High Country Sunbeam Highway

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Sunset gold sunbeams over the La Sal Mountains, Highway 145.

Ah, Colorado Highway 145. To me it’s perhaps the gem of the Western Slope.

In this photo I was driving west from Norwood (elevation 7,000 feet) toward the curves down off the San Miguel Basin and into Naturita (“little nature”).

A cloud bank was hovering over the distant La Sal Mountains in Utah. Perfect for breaking the sun’s rays into sunbeams across the eastern slopes of the mountains.

An impossibly high contrast scene, so I switched my Olympus to HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, merging several versions in camera to try to tame the extremes. To make the image appear much more like the eye/mind could see in real life.

And even with that, further editing in Adobe Lightroom. It worked out.

Photo location: western Montrose County, western slope Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Grousing Around Through A May Snowstorm

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Snowing on the red geology in the San Miguel River Canyon west of Telluride.

I had to make a quick trip from Naturita to Cortez, Colorado and back. About 250 miles round trip. After work. And I wanted to be back in Naturita before dark.

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No bicyclists today on this stretch of Hwy. 145!

It would have been quite reasonable except we were finally getting some rain in southwest Colorado. Which meant snow in the San Juan Mountains. Which meant stopping for photos along the way. It just has to be done.

From Placerville (named for the extensive placer mining for gold during the pioneer days) going up the San Miguel River Canyon on Highway 145, it was already snowing up above on the red cliffs adorned with the green of spruce and fir trees. And I had a lot higher to climb before crossing Lizard Head Pass.

At the Conoco station outside Telluride I got a hot sandwich and coffee. Then it was up toward the pass. The snowfall was much heavier, a snow plow truck was scraping the highway going the other way.

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Very fresh grouse tracks in the snow.

I was enjoying seeing the new wet snow plastered to the still-bare aspen trees. I pulled over at a likely spot. I noticed fresh grouse tracks in the new snow. Really fresh. But I didn’t see it moving about, and at the moment I was more interested in some shots of the aspen forest.

Then I looked at the grouse tracks some more. It wouldn’t have been crossing the highway at this spot. And it hadn’t. It had walked back down over the shoulder of the road into the woods.

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The grouse, hoping I will merely go away. 

I peered over the edge and through the snow-plastered brush, there she was. A female spruce grouse, I believe. Sitting still, hoping her camouflage would keep her invisible amidst the white. I was able to get a shot of her, then ease back without making her “flush” (fly away explosively, as they do).

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Snow on newly emerging leaves. How will they take it?

Then it was across Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet. From there I would be gradually dropping in elevation down the upper Dolores River valley until I was once again below the snow line.

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Lizard Head Pass.

There were a number of stops for more photographs. Such beauty from an early May snowstorm in the Colorado Rockies.

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Upper Dolores River, below Lizard Head Pass and above Rico.

After completing my task in Cortez, it was west to Dove Creek, with heavy rain clouds around.

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Northwest of Cortez at Narraguinnup Reservoir.

Then at Dove Creek, north on 141. Up over the mesas, down to cross the Dolores River at Slick Rock, then back up onto Disappointment Valley, Big Gypsum Valley, Dry Creek Basin, and finally down to the San Miguel River again at Naturita.

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On the way back north from Dove Creek.

And I made it just before dark.

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Back to Bedrock the next morning.

Photo locations: Montrose, San Miguel, Montezuma, and Dolores Counties, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Elk At The Speed Of Dawn

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I had camped below Lone Cone Peak at Dan Noble State Wildlife Area.

The evening had been exquisite, even though I had only caught one small rainbow trout. Which was freed back into the lake and used its muscular tail to torpedo it back into the depths. Its predator ways only momentarily interrupted by a two legged land based predator. A fisherman.

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The lake below Lone Cone Peak

There are a lot of Canada geese at that lake. A perfect breeding ground for them. They are loud and raucous all day and evening, seemingly talking from one end of the lake to the other about what their latest fears are. A coyote! A human!

The geese do seem to observe Quiet Hours once it gets dark, like a campground. Meanwhile the nearly full moon was arcing across the sky all night. Though even it couldn’t wash out the brightest stars, there so far away from city lights.

At first light I packed up my campsite and headed down toward town. As always, especially around here, I keep my eyes peeled for large wildlife on the road. Or just off the road, looking to jump in front of my vehicle at the last moment, which is even worse.

On this morning drive, the elk were off in meadows on either side. I wanted to photograph them, but the light was still weak. And true to form these animals didn’t seem cooperative enough to wait for sunrise.

So as one group turned away from the roadside fence and ran parallel to the road, I thought: what the heck? I panned my camera with them at a slow shutter speed, like those photos of race cars or horse races.

I think I did ok, since there wasn’t going to be another lap. Not with these elk. They were outta there. A beautiful wildlife moment.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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

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

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

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

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