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

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

Colorado Fall Colors Begin

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, Western Slope Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan Mountains, September 19.

Here in southwest Colorado the summer heat broke about a week ago. Instead of high 80s F. during the day, it’s high 70s and of down into the 40s at night. Beautiful.

And perfect for the fall colors in the high country to progress slowly and steadily. So I went up into the San Juan National Forest the other day to check them out.

Quaking Aspen, populus tremuloides, in fall colors on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado.

Aspen fall colors, San Juan National Forest, September 19.

At Trout Lake, my personal benchmark because of the combination of beautiful lake, awesome mountain peaks, and aspen forests, it was just beginning. Lots of green left.

Trout Lake Colorado panorama, September 19, 2017.

Trout Lake, Colorado, September 19. A touch of early snow on the high peaks.

Photo location: Montezuma County, Dolores County, and San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

September Moonrise, Southwest Colorado

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Montana wildfire smoke pulled south to Colorado. Credit: National Weather Service.

Early September, and it was time to plan for the Full Moon. Not for telescopic shots of our Lunar satellite in the black sky–who needs more of those–but of landscape shots featuring the rising moon.

It all depends upon the clouds on the eastern horizon at moonrise time, of course. For September 2017, though, the weather forecast was quite favorable. Mostly sunny, a very low chance of evening showers.

Except that there was one added variable this time: smoke. It had been unusually hazy for days, and the National Weather Service had been reporting that it was due to smoke from large forest fires all the way north in Montana. A strong northerly flow was bringing a noticeable amount of it down to Colorado.

Haze, particularly smoke, usually gives the moon an orange, or at least deep yellow, cast as it’s rising. So that was potentially working in my favor.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scoped out a nearby location that would have the nearly Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains. So I drove out to McPhee Reservoir northwest of Cortez to see what would happen.

The moon was scheduled to rise officially a few minutes after sunset. But it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to clear the mountains before it would be visible in the scenery.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Montezuma County, Colorado.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, Sept. 6.

Meanwhile I enjoyed a fairly colorful sunset over McPhee Reservoir, looking toward Utah. The sun dropped into a heavy haze of clouds, so its color was greatly muted over what could have been.

With no further distraction toward the west, I swiveled back to the eastern horizon, the La Platas. And up it came. A light pink through the heavy haze at first.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Then the moon gradually intensified as the dusk became deeper.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains.

Full Moon above the La Plata Mountains.

Unfortunately the haze was too thick to more than slightly distinguish the La Plata Mountains.

Maybe October’s conditions will be better. As I always remind myself: you’ve got to be out there, and you’ve got to be ready.

Photo location: Montezuma County, southwest Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 3)

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) blooming at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) at Cliff Palace parking lot.

A sure sign that late summer has begun across the southern Colorado Plateau is the flowering of Rabbitbrush. Especially when you have a butterfly seemingly pose for you in the sunlight.

Butterfly on Rabbitbrush (Chrysothammus spp.) at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Butterfly on Rabbitbrush blooms.

From Cliff Palace it was on across the rest of the northern edge of Mesa Verde. I hadn’t visited Cedar Tree Tower in a while. Time to fix that.

Cedar Tree Tower site, Mesa Verde.

Cedar Tree Tower site, Mesa Verde.

The concept of building small towers out of adobe at Mesa Verde (and elsewhere in the region) is fascinating to think about. For what purpose? You don’t do anything this labor intensive just for fun.

At Cedar Tree Tower, there is also the stabilized foundation of a kiva, a subterranean circular room used for ceremonial purposes, as well as other activities. Most interestingly at this site, there is a small tunnel between the two. So the tower had no outside doorway. You got into the tower via the kiva, or not at all.

Burned stump of the "cedar" tree that gave Cedar Tree Tower its name, Mesa Verde National Park..

Burned stump of the “cedar” tree that gave Cedar Tree Tower its name. This year’s Indian Ricegrass at its base.

The area around Cedar Tree Tower was burned by the immense Chapin 5 Fire in 1996. Thus the “Cedar” tree that gives it its name — actually a Utah Juniper — was burned to the ground.

Broad-Leafed (Banana) Yucca at Cedar Tree Tower ruin, Mesa Verde National Park..

Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca at Cedar Tree Tower.

As usual I paused to examine some fine examples of Broadleaf ( or Banana) Yucca (Yucca baccata). At this time of year their fat green seed pods must look like watermelons to the wildlife.

Ripe seed pods of Broad Leaf (Banana) Yucca.

Ripe seed pods of Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca.

The yucca’s green, long, needle tipped “leaves” have curly white fibers that are fascinating to a photographer. At least to this one.

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Leaf fibers of Broadleaf (Banana) Yucca.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 2)

Oak Tree House Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Oak Tree House environs, Mesa Verde.

On the Mesa Top Loop road, the early evening was continuing to play out so beautifully.

At the Oak Tree House cliff dwelling overlook, I started with a wide shot to capture both the location and the incredible skies above.

Oak Tree House cliff dwelling, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Oak Tree House closeup. You can only take a backcountry Ranger-led tour to it.

Then it was on to Sun Temple. A location that is most notable for me in that it has an excellent view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon.

Sun Temple puelo ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Sun Temple pueblo site, Mesa Verde.

But first I felt the desire to give Sun Temple some more attention. It’s not that easy to do, photographically, because it’s the ground floor of a big mesa top pueblo, and there is no overlook from above for visitors. So you are left with reading the interpretive sign and…imagining all that went on there with those peoples’ lives way back then.

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Cliff Palace locale, from Sun Temple.

At the far end of the Sun Temple parking lot is the Cliff Palace View lookout point. This is where the pro photographers make the panoramic-wide postcard and poster shots you can buy in the gift stores.

Um, the only problem I have with most of the Cliff Palace pro photos is that they zoom in too much on the cliff dwelling itself. Understandably so, because it’s amazing, mesmerizing, being the largest cliff dwelling in North America. So I made sure to make some wider shots, of the environs. Especially with such beautiful skies trying to distract me upward.

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Cliff Palace on a late July afternoon, from Sun Temple.

I drove over to the Cliff Palace parking lot. Where you go when you hold a ticket for a Ranger-led tour down to the site. Which these days is the only way you’re allowed to go down there. Appropriately so; too many people want to see it to let them go wild on their own. The Park Rangers have to give you the best interpretive experience while protecting these precious sites. Such a balancing act. They manage to do it quite impressively.

Visitors at Cliff Palace overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Visitors at Cliff Palace overlook, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace is the most famous site in the park, so it’s also the most crowded. But–and maybe I shouldn’t say this–still very laid-back compared to the biggest of our National Parks. Yes, and here in the middle of summer. A wonderful place to be.

Cliff Palace from above, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cliff Palace and sky, July afternoon.

But the setting is at least as important as what the ancient ones somehow came to build there. And on this July afternoon, it could not have looked any better.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Step House Ancestral Site, Mesa Verde

Overlook on Step House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step House site from an overlook, Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park.

At Mesa Verde National Park you can only visit the cliff dwellings on-site as part of a Ranger-led tour. To protect them from the high numbers of visitors that want to see them these days. (If you don’t care for such a one or two hour trek, there are nice overlooks to get photos from above).

Path to Step House ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Paved path down to Step House alcove site, Wetherill Mesa.

The Ranger-led tours only cost $5 per person, per tour. A nominal fee. But you have to buy your tickets in person at the park, or in Cortez, not online. You can buy them locally up to two days in advance, though.

Step House Ruin, the stone steps, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step House site, looking up at the ancient stone steps hugging the face of the alcove.

There is one notable exception: the Step House site on Wetherill Mesa. You don’t need to buy a ticket, because they station a Ranger down there from 9am to 4pm to both protect the site and to answer questions for visitors.

Step House cliff dwelling pueblo, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The cliff dwelling pueblo at Step House, Wetherill Mesa.

Step House is also an easy walk, on a paved path. Not only that, but it has been developed so as to show off two very distinct periods of habitation. Most noticeable is the cliff dwelling pueblo, which was the later period, just before they exited the area around 1300 A.D. But long before that, the pre-puebloans, who had not yet learned how to fire pottery, let alone build habitable stonework pueblos, lived on the same site in pit houses.

Reconstructed pit house dwelling, Step House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Reconstructed pit house dwelling at Step House.

And at Step House a pit house has been reconstructed to give you a much better idea of what that had looked like. It’s a wonderful two-for-one walk, just a stone’s throw from the parking lot.

Panoramic photo of the Step House Ruin site on Wetherill Mesa, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Step house alcove panorama, Wetherill Mesa.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© Copyright 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