Spring In The Rockies: Ice Out At Trout Lake

Trout Lake panorama, Trout Lake Colorado in springtime.

Panoramic view of Trout Lake, May 14, 2018.

.The mountain phenomenon of “ice out” has occurred at Trout Lake in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

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Sheep Mountain, shimmering in Trout Lake, May 14, 2018. Sheep Mountain on the skyline.

Springtime is always beautiful. But this year it’s also important to put things into context. It has been a very dry winter, and even drier spring. Sure, things green up much earlier — where there is enough water. Plants and wildlife adjust accordingly, as best they can. We will see what the rest of the spring and early summer bring in southwest Colorado.

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Trout Lake, Colorado, April 28, 2018.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, things looked much different. Above is  what it looked like on April 28. The snow was gone from the shores, and the lowering lake level had the ice sunken and ready to break up.

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Trout Lake from the shoreline, February 28, 2018. Sheep Mountain in the middle distance.

One more jump back in time, to late winter on February 28 and it was certainly wintry. And gorgeous.

See more of my best photography (and order prints) on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

Photo Location: Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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High Country Sunbeam Highway

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Sunset gold sunbeams over the La Sal Mountains, Highway 145.

Ah, Colorado Highway 145. To me it’s perhaps the gem of the Western Slope.

In this photo I was driving west from Norwood (elevation 7,000 feet) toward the curves down off the San Miguel Basin and into Naturita (“little nature”).

A cloud bank was hovering over the distant La Sal Mountains in Utah. Perfect for breaking the sun’s rays into sunbeams across the eastern slopes of the mountains.

An impossibly high contrast scene, so I switched my Olympus to HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, merging several versions in camera to try to tame the extremes. To make the image appear much more like the eye/mind could see in real life.

And even with that, further editing in Adobe Lightroom. It worked out.

Photo location: western Montrose County, western slope Colorado.

See more of my best photography on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Grousing Around Through A May Snowstorm

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Snowing on the red geology in the San Miguel River Canyon west of Telluride.

I had to make a quick trip from Naturita to Cortez, Colorado and back. About 250 miles round trip. After work. And I wanted to be back in Naturita before dark.

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No bicyclists today on this stretch of Hwy. 145!

It would have been quite reasonable except we were finally getting some rain in southwest Colorado. Which meant snow in the San Juan Mountains. Which meant stopping for photos along the way. It just has to be done.

From Placerville (named for the extensive placer mining for gold during the pioneer days) going up the San Miguel River Canyon on Highway 145, it was already snowing up above on the red cliffs adorned with the green of spruce and fir trees. And I had a lot higher to climb before crossing Lizard Head Pass.

At the Conoco station outside Telluride I got a hot sandwich and coffee. Then it was up toward the pass. The snowfall was much heavier, a snow plow truck was scraping the highway going the other way.

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Very fresh grouse tracks in the snow.

I was enjoying seeing the new wet snow plastered to the still-bare aspen trees. I pulled over at a likely spot. I noticed fresh grouse tracks in the new snow. Really fresh. But I didn’t see it moving about, and at the moment I was more interested in some shots of the aspen forest.

Then I looked at the grouse tracks some more. It wouldn’t have been crossing the highway at this spot. And it hadn’t. It had walked back down over the shoulder of the road into the woods.

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The grouse, hoping I will merely go away. 

I peered over the edge and through the snow-plastered brush, there she was. A female spruce grouse, I believe. Sitting still, hoping her camouflage would keep her invisible amidst the white. I was able to get a shot of her, then ease back without making her “flush” (fly away explosively, as they do).

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Snow on newly emerging leaves. How will they take it?

Then it was across Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet. From there I would be gradually dropping in elevation down the upper Dolores River valley until I was once again below the snow line.

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Lizard Head Pass.

There were a number of stops for more photographs. Such beauty from an early May snowstorm in the Colorado Rockies.

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Upper Dolores River, below Lizard Head Pass and above Rico.

After completing my task in Cortez, it was west to Dove Creek, with heavy rain clouds around.

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Northwest of Cortez at Narraguinnup Reservoir.

Then at Dove Creek, north on 141. Up over the mesas, down to cross the Dolores River at Slick Rock, then back up onto Disappointment Valley, Big Gypsum Valley, Dry Creek Basin, and finally down to the San Miguel River again at Naturita.

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On the way back north from Dove Creek.

And I made it just before dark.

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Back to Bedrock the next morning.

Photo locations: Montrose, San Miguel, Montezuma, and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Elk At The Speed Of Dawn

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I had camped below Lone Cone Peak at Dan Noble State Wildlife Area.

The evening had been exquisite, even though I had only caught one small rainbow trout. Which was freed back into the lake and used its muscular tail to torpedo it back into the depths. Its predator ways only momentarily interrupted by a two legged land based predator. A fisherman.

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The lake below Lone Cone Peak

There are a lot of Canada geese at that lake. A perfect breeding ground for them. They are loud and raucous all day and evening, seemingly talking from one end of the lake to the other about what their latest fears are. A coyote! A human!

The geese do seem to observe Quiet Hours once it gets dark, like a campground. Meanwhile the nearly full moon was arcing across the sky all night. Though even it couldn’t wash out the brightest stars, there so far away from city lights.

At first light I packed up my campsite and headed down toward town. As always, especially around here, I keep my eyes peeled for large wildlife on the road. Or just off the road, looking to jump in front of my vehicle at the last moment, which is even worse.

On this morning drive, the elk were off in meadows on either side. I wanted to photograph them, but the light was still weak. And true to form these animals didn’t seem cooperative enough to wait for sunrise.

So as one group turned away from the roadside fence and ran parallel to the road, I thought: what the heck? I panned my camera with them at a slow shutter speed, like those photos of race cars or horse races.

I think I did ok, since there wasn’t going to be another lap. Not with these elk. They were outta there. A beautiful wildlife moment.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

First Wildflower Reds of the Season: Paintbrush

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Indian Paintbrush and Prickly Pear Cactus, April 17.

I was cruising the highway north of Naturita, Colorado to enjoy an April evening. And to try to catch some trout.

The fishing action was nothing to write about, but I enjoyed being out in the wilds, as always. Nobody else around.

While checking out another little road spur through the sand toward the San Miguel River, the bright red of wildflowers caught my eye. I had seen prickly pear cactus as I drove, and so at first thought I thought the red might be the blossoms of Claret-Cup Cactus.

Nope. It was Indian Paintbrush, always the earliest of wildflowers in the high desert country. This clump happened to be nestled in against some prickly pear cacti, which added to the red-green color fiesta against the otherwise drab ground cover.

While walking back from the river’s edge I did spot a colony of Claret-Cups. So I will keep tabs on this site, as they will be blooming soon, too.

Photo location: Naturita, Montrose County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Paradox Evening Light

Sunset sunbeams, Hwy. 90, Bedrock, Colorado.

I was driving on Highway 90 toward the hamlet of Bedrock, Colorado on an overcast afternoon. The closer I got the more interesting the light did, too.

Bedrock lies near the head of the Paradox Valley  in western Montrose County, near the Utah state line. The “West End” as the locals call it.

Sunbeam sunset, Paradox Valley and La Sal Mountains, Colorado and Utah.

The sun dipped below the cloud bank at just the right time. Intense white sunbeams streamed across the valley.

Sunset light on sandstone cliffs, Bedrock, Colorado, Paradox Valley.

Then the sunset light lit up the far cliffs. Warm light on red sandstone, a great combination. And fleeting, which is what makes it special.

See more of my photography at my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

State Of The Moonrise, March 2018

Sunset light around Lone Cone Peak, Colorado.

Driving straight at Lone Cone Peak in the evening light.

The return of the Full Moon is always on every real nature photographer’s mind. Or should be. After all, what comes once a month (sometimes twice), is incredible, and you can’t control it? In nature, I mean.

Thus I always plot and plan as to where I might be able to be when Full Moon comes around again. Not to shoot photos of it surrounded by the black of night–who needs more of those? Rather, to create another photograph of the moon rising over some awesome landscape before it’s dark.

Oh, sure, I could merely take a shot of the full moon, overlay it in Photoshop with a landscape photo, and it would look fantastic. And sell. But that would be so lame. It would be technology instead of being out there.

It’s about being out there. Ready and waiting. In the game.

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Lone Cone Peak in golden evening light.

The moonrise photographer’s sworn enemy is (are?): clouds. Just some of them in the wrong place on the Eastern horizon at the critical time and it’s a wash. Though to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “The worst day photographing beats the best day at work”. Unless your job is to photograph, of course.

With all of that in mind I found myself at the “West End” as the locals say of Montrose and San Miguel Counties in southwest Colorado. Driving south from Norwood, which has a great paved county road aimed straight south at Lone Cone Peak, the westernmost outliers of the San Juan Mountains.

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Moonrise over the San Juan Mountains, lousy composition.

I wasn’t the luckiest of photographers this time as far as moonrise conditions. High clouds on the Eastern horizon, moon only visible later, almost at sunset time. I drove around looking for a great vantage point. Finally, with the seconds ticking away, I had to get what I could get. A shot of the moon over some of the San Juan snowy peaks was not that strong, compositionally. So I made a series of overlapping shots for a possible panorama image. Which, later, editing the shoot on my computer, turned out to be a good choice.

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Panoramic moonrise photo. Those peaks to the left needed to be included.

The icing on the evening was the alpenglow pink color on the snowy peaks. Moon or no moon.

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Sunset alpenglow on the San Juans, March 30.

Photo location: San Miguel County south of Norwood, Colorado.

See more of my photography at my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Return to Summit County

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The Gore Range, from across the Blue River valley.

I found myself with several days off and a restless feeling. After all, it was the Vernal Equinox. Spring. Very early spring, but it’s got to start somewhere.

So rather than sit at home or photograph locally, I decided to commence on a road trip around northwest Colorado.

Eventually I reached Grand County and Summit County, where I long ago worked as a forester. Before I got to Silverthorne, I took a brief side trip to some overlooks that few people know about. They look across the Blue River valley to the Gore Range, one of the most spectacular ranges in the Rockies. I’d done several backpacking trips up into them, the Eagles Nest Wilderness, so long ago. The late afternoon light, breaking up after a snowstorm, was intense. Extreme contrast. I did manage to eke out a couple of splendid panoramas.

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The Blue River Valley, north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

Then it was down into town: Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco. I knew it would have been much more built up, being in Colorado Ski Country.

And traffic was bad. The red lights seemed to take forever, each.

It’s a beautiful area, but I probably won’t return. I live in a much more laid back area of the state these days, and being back in ski country only made me appreciate how much better I like where I am.

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Almost home: San Juan Mountains, south of Ridgway, Colorado.

Photo location: Blue River Valley, Summit County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Goodbye Mesa Verde

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All too soon it was time to leave Mesa Verde.

It wasn’t intended to be this way. I had spent last year enjoying, observing, and chronicling the seasons, especially the plants as they greened up and burst out their flowers. The late summer monsoon rainstorms. The fall colors.

I was so looking forward to another year of the same. To see what would be similar given the rather mild winter, as well as what would not be. Plants don’t just do the same thing every year. They react, and interact with insects and mammals. They know what they’re doing.

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Anyway, things changed for me over the fall and winter, and I made the decision to move on. To land on the next steppingstone.

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Then, today, it was time to drive down “the hill” (visitors say: that’s a mountain!) back to my home in Cortez. For a little while. Before finding another new home.

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Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

It’s Spring, the Vultures Have Returned

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Three Turkey Vultures this morning.

Even though I love all four seasons here in the Four Corners Country of the high Southwest, as always I eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.

The formerly “blonde” lawns in town are getting a bit of green from their bases.

Several days ago I awoke to hear a robin singing at dawn for the first time this season. Each morning. I no longer set my alarm to wake me up, except on work days. The robins will provide a much gentler and sweeter call to my ears.

But I was remaining a bit unconvinced still that it was really spring yet. Not that we won’t have a late springtime blizzard or two.

The trigger was when the turkey vultures would return from down south. Because I watched them as they would congregate near sunset time in certain tall old spruce trees in town. Yes, in town. After all, why not? They are silent, they don’t prey on anyone’s cat or little dog. I’d bet that most people don’t even notice them. They think the big black birds are more ravens. Except a lot bigger. And they glide with their wings in a “V” shape instead of flat.

And a few evenings ago I saw those “V” wings return. I thought it was early, even for this relatively mild winter. Until I saw them lighting in a big spruce tree down the street. They were back.

There was a skif of new snow on the ground here in town this morning. Tonight another snowstorm is coming in. Did the vultures return too early? Were the rotting animal carcasses running low down south?

Nah. They know what they’re doing. I had the opportunity to photograph them this morning because it was calm. They are master gliders, they don’t waste energy flapping their wings any more than necessary. Wait for the breezes to blow. Glide on.

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Photo location: Cortez, southwest Colorado.

See my best photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg