Colorado Mountain Sunset, Trout Lake

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Sunset warmth on Lizard Head Peak.

I was zooming up the highway through the Upper Dolores River valley in late afternoon to catch the sunset on the high peaks around Lizard Head Pass and Trout Lake.

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Black Face Mountain (or ridge) at late January sunset time.

Actually I was going up there for the moonrise, which was set to happen just before sunset. But the sunset’s warm colors were on the high peaks and the moon had not quite cleared them yet. So it was sunset photos time.

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Trout Lake, sunset colors almost gone already. 

It was over Lizard Head Pass and down the other side for a few miles to a vista overlooking Trout Lake. The sunset was almost gone from the high peaks. If only I could have gotten there even ten minutes sooner!

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Yellow Mountain gets its closeup shortly before the shadows swallow the summit.

I made a series of overlapping shots of the entire Trout Lake vista, to be made into a huge high resolution panoramic photo later on the computer. Then I zoomed in to my favorite parts of the still-sunlit mountain peaks.

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Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, and Vermilion Peak (left to right).

As soon as I was done with the sunset photos, I realized that I was now too far down in elevation (by about 500 feet) for the moonrise to clear those peaks before it got dark. So it was back up to Lizard Head Pass for the moonrise portion of this shoot!

Visit my website to see more of my photography and to order prints: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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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

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

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

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

Rico Through Autumn, 2017

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The Rico Community Church and the Town Hall, September 30.

Although it’s still October, up in the high country the aspen leaves are down on the ground. Gorgeous weather lingers, with an occasional cold front to dust a little snow that stays in the shady spots in the forest and on the north facing slopes of the high mountain peaks.

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Rico, Colorado’s Town Hall, September 30.

It’s the autumn-into-winter in-between time. The tail end of Indian Summer. It won’t last too much longer, which makes it all that much more enjoyable on another perfect high country October day.

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Rico, October 7.

At this time of year my mind goes back to the Dan Fogelberg pop-folk song Old Tennessee:

End of October
The sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads to the winter
Yellows and grays paint a sad sky today
And I wonder when you’re coming home

It may be about Tennessee, but the lyrics evoke the bittersweet time of autumn. Of harvest, of the end of summer, of transitioning into early winter.

Rico, Colorado, October 23, 2017.

Rico, October 23.

Photo Location: Rico, Dolores County, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg