Step House Ancestral Site, Mesa Verde

Overlook on Step House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step House site from an overlook, Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park.

At Mesa Verde National Park you can only visit the cliff dwellings on-site as part of a Ranger-led tour. To protect them from the high numbers of visitors that want to see them these days. (If you don’t care for such a one or two hour trek, there are nice overlooks to get photos from above).

Path to Step House ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Paved path down to Step House alcove site, Wetherill Mesa.

The Ranger-led tours only cost $5 per person, per tour. A nominal fee. But you have to buy your tickets in person at the park, or in Cortez, not online. You can buy them locally up to two days in advance, though.

Step House Ruin, the stone steps, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step House site, looking up at the ancient stone steps hugging the face of the alcove.

There is one notable exception: the Step House site on Wetherill Mesa. You don’t need to buy a ticket, because they station a Ranger down there from 9am to 4pm to both protect the site and to answer questions for visitors.

Step House cliff dwelling pueblo, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The cliff dwelling pueblo at Step House, Wetherill Mesa.

Step House is also an easy walk, on a paved path. Not only that, but it has been developed so as to show off two very distinct periods of habitation. Most noticeable is the cliff dwelling pueblo, which was the later period, just before they exited the area around 1300 A.D. But long before that, the pre-puebloans, who had not yet learned how to fire pottery, let alone build habitable stonework pueblos, lived on the same site in pit houses.

Reconstructed pit house dwelling, Step House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Reconstructed pit house dwelling at Step House.

And at Step House a pit house has been reconstructed to give you a much better idea of what that had looked like. It’s a wonderful two-for-one walk, just a stone’s throw from the parking lot.

Panoramic photo of the Step House Ruin site on Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step house alcove panorama, Wetherill Mesa.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

Moonset and Sleeping Ute

Full Moon setting at dawn over Sleeping Ute Mountain in southwest Colorado.

Moonset at dawn, Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area

At the time of the Full Moon each month, there is not only the anticipation of landscape photos featuring moonrise in the evening, but the next morning there is moonset, too.

For moonset at that time of the month, you have to be up and out there to your selected photo spot early. I almost missed mine this month, having turned off the alarm and dozed away. Waking to the sound of a robin starting to sing outside my window, meaning: it’s dawn, and you should have been up!

I scrambled out of bed, out of the apartment, and drove to Totten Reservoir, which I had previously scouted for its view of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, but also its view to Sleeping Ute Mountain across the lake.

It was breezy as I walked down from the parking lot to my chosen spot. Only to find a cloud of mosquitoes dancing in the lee of a Cottonwood tree. Not going to set up my tripod there! A few yards further down, the breeze was too stiff for the insects to get to me.

Then the almost-risen sun added streaks of pink and white from the east, overtop Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west. My reward for hustling out there.

Photo location: Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area, Cortez, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Montezuma Valley Blue Horizons

View from Park Point, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The Montezuma Valley from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park.

After a late May cold front that gave us more snow and hurt the Oak leaves that were trying to emerge, for the second time (don’t worry, they are tough), we seem to be back to wonderful late spring weather. Warm during the day, but not hot. Chilly at night, but only freezing for a night or two.

Now that true May weather has resumed, I continue to watch the rest of the deciduous vegetation unfold.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde North Rim, Early Spring

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado - North Rim after snowfall.

North Rim, Mesa Verde after early springtime snowfall.

Late March in southwest Colorado means very varying weather. Sunshine, warming earth, high country snows melting and swelling the creeks and rivers with cold, silt-laden runoff.

Also occasional late cold fronts, with snow.

The other morning I had to drive back up into Mesa Verde National Park to go to work. I had been following the weather forecasts and had left extra early. The highways down in the Montezuma Valley (6,200 feet elevation) had been cleared by the highway crews. But when you start up into the park, the road rising to a high point of 8,572 feet at Park Point, then down to 7,000 feet at the main services around the Museum on Chapin Mesa, it’s a different world.

Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma Valley Overlook, springtime snow.

Montezuma Valley Overlook, springtime snowfall.

On this morning, a slippery highway. The snow plows were out at 7AM, heading out toward the park entrance. No one else on the road this early in the day and this early in the season.

As daylight grew, I was able to pull off and take some quick photos. Especially because in a few hours the sun would have changed the snowy scene dramatically.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

To see more of my photography, visit my website at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunset Crater Winter Panorama

Sunset Crater volcano, winter panorama, near Flagstaff Arizona.

Sunset Crater Volcano panorama, from Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, northern Arizona.

Sunset Crater National Monument lies a short drive north of Flagstaff in northern Arizona. The National Monument of course was created around its namesake, the extinct 800 year old cinder cone.

Flagstaff lies near the eastern edge of a 50 mile wide string of volcanic features called the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Sunset Crater is merely the most recent in a long string of eruptions. When will the next one occur? The U.S. Geological Survey has the area wired up with seismographic equipment to detect any earthquakes deep within the Earth’s crust that precede any eruptive activity. All is quiet.

Photo location: Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, along the entrance road to Sunset Crater National Monument, north of Flagstaff, Arizona.

See much more of my best photography on my website, NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Wingate Cliffs Sunset

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, Utah.

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park: serenely lonely in the wintertime. A great time to visit.

The day after snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest at 7,000 feet elevation I decided to switch gears and go down about 2,000 feet to the high desert. That’s the kind of variety one can enjoy in southeast Utah.

No winter boots or heavy parka needed down there, especially since there had been several days of sunlight to melt any icy patches in the shady areas.

It was another sunny day, and calm as well. So pleasant for the last day of January.

I headed for the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. From US 191 between Monticello and Moab, take Utah 211 down Indian Creek Canyon to the Noodles. I mean Needles.

I hiked the easy Slick Rock Trail in the park mostly for the exercise, then started the drive back up along Indian Creek. I had seen a total of four vehicles all afternoon. Besides the extremely pleasant hiking weather, the absence of crowds is why this is one of my favorite times of year to visit this spectacular area.

The walls of Indian Creek Canyon are dominated by the vertical burnt red cliffs consisting of Wingate Sandstone. World class rock climbing if that’s your thing. Me, I like to stare at them from down on the valley floor. Especially when the low light approaching sunset lights them up.

Indian Creek Canyon recreation area in winter, Utah Highway 211.

Utah highway 211 in Indian Creek Canyon. Snow on the north sides of the cliffs.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Bryce Canyon in Winter

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon Winter Morning Vista

Of all the spectacular scenery in southern Utah, the top of the chain is Bryce Canyon National Park. Well, almost the very top of the chain. The uppermost is nearby at Cedar Breaks National Monument, but that’s a story for another post.

The Colorado Plateau is an immense region in southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, and northwest New Mexico of stacked sedimentary rock layers that was uplifted from sea level to heights just over 9,000 feet in places. But it happened without getting all “scrunched up” into jagged mountain peaks like happened to the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains. It’s like a massive layer cake whose layers stayed level (with some local exceptions) as it was raised up into the sky.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, with Ponderosa pine trees.

Bryce Canyon and Ponderosa pines in winter.

The entire sequence of geologic layers has come to be branded the Grand Staircase. It’s called that by geologists and tourist agencies alike, because the beauty appeals to everyone, regardless of whether you give a hoot about rocks and dirt. From Bryce Canyon you can look out over most of it, if you know what you’re looking at. But the lower layers are obscured from view by the Earth’s curvature–and the depth of the Grand Canyon far to the south, which holds the lowermost layers.

The raising of these immense layers of the Earth’s crust has exposed them to the elements, to varying degrees. Weathering. Erosion. And erosion–like rust–never sleeps!

Erosion carves the exposed layers into fantastic shapes and reveals their colors. Thus beauty is created by things falling apart. Kind of the opposite of what one might think. That’s geology for you.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos from above.

At Bryce you’re enjoying the Pink Cliffs. A layer of limestone that erosion carves into walls, fins, and finally hoodoos (irregularly edged spires).

And in winter, the snow really sets them off. Especially under a trademark Utah high country blue sky.

Photo location: Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Winter Solstice Time at Canyonlands

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Winter Solstice occurred on December 21 this year. Supposedly the shortest day and longest night of the year.

However, the day length had been stuck at 9 hours and 32 minutes since December 19, and won’t be a full minute longer until Christmas, Dec. 25, when it will be 9 hrs. 33 min. for four days. Yes, a whole minute longer.

Utah Highway 211 along the upper part of the Indian Creek canyon, in winter.

Upper Indian Creek area of Highway 211 east of the Needles.

Just two days after that, on New Years Eve, the daylight will be two minutes longer than on Christmas Day, at a whopping 9 hrs. 35 minutes! You can follow along at sites such as sunrisesunset.com. The days start getting longer faster the further they get past Solstice, but until then it rather creeps along. The dead of winter begins.

Wintertime snowy cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Snowy sandstone cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area.

The day before Winter Solstice I drove in to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s only an hour’s drive from my home, and I hadn’t been there lately. The roads were cleared from a recent snowstorm, so I was sure it would be fun. Sunny and calm.

Sandstone cliff face in upper Indian Creek, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sandstone cliffs and snow along Highway 211.

Driving north from Monticello, Utah on U.S. 191 it’s only about 15 minutes to the turnoff onto Utah Route 211, the highway into the Needles District. Route 211 parallels the Indian Creek drainage before it finally empties into the Colorado River inside the park. The easternmost part of the drive was still high enough in elevation to have snow on the cliffs, under a trademark Utah high desert blue sky.

Newspaper Rock State Historical and Archaeological Site, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock site, from the parking lot.

Roughly halfway to the Canyonlands National Park entrance is the famous Newspaper Rock archaeological site. There is a parking lot with restrooms and a very short walk to this amazing petroglyph panel.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel archaeological site in winter, San Juan County, southeast Utah..

In winter the sun’s angle is low enough to keep much of the petroglyph panel in sunlight.

I’m not wild about the name “Newspaper Rock”, because it conjures up a modern image of ink on newsprint. Instead, these are ancient symbols laboriously pecked into rock, some of which could well be 2,000 years old. And they last infinitely longer than ink or paper.

This was the perfect time to visit the site, with the fresh snow, the low angle of the December sun lighting up the panel, and only one other visitor for a few minutes. It would make for photos much different than the typical ones you see over and over of this site.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site, petroglyph panel, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock in winter.

The rock panel is perfect: Dark patina (think rock “varnish”) on a smooth sandstone face, with an overhang above to shade the panel for most of the year, which serves to slow the weathering process. Pecking through the patina reveals the much lighter sandstone beneath, making the image pop out visually.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, upper portion. (Click on image for larger).

So many symbols that it is mind boggling. Animals, tracks, imposing horned humanoid figures (shamans in sacred regalia? Alien beings from outer space?).

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, lower portion. (Click on image for larger).

Not all these depictions are prehistoric. Anything showing a horse, or a wagon wheel, is after the Spanish first arrived in North America in the 1600s. There are even some fairly modern dates added, something which is strongly discouraged by the steel fence keeping visitors a safe distance away from the panel.

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sun and shadow made for a nice vertical composition of petroglyphs and rock angles. Notice that some footprints that have six toes.

From the highway into the Needles District, a nice view of the snowy summits of the La Sal Mountains to the northeast near Moab, peeking above the red rock layers along the lower Indian Creek Valley.

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in distance.

At the Needles Visitor Center, all was quiet. The remoteness of Canyonlands National Park means that wintertime is very off season, so there aren’t enough visitors to keep the VC open at this time of year. No entrance fee, just drive on in. The restrooms do remain open, and you can get water and park brochures and maps. The campground is open year round.

Not far past the Visitor Center is a turnout for the Roadside Ruin. Again, not the best of names. I made me expect some rubble of a pueblo foundation. Instead, it’s a very nice and easy walk to a very well preserved granary tucked into a small out of sight alcove.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, southeast Utah.

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The interpretive sign for Roadside Ruin said that stone-and-mortar pueblo dwellings hadn’t been found in this area, indicating that it was intensely farmed (corn, beans, squash) and the dried grains stored in the granaries. So it was used in the growing season, not year around.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, San Juan County, Utah..

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The doorway into the granary is through the roof. Otherwise they might have built the walls up until it met the roof of the alcove, and put the door into the side. Sometimes the ancient ones did, sometimes they didn’t.

The Needles District of Canyonlands is a hiker’s and four wheeler’s paradise. But on this day I had elsewhere to go. So I will be back throughout the winter to enjoy the lack of crowds.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

KachinBox-Elder tree leaves and flowers in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Springtime Colors at Natural Bridges

Kachina Natural Bridge in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Kachina Natural Bridge, April greenery.

Previously I have called the relatively bland scenery in canyon country after the deciduous leaves have fallen and before there is snow blanketing the cliffs as being “in between the colors”.

Kachina Singleaf Ash leaves and flowers in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Singleleaf Ash springtime leaves and flowers, White Canyon.

Oh, sure, since there are always the pinyon pines and the junipers, along with some evergreen shrubs, cacti and yucca there is always plenty of green around the high desert. But you don’t realize how much the brighter green of the cottonwood and box elder trees, the Singleaf Ash, and the shrubs and forbs add to the color mix in spring and summer.

Common Paintbrush wildflower, White Canyon, southeast Utah.

Common Paintbrush, White Canyon.

Which only makes one appreciate springtime that much more.

Silvery Lupine, White Canyon, Utah.

Silvery Lupine, White Canyon near Fry Canyon.

So last week I was able to hike down into White Canyon to visit Kachina Natural Bridge once again. I thought about how favorite trails get easier the more you hike them. Never boring; there’s always more to notice that you missed previously, or that has changed since last year.

Newberry's Twinpod wildflower, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Newberry’s Twinpod on the “beach” at Kachina Natural Bridge.

Down at the intermittent stream that drains White Canyon, Kachina Bridge was complemented by the bright springtime growth of the Fremont Cottonwood and Box-Elder trees about halfway leafed out.

Box-Elder springtime leaves and flowers, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Box-Elder tree spring growth: flowers hanging like strings.

Underneath the massive natural bridge — youngest of the three in the Monument — there is a large sandbar that we call the “beach”. It makes for a pleasant place to hang out, especially in afternoon sunshine. Though this day was overcast, allowing photos of the bridge and canyons without the usual high contrast of bright sunlit areas and deep shadows.

Petroglyphs on buttress of Kachina Natural Bridge.

Ancient inscriptions (petroglyphs) on Kachina Natural Bridge buttress.

On the beach were Newberry’s Twinpod, Mountain Pepperplant, and some others.

Wildflowers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge, White Canyon, Utah.

Spring wildflowers on the “beach” beneath Kachina Bridge.

As usual I paused to examine the numerous ancient inscriptions — both petroglyphs (pecked into the stone) and pictographs (painted on the stone, including handprints) — on the buttresses of the bridge.

Kachina Natural Bridge, White Canyon, Utah, in spring.

North Buttress of Kachina Bridge and pool of water in White Canyon.

Also another walk up to the sandy bench along the north buttress of the bridge. There is a very special area there, containing some small adobe structures (probably granaries or storage of special tools or ceremonial stuff), handprints, and many inscriptions pecked into the cliff face and adjoining boulders.

Kachina Natural Bridge Ruin, Natural Bridges National Park, Utah.

Ruin at Kachina Natural Bridge. Note the handprints on the cliff wall and the ghostly pictographs painted inside the low adobe structure.

Photo Location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

 

 

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain from Cedar Mesa, Utah.

April Moonrise, Cedar Mesa

Evening view of Valley Of The Gods from Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

Campsite with a view, edge of Cedar Mesa.

April 21, the day before Full Moon, and I was — as usual — plotting where to photograph the rising moon over the desert landscape. It had to be somewhere reasonably close to home, say 30 miles, or I wouldn’t be able to get there in time after work.

Sunset shadows from Cedar Mesa, southeast Utah.

Shadows creep up the side canyon wall.

So I chose the southeast rim of Cedar Mesa. Although I greatly prefer situating myself so that the moon rises over some prominent landscape feature such as mountain peaks, this was not going to be one of those times. So instead I chose a yawning expanse of southeast Utah canyon country, overlooking the Valley Of The Gods and the lower San Juan River valley, with Colorado’s Sleeping Ute Mountain in the far distance.

I had heard from a local about a couple of dirt roads leading to the rim in that area — facing east — that I had not explored. Now was the time.

On my second try I drove out a road that soon came to the rim, the edge of the 1,000 foot drop the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa provides above the Valley Of The Gods. No one was there: perfect. Cape Solitude.

Cedar Mesa Sandstone boulders, Cedar Mesa, southeast Utah.

Cedar Mesa Sandstone boulders just below the rim of the mesa.

To my left was a south facing cliff wall, the north side of a short side canyon. I was interested in the house sized chunks of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that had fallen onto the next shelf of rock just below the mesa top. Being south facing, I wondered if there were any Ancestral Puebloan ruins among them, or rock panels with inscriptions such as petroglyphs and maybe pictographs as well.

Red Buttes at sunset, Valley of the Gods, San Juan County, Utah.

Red Buttes below in Valley Of The Gods.

The lowering sun warmed the red buttes of the Gods far below. As I sat in my chair, camera on tripod in front of me, watching the golden hour show, waiting for the moon to show (which is also the name of a favorite Bruce Cockburn song).

Ancestral Puebloan ("Anasazi") cliff dwelling ruin, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling ruin. How did I ever miss it?

Then I glanced at the opposing cliff face again, now that the sunlight was off it. There it was, an ancient cliff dwelling ruin in an alcove about halfway down the cliff. Plain as day.

Ancestral Puebloan ("Anasazi") cliff dwelling ruin, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Closeup of the cliff dwelling ruin.

On with the sunset show. The redlands below were glowing warmer and warmer.

Valley Of The Gods, southeast Utah, at sunset.

Valley Of The Gods sunset show.

The eastern skyline was fairly hazy, so that when the moon did creep into view just before sunset it had a slightly pink cast.

Moonrise over southeast Utah.

The moon begins to show above the eastern skyline haze.

Sleeping Ute Mountain had fallen into a deep shade of blue. The redlands were now burnt red in twilight, no longer glowing.

Moonrise, southeast Utah, April 21, 2016.

Pink moon coming up from the haze.

With the sun down, the rising moon turned from pink to yellow, a product of the haze. And finally to white after it was above the haze.

Moonrise over San Juan River Valley and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

Moonrise over Valley of the Gods and San Juan River Valley. Sleeping Ute Mountain at horizon left.

I made a variety of wide shots, closeups, and overlapping images for panoramas.

Nearly Full Moon rising, from Cedar Mesa, southeat Utah.

Nearly Full Moon rising, April 21, 2016.

Finally it was dusk. Time to retire to the vehicle for the night.

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain from Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain, from Cedar Mesa.

My “Cape Solitude” was also Cape Serenity. An exceptional spring evening on Cedar Mesa.

Moonrise from Cedar Mesa, Utah, April 21, 2016.

Moonrise at dusk, Cedar Mesa.

Photo location: Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg