Sunday, May 13, 2018

Down By The San Miguel River in May

The San Miguel River downstream from Naturita, Colorado, with muddy spring runoff from the high country.

The lower San Miguel River in Montrose County's West End is a cold high country stream running through red rock canyons of the high desert. It's a ribbon of green in a rocky and sandy land.

Growing leaves of Gambel Oak on the San Miguel floodplain. 

Between the town of Naturita ("little nature") and its confluence with the Dolores River, the San Miguel flows through both private and public land. The Nature Conservancy owns part of it, the Tabeguache (pronounced "tabba-shay" by the locals) Preserve, which it keeps open to the public on a day use basis.

The Nature Conservancy's Tabeguache Preserve on the lower San Miguel River.

"The San Miguel, a major tributary of the Colorado River, is one of the few remaining naturally functioning rivers in the West and is home to some of the best riparian (streamside) habitat in the upper Colorado basin." So says The Nature Conservancy on its interpretive signage along the river.

The Nature Conservancy has three preserves in the San Miguel River basin.

A particular spot I have been becoming familiar with is down a quiet dirt spur through the sagebrush  and oak brush to the river.

Claret-cup cactus beginning to bloom.
Some of the Claret-cup cactus, earliest of cacti bloomers, were opening their blossoms.

Blossom of one of the barrel cactus species near the San Miguel River.
So were some barrel cactus nearby.

The inconspicuous flowers of Gambel Oak.
The Gambel Oak ("oakbrush") flowers and leaves were expanding. Hopefully this year they won't get nailed by a late freeze, which prevented acorn production last year.

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Spring Begins In The High Country

Lone Cone Peak, from the south in early May, 2018.
The re-emergence of plant growth happens last in the high country. We watch it move up from the lowest elevations to the highest. From the warmest to the coolest.

Early springtime in the mountains is what I call one of my two "in-between" seasons. Most of the beautiful snow is gone, but the green has not begun. It's mostly brown across the land, except for the conifer trees. It's in between.

Willow blossoms.

It's a very dry spring here in the Southwest. The snow has melted early, and so the plants respond accordingly.

Far below Lone Cone Peak, some of the Canada geese have their hatchlings on the edge of the lake for the first time.

Geese hatchlings on the lake.

On the San Juan National Forest I had lunch in a mountain meadow that was not long ago under snow. The flowers of the willows ("pussy willows") along the cold mountain stream glowed in the warm sunlight.

"Pussy willows" flower buds, San Juan National Forest. 

To the north, on the mighty Uncompahgre Plateau (Uncompahgre National Forest) I was disappointed to find out that I had already missed the peak blossoming of the Arrowleaf Balsamroot plants. Those earlybirds were extra early this year.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot blossoms, Uncompahgre National Forest.

I enjoyed their next in line successors of the early wildflower season. Oregon grape. Pasqueflower.

At lower elevations, the Gambel oak trees were flowering and beginning to leaf out. I always love seeing them finally emerge because, tough as they are, they seem very cautious about whether the last freezes have passed. And even they get caught wrong, as happened last year.

Gambel Oak, emergence time.

From further above there were lovely sight lines across the top of the Uncompahgre Plateau and to the distant snowy San Juan Mountains peaks.

Early spring hues across the top of the Uncompahgre. Such subtle hues and intriguing patterns of the land.
I was tempted to drive the rest of the length of the Uncompahgre Plateau that afternoon. But it's a long though lovely way. Instead I turned around and descended the switchbacks back down to the San Miguel River.

Ponderosa pines, high mountain meadow, and the shining San Juan Mountains.

See more of my best photography on my website:

Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Goodbye Cortez: Moonset Over Sleeping Ute

Moonset and Sleeping Ute Mountain from upper McElmo Canyon.
Unbelievably I was moving out of Cortez, Colorado after only a year there. Things change. Not only a new job but a transfer to another portion of the western slope of the state. Another area to explore intimately.

Full Moon moonrise photography had been a washout for April. Clouds. The springtime moisture was appreciated, scant though it was.

The other side of moonrise is of course moonset. When you can watch it going down toward the western horizon while dawn approaches.

Thus I awoke in my home on the last morning there and realized that the previous night's clouds were gone, off to the east. That was the moon shining in my bedroom window, and it was about to get light.

I rolled out of bed and dressed like a clumsy fool. No time to waste. No coffee, breakfast, nothing. Just get in the car and get to a decent viewpoint. And quickly.

Driving south of Cortez toward Sleeping Ute Mountain, I turned down the canyon road. It was the very upper reach of McElmo Canyon, no time to search around much.

I pulled over at an opportune spot and made this photograph.

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

San Juan Mountains Alpenglow

San Miguel Mountains, San Juan Mountain Range, Montrose County, Colorado.
San Miguel Mountains just before sunset.

Fresh snow on the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. An evening free all to myself. Great springtime weather. What to do? Get out there and combine them! Photographically, of course.

From Norwood in the southwest corner of Montrose County I drove south on a paved County road that heads straight toward Lone Cone Peak, possibly my favorite mountain. So far.

On the way down the road, the sunset was getting near. I stopped to shoot the San Miguel Range to the southeast. Then drove on.

Alpenglow on the San Miguel Mountains.

But only a few minutes later the San Miguels lit up pink with alpenglow from the sunset reflecting off the clouds above it, from the west.

Alpenglow sunset on Lone Cone Peak, Colorado.
Alpenglow on northwest face of Lone Cone Peak.

Finally, Lone Cone reflected the same alpenglow off of its snowy northwestern slope.

A very fine early springtime evening in the southwest Colorado high country.

Photo location: Montrose Country, near Norwood, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Edge Of Spring, Mesa Verde

Cliff Canyon on a March morning.

The middle of March of a mild winter and I was searching for the very first signs of spring at 7,000 feet in Mesa Verde National Park.

A recent weak storm system had left the air clear and crisp in the morning sunlight. I began with a morning drive around the Mesa Top Loop road as well as the newly reopened for the season Cliff Palace Loop road.

Cliff Palace, the crown jewel of Mesa Verde National Park.

I stopped to make a panorama of Cliff Palace in soft morning shade. Then another for views of Cliff Canyon and the House Of Many Windows Ruin.

House Of Many Windows, Cliff Canyon. They are actually doorways, not windows.

Returning in late afternoon I made another panorama of Square Tower House, my favorite in the park.

Square Tower House site on a March afternoon.
And I once again tried to imagine how the ancient ones could build a four story tower by hand out of sandstone "bricks" and mud mortar. No iron tools yet, only stone tools. No beasts of burden. Only humans. Amazing.

Square Tower House site, featuring the tallest structure in the park.
Back on the Cliff Palace road, I bypassed the Balcony House parking lot, looking at the few tourists that had stopped to see it. Surprise: you can't. Not from there. Because it's in the alcove underneath you. The Ranger led tours down to it hadn't started for the season.

Hemenway House, from across the canyon.
But I did stop at the overlook for Hemenway House, which you're not allowed to tour at all. Same as with most of the park. Too many sites, too rugged.

It would take massive road construction to reach even a fraction more than you can now. Instead, you get to see the most impressive sites, and the rest are protected for research.

Balcony House from the Soda Canyon overlook.
But I wanted some more shots of Balcony House. So I hiked the easy Soda Canyon Overlook Trail to the viewpoint across the head of the canyon.

Balcony House, with a long lens.
On the hike back I photographed the only emerging greenery I could find: bunch grasses and Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata).

New spring growth, bunch grass.
Emerging leaves of Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata (meaning three lobed, you can see some already).
I was also interested in how the cacti had fared during the winter. Their somewhat leathery and waxy "skin" preserves moisture but by now they were looking quite wrinkled, waiting to revive themselves.

Wrinkled pads of Prickly Pear Cactus at the end of winter.
And the Banana Yucca (Yucca spp.), which weren't wrinkled but were looking a bit yellow compared to how they will soon look again with the revival of springtime.

End of winter coloration in Banana Yucca.
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Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bedrock, Colorado

Bedrock Store, Bedrock, Colorado.
The Bedrock Store at Bedrock, Colorado. 
It was the last day of February, and it felt time to take another long drive into the mountains of southwest Colorado. To them, between them, through them. Why not? (My usual excuse, as if I need one).

My first real stop (meaning for photos, rather than merely admiring the passing scenery) was Bedrock, Colorado. A tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere, truly. Wide open high desert scenery. Snowy mountain ranges to the west and to the east. No services, not even a convenience store. Gas up your vehicle well beforehand.

Which is not a put-down, merely advice. I love these rural, clean air, wide open skies kind of places. As usual, the locals waved to me as our cars passed, even though they did not recognize me. I have experienced this many times in rural areas, where people look after each other, including strangers. Especially when the weather is bad.

Highway 90 west from Bedrock toward the La Sal Mountains in Utah.
But this was not a bad weather day. More like an early spring day. Warm in the sunlight, chilly in the shade.

At Bedrock, which is nothing more than a wide spot on the highway (and not even very wide) I once again photographed the Bedrock Store, that irresistibly historic building. Looking like an Old West general store. Several years ago when I first make my way through Bedrock, the store was open. It was fascinating inside. I bought a little something, then continued on my way.

The next time I passed through, the store was closed. With a sign saying the owner was experiencing health problems. And again the next time I was there.

But now I hear that it's open once again. Limited hours. As in: when whomever running it is there.

See much more of my photography at my website:

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, February 23, 2018

Icing On The Day: Coyote

Coyote, roadside hunting, Mesa Verde National Park.
One of the many privileges of working in a National Park is that you can more frequently see wildlife in a more natural state. As in: not being shot at.

I thought about this as I was driving back out of Mesa Verde again during the winter "offseason" (for tourists, that is).

Coyote watching from above for its next meal.
A coyote was walking down the edge of the road, coming toward me. I stopped well before I got close to it, so I could grab my camera, and turn its control dial to a setting that I had programmed for "wildlife" so that I could enable it quickly. (I get a little smarter every year). (But just a little).

Being in a National Park, the coyote was only marginally interested in me, or should I say my vehicle. It surely was keeping an eye on me. At least one corner of it, just out of instinct.

I think that it was walking down the shoulder of the road because it gave a better view of the terrain just below. Looking for food. Prey.

Which made me think about weak we humans are, despite our immense intellectual talents. Because that coyote essentially wore its home on its back. Thick warm fur. It knows where to find (to it) delicious, high calorie food. It knows where to curl up in a sheltered place in the fiercest of winter storms. When to sleep, when to go back to hunting for the next meal.

Thus it needs no job. No career. It has one. It is one.

Could you live out there without a whole lot of insulated clothing and supplies that you had paid for somewhere? How "free" are you, after all?

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© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg