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.

2017_CO-5510

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.

2017_CO-5516

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

Advertisements

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

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.

2017_CO-4490-2

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.

2017_CO-4501-Pano

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.

2017_CO-4515-2

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

September Moonrise, Southwest Colorado

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 6.27.47 AM

Montana wildfire smoke pulled south to Colorado. Credit: National Weather Service.

Early September, and it was time to plan for the Full Moon. Not for telescopic shots of our Lunar satellite in the black sky–who needs more of those–but of landscape shots featuring the rising moon.

It all depends upon the clouds on the eastern horizon at moonrise time, of course. For September 2017, though, the weather forecast was quite favorable. Mostly sunny, a very low chance of evening showers.

Except that there was one added variable this time: smoke. It had been unusually hazy for days, and the National Weather Service had been reporting that it was due to smoke from large forest fires all the way north in Montana. A strong northerly flow was bringing a noticeable amount of it down to Colorado.

Haze, particularly smoke, usually gives the moon an orange, or at least deep yellow, cast as it’s rising. So that was potentially working in my favor.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scoped out a nearby location that would have the nearly Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains. So I drove out to McPhee Reservoir northwest of Cortez to see what would happen.

The moon was scheduled to rise officially a few minutes after sunset. But it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to clear the mountains before it would be visible in the scenery.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Montezuma County, Colorado.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, Sept. 6.

Meanwhile I enjoyed a fairly colorful sunset over McPhee Reservoir, looking toward Utah. The sun dropped into a heavy haze of clouds, so its color was greatly muted over what could have been.

With no further distraction toward the west, I swiveled back to the eastern horizon, the La Platas. And up it came. A light pink through the heavy haze at first.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Then the moon gradually intensified as the dusk became deeper.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains.

Full Moon above the La Plata Mountains.

Unfortunately the haze was too thick to more than slightly distinguish the La Plata Mountains.

Maybe October’s conditions will be better. As I always remind myself: you’ve got to be out there, and you’ve got to be ready.

Photo location: Montezuma County, southwest Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Whispers of Fall at 8,000 Feet

Colorado False Hellebore and Quaking Aspen, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Colorado False Hellebore (gone to seed) and Quaking Aspen.

For my most recent outdoor outing (is there really any other kind of outing worth noting?) I was exploring some public roads that were new to me on part of the San Juan National Forest.

This summer has been kind to the region, blessed with rain in late summer. Not too much, either. The fire danger went down from Very High in June to Low now. Pretty sweet.

Driving north into the forest from Mancos, Colorado soon had me back into Ponderosa pine, aspen, mountain meadows, and–even higher up–spruce and fir. The dirt roads were dry and it wasn’t too crowded with summertime recreationists.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, August 2017.

I stopped at a nice viewpoint up the West Fork of the Mancos River canyon to the high peaks of the La Plata (“Silver”) Mountains. To Hesperus Peak, one of the four mountains sacred to the Navajo people.

Puffball mushroom, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Puffball mushroom, big as a greatly over-inflated football.

At a nearby junction, I spotted a nearly-white blob in amongst the greenery. Could that be the giant edible mushroom called the Puffball? It was. In perfect condition to come home with me, too.

Mushroom in San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

A red mushroom amongst the forest floor greenery, San Juan National Forest.

Further along there were more mushrooms, which I could not identify at the moment. The rule about eating wild mushrooms is that you never should–unless you can be positive of the identification. There are many poisonous species.

But on to the wildflowers, of which there were still many. Here is a gallery of them:

There were some berries, too. Common was Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens. The seeds of the berries of this species are considered poisonous.

Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Red Elderberry fruit clusters and foliage.

As far as the earliest whispers of fall, the False Hellebore “Corn Lily”) were done for the season and were turning from green to gold.

Soon the other forbs of the high forest will be turning, too. Then it will be the main event: the aspen colors. We’re still a month away from that, but for now here is my favorite aspen forest photograph from the day.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) forest, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Aspen stand, late August, San Juan National Forest.

Photo location: San Juan National Forest, Montezuma and La Plata Counties, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 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.

2017_CO-3266

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.

2017_CO-3280

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.

2017_CO-3236

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.

2017_CO-3143-Pano-2

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.

2017_CO-3146-Pano-2

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