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

Lizard Head Pass: Snow Melting

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Sheep Mountain, early evening light, April 10.

I had been avoiding Lizard Head Pass, my favorite area in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, all winter. Why? Because when the snows pile up too far you’re only allowed to drive through. No stopping. The avalanche danger is too high. No place to even pull over for some quick photos unless you care to risk a citation from a Highway Patrol trooper.

But it’s April now. Still early way up there, yes, being just above 10,000 feet. But spring has been moving along. I wanted to see how things were up there.

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Lizard Head Peak, April 10.

So after a day at work, I drove up the Dolores River canyon to Rico (elevation 8,800 feet), looking for some of my favorite National Forest camping locations along the way. Below Rico, things were looking good. Just good enough. Above Rico, forget it. Unless you’re into making snow caves.

At Lizard Head Pass, the avalanche warning signs were down, and many turnouts were clear and dry, allowing for photos. Above Trout Lake, I made an early evening panorama of Sheep Mountain. After scouting around for additional possibilities, I settled in for sunset time warmth on the massive mountain.

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Sheep Mountain in sunset light, April 10.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass area, San Juan Mountains between Trout Lake and Rico, Colorado.

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

© 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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Abajo Peaks, Sunset Sunbeams

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Sunbeams over the Abajo Mountains, just east of Monticello.

Driving west from Colorado into Utah on highway 491, I was watching a small storm front approach from the west.

Snow showers swirling around the Abajo Mountains, which are often called “the Blues” by the locals in Monticello, Utah.

Almost sunset. The sun too high for colors, but it streamed through the shifting clouds in dazzling fashion.

I had to pull over to the side of the highway to get a shot. It’s what I do, after all.

Photo location: Highway 491, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg | Stephen Krieg Photographics

Square Tower House, Mesa Verde

Square Tower House ruin ancestral pueblo site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

I am beginning to think that my favorite ancient site in Mesa Verde National Park is Square Tower House.

Oh, it’s famous, all right, being easily viewed from a short walk from the Mesa Top Loop road, which is open year around (weather permitting in winter, of course). But not nearly so famous as Cliff Palace, the largest such cliff dwelling site in the Southwest.

So the other day I again drove out the Mesa Top Loop in the early evening. Springtime. Crowds very light. An early spring, shrubs leafing out.

And at this time of year, with the days lengthening quickly, the sunlight is still low enough that in late afternoon the alcoves (overhanging cliffs) that are facing south are nicely lit up. A great time to visit the park, before the crush of summer crowds.

As far as Square Tower itself, the three story tower dominates the site, as it surely was meant to do. Imagine yourself living at that time. Imagine building that…with nothing but stone tools. No metal tools. No beasts of burden: horses hadn’t yet been introduced to North America by the Spanish. Nothing larger than their dogs. Only human labor and dedication to creating something awesome.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg / Stephen Krieg Photographics

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

Sunset Crater Winter Panorama

Sunset Crater volcano, winter panorama, near Flagstaff Arizona.

Sunset Crater Volcano panorama, from Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, northern Arizona.

Sunset Crater National Monument lies a short drive north of Flagstaff in northern Arizona. The National Monument of course was created around its namesake, the extinct 800 year old cinder cone.

Flagstaff lies near the eastern edge of a 50 mile wide string of volcanic features called the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Sunset Crater is merely the most recent in a long string of eruptions. When will the next one occur? The U.S. Geological Survey has the area wired up with seismographic equipment to detect any earthquakes deep within the Earth’s crust that precede any eruptive activity. All is quiet.

Photo location: Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, along the entrance road to Sunset Crater National Monument, north of Flagstaff, Arizona.

See much more of my best photography on my website, NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Wingate Cliffs Sunset

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, Utah.

Wingate Sandstone Cliffs at sunset, Indian Creek

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park: serenely lonely in the wintertime. A great time to visit.

The day after snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest at 7,000 feet elevation I decided to switch gears and go down about 2,000 feet to the high desert. That’s the kind of variety one can enjoy in southeast Utah.

No winter boots or heavy parka needed down there, especially since there had been several days of sunlight to melt any icy patches in the shady areas.

It was another sunny day, and calm as well. So pleasant for the last day of January.

I headed for the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. From US 191 between Monticello and Moab, take Utah 211 down Indian Creek Canyon to the Noodles. I mean Needles.

I hiked the easy Slick Rock Trail in the park mostly for the exercise, then started the drive back up along Indian Creek. I had seen a total of four vehicles all afternoon. Besides the extremely pleasant hiking weather, the absence of crowds is why this is one of my favorite times of year to visit this spectacular area.

The walls of Indian Creek Canyon are dominated by the vertical burnt red cliffs consisting of Wingate Sandstone. World class rock climbing if that’s your thing. Me, I like to stare at them from down on the valley floor. Especially when the low light approaching sunset lights them up.

Indian Creek Canyon recreation area in winter, Utah Highway 211.

Utah highway 211 in Indian Creek Canyon. Snow on the north sides of the cliffs.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Snowshoeing It

Snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest near Monticello, Utah.

Snowshoes, sunlight and tree shadows.

Real winter finally came to southeast Utah this season. There had been a number of beautiful snows up until recently, but not much more than seeing the mountains brightened up again each time, with a couple inches down in town.

That changed late this month, with several back to back storms that as usual came from the west or southwest and kept on truckin’ into western Colorado.

Atlas snowshoes, ready to be put to use.

Atlas snowshoes, fresh out of the shipping carton from REI.

My trout fishing lake had finally frozen over, and snowed over the ice as well.

The problem with the dead of winter is how to exercise. Oh, the runners keep running out there. And the people who work out at gyms keep on the treadmills and the weight machines.

Gambel Oak stand in January snow, Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, Utah.

Gambel Oak shadows on a January afternoon at 7,000 feet.

But what is a mountain man to do when the snow is deep? walking to the Post Office and back each day doesn’t count for much. Though it’s better than nothing.

Snowshoes. Like trout fishing it had been many years, but perhaps another facet of my life was coming full circle.

Loyds Lake in January ice and snow cover, Monticello, Utah.

Overlooking frozen Loyd’s Lake in January.

I went to REI and there were a pair of modern snowshoes on sale for just $40. End of the season, you know.

They arrived last week and I’ve been out twice. I avoid the weekends when there are snowmobilers, cross country skiers, and other winter sport enthusiasts flying about. I prefer to be the only human breaking the silence of the woods, if possible. And it’s possible.

Snowshoeing on Manti-La Sal National Forest in San Juan County, Utah.

Snowshoeing near Loyd’s Lake, with the Abajo Mountains in the distance.

The advantage to snowshoeing is that you don’t need to have the skill of being on skinny skies like you do with cross country skiiing. Which I have done, and loved, but chose not to get back into at this time. With snowshoes, you can plod along even over deep unbroken snow. Rest when you want, even facing downhill or uphill. You may not get to enjoy the thrill of sliding along and whooshing back downgrade, but anybody can use snowshoes. There is something to be said for going slower.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, southeast Utah.

See much more of my photography on my website at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg