The Bucks of Autumn

 

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Two big bucks find my aspen tree much to interesting…

Living on the edge of a small town surrounded by farm and ranch fields in southwest Colorado, it’s common to see wildlife and how they adapt to their human neighbors.

Case in point are the four large mule deer bucks that frequent my neighborhood. I call them the Gang of Four. Not only do they know it’s not hunting season, but even if it were it’s illegal to hunt in a residential area. It’s as if they read the town statutes.

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I had wondered about the scars on the trees…they’ve been sharpening their antler points.

Like all wildlife, the Gang of Four knows where their preferred food sources are, and hang about in various nearby spots. They have raided my little garden repeatedly this summer, during the night. A chain link fence is merely something to hop over for them. Finally I resorted to some animal repellent spray, which is supposed to make animals’ mouths tingle in a way they don’t like, so they go eat the neighbor’s flowers, again.

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Trim and muscular, ready for the fall mating rut.

I have watched these bucks during the summer in “velvet”, the fuzzy covering as their antlers grew. Then suddenly they were back. In my yard, in the late afternoon. No more velvet, those antlers were fully grown and ready for the combat of the rut (mating season) in late fall. But for now the four big boys weren’t enemies. That would come later. After the sexual completion of reproduction was over they would become buddies again. I call it the Big Boys’ Club. I’ve seen bull elk do it, too.

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The Gang of Four in velvet, September 11. 

Photo location: Nucla, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Aspen Colors Reflection, Trout Lake

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The fall colors continue to progress in the Colorado high country. Actually given the recent warm weather I think the colors are later than normal. It’s been an exceptionally dry summer, but the warm sunny days and cool nights lately have been nudging the aspen forests toward getting their leaves ready to drop.

At Trout Lake recently I was trout fishing near sunset. The trout were happily sipping aquatic insects from the surface of the lake, totally uninterested in my lures.

But I harvested some gorgeous photos, with such a light breeze and the still waters at my feet providing a mirror.

Photo location: San Miguel County near Telluride, Colorado.

See much more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunrise Reflection and fall aspen colors, Rico, Colorado.

Chasing Down the October Moon

Moon Setting Over the Aspen Fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

Moon Setting at dawn over the fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

I was rolling up Colorado Highway 145 in the dark, intent on having a perfect October day of photographing in the high country.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe and setting moon, Rico, Colorado.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe, Rico, Colorado.

As the dawn light slowly illuminated the landscape, the just-past-Full Moon was getting ready to set behind the San Juan Mountains. At Rico–perhaps my favorite mountain town–I pulled over for some shots.

Mountains and Fall Colors Reflected in Ponds at Dawn, Rico, Colorado.

Mountains and fall colors reflected in ponds at dawn, Rico, Colorado.

I turned off onto the road along the old beaver ponds and the hot springs. A calm chilly morning, perfect for keeping the ponds still to serve as mirrors.

Sunrise Reflection and fall aspen colors, Rico, Colorado.

Sunrise reflection, Rico, Colorado.

I was about to continue driving when I noticed the sunrise on one of the high peaks in the distance. And of course its reflection on the water’s surface.

After that it was really time to get back on the road. Because who knew what more lay ahead after a start like this?

Up the highway to Lizard Head Pass, and an early morning scene with its namesake, Lizard Head Peak.

Lizard Head Peak Morning Sunshine, From Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

Lizard Head Peak morning sunshine, from Lizard Head Pass.

Further along the road, I was afforded another glimpse of the moon over the high peaks.

Moon Setting Beyond Bare Aspen Trees and mountain peaks, San Miguel County, Colorado.

Moon setting beyond bare aspen trees, San Miguel County, Colorado.

And another. I made a high resolution panoramic image of the scenery, free of the dark foreground trees, before heading down the South Fork of the San Miguel River. Which will be the focus of the next post.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains.

Photo location: San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Fall Colors at Mesa Verde

Fall colors, Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Fall Colors along Wetherill Mesa Road, Mesa Verde National Park.

The fall colors peaked at Mesa Verde National Park about a week ago. I took a day to go up there and photograph them on a crisp, somewhat hazy morning.

Fall colors in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Colors along the park highway near the Montezuma Valley Overlook.

“Mesa Verde” means “green table” in Spanish. But it’s more accurately called a cuesta, geology-wise, meaning it’s a titled table. The tilted aspect means the power of water has been able to carve many long, steep walled canyons into it, that drain south into the Mancos River Canyon.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Colored hillsides and snags from the Bircher Fire in 2000.

After several massive wildfires between about 15-20 years ago, much of the park that the public views is covered by shrubland, especially Gambel Oak, which quickly resprouted from their deep root systems after the fires. Gambel Oak fall colors range from a dull yellow to a dull red.

Gambel Oak fall colors, Mesa Verde National Park.

Gambel Oak in fall colors.

Other major colors come from Utah Serviceberry shrubs, which are usually bright yellow in the fall, but can also be red.

Serviceberry in bright yellow fall colors, Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Serviceberry in bright yellow fall colors, Wetherill Mesa.

However, it’s the overall palette of colors on the slopes that give Mesa Verde her autumn glory. The Mountain Mahogany colors went early, before the peak of the colors, then the Serviceberry and Oak do their thing. The variation of the different oak stands in particular–some are reddish, some yellowish, while others still green–paints the hillsides of the mesa.

Autumn view southwest from Park Point, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Autumn view southwest from Park Point.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Tracking the Aspen Colors, September 30

Colorado Highway 145 near Rico, Colorado, fall colors.

Colorado Hwy. 145 near Rico.

September 30, the last day of the second-best month of the year. The day before the very start of the best month.

I drove up Colorado Highway 145 from Dolores, which parallels the upper Dolores River almost to its source high in the San Juan Mountains. According to the calendar.

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Morning mist and fall colors, Rico, Colorado.

I was somewhat surprised that the aspen fall colors had not peaked in the week since I’d been there last. There had been more snow on the high peaks, but the aspen stands had taken it in strike just below that, not feeling the need to dump their leaves for the winter.

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Former County Courthouse, Rico, Colorado.

I drove into Rico, at 8,800 feet elevation pretty much my bullseye for what was going on for autumn colors around these part. I took another shot of the gravel street looking down from the Rico Community Church, that stately and gleaming white frame building. I was working on a series of the progression of the colors with that as a vantage point.

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Rico Community Church, September 30.

From Rico it was up over Lizard Head Pass into San Miguel County and down a little bit to the stunningly gorgeous hamlet of Trout Lake. But the lake and its surrounding peaks were pretty much wreathed in clouds. Tough light, but I wanted to document it anyway.

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Trout Lake on a nearly socked-in fall morning.

Then on past Telluride and over to Dallas Divide, turning off onto Last Dollar Road. There, the expansive ranches have huge mountain meadows of cattle grazing beneath towering peaks.

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Cattle ranches and snowy peaks, from Last Dollar Road.

Even there the aspen forests had a lot of green left to turn to gold. The photographers were lined up along the road at key spots, I think under the direction of photography safari outfits. Not my scene. I want to do everything on my own.

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Aspen grove, Last Dollar Road.

Soon after that, I turned my little vehicle around and headed back to Cortez, with over a hundred miles to go. I paused again at Rico for a beaver pond reflection shot of the colors.

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Beaver ponds reflection near Rico.

Photo location: San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

First Snow, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

 

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest.

The cool fall weather had continued uninterrupted for several days. Ah, yes. The perfect time of year.

Yesterday it started raining at 3 AM and was continuing on an off into the early morning. But the front was supposed to move out during the day. So I decided to drive up into the San Juan Mountains to see how the fall colors had progressed in just four days.

The morning started out in Cortez with a beautiful morning rainbow.

September morning rainbow in Cortez, Colorado.

Morning rainbow, Cortez, Colorado.

From Dolores I drove up to Groundhog Reservoir. Then up toward Black Mesa, where I had enjoyed a day of photographing the early fall colors the week before.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest.

I had been hoping for the rain to pass through and give me a view of the high peaks of the Lizard Head Wilderness with fresh snow on them. Instead, I was surprised to find out that the snow level was down to where I was. Rather, that I had driven up into it.

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Fortunately I had recently paid for four new top-of-the-line all-terrain tires. I had been yearning for a chance to try them out on slippery roads, and here it was: fresh wet snow on top of an inch of wet muddy coating on a well graveled road. Nothing too crazy.

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All-terrain tires so gnarly they have lugs on the sidewalls.

I soon realized that If I’d still had the old tires I would have been spinning and sliding in my All Wheel Drive (not 4WD) vehicle. And turning around to go back down out of the snow zone. But with these new, ultra gnarly babies it felt as if I had tire chains on them.

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Aspen saplings in fall colors and early snow.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, the younger aspen trees were taking the wet snow pretty hard. Bent way over, some branches snapped off. The kind of early snow storm that would convince the higher aspen stands that it was time to dump their leaves for the winter.

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Heavy wet snow coming down in the spruce-fir forest.

An unexpected benefit of the aspen seedlings groaning under the weight of the snow was that their lovely fall colors were bent down to easy photographing.

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Aspen foliage in raining snow.

As I continued on though the forest, I had the good fortune to not only see a marten scurry across the road just ahead of me, but to pause down in the forest for a decent shot. These small forest mammals with the cat-like faces are considered to be threatened, so it was a rare treat for me to have the sighting.

Marten in the snow, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Marten in the snow, San Juan National Forest.

Afterward I drove back down out of the snow zone, into the West Dolores River canyon.

The US Forest Service's Dunton Work Center, West Dolores valley, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

The US Forest Service’s Dunton Work Center, West Dolores valley.

Photo location: Montezuma and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado Fall Colors: Trout Lake

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Trout Lake, Colorado near the peak of the fall colors.

It was late September in the southwestern Colorado Rockies. The San Juan Mountain range, specifically. The fall colors were nearing their peak and there was an early snow at the even higher elevations.

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One of the high peaks above Trout Lake.

I had arrived while the last of the storm was still leaving the area. Even with gray skies and occasional snow showers it looked awesome. It was great to be back to one of my favorite places, at my favorite time of year. Then the skies began to clear.

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Trout Lake closeup.

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

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

Hanksville To Hite: Henry Mountains Snow and Fall Colors

The Silver Eagle convenience store, Hanksville, Utah.

The Silver Eagle convenience store, Hanksville, Utah.

Hanksville, Utah, on a frosty November morning. I stop in at the Silver Eagle convenience store — effectively the heart of town since it’s open all winter. Especially since it contains Stan’s Burger Shak, home of the Hanksburger. Also buffalo burgers, veggie burgers, and lots else. And it will be open all winter this time, unlike last year.

I am close to home this morning — a mere 100 miles — and have all day to get there. Still, I am out of the chute this early, wanting to both enjoy whatever I might see, and get home early and unpack and relax.

The Henry Mountains, from south of Hanksville, Utah.

The Henry Mountains, from south of Hanksville, Utah.

South on Highway 95. The snow shrouded Henry Mountains — the very last mountain range in the continental United States to be explored and mapped, you know — glisten to the west above the high sagebrush plain.

In geologic terms, the Henrys are a laccolith. Whether you care about “rocks” or not, imagine the forces within the Earth’s crust bulging up magma (it’s only called lava once it flows onto the surface) but not erupting. The overlying rock layers are tilted by the pressure, of course, forced to assume steep angles. Then the force eases, subsides. And the surface layers that have been roused from their peaceful sleep are now exposed to the weathering forces of the Earth’s atmosphere. Erosion.

And now we are here at this stage of their erosion. Tall mountain peaks seemingly jutting up out of nowhere.

The mysterious abandoned Winnebago, out the middle of nowhere.

The mysterious abandoned Winnebago, out the middle of nowhere.

But also jutting into the foreground was that abandoned Winnebago RV. As always it made me wonder how it had gotten there. I couldn’t see a road out onto that spot in the sagebrush. I’d asked a cashier in Hanksville if she knew its story. “I’ve only been here three years, I don’t know”. I would’ve found a local who knew the first week I was there. Maybe I should move there.

Cottonwood trees in fall colors, North Wash.

Cottonwood trees in fall colors, North Wash.

Setting aside thoughts of relocation to a dusty but friendly high desert town in southern Utah, I started down the North Wash section of Highway 95. An interpretive sign told of how the highway was pioneered. It seems that a local citizen grew impatient with there being no road from Hanksville down to Glen Canyon and the Colorado River, so he exercised some initiative. He “borrowed” one of the county’s bulldozers and pushed the dirt and boulders aside with it until there was one. Apparently law enforcement was a bit more lenient about such things then than it is today.

North Wash cottonwood trees fall colors glory.

North Wash cottonwood trees fall colors glory.

But the route to the river eventually became a modern paved highway. Not heavily used, mind you. If you drive it you can often count the number of other vehicles on one hand. I like that.

Anyway, it was still a bit frosty down North Wash. But there were still cottonwood trees on the floodplain in full fall color glory. So of course I had to stop and photograph.

Red cliffs reflection in North Wash.

Red cliffs reflection in North Wash.

The air was so still, not a leaf moved. Silence. Morning light, growing brighter as the sun approached the canyon’s rim, out of sight for now. But not for long. I should have waited until it came over the top to really light up the cottonwood colors. But I felt impatient, I don’t know why.

The Colorado River, Hite Crossing Bridge, Utah.

The Colorado River, Hite Crossing Bridge, Utah.

Down to the Colorado River. I pulled over at the bridge to take some photos. I liked what I saw. Maybe this was why I’d felt too impatient to linger longer up the North Wash. I liked them both a lot, but you can’t be everywhere at once. And in this area of the country I’ve found that you can’t make a bad choice most of the time. Just pick one, you can’t lose.

I drove the mile back into the Hite Ranger Station. I always like going there, despite it being almost a ghost town. Because Lake Powell is down to less than half its capacity. The marina that once throbbed with powerboat tourists is gone. The Colorado river there is back to being a free flowing river. The still water of the reservoir now lie just south.

Hite, Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hite, Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

So I notice the park housing for the employees, now vacant except for one, a recently filled Law Enforcement National Park Ranger. I’ve met him, he seems great, and I hope he can stay for a while. He seems to appreciate the austere land, the canyons and rivers.

I stopped at the gas pump and convenience store. I peered in the windows of the store to see what was in there, in season. “It’s closed”, a grizzled man told me as he came around the outside corner of the building. He wasn’t a Park Service employee, but an employee of the concessionaire, Aramark. He had been sent up from Bullfrog, on the west side of Lake Powell, to work on the generators in the off season. Or whenever things needed working on. I explained that I worked at the Visitor Center at Natural Bridges, and that visitors were often inquiring what services were available at Hite, so far from where they were going to where they were going. He understood. He let me into the store to look around. I noticed the racks of t-shirts and sweatshirts shrouded with bedsheets for the winter. I noticed some of the books for sale, books being a keen interest of mine.

Then I thanked him and bid my farewell.

Morning reflections on the Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

Morning reflections of the cliffs onto the Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

It’s a fascinating place. Named for the smart, tough, legendary pioneer Cass Hite. I’d read his biography. I will read it again.

Photo locations: Hanksville, North Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southern Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Until The Last Leaf Falls: Autumn Ends At Natural Bridges

Sipapu Bridge trail down into White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Sipapu Bridge trail down into White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument. Click on the image for a much larger version.

Winter has come early this year. The third snowfall has already occurred at Natural Bridges National Monument and Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah.

And I am glad for it. Because after the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, after there is no green of deciduous foliage in the stream bottoms and among the pinyon pines and junipers, the grasses and forbs and wildflowers all being long done, the canyons look so drab by comparison.

Snow coated Douglas-fir, Pinyon pine, and Utah juniper trees.

Snow coated Douglas-fir, Pinyon pine, and Utah juniper trees. And desert varnish on the cliffs.

Snow sure fixes that. Because Cedar Mesa is a desert, visitors are often surprised to hear that it snows here. But then again many people think that desert means low desert, like the Sonoran Desert zone in southern Arizona.

The ledge below Vulture Point, Sipapu Bridge Trail.

The ledge below Vulture Point, Sipapu Bridge Trail.

But this is the high desert. In fact, Natural Bridges is the uppermost of the high desert. It lies just below Elk Ridge, which is mountain country: Ponderosa pine and aspen forest type. You can drive up there in just a few miles and you’ve risen two thousand feet in elevation.

Meanwhile, down here at Natural Bridges, I hiked down the Sipapu Bridge trail to see how conditions were for the park’s visitors. The overcast sky, after the snow storm, made for reduced contrast, while still providing a nice soft and bright light. A welcome change from the deep shadows and blue sky.

People ask me all the time: which Bridge is best in the morning, the afternoon, etc. I usually reply: I don’t care when I go down into the canyons. The trails lead you right down underneath each bridge, so you can get great shots from either side, depending on how the light is at that time of day. So the important thing is: just get down there! Even better, do one of the loop hikes, and you will see even more.

And that’s just the canyon landscape. There are only three ancient ruins in the park that the staff is allowed to talk about. The others are located throughout the park and are some of the best preserved of their kind. After all, President Teddy Roosevelt declared this park Utah’s first National Monument in 1908.

Ancestral pueblan (Anasazi) ruins, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Ancestral pueblan (Anasazi) cliff dwelling ruins, Natural Bridges National Monument. No, I won’t tell you how to get to this site.

After enjoying another hike down the Sipapu Bridge trail, I returned to the canyon rim and drove on. Fall colors are one of my things, and any remaining colors, no matter how scant, catch my eye. Like these Fremont Cottonwood leaves, still holding out in the snow. Not for long, though.

Fremont Cottonwood last gasp fall colors, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Fremont Cottonwood last gasp fall colors, Natural Bridges National Monument. The Utah junipers in the background, especially with shadows and touches of snow, make for a nice canvas.

Last leaves, Natural Bridges.

Last leaves, Natural Bridges.

Then it was on to Owachomo Bridge. The old lady of the trio. The one that will collapse the soonest, “soon” being very relative in geologic terms. Tomorrow? A thousand years?

Owachomo Bridge, early snow.

Owachomo Bridge, early snow.

Owachomo Bridge was the one that actually had some snow on her by the time I got there that afternoon. She’s the most wide open, rather than tucked down at the bottom of White Canyon like Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge are. So I got to angle around quite a bit for some good snow shots. Especially when the late afternoon sun made a brief appearance and lit up her southside buttresses. Lovely, very lovely.

But back to imagining when the last leaf of autumn might fall. When? Where?

Fremont Cottonwood leaf and third snow of the season.

Fremont Cottonwood leaf and third snow of the season.

It’s rather a trick question, because in a way it never does fall. Not in autumn, anyway. Some trees shed all their leaves in the fall, while others — notably the oaks — hang onto at least some of them throughout the winter. There’s lots of variation: climate, microclimate, genetics. Nothing happens all at once.

Thus the last leaf might actually not fall until spring. When the new growth pushes any remaining holdovers off the twig.

Watch your own favorite trees and try to notice what they do. It’s fun to contemplate.

Frost on Gambel Oak leaf and cryptobiotic soil crust, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Frost on Gambel Oak leaf and cryptobiotic soil crust, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Capitol Reef National Park, November

I returned to Capitol Reef on a splendid November day. A recent early snow storm had left the distant Henry Mountains with a fresh coat of snow. An excellent backdrop to the fantastic bare rock forms down below.

Capitol Reef National Park, from west entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park and the Henry Mountains, from the west entrance.

The name Capitol Reef came about because the first European and American explorers and pioneers found the upthrust cliffs to be a serious barrier to their travel, like an ocean reef dangerously in the way. But they were also grand and stately, towering overhead and reminded them of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Okay.

Capitol Reef National Park west entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park west entrance.

I was entering the park from the west, on Highway 24. I was looking forward to finally getting into the Visitor Center, because on my previous visits I had arrived too late for their winter hours. But I’d forgotten that this day was a national holiday — Veterans Day — so it was closed anyway. Next time.

Capitol Reef's Visitor Center and fall colors.

Capitol Reef’s fall colors, from the Visitor Center parking area.

The park campground was glowing in the last fall colors of the cottonwood trees in the late afternoon sunlight. Only a few sites were taken. I would have loved to camp there, but it was not my destination for the night.

The lovely campground at Capitol Reef.

The lovely campground at Capitol Reef.

So I spent the rest of the late fall daylight doing the parks’s Scenic Drive, which is 10 miles to the end of the pavement. It’s not a loop drive, so you come back out the way you went in.

The cliffs near Capitol Gorge, late afternoon.

The cliffs near Capitol Gorge, late afternoon.

Unlike my other visits to the park, the two unpaved roads were still open: Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. I had enough daylight left, so I drove both, enjoying more of the fantastic cliffs.

Capitol Reef cliffs panorama - click for much larger.

Capitol Reef cliffs panorama – click on image for much larger version.

But then it was time to travel on to my evening’s destination. So it was back to Highway 24, and east to Hanksville. But before leaving the park’s confines I once again enjoyed the sunset lighting up the highest layers of almost white sandstone.

The highest layers at sunset time, from Highway 24.

The highest layers at sunset time, from Highway 24.

There is much more to this incredible park than this quick visit sampled. I have been to some parts of it, and others I have yet to explore. I am looking forward to both revisiting the familiar, and investigating what’s new for me there.

Photo location: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg