Rainy September Colorado Colors

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Early aspen colors at Trout Lake.

Rain saturates colors. Far from being a deterrent to good nature photography, it creates opportunities.

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Trout Lake panorama, September 19.

Thus I drove into the San Juan Mountains in San Miguel County in southwest Colorado, in the Telluride area.

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Rainy mountains south of Telluride.

The aspen colors were coming on nicely, due to the recent warm sunny days and cool nights. It was raining lightly but it wasn’t very windy, allowing for some beautiful images of colorful foliage.

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Red-orange aspen colors on the San Juan National Forest.

Aspen fall colors are primarily bright yellow, as the tree stops producing chlorophyll, making the green color disappear and letting the other colors that were there all along become visible. So they don’t really “turn colors”, they just let summer’s green go.

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Aspen gold is highlighted by the dark greens of evergreen foliage in the background.

Some aspen stands, and even individual trees, exhibit a lovely orange or red instead of gold.

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There’s nothing like a peaceful country road in the Rockies in the fall.

On the way home I drove down the South Fork of the San Miguel River.

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South Fork of the San Miguel. 

The clouds were obscuring the high peaks, but I had plenty to interest me. I stopped for a Gambel oak sapling that had vibrant red colors, much more red than most oaks get.

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Gambel oak colors on the South Fork.

And the cherry red of wild rose hips.

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Wild rose hips. 

As I continued west, away from the San Miguels, west of Norwood the clouds opened and the nearly setting sun turned the distant La Sal Mountains and the sky a brilliant gold.

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Utah’s La Sal Mountains at sunset from Colorado.

And since it was still raining, directly opposite to the east the dark clouds formed the perfect backdrop for a full rainbow.

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Sunset rainbow at the San Miguel County – Montrose County line.

Photo location: San Miguel County, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

What One Tree Can Do

Cottonwood foliage in fall colors, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cottonwood foliage in fall colors, Mesa Verde.

I was driving along the windy highway along Mesa Verde National Park’s North Rim on a glorious October morning. All the pieces were in place: clear, sunny, perfect Colorado high country blue sky.

Mesa Verde National Park's highway along the North Rim.

Mesa Verde National Park’s highway along the North Rim.

Then I spotted a lone cottonwood tree along the roadway, its brilliant yellow fall foliage colors gently shimmering in the morning breeze.

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The lone cottonwood tree in the middle of nowhere.

Cottonwood trees are a water loving group of species. As in lots of water, all year around. Thus they typically grow along rivers, streams, in the bottom of valleys. Not way up on a mountain ridge like this one.

But this lone tree was way up here. There was a bit more of the mountain slope above the road, and this bend in the roadway must funnel enough water to this spot that a tiny cottonwood seed landed here and took root. With sufficient water down below, it took advantage of the full sunlight, growing far above the shrub-like Gambel Oak trees that are more typical of this steep, high slope.

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Cottonwood foliage closeup. Fall colors spotlit by the morning sunlight against a background of deep shadow, thanks to the far ridge.

Like most, in autumn I am drawn to forests, to stands of trees with superlative fall colors. But sometimes I come across a lone tree such as this that shines all by itself.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Rico Through Autumn, 2017

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The Rico Community Church and the Town Hall, September 30.

Although it’s still October, up in the high country the aspen leaves are down on the ground. Gorgeous weather lingers, with an occasional cold front to dust a little snow that stays in the shady spots in the forest and on the north facing slopes of the high mountain peaks.

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Rico, Colorado’s Town Hall, September 30.

It’s the autumn-into-winter in-between time. The tail end of Indian Summer. It won’t last too much longer, which makes it all that much more enjoyable on another perfect high country October day.

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Rico, October 7.

At this time of year my mind goes back to the Dan Fogelberg pop-folk song Old Tennessee:

End of October
The sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads to the winter
Yellows and grays paint a sad sky today
And I wonder when you’re coming home

It may be about Tennessee, but the lyrics evoke the bittersweet time of autumn. Of harvest, of the end of summer, of transitioning into early winter.

Rico, Colorado, October 23, 2017.

Rico, October 23.

Photo Location: Rico, Dolores County, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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

Colorado Fall Colors: Trout Lake

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Trout Lake, Colorado near the peak of the fall colors.

It was late September in the southwestern Colorado Rockies. The San Juan Mountain range, specifically. The fall colors were nearing their peak and there was an early snow at the even higher elevations.

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One of the high peaks above Trout Lake.

I had arrived while the last of the storm was still leaving the area. Even with gray skies and occasional snow showers it looked awesome. It was great to be back to one of my favorite places, at my favorite time of year. Then the skies began to clear.

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Trout Lake closeup.

Photo location: Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

Fall Colors: Sipapu Natural Bridge

Sipapu Bridge, from the trail down into White Canyon.

Sipapu Bridge, from the trail down into White Canyon.

Early November: time for the high desert fall colors, now that the high country show up in the aspen forest zone is over. So at Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah’s San Juan County, I headed down the trail from the parking lot on the Loop Drive (formally “Bridge View Drive”) to Sipapu Bridge.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time that afternoon, sunlight wise, due to the short days. So I hoofed it hard down the trail to catch up with the light still making the Fremont Cottonwood trees glow in the canyon bottom.

Sipapu Bridge is the sixth largest natural bridge in the world, and second largest on this side of the world, after Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon. (The four largest natural bridges are all in China.) Earlier this season I’d met a young man at this point on the trail, the best vantage point for getting the blue sky in the photo through the bridge’s span (opening), and he said: “It’s even bigger than I thought it would be”.

A few golden cottonwood trees are visible from up above, but to get the full treatment you have to go down. All the way down to the stream bottom in White Canyon, 500 feet below the trailhead up on the rim.

Underneath mighty Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world.

Underneath mighty Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world.

Since the sun was low in the west, I took a hard right turn, east up the canyon bottom, to use the sunlight to backlight the cottonwood colors, which makes them glow their brightest.

Underneath Sipapu, looking up makes the immense span arching high overhead look thin compared to the side view from above.

Fremont Cottonwood trees in fall splendor, White Canyon above Sipapu Bridge.

Fremont Cottonwood trees in fall splendor, White Canyon above Sipapu Bridge.

I walked a bit further upstream along the bank in order to position some lit up cottonwoods in front of the mighty bridge.  I made a few exposures from up on the bank of the stream course, which only flows intermittently with the rains and snows. The low angle of the sunlight through the bridge’s opening not only lit up the trees, but reflected off the muddy water of the stream. The low shaft of sunlight in the deep shadows made the scene feel like a secret garden portal or something.

Pools of water from recent rain and snow storm, White Canyon.

Pools of water from recent rain and snow storm, White Canyon.

Then I jumped down into the stream bed itself. Being at the very buttress of the immense arch of Cedar Mesa Sandstone makes for cramped quarters in the camera viewfinder, even with an ultra wide angle lens. In order to create the composition I wanted, I made two or three overlapping photos, and later merged them into a single high resolution panorama in Adobe Lightroom.

Ultra wide angle two shot panorama at Sipapu Bridge.

Ultra wide angle two shot panorama at Sipapu Bridge.

Satisfied with this portion of my foray, it was time to pound it back up the trail to the parking lot. Because I was going to try to bag fall colors shots at the second of the three bridges, too: Kachina Bridge. I was quickly running low on sunlight in the canyon bottom.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

© 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