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

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Mesa Verde Summer Evening, Part 4

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook, July 2017.

Mesa Verde North Rim from the Geologic Overlook.

As I continued my way on the “outbound lane” as the Rangers call it in Mesa Verde (there’s only one road in, and out), I paused at the Geologic Overlook. The monsoon showers were gracing someone’s location to the north. Where I was it was soft overcast light and summertime greenery.

Partial rainbow from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Partial rainbow at Park Point, Mesa Verde.

At the turnoff for Park Point, those rain showers to the north provided a partial rainbow, with the La Plata (“Silver”) mountains serving as a backdrop.

Mesa Verde North Rim from Park Point

The North Rim of Mesa Verde, looking north from Park Point.

At Park Point is the fire lookout “tower”, which has no legs. Because it needs none, the perfect 360-degree view being provided by its elevation above the surrounding landscape. While walking by I became interested in my reflection through the glass onto mylar or whatever sun shading film they had cutting the intensity of the afternoon sun.

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Then down the curves to the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the best example of The Knife Edge cliff formation (of Point Lookout Sandstone) visible from the road.

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Mesa Verde road above the Montezuma Valley Overlook and the Knife Edge.

From there it was down into the head of Morefield Canyon, where the park’s campground is located. I stopped for a stroll on the easy–but impressive–Knife Edge Trail. It follows part of one of the original roads into the park. And believe me, be glad for the modern road we enjoy today!

Knife Edge Trail, Knife Edge Road route, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, on the grade of the old Knife Edge Road into Mesa Verde National Park.

After returning to my vehicle, there was just one more set of switchback curves before rejoining the Montezuma Valley and exiting the park. And on those curves is one last viewpoint: overlooking the Mancos Valley. And it was raining down there, and the lush green irrigated fields looked gorgeous.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

The Mancos Valley Overlook and July thunderstorm, from Mesa Verde.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Summer Evening (part 1)

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling site.

A late July afternoon and I got off work at Mesa Verde fairly early: 4:15 pm. Dramatic monsoon thunderstorm clouds had been brewing all afternoon. Time to go home, way down in the valley below.

But not directly home. No rush. Not with this kind of light. I chose to make my way back down off of Mesa Verde gradually.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling Ancestral Puebloan site, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Closeup panorama of Square Tower House. The “tower” is the tallest Ancestral Puebloan structure at Mesa Verde.

First I drove the Mesa Top Loop. Stopping at the Square Tower House overlook, I photographed the cliff dwelling (it’s my favorite, somehow) as the summertime late afternoon shadows were beginning to creep across the back of the site. The back of the alcove being in shade made for an excellent backdrop.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon on a monsoon season afternoon, Mesa Verde.

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The bottom of Navajo Canyon, with a fallen boulder as big as a bus.

I then walked the short distance to the Navajo Canyon overlook, which is the canyon Square Tower House is perched above. I became interested in the cliffs as usual. But this time I noticed the tan color in the bottom of the canyon. It looked like mud was down there in the stream course (when it runs), but it was grass, done with its short life and gone to seed and dead and dry. It sure did make the canyon bottom’s winding way stand out.

Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon cliffs, from the rim.

My evening sojourn across the “green table” was just beginning.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Monsoon Afternoons

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Monsoon thunderstorm over the Montezuma Valley, east of Cortez, Colorado.

The early half of the summer in the Four Corners region is typically the driest part of the year. Winter is over, but the rains are few or nonexistent.

After that, though, the Southwest’s “monsoon” season of thunderstorms begins, to the delight of area residents. Rain in a high desert land, variety in the skies.

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Rain in the valley, with the North Rim of Mesa Verde on the skyline.

Typically the mornings start clear and sunny. But as the summer temperature climbs throughout the day the clouds begin forming. Then boiling up, like a teapot steaming. After that, you might get rained on, and you might not. It just depends. And in the evening, you have a much better than average chance of seeing a rainbow.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Moonset and Sleeping Ute

Full Moon setting at dawn over Sleeping Ute Mountain in southwest Colorado.

Moonset at dawn, Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area

At the time of the Full Moon each month, there is not only the anticipation of landscape photos featuring moonrise in the evening, but the next morning there is moonset, too.

For moonset at that time of the month, you have to be up and out there to your selected photo spot early. I almost missed mine this month, having turned off the alarm and dozed away. Waking to the sound of a robin starting to sing outside my window, meaning: it’s dawn, and you should have been up!

I scrambled out of bed, out of the apartment, and drove to Totten Reservoir, which I had previously scouted for its view of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, but also its view to Sleeping Ute Mountain across the lake.

It was breezy as I walked down from the parking lot to my chosen spot. Only to find a cloud of mosquitoes dancing in the lee of a Cottonwood tree. Not going to set up my tripod there! A few yards further down, the breeze was too stiff for the insects to get to me.

Then the almost-risen sun added streaks of pink and white from the east, overtop Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west. My reward for hustling out there.

Photo location: Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area, Cortez, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Montezuma Valley Blue Horizons

View from Park Point, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The Montezuma Valley from Park Point in Mesa Verde National Park.

After a late May cold front that gave us more snow and hurt the Oak leaves that were trying to emerge, for the second time (don’t worry, they are tough), we seem to be back to wonderful late spring weather. Warm during the day, but not hot. Chilly at night, but only freezing for a night or two.

Now that true May weather has resumed, I continue to watch the rest of the deciduous vegetation unfold.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

A Real April Day at Mesa Verde

April 27, and the Four Corners region was finally getting back to some real springtime weather. As in moisture: rain, snow showers. Good. It had been almost three weeks without precipitation.

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A wet cold April morning at Far View in Mesa Verde National Park.

I had gone up onto Mesa Verde early, hoping for some parting clouds kind of scenic shots before I had to be at work. I pulled over at a choice spot, waiting. But it turned out to be a nice little nap while the rain continued to softly fall on the windshield.

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Wild Turkey gobbler, Mesa Verde.

As I neared work, a wild turkey gobbler (i.e., a male) was strutting his stuff on the shoulder of the road. It’s mating season, so he feels the urge to proclaim to his corner of the world that he’s the top male around here. Living in a national park, he knew that he wasn’t going to get shot, so he had the luxury of parading around only semi nervously. I made a number of (camera) shots of him, but the light was still too poor for more than a few in-motion captures.

Utah Serviceberry, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Utah Serviceberry blossoms and new leaves.

Mesa Verde is covered with innumerable shrubs of Utah Serviceberry, which emerges early in the spring, both the leaves and the white blossoms. I stopped to capture them in the soft overcast light and wetness.

Then some Bitterbrush as well, a tough shrub that is a favorite food of deer.

Bitterbrush - Purshia tridentata, Mesa Verde National Park

Bitterbrush – Purshia tridentata

Then it was to work, cooped up inside the Chapin Mesa Museum building except for a couple of short breaks, and lunch. Outside it was rain, clouds, fog, and even a blizzard-like snow squall for a while.

Navajo Canyon Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Navajo Canyon Overlook, Mesa Verde.

After work, it was my time. I drove out the Mesa Top Loop road to see what was going on with the interesting light from the clearing storm front. First stop was the Navajo Canyon Overlook. Some sunshine through the heavy clouds provided a rich and dramatic view.

Square Tower House Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Square Tower House Ruin, Mesa Verde.

Nearby was the Square Tower House Overlook. This Ancestral Puebloan village is not the largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, but it is one of the most photogenic. Its tower is the tallest in the park. At that time of the early evening in late April, the sun and shadows contrasted nicely.

Sun Point View of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, Mesa Verde.

Sun Point View of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, Mesa Verde.

At Sun Point View, I made a panoramic series of shots of two converging canyons, including a distant view of the iconic Cliff Palace. A number of cliff dwellings are visible to the sharp eyed, especially as aided by the interpretive signs.

Mummy House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mummy House, Mesa Verde.

Remains of room blocks on a sandstone shelf below Mummy House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Remains of room blocks on a sandstone shelf below Mummy House.

The last stop was to drive the Cliff Palace Loop and take another several shots down onto the Palace. The crowds were gone for the day, the overcast light was soft.

Cliff Palace panorama, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Cliff Palace panorama, Mesa Verde.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

See more of my photography at http://www.NaturalMoment.com

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Lizard Head Pass: Snow Melting

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Sheep Mountain, early evening light, April 10.

I had been avoiding Lizard Head Pass, my favorite area in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, all winter. Why? Because when the snows pile up too far you’re only allowed to drive through. No stopping. The avalanche danger is too high. No place to even pull over for some quick photos unless you care to risk a citation from a Highway Patrol trooper.

But it’s April now. Still early way up there, yes, being just above 10,000 feet. But spring has been moving along. I wanted to see how things were up there.

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Lizard Head Peak, April 10.

So after a day at work, I drove up the Dolores River canyon to Rico (elevation 8,800 feet), looking for some of my favorite National Forest camping locations along the way. Below Rico, things were looking good. Just good enough. Above Rico, forget it. Unless you’re into making snow caves.

At Lizard Head Pass, the avalanche warning signs were down, and many turnouts were clear and dry, allowing for photos. Above Trout Lake, I made an early evening panorama of Sheep Mountain. After scouting around for additional possibilities, I settled in for sunset time warmth on the massive mountain.

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Sheep Mountain in sunset light, April 10.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass area, San Juan Mountains between Trout Lake and Rico, Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 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