Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bears Ears Buttes Monsoon Clouds

Thunderhead Clouds behind the Bears Ears, from Natural Bridges.
Mid July, and the southwest's late summer monsoon thunderstorm season seemed to be rebuilding after a big lull.

I dislike mid to late summer, wherever I am. Too hot.

So here on Cedar Mesa at 6,500 feet elevation, my spirit awakens when the clouds build, the moisture from the Pacific Ocean from the south colliding with our high desert heat.

In this photograph, the Bears Ears where in deep shadow from the heavy clouds to the west. But the brilliant thunderhead clouds behind them silhouetted them in white.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, July 22, 2016

Comb Ridge Sunset Glow

Comb Ridge and Comb Wash at sunset in July.
Comb Ridge in southeast Utah's San Juan County is a sheer wall whose western escarpment is mostly Entrada Sandstone. It's a monocline, a massive tilt in the Earth's crust at a fault line. It's here that the Monument Upwarp forms the eastern slopes of Cedar Mesa. Steep inclines. Just ask any bicyclist who's climbed the ten miles of adverse grade on Highway 95.

Fortunately you don't have know--or care--anything about geology to appreciate the beauty. The sheer red sandstone cliff faces, the vast vistas with no utility lines whatsoever.

Highway 95's cut through Comb Ridge, from the BLM campground at Comb Wash.
Comb Wash at Utah Highway 95 is a haven for campers in this portion of canyon country in the spring and fall. When daytime temperatures range from cool to warm. But in summer, rarely is a camper here. It's hot, even though the huge Cottonwood trees provide a lot of shade. Besides, now the high country mountain roads are finally dry (except when it rains), so why not go up there into the coolness?

At sunset time, though, when the low angle of the sunlight warms up the cliffs, it doesn't matter what time of year it is. It's time to photograph.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Lightning Storm from Salvation Knoll

Monsoon thunderstorm at dusk, Cedar Mesa, southeast Utah.
I was driving Utah Route 95 west from Blanding, watching the evening thunderheads pouring down rain here and there in the distance. That evening light: brilliant and seductive.

Climbing up the highway onto Cedar Mesa, there are clear views for many miles to the south and southeast, toward Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado, even. Great for landscape photography with lots and lots of sky.

Adding to the interest were flashes of lightning inside of two storm cells. The one nearer to me was of more interest in that I might be able to capture a bolt or two in the scenery.

At Salvation Knoll I stopped for a second try. Mounting the camera on tripod, I set it for the longest exposure, about 4 seconds at f/22 at ISO 200. Then I shot whenever a flash appeared, hoping it would be long enough for me to get lucky.

I enjoy this image because the clouds, with their rain curtains, look quite dreamy against the darker blue of the distant storms.

Photo location: Salvation Knoll on Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Owachomo Natural Bridge, Summertime Skies

Owachomo Natural Bridge from Armstrong Canyon, July 2016.
Late July at Natural Bridges National Monument. Time for a canyon hike in the summer heat. Fortunately, the late summer monsoon thunderstorm season is building again, after a disappearance of several weeks. Some cloud cover to blunt the searing afternoon sun.

The trail from the parking lot to Owachomo Bridge is only 0.2 of a mile. Down the hill and under the bridge. Then down to the stream bottom of Armstrong Canyon, where the big pool of water at the mouth of Tuwa Canyon remains.

The cumulus clouds building over Elk Ridge and Deer Flat made for a wonderful accent to the deep blue skies.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Colorado Wildflowers

Blue Columbine, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Some still, some moving.
The sun was shining and the breeze was blowing the flowers around. The Meadows in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains was calling me to pull over and appreciate them a little closer. 

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Petroglyphs and Amphibians at Kachina Natural Bridge

Kachina Natural Bridge, from above, summertime.
Down the trail to Kachina Natural Bridge.
Natural Bridges National Monument is hot in the summertime, despite being at an elevation of 6,500 feet on the mesa top. All that bare Cedar Mesa Sandstone and little shade.

Petroglyphs and pictographs on southeast buttress of Kachina Natural Bridge.
Ancient symbols and stone tool sharpening grooves high on the southeast buttress of Kachina Bridge.
 Nevertheless I hiked once again down to Kachina Bridge. I'd heard from visitors that there were what sounded like salamander nymphs swimming about in one of the residual pools near the bridge.  I wanted to check that out myself.

NPS archaeology crew at work on Kachina Bridge.
When I got down to the Bridge, the National Park Service archaeology crew -- three of which are Hopi -- was at work. They were cleaning some modern graffiti that had accumulated on the southeast bridge abutment. Some of the graffiti was quite high -- probably put there at a time when the unpredictable flash floods had left a high sand bank that allowed people to walk up to the ledge where most of the ancient petroglyphs (figures pecked into the stone) and pictographs (painted onto the stone) exist. The symbols are prehistoric, left there by the Ancestral Puebloans long ago. And over a long period of time.

Being underneath the massive natural bridge is always pleasant. Besides the ample shade, the yawning opening of the bridge usually provides a kind of breezeway effect to make it feel even more comfortable. 

After talking with the crew for a while, I went amphibian hunting. It didn't take long. The pool of water nearby the bridge -- the mouth of Armstrong Canyon where it enters White Canyon -- was still deep enough for what seem to be salamander larvae, probably Tiger Salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum. They had twin pairs of gills on each side, long tails, and legs.

Salamander larvae in canyon pool near Kachina Natural Bridge.

Tiger Salamander larva in the canyon pool.
Then it was time for the sweaty hike back out of the canyon. Good, worthwhile exercise on a warm summer day in southeast Utah.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg