Grousing Around Through A May Snowstorm


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


Lizard Head Pass.

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


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.


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.


On the way back north from Dove Creek.

And I made it just before dark.


Back to Bedrock the next morning.

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

See more of my photography on my website:

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

First Wildflower Reds of the Season: Paintbrush


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

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.

Dolores River, Colorado

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

Above The Dolores River

Dolores River Valley, San Miguel County, Colorado.

Dolores River Valley, San Miguel County, Colorado.

April in southwest Colorado. Somewhere along the eastern edge of the high desert Colorado Plateau, below the Rocky Mountains. San Miguel County, in fact.

The Dolores River, these days emasculated by the dam that impounds McPhee Reservoir way upstream, down here gets a massive transfusion from the lovely San Miguel River. This photo is a few miles downstream of their confluence, their muddy and clear waters still morphed into something in between. Good trout fishing waters, I’m told.

Clear, crisp mountain air. Mighty layers of reddish sandstone opened by the ever restless waters downcutting through them. The bright green foliage of deciduous trees and shrubs along the waterway. Deep blue sky and bright cumulus clouds. Almost no one around.

Close enough to perfect.

Photo location: San Miguel County, 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.