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

The Sheep of Sheep Mountain, Colorado

Moonset at Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

Moonset at night at Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

I was back at Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountain Range of southwest Colorado to check on the progress of the fall colors. Somebody’s got to do it.

I arrived at the Pass (elevation 10,222 feet) in the dark. Drove back across the meadows where I knew the camping is good. I saw what I thought were a couple of RVs parked down low. I went up the hill, pleased to find no one there.

But I was hearing some “baa, baa” animal noises in the night. At first I thought they were goats, I don’t know why. Anything is possible, I suppose. Especially when you’re tired and it’s dark. And you’re no farmer, either.

Sheep herding operation below Sheep Mountain, Colorado.

Sheep herding operation below Sheep Mountain, Colorado.

In the morning I saw what was going on. Spread out below me was a sheepherder’s corral, a travel trailer, and what seemed like a thousand sheep. Ah, I thought, whomever has the grazing permit here on the National Forest (or Forests, since the Pass sits on the boundary between the San Juan and the Uncompahgre) is taking the summer’s sheep down out of here.

The high mountain meadow was situated below Sheep Mountain, its 13,000-some foot peak showing its autumn tundra colors way up there above timberline.

Soon after sunrise a big semi truck with a quadruple-decker stock trailer arrived. A second one soon afterward. The loading began, the sheep dogs yelping and bouncing about. Eventually the two big trucks trundled off.

Sheep corralling operation, Lizard Head Pass.

Sheep corralling operation, Lizard Head Pass.

But in the afternoon I was surrounded by sheep. Me, up on my little hill on the edge of the forest. More sheep coming down from above, down to the corrals. Where they spent the night, too, and were loaded into the returning trucks the next morning.

High country sheep and fall colors, Lizard Head Pass.

High country sheep and fall colors, Lizard Head Pass.

On the third morning the operation reached its finale. The last visit of the stock trucks, the last sheep gone. A big pickup truck to haul the sheepherder’s camper trailer — his high country summer home — back to wherever.

It had been interesting watching the operation from afar. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be up there all summer, and then finally see your season’s work done. Real done. Gone way before winter. And where would winter be spent? So many questions.

I went down the corral. It seemed lonely. Everything gone but the wood and steel wire of the enclosures, of the chutes used to funnel the livestock onto the trucks.

Suddenly lonely sheep corral chutes, and Sheep Mountain.

Suddenly lonely sheep corral chutes, and Sheep Mountain.

Autumn. Harvest time. The best time of year.

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

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg