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

Goodbye Monticello

Springtime scenery photo of Loyds Lake, in San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Loyds Lake, Monticello, Utah

As things have turned out, it was time for me to leave southeast Utah. It had been a wonderful three years, first living at Natural Bridges National Monument at the north end of Cedar Mesa, then a half year in a town, Monticello, Utah.

My time in Monticello started in this past fall, my favorite time of year. Warm days, crisp nights at 7,000 feet. A lot of trout fishing at Loyds Lake. It soon became my Walden Pond, now that I was officially retired.

Being free of a job, of somewhere to be each day, was liberation. At first. But as the winter wore on and the lake froze over, it was less and less fun. I needed something to do.

So now I work at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, a mere 60 miles east of Monticello. I help to raise money for the park, working for the Mesa Verde Museum Association, the nonprofit partner of the park. It provides structure for my life, even though I do have to be certain places on certain days at certain times. It’s a heck of a lot better than being fully “retired”.

Panorama photo of springtime green agricultural fields near Dove Creek, Colorado.

Springtime on the Great Sage Plain, Dove Creek, Colorado, between Monticello and Cortez.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com

Rocky Mountain Snowmelt

Dolores River, Colorado springtime runoff

Dolores River, springtime runoff

It’s southwest Colorado and the springtime is advancing. Sometimes not quickly enough for warm weather visitors, and sometimes a bit too warm for residents that are wary of drought. Since none can control the weather, we should appreciate what comes.

What comes, sooner or later, is the greening of the landscape with the deciduous trees and shrubs. The grasses, and the forbs with their wildflowers.

Dolores River, Colorado

Dolores River spring runoff.

And so I drove up along the upper Dolores River valley. From Cortez and the little river town of Dolores itself. Up along the broad flat floodplain ranches and smaller properties. Cottonwood trees leafing out along the river. Aspen stands breaking out tenatiously on the mountain slopes above.

San Juan Mountains, Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

San Juan Mountains, Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

The Dolores River swollen with snow melt from the high mountains. Muddy and cold and doing its job of continuing to sculpt the high mountain landscape.

I drove up to Lizard Head Pass, the divide between the Dolores and the San Miguel River watersheds. It was like going from spring to winter. But it will soon be spring up there, too.

Photo location: southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Upper Dolores River Springtime Green

Dolores River Valley, upstream of Dolores, Colorado.

Dolores River Valley, upstream of Dolores, Colorado.

Driving up the Dolores River valley, from Cortez, Colorado. In springtime. Gorgeous greens on the river floodplain. Grasses and forbs celebrating the Spring season. Cottonwood trees leafing out above.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

A Real April Day at Mesa Verde

April 27, and the Four Corners region was finally getting back to some real springtime weather. As in moisture: rain, snow showers. Good. It had been almost three weeks without precipitation.

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A wet cold April morning at Far View in Mesa Verde National Park.

I had gone up onto Mesa Verde early, hoping for some parting clouds kind of scenic shots before I had to be at work. I pulled over at a choice spot, waiting. But it turned out to be a nice little nap while the rain continued to softly fall on the windshield.

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Wild Turkey gobbler, Mesa Verde.

As I neared work, a wild turkey gobbler (i.e., a male) was strutting his stuff on the shoulder of the road. It’s mating season, so he feels the urge to proclaim to his corner of the world that he’s the top male around here. Living in a national park, he knew that he wasn’t going to get shot, so he had the luxury of parading around only semi nervously. I made a number of (camera) shots of him, but the light was still too poor for more than a few in-motion captures.

Utah Serviceberry, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Utah Serviceberry blossoms and new leaves.

Mesa Verde is covered with innumerable shrubs of Utah Serviceberry, which emerges early in the spring, both the leaves and the white blossoms. I stopped to capture them in the soft overcast light and wetness.

Then some Bitterbrush as well, a tough shrub that is a favorite food of deer.

Bitterbrush - Purshia tridentata, Mesa Verde National Park

Bitterbrush – Purshia tridentata

Then it was to work, cooped up inside the Chapin Mesa Museum building except for a couple of short breaks, and lunch. Outside it was rain, clouds, fog, and even a blizzard-like snow squall for a while.

Navajo Canyon Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon Overlook, Mesa Verde.

After work, it was my time. I drove out the Mesa Top Loop road to see what was going on with the interesting light from the clearing storm front. First stop was the Navajo Canyon Overlook. Some sunshine through the heavy clouds provided a rich and dramatic view.

Square Tower House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Square Tower House Ruin, Mesa Verde.

Nearby was the Square Tower House Overlook. This Ancestral Puebloan village is not the largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, but it is one of the most photogenic. Its tower is the tallest in the park. At that time of the early evening in late April, the sun and shadows contrasted nicely.

Sun Point View of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, Mesa Verde.

Sun Point View of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, Mesa Verde.

At Sun Point View, I made a panoramic series of shots of two converging canyons, including a distant view of the iconic Cliff Palace. A number of cliff dwellings are visible to the sharp eyed, especially as aided by the interpretive signs.

Mummy House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mummy House, Mesa Verde.

Remains of room blocks on a sandstone shelf below Mummy House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Remains of room blocks on a sandstone shelf below Mummy House.

The last stop was to drive the Cliff Palace Loop and take another several shots down onto the Palace. The crowds were gone for the day, the overcast light was soft.

Cliff Palace panorama, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cliff Palace panorama, Mesa Verde.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at http://www.NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Lizard Head Pass: Snow Melting

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Sheep Mountain, early evening light, April 10.

I had been avoiding Lizard Head Pass, my favorite area in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, all winter. Why? Because when the snows pile up too far you’re only allowed to drive through. No stopping. The avalanche danger is too high. No place to even pull over for some quick photos unless you care to risk a citation from a Highway Patrol trooper.

But it’s April now. Still early way up there, yes, being just above 10,000 feet. But spring has been moving along. I wanted to see how things were up there.

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Lizard Head Peak, April 10.

So after a day at work, I drove up the Dolores River canyon to Rico (elevation 8,800 feet), looking for some of my favorite National Forest camping locations along the way. Below Rico, things were looking good. Just good enough. Above Rico, forget it. Unless you’re into making snow caves.

At Lizard Head Pass, the avalanche warning signs were down, and many turnouts were clear and dry, allowing for photos. Above Trout Lake, I made an early evening panorama of Sheep Mountain. After scouting around for additional possibilities, I settled in for sunset time warmth on the massive mountain.

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Sheep Mountain in sunset light, April 10.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass area, San Juan Mountains between Trout Lake and Rico, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Abajo Peaks, Sunset Sunbeams

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Sunbeams over the Abajo Mountains, just east of Monticello.

Driving west from Colorado into Utah on highway 491, I was watching a small storm front approach from the west.

Snow showers swirling around the Abajo Mountains, which are often called “the Blues” by the locals in Monticello, Utah.

Almost sunset. The sun too high for colors, but it streamed through the shifting clouds in dazzling fashion.

I had to pull over to the side of the highway to get a shot. It’s what I do, after all.

Photo location: Highway 491, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg | Stephen Krieg Photographics

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

Snowshoeing It

Snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest near Monticello, Utah.

Snowshoes, sunlight and tree shadows.

Real winter finally came to southeast Utah this season. There had been a number of beautiful snows up until recently, but not much more than seeing the mountains brightened up again each time, with a couple inches down in town.

That changed late this month, with several back to back storms that as usual came from the west or southwest and kept on truckin’ into western Colorado.

Atlas snowshoes, ready to be put to use.

Atlas snowshoes, fresh out of the shipping carton from REI.

My trout fishing lake had finally frozen over, and snowed over the ice as well.

The problem with the dead of winter is how to exercise. Oh, the runners keep running out there. And the people who work out at gyms keep on the treadmills and the weight machines.

Gambel Oak stand in January snow, Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, Utah.

Gambel Oak shadows on a January afternoon at 7,000 feet.

But what is a mountain man to do when the snow is deep? walking to the Post Office and back each day doesn’t count for much. Though it’s better than nothing.

Snowshoes. Like trout fishing it had been many years, but perhaps another facet of my life was coming full circle.

Loyds Lake in January ice and snow cover, Monticello, Utah.

Overlooking frozen Loyd’s Lake in January.

I went to REI and there were a pair of modern snowshoes on sale for just $40. End of the season, you know.

They arrived last week and I’ve been out twice. I avoid the weekends when there are snowmobilers, cross country skiers, and other winter sport enthusiasts flying about. I prefer to be the only human breaking the silence of the woods, if possible. And it’s possible.

Snowshoeing on Manti-La Sal National Forest in San Juan County, Utah.

Snowshoeing near Loyd’s Lake, with the Abajo Mountains in the distance.

The advantage to snowshoeing is that you don’t need to have the skill of being on skinny skies like you do with cross country skiiing. Which I have done, and loved, but chose not to get back into at this time. With snowshoes, you can plod along even over deep unbroken snow. Rest when you want, even facing downhill or uphill. You may not get to enjoy the thrill of sliding along and whooshing back downgrade, but anybody can use snowshoes. There is something to be said for going slower.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, southeast Utah.

See much more of my photography on my website at 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