Abajo Peaks, Sunset Sunbeams

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Sunbeams over the Abajo Mountains, just east of Monticello.

Driving west from Colorado into Utah on highway 491, I was watching a small storm front approach from the west.

Snow showers swirling around the Abajo Mountains, which are often called “the Blues” by the locals in Monticello, Utah.

Almost sunset. The sun too high for colors, but it streamed through the shifting clouds in dazzling fashion.

I had to pull over to the side of the highway to get a shot. It’s what I do, after all.

Photo location: Highway 491, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg | Stephen Krieg Photographics

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Snowshoeing It

Snowshoeing in the Manti-La Sal National Forest near Monticello, Utah.

Snowshoes, sunlight and tree shadows.

Real winter finally came to southeast Utah this season. There had been a number of beautiful snows up until recently, but not much more than seeing the mountains brightened up again each time, with a couple inches down in town.

That changed late this month, with several back to back storms that as usual came from the west or southwest and kept on truckin’ into western Colorado.

Atlas snowshoes, ready to be put to use.

Atlas snowshoes, fresh out of the shipping carton from REI.

My trout fishing lake had finally frozen over, and snowed over the ice as well.

The problem with the dead of winter is how to exercise. Oh, the runners keep running out there. And the people who work out at gyms keep on the treadmills and the weight machines.

Gambel Oak stand in January snow, Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, Utah.

Gambel Oak shadows on a January afternoon at 7,000 feet.

But what is a mountain man to do when the snow is deep? walking to the Post Office and back each day doesn’t count for much. Though it’s better than nothing.

Snowshoes. Like trout fishing it had been many years, but perhaps another facet of my life was coming full circle.

Loyds Lake in January ice and snow cover, Monticello, Utah.

Overlooking frozen Loyd’s Lake in January.

I went to REI and there were a pair of modern snowshoes on sale for just $40. End of the season, you know.

They arrived last week and I’ve been out twice. I avoid the weekends when there are snowmobilers, cross country skiers, and other winter sport enthusiasts flying about. I prefer to be the only human breaking the silence of the woods, if possible. And it’s possible.

Snowshoeing on Manti-La Sal National Forest in San Juan County, Utah.

Snowshoeing near Loyd’s Lake, with the Abajo Mountains in the distance.

The advantage to snowshoeing is that you don’t need to have the skill of being on skinny skies like you do with cross country skiiing. Which I have done, and loved, but chose not to get back into at this time. With snowshoes, you can plod along even over deep unbroken snow. Rest when you want, even facing downhill or uphill. You may not get to enjoy the thrill of sliding along and whooshing back downgrade, but anybody can use snowshoes. There is something to be said for going slower.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Forest, near Monticello, southeast Utah.

See much more of my photography on my website at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Winter Deer Feeding

Winter in southeast Utah at 7,000 feet and the mule deer are down from the high country onto their winter range.  They are browsing on sagebrush and other shrub species, grasses and forbs.

It’s long past hunting season, so they are infinitely more relaxed than during the fall season. Thus a group of them are not overly concerned as I stop my vehicle on the lightly used county road to see if I can get some decent shots right from the vehicle as the evening light is quickly failing.

A mature doe and her two young ones from the previous spring are browsing the vegetation. They were fawns last spring, won’t be a year old until April or May, so are experiencing their first winter following their mother around.

It’s a light wet snow falling, so their coats look wet. But since the main part of their “fur” consists of hollow hairs, each hair is a little bit of trapped air–natural insulation.

Photo location: Manti-La Sal National Monument, near Monticello, Utah.

See more of my nature photography on my website at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Evening Snow Squall, Canyonlands

Evening snow squall clouds over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

Evening snow squall clouds over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

It was the afternoon before the January Full Moon, and the weather wasn’t looking good for my favorite time of the month: Moonrise over a wild landscape. Especially mountains.

Since I live only an hour away from the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah, I always think of them for moonrise shots, especially since there are some great viewpoints on public land in which to position oneself.

But on this particular afternoon, January 11, another snow storm was headed our way. The clouds were wrapped tight around the upper peaks of the La Sals. And they didn’t look like they would dissipate around sunset time, either.

Still, I headed out toward the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, because the clouds were mixed with areas of blue sky and everything was in flux. Unpredictable light, often the best kind.

Wintry snow squall clouds over the Colorado River near Canyonlands National Park.

Wintry snow squall clouds over the Colorado River near Canyonlands National Park.

A viewpoint down toward the Colorado River and the distant Island In The Sky district of Canyonlands was a mix of shadow, sunlight, and snow squall clouds.

The clouds never did part over the La Sal Mountains, but I was out there. I was ready. And I enjoyed some spectacular views anyway.

Photo location: northern San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Christmas Eve Trout

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Waldens Lake on Christmas Eve afternoon.

A deep freeze earlier in the week had left my local trout fishing lake frozen along the entire shoreline. No fishing. Was the season finally over for me?

Then we got another snow storm, but with it came some warmer weather and stiff breezes to make wave action on the lake, which works on the edges of the ice to at least break up some of it.

Today I saw that the south end of the dam was open to the shoreline. So home I went to get my fishing gear.

I caught six trout, keeping four. Tonight a Christmas Eve storm is due in with another two to four inches of snow. Guaranteed White Christmas.

Rainbow trout on snow, Christmas Eve, southeast Utah.

Christmas Eve Rainbow Trout catch.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Winter Solstice Time at Canyonlands

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Winter Solstice occurred on December 21 this year. Supposedly the shortest day and longest night of the year.

However, the day length had been stuck at 9 hours and 32 minutes since December 19, and won’t be a full minute longer until Christmas, Dec. 25, when it will be 9 hrs. 33 min. for four days. Yes, a whole minute longer.

Utah Highway 211 along the upper part of the Indian Creek canyon, in winter.

Upper Indian Creek area of Highway 211 east of the Needles.

Just two days after that, on New Years Eve, the daylight will be two minutes longer than on Christmas Day, at a whopping 9 hrs. 35 minutes! You can follow along at sites such as sunrisesunset.com. The days start getting longer faster the further they get past Solstice, but until then it rather creeps along. The dead of winter begins.

Wintertime snowy cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Snowy sandstone cliffs above Indian Creek Recreation Area.

The day before Winter Solstice I drove in to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s only an hour’s drive from my home, and I hadn’t been there lately. The roads were cleared from a recent snowstorm, so I was sure it would be fun. Sunny and calm.

Sandstone cliff face in upper Indian Creek, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sandstone cliffs and snow along Highway 211.

Driving north from Monticello, Utah on U.S. 191 it’s only about 15 minutes to the turnoff onto Utah Route 211, the highway into the Needles District. Route 211 parallels the Indian Creek drainage before it finally empties into the Colorado River inside the park. The easternmost part of the drive was still high enough in elevation to have snow on the cliffs, under a trademark Utah high desert blue sky.

Newspaper Rock State Historical and Archaeological Site, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock site, from the parking lot.

Roughly halfway to the Canyonlands National Park entrance is the famous Newspaper Rock archaeological site. There is a parking lot with restrooms and a very short walk to this amazing petroglyph panel.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel archaeological site in winter, San Juan County, southeast Utah..

In winter the sun’s angle is low enough to keep much of the petroglyph panel in sunlight.

I’m not wild about the name “Newspaper Rock”, because it conjures up a modern image of ink on newsprint. Instead, these are ancient symbols laboriously pecked into rock, some of which could well be 2,000 years old. And they last infinitely longer than ink or paper.

This was the perfect time to visit the site, with the fresh snow, the low angle of the December sun lighting up the panel, and only one other visitor for a few minutes. It would make for photos much different than the typical ones you see over and over of this site.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site, petroglyph panel, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock in winter.

The rock panel is perfect: Dark patina (think rock “varnish”) on a smooth sandstone face, with an overhang above to shade the panel for most of the year, which serves to slow the weathering process. Pecking through the patina reveals the much lighter sandstone beneath, making the image pop out visually.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, upper portion. (Click on image for larger).

So many symbols that it is mind boggling. Animals, tracks, imposing horned humanoid figures (shamans in sacred regalia? Alien beings from outer space?).

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Newspaper Rock petroglyph panel, lower portion. (Click on image for larger).

Not all these depictions are prehistoric. Anything showing a horse, or a wagon wheel, is after the Spanish first arrived in North America in the 1600s. There are even some fairly modern dates added, something which is strongly discouraged by the steel fence keeping visitors a safe distance away from the panel.

Newspaper Rock archaeological petroglyphs, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Sun and shadow made for a nice vertical composition of petroglyphs and rock angles. Notice that some footprints that have six toes.

From the highway into the Needles District, a nice view of the snowy summits of the La Sal Mountains to the northeast near Moab, peeking above the red rock layers along the lower Indian Creek Valley.

Utah Highway 211 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Highway 211 through the Indian Creek Recreation Area. La Sal Mountains in distance.

At the Needles Visitor Center, all was quiet. The remoteness of Canyonlands National Park means that wintertime is very off season, so there aren’t enough visitors to keep the VC open at this time of year. No entrance fee, just drive on in. The restrooms do remain open, and you can get water and park brochures and maps. The campground is open year round.

Not far past the Visitor Center is a turnout for the Roadside Ruin. Again, not the best of names. I made me expect some rubble of a pueblo foundation. Instead, it’s a very nice and easy walk to a very well preserved granary tucked into a small out of sight alcove.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, southeast Utah.

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The interpretive sign for Roadside Ruin said that stone-and-mortar pueblo dwellings hadn’t been found in this area, indicating that it was intensely farmed (corn, beans, squash) and the dried grains stored in the granaries. So it was used in the growing season, not year around.

"Roadside Ruin" ancestral granary site, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, San Juan County, Utah..

“Roadside Ruin” ancestral granary, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

The doorway into the granary is through the roof. Otherwise they might have built the walls up until it met the roof of the alcove, and put the door into the side. Sometimes the ancient ones did, sometimes they didn’t.

The Needles District of Canyonlands is a hiker’s and four wheeler’s paradise. But on this day I had elsewhere to go. So I will be back throughout the winter to enjoy the lack of crowds.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Sunset to Moonrise at the Lake

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December sunset afterglow backlights a cloud bank over the Abajos.

Another chilly early December evening. Fishing was good at the lake, a nice chop to the water but not so strong as to make conditions unsavory.

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Panoramic view, minutes later.

From atop the dam I made overlapping images to merge into a huge panorama file later using Adobe Lightroom CC.

Then, looking over my shoulder was the nearly full moon rising above the Earth’s shadow and the Venus Belt.

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Rising moon, two days before Full Moon.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Ice Drops Reflections

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Frozen ice balls on dead weeds (Mullein) from slight wave action as the lake level slowly dropped. Mullein don’t grow in standing water; the lake was lower when they grew in this spot. Then last year was an excellent water year from the snowpack of the mountains above, and late summer rains, and the lake level rose.

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Then, several mornings later, the gently undulating mirror surface reflected the blue sky and the weed stalks.

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Mesmerizing reflections…

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Like half realist, half surrealist paintings.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Inspector Of Storms

Snow squall over the lake seems to be swallowing the late afternoon sun.

Snow squall over the lake seems to be swallowing the late afternoon sun.

“For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow storms and rain storms, and did my duty faithfully….” –Henry David Thoreau

A cold, blustery afternoon in late November. Sunlight and snow flurries. Not bad. Lake fishing for trout is much better when there are ripples or even small chops on the water’s surface. When it’s calm the water is glassy and the fish can see the line and they think: “That doesn’t look natural. I don’t think I’ll eat it.” They do. They may have tiny brains, but they know what they’re doing.

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Snow showers around the Abajo Mountains.

But the fishing action was slow on this wintry afternoon. The limit for trout in Utah is four fish (you can catch more as long as you release them immediately), and it was taking me a long time to reach my limit. I probably wouldn’t have stuck it out for more than about an hour if it weren’t for the snow showers over the Abajos and the lake. The light was constantly changing as the clouds shifted around.

Late afternoon sun reflection and snow showers.

Late afternoon sun reflection and snow showers.

The snow squalls would wreathe the mountain peaks, then dissipate for a bit. The wind was coming across the dam behind me, making for a sheltered spot where I was fishing. The calm water at my feet made for a wonderful mirror for the dramatic display in the sky to the south. I would cast my lure over and over, and when another intriguing photo presented itself I set down my rod and reel and got the camera out of the camera bag. I would shoot the scene, then go right back to fishing.

Blue and white clouds, blue and white lake.

Blue and white clouds, blue and white lake.

Finally, after two and a half hours in the cold, I had my limit of trout. And the light display was winding down, too. There would be no gold and red sunset colors this evening; the clouds on the western horizon had cut off any chance of that. But the light show of whites to blues to dark blues had been quite mesmerizing.

Rainbow trout on a snow patch.

Rainbow trout on a snow patch, new snowflakes decorating it while I continued to fish.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Abajo Peaks and December Sky Reflection

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Early evening sky reflection, Monticello, Utah.

Early evening at sunset in early winter, December 1st. The snow covered Abajo Mountains, which the locals usually call the Blue Mountains or merely “The Blues” look small in this ultra wide angle panoramic composition. That’s because the clouds stole the show, spread  across the sky from north to south. The lake was mirror calm and so doubled the effect.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg