Return to Summit County

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The Gore Range, from across the Blue River valley.

I found myself with several days off and a restless feeling. After all, it was the Vernal Equinox. Spring. Very early spring, but it’s got to start somewhere.

So rather than sit at home or photograph locally, I decided to commence on a road trip around northwest Colorado.

Eventually I reached Grand County and Summit County, where I long ago worked as a forester. Before I got to Silverthorne, I took a brief side trip to some overlooks that few people know about. They look across the Blue River valley to the Gore Range, one of the most spectacular ranges in the Rockies. I’d done several backpacking trips up into them, the Eagles Nest Wilderness, so long ago. The late afternoon light, breaking up after a snowstorm, was intense. Extreme contrast. I did manage to eke out a couple of splendid panoramas.

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The Blue River Valley, north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

Then it was down into town: Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco. I knew it would have been much more built up, being in Colorado Ski Country.

And traffic was bad. The red lights seemed to take forever, each.

It’s a beautiful area, but I probably won’t return. I live in a much more laid back area of the state these days, and being back in ski country only made me appreciate how much better I like where I am.

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Almost home: San Juan Mountains, south of Ridgway, Colorado.

Photo location: Blue River Valley, Summit County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Peak To Peak in Southwest Colorado

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Wilson Peak, between Telluride and Trout Lake.

The objective for this more than 200-mile drive around southwest Colorado was to be up in the San Juan Mountains at a particularly strategic spot to photograph the full moon rising over the snowy peaks just before dark.

I could have merely driven from Cortez to Lizard Head Pass, then back. But the days have been getting so much longer, and the roads were dry. Plus I had all day to do whatever I wanted to.

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Vermilion Peak and Pilot Knob at Trout Lake.

Why not widen the loop by another couple hundred miles, you say? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, either. I’m glad that you agree.

Southwest Colorado is great in that there are no Interstate highways. You’re not going to be beelining to anywhere at 70 MPH. Instead, lots of curvy mountain roads. You did come here to slow down and savor the exquisite mountain beauty, didn’t you?

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Red, green and white: driving up the San Miguel River Canyon toward Telluride. 

Half a day into the drive I stopped at Norwood. I had yet to try out any of the local eateries, so I stopped in at the Happy Belly Deli. I had a grilled steak hoagie kind of sandwich with cole slaw that was far above the usual stuff. Plus ham and bean soup that was even better. You can even build your own sandwich there, but that was a little too complicated for me at the moment. Some nice artwork for sale on the walls. That won’t be the last time I eat there, just you watch. I would like to get their full menu so I can plot my next sandwich ahead of time.

The entire morning I had been looking for Lone Cone Peak to emerge from the clouds hailing snow showers down on the high peak. After my lunch in Norwood, well there it was! Perfect. I left the highway onto a county road that heads straight for it. Until I thought I had the best viewpoint before the road turned to deep snow.

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Lone Cone Peak with a halo of clouds, winter afternoon.

Then it on east past Telluride, stopping as usual at the Conoco station for a break.

Then up over the mountain toward Trout Lake. Stopping at an overlook for some exquisite views of surrounding peaks in snowy afternoon light.

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Craggy peaks, afternoon light, shadowed forest forming the foreground.

At Trout Lake I stopped for a panorama series of the peaks: Vermilion, Pilot, Yellow Mountain, and Sheep Mountain.

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Trout Lake winter panorama. Sheep Mountain is dead center.

Then it was up to Lizard Head Pass, my intended location for this month’s moonrise shoot. But despite all of the clouds clearing throughout the afternoon as had been predicted, it only takes one key spot to be clouded up at the key time for it to be a bust.

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The view from near Lizard Head Pass, on the way down the Upper Dolores.

So as I watched the clouds remain over that key spot where the moon would rise a little before the sun set in the opposite direction, I appreciated taking shots of what was there, snow showers and all. Then I drove down the upper Dolores River canyon back to Cortez.

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The west end of Sheep Mountain, early evening. 

Better luck next month. A fine day anyway.

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Snow showers instead of moonrise. Time to pack it in and head home.

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

© Copyright 2018 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

Rocky Mountain Snowmelt

Dolores River, Colorado springtime runoff

Dolores River, springtime runoff

It’s southwest Colorado and the springtime is advancing. Sometimes not quickly enough for warm weather visitors, and sometimes a bit too warm for residents that are wary of drought. Since none can control the weather, we should appreciate what comes.

What comes, sooner or later, is the greening of the landscape with the deciduous trees and shrubs. The grasses, and the forbs with their wildflowers.

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Dolores River spring runoff.

And so I drove up along the upper Dolores River valley. From Cortez and the little river town of Dolores itself. Up along the broad flat floodplain ranches and smaller properties. Cottonwood trees leafing out along the river. Aspen stands breaking out tenatiously on the mountain slopes above.

San Juan Mountains, Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

San Juan Mountains, Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

The Dolores River swollen with snow melt from the high mountains. Muddy and cold and doing its job of continuing to sculpt the high mountain landscape.

I drove up to Lizard Head Pass, the divide between the Dolores and the San Miguel River watersheds. It was like going from spring to winter. But it will soon be spring up there, too.

Photo location: southwest 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

Trout Lake, Evening Panorama

Trout Lake, Colorado Twilight Reflection.

Trout Lake, Colorado Twilight Reflection.

I was back up in the San Juan Range of the Rockies in southwest Colorado. Contemplating where to camp this time.

I drove up to Lizard Head Pass. Maybe there? It sure looked great. But with the sunset colors on the high peaks, I drove around some more. Don’t want to miss any daylight, you know.

Above Trout Lake I pulled over on the highway shoulder. With the reflection from the lake, the sky seemed to be in the pocket of the Earth. I made a series of overlapping photos to be merged in Lightroom into a single high resolution image. Here is a web friendly version of it.

Done with the day’s light, I settled in to camp.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado San Juan Skyway Green

Molls Pass, San Juan County, Colorado.

Molas Pass, San Juan County, Colorado.

The San Juan Skyway in southwest Colorado is that portion of US Highway 550 that goes up over the San Juan Mountain Range between Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Montrose.

Summer comes late to the Colorado high country. And this has been a very wet spring. So on this day, with the rivers and creeks running bank full, there were still clouds clearing off from the last round of storms. Thus the light wasn’t the greatest at first.

My first stop was Molas Pass on the San Juan National Forest, at 10,899 feet (and not a foot more, officially; why not 10,900?). The clouds had cleared enough for some sunshine on the mountain peaks.

Overlooking Silverton, Colorado.

Overlooking Silverton, Colorado.

From there it was down to some steep curvy road grades overlooking Silverton. The Animas River was running high and muddy but not flooding. The aspen forests and the high meadows were bright with new springtime growth.

Then it was over Red Mountain Pass, and down to Ouray.

A very round switchback on Red Mountain Pass.

A very round switchback on Red Mountain Pass.

North of Ouray came some of my favorite shots of the drive. The high mountain light was still mostly overcast, but seemed to have a pearly quality to it. I was particularly drawn to the aspen forests on the steep mountain sides, flush with new spring green. The creeks running down were silvery with the brightening light from above.

Springtime aspen greenery and silvery mountain brook.

Springtime aspen greenery and silvery mountain brook.

The dark green spruce and fir trees made a nice counterpoint to the aspen stands.

Mountain peak and aspen slopes.

Mountain peak and aspen slopes.

Photo locations: San Juan and Ouray Counties, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Shining Colorado High Country, Again

Sleeping Ute Mountain, from Dolores, Colorado.

Sleeping Ute Mountain, from Dolores, Colorado.

On an  excursion to Cortez and Dolores in southwest Colorado I had a couple days to spare (as people say, as if days with nowhere that you need to be are in your personal life savings account or something), so I decided to spend them going up into the San Juan Range. Why? Because I hadn’t been up there in several years — was too engrossed in living in wonderful northern Arizona — I guess — and because the first real snowstorm of the season had blown through, leaving in its wake perfect cloudless deep blue skies and the high peaks shining with brilliant snow. Sounded good to me. After all, I was in charge of me, and there was no one else along to consult.

So up the Dolores River canyon on Colorado Highway 145. Winding and slowly climbing in elevation. Up toward the snowy high country.

Rico, Colorado

Downtown Rico, Colorado.

After a while I came to the tiny old mining town turned tourist stop of Rico, CO. I love these old mountain towns and love seeing what is being done (or not) to revive small businesses and keep the place liveable. I pulled over to the side of the street to get a quick shot of downtown (the only part of town, too) Rico. Behind me the owner of a (the only?) hotel alertly spotted me and leaned out his front door calling: “Would you like to see my restored hotel?” A good entrepreneur: it was past the summer tourist season, almost nobody about on the street, and he’s trying to drum up business. I would have loved to, but I declined. I may have had two “free” days to play with, but my cell phone had messaged me and given me an important mission for the day. I would have to overnight some papers, and I was in the middle of nowhere. But Telluride was up ahead, surely they will have a FedEx facility.

But I will be back to tour your hotel, Mr. owner. Thank you for the invitation. I like this town.

Then I went up a few of the side streets. You can learn a lot about a town by getting off the main drag. In this case, I stumbled upon the Rico Town Hall, a fine looking historic sandstone building. How would you like to have your office in something like this? It would make going to work five days a week a lot nicer.

Town Hall in Rico, Colorado

Town Hall, Rico, Colorado.

But enough of that kind of daydreaming. Rico was giving tantalizing peeks at the snowy peaks above. So onward and upward, further north on Highway 145. I came to Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet. No lizards up here, that’s for sure. It’s named after nearby Lizard Head Peak and Lizard Head Wilderness. Gorgeous. And I had finally left the upper Dolores River canyon, which had veered off to the southeast without saying goodbye. Canyons tend to do that. Not say goodbye, I mean.

Snow Spur Creek, Dolores County, Colorado.

Snow Spur Creek, Dolores County, Colorado.

Meanwhile, I was saying goodbye to Dolores County and hello to San Miguel County, which apparently allows some of their highway signs to be bulletin boards as well. Unless you get caught. If you did you could always serve your public service sentence by scraping off all the other stickers. Straighten the sign while you’re at it, the snowplows seem to have taken their toll on it.

Photo: San Miguel County sign, Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

San Miguel County sign, Lizard Head Pass.

Down the other side of the pass. Reveling in the brilliant early winter (late fall, really) light and mountain air. Dark green alpine forests and steep, steep mountainsides, crowned by peaks with their summits above timberline. So they can show off their snow.

San Miguel Mountains, Vance Junction, CO.

San Miguel Mountains, Vance Junction, CO. (Click on image for larger).

Then into Telluride. I’ve only stopped there briefly before this, and would do so again today. It’s awesome but too crowded jet-set trendy expensive for a mountain man. I had no idea where the FedEx agent would be, so I stopped in at the official Visitor Center (15 minute parking only, don’t dawdle, now) and what do you know there was a FedEx sign in the window of another small business in the same building. Are things going right on this trip, or what? I would be a zillionaire today if I played the lottery, but I hear you have to buy a ticket. Mountain men don’t buy lottery tickets. We are one.

Went to the historic main street smack dab center of Telluride town to get me a few tourist photos before I escaped. Lots of construction going on, the real estate market sure is coming back. Historic old buildings and houses being rebuilt. Landscaping workers cleaning up yards and such. Glad everybody’s happy, I’m getting outta here. Back to the wilds.

Telluride, Colorado.

Telluride, Colorado.

Now it was down the San Miguel River canyon. Exit Uncompahgre National Forest land, onto BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. I was looking for a great campsite for the night, and I found one, right along the river bank, cement picnic table and all. I was the sole camper, and a happy one. Found enough Gambel oak wood on the ground for a nice fire. The sound of the rushing stream below was both soothing and invigorating. I had been living and camping away from that sound, from these mountains, for too long.

And one more “spare” day to go.

Upper San Miguel River, Colorado.

Upper San Miguel River, Colorado.