Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Forest for the Trees

There's a fairly common misperception that deserts are sandy boring places devoid of life. My wife, who grew up in a lush tropical environment where virtually everything is green and often wet, was briefly aghast at the idea that I wanted to take her to the spooky waterless wastelands that make up a fair part of the U.S. But then I showed her pictures and she changed her mind. Deserts, you see, come in many shapes and sizes. And many of them, perhaps even most, have trees. In fact, they come in a fairly dizzying array of shapes and sizes. The desert southwest is home to a wide array of cedars, junipers, and small to medium pines with even quite large trees like the ponderosa pine thrown in where there's enough water. Along river bottoms you'll even find wet trees like cottonwoods and willows. Below are a few examples in Utah and Arizona:

Pinyon and juniper are everywhere on the Colorado Plateau. At times they become sufficiently thick you can call them a forest. (They're often thick enough to conceal the cliffs that sometimes come out of nowhere, leaving you "rimrocked." Watch your step. You can just as easily find yourself at the top of such a scarp as at the bottom.) This somewhat thinner stand surrounds Square Butte in Arizona.

Large Pines like the Lodgepole, Ponderosa, and Douglas Fir (apparently not actually a Fir) can often be found at higher elevations, such as this alcove at Middle Emerald Pools above Zion Canyon in Utah.

Small and scraggly conifers surround one possible proxy for Lace Rock, Double-O Arch in the back of the Devil's Garden at Arches. (Very near Moab Utah. Not an accident. Someone might possibly have pictures of me inside the upper arch when I was rather young.) I won't belabor the point further, but if you want to see a little more of my inspiration I've slapped up a folder with some of my old travel photos.

Anyway, I digress . . .

Last year, after Christmas, I had a brilliant idea. When I went to throw the tree out there were, of course, many branch tips that fell off. Not too surprising, I'd guess. Well, to me they suddenly looked much like small trees themselves. Aha! I thought. I have new trees for my gaming table. Now nearly a year later I've finally done something with them. (Just in time to save more and larger chunks of greenery.)

The basic idea is pretty easy. I glue the branchlets to small copper plated zinc bases I "buy" from the US mint at a hundred for a buck. (I'm not at all sure I could buy washers cheaper, but I'd have to drive to the hardware store to find out, which would require me to burn gas doubtless making them more expensive. And they'd have holes in the middle. These don't. Advantage to Mr. Lincoln.) So anyway, using them is little more complex than gluing them to a base with CA, painting the base, and coating with your favorite ground cover. I use full strength PVA (white glue) and playground sand with the occasional clump of Woodland Scenics ground foam for small bushes.

It takes surprisingly few trees to busy up a table quite a bit. 

And of course I have plenty of materials for some new variations. (More when the current tree departs.) Should be a right busy forest soon enough.

Anyway, thank you as always for reading. I hope there's something useful and interesting here. See you next time.

The Composer


  1. Individually based trees make storage easier, maks placing miniatures in wooded areas easier and make it possible to easily make any other piece of terrain (like a hill of cliff or swamp) wooded.

    I heartily approve of this approach :)

  2. I just love when "cheap", "skill" and "awesome" combine to make such stuff.
    Now I feel this urge to go in the forest behind my house and get my PVA out.

    Thanks for that

  3. Wow, beautiful and creative, love this work!

  4. ^Cheetor,

    My thinking was quite the same. I may build one or two into rocks eventually, but I like flexibility.


    Thank you. Free is my favorite price, and while I did pay for the tree from whence the bits came I'd have bought it anyway, so I can write the modeling materials off as free to my wife. Always a plus. Go forth with thine PVA and show us what thou hast! Looking forward to it.


    Thank you. My thanks to all of you.

  5. Have to agree with the above comments: an excellent idea and well followed-through!