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

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 National Park in February

Mesa Verde National Park has the largest ancient cliff dwelling ruins in the Southwest, most notably Cliff Palace, though there are many other impressive ones as well.

Cortez, Colorado and snowy cliffs of Mesa Verde.

Cortez, Colorado along the east end of Main Street, with the snowy cliffs of Mesa Verde.

The park is located in southwest Colorado, about ten miles east of  Cortez, or about 35 miles west of Durango, the two largest towns in the area.

Cortez, Colorado at dusk in winter.

Cortez, Colorado at dusk.

Cortez makes for a nice “base camp” if you’re staying in a motel while you explore the area. In fact, the cliffs that form the North Rim of Mesa Verde also provide a dramatic backdrop to the town. If you’re camping in winter, you’re limited to what few commercial campgrounds are open.

Although the splendid Visitor Center and Research Center is just off of Highway 160, to get all the way to the south end of the park on Chapin Mesa, where the park headquarters, the museum, and the main cliff dwelling ruins are located, is 21 miles, a drive of 45 minutes.  Thus even a quick look at the highlights of the park takes at least a couple hours. And that’s just from the side of the road. In winter, the Wetherill Mesa road is closed, as is the Far View Lodge, and the campground. Also, there are no ranger-led hikes to the main cliff dwellings.

Mancos Valley and La Plata Mountains, from Mesa Verde.

The Mancos Valley and the La Plata Mountains, from Mesa Verde.

After passing the entrance station, some sharp switchbacks take you up onto Mesa Verde’s north end. The first pull-out is the Mancos Valley Overlook. Here you can view not only the valley, with Highway 160 following it east toward Durango, but the high peaks of the distant La Plata mountain range to the northeast.

North Rim of Mesa Verde.

Cortez, Colorado along the east end of Main Street, with the snowy cliffs of Mesa Verde.

The next stop is to look the other direction: northwest, at the Montezuma Valley Overlook. Montezuma Valley is where Cortez is located, and being on the North Rim of Mesa Verde you can also look all the way to the Abajo Mountains across the state line at Monticello, Utah.

City of Cortez, Colorado, and Abajo Mountains in Utah.

Telephoto shot of the Abajo Mountains in Utah, looking across Cortez and the Montezuma Valley in Colorado.

“Mesa Verde” means “green table” in Spanish. But it’s not like a typical mesa, which is typically quite flat. Mesa Verde is more like a table with two of the legs cut short, making it tilt to the south, toward the sunlight. That makes for more frost free days than you would otherwise experience if you were living up there at 8,000-8,500 feet in elevation. Meaning the Ancestral Puebloan people that grew their crops in the fertile soil got enough precipitation (usually) from being up that high, but warm enough for corn to mature before the first frosts of autumn.

Mesa Verde canyons and ridges, in winter.

Some of the canyons and ridges that form the interior of Mesa Verde.

So overall Mesa Verde, the landform, is more like several smaller mesas along with a lot of parallel canyons that drain from north to south.

Winter is a great time to take in the many variations in this complex of mesas and canyons. When there is snow on the ground, as soon as the latest storm has passed and the sun comes out again, the hillsides that are facing south start melting off almost right away. The slopes that are facing north, however, hold their snow much later, because in winter the sun is at too low of an angle to touch them. And the ground is too cold to melt snow that’s in the shade. Until spring comes.

Different aspects of a slope show where the winter sun shines, or not.

Even slight changes in direction affect whether the winter sun can warm a slope, or not.

Finally, to the south end of the park where the famous cliff dwellings are located. The trail down to Spruce Tree House, near the Archeological Museum, was closed due to a recent rockfall. So it was on to the Mesa Top Loop drive.

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

The ruins of Oak Tree House in its sheltering alcove in the canyon wall.

The Cliff Palace Loop is closed in winter, but you can get views of Cliff Palace from across Cliff Canyon on the Mesa Top Loop. From there, overlooks let you get scenic shots of the best ruins.

Fire House Ruin panorama, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The two-level alcoves of Fire House Ruin. Where was the elevator?

The cliff dwelling era was when the Ancestral Puebloans built their adobe, often multi story dwellings and other structures. There are 600 cliff dwellings in the park. Cliff dwellings were built in alcoves: natural recesses in the sandstone cliffs. Alcoves that face south were preferred. Why? Because in winter they get the most sunlight, while in summer, when the sun is at a much higher angle, the alcoves are in the shade of the overhanging cliff in the heat of the day. They also built pueblos and pit houses on the mesa tops. In fact, there are many more of those than their are cliff dwellings. But the overhanging alcoves provide a lot of protection from the weather to the cliff dwellings, so they are much better preserved over the approximately 750 years since the last of the ancient ones migrated on from here.

Cliff Palace cliff dwelling ruins, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cliff Palace, from Camera Point at Sun View.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Last Perfect Day of High Country Autumn

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Scattered fall colors, late October, above Ridgway, Colorado.

October 22, around Ridgway, southwest Colorado. The fall colors of the aspen forests of the high country were past their peak colors. But not done with them. Just after the peak, I love how the remaining stands of aspen with their gold leaves stand out so brilliantly amongst their bare, straight, silvery trunked neighbors. It’s as if they enjoy providing the last hurrah.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Aspen colors closeup, above Ridgway, Colorado.

I began south of Ridgway at that big pullout along Highway 62. I don’t know what the locals call it, if anything. It should be called something like “Photographers’ Overlook”. It looks up across vast draws of Gambel oak and aspen stands, up to the high peaks of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Last of the aspen fall colors beneath the high peaks, above Ridgway, Colorado.

Next, it was time to get closer to those peaks. So up Dallas Creek Road I went. I’d been meaning to check it out for a while, and apparently now was that time.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

Streamside cottonwood trees along lower Dallas Creek Road.

And what a fine drive it was. Kind of rough if you have a sedan, which I saw a few of driving down while I was driving up. But do-able. As usual in the Colorado mountains, the valleys are privately owned, so you learn to take heed of the “National Forest Access: …[name of road]” signs that direct you to public right of ways like this. Otherwise you might soon find yourself down a private lane, with a gate at the end. And quite likely signs posted that could make you feel very unwelcome.

Ridgway, Colorado is not all that high, in that valley, for that part of the state. Just under 7,000 feet. Big high country meadows for livestock. Just above that grows Gambel oak (“oak brush”), which is great wildlife cover. Also some Pinyon pine. And cottonwood down along the stream banks.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Up into the aspen zone, Dallas Creek Road.

Climbing higher above the valleys you’re soon into some Ponderosa pine. And aspen stands. Then Douglas-fir and Colorado blue spruce mixed in. Up into mountain man country.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

High peaks of Mount Sneffels Wilderness, from Dallas Creek Road.

I stopped at the end of the road, parked alongside the stream, and had lunch. The soothing rippling waters of a mountain stream. I saw a couple of mayflies hatch out of the water, and that comical bird called the Water Ouzel (or “Dipper”) bob for insects beneath the cold riffles.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trees and high meadows, Dallas Creek.

I considered staying the night. It was tempting. But I’d also heard the weather report. The snow level was forecast to drop to 10,000 feet during the night. Well above where I was at present. And well below treeline.

Aspen trunk in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

Aspen trunk and meadow colors in the soft overcast light, Dallas Creek.

That meant it would snow at Lizard Head Pass for the first time of the season. Somebody had to be there when it did. I chose myself.

Mount Sneffels Wilderness from upper Dallas Creek Road.

Panorama of Mount Sneffels Wilderness and upper Dallas Creek.

So somewhat reluctantly I drove back down the Creek, and up the San Miguel River canyon, past Telluride. Back up to Lizard Head Pass to see what would happen during the night.

Photo location: Ouray County, southwest Colorado. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

Next: The perfect end to the high country autumn.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

October Around Telluride

Entrance road to Telluride, from Highway 145.

Entrance road to Telluride, from Highway 145.

In further pursuit of ultimate fall colors photos in southwest Colorado, I dropped down the mountain from Lizard Head Pass to Telluride, the tony but awesome ski town that started as a mining district.

Going up the Airport road.

Going up the Airport road.

A great place to go for scenery, that doesn’t have much traffic, is the airport road.

Mountain homes and last of the aspen fall colors, Airport road.

Mountain homes and last of the aspen fall colors, Airport road.

It takes you up above the San Miguel River valley, and if you go a bit further, onto Last Dollar Road.

View from Uncompahgre National Forest's Deep Creek trailhead.

View of Mt. Sneffels Wilderness from Uncompahgre National Forest’s Deep Creek trailhead.

The land on both sides of the road is privately owned, except for a National Forest trailhead.  So just stay on the public road right-of-way and you won’t get shot at.

Last Dollar Road, amidst the late October aspens.

Last Dollar Road, amidst the late October aspens.

Finally the private land ended and the Uncompahgre National Forest land began. Along with a travel warning sign that said something like: “Muddy road very slippery, Four Wheel Drive and good tires only”. Thus a good time for me to turn around.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado.

So I went into Telluride town itself. Still some brilliant yellow fall colors to the street trees, with their leaves coming down fast.

White picket fence and fall colors, downtown Telluride.

White picket fence and fall colors, downtown Telluride.

On the way into town was the best Halloween display ever. I might never see pumpkins in the same way again.

Best Halloween display ever?

Best Halloween display ever?

Then back out of town, down the beautiful San Miguel River, a real trout fishing stream. The cottonwood trees along the river were at peak color.

San Miguel River and cottonwood fall colors, between Telluride and Sawpit, Colorado.

San Miguel River and cottonwood fall colors, between Telluride and Sawpit, Colorado.

I also became enthralled with the moss growing on the stream banks, the soft dark green with the fallen bright yellow cottonwood leaves.

Mossy banks and fallen cottonwood leaves, San Miguel River.

Mossy banks and fallen cottonwood leaves, San Miguel River.

And some dogwood shrubs near the river bank, with their red leaves. Especially with the dark green of the conifer trees for a background.

Dogwood fall colors along the San Miguel River.

Dogwood fall colors along the San Miguel River.

Photo location: San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

As always, click on any image above for a much larger version.

Next: October around Ridgway, Colorado. The last day before the snows descended from the high summits.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Cottonwood tree, fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Running Out Of Autumn

Lizard Head Pass, late October dawn.

Lizard Head Pass, late October dawn.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to the fall colors for another year.

Almost.

So to savor some of the best of the last, or the last of the best, I returned to the high country of southwest Colorado.

Autumn is the perfect season. A little bit winter, a little bit summer, a lot of fall. I have known people who have dreaded fall, despite her beauty. Why? Because to them it meant the doorstep of winter. Of snow and cold. And while I highly respect their opinion, they’re weenies.

Lizard Head Peak, from the Pass.

Lizard Head Peak, from the Pass.

Because to me fall has always meant the climax of the year. It’s not the end of the calendar year, quite yet, but it’s the end of the growing season. Harvest time. Celebration. Preparation for winter, which used to be a kind of hibernation time even for humans, before our year-round climate control inside our buildings. Time to rest and dream and contemplate next year’s growing season.

To begin my latest sojourn I drove past sunset and into the night, back up to Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains. I knew exactly where I wanted to camp, just off a National Forest road that had good drainage. Because it had been raining. Another cold camp: no campfire. Too much trouble. And I don’t mean trouble starting them in the wetness, I’m good at that.

Night peace in the Rocky Mountains. A one-third full waxing moon playing with the clouds, until she set.

At dawn, heavy cold condensation on the windows. Fire up the engine, let’s get this this warmed up so we can see what’s out there this time. My campsite had the advantage of having a nice overlook of Lizard Head Peak and the high mountain meadows of the Pass. I quickly set camera on tripod to portray it.

Cottonwood tree in fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado.

Cottonwood tree in fall colors, Trout Lake, Colorado. Don’t park in front of it, it doesn’t like it.

Then down the other side a few miles to Trout Lake. A beautifully pensive sunrise: sun not yet over the high peaks and clouds to the east, a breeze riffling the lake’s surface. A cottonwood tree captivated me. Normally, with such flat overcast light I wouldn’t have known what to do with the scene. But I liked being there at that moment. The wet ground and fallen leaves, along with the bright yellow foliage yet to drop. And soon.

Cottonwood tree on Trout Lake, October.

Cottonwood tree on Trout Lake, October.

I drove back the lane along the lake to see what else might present itself. Of all the vast expanse of mountains and lake and near-wintry sky, that lone cottonwood tree stood out. For a few moments the morning light lit it up there. But I couldn’t move fast enough to capture it like it still is in my mind’s eye.

I didn’t know whether to linger there or move on. Such an exquisite place and time. Who knows what might happen? I sure didn’t.

Late October morning light across Trout Lake.

Late October morning light across Trout Lake.

The weather decided for me: clearly a snow squall was moving in from the south. Dark clouds, and not of the thunderstorm kind. Snow.

So I headed toward it. Back up to the Pass, to greet it, see if I could make a few photos that captured the stirring that I felt.

Snow squall on Lizard Head Pass.

Snow squall on Lizard Head Pass.

It wasn’t a blizzard, it was merely a late fall kiss on the high country in the early morning of a late October day.

I was hungry. Desiring some hot food, I headed down the mountain into Telluride. The day was truly just beginning.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Almost Missed The Alpenglow

Sheep Mountain at sunset.

Sheep Mountain at sunset: the sun’s rays still on the south face of the summit.

I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado after a long day of driving and photographing the awesome fall colors.

I was still three hours from home, had to get there and get a good night’s sleep. At the Pass I stopped to take a Photo of Sheep Mountain with a nice sunset brilliance on it and the clouds just above it.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Alpenglow beginning on Sheep Mountain.

Then alpenglow started. It’s an optical phenomenon when the just-set sun’s rays reflect off something (like clouds) above the landscape, most noticeably seen on mountain peaks, though I have seen it occur onto high desert cliffs, too. Since the sun is below the western horizon, its rays aren’t shining directly on the landscape in the east, they’re being reflected down from just above it.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

Peak alpenglow on Sheep Mountain.

And this event was turning into an exceptionally strong one. Not just the clouds above Sheep Mountain, and not just snowy summit above treeline. But also a large red band across the spruce-fir forest below.

It also lit up Vermilion Peak to the north. It lingered for quite a while, then quickly faded.

Alpenglow on Yellow Mountain and Vermilion Peak.

Alpenglow on Vermilion Peak.

If I had resumed my drive home just a few minutes before I did, I would have missed the entire event.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, San Juan National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest, Dolores and San Miguel Counties, Colorado.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg