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

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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

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

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, early snow.

Black Canyon, Winter Preview

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, early snow.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, early dusting of snow.

I returned to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park after a weak winter storm front had passed through the area. The South Rim road was temporarily closed at the Visitor Center because of icy road conditions. So I contented myself with photographing from the overlooks at the Visitor Center, at Gunnison Point.

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The Gunnison River, far below the canyon rims. Note the blonde strip of streamside vegetation, which would be grasses and forbs gone to seed the past summer.

Usually I hate high hazy clouds for my landscape photos. But with Black Canyon such soft light does have its advantages, lowering the contrast exponentially so one can get both the sky and the gorge without the former being blown out and the latter in deep black shadow.

More importantly, the dusting of new snow on the gorge’s north facing slopes made all the difference in showing depth of such an immense place, which averages 2,000 feet from the rim to the blue Gunnison River with all its whitewater rapids. Way down there.

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So many spires make up the walls of the gorge…

Though there was a bit of snow, I camped at the South Rim campground again. It’s so quiet, only a few other parties camping there. The night sky viewing is great, this being an International Dark Sky Park. And during the winter, it’s free. Not to mention being about 11 miles from Montrose, for grocery shopping, restaurants, and gasoline for more exploring the fantastic wild country in the area. Hard to beat.

Photo location: Black Canyon of the Gunnison 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

Deer Family, Knife Edge Trail

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde.

I was walking (“hiking” would be overkill for such an easy path) the Knife Edge Trail in Mesa Verde National Park on a summer evening. It was almost sunset, and the afternoon clouds were threatening rain.

As I walked around a bend in the trail I spooked a deer. A mother with her fawns, still spotted, very young. Being that it was a National Park where hunting is not allowed (and not hunting season outside the park anyway) the deer were only mildly concerned at my intrusion into their evening feeding on the shrubs and grasses around them.

Knife Edge Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, summer thunderstorm evening.

With such low light I had to crank up the ISO setting on my camera and even so hope for some luck. Through several shots and holding as steadily as I could, it was the deer that were in motion, blurring themselves during the long exposure. I tried to wait until they paused a bit, then shot. Then tried again.

Mule Deer Fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule Deer fawns, Knife Edge Trail.

A little bit of blurriness in the shots didn’t diminish a fine, surprise experience.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Wetherill Mesa View

Wetherill Mesa View of the Montezuma Valley and Cortez, Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park.

View from the North Rim of Mesa Verde, From Wetherill Mesa.

A grand August evening driving across Wetherill Mesa, on the southwest edges of Mesa Verde National Park.

Wetherill is the quieter side of the Park, because the road is a little too narrow and windy to allow large (longer than 25 feet) vehicles. That means no bus tours out there. Only regular vehicles and small RVs.

On the way back, I paused to take in the superb views from the Wetherill portion of the North Rim, with the blue-ness of Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance.

View from Wetherill Mesa to Sleeping Ute Mountain, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Wetherill Mesa at the North Rim, with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening, Part 4

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook, July 2017.

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook.

As I continued my way on the “outbound lane” as the Rangers call it in Mesa Verde (there’s only one road in, and out), I paused at the Geologic Overlook. The monsoon showers were gracing someone’s location to the north. Where I was it was soft overcast light and summertime greenery.

Partial rainbow from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Partial rainbow at Park Point, Mesa Verde.

At the turnoff for Park Point, those rain showers to the north provided a partial rainbow, with the La Plata (“Silver”) mountains serving as a backdrop.

Mesa Verde North Rim from Park Point

The North Rim of Mesa Verde, looking north from Park Point.

At Park Point is the fire lookout “tower”, which has no legs. Because it needs none, the perfect 360-degree view being provided by its elevation above the surrounding landscape. While walking by I became interested in my reflection through the glass onto mylar or whatever sun shading film they had cutting the intensity of the afternoon sun.

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Then down the curves to the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the best example of The Knife Edge cliff formation (of Point Lookout Sandstone) visible from the road.

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Mesa Verde road above the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the Knife Edge.

From there it was down into the head of Morefield Canyon, where the park’s campground is located. I stopped for a stroll on the easy–but impressive–Knife Edge Trail. It follows part of one of the original roads into the park. And believe me, be glad for the modern road we enjoy today!

Knife Edge Trail, Knife Edge Road route, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, on the grade of the old Knife Edge Road into Mesa Verde National Park.

After returning to my vehicle, there was just one more set of switchback curves before rejoining the Montezuma Valley and exiting the park. And on those curves is one last viewpoint: overlooking the Mancos Valley. And it was raining down there, and the lush green irrigated fields looked gorgeous.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg