Elk At The Speed Of Dawn

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I had camped below Lone Cone Peak at Dan Noble State Wildlife Area.

The evening had been exquisite, even though I had only caught one small rainbow trout. Which was freed back into the lake and used its muscular tail to torpedo it back into the depths. Its predator ways only momentarily interrupted by a two legged land based predator. A fisherman.

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The lake below Lone Cone Peak

There are a lot of Canada geese at that lake. A perfect breeding ground for them. They are loud and raucous all day and evening, seemingly talking from one end of the lake to the other about what their latest fears are. A coyote! A human!

The geese do seem to observe Quiet Hours once it gets dark, like a campground. Meanwhile the nearly full moon was arcing across the sky all night. Though even it couldn’t wash out the brightest stars, there so far away from city lights.

At first light I packed up my campsite and headed down toward town. As always, especially around here, I keep my eyes peeled for large wildlife on the road. Or just off the road, looking to jump in front of my vehicle at the last moment, which is even worse.

On this morning drive, the elk were off in meadows on either side. I wanted to photograph them, but the light was still weak. And true to form these animals didn’t seem cooperative enough to wait for sunrise.

So as one group turned away from the roadside fence and ran parallel to the road, I thought: what the heck? I panned my camera with them at a slow shutter speed, like those photos of race cars or horse races.

I think I did ok, since there wasn’t going to be another lap. Not with these elk. They were outta there. A beautiful wildlife moment.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Paradox Evening Light

Sunset sunbeams, Hwy. 90, Bedrock, Colorado.

I was driving on Highway 90 toward the hamlet of Bedrock, Colorado on an overcast afternoon. The closer I got the more interesting the light did, too.

Bedrock lies near the head of the Paradox Valley  in western Montrose County, near the Utah state line. The “West End” as the locals call it.

Sunbeam sunset, Paradox Valley and La Sal Mountains, Colorado and Utah.

The sun dipped below the cloud bank at just the right time. Intense white sunbeams streamed across the valley.

Sunset light on sandstone cliffs, Bedrock, Colorado, Paradox Valley.

Then the sunset light lit up the far cliffs. Warm light on red sandstone, a great combination. And fleeting, which is what makes it special.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Goodbye Mesa Verde

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All too soon it was time to leave Mesa Verde.

It wasn’t intended to be this way. I had spent last year enjoying, observing, and chronicling the seasons, especially the plants as they greened up and burst out their flowers. The late summer monsoon rainstorms. The fall colors.

I was so looking forward to another year of the same. To see what would be similar given the rather mild winter, as well as what would not be. Plants don’t just do the same thing every year. They react, and interact with insects and mammals. They know what they’re doing.

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Anyway, things changed for me over the fall and winter, and I made the decision to move on. To land on the next steppingstone.

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Then, today, it was time to drive down “the hill” (visitors say: that’s a mountain!) back to my home in Cortez. For a little while. Before finding another new home.

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Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

It’s Spring, the Vultures Have Returned

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Three Turkey Vultures this morning.

Even though I love all four seasons here in the Four Corners Country of the high Southwest, as always I eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.

The formerly “blonde” lawns in town are getting a bit of green from their bases.

Several days ago I awoke to hear a robin singing at dawn for the first time this season. Each morning. I no longer set my alarm to wake me up, except on work days. The robins will provide a much gentler and sweeter call to my ears.

But I was remaining a bit unconvinced still that it was really spring yet. Not that we won’t have a late springtime blizzard or two.

The trigger was when the turkey vultures would return from down south. Because I watched them as they would congregate near sunset time in certain tall old spruce trees in town. Yes, in town. After all, why not? They are silent, they don’t prey on anyone’s cat or little dog. I’d bet that most people don’t even notice them. They think the big black birds are more ravens. Except a lot bigger. And they glide with their wings in a “V” shape instead of flat.

And a few evenings ago I saw those “V” wings return. I thought it was early, even for this relatively mild winter. Until I saw them lighting in a big spruce tree down the street. They were back.

There was a skif of new snow on the ground here in town this morning. Tonight another snowstorm is coming in. Did the vultures return too early? Were the rotting animal carcasses running low down south?

Nah. They know what they’re doing. I had the opportunity to photograph them this morning because it was calm. They are master gliders, they don’t waste energy flapping their wings any more than necessary. Wait for the breezes to blow. Glide on.

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Photo location: Cortez, southwest Colorado.

See my best photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Winter Scenery

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Almost all the way up on the mesa…

At the tail end of what has been a very dry winter, the snow storms, though light, have been coming more frequently.

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NPS snow plow truck working the road at sunrise.

At Mesa Verde National Park, each snowfall of significance is tackled by the park’s Maintenance crew. The snow plows are rolling and scraping before dawn, working the 20-mile road that is the only way in and out.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, as the snow storm winds down.

There is a park “roads hotline” that employees can call (especially those that live outside the park) to listen to a recorded message with the latest conditions and delays, if any. Sometimes they hold us at the entrance station until 8am so that the snow plow drivers have free rein to make several passes outbound and inbound without having to watch out for traffic.

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Snow covered slopes of soft and highly erosive Mancos Shale.

The plows really just push aside any significant snow accumulation. The road remains snow packed and icy because the park doesn’t use salt on the roads. Some sand, but not much. You just have to be prepared with the right kind of vehicle and tires, and be experienced with driving on slippery roads. Or, if you’re a visitor and not an employee, you can wait until the sun comes out and melts the roads off. Since most storms keep right on going, it’s usually not long before the sun gets to do its thing. The afternoons look totally different than the early mornings.

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Snowy sunrise at Geologic Overlook. 

Both versions of the day — snowy and melted — are beautiful in their own way at Mesa Verde. In the morning you may have to content yourself with visiting the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and looking down at Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the major cliff dwellings. At the Museum they show the park movie, have a lot of splendid exhibits, a book store run by the Mesa Verde Museum Association, and of course friendly and well trained National Park Service Rangers.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, afternoon.

 

But in the winter season, bring your own coffee and food until the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe is open for the day, with limited hours. It’s a short stroll from the Museum and the only food facility open in the park in the offseason.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado. The park’s official website is at: https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Sleeping Ute Mountain, Winter Sunrise

Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado, at sunrise in winter.

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Sleeping Ute Mountain is actually a small mountain range, all its own. An ancient volcanic bulge from beneath the Earth’s crust that did not erupt magma. It just didn’t. But it raised the rock layers above it into the atmosphere. Revealed them. To erosion by water, freezing, wind. To reveal that which pushed it up.

Which brings us to today. The Ute Indian Tribe reveres this mountain/mountain range. It lies within the boundaries of their reservation.

They see the mountain as a sleeping Ute warrior on his back, arms folded across his chest. Waiting underneath or within the rock to protect his people. Watching over them.

Don’t mess with him, he’s much bigger than you. Right?

Photo location: Sleeping Ute Mountain, Montezuma County, southwest Colorado.

See the best of my photography (so far, I think) at my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Fiery January Sunrise

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Sunrise over the La Plata Mountains, southwest Colorado.

It’s been a very dry winter in southwest Colorado. The watersheds would weep…if they could. Hopefully it will be a late winter surge of wet snow and rain like last year. One can hope.

A winter storm was forecast to move in from the west. Not a major one, but anything is better than nothing.

As dawn lit up, I judged that the clouds to the east might make for interesting sunrise colors. So I threw on some warm clothing, grabbed my photo gear, and headed out to a favorite viewpoint northwest of Cortez, Colorado.

The previous snowstorm, tepid as it was, was still apparent on the La Sal Mountains, the defining mountain range between Cortez and Durango. Nice.

The sunrise was still just below the eastern horizon, making the clouds above it glow with golden intensity. I made a wide angle photograph which made the mountains look small but was required to capture the glory above.

Then I made a series of overlapping photos to be merged into a single high resolution panorama image on my computer when I got home.

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Panoramic image of the sunrise, January 20, 2018.

However…I had been in town for ten days, and that morning reinstalled the wanderlust in me. I was going on a drive. A drive to the west and north in my corner of Colorado to welcome that incoming storm.

That’s another, much longer story.

Photo location: Montezuma County, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography (and order prints) on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Snow Patterns: Colorado High Country

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Rico, Colorado, the historic silver mining town turned Telluride bedroom community.

This post could have been titled: “Snow Patterns, Forests.” Except that it has a bit wider scope.

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Dogwood shrubs on the Dolores River riparian area, San Juan National Forest.

It was up the Dolores River valley, from the town of Dolores (after another juicy, giant hamburger at the Depot) to my favorite Colorado mountain town, Rico (elevation 8,800 feet). Where the Enterprise Bar and Grill was not open (only on weekends during the winter), otherwise I would have had a delicious meal there instead.

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Colorado Blue Spruce sapling, Dolores River.

Rico is surrounded by the San Juan National Forest. As you drive up the Dolores River on Highway 145, much of the access to the river is blocked by private landownership. That is, until you get within the boundaries of the National Forest, where there is much more access.

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Upper Dolores River, only semi frozen in January.

So I stopped to photograph snow-laden shrubs and tree seedlings.

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Dogwood, Dolores River.

Higher up, the patterns of the spruce-fir forest from across the valley attracted my attention.

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Snowy Spruce-Fir forest above Rico, Colorado.

And stands of aspen trees, too.

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Aspen forest during a winter storm, San Juan National Forest.

Then I was startled to see a herd of elk on the hillside above the highway. Why? Because they were yet another indication of how little snow has fallen up here so far this winter. Normally the elk would be much lower, down out of the high country. But not yet.

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Elk herd, way higher in elevation for January than normal. 

Soon I was all the way up to Lizard Head Pass. My favorite area. For the high mountain meadows and clear alpine streams. And for the lofty mountain peaks…that were shrouded in clouds on this visit.

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Alpine meadows at Lizard Head Pass. 

Photo location: San Juan National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest, southwest Colorado.

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Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet (3,116 meters).

See much more of my photography, and order prints, at my website www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Snow Patterns: Trees

Pinon Pine, pinus edulis, in snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Continuing my series of “snow patterns”, how fresh snowfall sticking to vegetation helps to show off their form in ways hard to appreciate otherwise.

Pinon Pine, pinus edulis, in snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Vegetation not only captures snow temporarily with their leaves and branches, but when it melts it drips onto the soil above their roots. A kind of collection system.

Dead and down Pinon Pine, pinus edulis, in snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Dead vegetation slowly decays into the soil, enriching it and increasing its moisture holding capacity.

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Roots of a Utah Juniper tree exposed by erosion.

Gambel Oak in snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Gambel Oak, a short, tough tree, is excellent wildlife cover, and its acorns are much sought after in the fall by many species.

Gambel Oak in snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The deep, extensive root systems of Gambel Oak remain alive even after intense wildfire, holding the soil in place while they quickly resprout from those roots.

Standing dead Douglas-fir snags after snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A nice place to see Gambel Oak at Mesa Verde is the campground area at Morefield Village.

Gambel Oak after snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

There you can enjoy relatively tall, thick clumps of Oak that survived the intense fires of 15-20 years ago.

Gambel Oak after snowstorm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

My website for additional images and for ordering prints, etc. is: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Snow Patterns: Grasses

Fresh snow and grasses, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Grasses, early snow, Mesa Verde National Park.

A decent snowfall brings to a close what I call the second of the “in-between” seasons of the year. From the green of summer, the colors of autumn, and then the leaves of the trees and shrubs are down, the grasses have gone to brown and golden.

It’s then that the late fall In-Between season begins. It seems to wait for what’s next, like I do. Until snowfall brightens everything up again. To get us back to spring.

Last summer's bunchgrass in snow, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Blonde bunchgrass in new snow, Mesa Verde.

The snow was still whirling softly at Mesa Verde while I walked around on Chapin Mesa. It wasn’t that cold, and it wasn’t very windy. Quite comfortable given the time of year and my lightly clothed body.

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I walked along some of the trails at the Far View Sites, where Ancestral Puebloans had left about 900 years ago.

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I spent quite some time photographing some of the excavated and stabilized (not reconstructed) mesa top pueblo ruins. The snow made their patterns of stone and mortar think back to the previous summer. And the next one.

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Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg