Armstrong Canyon Ice

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Frozen pool in lower Armstrong Canyon in January, at Natural Bridges.

I was hiking back down into White Canyon to revisit Kachina Natural Bridge in January. But first, a side trip: Up the lower reach of Armstrong Canyon, which joins White Canyon at the Bridge.

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Ice falls at the nickpoint pour-off, lower Armstrong Canyon.

One can only walk a short ways up Armstrong there before their progress upstream is halted by a pour-off, an overhang that has a waterfall when the stream is flowing.

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Ice falls and reflection, Armstrong Canyon.

This stretch of frozen stream bottom is an easy to get to, but still secluded, spot in the canyon. Usually you have it all to yourself.

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Snowy stream banks, lower Armstrong Canyon.

The frozen pools along the way were a treasure trove of frozen patterns: ice crystals, under-ice air pockets, leaves frozen in the ice, partially melted ice over stones.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

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Comb Ridge, Winter Sunset

It was late January and I was on Utah Highway 95 between Blanding and Natural Bridges. The approximate halfway point of that drive is the cut through Comb Ridge, and on this trip I was approaching it just as the sunset was only a few minutes away.

Comb Ridge’s western face is a sheer wall of Wingate sandstone that is about 90 miles long, running north to south from southern San Juan County, Utah across the San Juan River into the Navajo Nation lands in northern Arizona.

As with almost everywhere in southern Utah’s canyon country, you don’t have to care one bit about geology to be impressed by the endless variety of shapes and colors of the canyons, mesa, buttes and mountains. Especially at sunset time.

After crossing Comb Ridge from west to east, the last rays of sunset lit up the snowy peaks of the Abajo Mountains near Blanding.

Click on any image for a larger version.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Valley Of The Gods (Utah) in Winter

Red buttes and cliffs along Valley Of The Gods loop road.

Red buttes and cliffs along Valley Of The Gods loop road. (Click on image for larger version).

Southeast Utah’s Valley Of The Gods is a portion of the San Juan River Valley just east of the hamlet of Mexican Hat. The portion called “Valley Of The Gods” is an area of red buttes and red dirt valley floor that is drained by Cedar Mesa’s Lime Creek, as well as a whole lot of other unnamed washes. It’s public land, administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and has a popular, though somewhat rough (for two wheel drive sedans), 16 mile loop road through the middle of it. You can start either from the main east-west highway, US 163, or the Cedar Mesa highway, Utah 261.

Valley Of The Gods loop road.

Valley Of The Gods loop road.

Looming above the Valley Of The Gods is Cedar Mesa itself. The sheer cliffs at the south end of the mesa rise straight up from the valley floor for about 1,000 feet. To the far west you can make out the silhouettes of some of the famous red sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, along the horizon on the Navajo Nation.

Red rock buttes and fins, Valley Of The Gods.

Red rock buttes and fins, Valley Of The Gods.

This day I drove the Valley loop road from west to east. The western end of the road is usually in the best condition, with flat to gentle grades. With the cold weather after the most recent snows, the road was slightly muddy in places, snowpacked in others. A road grader had smoothed it out not long before, so it was as good as it gets. I don’t recommend driving it in a low clearance sedan, regardless of the season, although some people do (and some of those wish they hadn’t). When the road is impassible for all but four-wheel-drive vehicles, I tell people: “If you’re not a god, stay out of Valley Of The Gods until the road dries out”.

Red rock butte against a bright overcast sky, Valley Of The Gods.

Red rock butte against a bright overcast sky, Valley Of The Gods.

At about the middle of the loop road is some of the most spectacular scenery, because you’re close to some of the taller buttes, and also the cliffs along the flanks of Cedar Mesa. It’s also where the road goes up and down somewhat steeply for short pitches, and where the shadiest parts are. Meaning the most snow and ice, or mud when it thaws out, during the winter season.

Valley Of The Gods road, in between the shaded snowy areas.

Valley Of The Gods road, in between the shaded snowy areas.

All in all, Valley Of The Gods is fun, interesting, scenic, has free dispersed camping, no crowds, and is free to enter. Quite a deal.

Photo Location: Valley Of The Gods, between Bluff and Mexican Hat, San Juan County, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Trout Lake and Telluride In Winter

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Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado. (Click on image for larger version).

Back up into the San Juan Mountains, this time with lots of snow on the ground. It may turn out to be a good year for snowpack.

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Lizard Head Pass, San Miguel County line.

The highway crews have had their hands full simply keeping the roads open. Which means that a lot of turnouts that I’m used to make use of are unplowed, closed. And other sections of highway are posted “avalanche area, no stopping or standing” or “snow plow turnaround — no parking”.

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Lizard Head Peak in winter.

So you do what you can where you can.

The mountain subdivision of Trout Lake looked amazing. My favorite little park on the lake was closed for winter, too. But with no traffic it was easy enough to pull over and climb atop a snowbank for a series of photos.

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The park at Trout Lake, where I’d used the last lingering fall colors on that cottonwood tree for a number of shots in October.

Then it was down to Telluride. It was looking great, too. And not much traffic, here at the height of ski season. Though it was a weekday, but I don’t think that matters to serious ski bums.

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Telluride, Colorado in winter.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado Winter Beauty

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Upper Dolores River, Colorado.

January: first time back up into the San Juan Mountains since October. I wanted to see them in thick snow, not just the early snows.

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Upper Dolores River, in winter glory.

And when I got there, I wondered why I’d waited so long. It was a gorgeous day in between the storms. The trouble was, with all the snow, the highway crews couldn’t push it off fast enough. So few places to pull over and photograph.

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So I took what I could get. And they were lovely opportunities.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Moss Back Butte, from Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, in winter.

Back To Winter Utah Blue Skies

Moss Back Butte, from Natural Bridges Visitor Center parking lot.

Moss Back Butte, from Natural Bridges Visitor Center parking lot. (Click on image for larger version).

The things I like about snowstorms are: 1) the approach and anticipation, 2) watching it occur, and 3) the aftermath. So, I guess I like everything about them.

Natural Bridges National Monument Visitor Center.

Natural Bridges National Monument Visitor Center.

Mind you, I live in a place where the power can’t go out, because we have a solar array with battery storage, plus diesel generator backup to that as well. And we walk to work, just a short distance. We are off the grid and self sufficient. We stay stocked up on food and are nourished even further with some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

The Bears Ears Buttes in snow, from the Natural Bridges parking lot.

The Bears Ears Buttes in snow, from the Natural Bridges parking lot.

Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah is way out there in the middle of nowhere. Even today visitors stop in amazed (sometimes uncomfortable) with how far things are around here. It can be a haven along the long lonely but spectacular road that is Utah Highway 95 between Blanding and Hanksville.

Juniper tree snag in the snow and sun and blue sky.

Juniper tree snag in the snow and sun and blue sky.

It’s the dead of winter here. Few visitors arrive. But those that do are amazed. I am still amazed, too, and it’s my second winter here.

Roundleaf Buffaloberry bush on a winter morning.

Roundleaf Buffaloberry bush on a winter morning.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Navajo Mountain, winter sunset, from Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cedar Mesa Winter Alpenglow Sunset

Sunset over Moss Back Butte and Navajo Mountain, from Maverick Point.

Sunset over Moss Back Butte and Navajo Mountain, from Maverick Point.

The storms had passed, and most of the clouds had moved on during the day. But as sunset time approached, enough clouds remained above the western horizon to make a colorful ending to the day quite likely.

Alpenglow on Woodenshoe Buttes, from the Highway 275 curve below Maverick Point.

Alpenglow on Woodenshoe Buttes, from the Highway 275 curve below Maverick Point.

So I drove out to my favorite sunset spot at Maverick Point on Highway 275, which is the entrance road to Natural Bridges National Monument.

Snow covered boulders at Maverick Point.

Snow covered boulders at Maverick Point.

Natural Bridges is at the very northern edge of Cedar Mesa. At the very upper edge of the high desert, below the cliffs that form the foot of Elk Ridge and Deer Flat. Canyons, mesa, buttes and cliffs. And in snow: so spectacular.

Snow draped Utah Juniper tree, Maverick Point.

Snow draped Utah Juniper tree, Maverick Point.

The sun was just above the horizon, just south of Moss Back Butte and north of Navajo Mountain, one of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Mountain, far in the distance, at sunset.

Navajo Mountain, far in the distance, at sunset.

The sun was soon below the horizon, but the colors were not quitting. In fact they were intensifying. Alpenglow! When the just-set sun is reflecting off the clouds that are just above the horizon.

Which was a big problem for me all of a sudden! I was facing the right direction for sunset. But alpenglow shows up in the opposite direction, to the east.

I jumped back in my truck and drove to find a better vantage point, knowing the Bears Ears Buttes above me were glowing. But I was too close to the cliffs below them.

East Bears Ears Butte, alpenglow.

East Bears Ears Butte, alpenglow.

Finally I had to cut my losses and settle for a few shots of what little was visible of the Ears. Better luck — and positioning — next time!

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument entrance road Highway 275, San Juan County, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Natural Bridges After The Storms

Visitors at Sipapu Bridge View Point, from the Sipapu Trailhead.

Visitors at Sipapu Bridge View Point, from the Sipapu Trailhead.

January 8 wrapped up several days of winter storms in the area. And wrapped it up beautifully. The last of the storms was clearing out as I drove the 9-mile loop road to each of the view points. With a fresh new coating of snow the cliffs of White Canyon, Armstrong Canyon, and the Red House Cliffs west of the park, things looked even more awesome than before.

White Canyon from Kachina Bridge View Point walkway.

White Canyon from Kachina Bridge View Point walkway. (Click on image for a larger version).

There were few visitors that day, which is a shame. Such awesome scenery to be had, and no crowds!

The mouth of Armstrong Canyon, into White Canyon at Kachina Bridge.

The mouth of Armstrong Canyon, into White Canyon at Kachina Bridge.

I did not have time to hike down to any of the three bridges that day, but I felt satisfied getting to see them from above in the spectacular light of the lightening skies.

Owachomo Bridge, from the View Point.

Owachomo Bridge, from the View Point.

The last turnout on the park’s loop drive is a wide open view of the Bears Ears Buttes.

The Bears Ears Buttes turnout on the loop drive.

The Bears Ears Buttes and Elk Ridge, from the turnout on the loop drive.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Moki Dugway to Muley Point

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Looking down on the lower half of the Moki Dugway and the San Juan River valley. (Click on image for larger version).

It was back up the Moki Dugway, that love-it-or-fear-it stretch of Utah Highway 261 that goes from the San Juan River valley floor near Mexican Hat up onto Cedar Mesa. Up 1,100 feet in elevation in just three miles of unpaved road.

Almost to the top of the Moki Dugway...

Almost to the top of the Moki Dugway…

But once you’re familiar with it, most people come to love it. How spectacular!

Utah Hwy. 261, just below the Moki Dugway and Cedar Mesa.

Utah Hwy. 261, just below the Moki Dugway and Cedar Mesa.

From the bottom, it’s challenging to look at that all-but-sheer cliff face and wonder: how does a road go up THERE? Where? Is there such a thing as an elevator for cars?

The red cliffs of the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, from the Moki Dugway looking down onto Valley Of The Gods.

The red cliffs of the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, from the Moki Dugway looking down onto Valley Of The Gods.

There is plenty of warning that the otherwise very gentle and beautifully paved Highway 261 is going to be interrupted by something requiring caution. A series of signs at either end of the Dugway attempts to discourage drivers of large vehicles. And for passenger cars, what about “steep mountain curves, 5 MPH (etc.) do you not get?

Moki Dugway warning sign.

Moki Dugway warning sign, one of several on either end of the approach to the Dugway.

Once on top of Cedar Mesa, I took the dirt road out to Muley Point, one of my favorite spots. The country road crew had even plowed it open.

The uppermost switchback curve on the Moki Dugway.

The uppermost switchback curve on the Moki Dugway. Yep, you started way down there….

Looking down onto the Goosenecks of the San Juan River from high above was especially attractive now that they had snow on them. I like to get some shots of the rim of Cedar Mesa when I can, to give the scene some sense of scale.

Afternoon sunlight on the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, above the Goosenecks.

Afternoon sunlight on the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, above the Goosenecks.

Snow on all the layers and meanders of the Goosenecks is almost dizzying to contemplate.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Muley Point.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Muley Point.

Photo location: San Juan County near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Goosenecks Of The San Juan River, New Year’s Day

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Goosenecks State Park.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Goosenecks State Park. (Click on image for larger version).

New Year’s Day found me back at Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, Utah. The light looked less than promising: bright overcast, pretty flat. Oh, well, I had plenty of daylight left on that short winter’s day, so might as well see what I could see.

Closeup of one of the "entrenched meanders" of the San Juan River.

Closeup of one of the “entrenched meanders” of the San Juan River.

I was glad I did. The lack of strong sunlight and shadows in the San Juan River Goosenecks allowed attention to other details of the immense sinuous canyon that geologists have awarded the informal title of “world’s deepest entrenched meander”. I hope you’re appropriately impressed.

Afternoon skylight reflecting off the muddy waters of the San Juan River.

Afternoon skylight reflecting off the icy, muddy waters of the San Juan River.

The mid afternoon sunlight, filtered through the high clouds, was at a low enough angle to reflect off the surface of the river in some places. What a beautiful effect, worth the price of admission ($5) right there.

It had been cold enough  since the last snowfall that any slope facing toward north had not melted off. In fact, given the lack of vegetation in this austere, high desert location, it was blatantly clear which direction a slope was oriented toward. If the low winter sun doesn’t hit it, it has snow.

South versus north facing slopes: the snow shows where the sun can't reach it.

South versus north facing slopes: the snow shows where the sun can’t reach it.

There was only one party of about five visitors there. One of them happened to walk down the pathway beneath the vista to sit back and enjoy the vista with even more seclusion. He made for a nice accidental “model” in the foreground to give the scene a better sense of scale.

A visitor sits below the lookout at the Goosenecks.

A visitor sits below the lookout at the Goosenecks.

Photo Location: Goosenecks State Park (day use fee $5 per vehicle), San Juan County near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Copyright © 2016 Stephen J. Krieg