Rise Of The Hunter’s Moon, Valley Of The Gods

October Full Moon at dusk, San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

October Full Moon rising at dusk, San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Last month’s (September’s) Full Moon was the beautiful lunar eclipse. For the October Full Moon, I tried a different landscape, in part because I didn’t have time to get to where some mountain peaks would be the foreground. You do what you can.

Sunset on Raplee Anticline and San Juan River valley, Utah-Arizona.

Sunset on Raplee Anticline and San Juan River valley, Utah-Arizona.

So I drove to the southern edge of Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah. There it looms a thousand feet above the valley floor, with red buttes and spires below. It’s looking down on what is called the Valley Of The Gods, a rough but fairly popular road on Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) land.

Highway 261 bisects Cedar Mesa, north to south, before descending 1,100 feet in three miles via the Moki Dugway to the San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

I drove roughly a third of the way down the Dugway, to where there is a wide turnout and an easy walk across the sandstone slickrock to a point looking east and southeast.

I was in position in plenty of time, and waited. The full moon would rise right around sunset. In the meantime I enjoyed the last reddish rays of the sun on Lime Ridge on the Navajo Nation, geologically called the Raplee Anticline, to the south of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat.

October moonrise over Valley Of The Gods, from the Moki Dugway.

October moonrise over Valley Of The Gods, from the Moki Dugway.

Then, there it was, right on schedule. White-blue at first, then deepening to a soft yellow as the blue of the Earth’s Shadow and the pink gradations of the Venus Band deepened as the sun was set below the horizon.

On the way back up to Cedar Mesa I stopped for a wide angle photo of the Moki Dugway with the moon.

Full Moon from Moki Dugway, Highway 261, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Full Moon from Moki Dugway, Highway 261, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

In the morning, it was time for the other end of the Full Moon night: Moonset. I drove west this time, toward Moss Back Butte and the Tables Of The Sun mesas. A huge advantage to photographing moonset is that the moon is already visible, not hidden below the eastern horizon like it is at moonrise. It’s going down, and you have some time to position yourself where the landscape will make for an interesting composition as it gets light at dawn.

Moonset at dawn and Moss Back Butte.

Moonset at dawn and Moss Back Butte.

But not an infinite amount of time. So I chose a spot on Highway 95 where Moss Back Butte would be the dominant landform in the photo.

Then the sun rose and lit up the Red House Cliffs, and this period of my shooting day came to a close. Onto another subject.

Sunrise on Red House Cliffs, San Juan County, Utah.

Sunrise on Red House Cliffs, San Juan County, Utah.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

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Perfect End to High Country Autumn

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October 21st. Lizard Head Pass, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. I had gotten up during the night and felt the wet snow falling on my head in the dark. I went back to bed eager to see what it would look like in the morning.

This was it: the first snowfall of the season on the Pass. Until now it had stayed high for two weeks, up above and generally at treeline/timberline. No longer. The morning weather forecast on the radio called for the snow level dropping further, down to street level in Telluride, at 8,750 feet. As dawn came, there was an inch of accumulation on the ground where I was. Nothing much visible through the falling snow than the highway. So I decided to head down the mountain a few miles to Trout Lake.

Lone cottonwood, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Lone cottonwood, Trout Lake, Colorado.

There I was below the clouds, the lake mirroring the snow dusted landscape. And the lone cottonwood tree on the shore. After having photographed it two weeks ago in fall colors, it was already feeling like an old friend. A soon-to-be-bare old friend. Because this was it: the first snow, the final signal to the deciduous trees that the season would linger no longer. Time to drop the golden leaves and wrap it up for the winter. I noticed that a leaf was dropping each second, more or less. That would make 60 leaves per minute (LPM). At that rate, one only had to know how many leaves were still on the tree, and if the wind didn’t come up, you would know when the last few would fall. And that I had been alone in the wilds for too long. It happens.

It wasn’t that cold. Freezing, sure. But no wind to amplify the chill. I was alone, enjoying the peacefulness. The colors of the tree, and some of its leaves blown up against the shore of the lake. The golden grasses at water’s edge. By contrast, the background meadows and forests and mountains, snow covered, looked almost black and white, juxtaposed in the same scene. Beautiful.

Trout Lake, first snowfall of the season. Black and white version.

Trout Lake, first snowfall of the season. Black and white version.

I swung my camera to the far shore, which had no colorful trees or grasses to pop out. The forest lines, the lakeshore meadows, a cabin. The reflection upon the lake. Beautiful.

Then to some cottonwood leaves washed up against the shore.

Cottonwood leaves on the shore, Trout Lake.

Cottonwood leaves on the shore, Trout Lake.

The clouds started to slowly. seductively. part across the summit of Sheep Mountain high above. They toyed with me: will they or won’t they? A grand opening in the sky, reflected upon the lake?

Sheep Mountain in fog.

Sheep Mountain in clouds…more or less by the moment.

It didn’t seem to be happening. I decided to move further along the lake shore road. The fog was getting thicker. Well, fine, then. I made another photograph of the mountain barely, barely appearing above and also in the reflection of the lake.

Trout Lake in the fog, as the snow moved back in.

Trout Lake in the fog, as the snow moved back in.

At the upper end of the lake I was captivated by the forest shoreline, the snow-frosted trees. And it was then that I had my answer as to whether the fog would lift soon. Because it started snowing again.

Upper Trout Lake shoreline forest edge and meadow.

Upper Trout Lake shoreline forest edge and meadow.

So I contented myself with less panoramic scenery. The exquisite details along the ground. Like sticks above the water, snow coated.

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Like marsh grasses reflected on the water as they lost their color for the winter.

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The lake road turned into a National Forest road. It rose so gradually that it didn’t seem like it was taking me back up to Lizard Head Pass. But it did.

Historic Trout Lake railroad trestle.

Historic Trout Lake railroad trestle in the snowfall.

And there I closed a kind of autumn emotional circle by photographing the sheep loading pens from several weeks ago. At the beginning of this high country autumn experience.

Sheep loading pens below Sheep Mountain.

Sheep loading pens below Sheep Mountain.

One last look at the Pass before heading down the Dolores River valley.

Highway 124 at Lizard Head Pass.

Highway 124 at Lizard Head Pass.

Photo location: San Miguel and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

 

 

 

Last Perfect Day of High Country Autumn

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

October 22, around Ridgway, southwest Colorado. The fall colors of the aspen forests of the high country were past their peak colors. But not done with them. Just after the peak, I love how the remaining stands of aspen with their gold leaves stand out so brilliantly amongst their bare, straight, silvery trunked neighbors. It’s as if they enjoy providing the last hurrah.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

I began south of Ridgway at that big pullout along Highway 62. I don’t know what the locals call it, if anything. It should be called something like “Photographers’ Overlook”. It looks up across vast draws of Gambel oak and aspen stands, up to the high peaks of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Next, it was time to get closer to those peaks. So up Dallas Creek Road I went. I’d been meaning to check it out for a while, and apparently now was that time.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

And what a fine drive it was. Kind of rough if you have a sedan, which I saw a few of driving down while I was driving up. But do-able. As usual in the Colorado mountains, the valleys are privately owned, so you learn to take heed of the “National Forest Access: …[name of road]” signs that direct you to public right of ways like this. Otherwise you might soon find yourself down a private lane, with a gate at the end. And quite likely signs posted that could make you feel very unwelcome.

Ridgway, Colorado is not all that high, in that valley, for that part of the state. Just under 7,000 feet. Big high country meadows for livestock. Just above that grows Gambel oak (“oak brush”), which is great wildlife cover. Also some Pinyon pine. And cottonwood down along the stream banks.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Climbing higher above the valleys you’re soon into some Ponderosa pine. And aspen stands. Then Douglas-fir and Colorado blue spruce mixed in. Up into mountain man country.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

I stopped at the end of the road, parked alongside the stream, and had lunch. The soothing rippling waters of a mountain stream. I saw a couple of mayflies hatch out of the water, and that comical bird called the Water Ouzel (or “Dipper”) bob for insects beneath the cold riffles.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

I considered staying the night. It was tempting. But I’d also heard the weather report. The snow level was forecast to drop to 10,000 feet during the night. Well above where I was at present. And well below treeline.

Aspen trunk in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trunk and meadow colors in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

That meant it would snow at Lizard Head Pass for the first time of the season. Somebody had to be there when it did. I chose myself.

Mount Sneffels Wilderness from upper Dallas Creek Road.

Panorama of Mount Sneffels Wilderness and upper Dallas Creek.

So somewhat reluctantly I drove back down the Creek, and up the San Miguel River canyon, past Telluride. Back up to Lizard Head Pass to see what would happen during the night.

Photo location: Ouray County, southwest Colorado. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

Next: The perfect end to the high country autumn.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

October Around Telluride

Entrance road to Telluride, from Highway 145.

Entrance road to Telluride, from Highway 145.

In further pursuit of ultimate fall colors photos in southwest Colorado, I dropped down the mountain from Lizard Head Pass to Telluride, the tony but awesome ski town that started as a mining district.

Going up the Airport road.

Going up the Airport road.

A great place to go for scenery, that doesn’t have much traffic, is the airport road.

Mountain homes and last of the aspen fall colors, Airport road.

Mountain homes and last of the aspen fall colors, Airport road.

It takes you up above the San Miguel River valley, and if you go a bit further, onto Last Dollar Road.

View from Uncompahgre National Forest's Deep Creek trailhead.

View of Mt. Sneffels Wilderness from Uncompahgre National Forest’s Deep Creek trailhead.

The land on both sides of the road is privately owned, except for a National Forest trailhead.  So just stay on the public road right-of-way and you won’t get shot at.

Last Dollar Road, amidst the late October aspens.

Last Dollar Road, amidst the late October aspens.

Finally the private land ended and the Uncompahgre National Forest land began. Along with a travel warning sign that said something like: “Muddy road very slippery, Four Wheel Drive and good tires only”. Thus a good time for me to turn around.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado.

So I went into Telluride town itself. Still some brilliant yellow fall colors to the street trees, with their leaves coming down fast.

White picket fence and fall colors, downtown Telluride.

White picket fence and fall colors, downtown Telluride.

On the way into town was the best Halloween display ever. I might never see pumpkins in the same way again.

Best Halloween display ever?

Best Halloween display ever?

Then back out of town, down the beautiful San Miguel River, a real trout fishing stream. The cottonwood trees along the river were at peak color.

San Miguel River and cottonwood fall colors, between Telluride and Sawpit, Colorado.

San Miguel River and cottonwood fall colors, between Telluride and Sawpit, Colorado.

I also became enthralled with the moss growing on the stream banks, the soft dark green with the fallen bright yellow cottonwood leaves.

Mossy banks and fallen cottonwood leaves, San Miguel River.

Mossy banks and fallen cottonwood leaves, San Miguel River.

And some dogwood shrubs near the river bank, with their red leaves. Especially with the dark green of the conifer trees for a background.

Dogwood fall colors along the San Miguel River.

Dogwood fall colors along the San Miguel River.

Photo location: San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

As always, click on any image above for a much larger version.

Next: October around Ridgway, Colorado. The last day before the snows descended from the high summits.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Cottonwood tree, fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Running Out Of Autumn

Lizard Head Pass, late October dawn.

Lizard Head Pass, late October dawn.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to the fall colors for another year.

Almost.

So to savor some of the best of the last, or the last of the best, I returned to the high country of southwest Colorado.

Autumn is the perfect season. A little bit winter, a little bit summer, a lot of fall. I have known people who have dreaded fall, despite her beauty. Why? Because to them it meant the doorstep of winter. Of snow and cold. And while I highly respect their opinion, they’re weenies.

Lizard Head Peak, from the Pass.

Lizard Head Peak, from the Pass.

Because to me fall has always meant the climax of the year. It’s not the end of the calendar year, quite yet, but it’s the end of the growing season. Harvest time. Celebration. Preparation for winter, which used to be a kind of hibernation time even for humans, before our year-round climate control inside our buildings. Time to rest and dream and contemplate next year’s growing season.

To begin my latest sojourn I drove past sunset and into the night, back up to Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains. I knew exactly where I wanted to camp, just off a National Forest road that had good drainage. Because it had been raining. Another cold camp: no campfire. Too much trouble. And I don’t mean trouble starting them in the wetness, I’m good at that.

Night peace in the Rocky Mountains. A one-third full waxing moon playing with the clouds, until she set.

At dawn, heavy cold condensation on the windows. Fire up the engine, let’s get this this warmed up so we can see what’s out there this time. My campsite had the advantage of having a nice overlook of Lizard Head Peak and the high mountain meadows of the Pass. I quickly set camera on tripod to portray it.

Cottonwood tree in fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Cottonwood tree in fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado. Don’t park in front of it, it doesn’t like it.

Then down the other side a few miles to Trout Lake. A beautifully pensive sunrise: sun not yet over the high peaks and clouds to the east, a breeze riffling the lake’s surface. A cottonwood tree captivated me. Normally, with such flat overcast light I wouldn’t have known what to do with the scene. But I liked being there at that moment. The wet ground and fallen leaves, along with the bright yellow foliage yet to drop. And soon.

Cottonwood tree on Trout Lake, October.

Cottonwood tree on Trout Lake, October.

I drove back the lane along the lake to see what else might present itself. Of all the vast expanse of mountains and lake and near-wintry sky, that lone cottonwood tree stood out. For a few moments the morning light lit it up there. But I couldn’t move fast enough to capture it like it still is in my mind’s eye.

I didn’t know whether to linger there or move on. Such an exquisite place and time. Who knows what might happen? I sure didn’t.

Late October morning light across Trout Lake.

Late October morning light across Trout Lake.

The weather decided for me: clearly a snow squall was moving in from the south. Dark clouds, and not of the thunderstorm kind. Snow.

So I headed toward it. Back up to the Pass, to greet it, see if I could make a few photos that captured the stirring that I felt.

Snow squall on Lizard Head Pass.

Snow squall on Lizard Head Pass.

It wasn’t a blizzard, it was merely a late fall kiss on the high country in the early morning of a late October day.

I was hungry. Desiring some hot food, I headed down the mountain into Telluride. The day was truly just beginning.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Almost Missed The Alpenglow

Sheep Mountain at sunset.

Sheep Mountain at sunset: the sun’s rays still on the south face of the summit.

I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado after a long day of driving and photographing the awesome fall colors.

I was still three hours from home, had to get there and get a good night’s sleep. At the Pass I stopped to take a Photo of Sheep Mountain with a nice sunset brilliance on it and the clouds just above it.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Then alpenglow started. It’s an optical phenomenon when the just-set sun’s rays reflect off something (like clouds) above the landscape, most noticeably seen on mountain peaks, though I have seen it occur onto high desert cliffs, too. Since the sun is below the western horizon, its rays aren’t shining directly on the landscape in the east, they’re being reflected down from just above it.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

And this event was turning into an exceptionally strong one. Not just the clouds above Sheep Mountain, and not just snowy summit above treeline. But also a large red band across the spruce-fir forest below.

It also lit up Vermilion Peak to the north. It lingered for quite a while, then quickly faded.

Alpenglow on Yellow Mountain and Vermilion Peak.

Alpenglow on Vermilion Peak.

If I had resumed my drive home just a few minutes before I did, I would have missed the entire event.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, San Juan National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest, Dolores and San Miguel Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Above Ridgway, Colorado with the Fall Colors

It had been a full weekend (in mid week) in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, chasing the fall colors, incredibly accented by the first snows up high. It was the afternoon of the last day before returning home, to sleep in my own bed before going back to work.

Sensibility urged me to point the front wheels of the truck toward home. To get there in late afternoon, cook a nice supper, relax through the evening and then surrender my body onto the mattress for a good night’s sleep.

My gut urged me in the opposite direction. This is your last great day of an awesome fall foliage season; next week will probably be too late! While you’ve made some delicious photos already…what else is out there? Out there for the experiencing in the next several hours before dark?

Talk about tempting. Comfort versus more adventure, photography style, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth in the prime season of the year.

On the road up to Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest.

On the road up to Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest.

Well, of course I pointed the truck wheels toward another afternoon of adventure. Did you have any doubt? If you did, I’m glad you weren’t riding shotgun in my truck, because I was wishy-washy enough all by myself.

So let’s do this. I had been aching to return to the mountains northeast of Ridgway, so that’s where I went. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I felt sheepish that I’d even considered heading home reasonably early.

The clouds lifted on the way up to Owl Creek Pass.

The clouds lifted on the way up to Owl Creek Pass.

Up to Owl Creek Pass. What an area. Incredible forests, and stony crags hovering over them all from a spiny backbone like ridge.

Owl Creek Pass road aspen colors.

Owl Creek Pass road aspen colors.

The soft light from the overcast skies was an advantage. Either that, or I’m just so used to adjusting my tactics to the conditions. I loved the light, the calmness of the aspen forests. It was a very still, breezeless afternoon.

Aspen forest fall colors, Owl Pass Road, Colorado.

Aspen forest fall colors, Owl Pass Road, Colorado.

I went down the other side from the Pass. Some rain. Some hail. Sunshine. Even some thunder booming in the distance. Dang, I thought, this day has just about all the weather in one.

Fallen aspen leaves.

Fallen aspen leaves, sparkled by October rain.

The light rain offered another gift: raindrops on fallen aspen leaves, for closeup photos.

Aspen colors and spruce-fir forests, near Silver Jack Reservoir.

Aspen colors and spruce-fir forests, near Silver Jack Reservoir.

Finally I came out to Highway 550 about  20 miles east of Montrose. Still plenty of afternoon light left. But a long way left to go. West into Montrose, then back south to Ridgway, quite a big loop drive.

At the overlook of the mountain peaks south of Ridgway, I stopped for a few more shots. Then onto Last Dollar Road for an alternate way back down to Sawpit.

Scenic fall colors panorama above Ridgway, Colorado.

Scenic fall colors panorama above Ridgway, Colorado.

Finally I was back outside Telluride again. I was actually relieved that the light was too flat at some of the better overlooks to keep me from pulling over. I wanted to keep going.

Late afternoon autumn colors along the Last Dollar Road.

Late afternoon autumn colors along the Last Dollar Road.

Not long thereafter I was back at Trout Lake. I wanted to keep going. No, stop. Just get out and relish this scene one more time.

Trout Lake at dusk in early October.

Trout Lake at dusk in early October.

I just had one more photographic obstacle to cross before it was dark. It was only a few miles away, back up at Lizard Head Pass. And I almost missed it.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Fall Colors Peak – And First Snow, Colorado

My return to the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado crossed paths with a storm front sliding through the region. Too strong of a front and the aspens stands would quickly drop their brilliant leaves. Except for those early stands that had already turned and shed theirs. So I was interested in seeing what was going to happen.

At the tiny mountain hamlet of Rico I paused for a shot from town even though it was heavily overcast. Who knows what would happen the next day? Get what you can at the time and sort it out later, is my way of working.

Rico, Colorado and peak aspen fall colors.

Rico, Colorado convenience store and peak aspen fall colors.

At Lizard Head Pass, Lizard Head Peak was once again being enveloped by playful clouds…and snow up high! First of the fall season.

Lizard Head Peak, first snow of the season.

Lizard Head Peak, first snow of the season.

Similarly, the peaks to the north of Trout Lake were shrouded with the white stuff. But not down below treelike. Not down in the aspen forests. Which was important if the colors were to continue much at all.

Looking north from Lizard Head Pass at the first snow on the peaks.

Looking north from Lizard Head Pass at the first snow on the peaks.

Down at Trout Lake, I made a shot in softly overcast light of the water reflecting some of the colors.

Trout Lake, Colorado aspen reflections.

Trout Lake, Colorado aspen reflections under overcast skies.

Then at camp between Trout Lake and Telluride, I watched the clouds come and go as dusk came on. A little rain, a little clearing, then a lot of night.

Evening mist in the mountains, Alta Lakes area.

Evening mist in the mountains, Alta Lakes area.

The next day, further north along Highway 145 I made some reflection shots in a lake just off the side of the road.

Aspen reflections, unnamed lake.

Aspen reflections, unnamed lake.

Stopping again along 145, I was enthralled by Sunshine Mountain and the highway.

Highway 145 aspen colors, south of Telluride, Colorado.

Highway 145 aspen colors and Sunshine Mountain, south of Telluride, Colorado.

The next day was quite a bit clearer, so I backtracked to Trout Lake for more shots. After all, my dream had been realized: peak aspen colors along with the first snows above treelike, in the same compositions. It doesn’t get any better. Driving up the road along Trout Lake, I enjoyed a cabin surrounded by golden aspens. I fantasized that I lived there. With my four wheel drive pickup truck with tire chains for the winter, and my tall stacks of firewood that I’d cut well beforehand. My canoe put away for the winter, as well, after a fine summer of paddling and fishing on the lake.

Trout Lake cabin in the aspens.

Trout Lake cabin in the aspens.

Back out on the highway, I made another panoramic scenic of Trout Lake. The bright high clouds and the soft foreground, and the new snow on the high peaks.

Trout Lake panorama, October 7.

Trout Lake panorama, October 7.

It was late morning, and I had to go back to work the next day. What to do? Head home now, for an easy drive and evening? Or push it to get the most out of one of the most perfect fall days ever?

That will be answered in my next post.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

Fall Colors Extravaganza, Trout Lake, Colorado

Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado. Part of the headwaters of the South Fork of the San Miguel River. Fall colors at their peak, blue skies and cumulus clouds, light brilliant, air crystal clear. A perfect photographic recipe.

Trout Lake fall colors panorama, from Highway 145.

Trout Lake fall colors panorama, from Highway 145.

Trout Lake mirror panorama.

Trout Lake sky mirror panorama.

Mountain home drowning in aspen fall colors.

Mountain home drowning in aspen fall colors.

Golds and greens Trout Lake reflection.

Golds and greens Trout Lake reflection.

Aspen colors reflection, Trout Lake.

Aspen colors reflection, Trout Lake.

A surprise: daisies still blooming. A nice combination with nearby aspen colors.

A surprise: daisies still blooming. A nice combination with nearby aspen colors.

Aspen leaves collecting on the windshield.

Aspen leaves collecting on the windshield.

Photo location: Trout Lake, San Miguel County south of Telluride, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

The Sheep of Sheep Mountain, Colorado

Moonset at Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

Moonset at night at Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountain Range of southwest Colorado to check on the progress of the fall colors. Somebody’s got to do it.

I arrived at the Pass (elevation 10,222 feet) in the dark. Drove back across the meadows where I knew the camping is good. I saw what I thought were a couple of RVs parked down low. I went up the hill, pleased to find no one there.

But I was hearing some “baa, baa” animal noises in the night. At first I thought they were goats, I don’t know why. Anything is possible, I suppose. Especially when you’re tired and it’s dark. And you’re no farmer, either.

Sheep herding operation below Sheep Mountain, Colorado.

Sheep herding operation below Sheep Mountain, Colorado.

In the morning I saw what was going on. Spread out below me was a sheepherder’s corral, a travel trailer, and what seemed like a thousand sheep. Ah, I thought, whomever has the grazing permit here on the National Forest (or Forests, since the Pass sits on the boundary between the San Juan and the Uncompahgre) is taking the summer’s sheep down out of here.

The high mountain meadow was situated below Sheep Mountain, its 13,000-some foot peak showing its autumn tundra colors way up there above timberline.

Soon after sunrise a big semi truck with a quadruple-decker stock trailer arrived. A second one soon afterward. The loading began, the sheep dogs yelping and bouncing about. Eventually the two big trucks trundled off.

Sheep corralling operation, Lizard Head Pass.

Sheep corralling operation, Lizard Head Pass.

But in the afternoon I was surrounded by sheep. Me, up on my little hill on the edge of the forest. More sheep coming down from above, down to the corrals. Where they spent the night, too, and were loaded into the returning trucks the next morning.

High country sheep and fall colors, Lizard Head Pass.

High country sheep and fall colors, Lizard Head Pass.

On the third morning the operation reached its finale. The last visit of the stock trucks, the last sheep gone. A big pickup truck to haul the sheepherder’s camper trailer — his high country summer home — back to wherever.

It had been interesting watching the operation from afar. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be up there all summer, and then finally see your season’s work done. Real done. Gone way before winter. And where would winter be spent? So many questions.

I went down the corral. It seemed lonely. Everything gone but the wood and steel wire of the enclosures, of the chutes used to funnel the livestock onto the trucks.

Suddenly lonely sheep corral chutes, and Sheep Mountain.

Suddenly lonely sheep corral chutes, and Sheep Mountain.

Autumn. Harvest time. The best time of year.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests, Dolores County and San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg