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

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Rainy September Colorado Colors

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Early aspen colors at Trout Lake.

Rain saturates colors. Far from being a deterrent to good nature photography, it creates opportunities.

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Trout Lake panorama, September 19.

Thus I drove into the San Juan Mountains in San Miguel County in southwest Colorado, in the Telluride area.

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Rainy mountains south of Telluride.

The aspen colors were coming on nicely, due to the recent warm sunny days and cool nights. It was raining lightly but it wasn’t very windy, allowing for some beautiful images of colorful foliage.

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Red-orange aspen colors on the San Juan National Forest.

Aspen fall colors are primarily bright yellow, as the tree stops producing chlorophyll, making the green color disappear and letting the other colors that were there all along become visible. So they don’t really “turn colors”, they just let summer’s green go.

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Aspen gold is highlighted by the dark greens of evergreen foliage in the background.

Some aspen stands, and even individual trees, exhibit a lovely orange or red instead of gold.

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There’s nothing like a peaceful country road in the Rockies in the fall.

On the way home I drove down the South Fork of the San Miguel River.

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South Fork of the San Miguel. 

The clouds were obscuring the high peaks, but I had plenty to interest me. I stopped for a Gambel oak sapling that had vibrant red colors, much more red than most oaks get.

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Gambel oak colors on the South Fork.

And the cherry red of wild rose hips.

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Wild rose hips. 

As I continued west, away from the San Miguels, west of Norwood the clouds opened and the nearly setting sun turned the distant La Sal Mountains and the sky a brilliant gold.

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Utah’s La Sal Mountains at sunset from Colorado.

And since it was still raining, directly opposite to the east the dark clouds formed the perfect backdrop for a full rainbow.

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Sunset rainbow at the San Miguel County – Montrose County line.

Photo location: San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

See much more of my photography on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

What One Tree Can Do

Cottonwood foliage in fall colors, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cottonwood foliage in fall colors, Mesa Verde.

I was driving along the windy highway along Mesa Verde National Park’s North Rim on a glorious October morning. All the pieces were in place: clear, sunny, perfect Colorado high country blue sky.

Mesa Verde National Park's highway along the North Rim.

Mesa Verde National Park’s highway along the North Rim.

Then I spotted a lone cottonwood tree along the roadway, its brilliant yellow fall foliage colors gently shimmering in the morning breeze.

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The lone cottonwood tree in the middle of nowhere.

Cottonwood trees are a water loving group of species. As in lots of water, all year around. Thus they typically grow along rivers, streams, in the bottom of valleys. Not way up on a mountain ridge like this one.

But this lone tree was way up here. There was a bit more of the mountain slope above the road, and this bend in the roadway must funnel enough water to this spot that a tiny cottonwood seed landed here and took root. With sufficient water down below, it took advantage of the full sunlight, growing far above the shrub-like Gambel Oak trees that are more typical of this steep, high slope.

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Cottonwood foliage closeup. Fall colors spotlit by the morning sunlight against a background of deep shadow, thanks to the far ridge.

Like most, in autumn I am drawn to forests, to stands of trees with superlative fall colors. But sometimes I come across a lone tree such as this that shines all by itself.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Rico Through Autumn, 2017

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The Rico Community Church and the Town Hall, September 30.

Although it’s still October, up in the high country the aspen leaves are down on the ground. Gorgeous weather lingers, with an occasional cold front to dust a little snow that stays in the shady spots in the forest and on the north facing slopes of the high mountain peaks.

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Rico, Colorado’s Town Hall, September 30.

It’s the autumn-into-winter in-between time. The tail end of Indian Summer. It won’t last too much longer, which makes it all that much more enjoyable on another perfect high country October day.

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Rico, October 7.

At this time of year my mind goes back to the Dan Fogelberg pop-folk song Old Tennessee:

End of October
The sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads to the winter
Yellows and grays paint a sad sky today
And I wonder when you’re coming home

It may be about Tennessee, but the lyrics evoke the bittersweet time of autumn. Of harvest, of the end of summer, of transitioning into early winter.

Rico, Colorado, October 23, 2017.

Rico, October 23.

Photo Location: Rico, Dolores County, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 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

Colorado Fall Colors Begin

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, Western Slope Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, September 19.

Here in southwest Colorado the summer heat broke about a week ago. Instead of high 80s F. during the day, it’s high 70s and of down into the 40s at night. Beautiful.

And perfect for the fall colors in the high country to progress slowly and steadily. So I went up into the San Juan National Forest the other day to check them out.

Quaking Aspen, populus tremuloides, in fall colors on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan National Forest, September 19.

At Trout Lake, my personal benchmark because of the combination of beautiful lake, awesome mountain peaks, and aspen forests, it was just beginning. Lots of green left.

Trout Lake Colorado panorama, September 19, 2017.

Trout Lake, Colorado, September 19. A touch of early snow on the high peaks.

Photo location: Montezuma County, Dolores County, and San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 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