Peak To Peak in Southwest Colorado

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Wilson Peak, between Telluride and Trout Lake.

The objective for this more than 200-mile drive around southwest Colorado was to be up in the San Juan Mountains at a particularly strategic spot to photograph the full moon rising over the snowy peaks just before dark.

I could have merely driven from Cortez to Lizard Head Pass, then back. But the days have been getting so much longer, and the roads were dry. Plus I had all day to do whatever I wanted to.

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Vermilion Peak and Pilot Knob at Trout Lake.

Why not widen the loop by another couple hundred miles, you say? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, either. I’m glad that you agree.

Southwest Colorado is great in that there are no Interstate highways. You’re not going to be beelining to anywhere at 70 MPH. Instead, lots of curvy mountain roads. You did come here to slow down and savor the exquisite mountain beauty, didn’t you?

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Red, green and white: driving up the San Miguel River Canyon toward Telluride. 

Half a day into the drive I stopped at Norwood. I had yet to try out any of the local eateries, so I stopped in at the Happy Belly Deli. I had a grilled steak hoagie kind of sandwich with cole slaw that was far above the usual stuff. Plus ham and bean soup that was even better. You can even build your own sandwich there, but that was a little too complicated for me at the moment. Some nice artwork for sale on the walls. That won’t be the last time I eat there, just you watch. I would like to get their full menu so I can plot my next sandwich ahead of time.

The entire morning I had been looking for Lone Cone Peak to emerge from the clouds hailing snow showers down on the high peak. After my lunch in Norwood, well there it was! Perfect. I left the highway onto a county road that heads straight for it. Until I thought I had the best viewpoint before the road turned to deep snow.

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Lone Cone Peak with a halo of clouds, winter afternoon.

Then it on east past Telluride, stopping as usual at the Conoco station for a break.

Then up over the mountain toward Trout Lake. Stopping at an overlook for some exquisite views of surrounding peaks in snowy afternoon light.

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Craggy peaks, afternoon light, shadowed forest forming the foreground.

At Trout Lake I stopped for a panorama series of the peaks: Vermilion, Pilot, Yellow Mountain, and Sheep Mountain.

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Trout Lake winter panorama. Sheep Mountain is dead center.

Then it was up to Lizard Head Pass, my intended location for this month’s moonrise shoot. But despite all of the clouds clearing throughout the afternoon as had been predicted, it only takes one key spot to be clouded up at the key time for it to be a bust.

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The view from near Lizard Head Pass, on the way down the Upper Dolores.

So as I watched the clouds remain over that key spot where the moon would rise a little before the sun set in the opposite direction, I appreciated taking shots of what was there, snow showers and all. Then I drove down the upper Dolores River canyon back to Cortez.

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The west end of Sheep Mountain, early evening. 

Better luck next month. A fine day anyway.

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Snow showers instead of moonrise. Time to pack it in and head home.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Mesa Verde Winter Scenery

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Almost all the way up on the mesa…

At the tail end of what has been a very dry winter, the snow storms, though light, have been coming more frequently.

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NPS snow plow truck working the road at sunrise.

At Mesa Verde National Park, each snowfall of significance is tackled by the park’s Maintenance crew. The snow plows are rolling and scraping before dawn, working the 20-mile road that is the only way in and out.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, as the snow storm winds down.

There is a park “roads hotline” that employees can call (especially those that live outside the park) to listen to a recorded message with the latest conditions and delays, if any. Sometimes they hold us at the entrance station until 8am so that the snow plow drivers have free rein to make several passes outbound and inbound without having to watch out for traffic.

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Snow covered slopes of soft and highly erosive Mancos Shale.

The plows really just push aside any significant snow accumulation. The road remains snow packed and icy because the park doesn’t use salt on the roads. Some sand, but not much. You just have to be prepared with the right kind of vehicle and tires, and be experienced with driving on slippery roads. Or, if you’re a visitor and not an employee, you can wait until the sun comes out and melts the roads off. Since most storms keep right on going, it’s usually not long before the sun gets to do its thing. The afternoons look totally different than the early mornings.

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Snowy sunrise at Geologic Overlook. 

Both versions of the day — snowy and melted — are beautiful in their own way at Mesa Verde. In the morning you may have to content yourself with visiting the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and looking down at Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the major cliff dwellings. At the Museum they show the park movie, have a lot of splendid exhibits, a book store run by the Mesa Verde Museum Association, and of course friendly and well trained National Park Service Rangers.

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Mancos Valley Overlook, afternoon.

 

But in the winter season, bring your own coffee and food until the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe is open for the day, with limited hours. It’s a short stroll from the Museum and the only food facility open in the park in the offseason.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado. The park’s official website is at: https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm.

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

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunset Crater Winter Panorama

Sunset Crater volcano, winter panorama, near Flagstaff Arizona.

Sunset Crater Volcano panorama, from Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, northern Arizona.

Sunset Crater National Monument lies a short drive north of Flagstaff in northern Arizona. The National Monument of course was created around its namesake, the extinct 800 year old cinder cone.

Flagstaff lies near the eastern edge of a 50 mile wide string of volcanic features called the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Sunset Crater is merely the most recent in a long string of eruptions. When will the next one occur? The U.S. Geological Survey has the area wired up with seismographic equipment to detect any earthquakes deep within the Earth’s crust that precede any eruptive activity. All is quiet.

Photo location: Bonito Park on the Coconino National Forest, along the entrance road to Sunset Crater National Monument, north of Flagstaff, Arizona.

See much more of my best photography on my website, NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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

Bryce Canyon in Winter

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon Winter Morning Vista

Of all the spectacular scenery in southern Utah, the top of the chain is Bryce Canyon National Park. Well, almost the very top of the chain. The uppermost is nearby at Cedar Breaks National Monument, but that’s a story for another post.

The Colorado Plateau is an immense region in southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, and northwest New Mexico of stacked sedimentary rock layers that was uplifted from sea level to heights just over 9,000 feet in places. But it happened without getting all “scrunched up” into jagged mountain peaks like happened to the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains. It’s like a massive layer cake whose layers stayed level (with some local exceptions) as it was raised up into the sky.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, with Ponderosa pine trees.

Bryce Canyon and Ponderosa pines in winter.

The entire sequence of geologic layers has come to be branded the Grand Staircase. It’s called that by geologists and tourist agencies alike, because the beauty appeals to everyone, regardless of whether you give a hoot about rocks and dirt. From Bryce Canyon you can look out over most of it, if you know what you’re looking at. But the lower layers are obscured from view by the Earth’s curvature–and the depth of the Grand Canyon far to the south, which holds the lowermost layers.

The raising of these immense layers of the Earth’s crust has exposed them to the elements, to varying degrees. Weathering. Erosion. And erosion–like rust–never sleeps!

Erosion carves the exposed layers into fantastic shapes and reveals their colors. Thus beauty is created by things falling apart. Kind of the opposite of what one might think. That’s geology for you.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos from above.

At Bryce you’re enjoying the Pink Cliffs. A layer of limestone that erosion carves into walls, fins, and finally hoodoos (irregularly edged spires).

And in winter, the snow really sets them off. Especially under a trademark Utah high country blue sky.

Photo location: Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah.

© 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

Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

End of December

Icicles lit up at sunrise, southeast Utah.

Icicles at Sunrise.

The last few days of 2016 brought cold and sunshine and a little bit of fresh snow. Not a bad combination.

Having icicles outside the bedroom window allowed me to watch them light up with the sunrise on a clear morning at close range.

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Mr. Tiggs, through the window glass.

Mr. Tiggs, the neighborhood cat, jumped up onto the kitchen windowsill to make sure I knew he was thinking of me. He roams around all day checking up on everybody. If there are any people standing in the parking lot he saunters right over to see what’s going on. The big fluffy yellow ham.

Then it was an hour north to Arches National Park for some more red rock scenery. The edge of the Fiery Furnace, a maze of standing red sandstone fins, made for a nice panoramic composition with the La Sal Mountains in the far distance.

Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

The Fiery Furnace and the La Sal Mountains in winter.

On the way back south from Moab town, the La Sal Mountains were looking extra fine after the previous day’s snow storm. The snow had not yet dropped from the foliage of the conifer forests near timberline.

La Sal Mountains, Utah, after a recent snowfall.

Mount Tukuhnikivats and the southern cluster of the La Sal Mountains.

From US Highway 191 you can pull over for a great vantage point of the southern end of the La Sals. A straight-on look at the pointy west face of Mount Tukuhnikivats (summit elevation 12,482 feet) with its distinctive pyramidal summit.

To the south of “Tuk” is South Mountain, which had a few lone clouds hovering over its summit, casting interesting shadows.

Clouds over South Mountain in the La Sal Mountain Range in southeast Utah.

Lone clouds over South Mountain.

On December 31 the length of the day was all of three minutes longer than it had been at Winter Solstice on December 21. The sun is on its way back north, but it takes its time at this time of year.

Photo locations: Grand and San Juan Counties, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 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

Desert Cottontail rabbit and Rabbitbrush, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Hoarfrost Winter Morning

Moss Back Butte, from Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Moss Back Butte, from Natural Bridges Visitor Center.

After a very cold night in the single digits Fahrenheit, the morning was absolutely calm, no breeze. As the sun illuminated the snowy landscapes around Natural Bridges, the hoarfrost that had formed on everything overnight glowed in the early sunlight.

Desert Cottontail rabbit and Rabbitbrush, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cottontail rabbit behind hoarfrost-coated Rabbitbrush.

That’s when hoarfrost forms: cold temperatures combined with high humidity and no wind.

Pinyon (pinon) pine cones and hoarfrost, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Pinyon pine cones and hoarfrost.

Which brings a gorgeous sunny morning with the sun lighting up the frost crystals.

Scrub Jay, winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Scrub Jay on a Pinyon pine twig.

The freezing cold doesn’t feel near as bad without a breeze, let alone wind. By comparison it feels quite comfortable.

Desert Cottontail Rabbit tracks and Rabbitbrush, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cottontail rabbit tracks and Rabbitbrush: signs of mid-night feeding.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah in winter snow.

More Snow at Natural Bridges

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The Bears Ears Buttes, above Natural Bridges.

A weekend storm blasted in about a foot of snow over two or three days, depending on how you counted when the first storm started and when the second one, which was right on the tail of the first one, ended.

Mouth of Deer Canyon at White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Mouth of Deer Canyon at White Canyon, Natural Bridges.

Lovely! Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah is an outpost. A self sufficient community. It was the first National Park Service unit to have a solar panel array installed to provide its electricity, in 1980, back when such a project was very expensive, and so was considered a pilot project.

Owachomo Natural Bridge in winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Owachomo Bridge from the overlook, Natural Bridges.

Thus when a big winter storm hits Natural Bridges, the power does not go out. We enjoy it.

Sipapu Natural Bridge and White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument, winter.

White Canyon from the Sipapu Bridge viewpoint.

Afterward, the sunny skies show the new snow coating on the canyons and buttes in all their glory. The National Park Service crew keeps the roads and walkways to the overlooks cleared for the visitors to enjoy.

Kachina Natural Bridge in winter, from the overlook, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Kachina Bridge from the overlook, Natural Bridges.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2014 Stephen J. Krieg