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

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Moon Sleeps Behind Sleeping Ute Mountain

Moonset over Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado.

Moonset beginning over Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I had failed to be out there to photograph the October moonrise. It had been a rough day, and I preferred to stay at home. The moon waits for no one, though.

But before first light the next morning, I awoke thinking it was dawn. It wasn’t. It was the all-but-Full Moon shining through my west window. As it was descending. Moonset.

I rolled out of bed and grabbed my camera gear and loaded up in the dark. Well, not totally dark. Moonlight.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris desktop application I had scoped out where to go for this event. It would sink behind Sleeping Ute Mountain if I were positioned atop Mesa Verde’s North Rim. Even in my sleepy condition, it seemed like I had a quite good chance of making it there yet, if I hurried.

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Full Moon descending from a cloud bank, Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I did. Parking at the Montezuma Valley Overlook, I shut off the engine and the lights. The bright moon was the only light I was interested in.

The moon was descending through a thin cloud bank. Good in that it was not overcast.

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Panorama of Moonset, Sleeping Ute, and the lights of Cortez.

The wind was ripping through the notch in the Rim. Oh, nice, I thought, so windy that my tripod might as well be worthless as to holding the camera steady.

But once I stepped away from the parking lot, down the paved path, the shoulder of the ridge cut the wind in half. Then even more. Nice. I set up the tripod.

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Zooming in on the Sleeping Ute’s crossed arms and moonset.

I made a series of shots in the tough contrast between bright moon and the mountain. In some of them I included the twinkling lights from the small city of Cortez below. It gave those shots a lot of context.

Moon going to sleep behind Sleeping Ute.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Deer Family, Knife Edge Trail

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde.

I was walking (“hiking” would be overkill for such an easy path) the Knife Edge Trail in Mesa Verde National Park on a summer evening. It was almost sunset, and the afternoon clouds were threatening rain.

As I walked around a bend in the trail I spooked a deer. A mother with her fawns, still spotted, very young. Being that it was a National Park where hunting is not allowed (and not hunting season outside the park anyway) the deer were only mildly concerned at my intrusion into their evening feeding on the shrubs and grasses around them.

Knife Edge Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, summer thunderstorm evening.

With such low light I had to crank up the ISO setting on my camera and even so hope for some luck. Through several shots and holding as steadily as I could, it was the deer that were in motion, blurring themselves during the long exposure. I tried to wait until they paused a bit, then shot. Then tried again.

Mule Deer Fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule Deer fawns, Knife Edge Trail.

A little bit of blurriness in the shots didn’t diminish a fine, surprise experience.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Wetherill Mesa View

Wetherill Mesa View of the Montezuma Valley and Cortez, Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park.

View from the North Rim of Mesa Verde, From Wetherill Mesa.

A grand August evening driving across Wetherill Mesa, on the southwest edges of Mesa Verde National Park.

Wetherill is the quieter side of the Park, because the road is a little too narrow and windy to allow large (longer than 25 feet) vehicles. That means no bus tours out there. Only regular vehicles and small RVs.

On the way back, I paused to take in the superb views from the Wetherill portion of the North Rim, with the blue-ness of Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance.

View from Wetherill Mesa to Sleeping Ute Mountain, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Wetherill Mesa at the North Rim, with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening, Part 4

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook, July 2017.

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook.

As I continued my way on the “outbound lane” as the Rangers call it in Mesa Verde (there’s only one road in, and out), I paused at the Geologic Overlook. The monsoon showers were gracing someone’s location to the north. Where I was it was soft overcast light and summertime greenery.

Partial rainbow from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Partial rainbow at Park Point, Mesa Verde.

At the turnoff for Park Point, those rain showers to the north provided a partial rainbow, with the La Plata (“Silver”) mountains serving as a backdrop.

Mesa Verde North Rim from Park Point

The North Rim of Mesa Verde, looking north from Park Point.

At Park Point is the fire lookout “tower”, which has no legs. Because it needs none, the perfect 360-degree view being provided by its elevation above the surrounding landscape. While walking by I became interested in my reflection through the glass onto mylar or whatever sun shading film they had cutting the intensity of the afternoon sun.

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Then down the curves to the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the best example of The Knife Edge cliff formation (of Point Lookout Sandstone) visible from the road.

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Mesa Verde road above the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the Knife Edge.

From there it was down into the head of Morefield Canyon, where the park’s campground is located. I stopped for a stroll on the easy–but impressive–Knife Edge Trail. It follows part of one of the original roads into the park. And believe me, be glad for the modern road we enjoy today!

Knife Edge Trail, Knife Edge Road route, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, on the grade of the old Knife Edge Road into Mesa Verde National Park.

After returning to my vehicle, there was just one more set of switchback curves before rejoining the Montezuma Valley and exiting the park. And on those curves is one last viewpoint: overlooking the Mancos Valley. And it was raining down there, and the lush green irrigated fields looked gorgeous.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 3)

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) blooming at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) at Cliff Palace parking lot.

A sure sign that late summer has begun across the southern Colorado Plateau is the flowering of Rabbitbrush. Especially when you have a butterfly seemingly pose for you in the sunlight.

Butterfly on Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Butterfly on Rabbitbrush blooms.

From Cliff Palace it was on across the rest of the northern edge of Mesa Verde. I hadn’t visited Cedar Tree Tower in a while. Time to fix that.

Cedar Tree Tower site, Mesa Verde.

Cedar Tree Tower site, Mesa Verde.

The concept of building small towers out of adobe at Mesa Verde (and elsewhere in the region) is fascinating to think about. For what purpose? You don’t do anything this labor intensive just for fun.

At Cedar Tree Tower, there is also the stabilized foundation of a kiva, a subterranean circular room used for ceremonial purposes, as well as other activities. Most interestingly at this site, there is a small tunnel between the two. So the tower had no outside doorway. You got into the tower via the kiva, or not at all.

Burned stump of the "cedar" tree that gave Cedar Tree Tower its name, Mesa Verde National Park..

Burned stump of the “cedar” tree that gave Cedar Tree Tower its name. This year’s Indian Ricegrass at its base.

The area around Cedar Tree Tower was burned by the immense Chapin 5 Fire in 1996. Thus the “Cedar” tree that gives it its name — actually a Utah Juniper — was burned to the ground.

Broad-Leafed (Banana) Yucca at Cedar Tree Tower ruin, Mesa Verde National Park..

Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca at Cedar Tree Tower.

As usual I paused to examine some fine examples of Broadleaf ( or Banana) Yucca (Yucca baccata). At this time of year their fat green seed pods must look like watermelons to the wildlife.

Ripe seed pods of Broad Leaf (Banana) Yucca.

Ripe seed pods of Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca.

The yucca’s green, long, needle tipped “leaves” have curly white fibers that are fascinating to a photographer. At least to this one.

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Leaf fibers of Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 2)

Oak Tree House Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Oak Tree House environs, Mesa Verde.

On the Mesa Top Loop road, the early evening was continuing to play out so beautifully.

At the Oak Tree House cliff dwelling overlook, I started with a wide shot to capture both the location and the incredible skies above.

Oak Tree House cliff dwelling, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Oak Tree House closeup. You can only take a backcountry Ranger-led tour to it.

Then it was on to Sun Temple. A location that is most notable for me in that it has an excellent view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.

Sun Temple puelo ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Sun Temple pueblo site, Mesa Verde.

But first I felt the desire to give Sun Temple some more attention. It’s not that easy to do, photographically, because it’s the ground floor of a big mesa top pueblo, and there is no overlook from above for visitors. So you are left with reading the interpretive sign and…imagining all that went on there with those peoples’ lives way back then.

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Cliff Palace locale, from Sun Temple.

At the far end of the Sun Temple parking lot is the Cliff Palace View lookout point. This is where the pro photographers make the panoramic-wide postcard and poster shots you can buy in the gift stores.

Um, the only problem I have with most of the Cliff Palace pro photos is that they zoom in too much on the cliff dwelling itself. Understandably so, because it’s amazing, mesmerizing, being the largest cliff dwelling in North America. So I made sure to make some wider shots, of the environs. Especially with such beautiful skies trying to distract me upward.

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Cliff Palace on a late July afternoon, from Sun Temple.

I drove over to the Cliff Palace parking lot. Where you go when you hold a ticket for a Ranger-led tour down to the site. Which these days is the only way you’re allowed to go down there. Appropriately so; too many people want to see it to let them go wild on their own. The Park Rangers have to give you the best interpretive experience while protecting these precious sites. Such a balancing act. They manage to do it quite impressively.

Visitors at Cliff Palace overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Visitors at Cliff Palace overlook, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace is the most famous site in the park, so it’s also the most crowded. But–and maybe I shouldn’t say this–still very laid-back compared to the biggest of our National Parks. Yes, and here in the middle of summer. A wonderful place to be.

Cliff Palace from above, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cliff Palace and sky, July afternoon.

But the setting is at least as important as what the ancient ones somehow came to build there. And on this July afternoon, it could not have looked any better.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 1)

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling site.

A late July afternoon and I got off work at Mesa Verde fairly early: 4:15 pm. Dramatic monsoon thunderstorm clouds had been brewing all afternoon. Time to go home, way down in the valley below.

But not directly home. No rush. Not with this kind of light. I chose to make my way back down off of Mesa Verde gradually.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Closeup panorama of Square Tower House. The “tower” is the tallest Ancestral Puebloan structure at Mesa Verde.

First I drove the Mesa Top Loop. Stopping at the Square Tower House overlook, I photographed the cliff dwelling (it’s my favorite, somehow) as the summertime late afternoon shadows were beginning to creep across the back of the site. The back of the alcove being in shade made for an excellent backdrop.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon on a monsoon season afternoon, Mesa Verde.

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The bottom of Navajo Canyon, with a fallen boulder as big as a bus.

I then walked the short distance to the Navajo Canyon overlook, which is the canyon Square Tower House is perched above. I became interested in the cliffs as usual. But this time I noticed the tan color in the bottom of the canyon. It looked like mud was down there in the stream course (when it runs), but it was grass, done with its short life and gone to seed and dead and dry. It sure did make the canyon bottom’s winding way stand out.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon cliffs, from the rim.

My evening sojourn across the “green table” was just beginning.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunset panorama at Totten Reservoir, Montezuma Valley, Colorado.

Monsoon Evening

Summer thunderstorm evening at Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Summer thunderstorm evening at Montezuma Valley Overlook.

The Southwest’s thunderstorm monsoon season continues in full swing. Clear blue sky mornings, with thunderhead clouds building toward mid-day. Then in late afternoon, ka-boom! Or not. Depending on which spot you happen to be located at the moment.

Besides giving the land some much appreciated rain, it gives photographers much desired dramatic lighting. Farmers and ranchers harvest crops and livestock, I harvest photographs.

So recently I was driving down off of Mesa Verde at mid evening. There had been a heavy thunderstorm at the north end of the park, but it had moved on by the time I got there.

I pulled over at the Montezuma Valley Overlook for a nice shot showing the summertime greenery, the Knife Edge cliff formation, and the stormy skies.

Then it was down off of “the hill” as the park rangers call it. (A recent visitor said: “You call that a hill? I call it a mountain!”).

Evening light on the folds of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, from the Montezuma Valley, Colorado..

Evening light on the folds of the North Rim of Mesa Verde.

Whatever you call it, I was back down into the Montezuma Valley just east of Cortez. As the sun got lower it partially broke through the clouds to light up the tall rugged escarpment (geology talk for “really big cliff”) that is the North Rim of Mesa Verde.

Sunset panorama at Totten Reservoir, Montezuma Valley, Colorado.

Sunset time at Totten Reservoir.

I pulled in at Totten Reservoir, because it is public land and has a great view of Mesa Verde, Sleeping Ute Mountain, and sunset. Quite the package.

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Sleeping Ute Mountain from Totten Reservoir.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park and Montezuma Valley, near Cortez, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Monsoon Afternoons

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Monsoon thunderstorm over the Montezuma Valley, east of Cortez, Colorado.

The early half of the summer in the Four Corners region is typically the driest part of the year. Winter is over, but the rains are few or nonexistent.

After that, though, the Southwest’s “monsoon” season of thunderstorms begins, to the delight of area residents. Rain in a high desert land, variety in the skies.

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Rain in the valley, with the North Rim of Mesa Verde on the skyline.

Typically the mornings start clear and sunny. But as the summer temperature climbs throughout the day the clouds begin forming. Then boiling up, like a teapot steaming. After that, you might get rained on, and you might not. It just depends. And in the evening, you have a much better than average chance of seeing a rainbow.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg