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

Hite Overlook panorama, Colorado River, Utah.

It Looks Better Going The Other Way

Hite entrance sign, Glen Canyon National Recreation area, southeast Utah.

Hite entrance sign, just off Utah Hwy. 95, Glen Canyon.

In Edward Abbey’s classic Desert Solitaire, about his experiences as a seasonal park ranger in then-Arches National Monument (now National Park) in the 1960s, he replied to visitors incensed at having to drive back out the same way they came in, saying “It looks better going the other way”.

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But the more time you spend somewhere the more you will notice, that’s for sure.

And soon after my most recent post “Hanksville to Hite”, I got another opportunity to drive the other way. From Hite to Hanksville. As always I enjoyed it.

Hite convenience store, San Juan County, Utah.

Convenience store at Hite ranger station, on an overcast spring morning.

Hite is where the Ranger Station is in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The very upper end of what had been Lake Powell. Now the lake is low enough that the Colorado River at Hite is free flowing again. Maybe always will be.

There is no open Visitor Center at Hite anymore. You might catch the National Park Service law enforcement ranger there, but probably not. He will usually be out patrolling his region of the park.

There is a convenience store there, open in the summer, and gas pumps open year around. If the pump isn’t hung up with no one there to reset it. I have seen that happen.

Utah Highway 95, Colorado River, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hwy. 95 west of HIte, along the Colorado River.

Hite is named for Cass Hite, a legendary explorer, prospector, and mining claims promoter who lived in, loved the area, and died there. The townsite named after him is beneath the waters of Lake Powell, even today. So is his grave, I believe, at Ticaboo.

Speaking of Edward Abbey, if you’ve read his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, it’s all situated in this area. Smack dab right here, including the climax of the book. When I first read it, so long ago, I had no idea of where this locale was. Not like I do now.

Cedar Mesa Sandstone, near Dirty Devil River, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.

Cross-bedded “petrified” sand dunes of Cedar Mesa Sandstone along the Dirty Devil River, west of Hite, Utah.

I recently had to re-read the book after a visitor came in and asked: “Which site in your campground (in Natural Bridges) did Hayduke stay at?” I had to admit that I didn’t know. The answer: it doesn’t give a site number in the novel. Besides, it wasn’t just George Hayduke, it was all four members of the gang.

So Edward Abbey’s hilarious, violent, shocking, thought provoking, extremist story of eco-saboteurs (I am not a proponent of such) was on my mind even more on this drive.

Hite Overlook, Utah Highway 95, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Utah Hwy. 95 from Hite Overlook.

The Gang was protesting the seemingly unbridled commercial development of the desert wilderness in general, and Glen Canyon in particular. They tried to stop the completion of Highway 95 from Blanding to the Colorado River. They tried to take out two of the three bridges crossing the canyon (at White Canyon, and on the other side of the Colorado River at the Dirty Devil River). But the law was closing in fast and they tried to make their escape up into the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park, one of the most rugged areas of desert canyon country on earth.

Colorado River from Hite Overlook, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.

Colorado River below Narrow Canyon, from Hite Overlook.

Highway 95 was completed (in reality) to Glen Canyon. A lot of vacationers, especially boaters, enjoyed the new marina facilities at Hite. For some decades. But then the projections of how much water the Colorado River really can provide turned out to be a pipe dream. The lake lowered and lowered. The Hite Marina was removed, and the area became almost as lonely as when Cass Hite lived there in the horse and buggy days. You might say things have come rather full circle. At least significantly so.

Hite Overlook panorama, Colorado River, Utah.

Canyon rimrock, Hite Overlook.

Highway 95 is still one of the most lonely areas in the state of Utah. Severe and stark, almost bare landscapes devoid of all but a few low growing shrubs once in a while. Wide open skies. Red rock canyons and deep blue skies. The snow capped peaks of the Henry Mountains to the northwest.

Utah canyon country. Abbey country.

Photo location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Above Canyonlands – Part 1

Abajo Mountains, near Monticello, Utah.

Abajo Mountains, late February snowstorm.

For the next part of my excursion, I drove north from Bluff and Blanding, Utah to San Juan County’s other little town, Monticello. Which is also the county seat, there being no sizable towns in all of sprawling San Juan County. Plenty of room to roam, and much to see.

 

After three weeks of unseasonably warm February weather, a small winter storm front was moving in to make things a little more interesting. The Abajo Mountains (often called the “Blues” by locals, who also pronounce Monticello (like “Montisello”) were wreathed in a veil like snow squall already.

The Horsehead, Abajo Mountains from Monticello, Utah.

The Horsehead, a distinctive grouping of forest patches on the mountain slopes above Monticello.

But I was still able to easily pick out The Horsehead on one of the most prominent peaks above town.

Wind farm at Monticello, Utah.

Wind farm just north of Monticello.

On the northern outskirts of town I drove back a public dirt road to get a closer look at the massive structures of the new wind farm.

Monticello, Utah, in winter.

Monticello, Utah: gassing up before heading in toward the Needles district of Canyonlands.

Then it was further north on U.S.191 to Canyonlands country.

La Sal Mountains and red sandstone, Utah.

Red sandstone, sagebrush, and the La Sal Mountains, from the Needles Overlook Road. (Click on image for larger version).

Canyonlands National Park is divided into three huge sections, Island In The Sky, The Maze, and The Needles. The dividing lines are the two major rivers, the Colorado and the Green, which join within the park to rather divide it into thirds.

In fact, the Colorado River above the confluence used to be called the Grand River. But the state of Colorado wanted it all named for itself, since the river’s source is high in the Rockies in their state. It got its way, too. Ever since then, the Green has joined the Colorado, not two rivers meeting to form a third one. I hope that clears thing up for you.

La Sal Mountains, Utah.

La Sal Mountains telephoto panorama shot.

I wasn’t going into the park itself on this trip, but to an adjoining area of public land called the Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The entrance to this area is called the Needles Overlook Road, because…guess what it overlooks? You got it.

Needles Overlook, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

Needles Overlook, in the Canyon Rims Recreation Area.

Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, from Needles Overlook.

The Needles district of Canyonlands, from above. The Abajo Mountains are in the distance.

Needles District of Canyonlands, from above.

The Needles, from above at Needles Overlook, Canyon Rims.

Lockhart Basin area of Canyonlands, from Needles Overlook, Utah.

Red rock canyon country: looking down onto Lockhart Basin and the Colorado River (barely visible), from Needles Overlook.

Colorado river and Canyonlands from Minor Overlook, Canyon Rims.

Colorado River, from the Minor Overlook (named for a person, not because it’s a lousy view. Obviously).

I then worked my way north from the Needles Overlook. North up the length of Hatch Point, toward the Anticline Overlook. I intended to make camp near there, in case the clouds would clear in time for the rise of the Full Moon. Stay tuned.

Photo location: Canyon Rims National Recreation area, San Juan county south of Moab, Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Colorado Winter Beauty

2016_CO-1

Upper Dolores River, Colorado.

January: first time back up into the San Juan Mountains since October. I wanted to see them in thick snow, not just the early snows.

2016_CO-56

Upper Dolores River, in winter glory.

And when I got there, I wondered why I’d waited so long. It was a gorgeous day in between the storms. The trouble was, with all the snow, the highway crews couldn’t push it off fast enough. So few places to pull over and photograph.

2016_CO-49

So I took what I could get. And they were lovely opportunities.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Moki Dugway to Muley Point

2016_UT-207-Pano

Looking down on the lower half of the Moki Dugway and the San Juan River valley. (Click on image for larger version).

It was back up the Moki Dugway, that love-it-or-fear-it stretch of Utah Highway 261 that goes from the San Juan River valley floor near Mexican Hat up onto Cedar Mesa. Up 1,100 feet in elevation in just three miles of unpaved road.

Almost to the top of the Moki Dugway...

Almost to the top of the Moki Dugway…

But once you’re familiar with it, most people come to love it. How spectacular!

Utah Hwy. 261, just below the Moki Dugway and Cedar Mesa.

Utah Hwy. 261, just below the Moki Dugway and Cedar Mesa.

From the bottom, it’s challenging to look at that all-but-sheer cliff face and wonder: how does a road go up THERE? Where? Is there such a thing as an elevator for cars?

The red cliffs of the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, from the Moki Dugway looking down onto Valley Of The Gods.

The red cliffs of the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, from the Moki Dugway looking down onto Valley Of The Gods.

There is plenty of warning that the otherwise very gentle and beautifully paved Highway 261 is going to be interrupted by something requiring caution. A series of signs at either end of the Dugway attempts to discourage drivers of large vehicles. And for passenger cars, what about “steep mountain curves, 5 MPH (etc.) do you not get?

Moki Dugway warning sign.

Moki Dugway warning sign, one of several on either end of the approach to the Dugway.

Once on top of Cedar Mesa, I took the dirt road out to Muley Point, one of my favorite spots. The country road crew had even plowed it open.

The uppermost switchback curve on the Moki Dugway.

The uppermost switchback curve on the Moki Dugway. Yep, you started way down there….

Looking down onto the Goosenecks of the San Juan River from high above was especially attractive now that they had snow on them. I like to get some shots of the rim of Cedar Mesa when I can, to give the scene some sense of scale.

Afternoon sunlight on the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, above the Goosenecks.

Afternoon sunlight on the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, above the Goosenecks.

Snow on all the layers and meanders of the Goosenecks is almost dizzying to contemplate.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Muley Point.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Muley Point.

Photo location: San Juan County near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Goosenecks Of The San Juan River, New Year’s Day

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Goosenecks State Park.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, from Goosenecks State Park. (Click on image for larger version).

New Year’s Day found me back at Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, Utah. The light looked less than promising: bright overcast, pretty flat. Oh, well, I had plenty of daylight left on that short winter’s day, so might as well see what I could see.

Closeup of one of the "entrenched meanders" of the San Juan River.

Closeup of one of the “entrenched meanders” of the San Juan River.

I was glad I did. The lack of strong sunlight and shadows in the San Juan River Goosenecks allowed attention to other details of the immense sinuous canyon that geologists have awarded the informal title of “world’s deepest entrenched meander”. I hope you’re appropriately impressed.

Afternoon skylight reflecting off the muddy waters of the San Juan River.

Afternoon skylight reflecting off the icy, muddy waters of the San Juan River.

The mid afternoon sunlight, filtered through the high clouds, was at a low enough angle to reflect off the surface of the river in some places. What a beautiful effect, worth the price of admission ($5) right there.

It had been cold enough  since the last snowfall that any slope facing toward north had not melted off. In fact, given the lack of vegetation in this austere, high desert location, it was blatantly clear which direction a slope was oriented toward. If the low winter sun doesn’t hit it, it has snow.

South versus north facing slopes: the snow shows where the sun can't reach it.

South versus north facing slopes: the snow shows where the sun can’t reach it.

There was only one party of about five visitors there. One of them happened to walk down the pathway beneath the vista to sit back and enjoy the vista with even more seclusion. He made for a nice accidental “model” in the foreground to give the scene a better sense of scale.

A visitor sits below the lookout at the Goosenecks.

A visitor sits below the lookout at the Goosenecks.

Photo Location: Goosenecks State Park (day use fee $5 per vehicle), San Juan County near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Copyright © 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Snowy Moki Dugway, Goosenecks, and Monument Valley

The southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, looking toward Monument Valley.

The southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, looking toward Monument Valley.

The Christmas snow storm really cloaked Cedar Mesa, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and Monument Valley.

Highway 261 below Cedar Mesa.

Highway 261 below Cedar Mesa.

Driving to the southern edge of Cedar Mesa on Utah Highway 261, I once again peered down onto the San Juan River valley. Highway 261 descends the 1,100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa down to the valley floor via a steep series of switchbacks called the Moki Dugway. The Dugway is the only section of the highway that isn’t paved, and it has no guard rails except for some concrete barriers along the outside edge of the uppermost switchback. Which gives a lot of visitors…apprehension…when they encounter it for the first time.

The Moki Dugway portion of Hwy. 261.

The Moki Dugway portion of Hwy. 261.

Seeing the cliffs and canyons of this high desert country in snow really accentuates the landforms. Shapes and formations not usually apparent stick out much more.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, with snow.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, with snow.

Once down the Moki Dugway, be sure to stop by Goosenecks State Park. The overlook of the San Juan River goosenecks near the hamlet of Mexican Hat is spectacular.

Monument Valley from Redlands Overlook, east of Kayenta, Arizona.

Monument Valley from Redlands Overlook, east of Kayenta, Arizona.

After driving west through Mexican Hat, the next area of interest is Monument Valley. I stopped at the Redlands Viewpoint off of Highway 163 for a nice early morning scene.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Source Of The San Juan River

Upper San Juan River valley, west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Upper San Juan River valley, west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The San Juan River of Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado begins in the high country of southwest Colorado. In the San Juan Mountain Range. Most of its lower stretches are as a desert river. But it begins high above the desert world.

Its origin is up at the Continental Divide, where water flowing down to the Colorado River basin is separated from that flowing down the other side, into the Rio Grande River basin.

East Fork of the San Juan River.

East Fork of the San Juan River.

I revisited San Juan’s source area again recently. East of Pagosa Springs, where the East Fork of the San Juan joins the West Fork. In this lush green valley below the highest peaks I made this image. I had only been through it twice before. This time, though, I was thinking much more about the watershed. About the river and its tributaries. The interconnectedness of it all.

I have been living near the mouth of the San Juan. Where it empties into the Colorado River at Lake Powell in southeast Utah. Not right at the lake, but in the area. Studying the geology, hydrology, archaeology, history of the region. Following my naturalist curiosities. It’s an amazing place.

So I became interested in where this desert river began. Followed it upstream on the map. Then up the highway. Instead of driving up over Wolf Creek Pass to the other side, this time I lingered on the San Juan source side of the Divide. I camped along the West Fork, watching a beaver go about its evening in its created pond off to the side of the main stream. Drove up the East Fork, envious of the trout fishermen casting into the waters of the cold clear mountain stream.

Ripplin' waters of the East Fork of the San Juan River, Colorado.

Ripplin’ waters of the East Fork of the San Juan River, Colorado.

In the morning I broke camp and drove up over Wolf Creek Pass. I had some other interests to explore. But I would be back, and soon.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg