First Wildflower Reds of the Season: Paintbrush

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Indian Paintbrush and Prickly Pear Cactus, April 17.

I was cruising the highway north of Naturita, Colorado to enjoy an April evening. And to try to catch some trout.

The fishing action was nothing to write about, but I enjoyed being out in the wilds, as always. Nobody else around.

While checking out another little road spur through the sand toward the San Miguel River, the bright red of wildflowers caught my eye. I had seen prickly pear cactus as I drove, and so at first thought I thought the red might be the blossoms of Claret-Cup Cactus.

Nope. It was Indian Paintbrush, always the earliest of wildflowers in the high desert country. This clump happened to be nestled in against some prickly pear cacti, which added to the red-green color fiesta against the otherwise drab ground cover.

While walking back from the river’s edge I did spot a colony of Claret-Cups. So I will keep tabs on this site, as they will be blooming soon, too.

Photo location: Naturita, Montrose County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Paradox Evening Light

Sunset sunbeams, Hwy. 90, Bedrock, Colorado.

I was driving on Highway 90 toward the hamlet of Bedrock, Colorado on an overcast afternoon. The closer I got the more interesting the light did, too.

Bedrock lies near the head of the Paradox Valley  in western Montrose County, near the Utah state line. The “West End” as the locals call it.

Sunbeam sunset, Paradox Valley and La Sal Mountains, Colorado and Utah.

The sun dipped below the cloud bank at just the right time. Intense white sunbeams streamed across the valley.

Sunset light on sandstone cliffs, Bedrock, Colorado, Paradox Valley.

Then the sunset light lit up the far cliffs. Warm light on red sandstone, a great combination. And fleeting, which is what makes it special.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

State Of The Moonrise, March 2018

Sunset light around Lone Cone Peak, Colorado.

Driving straight at Lone Cone Peak in the evening light.

The return of the Full Moon is always on every real nature photographer’s mind. Or should be. After all, what comes once a month (sometimes twice), is incredible, and you can’t control it? In nature, I mean.

Thus I always plot and plan as to where I might be able to be when Full Moon comes around again. Not to shoot photos of it surrounded by the black of night–who needs more of those? Rather, to create another photograph of the moon rising over some awesome landscape before it’s dark.

Oh, sure, I could merely take a shot of the full moon, overlay it in Photoshop with a landscape photo, and it would look fantastic. And sell. But that would be so lame. It would be technology instead of being out there.

It’s about being out there. Ready and waiting. In the game.

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Lone Cone Peak in golden evening light.

The moonrise photographer’s sworn enemy is (are?): clouds. Just some of them in the wrong place on the Eastern horizon at the critical time and it’s a wash. Though to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “The worst day photographing beats the best day at work”. Unless your job is to photograph, of course.

With all of that in mind I found myself at the “West End” as the locals say of Montrose and San Miguel Counties in southwest Colorado. Driving south from Norwood, which has a great paved county road aimed straight south at Lone Cone Peak, the westernmost outliers of the San Juan Mountains.

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Moonrise over the San Juan Mountains, lousy composition.

I wasn’t the luckiest of photographers this time as far as moonrise conditions. High clouds on the Eastern horizon, moon only visible later, almost at sunset time. I drove around looking for a great vantage point. Finally, with the seconds ticking away, I had to get what I could get. A shot of the moon over some of the San Juan snowy peaks was not that strong, compositionally. So I made a series of overlapping shots for a possible panorama image. Which, later, editing the shoot on my computer, turned out to be a good choice.

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Panoramic moonrise photo. Those peaks to the left needed to be included.

The icing on the evening was the alpenglow pink color on the snowy peaks. Moon or no moon.

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Sunset alpenglow on the San Juans, March 30.

Photo location: San Miguel County south of Norwood, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Return to Summit County

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The Gore Range, from across the Blue River valley.

I found myself with several days off and a restless feeling. After all, it was the Vernal Equinox. Spring. Very early spring, but it’s got to start somewhere.

So rather than sit at home or photograph locally, I decided to commence on a road trip around northwest Colorado.

Eventually I reached Grand County and Summit County, where I long ago worked as a forester. Before I got to Silverthorne, I took a brief side trip to some overlooks that few people know about. They look across the Blue River valley to the Gore Range, one of the most spectacular ranges in the Rockies. I’d done several backpacking trips up into them, the Eagles Nest Wilderness, so long ago. The late afternoon light, breaking up after a snowstorm, was intense. Extreme contrast. I did manage to eke out a couple of splendid panoramas.

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The Blue River Valley, north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

Then it was down into town: Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco. I knew it would have been much more built up, being in Colorado Ski Country.

And traffic was bad. The red lights seemed to take forever, each.

It’s a beautiful area, but I probably won’t return. I live in a much more laid back area of the state these days, and being back in ski country only made me appreciate how much better I like where I am.

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Almost home: San Juan Mountains, south of Ridgway, Colorado.

Photo location: Blue River Valley, Summit County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Goodbye Mesa Verde

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All too soon it was time to leave Mesa Verde.

It wasn’t intended to be this way. I had spent last year enjoying, observing, and chronicling the seasons, especially the plants as they greened up and burst out their flowers. The late summer monsoon rainstorms. The fall colors.

I was so looking forward to another year of the same. To see what would be similar given the rather mild winter, as well as what would not be. Plants don’t just do the same thing every year. They react, and interact with insects and mammals. They know what they’re doing.

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Anyway, things changed for me over the fall and winter, and I made the decision to move on. To land on the next steppingstone.

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Then, today, it was time to drive down “the hill” (visitors say: that’s a mountain!) back to my home in Cortez. For a little while. Before finding another new home.

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Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

It’s Spring, the Vultures Have Returned

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Three Turkey Vultures this morning.

Even though I love all four seasons here in the Four Corners Country of the high Southwest, as always I eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.

The formerly “blonde” lawns in town are getting a bit of green from their bases.

Several days ago I awoke to hear a robin singing at dawn for the first time this season. Each morning. I no longer set my alarm to wake me up, except on work days. The robins will provide a much gentler and sweeter call to my ears.

But I was remaining a bit unconvinced still that it was really spring yet. Not that we won’t have a late springtime blizzard or two.

The trigger was when the turkey vultures would return from down south. Because I watched them as they would congregate near sunset time in certain tall old spruce trees in town. Yes, in town. After all, why not? They are silent, they don’t prey on anyone’s cat or little dog. I’d bet that most people don’t even notice them. They think the big black birds are more ravens. Except a lot bigger. And they glide with their wings in a “V” shape instead of flat.

And a few evenings ago I saw those “V” wings return. I thought it was early, even for this relatively mild winter. Until I saw them lighting in a big spruce tree down the street. They were back.

There was a skif of new snow on the ground here in town this morning. Tonight another snowstorm is coming in. Did the vultures return too early? Were the rotting animal carcasses running low down south?

Nah. They know what they’re doing. I had the opportunity to photograph them this morning because it was calm. They are master gliders, they don’t waste energy flapping their wings any more than necessary. Wait for the breezes to blow. Glide on.

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Photo location: Cortez, southwest Colorado.

See my best photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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

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