Peak To Peak in Southwest Colorado

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Wilson Peak, between Telluride and Trout Lake.

The objective for this more than 200-mile drive around southwest Colorado was to be up in the San Juan Mountains at a particularly strategic spot to photograph the full moon rising over the snowy peaks just before dark.

I could have merely driven from Cortez to Lizard Head Pass, then back. But the days have been getting so much longer, and the roads were dry. Plus I had all day to do whatever I wanted to.

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Vermilion Peak and Pilot Knob at Trout Lake.

Why not widen the loop by another couple hundred miles, you say? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, either. I’m glad that you agree.

Southwest Colorado is great in that there are no Interstate highways. You’re not going to be beelining to anywhere at 70 MPH. Instead, lots of curvy mountain roads. You did come here to slow down and savor the exquisite mountain beauty, didn’t you?

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Red, green and white: driving up the San Miguel River Canyon toward Telluride. 

Half a day into the drive I stopped at Norwood. I had yet to try out any of the local eateries, so I stopped in at the Happy Belly Deli. I had a grilled steak hoagie kind of sandwich with cole slaw that was far above the usual stuff. Plus ham and bean soup that was even better. You can even build your own sandwich there, but that was a little too complicated for me at the moment. Some nice artwork for sale on the walls. That won’t be the last time I eat there, just you watch. I would like to get their full menu so I can plot my next sandwich ahead of time.

The entire morning I had been looking for Lone Cone Peak to emerge from the clouds hailing snow showers down on the high peak. After my lunch in Norwood, well there it was! Perfect. I left the highway onto a county road that heads straight for it. Until I thought I had the best viewpoint before the road turned to deep snow.

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Lone Cone Peak with a halo of clouds, winter afternoon.

Then it on east past Telluride, stopping as usual at the Conoco station for a break.

Then up over the mountain toward Trout Lake. Stopping at an overlook for some exquisite views of surrounding peaks in snowy afternoon light.

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Craggy peaks, afternoon light, shadowed forest forming the foreground.

At Trout Lake I stopped for a panorama series of the peaks: Vermilion, Pilot, Yellow Mountain, and Sheep Mountain.

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Trout Lake winter panorama. Sheep Mountain is dead center.

Then it was up to Lizard Head Pass, my intended location for this month’s moonrise shoot. But despite all of the clouds clearing throughout the afternoon as had been predicted, it only takes one key spot to be clouded up at the key time for it to be a bust.

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The view from near Lizard Head Pass, on the way down the Upper Dolores.

So as I watched the clouds remain over that key spot where the moon would rise a little before the sun set in the opposite direction, I appreciated taking shots of what was there, snow showers and all. Then I drove down the upper Dolores River canyon back to Cortez.

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The west end of Sheep Mountain, early evening. 

Better luck next month. A fine day anyway.

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Snow showers instead of moonrise. Time to pack it in and head home.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Mesa Verde Winter Scenery

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Almost all the way up on the mesa…

At the tail end of what has been a very dry winter, the snow storms, though light, have been coming more frequently.

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NPS snow plow truck working the road at sunrise.

At Mesa Verde National Park, each snowfall of significance is tackled by the park’s Maintenance crew. The snow plows are rolling and scraping before dawn, working the 20-mile road that is the only way in and out.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, as the snow storm winds down.

There is a park “roads hotline” that employees can call (especially those that live outside the park) to listen to a recorded message with the latest conditions and delays, if any. Sometimes they hold us at the entrance station until 8am so that the snow plow drivers have free rein to make several passes outbound and inbound without having to watch out for traffic.

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Snow covered slopes of soft and highly erosive Mancos Shale.

The plows really just push aside any significant snow accumulation. The road remains snow packed and icy because the park doesn’t use salt on the roads. Some sand, but not much. You just have to be prepared with the right kind of vehicle and tires, and be experienced with driving on slippery roads. Or, if you’re a visitor and not an employee, you can wait until the sun comes out and melts the roads off. Since most storms keep right on going, it’s usually not long before the sun gets to do its thing. The afternoons look totally different than the early mornings.

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Snowy sunrise at Geologic Overlook. 

Both versions of the day — snowy and melted — are beautiful in their own way at Mesa Verde. In the morning you may have to content yourself with visiting the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and looking down at Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the major cliff dwellings. At the Museum they show the park movie, have a lot of splendid exhibits, a book store run by the Mesa Verde Museum Association, and of course friendly and well trained National Park Service Rangers.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, afternoon.

 

But in the winter season, bring your own coffee and food until the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe is open for the day, with limited hours. It’s a short stroll from the Museum and the only food facility open in the park in the offseason.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado. The park’s official website is at: https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm.

See more of my photography on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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

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

“Let Me Down, I’m Freezing” (Abandoned Colorado Mine Building Humor)

"Skeleton" in old mine building window, Ophir, Colorado.

Just taking in the view on a wintry day in Colorado…

Between Lizard Head Pass and Telluride in the beautiful snowy San Juan Mountain range in southwest Colorado I drove past an abandoned, decaying mining era building along Highway 145.

At first I didn’t believe what I thought I had seen. What was that hanging out the upper window of that rotting old building? It looked like a skeleton. Not a real human skeleton of course, but the model of one as can be seen in medical classrooms.

As I had nothing much better to do, I had to investigate.

"Skeleton" in old mine building window, Ophir, Colorado.

I’m still smiling…

Photo location: near Ophir, San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

My main website is at: 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