The Green Table Finally Greens Up (Mesa Verde)

Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus, at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) leafing out and flowering, Mesa Verde, April 24.

Mesa Verde means “green table” in Spanish. Mesa Verde National Park is a tilted green table, heavily dissected by its canyons that also flow south.

Other than its famous prehistoric cliff dwellings and dizzying geology, the Mesa looks rather drab after the snows are gone and the deciduous vegetation has yet to leaf out.

Thus it has been interesting watching the progression of springtime through the various shrubs, forbs and grasses as they turn the brown and gray back to green.

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) leafing and blooming, Mesa Verde National Park, May 4.

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) leafing and blooming, Mesa Verde National Park, May 4.

The earlier leafing species such as Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) and Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) seem to be well adapted to the weather swings of early spring. They don’t sweat cold snaps, even the occasional late snow storm.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) blooming at Mesa Verde, May 7, 2017.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) blooming at Mesa Verde, May 7.

On the other hand the “Oakbrush”, the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambellii) that tough small tree that resprouts vigorously even after the major fires that occurred in the park about 15-20 years ago, is cold sensitive. It leafs out later, and cautiously. I was to find out why during this particular spring.

Gamber Oak, Quercus gambellii, leafing and beginning to flower, Mesa Verde National Park.

Gambel Oak leafing and about to flower, Mesa Verde, April 24.

Things had been greening up nicely in the park. In fact, it was a very early spring, especially judging by how early the yucca plants were beginning to send up their flower stalks, at 7,000 feet in elevation.

North Rim of Mesa Verde, from Montezuma Valley Overlook, May 4, 2017.

North Rim of Mesa Verde, Gambel Oak barely leafing out, May 4.

However, things changed on May 18 when a late snow storm hit the area.

Late snow, Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde.

Late snow, May 18, Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde.

The early leafing shrubs showed why they have the confidence to take late cold snaps in stride. A little bit of cold damage to their newest shoots, but otherwise no sweat.

Early leafing shrubs in late snow, May 18, 2017 Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Early leafing shrubs in late snow, May 18. The Oaks are still brown.

The Oaks, though, were stunned. Tender baby leaves, and flowering catkins, were zapped. The storm passed quickly, providing some gorgeous parting shots. But as far as the Oaks, you could almost hear them arguing (“I told you it was too early!”).

Wilted Gamel Oak (Quercus gambellii) leaves after the May 18, 2017 cold snap storm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Wilted Gamel Oak leaves after the May 18 cold snap storm.

So the Oaks had to regroup, not that they are not splendidly built for that, too. (I told you they are tough). Their Plan B was to shift their energy to leafing out yet again, and the heck with the flowering this year. There’s always next year, you know.

May 18 ice on Mountain Mahogany, Mesa Verde.

May 18 ice on Mountain Mahogany, Mesa Verde.

Which means few acorns, that round fat nut that wildlife like deer,  turkeys, and rodents feast on in the fall. But even more so the black bears, which chow down on the acorns for their high starch content, building up the layer of fat that their bodies will depend on during their winter hibernation. So we could see more bear incidents this fall, as they try to supplement their diet with human garbage and such.

Above Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, June 11.

Above Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde, June 11.

But finally, the Oak shrubs/trees are almost fully leafed out. The Green Table is back to being almost at its height of green for the summer.

At Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, June 11, 2017.

At Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde, June 12.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Montezuma Valley Blue Horizons

View from Park Point, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The Montezuma Valley from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park.

After a late May cold front that gave us more snow and hurt the Oak leaves that were trying to emerge, for the second time (don’t worry, they are tough), we seem to be back to wonderful late spring weather. Warm during the day, but not hot. Chilly at night, but only freezing for a night or two.

Now that true May weather has resumed, I continue to watch the rest of the deciduous vegetation unfold.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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

Upper Dolores River Springtime Green

Dolores River Valley, upstream of Dolores, Colorado.

Dolores River Valley, upstream of Dolores, Colorado.

Driving up the Dolores River valley, from Cortez, Colorado. In springtime. Gorgeous greens on the river floodplain. Grasses and forbs celebrating the Spring season. Cottonwood trees leafing out above.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde National Park highway, from Point Lookout.

Point Lookout, Mesa Verde

Point Lookout, Mesa Verde National Park, from the entrance road.

Point Lookout, from just inside the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. It will be even greener soon, when the Gambel Oak have fully leafed out.

When visitors drive into Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, the first thing that grabs their attention is a promontory called Point Lookout. As they will soon find out, they will be driving up a series of switchbacks taking them around its eastern flanks to a notch in the topography that has them up onto the northern end of the mesa. From there the road winds back and forth as it negotiates the North Rim, heading toward the Far View Lodge, and on to the Museum and the Cliff Dwellings.

Utah Serviceberry in bloom, Point Lookout Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Utah Serviceberry in bloom, Point Lookout Trail.

But what of that vertical chunk of bright sandstone towering far above the greening slopes? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be on top of that, looking over the edge?

Utah Serviceberry in bloom along the Point Lookout Trail, overlooking Morefield Campground, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Utah Serviceberry in bloom along the Point Lookout Trail, overlooking Morefield Campground. The gray patches are Gambel Oak, which are just starting to leaf out.

It is, and you can go there, too. It’s the Lookout Point Trail, and it begins at the end of the campground road, near the Amphitheater.

North Rim of Mesa Verde, with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance, from the Point Lookout Trail.

Looking southwest along the North Rim of Mesa Verde, from the Point Lookout Trail.

The trail is only 2.2 miles round trip, but it does climb 400 feet in the first mile. So it’s strenuous, but well built, with plenty of switchbacks to keep the grade reasonable. And there are spectacular views along that part of it, as well.

Paintbrush blooming atop Point Lookout, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Paintbrush blooming atop Point Lookout, May 4, 2017.

Before too long I had crested the southern rim of Point Lookout. Easy walking on top from there.

Common Paintbrush, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Paintbrush blooms closeup.

The northern rim of the Point is spectacular, of course. Rather dizzying from too near the edge, looking down on the park road, the Visitor and Research Center and the Mancos Valley, with the still-snowy La Plata Mountains in the distance.

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View north from Point Lookout, with the Mesa Verde park entrance road far below.

Another view to the southwest peers out over the Montezuma Valley and the town of Cortez, with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance.

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View southwest along the North Rim of Mesa Verde, toward Sleeping Ute Mountain.

Then it was back down the switchbacks to the trailhead. Going downhill, working the quad muscles this time. A good walk on a stellar early May day, and I didn’t meet another person in the 1.5 hours it took. Sweet.

Tent caterpillar nest in Utah Serviceberry, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Tent caterpillar nest in Utah Serviceberry, Point Lookout Trail.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Spring Wildflowers

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Utah Serviceberry in bloom at Mesa Verde.

Springtime on Mesa Verde, the “green table” in Spanish. A titled table, and highly dissected by canyons draining to the south. Which is getting greener by the day, now that it’s springtime.

But this is about some of the vegetation growing on the upper reaches. The most noticeable shrub in early spring is Utah Serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis, both because of its many white blossoms and because it adds a lot of greenery to an otherwise drab landscape this early in the season.

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Double Bladderpod, Physaria acutifolia.

Double Bladderpod, Physaria acutifolia, has a whorl of silvery-green leaves that mostly hug the ground. It raises a lot of small yellow four-petaled flowers.

 

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Double Bladderpod blossoms emerging.

Back to the white blossoms, we have Patterson’s Milkvetch, Astragalus pattersonii, of the pea family. My source says that there are 13 different species of milkvetches at Mesa Verde. So how is one to really know? They grow on shale slopes and soils containing selenium, so you neither want to smell them very long, or eat them. Their feathery blossoms, though, are just fine for looking at.

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Patterson’s Milkvetch, Astragalus panttersonii.

Gambel Oak, Quercus gambellii, is the tough, small tree that keeps resprouting from wildfires, of which Mesa Verde has had some horrendous ones over the past couple of decades. And it’s good for the soil that they do resprout rather than die, because they hold the soil on on the slopes. The other plant species should thank them.

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Emerging leaves and flowers of Gambel Oak.

We bring up the rear, so to speak, with another yellow wildflower that catches the eye on a drive along the park. This one is Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Balsamhoriza sagitatta. In the Sunflower Family, so you know it likes to show off. As it should. Elk, deer, and the feral horses like it, but somehow it tolerates being munched on by them, too. So did the Ute Indians.

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Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Stay tuned for more. Spring is just beginning in southwest Colorado.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde: The Far View Sites

Far View Village pueblo site, Mesa Verde

Far View Village pueblo site, Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park, the seventh U.S. National Park (1906, while Grand Canyon was still at National Monument status until 1919), is most famous for its incredible cliff dwellings from the Ancestral Puebloan era of about 800 years ago. The park is most famous for Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

But…the cliff dwellings period at Mesa Verde was very late in the game, before they moved on once again to locations south.

Until these people somehow (subject of much controversy among archaeologists, still) decided to make those much more defensible dwellings in precipitous sandstone cliffs, they lived on the mesa tops. Up on the flat. Where they were so much nearer to their crops of corn, beans, and squash. Where they could catch maximum sunlight to warm themselves and their homes year around.

So I stopped off the main park road on Chapin Mesa, between park headquarters and the Far View Lodge, to see the mesa top pueblo sites. It was a very easy and pleasant springtime walk.

Kiva (ceremonial chamber) at Far View Village, Mesa Verde National Park.

Kiva (ceremonial chamber) at Far View Village, Mesa Verde National Park. This would have had a roof over it in its time.

The main site that has been cleaned of rubble and stabilized there is called Far View Village. It is considered a Great House, the center of this long-ago very vibrant community that thrived before the Spanish ever brought the horse and the wheel and metal tools. In fact, the ancestral ones were long gone from here before the Spanish landed in America. They had other places to go. They knew what they were doing.

Pipe Shrine House at Far View, Mesa Verde National Park

Pipe Shrine House at Far View, Mesa Verde National Park

A stone’s throw away from the first one was another pueblo site, called Pipe Shrine House, because archaeologist Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes found a dozen decorated tobacco pipes onsite in 1922. Archaeology in the U.S. was merely beginning, and Fewkes was to become one of the giants while he probably still struggled to figure out what he should be doing as a scientist in this new field.

But back to the ancient ones. I walked on to the next site on the path.

And there, not to be outdone by all the masonry work (using only stone tools) of the pueblos was the nearby Far View Reservoir. Reservoir? Like in a dam, an impoundment of water? Yes. Dug out by hand, no beasts of burden yet introduced to the continent. And you thought you’ve put in a hard day’s work. Amazing.

The Ancestral Puebloans' Far View Reservoir, Mesa Verde.

The Ancestral Puebloans’ Far View Reservoir, Mesa Verde.

After an early evening of contemplating the mysteries of stone building by ancient human hands, I still had to pass by more stonework: that of the planet.

So as I once again drove along the northern rim of the mesa, I continued to revel in the springtime light, and the clouds. Gorgeous. Stopping again at the Geologic Overlook. I made several photos to later merge into a panorama.

North Rim of Mesa Verde from the Geologic Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

North Rim of Mesa Verde from the Geologic Overlook.

Sky and Earth, indeed. Southwest Colorado. No wonder I keep wandering around here.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

View more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

First Wildflowers and Cedar Tree Tower, Mesa Verde

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Hood’s Phlox, April 2, 2017, Mesa Verde National Park.

I stopped off at the Cedar Tree Tower site on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde on a recent April evening. The tower site is a short, paved drive off the main park highway. Just before I got to the parking area I spotted some Phlox wildflowers already in bloom amidst the green blades of new grasses sprouting.

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Hood’s Phlox on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park, April 2, 2017.

It was Hood’s Phlox, Phlox hoodii, as I learned from the book Wildflowers of Mesa Verde at the Mesa Verde Museum Association’s bookstore. https://www.mesaverde.org/category/books/plants-wildlife.

I continued on to the Ancestral Puebloan tower site.

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Cedar Tree Tower and kiva site.

The ancient ones of that era (A.D. 1100 to 1300) built small stone towers in a number of locations in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Their purpose remains a mystery. Since they are often very near a kiva (a subterranean ceremonial room), they may have had a ceremonial purpose themselves. Or they could have been line of sight with other towers, allowing for signalling with a fire in times of danger. Or to announce: “This area belongs to us — approach in friendship, or else!”

Archaeologists believe that this particular tower was two stories in height. It is located on a high spot on Chapin Mesa (a part of Mesa Verde), with a view in all directions. They farmed this area in corn, beans, and squash. Nearby is a trail to some of the terraces and check dams they built to collect the fertile soil and capture water from rain and snow melt.

View south from Cedar Tree Tower ruin, Mesa Verde.

Looking south toward one of the many deep canyons that dissect Mesa Verde.

Notice all the standing dead trees. This portion of the park was burned by the Long Mesa Fire in 2002. Fire is a natural part of the pinyon pine – juniper high desert forest community, and the Long Mesa Fire was naturally caused, by lightning. However, a century of unnatural fire suppression has caused higher than natural fuel loadings, making such catastrophic fires more likely.

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The kiva adjacent to Cedar Tree Tower. The roof has not been reconstructed.

But it begs the question: Did this area look all that much different when the Puebloans were living here? Their need for wood products was tremendous, both for heating and cooking, as well as roof beams for their pueblos and kivas. There may have not been many trees left nearby.

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By the way, there are no cedar trees on Mesa Verde. The early pioneers thought the Utah juniper trees were cedar trees, as best they knew.

For more information, go to Mesa Verde National Park’s web page about this site:

https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/mt_cedar_tree_tower.htm

Photo Location: Chapin Mesa, in Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

For more of my photography, go to www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Mesa Verde North Rim, Early Spring

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado - North Rim after snowfall.

North Rim, Mesa Verde after early springtime snowfall.

Late March in southwest Colorado means very varying weather. Sunshine, warming earth, high country snows melting and swelling the creeks and rivers with cold, silt-laden runoff.

Also occasional late cold fronts, with snow.

The other morning I had to drive back up into Mesa Verde National Park to go to work. I had been following the weather forecasts and had left extra early. The highways down in the Montezuma Valley (6,200 feet elevation) had been cleared by the highway crews. But when you start up into the park, the road rising to a high point of 8,572 feet at Park Point, then down to 7,000 feet at the main services around the Museum on Chapin Mesa, it’s a different world.

Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma Valley Overlook, springtime snow.

Montezuma Valley Overlook, springtime snowfall.

On this morning, a slippery highway. The snow plows were out at 7AM, heading out toward the park entrance. No one else on the road this early in the day and this early in the season.

As daylight grew, I was able to pull off and take some quick photos. Especially because in a few hours the sun would have changed the snowy scene dramatically.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

To see more of my photography, visit my website at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Spring Wildflowers of Glen Canyon

Utah Highway 95 bridge shadow across Colorado River, Hite Crossing, Utah.

Highway 95 bridge shadow across the Colorado River at Narrow Canyon portion of Glen Canyon. It must be spring: notice the green riparian vegetation.

We begin (actually just me) at Hite Crossing of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. The muddy river, naturally, upstream from Lake Powell. Brown cliffs on both sides, blue sky above. Whoops, don’t forget the thin strip of green riparian (streamside) vegetation that has leafed out. It’s spring.

Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

The Colorado River, looking downstream from the Highway 95 bridge at Hite Crossing.

Enough of this shameless gawking at the river and the cliffs and the snow capped mountains in the distance. Let’s roll on down the road. But not far, before the golden glowing plumes of Prince’s Plume caused me to veer to the side of the road.

Prince's Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Prince’s Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Next was the Yellow Cryptanth. Really small yellow flowers with fuzzy cups and stems, they don’t like to hog the limelight.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush, Glen Canyon.

I love it when I can get two different wildflowers in the same photo. Especially when they’re different colors, too. The green of their leaves can count as a third color. If you’re counting such things.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon.

If you’re only attracted to the big, showy blossoms of the season, shame on you. The true naturalist is drawn in by the more subtle ones, too. Like Blackbrush, with its diminutive yellow flowers.

Blackbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Blackbrush blossoms in spring, Glen Canyon.

Let’s veer on over to the white side of the flower spectrum in Glen Canyon: Cliffrose. Its blossoms are fairly showy. Not bright white, a rather yellowish white. But the fragrance will make you remember.

Cliffrose wildflower blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Cliffrose blossoms, Glen Canyon.

In case you’ve forgotten, this is all in the desert.

Speaking of which, we come to one of the most desert like plants, the yucca. With its evergreen bayonet leaves and a needle like tip that will make you remember not to carelessly stumble into it next time, they also have one of the most amazing flowering habit. Namely a stalk that grows as quickly as corn in Ohio (don’t ask for scientific proof, I don’t have it) to sent creamy white blossoms as delicate as their “leaves” are formidable.

Narrowleaf yucca, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca and flowering stalk, from above.

Maybe it was time for a break from all the lushness. I stopped near the Highway 95 bridge over the Dirty Devil River and walked out onto the span. Which you can do easily here, since there is almost no traffic.

Dirty Devil River, near confluence with Colorado River, Utah.

The Dirty Devil River, from Highway 95. Notice the lighter “bathtub ring” above the newly reborn green along the river that had been drowned by Lake Powell when it was full.

South of Hite I once again paused along the highway. I do that a lot. And why not? In this case it was a relatively short span across an unmarked canyon. You would drive across it in couple seconds — whump, whump — without noticing.

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White Canyon bridge, Highway 95.

You would have just crossed White Canyon, just upstream from its mouth into the Colorado River. No big deal. Right? But pull over. Walk to the edge, or onto the span and look down. Yeah, totally different realization.

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Lower White Canyon, from Highway 95.

I made a few exposures onto the camera memory card that I’d hoped portrayed the overall scene. The desert varnish streaked cliffs, the red buttes in the distance.

Then I let my camera lens follow my gaze to the floor of the canyon. It was an overcast day, devoid of the strong sunlight and black shadows so typical of canyon country. The cliffs above were the beige of Cedar Mesa Sandstone, ancient “petrified” (not the right term, but nevertheless) sand dunes lifted up from sea level eons ago. And at the bottom the (temporarily) dry streambed that somehow had carved its way down. Still does, in fact. Since erosion never sleeps.

White Canyon, southeast Utah.

The streambed of lower White Canyon.

Narrowleaf Yucca flowering stalk, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca flower pods along their stalk.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg