psychological drama of rediscovering purpose late in life.

Rigsby’s setup at Arches National Park

“Like many retirees,” Rigsby says, “I had big dreams but meager means, which required I pursue this trip with minimal expenses. From a point of frustration and depression, I dropped what I was doing in my lifelong career, gathered up camping equipment, loaded my small commercial van, and hit the road.” It took over 30,000 miles and six months for Rigsby to complete his plein air marathon, eventually hitting 50 of the 59 national parks. “I traveled south to the Dry Tortugas,” he continues, “north to Denali, east to Acadia, and west to the Channel Islands — and all the parks in between.”

Rigsby painting at Crater Lake in Oregon

Along the way, Rigsby had many amazing encounters with local wildlife — some more frightening than others. One day, as he was deeply invested in his painting, someone wasn’t happy about the artist’s plein air adventure — at least not in their neck of the woods. Rigsby recounts:

“From the distance, I hear a faint ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum. It gets louder. A crescendo that rises until I can feel the thumping in the ground. What could it be? Sounds like hoof beats. Horses? I was taught in veterinary school when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras. So, not zebras. But louder and louder. Suddenly an apparition rises in the middle of the field as it tops the rise. It’s big, and getting bigger. It has long ears that rise and fall with every gallop. Dust rises from pounding hooves. Ropey saliva slings from the side of its mouth. Vapor expels with every breath from the flaring nostrils of a long, bent nose. A moose nose!

No doubt redwood trees are fantastic plein air subjects.

“It’s a moose! It’s a bounding freaking moose running straight at me! Three things flash through my mind. First, in Alaska, more people are killed by moose than by bears each year. Second, this isn’t Alaska. Third, I was told, if charged by a moose, get something between you and the moose. Something substantial, like a tree — but the nearest tree is 200 yards behind me. If this were a bear, I’d be trying to look as big as I can, stand up, wave, make noise. Given the situation, I played the bear option and lifted the easel, with umbrella, up and began shaking and swinging the whole contraption from side to side.

Rigsby’s painting from the Petrified Forest

“Of course, brushes and paper towels flew off, enhancing the effect (but surprisingly, the dabs of paint stayed in the open box). At about 30 yards distant, the moose stopped. Just planted its front feet and came to a screeching halt. With sclera flashing, nares flaring, and chest heaving ,it stared. Three seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi) and it turned to the left and ran. Phew!”

I can’t even imagine! Moose are huge, and, as Rigsby suggested, can be incredibly deadly animals. Luckily for the artist, his easel and other equipment served a much more important function that day than painting a picture.


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