Chasing Down the October Moon

Moon Setting Over the Aspen Fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

Moon Setting at dawn over the fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

I was rolling up Colorado Highway 145 in the dark, intent on having a perfect October day of photographing in the high country.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe and setting moon, Rico, Colorado.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe, Rico, Colorado.

As the dawn light slowly illuminated the landscape, the just-past-Full Moon was getting ready to set behind the San Juan Mountains. At Rico–perhaps my favorite mountain town–I pulled over for some shots.

Mountains and Fall Colors Reflected in Ponds at Dawn, Rico, Colorado.

Mountains and fall colors reflected in ponds at dawn, Rico, Colorado.

I turned off onto the road along the old beaver ponds and the hot springs. A calm chilly morning, perfect for keeping the ponds still to serve as mirrors.

Sunrise Reflection and fall aspen colors, Rico, Colorado.

Sunrise reflection, Rico, Colorado.

I was about to continue driving when I noticed the sunrise on one of the high peaks in the distance. And of course its reflection on the water’s surface.

After that it was really time to get back on the road. Because who knew what more lay ahead after a start like this?

Up the highway to Lizard Head Pass, and an early morning scene with its namesake, Lizard Head Peak.

Lizard Head Peak Morning Sunshine, From Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

Lizard Head Peak morning sunshine, from Lizard Head Pass.

Further along the road, I was afforded another glimpse of the moon over the high peaks.

Moon Setting Beyond Bare Aspen Trees and mountain peaks, San Miguel County, Colorado.

Moon setting beyond bare aspen trees, San Miguel County, Colorado.

And another. I made a high resolution panoramic image of the scenery, free of the dark foreground trees, before heading down the South Fork of the San Miguel River. Which will be the focus of the next post.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains.

Photo location: San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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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.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

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

Moon Sleeps Behind Sleeping Ute Mountain

Moonset over Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado.

Moonset beginning over Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I had failed to be out there to photograph the October moonrise. It had been a rough day, and I preferred to stay at home. The moon waits for no one, though.

But before first light the next morning, I awoke thinking it was dawn. It wasn’t. It was the all-but-Full Moon shining through my west window. As it was descending. Moonset.

I rolled out of bed and grabbed my camera gear and loaded up in the dark. Well, not totally dark. Moonlight.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris desktop application I had scoped out where to go for this event. It would sink behind Sleeping Ute Mountain if I were positioned atop Mesa Verde’s North Rim. Even in my sleepy condition, it seemed like I had a quite good chance of making it there yet, if I hurried.

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Full Moon descending from a cloud bank, Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I did. Parking at the Montezuma Valley Overlook, I shut off the engine and the lights. The bright moon was the only light I was interested in.

The moon was descending through a thin cloud bank. Good in that it was not overcast.

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Panorama of Moonset, Sleeping Ute, and the lights of Cortez.

The wind was ripping through the notch in the Rim. Oh, nice, I thought, so windy that my tripod might as well be worthless as to holding the camera steady.

But once I stepped away from the parking lot, down the paved path, the shoulder of the ridge cut the wind in half. Then even more. Nice. I set up the tripod.

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Zooming in on the Sleeping Ute’s crossed arms and moonset.

I made a series of shots in the tough contrast between bright moon and the mountain. In some of them I included the twinkling lights from the small city of Cortez below. It gave those shots a lot of context.

Moon going to sleep behind Sleeping Ute.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Tracking the Aspen Colors, September 30

Colorado Highway 145 near Rico, Colorado, fall colors.

Colorado Hwy. 145 near Rico.

September 30, the last day of the second-best month of the year. The day before the very start of the best month.

I drove up Colorado Highway 145 from Dolores, which parallels the upper Dolores River almost to its source high in the San Juan Mountains. According to the calendar.

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Morning mist and fall colors, Rico, Colorado.

I was somewhat surprised that the aspen fall colors had not peaked in the week since I’d been there last. There had been more snow on the high peaks, but the aspen stands had taken it in strike just below that, not feeling the need to dump their leaves for the winter.

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Former County Courthouse, Rico, Colorado.

I drove into Rico, at 8,800 feet elevation pretty much my bullseye for what was going on for autumn colors around these part. I took another shot of the gravel street looking down from the Rico Community Church, that stately and gleaming white frame building. I was working on a series of the progression of the colors with that as a vantage point.

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Rico Community Church, September 30.

From Rico it was up over Lizard Head Pass into San Miguel County and down a little bit to the stunningly gorgeous hamlet of Trout Lake. But the lake and its surrounding peaks were pretty much wreathed in clouds. Tough light, but I wanted to document it anyway.

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Trout Lake on a nearly socked-in fall morning.

Then on past Telluride and over to Dallas Divide, turning off onto Last Dollar Road. There, the expansive ranches have huge mountain meadows of cattle grazing beneath towering peaks.

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Cattle ranches and snowy peaks, from Last Dollar Road.

Even there the aspen forests had a lot of green left to turn to gold. The photographers were lined up along the road at key spots, I think under the direction of photography safari outfits. Not my scene. I want to do everything on my own.

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Aspen grove, Last Dollar Road.

Soon after that, I turned my little vehicle around and headed back to Cortez, with over a hundred miles to go. I paused again at Rico for a beaver pond reflection shot of the colors.

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Beaver ponds reflection near Rico.

Photo location: San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

First Snow, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

 

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest.

The cool fall weather had continued uninterrupted for several days. Ah, yes. The perfect time of year.

Yesterday it started raining at 3 AM and was continuing on an off into the early morning. But the front was supposed to move out during the day. So I decided to drive up into the San Juan Mountains to see how the fall colors had progressed in just four days.

The morning started out in Cortez with a beautiful morning rainbow.

September morning rainbow in Cortez, Colorado.

Morning rainbow, Cortez, Colorado.

From Dolores I drove up to Groundhog Reservoir. Then up toward Black Mesa, where I had enjoyed a day of photographing the early fall colors the week before.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

September snowstorm, San Juan National Forest.

I had been hoping for the rain to pass through and give me a view of the high peaks of the Lizard Head Wilderness with fresh snow on them. Instead, I was surprised to find out that the snow level was down to where I was. Rather, that I had driven up into it.

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Fortunately I had recently paid for four new top-of-the-line all-terrain tires. I had been yearning for a chance to try them out on slippery roads, and here it was: fresh wet snow on top of an inch of wet muddy coating on a well graveled road. Nothing too crazy.

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All-terrain tires so gnarly they have lugs on the sidewalls.

I soon realized that If I’d still had the old tires I would have been spinning and sliding in my All Wheel Drive (not 4WD) vehicle. And turning around to go back down out of the snow zone. But with these new, ultra gnarly babies it felt as if I had tire chains on them.

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Aspen saplings in fall colors and early snow.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, the younger aspen trees were taking the wet snow pretty hard. Bent way over, some branches snapped off. The kind of early snow storm that would convince the higher aspen stands that it was time to dump their leaves for the winter.

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Heavy wet snow coming down in the spruce-fir forest.

An unexpected benefit of the aspen seedlings groaning under the weight of the snow was that their lovely fall colors were bent down to easy photographing.

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Aspen foliage in raining snow.

As I continued on though the forest, I had the good fortune to not only see a marten scurry across the road just ahead of me, but to pause down in the forest for a decent shot. These small forest mammals with the cat-like faces are considered to be threatened, so it was a rare treat for me to have the sighting.

Marten in the snow, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Marten in the snow, San Juan National Forest.

Afterward I drove back down out of the snow zone, into the West Dolores River canyon.

The US Forest Service's Dunton Work Center, West Dolores valley, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

The US Forest Service’s Dunton Work Center, West Dolores valley.

Photo location: Montezuma and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado Fall Colors Begin

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, Western Slope Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, September 19.

Here in southwest Colorado the summer heat broke about a week ago. Instead of high 80s F. during the day, it’s high 70s and of down into the 40s at night. Beautiful.

And perfect for the fall colors in the high country to progress slowly and steadily. So I went up into the San Juan National Forest the other day to check them out.

Quaking Aspen, populus tremuloides, in fall colors on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan National Forest, September 19.

At Trout Lake, my personal benchmark because of the combination of beautiful lake, awesome mountain peaks, and aspen forests, it was just beginning. Lots of green left.

Trout Lake Colorado panorama, September 19, 2017.

Trout Lake, Colorado, September 19. A touch of early snow on the high peaks.

Photo location: Montezuma County, Dolores County, and San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

September Moonrise, Southwest Colorado

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Montana wildfire smoke pulled south to Colorado. Credit: National Weather Service.

Early September, and it was time to plan for the Full Moon. Not for telescopic shots of our Lunar satellite in the black sky–who needs more of those–but of landscape shots featuring the rising moon.

It all depends upon the clouds on the eastern horizon at moonrise time, of course. For September 2017, though, the weather forecast was quite favorable. Mostly sunny, a very low chance of evening showers.

Except that there was one added variable this time: smoke. It had been unusually hazy for days, and the National Weather Service had been reporting that it was due to smoke from large forest fires all the way north in Montana. A strong northerly flow was bringing a noticeable amount of it down to Colorado.

Haze, particularly smoke, usually gives the moon an orange, or at least deep yellow, cast as it’s rising. So that was potentially working in my favor.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scoped out a nearby location that would have the nearly Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains. So I drove out to McPhee Reservoir northwest of Cortez to see what would happen.

The moon was scheduled to rise officially a few minutes after sunset. But it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to clear the mountains before it would be visible in the scenery.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Montezuma County, Colorado.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, Sept. 6.

Meanwhile I enjoyed a fairly colorful sunset over McPhee Reservoir, looking toward Utah. The sun dropped into a heavy haze of clouds, so its color was greatly muted over what could have been.

With no further distraction toward the west, I swiveled back to the eastern horizon, the La Platas. And up it came. A light pink through the heavy haze at first.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Then the moon gradually intensified as the dusk became deeper.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains.

Full Moon above the La Plata Mountains.

Unfortunately the haze was too thick to more than slightly distinguish the La Plata Mountains.

Maybe October’s conditions will be better. As I always remind myself: you’ve got to be out there, and you’ve got to be ready.

Photo location: Montezuma County, southwest Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Whispers of Fall at 8,000 Feet

Colorado False Hellebore and Quaking Aspen, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Colorado False Hellebore (gone to seed) and Quaking Aspen.

For my most recent outdoor outing (is there really any other kind of outing worth noting?) I was exploring some public roads that were new to me on part of the San Juan National Forest.

This summer has been kind to the region, blessed with rain in late summer. Not too much, either. The fire danger went down from Very High in June to Low now. Pretty sweet.

Driving north into the forest from Mancos, Colorado soon had me back into Ponderosa pine, aspen, mountain meadows, and–even higher up–spruce and fir. The dirt roads were dry and it wasn’t too crowded with summertime recreationists.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, August 2017.

I stopped at a nice viewpoint up the West Fork of the Mancos River canyon to the high peaks of the La Plata (“Silver”) Mountains. To Hesperus Peak, one of the four mountains sacred to the Navajo people.

Puffball mushroom, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Puffball mushroom, big as a greatly over-inflated football.

At a nearby junction, I spotted a nearly-white blob in amongst the greenery. Could that be the giant edible mushroom called the Puffball? It was. In perfect condition to come home with me, too.

Mushroom in San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

A red mushroom amongst the forest floor greenery, San Juan National Forest.

Further along there were more mushrooms, which I could not identify at the moment. The rule about eating wild mushrooms is that you never should–unless you can be positive of the identification. There are many poisonous species.

But on to the wildflowers, of which there were still many. Here is a gallery of them:

There were some berries, too. Common was Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens. The seeds of the berries of this species are considered poisonous.

Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Red Elderberry fruit clusters and foliage.

As far as the earliest whispers of fall, the False Hellebore “Corn Lily”) were done for the season and were turning from green to gold.

Soon the other forbs of the high forest will be turning, too. Then it will be the main event: the aspen colors. We’re still a month away from that, but for now here is my favorite aspen forest photograph from the day.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) forest, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Aspen stand, late August, San Juan National Forest.

Photo location: San Juan National Forest, Montezuma and La Plata Counties, 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