Vernal Equinox Moonrise and Tree Planting

Bareroot tree seedlings shipped from the nursery.

March 20 was the Vernal (Spring) Equinox in North America, and the Full Moon as well. Some traditions call the March Full Moon the “Worm Moon”, because in many climates the frost is gone from the ground and so earthworms return to the surface after another long winter. They sure have in my yard here on the Western Slope of Colorado.

As it so happened, my order of tree seedling from Jung Seed Company in Wisconsin arrived the day before. I had measured and marked where I wanted the seedlings to be planted, and even had the holes dug.

But upon reading the instructions from the nursery, they said that the seedlings had been kept in cold storage to simulate them being in winter dormancy. And to gently wake them up with a “spring rain” by putting them in a bucket of water overnight. As a former forester I know a bit about trees, but am always happy to oblige a commercial nursery that wants its customers to have the best in success.

The next day I was ready to plant my trees. On the Vernal Equinox, though I had not planned it that way. I got all thirteen seedlings (ten Black Hills Spruce and three Pyramidal Arborvitae) nestled into their new homes in great soil with good drainage.

As I finished planting (gently straightening my stiffening muscles, it’s been a long winter) I saw that it was still at least a half hour until moonrise. Actually more, because by the time the Full Moon would rise over the Uncompahgre Plateau to the North-Northeast it would be dusk. But light enough for landscape photography with the moon featured.

So I waited, camera on tripod in my back yard. I have a great view to the east, of the Uncompahgre Plateau and the west reaches of the San Juan Mountains.

March Moonrise over the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado.

This early in the year the moon would rise from my vantage point over the still snowbound Uncompahgre Plateau, on the Uncompahgre National Forest. I didn’t have time to drive an hour to a known location where I could situate snowy mountain crags in front of the moon. Blame the tree seedlings. They needed me more than my photography did that day.

The March “Worm Moon” rising above the Uncompahgre.

The moon slid silently into view over the crest of the mighty Uncompahgre, yellow with moisture on the horizon. As usual I stood in appreciation that I live in a place where I could be at home (if I had to) and photograph this scene right from my yard.

Almost dark…what a moon!

Vernal Equinox. Full Moon rising. Trees planted. What a day.

Photo location: western Montrose County (the “West End”) Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

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Before the Lunar Eclipse

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Moonrise creeps up over Yellow Mountain.

The January 2019 Lunar Eclipse was the best opportunity for a couple of years to see that kind of spectacular event in North America. I was ready, my plans were made.

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Moonrise panorama over Yellow Mountain.

However, since the Lunar Eclipse would occur on January 20 — one day before Full Moon — I went out the previous evening to shoot moonrise over the San Juan Mountains here in southwest Colorado.

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Why two days before Full Moon? Because my favorite spot is so close to some high peaks near Lizard Head Pass that by the time the moon clears the peaks it’s well past official Moonrise time on the charts. Like 45 minutes later. Shortly before sunset, in fact. I was hoping for some sunset glow on the peaks while the almost full moon rose.

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So I drove the hour and 15 minutes to Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145 and ate a submarine sandwich while I waited. There were a number of cross country skiers still sliding around on the sunlit high meadows.

Then the moon began to clear Yellow Mountain, above Trout Lake. It was on.

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Vermilion Peak just before sunset. 

I had been hoping to get some rosy sunset glow off the snowy peaks at sunset, but there were high hazy clouds to the west, diffusing the effect I was after. Or so I thought.

By about 5:30 it seemed that the sun was down and I might as well begin to drive back home.

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Alpenglow above Telluride, on the way home.

I had misjudged. Again. Because as I approached Telluride I could see the rosy glow of Alpenglow on some peaks northwest of town. Fortunately I found a cleared turnout along the highway where I could pull out my camera — still on tripod — and get a couple of fast shots.

I was especially glad to have made the effort to get out to a prime spot that evening, because the next one would be a lot more cloudy. It would be a short Lunar Eclipse, visibility wise.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, south of Telluride, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

Paradox Valley Winter Fog

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Ground fog in western Paradox Valley.

On the morning of January 6 as I was approaching Bedrock, Colorado, I could see that the area of the valley where the Dolores River cuts across the Paradox Valley had a bank of ground fog settled in. With the recent snows and bitter cold and now glorious sunny winter morning, conditions looked ripe to provide some interesting light.

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Highway 90 just east of the fog bank.

I stopped for some shots of the fog bank, with the La Sal Mountains shining with new snow across the Utah state line.

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La Sal Mountains seeming to rise out of the fog bank above Bedrock.

Then it was down into the fog bank. But even at Bedrock it looked like the fog was close to being burned off by the morning sun.

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The Hwy. 90 bridge over the Dolores River.

Passing the historic Bedrock Store, the red rock cliffs had only a tantalizing veil of fog left before them. The Bedrock Store is famous for being the filming location of the pivotal “last phone call” scene in Thelma and Louise. Where Louise said, “Well, we’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.”

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The historic Bedrock Store.

Behind the tiny Bedrock Post Office, some crumbling buildings looked interesting with the misty, snowy cliffs in the background.

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Weathered buildings and the cliffs where the Dolores River empties into and across the valley, rather than following it.

Bedrock is where the Dolores River cuts across Paradox Valley, rather than following it. Thus it comes out of one deep red rock gorge, flows across the valley floor, and resumes its way through more gorges on its way to the Colorado River in southeastern Utah. This is the geologic “paradox” that gave the valley its name.

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Hoar frosted cottonwood trees near Paradox, Colorado.

Continuing on to the hamlet of Paradox, I stopped to admire a grove of cottonwood trees flocked with hoar frost, shining in the morning sun, with the north wall of Paradox Valley behind it.

Photo location: Paradox Valley, West End of Montrose County, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

Aspen Colors Reflection, Trout Lake

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The fall colors continue to progress in the Colorado high country. Actually given the recent warm weather I think the colors are later than normal. It’s been an exceptionally dry summer, but the warm sunny days and cool nights lately have been nudging the aspen forests toward getting their leaves ready to drop.

At Trout Lake recently I was trout fishing near sunset. The trout were happily sipping aquatic insects from the surface of the lake, totally uninterested in my lures.

But I harvested some gorgeous photos, with such a light breeze and the still waters at my feet providing a mirror.

Photo location: San Miguel County near Telluride, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Rainy September Colorado Colors

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Early aspen colors at Trout Lake.

Rain saturates colors. Far from being a deterrent to good nature photography, it creates opportunities.

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Trout Lake panorama, September 19.

Thus I drove into the San Juan Mountains in San Miguel County in southwest Colorado, in the Telluride area.

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Rainy mountains south of Telluride.

The aspen colors were coming on nicely, due to the recent warm sunny days and cool nights. It was raining lightly but it wasn’t very windy, allowing for some beautiful images of colorful foliage.

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Red-orange aspen colors on the San Juan National Forest.

Aspen fall colors are primarily bright yellow, as the tree stops producing chlorophyll, making the green color disappear and letting the other colors that were there all along become visible. So they don’t really “turn colors”, they just let summer’s green go.

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Aspen gold is highlighted by the dark greens of evergreen foliage in the background.

Some aspen stands, and even individual trees, exhibit a lovely orange or red instead of gold.

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There’s nothing like a peaceful country road in the Rockies in the fall.

On the way home I drove down the South Fork of the San Miguel River.

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South Fork of the San Miguel. 

The clouds were obscuring the high peaks, but I had plenty to interest me. I stopped for a Gambel oak sapling that had vibrant red colors, much more red than most oaks get.

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Gambel oak colors on the South Fork.

And the cherry red of wild rose hips.

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Wild rose hips. 

As I continued west, away from the San Miguels, west of Norwood the clouds opened and the nearly setting sun turned the distant La Sal Mountains and the sky a brilliant gold.

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Utah’s La Sal Mountains at sunset from Colorado.

And since it was still raining, directly opposite to the east the dark clouds formed the perfect backdrop for a full rainbow.

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Sunset rainbow at the San Miguel County – Montrose County line.

Photo location: San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Spring In The Rockies: Ice Out At Trout Lake

Trout Lake panorama, Trout Lake Colorado in springtime.

Panoramic view of Trout Lake, May 14, 2018.

.The mountain phenomenon of “ice out” has occurred at Trout Lake in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

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Sheep Mountain, shimmering in Trout Lake, May 14, 2018. Sheep Mountain on the skyline.

Springtime is always beautiful. But this year it’s also important to put things into context. It has been a very dry winter, and even drier spring. Sure, things green up much earlier — where there is enough water. Plants and wildlife adjust accordingly, as best they can. We will see what the rest of the spring and early summer bring in southwest Colorado.

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Trout Lake, Colorado, April 28, 2018.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, things looked much different. Above is  what it looked like on April 28. The snow was gone from the shores, and the lowering lake level had the ice sunken and ready to break up.

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Trout Lake from the shoreline, February 28, 2018. Sheep Mountain in the middle distance.

One more jump back in time, to late winter on February 28 and it was certainly wintry. And gorgeous.

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

Photo Location: Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Grousing Around Through A May Snowstorm

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Snowing on the red geology in the San Miguel River Canyon west of Telluride.

I had to make a quick trip from Naturita to Cortez, Colorado and back. About 250 miles round trip. After work. And I wanted to be back in Naturita before dark.

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No bicyclists today on this stretch of Hwy. 145!

It would have been quite reasonable except we were finally getting some rain in southwest Colorado. Which meant snow in the San Juan Mountains. Which meant stopping for photos along the way. It just has to be done.

From Placerville (named for the extensive placer mining for gold during the pioneer days) going up the San Miguel River Canyon on Highway 145, it was already snowing up above on the red cliffs adorned with the green of spruce and fir trees. And I had a lot higher to climb before crossing Lizard Head Pass.

At the Conoco station outside Telluride I got a hot sandwich and coffee. Then it was up toward the pass. The snowfall was much heavier, a snow plow truck was scraping the highway going the other way.

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Very fresh grouse tracks in the snow.

I was enjoying seeing the new wet snow plastered to the still-bare aspen trees. I pulled over at a likely spot. I noticed fresh grouse tracks in the new snow. Really fresh. But I didn’t see it moving about, and at the moment I was more interested in some shots of the aspen forest.

Then I looked at the grouse tracks some more. It wouldn’t have been crossing the highway at this spot. And it hadn’t. It had walked back down over the shoulder of the road into the woods.

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The grouse, hoping I will merely go away. 

I peered over the edge and through the snow-plastered brush, there she was. A female spruce grouse, I believe. Sitting still, hoping her camouflage would keep her invisible amidst the white. I was able to get a shot of her, then ease back without making her “flush” (fly away explosively, as they do).

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Snow on newly emerging leaves. How will they take it?

Then it was across Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet. From there I would be gradually dropping in elevation down the upper Dolores River valley until I was once again below the snow line.

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Lizard Head Pass.

There were a number of stops for more photographs. Such beauty from an early May snowstorm in the Colorado Rockies.

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Upper Dolores River, below Lizard Head Pass and above Rico.

After completing my task in Cortez, it was west to Dove Creek, with heavy rain clouds around.

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Northwest of Cortez at Narraguinnup Reservoir.

Then at Dove Creek, north on 141. Up over the mesas, down to cross the Dolores River at Slick Rock, then back up onto Disappointment Valley, Big Gypsum Valley, Dry Creek Basin, and finally down to the San Miguel River again at Naturita.

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On the way back north from Dove Creek.

And I made it just before dark.

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Back to Bedrock the next morning.

Photo locations: Montrose, San Miguel, Montezuma, and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

State Of The Moonrise, March 2018

Sunset light around Lone Cone Peak, Colorado.

Driving straight at Lone Cone Peak in the evening light.

The return of the Full Moon is always on every real nature photographer’s mind. Or should be. After all, what comes once a month (sometimes twice), is incredible, and you can’t control it? In nature, I mean.

Thus I always plot and plan as to where I might be able to be when Full Moon comes around again. Not to shoot photos of it surrounded by the black of night–who needs more of those? Rather, to create another photograph of the moon rising over some awesome landscape before it’s dark.

Oh, sure, I could merely take a shot of the full moon, overlay it in Photoshop with a landscape photo, and it would look fantastic. And sell. But that would be so lame. It would be technology instead of being out there.

It’s about being out there. Ready and waiting. In the game.

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Lone Cone Peak in golden evening light.

The moonrise photographer’s sworn enemy is (are?): clouds. Just some of them in the wrong place on the Eastern horizon at the critical time and it’s a wash. Though to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “The worst day photographing beats the best day at work”. Unless your job is to photograph, of course.

With all of that in mind I found myself at the “West End” as the locals say of Montrose and San Miguel Counties in southwest Colorado. Driving south from Norwood, which has a great paved county road aimed straight south at Lone Cone Peak, the westernmost outliers of the San Juan Mountains.

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Moonrise over the San Juan Mountains, lousy composition.

I wasn’t the luckiest of photographers this time as far as moonrise conditions. High clouds on the Eastern horizon, moon only visible later, almost at sunset time. I drove around looking for a great vantage point. Finally, with the seconds ticking away, I had to get what I could get. A shot of the moon over some of the San Juan snowy peaks was not that strong, compositionally. So I made a series of overlapping shots for a possible panorama image. Which, later, editing the shoot on my computer, turned out to be a good choice.

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Panoramic moonrise photo. Those peaks to the left needed to be included.

The icing on the evening was the alpenglow pink color on the snowy peaks. Moon or no moon.

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Sunset alpenglow on the San Juans, March 30.

Photo location: San Miguel County south of Norwood, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Return to Summit County

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The Gore Range, from across the Blue River valley.

I found myself with several days off and a restless feeling. After all, it was the Vernal Equinox. Spring. Very early spring, but it’s got to start somewhere.

So rather than sit at home or photograph locally, I decided to commence on a road trip around northwest Colorado.

Eventually I reached Grand County and Summit County, where I long ago worked as a forester. Before I got to Silverthorne, I took a brief side trip to some overlooks that few people know about. They look across the Blue River valley to the Gore Range, one of the most spectacular ranges in the Rockies. I’d done several backpacking trips up into them, the Eagles Nest Wilderness, so long ago. The late afternoon light, breaking up after a snowstorm, was intense. Extreme contrast. I did manage to eke out a couple of splendid panoramas.

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The Blue River Valley, north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

Then it was down into town: Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco. I knew it would have been much more built up, being in Colorado Ski Country.

And traffic was bad. The red lights seemed to take forever, each.

It’s a beautiful area, but I probably won’t return. I live in a much more laid back area of the state these days, and being back in ski country only made me appreciate how much better I like where I am.

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Almost home: San Juan Mountains, south of Ridgway, Colorado.

Photo location: Blue River Valley, Summit County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Peak To Peak in Southwest Colorado

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Wilson Peak, between Telluride and Trout Lake.

The objective for this more than 200-mile drive around southwest Colorado was to be up in the San Juan Mountains at a particularly strategic spot to photograph the full moon rising over the snowy peaks just before dark.

I could have merely driven from Cortez to Lizard Head Pass, then back. But the days have been getting so much longer, and the roads were dry. Plus I had all day to do whatever I wanted to.

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Vermilion Peak and Pilot Knob at Trout Lake.

Why not widen the loop by another couple hundred miles, you say? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, either. I’m glad that you agree.

Southwest Colorado is great in that there are no Interstate highways. You’re not going to be beelining to anywhere at 70 MPH. Instead, lots of curvy mountain roads. You did come here to slow down and savor the exquisite mountain beauty, didn’t you?

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Red, green and white: driving up the San Miguel River Canyon toward Telluride. 

Half a day into the drive I stopped at Norwood. I had yet to try out any of the local eateries, so I stopped in at the Happy Belly Deli. I had a grilled steak hoagie kind of sandwich with cole slaw that was far above the usual stuff. Plus ham and bean soup that was even better. You can even build your own sandwich there, but that was a little too complicated for me at the moment. Some nice artwork for sale on the walls. That won’t be the last time I eat there, just you watch. I would like to get their full menu so I can plot my next sandwich ahead of time.

The entire morning I had been looking for Lone Cone Peak to emerge from the clouds hailing snow showers down on the high peak. After my lunch in Norwood, well there it was! Perfect. I left the highway onto a county road that heads straight for it. Until I thought I had the best viewpoint before the road turned to deep snow.

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Lone Cone Peak with a halo of clouds, winter afternoon.

Then it on east past Telluride, stopping as usual at the Conoco station for a break.

Then up over the mountain toward Trout Lake. Stopping at an overlook for some exquisite views of surrounding peaks in snowy afternoon light.

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Craggy peaks, afternoon light, shadowed forest forming the foreground.

At Trout Lake I stopped for a panorama series of the peaks: Vermilion, Pilot, Yellow Mountain, and Sheep Mountain.

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Trout Lake winter panorama. Sheep Mountain is dead center.

Then it was up to Lizard Head Pass, my intended location for this month’s moonrise shoot. But despite all of the clouds clearing throughout the afternoon as had been predicted, it only takes one key spot to be clouded up at the key time for it to be a bust.

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The view from near Lizard Head Pass, on the way down the Upper Dolores.

So as I watched the clouds remain over that key spot where the moon would rise a little before the sun set in the opposite direction, I appreciated taking shots of what was there, snow showers and all. Then I drove down the upper Dolores River canyon back to Cortez.

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The west end of Sheep Mountain, early evening. 

Better luck next month. A fine day anyway.

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Snow showers instead of moonrise. Time to pack it in and head home.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg