High Country Wildflowers: Mules Ears and Lupine

Mule's Ears and Silvery Lupine, Ouray County, Colorado.

Mule’s Ears and Silvery Lupine in bloom, Ouray County, Colorado.

Late June and I was back in the high country of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado for the first time this summer.

After a stellar day at Lizard Head Pass, I was off the next morning to Ridgway, Ouray, and Durango.

Maybe I got started too early, after photographing the Milky Way during the middle of the night. Because shortly before dawn I pulled over for a nap. Afterward, the sun was rising and I could see all the early summer wildflowers in bloom in nearby pastures.

I had chosen my pre-sunrise nap location well, it seemed.

Photo location: Ouray County, south of Ridgway, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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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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Wildflower Portraits: Fendlerbush

Fendlerbush - Fendlera falcata (F. rupicola), Mesa Verde National Park

Late springtime blossoms of Fendlerbush – Fendlera falcata (F. rupicola)

Southwest Colorado, the first day of June. I chose to spend my early evening walking at the Far View pueblo sites at Mesa Verde.

Along the trail I am taken by yet more pure white blossoms of Fendlerbush (Fendlera falcata (F. rupicola), a tough and beautiful shrub that thrives here.

Fendlerbush - Fendlera falcata (F. rupicola) at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Fendlerbush closeup.

Fendlerbush - Fendlera falcata (F. rupicola) at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Fendlerbush blossoms set against their green foliage.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Spring Wildflowers

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Utah Serviceberry in bloom at Mesa Verde.

Springtime on Mesa Verde, the “green table” in Spanish. A titled table, and highly dissected by canyons draining to the south. Which is getting greener by the day, now that it’s springtime.

But this is about some of the vegetation growing on the upper reaches. The most noticeable shrub in early spring is Utah Serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis, both because of its many white blossoms and because it adds a lot of greenery to an otherwise drab landscape this early in the season.

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Double Bladderpod, Physaria acutifolia.

Double Bladderpod, Physaria acutifolia, has a whorl of silvery-green leaves that mostly hug the ground. It raises a lot of small yellow four-petaled flowers.

 

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Double Bladderpod blossoms emerging.

Back to the white blossoms, we have Patterson’s Milkvetch, Astragalus pattersonii, of the pea family. My source says that there are 13 different species of milkvetches at Mesa Verde. So how is one to really know? They grow on shale slopes and soils containing selenium, so you neither want to smell them very long, or eat them. Their feathery blossoms, though, are just fine for looking at.

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Patterson’s Milkvetch, Astragalus panttersonii.

Gambel Oak, Quercus gambellii, is the tough, small tree that keeps resprouting from wildfires, of which Mesa Verde has had some horrendous ones over the past couple of decades. And it’s good for the soil that they do resprout rather than die, because they hold the soil on on the slopes. The other plant species should thank them.

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Emerging leaves and flowers of Gambel Oak.

We bring up the rear, so to speak, with another yellow wildflower that catches the eye on a drive along the park. This one is Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Balsamhoriza sagitatta. In the Sunflower Family, so you know it likes to show off. As it should. Elk, deer, and the feral horses like it, but somehow it tolerates being munched on by them, too. So did the Ute Indians.

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Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Stay tuned for more. Spring is just beginning in southwest Colorado.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

First Wildflowers and Cedar Tree Tower, Mesa Verde

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Hood’s Phlox, April 2, 2017, Mesa Verde National Park.

I stopped off at the Cedar Tree Tower site on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde on a recent April evening. The tower site is a short, paved drive off the main park highway. Just before I got to the parking area I spotted some Phlox wildflowers already in bloom amidst the green blades of new grasses sprouting.

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Hood’s Phlox on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park, April 2, 2017.

It was Hood’s Phlox, Phlox hoodii, as I learned from the book Wildflowers of Mesa Verde at the Mesa Verde Museum Association’s bookstore. https://www.mesaverde.org/category/books/plants-wildlife.

I continued on to the Ancestral Puebloan tower site.

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Cedar Tree Tower and kiva site.

The ancient ones of that era (A.D. 1100 to 1300) built small stone towers in a number of locations in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Their purpose remains a mystery. Since they are often very near a kiva (a subterranean ceremonial room), they may have had a ceremonial purpose themselves. Or they could have been line of sight with other towers, allowing for signalling with a fire in times of danger. Or to announce: “This area belongs to us — approach in friendship, or else!”

Archaeologists believe that this particular tower was two stories in height. It is located on a high spot on Chapin Mesa (a part of Mesa Verde), with a view in all directions. They farmed this area in corn, beans, and squash. Nearby is a trail to some of the terraces and check dams they built to collect the fertile soil and capture water from rain and snow melt.

View south from Cedar Tree Tower ruin, Mesa Verde.

Looking south toward one of the many deep canyons that dissect Mesa Verde.

Notice all the standing dead trees. This portion of the park was burned by the Long Mesa Fire in 2002. Fire is a natural part of the pinyon pine – juniper high desert forest community, and the Long Mesa Fire was naturally caused, by lightning. However, a century of unnatural fire suppression has caused higher than natural fuel loadings, making such catastrophic fires more likely.

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The kiva adjacent to Cedar Tree Tower. The roof has not been reconstructed.

But it begs the question: Did this area look all that much different when the Puebloans were living here? Their need for wood products was tremendous, both for heating and cooking, as well as roof beams for their pueblos and kivas. There may have not been many trees left nearby.

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By the way, there are no cedar trees on Mesa Verde. The early pioneers thought the Utah juniper trees were cedar trees, as best they knew.

For more information, go to Mesa Verde National Park’s web page about this site:

https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/mt_cedar_tree_tower.htm

Photo Location: Chapin Mesa, in Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

For more of my photography, go to www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Spring Wildflowers of Glen Canyon

Utah Highway 95 bridge shadow across Colorado River, Hite Crossing, Utah.

Highway 95 bridge shadow across the Colorado River at Narrow Canyon portion of Glen Canyon. It must be spring: notice the green riparian vegetation.

We begin (actually just me) at Hite Crossing of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. The muddy river, naturally, upstream from Lake Powell. Brown cliffs on both sides, blue sky above. Whoops, don’t forget the thin strip of green riparian (streamside) vegetation that has leafed out. It’s spring.

Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

The Colorado River, looking downstream from the Highway 95 bridge at Hite Crossing.

Enough of this shameless gawking at the river and the cliffs and the snow capped mountains in the distance. Let’s roll on down the road. But not far, before the golden glowing plumes of Prince’s Plume caused me to veer to the side of the road.

Prince's Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Prince’s Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Next was the Yellow Cryptanth. Really small yellow flowers with fuzzy cups and stems, they don’t like to hog the limelight.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush, Glen Canyon.

I love it when I can get two different wildflowers in the same photo. Especially when they’re different colors, too. The green of their leaves can count as a third color. If you’re counting such things.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon.

If you’re only attracted to the big, showy blossoms of the season, shame on you. The true naturalist is drawn in by the more subtle ones, too. Like Blackbrush, with its diminutive yellow flowers.

Blackbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Blackbrush blossoms in spring, Glen Canyon.

Let’s veer on over to the white side of the flower spectrum in Glen Canyon: Cliffrose. Its blossoms are fairly showy. Not bright white, a rather yellowish white. But the fragrance will make you remember.

Cliffrose wildflower blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Cliffrose blossoms, Glen Canyon.

In case you’ve forgotten, this is all in the desert.

Speaking of which, we come to one of the most desert like plants, the yucca. With its evergreen bayonet leaves and a needle like tip that will make you remember not to carelessly stumble into it next time, they also have one of the most amazing flowering habit. Namely a stalk that grows as quickly as corn in Ohio (don’t ask for scientific proof, I don’t have it) to sent creamy white blossoms as delicate as their “leaves” are formidable.

Narrowleaf yucca, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca and flowering stalk, from above.

Maybe it was time for a break from all the lushness. I stopped near the Highway 95 bridge over the Dirty Devil River and walked out onto the span. Which you can do easily here, since there is almost no traffic.

Dirty Devil River, near confluence with Colorado River, Utah.

The Dirty Devil River, from Highway 95. Notice the lighter “bathtub ring” above the newly reborn green along the river that had been drowned by Lake Powell when it was full.

South of Hite I once again paused along the highway. I do that a lot. And why not? In this case it was a relatively short span across an unmarked canyon. You would drive across it in couple seconds — whump, whump — without noticing.

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White Canyon bridge, Highway 95.

You would have just crossed White Canyon, just upstream from its mouth into the Colorado River. No big deal. Right? But pull over. Walk to the edge, or onto the span and look down. Yeah, totally different realization.

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Lower White Canyon, from Highway 95.

I made a few exposures onto the camera memory card that I’d hoped portrayed the overall scene. The desert varnish streaked cliffs, the red buttes in the distance.

Then I let my camera lens follow my gaze to the floor of the canyon. It was an overcast day, devoid of the strong sunlight and black shadows so typical of canyon country. The cliffs above were the beige of Cedar Mesa Sandstone, ancient “petrified” (not the right term, but nevertheless) sand dunes lifted up from sea level eons ago. And at the bottom the (temporarily) dry streambed that somehow had carved its way down. Still does, in fact. Since erosion never sleeps.

White Canyon, southeast Utah.

The streambed of lower White Canyon.

Narrowleaf Yucca flowering stalk, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca flower pods along their stalk.

Photo Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

KachinBox-Elder tree leaves and flowers in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Springtime Colors at Natural Bridges

Kachina Natural Bridge in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Kachina Natural Bridge, April greenery.

Previously I have called the relatively bland scenery in canyon country after the deciduous leaves have fallen and before there is snow blanketing the cliffs as being “in between the colors”.

Kachina Singleaf Ash leaves and flowers in April, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Singleleaf Ash springtime leaves and flowers, White Canyon.

Oh, sure, since there are always the pinyon pines and the junipers, along with some evergreen shrubs, cacti and yucca there is always plenty of green around the high desert. But you don’t realize how much the brighter green of the cottonwood and box elder trees, the Singleaf Ash, and the shrubs and forbs add to the color mix in spring and summer.

Common Paintbrush wildflower, White Canyon, southeast Utah.

Common Paintbrush, White Canyon.

Which only makes one appreciate springtime that much more.

Silvery Lupine, White Canyon, Utah.

Silvery Lupine, White Canyon near Fry Canyon.

So last week I was able to hike down into White Canyon to visit Kachina Natural Bridge once again. I thought about how favorite trails get easier the more you hike them. Never boring; there’s always more to notice that you missed previously, or that has changed since last year.

Newberry's Twinpod wildflower, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Newberry’s Twinpod on the “beach” at Kachina Natural Bridge.

Down at the intermittent stream that drains White Canyon, Kachina Bridge was complemented by the bright springtime growth of the Fremont Cottonwood and Box-Elder trees about halfway leafed out.

Box-Elder springtime leaves and flowers, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Box-Elder tree spring growth: flowers hanging like strings.

Underneath the massive natural bridge — youngest of the three in the Monument — there is a large sandbar that we call the “beach”. It makes for a pleasant place to hang out, especially in afternoon sunshine. Though this day was overcast, allowing photos of the bridge and canyons without the usual high contrast of bright sunlit areas and deep shadows.

Petroglyphs on buttress of Kachina Natural Bridge.

Ancient inscriptions (petroglyphs) on Kachina Natural Bridge buttress.

On the beach were Newberry’s Twinpod, Mountain Pepperplant, and some others.

Wildflowers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge, White Canyon, Utah.

Spring wildflowers on the “beach” beneath Kachina Bridge.

As usual I paused to examine the numerous ancient inscriptions — both petroglyphs (pecked into the stone) and pictographs (painted on the stone, including handprints) — on the buttresses of the bridge.

Kachina Natural Bridge, White Canyon, Utah, in spring.

North Buttress of Kachina Bridge and pool of water in White Canyon.

Also another walk up to the sandy bench along the north buttress of the bridge. There is a very special area there, containing some small adobe structures (probably granaries or storage of special tools or ceremonial stuff), handprints, and many inscriptions pecked into the cliff face and adjoining boulders.

Kachina Natural Bridge Ruin, Natural Bridges National Park, Utah.

Ruin at Kachina Natural Bridge. Note the handprints on the cliff wall and the ghostly pictographs painted inside the low adobe structure.

Photo Location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

 

 

High Desert Wildflowers

It’s been an uncommonly wet spring in the high desert of southeast Utah and the rest of the Four Corners area. The plants are making hay while the rains come, so to speak. As they are engineered to do.

Each spring I vow to learn the species as they flower, which gives one time to notice them, since they don’t all blossom at once.  Usually I fail to keep my promise.

This year, though, I have been doing quite well. Here are some of my favorites so far.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunflowers Summer Of 2010

San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff, Arizona

Combing through my photo files gives me a fresh perspective on them. What’s the best, what’s not.

But also to delve into some photos with the latest tools, like Adobe Lightroom 5. They keep tweaking the tools to make them more subtle, and thus more powerful for expressing a photographer’s mind’s eye.

In this photo taken northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, I was savoring the mountain high country. Mountain peaks, warmth without sweating like a pig. Cool nights camping in the forest.

But that summer, the sunflowers exploded in force. Riotous. What caused that? The next summer, not so much. So I’m glad to have photos of it like this one.