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

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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

Snow Again At Last

Winter scenic photo of Montezuma Valley from North Rim of Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Montezuma Valley from North Rim of Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

It has been a very dry late fall into early winter here in southwest Colorado. So dry that the wildfire danger had actually been going up instead of staying at “Low” despite the long frozen nights. Sunny and beautiful days, but much too brown since the leaves have been long down. All the early winter storms had been swinging north of us.

That finally changed, at least for a little while, on Winter Solstice, December 21. How fitting.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 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

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.

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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.

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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

September Moonrise, Southwest Colorado

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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