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

Whispers of Fall at 8,000 Feet

Colorado False Hellebore and Quaking Aspen, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Colorado False Hellebore (gone to seed) and Quaking Aspen.

For my most recent outdoor outing (is there really any other kind of outing worth noting?) I was exploring some public roads that were new to me on part of the San Juan National Forest.

This summer has been kind to the region, blessed with rain in late summer. Not too much, either. The fire danger went down from Very High in June to Low now. Pretty sweet.

Driving north into the forest from Mancos, Colorado soon had me back into Ponderosa pine, aspen, mountain meadows, and–even higher up–spruce and fir. The dirt roads were dry and it wasn’t too crowded with summertime recreationists.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Hesperus Peak in the La Plata Mountains, August 2017.

I stopped at a nice viewpoint up the West Fork of the Mancos River canyon to the high peaks of the La Plata (“Silver”) Mountains. To Hesperus Peak, one of the four mountains sacred to the Navajo people.

Puffball mushroom, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Puffball mushroom, big as a greatly over-inflated football.

At a nearby junction, I spotted a nearly-white blob in amongst the greenery. Could that be the giant edible mushroom called the Puffball? It was. In perfect condition to come home with me, too.

Mushroom in San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

A red mushroom amongst the forest floor greenery, San Juan National Forest.

Further along there were more mushrooms, which I could not identify at the moment. The rule about eating wild mushrooms is that you never should–unless you can be positive of the identification. There are many poisonous species.

But on to the wildflowers, of which there were still many. Here is a gallery of them:

There were some berries, too. Common was Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens. The seeds of the berries of this species are considered poisonous.

Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Red Elderberry fruit clusters and foliage.

As far as the earliest whispers of fall, the False Hellebore “Corn Lily”) were done for the season and were turning from green to gold.

Soon the other forbs of the high forest will be turning, too. Then it will be the main event: the aspen colors. We’re still a month away from that, but for now here is my favorite aspen forest photograph from the day.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) forest, San Juan National Forest, Colorado.

Aspen stand, late August, San Juan National Forest.

Photo location: San Juan National Forest, Montezuma and La Plata Counties, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Red Mountain Greenery

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Iron Mountain from U.S. Hwy. 550.

I was once again driving the San Juan Skyway circle of highways in the high country of southwest Colorado. I pulled over that fine late June morning for a shot of Red Mountain, named for the iron ore that colors its rocks and soil.

So which one is Red Mountain? Trick question! There are three of them up there, No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. So I’m not much help. They all look great. Especially with the spruce, fir, and aspen forests on their flanks.

While wandering the highway’s shoulder with my camera my eye was caught by a small, cold mountain stream that was passing underneath the road. Willows and bright green algae, the morning sunlight on it just right.

Mountain stream at U.S. Hwy. 550, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Cold mountain stream and Red Mountain.

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Morning sunshine, reflections, and deep, cold-water shadows.

Photo location: San Juan National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

High Country Waterfall: San Juan Mountains

Waterfall in San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Mountain waterfall, San Juan Mountains.

It’s early summer (or late spring) in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Springtime greenery and wildflowers.

The snowmelt from the uppermost peaks and tundra was in full roar.

Photo location: San Juan National Forest near Silverton, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 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

Source Of The San Juan River

Upper San Juan River valley, west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Upper San Juan River valley, west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The San Juan River of Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado begins in the high country of southwest Colorado. In the San Juan Mountain Range. Most of its lower stretches are as a desert river. But it begins high above the desert world.

Its origin is up at the Continental Divide, where water flowing down to the Colorado River basin is separated from that flowing down the other side, into the Rio Grande River basin.

East Fork of the San Juan River.

East Fork of the San Juan River.

I revisited San Juan’s source area again recently. East of Pagosa Springs, where the East Fork of the San Juan joins the West Fork. In this lush green valley below the highest peaks I made this image. I had only been through it twice before. This time, though, I was thinking much more about the watershed. About the river and its tributaries. The interconnectedness of it all.

I have been living near the mouth of the San Juan. Where it empties into the Colorado River at Lake Powell in southeast Utah. Not right at the lake, but in the area. Studying the geology, hydrology, archaeology, history of the region. Following my naturalist curiosities. It’s an amazing place.

So I became interested in where this desert river began. Followed it upstream on the map. Then up the highway. Instead of driving up over Wolf Creek Pass to the other side, this time I lingered on the San Juan source side of the Divide. I camped along the West Fork, watching a beaver go about its evening in its created pond off to the side of the main stream. Drove up the East Fork, envious of the trout fishermen casting into the waters of the cold clear mountain stream.

Ripplin' waters of the East Fork of the San Juan River, Colorado.

Ripplin’ waters of the East Fork of the San Juan River, Colorado.

In the morning I broke camp and drove up over Wolf Creek Pass. I had some other interests to explore. But I would be back, and soon.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Colorado High Country Springtime

Groundhog Reservoir, Dolores County.

Groundhog Reservoir, Dolores County. Lone Cone peak at left, Groundhog Mountain on right.

As the unusually wet spring continued, I took advantage of several days’ break in the rainfall to continue exploring southwest Colorado. This time, the upper Dolores River watershed in the San Juan mountain range.

I drove up the West Dolores River and then Cottonwood Creek, on the San Juan National Forest. Weather sunny, clear, light breezes. Perfect.

At Groundhog Reservoir I stopped to photograph the scenery. Right on cue a “groundhog” (actually a yellow-bellied marmot, I believe) dashed across the road into the grasses on the other side. It did not stop to pose for photos, though.

Groundhog Reservoir State Wildlife Area information signs.

Groundhog Reservoir State Wildlife Area information signs.

Lone Cone peak was the perfect backdrop to the lake. At 12,600-some feet it’s not one of Colorado’s vaunted “fourteeners”. But it’s the westernmost peak of the San Miguel Mountains, the western vanguard of the San Juan range. It’s…alone from the rest, and recognizable from far away.

Lone Cone peak, elevation 12,613 at the summit.

Lone Cone peak, elevation 12,613 at the summit.

Driving out of “town” (a commercial campground and convenience store) at the reservoir soon brought me back onto the National Forest. Public land, open to primitive camping. No need to do an extensive search for the best campsite. It felt wonderful to be back up in the aspen forest, so almost anyplace was quite fine. Lots of birds calling, and frogs croaking down at the creek below. High country Colorado serenades.

Morning has broken: Springtime aspen forest camp.

Morning has broken: Springtime aspen forest camp.

The rains returned the next night, and I sat tight in my camp. Reading, listening to music, photographing. Listening to the music of the rain on my vehicle’s roof, and in the aspen canopy above. Soft, relaxing.

The second morning it was time to go. The sojourn’s expiration date was at hand. The forest roads were sloppy with mud from the rain, even the main roads. It took almost two hours just to carefully make my way down out of there, back to paved highway.

Rocky Mountain Iris meadow.

Rocky Mountain Iris meadow.

At one point on the way out was a lush meadow with more Rocky Mountain Irises than I’ve ever seen in one spot. It was still raining, but fairly gently. So I stopped to photograph, and was quite pleased with what I had gotten.

Rocky Mountain Iris, (Iris missouriensis Nutt.)

Rocky Mountain Iris, (Iris missouriensis Nutt.)

Photo location: Dolores County, Colorado. As always, click on any photo for a much larger version.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg