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

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 1)

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling site.

A late July afternoon and I got off work at Mesa Verde fairly early: 4:15 pm. Dramatic monsoon thunderstorm clouds had been brewing all afternoon. Time to go home, way down in the valley below.

But not directly home. No rush. Not with this kind of light. I chose to make my way back down off of Mesa Verde gradually.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Closeup panorama of Square Tower House. The “tower” is the tallest Ancestral Puebloan structure at Mesa Verde.

First I drove the Mesa Top Loop. Stopping at the Square Tower House overlook, I photographed the cliff dwelling (it’s my favorite, somehow) as the summertime late afternoon shadows were beginning to creep across the back of the site. The back of the alcove being in shade made for an excellent backdrop.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon on a monsoon season afternoon, Mesa Verde.

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The bottom of Navajo Canyon, with a fallen boulder as big as a bus.

I then walked the short distance to the Navajo Canyon overlook, which is the canyon Square Tower House is perched above. I became interested in the cliffs as usual. But this time I noticed the tan color in the bottom of the canyon. It looked like mud was down there in the stream course (when it runs), but it was grass, done with its short life and gone to seed and dead and dry. It sure did make the canyon bottom’s winding way stand out.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon cliffs, from the rim.

My evening sojourn across the “green table” was just beginning.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunset panorama at Totten Reservoir, Montezuma Valley, Colorado.

Monsoon Evening

Summer thunderstorm evening at Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Summer thunderstorm evening at Montezuma Valley Overlook.

The Southwest’s thunderstorm monsoon season continues in full swing. Clear blue sky mornings, with thunderhead clouds building toward mid-day. Then in late afternoon, ka-boom! Or not. Depending on which spot you happen to be located at the moment.

Besides giving the land some much appreciated rain, it gives photographers much desired dramatic lighting. Farmers and ranchers harvest crops and livestock, I harvest photographs.

So recently I was driving down off of Mesa Verde at mid evening. There had been a heavy thunderstorm at the north end of the park, but it had moved on by the time I got there.

I pulled over at the Montezuma Valley Overlook for a nice shot showing the summertime greenery, the Knife Edge cliff formation, and the stormy skies.

Then it was down off of “the hill” as the park rangers call it. (A recent visitor said: “You call that a hill? I call it a mountain!”).

Evening light on the folds of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, from the Montezuma Valley, Colorado..

Evening light on the folds of the North Rim of Mesa Verde.

Whatever you call it, I was back down into the Montezuma Valley just east of Cortez. As the sun got lower it partially broke through the clouds to light up the tall rugged escarpment (geology talk for “really big cliff”) that is the North Rim of Mesa Verde.

Sunset panorama at Totten Reservoir, Montezuma Valley, Colorado.

Sunset time at Totten Reservoir.

I pulled in at Totten Reservoir, because it is public land and has a great view of Mesa Verde, Sleeping Ute Mountain, and sunset. Quite the package.

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Sleeping Ute Mountain from Totten Reservoir.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park and Montezuma Valley, near Cortez, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Monsoon Afternoons

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Monsoon thunderstorm over the Montezuma Valley, east of Cortez, Colorado.

The early half of the summer in the Four Corners region is typically the driest part of the year. Winter is over, but the rains are few or nonexistent.

After that, though, the Southwest’s “monsoon” season of thunderstorms begins, to the delight of area residents. Rain in a high desert land, variety in the skies.

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Rain in the valley, with the North Rim of Mesa Verde on the skyline.

Typically the mornings start clear and sunny. But as the summer temperature climbs throughout the day the clouds begin forming. Then boiling up, like a teapot steaming. After that, you might get rained on, and you might not. It just depends. And in the evening, you have a much better than average chance of seeing a rainbow.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Revisiting Four Corners

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Years ago while wandering across northeast Arizona, I saw highway signs directing the interested traveler to see the Four Corners monument, the only place in the United States where four states meet. Having naturally been good at geography in school (let’s not talk about arithmetic) I was interested in visiting it.

Of course I knew that it was just a very important survey point established in the middle of nowhere, ordered to be plunked down by white politicians in Washington, D.C. that were still struggling to define the western portions of their country back in the 1800s. It wasn’t the summit of a mountain, or the lowest point on the continent. Nothing like that. It was merely there…where lines drawn on a map to separate four states happened to cross.

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Tall flags: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Tribe, and the USA. And what a sky!

But when I got to the park, a Navajo Indian park, I scoffed at the notion of paying a fee to look at that point stuck in the ground. So I turned around at the entrance booth, vowing never to pay to see something so politically frivolous. After all, Major John Wesley Powell had done his best to advise drawing boundaries by watersheds, a naturally sane guideline. It was ignored.

Now, decades later, I find myself living just 40 miles from the Four Corners monument. I wouldn’t have given it any more thought except that I work at a job that involves giving visitors advice about what to see in the area. And one of those topics most frequently raised is going to see Four Corners.

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Everybody comes for this picture to be taken. I took pictures of the pictures being taken.

A recent visitor said: “That’s the biggest ripoff I’ve ever seen!” If he expected Pike’s Peak, no wonder. But these days I have different feelings about the Four Corners tribal park. So I drove down there to see what I could come up with this time.

Mid July, and the summer thunderstorm clouds were building beautifully. Driving south from Cortez, Colorado’s green irrigated ranch fields, down into the high desert of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, then onto the Navajo Nation. Dinetah, in their language.

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Oh, the summertime blue skies! High desert dry air, mountains in the distance.

Finally I was at the entrance to the Tribal park. The entrance fee is only $5.00 per person, and I was only one of those. Still, the employee at the booth asked: “How many people?” It must be a job-ingrained thing from doing that all day for years.

I parked in the dirt parking lot and walked to the area of interest: a circular plaza ringed by Navajo artists selling their wares. A formal sign warned anyone intending to scatter a departed loved one’s ashes there to forget it. Because to the Navajo cremation is desecration of a body. To each their own, but don’t do yours here. Fair enough.

There was a small line of people waiting to have their pictures taken on the exact mark where the four states meet. From what I’ve heard the survey marker is off somewhat, but who cares? It’s not like it’s a holy temple or something. It’s a spot on a map, people! Just have fun with it. So many visitors do.

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Even the restrooms are scenic. From outside.

I had expected more Navajo food vendors to be ringing the park. Not so. Only two establishments were there, one offering Navajo Tacos for $8-12. The other, Grandma’s Fry Bread Shack, was closed.

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Navajo Taco stand.

As far as the Indian art vendors within the cherished ring of booths? The necklaces, etc. were cheap in price. Real cheap. In the $5 to $15 range, like you would see at roadside stands in the middle of nowhere elsewhere in Navajoland. But beautiful. Knowledgeable Indian artwork buyers would sneer at it. So what? These items are cheap only because they’re in the middle of nowhere, rather than in a high rent shop in town. These artists know how to make the best stuff, but these tourists aren’t interested, so they offer the stuff that does sell way out here. My advice? If it looks beautiful to you, buy it. It was handmade by a Navajo, even if it was from cheap parts. You will be supporting their household. It will be a no-brainer purchase. If you would rather have an expensive version of their amazing craft, go to town. To the city, even. I did not photograph any of the artists’ wares, at their urging. They wish to keep their designs unique.

I left the Four Corners park feeling serene and refreshed, somehow. I love the wide open spaces, high desert feel of the area. From it you can see Sleeping Ute Mountain to the northeast, and the Carrizo Mountain range to the south.

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Go to Four Corners. Be grateful it’s not Disneyland. Any money you care to spend will be supporting a local culture that is beautiful and enduring.

And maybe Grandma’s Fry Bread Shack will be open. I wish it had been when I was there. I had only potato chips in the car.

Photo location: Four Corners, Navajo Nation Tribal Park. Or should I say: Colorado/New Mexico/Arizona/Utah?

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Moonrise Over Cortez

The Full Moon rises over the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as seen from Cortez, Colorado..

The Full Moon rises over the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as seen from Cortez.

Last night’s Full Moon rising over the escarpment of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as viewed from Cortez, Colorado.

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

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg