Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, early snow.

Black Canyon, Winter Preview

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, early snow.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, early dusting of snow.

I returned to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park after a weak winter storm front had passed through the area. The South Rim road was temporarily closed at the Visitor Center because of icy road conditions. So I contented myself with photographing from the overlooks at the Visitor Center, at Gunnison Point.

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The Gunnison River, far below the canyon rims. Note the blonde strip of streamside vegetation, which would be grasses and forbs gone to seed the past summer.

Usually I hate high hazy clouds for my landscape photos. But with Black Canyon such soft light does have its advantages, lowering the contrast exponentially so one can get both the sky and the gorge without the former being blown out and the latter in deep black shadow.

More importantly, the dusting of new snow on the gorge’s north facing slopes made all the difference in showing depth of such an immense place, which averages 2,000 feet from the rim to the blue Gunnison River with all its whitewater rapids. Way down there.

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So many spires make up the walls of the gorge…

Though there was a bit of snow, I camped at the South Rim campground again. It’s so quiet, only a few other parties camping there. The night sky viewing is great, this being an International Dark Sky Park. And during the winter, it’s free. Not to mention being about 11 miles from Montrose, for grocery shopping, restaurants, and gasoline for more exploring the fantastic wild country in the area. Hard to beat.

Photo location: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Sunflower Power, Southeast Utah

Sunflowers and Abajo Mountains.

Sunflowers and Abajo Mountains.

It’s getting to be late August. In southeast Utah, the monsoon season rains have been disappointing so far. Though in this almost record breaking wetness that was the late spring and early summer, it’s still way green around here for the high desert. So there is much left to appreciate before fall creeps in.

On this particular evening, there was a thunderstorm cell moving through. So I chased it. Got underneath some fat rain drops, some small hail. Then nothing more than overcast skies.

Not to worry. I was still in one of the most awesome places on Earth. Such flat evening light can have its own advantages. Like lowered contrast. Like light breezes instead of strong ones.

West of Blanding I pulled over to see what I could do with some sunflowers along the road. Their bright yellow petals gave a splash of bright color even in a soft contrast scene. The distant Abajo Mountains formed a nice distant horizon. You can see why the locals also call that mountain range “the Blues”.

My favorite image from this brief stop turned out to be this vertical composition. The sunflower plants dominate the foreground, the Abajo Mountains the far skyline. And somehow the red dirt county road gets in there at the upper right. You can usually count on a lonely county road to do things like that. I don’t know why.

Sunflower cluster along Highway 95, west of Blanding, Utah.

Sunflower cluster along Highway 95, west of Blanding, Utah.

Photo location: San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Bears Ears Super Rainbow Evening

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

It was one of the best rainbows ever. Why? Because the backdrop was awesome, and it occurred just before sunset, making the effect of the low angle of the sun more intense.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Oddly enough, the forecast had only been for a 20% chance of rain, and it had been dumping elsewhere all day, mainly to the north and east.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

But then it was our turn, a real gully washer. Beautiful. I lay down for a nap…and almost missed the aftermath. It was a full rainbow on either end, kind of missing at the top, some of the double rainbow visible to the outside.

The full panoramic images of just the sky don’t do it justice. I prefer the tighter, more close in shots against the cliffs and the Bears Ears Buttes above. I took a number of variations, because it gives a fuller sense of the splendor of the evening. And of the wet road and puddles.

Then Ashley and Avery came by on an evening run. Perfect: a couple of people in the scene to lend some human scale to the magnificent scene. Though how anybody would want to be doing anything other than photographing in such conditions is beyond me. (They did like the print I made for them the next day.)

Ashley and Adrian running to the rainbow.

Ashley and Avery running to the rainbow.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

High Desert Wildflowers

It’s been an uncommonly wet spring in the high desert of southeast Utah and the rest of the Four Corners area. The plants are making hay while the rains come, so to speak. As they are engineered to do.

Each spring I vow to learn the species as they flower, which gives one time to notice them, since they don’t all blossom at once.  Usually I fail to keep my promise.

This year, though, I have been doing quite well. Here are some of my favorites so far.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Lee’s Ferry Again

Navajo Bridges, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Navajo Bridges, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Back to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River in northern Arizona. The gateway to the Grand Canyon via the river. The geologic break in the almost impenetrable cliffs the Colorado has dug for itself. It’s a crossroads: the road to the river bank, below Glen Canyon Dam, five miles upstream from the modern Highway 89A that crosses the gorge via Navajo Bridge. Which are twin bridges, the old one being a tourist walkway these days.

Lee's Ferry Boat Landing, Colorado River, Arizona

Lee’s Ferry Boat Landing, Colorado River, Arizona

Post Office: Marble Canyon, Arizona, at the Marble Canyon Lodge. An outpost in the high desert. And after all these years, one of my favorite places. A powerful magnet for me, photographically with its towering cliffs on both sides of the river. The river cold and deep and powerful. The people who visit, to run the Grand Canyon, or fish for trout. Or explore the historic buildings nearby.

Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, Marble Canyon, Arizona

I have seen Lee’s Ferry in most times of year. I hope to keep on seeing it awhile longer, to experience all of them. Photo location: Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon, the Arizona Strip, Coconino County, northern Arizona. © 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

The Sun Poured Through

One of my personal philosophies is to keep revisiting favorite places, especially in different seasons. Thus it was time to return to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.

Though this post is not about my time inside the park. Oh, no. Because I feel like writing about what came afterward. It was that kind of day.

Beef Basin rain shower.

Beef Basin rain shower.

So I left the park and returned east on highway 211. A rain shower was falling up ahead and the afternoon sunlight was pouring through it. Naturally I had to pull over and do something about it. Photograph it, I mean.

It had been a rainy spring day, and so driving on the dirt roads branching off from the highway was nothing to be trifled with. On the way in I had tested out the lower portion of the Beef Basin road, and had quickly been sliding around, even with All Wheel Drive. But after a few hours things had firmed up. I found a nice camping spot and prepared to settle in for the night. Nobody around. Peacefully perfect.

Balanced rock at campsite.

Balanced rock at campsite.

And a very expansive view of the valley and red rock cliffs towering all around. I didn’t choose this spot for nothing.

The rare wet spring in the high desert had things blooming. Plus the wet earth and vegetation made the colors more saturated. I had water, food, music, and of course photo gear. I wouldn’t play any music until after dark, preferring the sound of the wind and birds.

Barrel cactus and grass.

Barrel cactus and grass.

The campsite was well used. And hadn’t been cleaned up that well, so I did. Leave a place better than you found it. A desert cottontail rabbit was comfortable sharing the spot with me. See what I mean?

Desert cottontail rabbit, guardian of the campsite.

Desert cottontail rabbit, guardian of the campsite.

At sunset time, the sun poured through a single hole in the clouds, lighting up the cliff across the valley. That was so awesome that if nothing more had occurred I would have been elated enough.

Sunset spotlight on the cliff base.

Sunset spotlight on the cliff base.

But no. More yellow-orange sunset light splayed across the cliffs, changing with the lowering sun and the shifting of the clouds. Incredible. And mine, all mine. For one special evening.

Blazing cliffs at sunset.

Blazing cliffs at sunset.

Photo location: Beef Basin, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Return To Dolores Canyon

The Great Sage (now agricultural) Plain and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

The Great Sage (now agricultural) Plain and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

It was back to the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. A little bit north of Dove Creek. Off the north edge of the Great Sage Plain and into the Ponderosa pine forest surrounding the Dolores River Canyon. An area I was coming to know better and better.

Dolores River Canyon side canyon, looking south to Dove Creek.

Dolores River Canyon side canyon, looking south to Dove Creek.

The first stop: to the Dolores Canyon Overlook. Which is actually on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. They have a very nice little park there, an easy walk to the overlook down into the canyon. And there’s usually no one there. Maybe a few locals on the weekends, but it’s too far from the beaten path, in a very rural area anyway, to be crowded. My kind of place.

Dolores River Canyon.

Dolores River Canyon.

After taking in the fine springtime afternoon at the viewpoint, it was time to decide on my camp location. Once there I settled in and gathered firewood for the evening. And also cleaned it up a little bit. Just a few things left behind by some other campers, nothing much. Following another of my principles: If you take care of a place, it will take care of you, too. It’s just sensible.

Early evening clouds towering over the Ponderosa pine forest.

Early evening clouds towering over the Ponderosa pine forest.

Time to sit back in my folding camp chair and savor. The clouds, the Ponderosa pine trees, the light, the delicious high country air.

Eventually evening light came on. Right on schedule. Though I had no schedule. Tough lighting for photographs, high contrast between the brilliant clouds and shadowed forest below. Dramatic lighting. Brilliant whites to blues, then sunset colors in the clouds.

Sunset colors in the clouds, framed by Ponderosa pines.

Sunset colors in the clouds, framed by Ponderosa pines.

Then dusk, finally. The fire died down, I did too, going to bed. Appreciation for another wonderful day.

Photo location: Dolores County, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg.

Sipapu Natural Bridge Setting

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Springtime in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau region means sunny, dry weather. The time between the snows of winter and the rains of summer.

And usually cloudless except for occasional high hazy clouds. Which I hate.

So when there were some cumulus clouds at Natural Bridges National Monument lately, I was glad to include them into the compositions in my camera’s viewfinder.

Halfway down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world and second largest in North America, is a very wide sandstone ledge that allows one to walk out comfortably and photograph the massive bridge in its entirety.

And in its setting. Because the Cedar Mesa Sandstone layer is very thick, and very cross bedded, because this was a vast area of sand dunes millions of years ago. Rather like today’s Sahara Desert.

I decided to convert this image to black and white. The puzzle of sandstone layers is complemented by the sky and clouds very nicely. And accented by the shadow of the bridge across its streambed at the bottom of White Canyon.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Investigating Hovenweep

Hovenweep National Monument Visitor Center (such glorious light!)

Hovenweep National Monument Visitor Center

Hovenweep National Monument in southwestern Colorado is way out of the way. Which is all the more reason I wanted to make my way there.

“Hovenweep” means “deserted valley”. Stone ruins remain perched on canyon rims in a high desert country that even 800 years ago must have seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. But underneath those stone canyon rims was water. Springs, seeps, and seasonal watercourses that could be used to live, to grown corn and other crops.

Hovenweep pueblo ruins and environs.

Hovenweep pueblo ruins and environs.

They used manual labor and stone age tools to build amazing structures. They knew what they were doing.

Then, for whatever reasons (they left no written language for us to read the stories), they moved on. About 800 years ago. They built as if they intended to stay for a much longer period of time. Then decided to migrate sooner than that. Who’s to say they won’t be back?

Hovenweep, winter sky.

Hovenweep, winter sky.

There are Indian tribes in the area who trace their roots here. And to other places in this region. They consider this a sacred place because of that. I consider it sacred, too, because they do, and because of such amazing scenery. Nature. The setting of place.

And on a beautiful snowy storm clearing sunlight dark clouds day in early March, I was there, too. Wondering. Admiring.

A canyon of The Ancients, Hovenweep.

A canyon of The Ancients, Hovenweep.

Location: Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Natural Bridges: Snowy Wonderland

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

Finally, after three weeks of springlike weather, a good late winter storm arrived. Moisture, snow. Wet snow, clinging to everything.

Douglas-fir trees, White Canyon.

Douglas-fir trees, White Canyon.

After dawn, the cloud ceiling had raised just above Cedar Mesa. Just above us. The snow had paused. More was forecast to come in all day, so I saw it as a window to get out there and get some photos before the clouds closed again.

Stairway down Sipapu Bridge Trail.

Stairway down Sipapu Bridge Trail.

I started down Sipapu Bridge Trail. Even with sharp Yak Traks on my boots, it was slippery in places, because of the depth of the snow. But they were great overall.

I was the first one down the trail. I love being alone out there. So peaceful. I usually urge park visitors to venture at least part way down this trail. Getting below the rim of the canyon gives you such a better perspective. A better sense of scale.

Along the Sipapu Bridge Trail.

Along the Sipapu Bridge Trail.

But I didn’t trek all the way down to Sipapu Bridge. Sensing that the pause in the snowfall wouldn’t last long, I wanted to venture further along the Rim.

So next was the trail to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook. This has become one of my favorite trails in the park. It’s easy, but varied in scenery. And at the end it looks down into White Canyon at the alcove where the pueblos and granaries were built. And left behind about 800 years ago.

Snow flocked trees along the rim of White Canyon.

Snow flocked trees along the rim of White Canyon.

White Canyon isn’t white. The Cedar Mesa Sandstone is beige, at best. Visitors coming to see the Bridges often have trouble discerning them from the overlooks above. Down below, though, there’s no doubt.

Along Horse Collar Ruin overlook trail.

Along Horse Collar Ruin overlook trail.

But this day, with all the truly white new snow, White Canyon was softly, brightly awash with winter light. The sandstone cliff faces don’t accept the snow, making them stick out in visual relief all the more. And they overhang the ruin, protecting it from being buried in the white stuff. A natural shelter that not only avoids the snow, but accepts the low winter sunlight on sunny days.

Horse Collar Ruins, White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Horse Collar Ruins, White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Soon after, the snows did indeed resume. My window was closing.

Down into White Canyon.

Down into White Canyon.

I made some rather quick shots of Kachina Bridge and Owachomo Bridge, and then I was done for the morning. Finished with photography, but not appreciation for so many gorgeous scenes in such a short time.

Weathered Juniper tree trunk in snow.

Weathered Juniper tree trunk in a snow shower.

And all alone.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg