Spring In The Rockies: Ice Out At Trout Lake

Trout Lake panorama, Trout Lake Colorado in springtime.

Panoramic view of Trout Lake, May 14, 2018.

.The mountain phenomenon of “ice out” has occurred at Trout Lake in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

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Sheep Mountain, shimmering in Trout Lake, May 14, 2018. Sheep Mountain on the skyline.

Springtime is always beautiful. But this year it’s also important to put things into context. It has been a very dry winter, and even drier spring. Sure, things green up much earlier — where there is enough water. Plants and wildlife adjust accordingly, as best they can. We will see what the rest of the spring and early summer bring in southwest Colorado.

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Trout Lake, Colorado, April 28, 2018.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, things looked much different. Above is  what it looked like on April 28. The snow was gone from the shores, and the lowering lake level had the ice sunken and ready to break up.

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Trout Lake from the shoreline, February 28, 2018. Sheep Mountain in the middle distance.

One more jump back in time, to late winter on February 28 and it was certainly wintry. And gorgeous.

See more of my best photography (and order prints) on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

Photo Location: Trout Lake, San Miguel County, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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Grousing Around Through A May Snowstorm

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Lizard Head Pass.

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

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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.

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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.

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On the way back north from Dove Creek.

And I made it just before dark.

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Back to Bedrock the next morning.

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

See more of my photography on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

First Wildflower Reds of the Season: Paintbrush

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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

It’s Spring, the Vultures Have Returned

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Three Turkey Vultures this morning.

Even though I love all four seasons here in the Four Corners Country of the high Southwest, as always I eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.

The formerly “blonde” lawns in town are getting a bit of green from their bases.

Several days ago I awoke to hear a robin singing at dawn for the first time this season. Each morning. I no longer set my alarm to wake me up, except on work days. The robins will provide a much gentler and sweeter call to my ears.

But I was remaining a bit unconvinced still that it was really spring yet. Not that we won’t have a late springtime blizzard or two.

The trigger was when the turkey vultures would return from down south. Because I watched them as they would congregate near sunset time in certain tall old spruce trees in town. Yes, in town. After all, why not? They are silent, they don’t prey on anyone’s cat or little dog. I’d bet that most people don’t even notice them. They think the big black birds are more ravens. Except a lot bigger. And they glide with their wings in a “V” shape instead of flat.

And a few evenings ago I saw those “V” wings return. I thought it was early, even for this relatively mild winter. Until I saw them lighting in a big spruce tree down the street. They were back.

There was a skif of new snow on the ground here in town this morning. Tonight another snowstorm is coming in. Did the vultures return too early? Were the rotting animal carcasses running low down south?

Nah. They know what they’re doing. I had the opportunity to photograph them this morning because it was calm. They are master gliders, they don’t waste energy flapping their wings any more than necessary. Wait for the breezes to blow. Glide on.

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Photo location: Cortez, southwest Colorado.

See my best photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

The Green Table Finally Greens Up (Mesa Verde)

Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus, at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) leafing out and flowering, Mesa Verde, April 24.

Mesa Verde means “green table” in Spanish. Mesa Verde National Park is a tilted green table, heavily dissected by its canyons that also flow south.

Other than its famous prehistoric cliff dwellings and dizzying geology, the Mesa looks rather drab after the snows are gone and the deciduous vegetation has yet to leaf out.

Thus it has been interesting watching the progression of springtime through the various shrubs, forbs and grasses as they turn the brown and gray back to green.

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) leafing and blooming, Mesa Verde National Park, May 4.

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) leafing and blooming, Mesa Verde National Park, May 4.

The earlier leafing species such as Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) and Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) seem to be well adapted to the weather swings of early spring. They don’t sweat cold snaps, even the occasional late snow storm.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) blooming at Mesa Verde, May 7, 2017.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) blooming at Mesa Verde, May 7.

On the other hand the “Oakbrush”, the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambellii) that tough small tree that resprouts vigorously even after the major fires that occurred in the park about 15-20 years ago, is cold sensitive. It leafs out later, and cautiously. I was to find out why during this particular spring.

Gamber Oak, Quercus gambellii, leafing and beginning to flower, Mesa Verde National Park.

Gambel Oak leafing and about to flower, Mesa Verde, April 24.

Things had been greening up nicely in the park. In fact, it was a very early spring, especially judging by how early the yucca plants were beginning to send up their flower stalks, at 7,000 feet in elevation.

North Rim of Mesa Verde, from Montezuma Valley Overlook, May 4, 2017.

North Rim of Mesa Verde, Gambel Oak barely leafing out, May 4.

However, things changed on May 18 when a late snow storm hit the area.

Late snow, Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde.

Late snow, May 18, Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde.

The early leafing shrubs showed why they have the confidence to take late cold snaps in stride. A little bit of cold damage to their newest shoots, but otherwise no sweat.

Early leafing shrubs in late snow, May 18, 2017 Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Early leafing shrubs in late snow, May 18. The Oaks are still brown.

The Oaks, though, were stunned. Tender baby leaves, and flowering catkins, were zapped. The storm passed quickly, providing some gorgeous parting shots. But as far as the Oaks, you could almost hear them arguing (“I told you it was too early!”).

Wilted Gamel Oak (Quercus gambellii) leaves after the May 18, 2017 cold snap storm, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Wilted Gamel Oak leaves after the May 18 cold snap storm.

So the Oaks had to regroup, not that they are not splendidly built for that, too. (I told you they are tough). Their Plan B was to shift their energy to leafing out yet again, and the heck with the flowering this year. There’s always next year, you know.

May 18 ice on Mountain Mahogany, Mesa Verde.

May 18 ice on Mountain Mahogany, Mesa Verde.

Which means few acorns, that round fat nut that wildlife like deer,  turkeys, and rodents feast on in the fall. But even more so the black bears, which chow down on the acorns for their high starch content, building up the layer of fat that their bodies will depend on during their winter hibernation. So we could see more bear incidents this fall, as they try to supplement their diet with human garbage and such.

Above Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, June 11.

Above Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde, June 11.

But finally, the Oak shrubs/trees are almost fully leafed out. The Green Table is back to being almost at its height of green for the summer.

At Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, June 11, 2017.

At Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde, June 12.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Goodbye Monticello

Springtime scenery photo of Loyds Lake, in San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Loyds Lake, Monticello, Utah

As things have turned out, it was time for me to leave southeast Utah. It had been a wonderful three years, first living at Natural Bridges National Monument at the north end of Cedar Mesa, then a half year in a town, Monticello, Utah.

My time in Monticello started in this past fall, my favorite time of year. Warm days, crisp nights at 7,000 feet. A lot of trout fishing at Loyds Lake. It soon became my Walden Pond, now that I was officially retired.

Being free of a job, of somewhere to be each day, was liberation. At first. But as the winter wore on and the lake froze over, it was less and less fun. I needed something to do.

So now I work at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, a mere 60 miles east of Monticello. I help to raise money for the park, working for the Mesa Verde Museum Association, the nonprofit partner of the park. It provides structure for my life, even though I do have to be certain places on certain days at certain times. It’s a heck of a lot better than being fully “retired”.

Panorama photo of springtime green agricultural fields near Dove Creek, Colorado.

Springtime on the Great Sage Plain, Dove Creek, Colorado, between Monticello and Cortez.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com

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

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

Evening Rain, Cedar Mesa

Cedar Mesa sunset shower panorama.

Cedar Mesa sunset shower panorama.

Sunset colors–good ones–had been sorely lacking in these parts this spring. I’m not used to that. Not in the high desert, with all the clear air and clouds of an uncommonly wet springtime.

So when some rain showers approached in the evening, I thought it was worth another try. You never know what might happen. Never bet against sunset, that’s my motto. One of them.

So out at Maverick Point, with its splendid unobstructed view to the west, I once again set up the camera on tripod. A lovely rain curtain was falling toward distant Monument Valley, lit slightly golden by the low angle of the setting sun. A good start to the session.

Moss Back Butte and evening rain shower.

Moss Back Butte and evening rain shower.

Then another light gray rain curtain in between me and Moss Back Butte. I love to watch rain curtains in the distance. After a little while there was thunder, which meant I was in the danger zone for lightning. Me and my aluminum tripod. So after several more shots I retreated to the truck to watch the evening progress. Rain drops streaked down the passenger side window and the wind came up. See, I didn’t want to get my camera wet anyway. So much safer inside a vehicle when lightning might be about.

I drove up onto Maverick Point itself for a higher view. The sunset colors near the distant Henry Mountains was interesting. Not killer, but nice.

Henry Mountains sunset colors, from Cedar Mesa.

Henry Mountains sunset colors, from Cedar Mesa.

On the point was a new fire ring. Not the usual crude thing, but a work of art. Flat sandstone slivers made into a circular hearth. Another oblong rock across the top made it into a grill to cook a pot of stew on. It was new; I’d been back to this spot very recently. A very nice place to camp with a tent, not far from a parked vehicle.

Fire ring artwork on Photographer's Point.

Fire ring artwork on Photographer’s Point.

And I’ve dubbed this particular viewpoint on Maverick Point as Photographer’s Point. This is just between you and me, right?

Photo location: Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Video

Signs Of Spring: Three Lambs

A few weeks ago three lambs were born to the big old sheep out back. The first born was clearly the strongest and was favored by the mother. The second lamb did pretty good, though lagging behind the first. The third lamb was very weak and mostly lay alone while the other two followed their mother about.

The owners penned the four of them up together for a while, so that the mother would have to nurse them all, not favor one or two of them. It worked. Now all three follow Mom all around, and even go off on their own to play together and explore their little world, which must seem quite big to them at such a young age.

This video is from when they were only about a week old. It’s a lot of fun to watch them wobble and walk about, figuring out how to use their little bodies and experience their surroundings.