Colorado San Juan Skyway Green

Molls Pass, San Juan County, Colorado.

Molas Pass, San Juan County, Colorado.

The San Juan Skyway in southwest Colorado is that portion of US Highway 550 that goes up over the San Juan Mountain Range between Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Montrose.

Summer comes late to the Colorado high country. And this has been a very wet spring. So on this day, with the rivers and creeks running bank full, there were still clouds clearing off from the last round of storms. Thus the light wasn’t the greatest at first.

My first stop was Molas Pass on the San Juan National Forest, at 10,899 feet (and not a foot more, officially; why not 10,900?). The clouds had cleared enough for some sunshine on the mountain peaks.

Overlooking Silverton, Colorado.

Overlooking Silverton, Colorado.

From there it was down to some steep curvy road grades overlooking Silverton. The Animas River was running high and muddy but not flooding. The aspen forests and the high meadows were bright with new springtime growth.

Then it was over Red Mountain Pass, and down to Ouray.

A very round switchback on Red Mountain Pass.

A very round switchback on Red Mountain Pass.

North of Ouray came some of my favorite shots of the drive. The high mountain light was still mostly overcast, but seemed to have a pearly quality to it. I was particularly drawn to the aspen forests on the steep mountain sides, flush with new spring green. The creeks running down were silvery with the brightening light from above.

Springtime aspen greenery and silvery mountain brook.

Springtime aspen greenery and silvery mountain brook.

The dark green spruce and fir trees made a nice counterpoint to the aspen stands.

Mountain peak and aspen slopes.

Mountain peak and aspen slopes.

Photo locations: San Juan and Ouray Counties, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Advertisements

Bears Ears Super Rainbow Evening

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

It was one of the best rainbows ever. Why? Because the backdrop was awesome, and it occurred just before sunset, making the effect of the low angle of the sun more intense.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Oddly enough, the forecast had only been for a 20% chance of rain, and it had been dumping elsewhere all day, mainly to the north and east.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

But then it was our turn, a real gully washer. Beautiful. I lay down for a nap…and almost missed the aftermath. It was a full rainbow on either end, kind of missing at the top, some of the double rainbow visible to the outside.

The full panoramic images of just the sky don’t do it justice. I prefer the tighter, more close in shots against the cliffs and the Bears Ears Buttes above. I took a number of variations, because it gives a fuller sense of the splendor of the evening. And of the wet road and puddles.

Then Ashley and Avery came by on an evening run. Perfect: a couple of people in the scene to lend some human scale to the magnificent scene. Though how anybody would want to be doing anything other than photographing in such conditions is beyond me. (They did like the print I made for them the next day.)

Ashley and Adrian running to the rainbow.

Ashley and Avery running to the rainbow.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado High Country Springtime

Groundhog Reservoir, Dolores County.

Groundhog Reservoir, Dolores County. Lone Cone peak at left, Groundhog Mountain on right.

As the unusually wet spring continued, I took advantage of several days’ break in the rainfall to continue exploring southwest Colorado. This time, the upper Dolores River watershed in the San Juan mountain range.

I drove up the West Dolores River and then Cottonwood Creek, on the San Juan National Forest. Weather sunny, clear, light breezes. Perfect.

At Groundhog Reservoir I stopped to photograph the scenery. Right on cue a “groundhog” (actually a yellow-bellied marmot, I believe) dashed across the road into the grasses on the other side. It did not stop to pose for photos, though.

Groundhog Reservoir State Wildlife Area information signs.

Groundhog Reservoir State Wildlife Area information signs.

Lone Cone peak was the perfect backdrop to the lake. At 12,600-some feet it’s not one of Colorado’s vaunted “fourteeners”. But it’s the westernmost peak of the San Miguel Mountains, the western vanguard of the San Juan range. It’s…alone from the rest, and recognizable from far away.

Lone Cone peak, elevation 12,613 at the summit.

Lone Cone peak, elevation 12,613 at the summit.

Driving out of “town” (a commercial campground and convenience store) at the reservoir soon brought me back onto the National Forest. Public land, open to primitive camping. No need to do an extensive search for the best campsite. It felt wonderful to be back up in the aspen forest, so almost anyplace was quite fine. Lots of birds calling, and frogs croaking down at the creek below. High country Colorado serenades.

Morning has broken: Springtime aspen forest camp.

Morning has broken: Springtime aspen forest camp.

The rains returned the next night, and I sat tight in my camp. Reading, listening to music, photographing. Listening to the music of the rain on my vehicle’s roof, and in the aspen canopy above. Soft, relaxing.

The second morning it was time to go. The sojourn’s expiration date was at hand. The forest roads were sloppy with mud from the rain, even the main roads. It took almost two hours just to carefully make my way down out of there, back to paved highway.

Rocky Mountain Iris meadow.

Rocky Mountain Iris meadow.

At one point on the way out was a lush meadow with more Rocky Mountain Irises than I’ve ever seen in one spot. It was still raining, but fairly gently. So I stopped to photograph, and was quite pleased with what I had gotten.

Rocky Mountain Iris, (Iris missouriensis Nutt.)

Rocky Mountain Iris, (Iris missouriensis Nutt.)

Photo location: Dolores County, Colorado. As always, click on any photo for a much larger version.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Third Rainbow Of The Day

Evening rainbow over Bears Ears Buttes, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Evening rainbow over Bears Ears Buttes, Natural Bridges National Monument.

It has been a rare wet spring in the high desert of southeast Utah and the Four Corners region. On top of that, this week-end has brought a lot of extra moisture up from Baja, from a tropical storm down there. Straight up through Arizona to San Juan County, Utah.

We love the rain. All desert dwellers do. The tourists, though: not so much. Especially with the muddy roads around here, slick as grease when saturated. That makes sticking to paved and gravel surfaces a must for a time, greatly limiting where some people had planned to go into our amazing backcountry.

The international travelers are even more perplexed. This is high desert Utah? Where is the famous sunshine and heat? How am I supposed to get iconic pictures in this?

A young couple from Europe was in the Visitor Center yesterday afternoon. We were standing at the windows, watching the sweet smelling rain pour down. “In fifteen or twenty minutes this might well let up and we could see a rainbow” I said. They looked at me, uh, kindly. As in: okay, then we hope so, too, but you’re crazy.

Soon the sky started to brighten to the west. After a few more minutes a brilliant rainbow appeared just above the Pinyon pine and juniper trees, toward the Bears Ears Buttes above us to the east. The rainbow faded after just a few minutes, but the couple got to stand leaning up against each other, admiring it before it disappeared.

Not long after was a second rainbow, which another family got to enjoy. And I didn’t have my camera.

About an hour later, a third, partial rainbow appeared. This one I got some shots of.

Three separate rainbows from the same location in the same evening. Pretty rare. Way exceptional.

I drove out under the heavy skies, looking for water flowing. Several washes were running, though many had already drained.

Over at normally dry Comb Wash I got out to document the muddy stream flowing. It had already gone down by at least a foot. Soon it would become a dry wash again. “Never park your vehicle in a dry wash”. This flow was mild compared to what can happen with little warning.

Comb Wash flowing after rain.

Comb Wash flowing after rain.

Photo locations: Natural Bridges National Monument and Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Canyonlands Moonset

Church Rock, at Highway 191 north of Monticello, Utah.

Church Rock, at Highway 191 north of Monticello, Utah.

I was at the Canyonlands overlook in southeast Utah for this month’s Full Moon rise. The evening before Full Moon, that is. To strive for landscape photographs with the almost full moon rising before dark.

Yes, one could merge separate images of a landscape and a closeup of the moon in Photoshop into a single composition. It’s incredibly easy these days, and will continue to get even more brain-dead simple. Which is one reason why I’m not interested in doing that. I use Photoshop and Lightroom for all my image processing, but not in that way.

The reason isn’t ethics or creativity or whatever label you care to assign. It’s about being out there. Outside, in nature, to see what you can experience this time. It’s a treasure hunt–and the treasure might be hunting you. Your attention, your realization.

The evening started with the afternoon. I veered off the known road for one of the side roads. To see what sights it might display. I had lots of hours to spare, and the weather and sweet high desert air were both soothing and stimulating.

Cruising the red sand roads amongst the sagebrush and high desert skies.

Cruising the red sand roads amongst the sagebrush and high desert skies.

It was time to decide on a campsite. One with a great view of the La Sal Mountains to the east, over which the moon would rise somewhat before sunset. I arrived plenty early, unusually so. I set up my folding camp chair in the shade of a Utah Juniper tree near the edge of the cliff, and resumed reading a book. Waiting.

La Sal Mountains moonrise panorama.

La Sal Mountains moonrise panorama.

Eventually the moon appeared, faintly, above the mountain horizon. Haze on the eastern skyline made it harder to notice until it was well above the slopes. By that time it was so far southeast of the main peaks of the La Sals that I decided to make a series of overlapping images to merge into high resolution panorama image in Photoshop later.

It was the best I could do under the circumstances. The tail end of a lovely day in the high desert springtime. I settled in to sleep.

At dawn, I peered up at the bright moon as it silently continued its arc to the southwest horizon. I roused myself.

Most people don’t consider moonset. Heck, most don’t consider moonrise, until it slaps them in the face one night, once in a while.

With moonset, the opportunities for landscape photography are greatly expanded. Most importantly, it’s already up in the sky, you don’t have to calculate or guess where it will appear. And, emotionally, it looks much like moonrise. It’s just the other end of the arc. The full moon above the landscape at one end of the day.

You merely have to get up really early. A deal breaker for many people. That’s where I come in. Well, most of the time. Enough of the time. Usually.

I threw my outside the-camp-belongings into the vehicle and headed toward the west rim of the peninsula. Overlooking Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. I approached a viewpoint I’d made note of on the drive north but hadn’t actually visited in the few times I’d been here. The time to visit seemed to be now.

Moonset pancake, Anticline Overlook road, Utah.

Moonset pancake, Anticline Overlook road, Utah.

It was like a flat cake of sandstone layers sitting above the plateau. A road was built out to it, and around it, for a circular viewpoint. It occurred to me that, had I been engineering roads there, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to build one around that piece of rock. Maybe out to the edge of it, yes. But around it? Though lots of things don’t occur to me that probably should.

Whatever. The moon was setting over Canyonlands, and the sun was soon rising onto them. I would have been quite satisfied with the day, given such a gorgeous beginning.

Moonset over Colorado River canyon lands south of Moab, Utah.

Moonset over Colorado River canyon lands south of Moab, Utah.

As it turned out, the day was far from done. But that’s another story.

Photo location: San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg