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.

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© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg



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

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Abajo Peaks, Sunset Sunbeams


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.

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© 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


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.

May Showers

Rain Shower Clouds at Sunset, Arizona

The aroma of rain comes suddenly and deliciously in dry country.

It’s been a dry spring here in the central Arizona highlands of Yavapai County. So yesterday afternoon when I could suddenly smell the rain, I immediately looked outside. There it was, wetting the dusty ground. I’d eagerly watched the clouds all morning. Hoping for rain. In the afternoon I was rewarded not only with some mud on my shoes as I took a break outdoors, but a nice partial rainbow.

Near sunset time, the evening Golden Hour, I could see a rain shower in the distance, east toward the Black Hills. Even a bolt of silent lightning, too far away to hear the thunder. The escaping sun lit up the cloud tops. The Earth continues to slowly green here. It’s a great spring.

Photo location: Lonesome Valley and Little Chino Valley, north of Prescott in Yavapai County, Arizona.