Sketching Red Rocks

Red rocks are a big drawn for visitors to Sedona, Arizona. These are not small rocks but mammoths named Bell, Cathedral, Coffeepot, Chimney, Steamboat, and Castle. To name a few.

I wanted to sketch a few of these Sedona features with my desert watercolor palette attempting to capture the rufous rocks. The red is caused by dissolved iron that has drained through sandstone layers for millions of years.

High on my list was to sketch the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Sedona must see since 1956. The chapel was build to fit into the red rocks like a jigsaw puzzle piece (featured sketch).

The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.
I sketched Bell Rock from the Chapel of the Holy Cross because all the Bell Rock parking lots were full by 8 AM.

In the afternoon I visited Red Rock State Park and had good light to sketch the iconic Arizona landmark: Cathedral Rock.

Red Rock State Park with Cathedral Rock in the background.
I sketch the iconic Cathedral Rock from the observation deck at Red Rock State Park.
At the base of Coffeepot Rock was a western movie set. Quite a few movies where filmed in and around Sedona. Now at the base is a gated community called “The Coffeepot Rock Cottages”. Cottages indeed!

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Just 20 miles south of the Central Valley city of Merced is a wildlife refuge that hosts the largest concentration of lesser sandhill cranes on the Pacific Flyway.

On Sunday morning I headed out into the cold Central Valley morning to one of the jewels of California’s wildlife refuges.

Twenty minutes later, as I neared the Refuge entrance, the field to my left was covered with geese and cranes.

There are a lot of geese, I mean a lot, at Merced National Wildlife Refuge.

I entered the the Refuge and scoped the flocks from the observation platform. Thousands of Ross’s, snow, and greater white-fronted geese and lesser sandhill cranes. I headed back into my moveable birding blind and started on the five mile auto route.

The rules of the auto route is that you have to remain in your vehicle. Your car acts as a moving blind allowing you to get very close to wildlife without scaring them away.

Lesser sandhill cranes below and lines of geese above.
The bugle call of sandhills overhead is a sound I look forward to every winter.

It was not just about observing feathered creatures. I also spotted a coyote trotting across a levy path with a white goose in it’s mouth. It is the circle of life after all. I also observed a scaled creature in the glassland area of a refuge. It was a beautiful four-foot gopher snake hunting in the ground squirrel burrows.


Coda: September 16, 1989, Santa Fe Road

At about 5:30 PM, Steven Stayner was riding his motorcycle home from his job at Pizza Hut heading out of Merced towards Atwater on Santa Fe Road.

At this point Steven was 24, he was married, and had two children. He had also wrecked three cars and amassed over $1,000 in speeding tickets, and his driver’s license was suspended, for the third time. He liked to drive fast and he was now riding fast down Santa Fe Road without a helmet.

He was nearing Richwoods Meats (where he formerly worked) when a car pulled out of a side road and stalled. Steven slammed into the driver side door and was thrown 45 feet over the car causing major head injuries. The driver fled the scene.

The street with no name looking towards Santa Fe Road with a BNSF freight heading southeast towards Merced. Steven was heading towards Atwater, which is to the right. He was struck and killed at this intersection.

He was taken to a Merced County Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 5:35 PM.

This was the end of Steven Stayner’s short but troubled life. He had spend 30% of his 24 years away from his family being sexually abused by Kenneth Parnell. When he returned to Merced in 1980, he had trouble readjusting to his new found fame and the structured Stayner household. The added stigma of having been a victim of a pedophile made him an easy target for bullies at Merced High School.

The Stayner home as it looks today. The garage that once held his name is on the left.

What I found astonishing was that after all that Steven had gone through, he did not receive any professional counseling, in fact his parents were against it.

Steven Gregory Stayner’s funeral was held in Merced at the Church of Latter Day Saints’ on September 20, 1989. Five hundred people attended the funeral, including the now fourteen year old Timothy White, who helped Steven Stayner along on his final journey, just as Steven had helped Timothy nine years before.

Timothy White was one of his pallbearers.

Steven Stayner rests in Merced, just across the highway and UP mainline from his childhood home on Bette Street.

Near the end of Steven’s life, a popular television miniseries was made about his life called I Know My Name is Steven. He made a cameo as a Merced police office in the scene when Steven returns to his home on Bette Street for the first time in over seven years. The series was nominated for four Emmys. Steven died the day before the Emmy ceremony.

A screen shot from the miniseries I Know My Name is Steven. In the center, behind the dog, is the actor Corin Nemec who plays the 14 year old Steven. The officer on the right is the real Steven Stayner.

In Merced’s Applegate Park there is a statue commemorating the moment that Steven left the one room cabin in rural Mendocino County and fled for freedom with five year old Timmy White. The statue, named the Steven Stayner Missing Children’s Memorial, was created by Paula Slater and dedicated on August 28, 2010.

Sometime in April 2020, the plaque attached to the base was stolen. Was this an act from a local who wanted to forget about the Stayner family or maybe just a treasure seeker?

What I think the statue represents is the light of courage and positivity in a deep dark experience that Stayner suffered for seven years. In the end he made the right decision that not only saved himself but another young life. I know that the label “hero” is often overused nowadays but this moniker fits the actions of fourteen year old Steven Stayner perfectly.


Freedom: March 1, 1980

On the evening of March 1, 1980, Steven Stayner made one of the biggest decisions of his 14 year old life.

He had to choose to turn his back on the former identity (a forced identity) he had been assuming over the last seven years and four months and help to save a young boy from going through the abuse he had gone through.

It is said that every journey begins with a single step, and their first step out of the one room cabin on Mountain View Road was monumental.

They headed east on Mountain View Road for a quarter of a mile when a car pulled over to give them a ride. The truck was driven by a Mexican laborer and he took the boys down the mountain into the Anderson Valley and then over the hill into the Mendocino County seat of Ukiah.

Timmy couldn’t remember where his parents lived so they went to his babysitter’s house instead. No one was home so the boys walked north on South State Street towards the Ukiah Police Station.

They passed within a block of the Palace Hotel, where Parnell was working as a night security guard. They turned right onto East Standley Street and walked the two blocks to the police station.

The boys passed within a block of the Palace Hotel. Parnell was working as a night security guard at the time of their journey to the Ukiah Police Station. This once majestic hotel is now boarded up and closed.

Steven sent Timmy to the police station alone. He opened the door to the station, got scared, and then turned back and recrossed the street to Steven. This caught the attention of the officer on duty (Offiicer Warner) and the police caught both boys and returned them to the station.

The view of the former police station coming from the direction the two boys traveled, east from State Street.

It was in one of the interrogation rooms at the Ukiah Police Station that Dennis Parnell became Steven Stayner. Uttering the now famous words: “I know my first name is Steven”.

While preparing for Parnell’s trial, a psychiatrist named Robert Wald wrote in his evaluation of Steven about the pivotal moment at the Ukiah Police Station : “It is my absolute belief that with the acknowledgement of his true identity, Steven Stayner freed himself from his state of being kidnapped . From a psychological point of view, he was still in a state of kidnap until he spoke his name, thus ending a psychic capture that lasted two thousand, six hundred forty-four days.”

Sketching notes: The featured spread is a field sketch from the shoulder of Mountain View Road of the one room cabin that was the last dwelling Steven shared with Parnell. While I was reading the account of Steven’s travails I thought that this cabin surely no longer existed and if it did, it must be so far off the road on private property making a sketch impossible. With a short search on Google maps, I found that, indeed the cabin still existed and in plain sight 15 yards from the road.

Before me was a bucolic country road and a rustic cabin surrounded by oaks and conifers. The morning was cold but a clear winter’s day. It seemed a perfect start to the day. The only ominous undercurrent was the presence of the cabin and the knowledge of what happen here in 1979 and 1980. It symbolized Steven’s prison as well as the start of his road to freedom.

The barn across the road from the cabin on Mt. View Road where Steven spent time and raised animals.

Timmy White

Five year old Timmy White left Yokayo Elementary School in Ukiah, California, on Valentine’s Day, 1980 at about 11:30 AM.

The kindergartener walked south down South Dora Road with a classmate. His destination was his babysitter’s home on South Street. He parted ways with his classmate and crossed the street and turned left down Luce Street.

No one witnessed or heard Timmy White’s kidnapping on Luce Street. It was as if he had disappeared into thin air.

The layers of time: while this looks like a quiet residential street in a small town, this is where Timmy White was kidnapped by Kenneth Parnell.

Timmy was the kidnap victim of sex offender Kenneth Parnell who enlisted the help of a teenager named Sean Poorman to assist with the kidnapping.

Timmy was taken to Parnell’s one room cabin at Mountain View Ranch, about an hour away from Ukiah. The cabin did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. Timmy’s first “home” away from home was very Spartan.

The cabin in rural Mendocino County where Timothy White was help captive for two weeks.

Luckily Timmy’s stay with his new “dad” was only two weeks. His savior was another boy that Parnell had kidnapped as he was walking home from school in Merced seven years previously. This was Timmy’s new “brother” Dennis. Dennis acted as Timmy’s protector and never left the five year old alone with Parnell. He was not going to allow what happened to him happen to his new purloined “brother”.

Coda: WhenTimothy White grew up, he relocated to Southern California where he gave presentations to students about the dangers of kidnapping. He became a sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He married and had two children. White died at the age of 35 on April 1, 2010 of a pulmonary embolism.


The Schooling of Dennis Parnell

As an educator I am fascinated by the seven years and four months that Steven Stayner spent as the abducted “son” of Kenneth Eugene Parnell, answering to the name “Dennis Parnell”.

For years I was under the assumption that his kidnapper keep Steven locked up in a closet, never allowing the boy to see the light of day, but Parnell was keeping Steven hidden in plain sight.

In the seven years of his captivity, Stayner was enrolled in eight different schools in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Steven attended 2nd grade through 9th grade as the “adopted” son of Parnell.

Parnell keep his captive in Yosemite and in a cabin in Catheys Valley but In 1973, they moved northwest to Sonoma County to a trailer park in Santa Rosa and Parnell enrolled Steven (now “Dennis”) at Steele Lane Elementary.

How on earth can you enroll a student without any previous school records? Well this was back in 1973 and I assume things were a bit looser then. But it still begs the question: why weren’t more questions asked about Steele Lane’s newest student and his strange father?

Moreover, the Stayner family had sent missing child posters to many of the districts and schools Steven ended up attending but somehow these posters never found their way onto bulletin boards in school offices or teacher’s lounges.

The former Doyle Park Elementary school, in Santa Rosa, where Steven attended 3rd grade. It is now a French-American charter school.

I try to put myself in his teacher’s shoes. Would I have seen the signs? Would I have seen the red flags waving? Often times there are things happening at home that we never know about which can affect their behavior and performance in the classroom. Sometimes it feels like you are just seeing the proverbial tip of the iceberg. As a State Mandated Reporter, teachers are required by law to report any signs of abuse or neglect. But did young “Dennis” show those signs?

Sketching notes: for the featured sketch I could have sketched a few different schools that Steven attended in Sonoma County but I chose Kawana Springs Elementary ( Kawana Elementary in the 1970s) because this is where Steven Stayner attended fourth grade.

Being a fourth grade teacher, Kawana Springs Elementary has a personal connection for me. What would have I thought of my new fourth grade student? Would I have seen the evil lurking below?

Many different teachers looked and didn’t see it.

Would I?


Steven Stayner: Merced

Steven Stayner was the middle child and youngest son to Del and Kay Stayner. He was born April 18, 1965 in Merced, California.

Del worked as a mechanic at a local cannery and Kay was a homemaker. Steven had three sisters and one older brother, Cary.

The first home Steven loved was a farmhouse in an almond orchard just 20 miles north of Merced but after his father’s attempt at farming and holding down his job at the cannery failed, the Stayner family moved into a smaller home on Bette Street in the southeastern part of Merced. (The featured sketch is the Stayner family home at 1655 Bette Street).

Young Steven attended Charles Wright Elementary School just northwest across the Central Yosemite Highway (Highway 140) from the family home. Mrs. Walsh was his second grade teacher in the fall of 1972.

The day before his kidnapping, Steven had gotten in trouble for writing his name on the side of the garage at Bette Street. This was later to have a much deeper meaning as Steven was to change his identity and leave the Steven Stayner, the second grader of Merced, far behind. (His father never erased or painted over the signature hoping it would help identify the house should Steven ever return).

On December 4, 1972, Steven made his last walk home as a student of Charles Wright Elementary. He crossed highway 140 at Highlands Drive and at the Red Ball Gas Station at Jean Street, he was approached by a man handing out religious pamphlets.

Steven Stayner was a mere four blocks from home.

The stranger asked if his mother would help with donations for the church. This must have made sense to young Steven because there was a church a quarter of a block west from the gas station. He was then asked if he wanted a ride to his house so he could collect donations. That’s when the white Buick pulled up.

The driver was Kenneth Parnell, a night bookkeeper at the Yosemite Lodge and a convicted sexual offender. Steven got into the wrong car. A decision that would change Steven and the Stayner family forever.

This gas station on the corner of Yosemite Parkway and Jean Street was once the Red Ball Gas Station where Steven was abducted. Where I’m standing is the appropriate spot where seven year old Steven got into Parnell’s Buick. In the lower left of the photo is the Merced First Assembly of God church.

Parnell turned right onto Highway 140 and passed Shirley Street, the street that Steven would have walked down to return to his home.

He would not return to 1655 Bette Street for another seven years and four months.

Sketching notes: the feature sketch of the Stayner house is based on a photograph I took. While the Stayners have not lived in this house for over 40 years I wanted to respect the neighborhood’s privacy and not become one of the Stayner gawkers that must visit this house on a somewhat regular basis.

I tried to paint the house in the way it might have looked when Steven returned here for the first time in seven years, on the evening of March 2, 1980. The house was painted pea green. I included the “Welcome Home Steve!” sign that was hung across the front window and I added the Steven’s signature on the side of the garage.

I looked at the specs of the 1955 three bedroom, two bath, 1,220 square foot house on a real estate website. The house on Bette Street is currently valued at $ 321,882 and it’s noted that it is a “home with loads of potential”, which is code for a “real fixer upper”. What is not noted on the website is fact that the Stayner family ever lived here.


The Brothers Stayner

The story of the Steven and Cary Stayner is a story of abduction and return, of the loss of innocence and the loss of life. About the temporal limelight and the deep dark shadows and about the best and the worst in humanity.

The setting of this story is the small to mid-sized Central Valley city of Merced, California (the population in the 1970s was 22, 670). The city is named “Gateway to Yosemite” and our story spans over three decades.

The kidnapping of seven year old Steven Stayner and his return, seven years later, became a huge international news story, propelling the young 14 year old into the limelight. Steven’s story became a popular book and a two part television miniseries called I Know My First Name is Steven (1989). More about Steven’s story in other posts.

A map of that fateful afternoon journey on December 4, 1972 of Steven Stayner. Blue is good, red is life-altering.

It is almost beyond imagination the impact that Steven’s kidnapping and seven year absence had on the Stayner family. The family grappling with the unknown; would they ever see there son/brother again? Would be every return to the small home on Bette Street?

Well on March 2, 1980 the answer was yes. Steven returned home for the first time in seven years.

Looking back on the news footage of Steven’s return on the front lawn of the Stayner house on Bette Street, there were many hugs and tears, the unbound joy as Steven returned home, holding his dog “Queenie”. There is one face, in the background, that does not seem to show joy or happiness. That is the face of Steven’s older brother Cary.

Cary shared a room with Steven and while he wished on a star, on clear evenings, for seven years, for return of his brother. He also felt ignored by his parents. They were focused on the missing boy and on his return, Steven became a media superstar. Cary stepped into the limelight twenty years later, for much different reasons.

Meanwhile, Steven settled back into life in Merced. He returned to high school and later got married and had two children. On September 16, 1989, Steven was struck and killed by a motorist as he was riding his motorcycle home from work at a pizza parlor. He was only 24 years old.

By the late 1990s, Cary was working as a handyman at the Cedar Lodge. This hotel is on Highway 140 in El Portal, a short drive to Yosemite National Park.

Three events shaped the arc of Cary Stayner’s life: his brother’s kidnapping and return, his brother’s death, and the unsolved murder of his uncle Jesse (who he was living with at the time). Cary had some sort of break and it a mystery what drives a man to kill another human being. What causes a man to become a serial killer?

Cary’s first victims were a mother, her daughter, and a family friend staying at the Cedar Lodge. Later in July 1999, Stayner murdered a naturalist near Yosemite. This murder was his undoing as he left physical evidence that led authorities arrest him at a nudist resort just east of Sacramento.

To tell the story of the Brothers Stayner, I created a series of thumbnail sketches linked to two maps (featured sketch). The two maps are of Merced and Yosemite. The thumbnail sketches are (from left to right): the Stayner family home on Bette Street, Charles Wright Elementary School (where Steven walking home from), the Red Ball Gas Station (where Steven was kidnapped), the 2010 Steven Stayner and Timothy White Statue in Applegate Park, Steven’s grave maker at Merced Cemetery, the green cabin where Joie Armstong lived in Foresta, the Cedar Lodge, and Cary Stayner’s current home: Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.


Stanford Statuary

On a Saturday morning I headed south, with Grasshopper, to the campus of Stanford University to sketch one of my favorite subjects: statues.

We parked near the main quad and walked amongst the oaks and eucalyptus to the Stanford Mausoleum to see if there where any sketch opportunities.

In this location the Stanfords planned to build a mansion but their only son died at the age of 15. So the Stanfords built a university instead.

The mausoleum now contains the remains of all three members of the Stanford family. The entrance is flanked by two sphinxes. I thought about sketching them but they didn’t speak to me but some griffins sure did.

Two griffins now flank the path that leads to the mausoleum. The pair where sculpted in 1863 by Eugene-Louis Lequesne and then cast in iron in the 1870s. The statues once graced the entrance to an estate on El Camino Real and were later moved to the campus.

In 1978, an attempt was made to make the griffins the mascot of the university (to replace the Indians) but the University went with Cardinal, the color not the bird. The Stanford Tree is the official mascot of the marching band and it is routinely voted “the worst mascot” of any university.

We came upon the griffins while looking for the Angel of Grief statue. After sketching the left griffin, we continued our search for the monument to Jane Stanford’s brother, Henry Clay Lathrop. This statue is a copy of a copy, originally sculpted by William Wetmore Story in 1894 for a grave for his wife. The original sculpture is in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. The original Stanford replica (built in 1901) was damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. the second replica was created in 1908 and then refurbished in 2001.

I sketched the statue with my TWSBI Diamond 580 with Carbon black ink. To paint in the shadows I used a pen brush filled with an ink and water mix. The ink I used was a pencil gray called Viharfelho by the Hungarian company Pennonia. I picked this ink up in Japantown and so far I like the result (sketched the griffin in this ink).

We headed back towards the Main Quad because Grasshopper wanted to sketch some sandstone pillars, of which there are many at Stanford. I found some more statues to sketch.

These are the group of Auguste Rodin statues called The Burghers of Calais. I found a pillar to lean on and sketched one of the statues from behind. I love to sketch Rodin hands. It sometimes feels like I’m drawing a wild animal.


Santa Cruz Counties Disappearing Wharves

The 2022-2023 atmospheric rivers (nine in total) dumped rain, strong wind, and storm surges on Santa Cruz County causing an estimated $100 million worth of damage.

In a 22 day period, the storm dumped 35.38 inches on the town of Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 39.55 inches on Santa Cruz (a record amount) and left 15 feet of snow over Donner Summit. The storm systems dumped an estimated 32 trillion gallons of water on California and the storm left 20 people dead, including the man killed by a falling cypress in Lighthouse Field in Santa Cruz.

On Thursday January 19, the county got a very rare visit by a sitting president. The last president to visit the area was Theodore Roosevelt in May of 1903. There has to be some serious damage in order for the president to hop on Airforce One and fly cross the nation to the Monterey Bay Area.

President Biden visited the damaged Capitola Wharf and then headed to Aptos to view damage at Seacliff State Beach, home to the “Concrete Ship” the S. S. Palo Alto.

The Capitola Wharf was damaged by storm surge on Thursday January 5, taking out a 40 foot section of the 855 foot historic wharf, which was built in 1857. I intended to visit and sketch the wharf.

I weaved my way through residential streets of Capitola heading toward Capitol Village and the damaged pier. I found free parking on Prospect Ave (miraculously find!) and headed east toward Cliff Drive. The berm shrouded the beginning section of the wharf and as I walked east, the true damage appeared and it was shocking to see, even though I had seen photos and videos of the damage during news coverage.

Where’s the wharf?

Today was a beautiful winter day: clear skies, light wind, and temps flirting with the low 60s. I tried to image what the scene before me looked like 15 days ago. I tried to image the intense wind and rain and the 30 foot waves that engulfed the wharf, eventually taking large pieces of the wharf away and depositing them inside sea-fronted business. It was hard to image this on such a beautiful day.

I found a bench and opened up my Stillman & Birn Delta panoramic sketchbook and used my telephoto sketcher’s eye to zoom in on the damaged section on the wharf.

Using my sketcher telephoto view.

I then headed south on Highway One for a short drive to Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. It was here that the president viewed another damaged wharf and then gave a press conference about the damage he viewed and federal emergency funding.

From the upper parking lot I looked out to the segmented and ruins of the “Concrete Ship”, the S. S. Palo Alto. The ship had been torn into three pieces by a series of storms in the past but now it looked like the ship was further off shore than normal. This was really an optical illusion because the wharf that reached the ship’s stern was all but destroyed in the recent storms, leaving the Palo Alto looking like a rusting isolated island chain crowned in cormorants, gulls, and pelicans.

I sketched the ship with my new TWSBI Diamond 580 fountain pen. I had sketched this ship before in it’s various stages of decompose. I remember a time when I was a child when you could actually walk out on the pier and to the ship. Those days are long gone.

The destroyed wharf, the Palo Alto (in three parts), and the line of debris on Seacliff State Beach.

The Palo Alto was built at the end of World War I and launched in May of 1919. She was designed to be a tanker but was finished too late as the war ended. She was mothballed in Oakland and then purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company in 1929. The pier was built in 1930 and the ship was used as an “amusement” ship with a swimming pool, a dance floor, and a cafe.

The company soon went bankrupt and the ship was sold to the state and it was then used as a fishing pier. Around this time the ship cracked in the middle during a winter storm. A February storm in 2016 pushed the ship on it’s starboard side and the ship is now in three or more pieces.

An Aptos mural by Ann Thiermann of the S. S. Palo Alto in better days. That man shouldn’t be feeding that pup ice cream!