Wingate Cliffs Sunset

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, Utah.

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park: serenely lonely in the wintertime. A great time to visit.

The day after snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest at 7,000 feet elevation I decided to switch gears and go down about 2,000 feet to the high desert. That’s the kind of variety one can enjoy in southeast Utah.

No winter boots or heavy parka needed down there, especially since there had been several days of sunlight to melt any icy patches in the shady areas.

It was another sunny day, and calm as well. So pleasant for the last day of January.

I headed for the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. From US 191 between Monticello and Moab, take Utah 211 down Indian Creek Canyon to the Noodles. I mean Needles.

I hiked the easy Slick Rock Trail in the park mostly for the exercise, then started the drive back up along Indian Creek. I had seen a total of four vehicles all afternoon. Besides the extremely pleasant hiking weather, the absence of crowds is why this is one of my favorite times of year to visit this spectacular area.

The walls of Indian Creek Canyon are dominated by the vertical burnt red cliffs consisting of Wingate Sandstone. World class rock climbing if that’s your thing. Me, I like to stare at them from down on the valley floor. Especially when the low light approaching sunset lights them up.

Indian Creek Canyon recreation area in winter, Utah Highway 211.

Utah highway 211 in Indian Creek Canyon. Snow on the north sides of the cliffs.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

See much more of my photography on my website: NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Snowshoeing It

Snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest near Monticello, Utah.

Snowshoes, sunlight and tree shadows.

Real winter finally came to southeast Utah this season. There had been a number of beautiful snows up until recently, but not much more than seeing the mountains brightened up again each time, with a couple inches down in town.

That changed late this month, with several back to back storms that as usual came from the west or southwest and kept on truckin’ into western Colorado.

Atlas snowshoes, ready to be put to use.

Atlas snowshoes, fresh out of the shipping carton from REI.

My trout fishing lake had finally frozen over, and snowed over the ice as well.

The problem with the dead of winter is how to exercise. Oh, the runners keep running out there. And the people who work out at gyms keep on the treadmills and the weight machines.

Gambel Oak stand in January snow, Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, Utah.

Gambel Oak shadows on a January afternoon at 7,000 feet.

But what is a mountain man to do when the snow is deep? walking to the Post Office and back each day doesn’t count for much. Though it’s better than nothing.

Snowshoes. Like trout fishing it had been many years, but perhaps another facet of my life was coming full circle.

Loyds Lake in January ice and snow cover, Monticello, Utah.

Overlooking frozen Loyd’s Lake in January.

I went to REI and there were a pair of modern snowshoes on sale for just $40. End of the season, you know.

They arrived last week and I’ve been out twice. I avoid the weekends when there are snowmobilers, cross country skiers, and other winter sport enthusiasts flying about. I prefer to be the only human breaking the silence of the woods, if possible. And it’s possible.

Snowshoeing on Manti-La Sal National Forest in San Juan County, Utah.

Snowshoeing near Loyd’s Lake, with the Abajo Mountains in the distance.

The advantage to snowshoeing is that you don’t need to have the skill of being on skinny skies like you do with cross country skiiing. Which I have done, and loved, but chose not to get back into at this time. With snowshoes, you can plod along even over deep unbroken snow. Rest when you want, even facing downhill or uphill. You may not get to enjoy the thrill of sliding along and whooshing back downgrade, but anybody can use snowshoes. There is something to be said for going slower.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, southeast Utah.

See much more of my photography on my website at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Moki Dugway View, San Juan River Valley

Moki Dugway in winter, Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

The Moki Dugway section of Utah-261 at the south end of Cedar Mesa.

Winter in the high desert canyon country of southeast Utah. It’s been a good one for the mountain snowpack; the Abajo Mountains are at 200% of normal as far as moisture content from this winter’s snow and rain, forecasting a lush green spring.

The Moki Dugway is an unpaved portion of Utah Highway 261 that connects the southern end of Cedar Mesa with US 163 between Bluff and Mexican Hat. The Dugway drops 1,100 feet in just three miles, making it a spectacular (some would say white knuckle) stretch of road.

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It’s a spectacular view from the southern edge of Cedar Mesa looking down onto the San Juan River valley, with Valley Of The Gods, Monument Valley, and several mountain ranges in the distance.

It’s also within the new Bears Ears National Monument declared on December 28, 2016.

See more of my photography on my website: http://www.naturalmoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Winter Deer Feeding

Winter in southeast Utah at 7,000 feet and the mule deer are down from the high country onto their winter range.  They are browsing on sagebrush and other shrub species, grasses and forbs.

It’s long past hunting season, so they are infinitely more relaxed than during the fall season. Thus a group of them are not overly concerned as I stop my vehicle on the lightly used county road to see if I can get some decent shots right from the vehicle as the evening light is quickly failing.

A mature doe and her two young ones from the previous spring are browsing the vegetation. They were fawns last spring, won’t be a year old until April or May, so are experiencing their first winter following their mother around.

It’s a light wet snow falling, so their coats look wet. But since the main part of their “fur” consists of hollow hairs, each hair is a little bit of trapped air–natural insulation.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Monument, near Monticello, Utah.

See more of my nature photography on my website at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Bryce Canyon in Winter

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon Winter Morning Vista

Of all the spectacular scenery in southern Utah, the top of the chain is Bryce Canyon National Park. Well, almost the very top of the chain. The uppermost is nearby at Cedar Breaks National Monument, but that’s a story for another post.

The Colorado Plateau is an immense region in southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, and northwest New Mexico of stacked sedimentary rock layers that was uplifted from sea level to heights just over 9,000 feet in places. But it happened without getting all “scrunched up” into jagged mountain peaks like happened to the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains. It’s like a massive layer cake whose layers stayed level (with some local exceptions) as it was raised up into the sky.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, with Ponderosa pine trees.

Bryce Canyon and Ponderosa pines in winter.

The entire sequence of geologic layers has come to be branded the Grand Staircase. It’s called that by geologists and tourist agencies alike, because the beauty appeals to everyone, regardless of whether you give a hoot about rocks and dirt. From Bryce Canyon you can look out over most of it, if you know what you’re looking at. But the lower layers are obscured from view by the Earth’s curvature–and the depth of the Grand Canyon far to the south, which holds the lowermost layers.

The raising of these immense layers of the Earth’s crust has exposed them to the elements, to varying degrees. Weathering. Erosion. And erosion–like rust–never sleeps!

Erosion carves the exposed layers into fantastic shapes and reveals their colors. Thus beauty is created by things falling apart. Kind of the opposite of what one might think. That’s geology for you.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos from above.

At Bryce you’re enjoying the Pink Cliffs. A layer of limestone that erosion carves into walls, fins, and finally hoodoos (irregularly edged spires).

And in winter, the snow really sets them off. Especially under a trademark Utah high country blue sky.

Photo location: Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Evening Snow Squall, Canyonlands

Evening snow squall clouds over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

Evening snow squall clouds over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

It was the afternoon before the January Full Moon, and the weather wasn’t looking good for my favorite time of the month: Moonrise over a wild landscape. Especially mountains.

Since I live only an hour away from the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah, I always think of them for moonrise shots, especially since there are some great viewpoints on public land in which to position oneself.

But on this particular afternoon, January 11, another snow storm was headed our way. The clouds were wrapped tight around the upper peaks of the La Sals. And they didn’t look like they would dissipate around sunset time, either.

Still, I headed out toward the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, because the clouds were mixed with areas of blue sky and everything was in flux. Unpredictable light, often the best kind.

Wintry snow squall clouds over the Colorado River near Canyonlands National Park.

Wintry snow squall clouds over the Colorado River near Canyonlands National Park.

A viewpoint down toward the Colorado River and the distant Island In The Sky district of Canyonlands was a mix of shadow, sunlight, and snow squall clouds.

The clouds never did part over the La Sal Mountains, but I was out there. I was ready. And I enjoyed some spectacular views anyway.

Photo location: northern San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

January Sunrise on the Abajo Mountains

The just-risen sun lights up the Abajo Mountains with a pink glow in January, near Monticello, Utah.

January sunrise colors on the Abajo Mountains near Monticello, Utah.

January brings cold but beautiful mornings at the lake. Sometimes it’s frozen over completely, other times part of it reopens for a while, depending on the direction of the wind and how cold the temperature has been overnight.

Snow continues to cover the front peaks of the Abajo Mountains as seen from Monticello: South Peak, Abajo Peak, Horsehead Peak.

The other morning the temperature was near the single digits Fahrenheit, but there was no wind. The center of the lake had refrozen with a skim of clear ice. It was overcast except for a slot near the southeast horizon over Colorado, letting the just-risen sun through to light up the Abajos with a rosy glow. The clear ice, without a coating of snow, served as a nice mirror for the reflection of the snow capped mountain peaks.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

End of December

Icicles lit up at sunrise, southeast Utah.

Icicles at Sunrise.

The last few days of 2016 brought cold and sunshine and a little bit of fresh snow. Not a bad combination.

Having icicles outside the bedroom window allowed me to watch them light up with the sunrise on a clear morning at close range.

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Mr. Tiggs, through the window glass.

Mr. Tiggs, the neighborhood cat, jumped up onto the kitchen windowsill to make sure I knew he was thinking of me. He roams around all day checking up on everybody. If there are any people standing in the parking lot he saunters right over to see what’s going on. The big fluffy yellow ham.

Then it was an hour north to Arches National Park for some more red rock scenery. The edge of the Fiery Furnace, a maze of standing red sandstone fins, made for a nice panoramic composition with the La Sal Mountains in the far distance.

Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

The Fiery Furnace and the La Sal Mountains in winter.

On the way back south from Moab town, the La Sal Mountains were looking extra fine after the previous day’s snow storm. The snow had not yet dropped from the foliage of the conifer forests near timberline.

La Sal Mountains, Utah, after a recent snowfall.

Mount Tukuhnikivats and the southern cluster of the La Sal Mountains.

From US Highway 191 you can pull over for a great vantage point of the southern end of the La Sals. A straight-on look at the pointy west face of Mount Tukuhnikivats (summit elevation 12,482 feet) with its distinctive pyramidal summit.

To the south of “Tuk” is South Mountain, which had a few lone clouds hovering over its summit, casting interesting shadows.

Clouds over South Mountain in the La Sal Mountain Range in southeast Utah.

Lone clouds over South Mountain.

On December 31 the length of the day was all of three minutes longer than it had been at Winter Solstice on December 21. The sun is on its way back north, but it takes its time at this time of year.

Photo locations: Grand and San Juan Counties, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Christmas Eve Trout

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Waldens Lake on Christmas Eve afternoon.

A deep freeze earlier in the week had left my local trout fishing lake frozen along the entire shoreline. No fishing. Was the season finally over for me?

Then we got another snow storm, but with it came some warmer weather and stiff breezes to make wave action on the lake, which works on the edges of the ice to at least break up some of it.

Today I saw that the south end of the dam was open to the shoreline. So home I went to get my fishing gear.

I caught six trout, keeping four. Tonight a Christmas Eve storm is due in with another two to four inches of snow. Guaranteed White Christmas.

Rainbow trout on snow, Christmas Eve, southeast Utah.

Christmas Eve Rainbow Trout catch.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Winter Solstice Time at Canyonlands

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Winter Solstice occurred on December 21 this year. Supposedly the shortest day and longest night of the year.

However, the day length had been stuck at 9 hours and 32 minutes since December 19, and won’t be a full minute longer until Christmas, Dec. 25, when it will be 9 hrs. 33 min. for four days. Yes, a whole minute longer.

Utah Highway 211 along the upper part of the Indian Creek canyon, in winter.

Upper Indian Creek area of Highway 211 east of the Needles.

Just two days after that, on New Years Eve, the daylight will be two minutes longer than on Christmas Day, at a whopping 9 hrs. 35 minutes! You can follow along at sites such as sunrisesunset.com. The days start getting longer faster the further they get past Solstice, but until then it rather creeps along. The dead of winter begins.

Wintertime snowy cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Snowy sandstone cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area.

The day before Winter Solstice I drove in to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s only an hour’s drive from my home, and I hadn’t been there lately. The roads were cleared from a recent snowstorm, so I was sure it would be fun. Sunny and calm.

Sandstone cliff face in upper Indian Creek, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sandstone cliffs and snow along Highway 211.

Driving north from Monticello, Utah on U.S. 191 it’s only about 15 minutes to the turnoff onto Utah Route 211, the highway into the Needles District. Route 211 parallels the Indian Creek drainage before it finally empties into the Colorado River inside the park. The easternmost part of the drive was still high enough in elevation to have snow on the cliffs, under a trademark Utah high desert blue sky.

Newspaper Rock State Historical and Archaeological Site, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock site, from the parking lot.

Roughly halfway to the Canyonlands National Park entrance is the famous Newspaper Rock archaeological site. There is a parking lot with restrooms and a very short walk to this amazing petroglyph panel.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel archaeological site in winter, San Juan County, southeast Utah..

In winter the sun’s angle is low enough to keep much of the petroglyph panel in sunlight.

I’m not wild about the name “Newspaper Rock”, because it conjures up a modern image of ink on newsprint. Instead, these are ancient symbols laboriously pecked into rock, some of which could well be 2,000 years old. And they last infinitely longer than ink or paper.

This was the perfect time to visit the site, with the fresh snow, the low angle of the December sun lighting up the panel, and only one other visitor for a few minutes. It would make for photos much different than the typical ones you see over and over of this site.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site, petroglyph panel, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock in winter.

The rock panel is perfect: Dark patina (think rock “varnish”) on a smooth sandstone face, with an overhang above to shade the panel for most of the year, which serves to slow the weathering process. Pecking through the patina reveals the much lighter sandstone beneath, making the image pop out visually.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, upper portion. (Click on image for larger).

So many symbols that it is mind boggling. Animals, tracks, imposing horned humanoid figures (shamans in sacred regalia? Alien beings from outer space?).

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, lower portion. (Click on image for larger).

Not all these depictions are prehistoric. Anything showing a horse, or a wagon wheel, is after the Spanish first arrived in North America in the 1600s. There are even some fairly modern dates added, something which is strongly discouraged by the steel fence keeping visitors a safe distance away from the panel.

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sun and shadow made for a nice vertical composition of petroglyphs and rock angles. Notice that some footprints that have six toes.

From the highway into the Needles District, a nice view of the snowy summits of the La Sal Mountains to the northeast near Moab, peeking above the red rock layers along the lower Indian Creek Valley.

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in distance.

At the Needles Visitor Center, all was quiet. The remoteness of Canyonlands National Park means that wintertime is very off season, so there aren’t enough visitors to keep the VC open at this time of year. No entrance fee, just drive on in. The restrooms do remain open, and you can get water and park brochures and maps. The campground is open year round.

Not far past the Visitor Center is a turnout for the Roadside Ruin. Again, not the best of names. I made me expect some rubble of a pueblo foundation. Instead, it’s a very nice and easy walk to a very well preserved granary tucked into a small out of sight alcove.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, southeast Utah.

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The interpretive sign for Roadside Ruin said that stone-and-mortar pueblo dwellings hadn’t been found in this area, indicating that it was intensely farmed (corn, beans, squash) and the dried grains stored in the granaries. So it was used in the growing season, not year around.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, San Juan County, Utah..

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The doorway into the granary is through the roof. Otherwise they might have built the walls up until it met the roof of the alcove, and put the door into the side. Sometimes the ancient ones did, sometimes they didn’t.

The Needles District of Canyonlands is a hiker’s and four wheeler’s paradise. But on this day I had elsewhere to go. So I will be back throughout the winter to enjoy the lack of crowds.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg