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Tucson has a varied desert landscape. Two of the views here are from the still-rustic Tucson Mountains, west of the city. To the north are the Catalina mountains, which offer snow about 1 hour's drive from the heart of town. Drives in other directions offer many experiences among Sonoran Desert landscapes.


50.5 View of Rincon Mountains. From a ranch on Tanque Verde Road (on east side of Tucson). This was one of my first Tucson landscapes, painted during an artists’ “paint-out” in 1975.

233 Agave patterns. View of a plant in our front yard. The agave (or maguey) plant was grown and harvested in prehistoric times for food and fiber. With fermentation, it produced a sacred alcoholic drink called pulque. Agave is known today as the source of the differently produced drinks, tequila and mezcal.

389 A patio at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A world-famous museum of Sonoran Desert animals, plants, and geology, located near Saguaro National Monument on the west side of Tucson. In the background, the Tucson Mountains.

440 Sonoran Desert sunset The lights of Tucson come on as dramatic colors of a desert sunset fade. I enjoy including the moon in my paintings, since, in my alternative reality as a scientist, my colleague Don Davis and I at the Planetary Science Institute introduced the modern theory of the moon’s origin, from the debris of a giant impact between primordial Earth and another planetary body during the origin of the solar system.

463 Our town, seen from the Tucson Mountains. The scene looks northeast across the Tucson Basin toward the Catalina and Tanque Verde mountains.

623 Eucalyptus tree. Growing in Agua Caliente Park on the northeast side of Tucson.

658 Morning at the San Xavier Mission. This beautiful Spanish-colonial style cathedral, located on the San Xavier reservation of the Tohono O’odham Native Americans, south of Tucson, dates from 1783 to 1797. The original mission, at an unknown site nearby, was founded in 1692 by the famous Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Kino, who explored and wrote about most of the Sonoran desert in the 1690s, started missions in many of the native villages that he encountered.

677 Waiting for the next rain.Many dry creek beds in the Tucson area (known as “washes”), gush with water only during the summer rainy season. This view on Bear Creek looks upstream toward its source in the Catalina Mountains, bordering the north side of Tucson.

685 Gold and scarletThe flowers were painted along a pathway at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, during a “quick draw” event during which participating artists have their blank canvas or board stamped at the beginning, and then must bring back their results in 1 ½ hours. It is extremely good practice, forcing the painter not to over-think the work, but rather to rely on spontaneous reactions and accumulated mastery of their medium.

775 Springtime on the Camino del Cerro. April brings a profusion of blossoms throughout Tucson, with the golden glow of palo verde trees being perhaps the most prominent. This painting resulted from a commission by family friends, showing a palo verde tree in bloom in their driveway, just off Camino del Cerro in the Tucson mountain foothills on the east side of town.

Hiking the Sweetwater Trail in the Tucson Mts. Dawn light over City from rincon Mtns

448 -- Hiking the Sweetwater Trail. Tucson Mountain Park occupies much of the Tucson Mountains on the west side of Tucson, and has many hiking trails. This view was painted during a memorial hike for recently deceased friend, Bill Waller, who lived in the Tucson Mountains. Acrylic with from Tucson Mountains (and from Paris, France, in honor of Bill’s work for the International Herald Tribune Paris office, on 11x19 acid free board. 

515 --  Dawn Liight Over City As Seen From The Rincon Mountains.   This view looks across Tucson toward the west, with the full moon setting and the first bits of sunlight striking the tops of the distant Tucson Mountains. 

My Neighbor's Wall Backlit Cacit at ASDM

516 -- My Neighbor’s Wall.   A little scene painted in the alley behind my house. 

577 -- Backlit Cacti At The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.   Painted during 1.5 hour ‘quick draw’ event during an art exhibition at the museum, this view shows how different kinds of cacti show different colors in light transmitted through their needles when the needles are backlit by the sun. 

At Old Fort Lowell Spring Morning at the Presidio

616 -- At Old Fort Lowell.  This U.S. Army was active from 1873 to 1891, to protect Tucson during unrest with the Apaches. The fort was located about 6 miles from the town center to reduce trouble between soldiers and townspeople. At Fort Lowell Park, remains of a number of adobe buildings and a museum can be seen. 

720 -- Spring Morning At The Presidio.  In what is now downtown Tucson, the Spanish, in 1775 (the year before American independence back on the east coast!) established the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson, one of a chain of Spanish forts to protect Spanish missions and settlements on the Mexican northern frontier. The northeast corner watchtower was reconstructed (at the corner Church and Washington Streets) and is now open with exhibits a prehistoric Hohokam pit house, the Spanish Garrison, and life in the territorial era. The painting shows three generations of Tucson architecture: the reconstructed Spanish Presidio adobe wall, a Mexican style adobe building across the street, and a modern office building in the distance.

480 - Afternoon View of Tucson from the Tucson Mts. At the desert Lab on Tumamoc Hill

490 -- Afternoon View of Tucson from the Tucson Mts. This is another view, some months later, at a much larger scale, from a location close to the previous site. The Tucson Mts. are a semirural residential area west of Tucson. Many of us have been engaged in trying to preserve it from urban sprawl. Painted from nature.

774 -- Winter Morning At The Desert Lab On Tumamoc Hill. The Carnegie Desert Laboratory was established in 1903, to study Sonoran Desert botany. The buildings, of local basalt, date mostly from the next decade. This building was originally a chemistry lab, but after a fire had to be rebuilt around 1916. The hill offers beautiful views of Tucson. Acrylic with local soil.  

140.5 - Afternoon Light on Baboquivari 421 - December, Bear Wallow, Catalina Mts, Arizona
140.5 -- Afternoon Light on Baboquivari, sacred peak of the Tohono O'odham. Baboquivari is a prominent peak near Kitt Peak National Observatory, west of Tucson on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. It figures in O'odham myth and history. This was painted from life during a hike to the summit. (Well, the others reached the summit; I stayed in the saddle and painted.) 421 -- December, Bear Wallow, Catalina Mts, Arizona. The Catalinas include a national forest recreation area north of Tucson, about an hour from the city. It may not look like the conventional view of the Tucson area, but it offers a refuge from the summer heat and unfamiliar ski conditions during part of the winter. This was painted from nature (by a very cold painter) after a snowstorm in the area.

380 - Moonlight View Across Tucson Basin from the West 388 - Morning at Sanctuary Cove, West of Tucson
380 -- Moonlight View Across Tucson Basin from the West. I was struck by the contrast on the cloud surfaces between the copper-red color of the city glow on the bottom side, to the more silver-blue tone of the moonlight on the illuminated edges. 388 -- Morning at Sanctuary Cove, West of Tucson. This is a small park with a chapel for meditation.

(All paintings Copyright William K. Hartmann).

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