Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bears Ears National Monument: The Bears Ears Buttes

Bears Ears Buttes and rainbow, San Juan County, Utah.
Rainbow and Bears Ears Buttes, from Natural Bridges National Monument.
Bears Ears National Monument was declared by President Barack Obama on December 28, 2016. The new National Monument is comprised of 1.35 million acres in San Juan County in southeast Utah.

Bears Ears Buttes from Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, Utah.
Bears Ears Buttes from Natural Bridges loop drive along White and Armstrong Canyons.
 In the very center of the National Monument are its namesake, the Bears Ears Buttes, up on South Elk Ridge overlooking the northern edge of Cedar Mesa and Natural Bridges National Monument.

This post will introduce those not familiar with this area to the Bears Ears Buttes themselves. Subsequent posts will show the other areas of the Monument.

Bears Ears Buttes and moonrise, San Juan County, Utah.
Moonrise over the Bears Ears in winter, from Natural Bridges.
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument by presidential Executive Order, invoking the Antiquities Act, is contentious, as are all public land management issues. However, it is pertinent to note that Utah's "Mighty 5" National Parks -- Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon -- all started out as National Monuments declared by presidential Executive Order, as well. All five were later upgraded to National Park status by Acts of Congress, which has the sole power to declare National Parks. The "Mighty 5" are tremendous tourist draws for visitors from around the world.

Bears Ears from Highway 261 on Cedar Mesa, San Juan County Utah
Panorama of Bears Ears after a late spring snow, from Highway 261 on Cedar Mesa.
Bears Ears is of a vast size, with greatly varied life zones. They range from high desert to subalpine forest. In this area you can drive from the desert of the lower San Juan River valley to the Ponderosa pine, aspen and spruce-fir forests above 8,500 feet elevation in an hour or less.

East Bears Ears Butte from South Elk Ridge, San Juan County, Utah
East Bears Ears Butte from mountain meadow on Forest Road 88.
There are three main areas of Bears Ears National Monument. From north to south are the Indian Creek area bordering the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Elk Ridge area of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and Cedar Mesa, home to countless Ancestral Puebloan sites.

Wintertime scenic of Bears Ears and Elk Ridge from Natural Bridges
Utah Juniper snag and Bears Ears Buttes in winter, from Bridge View Drive loop in Natural Bridges National Monument.
Both West Bears Ear (elevation 8,929 feet at its summit) and East Bears Ear (8,908 feet) are at the south end of South Elk Ridge, on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. From Utah Highway 275 (the Natural Bridges entrance road) you can drive north on Forest Road 88 (when the road is not muddy) and go right between the two Bears Ears Buttes on your way to accessing the rest of the Elk Ridge area.

Monsoon season thunderhead clouds over Bears Ears Buttes, Utah.
Bears Ears Buttes and South Elk Ridge with monsoon season thunderhead clouds.
The name Bears Ears came from Native American tribes in the region that consider these landmarks to be sacred, especially since they can be picked out on the horizon from as far away as Monument Valley and Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado.

Bears Ears from mountain meadow on Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah.
Bears Ears Buttes from the north, in an alpine meadow on South Elk Ridge.
Except that the ears of bears are roundish, not flat! What gives? It has to do with an old Navajo legend, of which there are at least two variations. Perhaps the other area tribes have their own versions as well. The best known legend is a gruesome one, in that Changing Bear Maiden was killed by her brothers after she had turned to the "dark side" and had become an evil bear, after which they chopped off her ears. That's why the "Bear's Ears" are flat. Like many Indian legends, it is meant to teach the difference between good and evil, of choosing the right path in life.

Forest Road 88 at Bears Ears Pass, Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah.
Forest Road 88 on the Manti-La Sal National Forest goes right through the pass between the two Bears Ears Buttes.
The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa area are beloved by locals and non-local visitors alike, for driving, hunting, hiking, and camping. The area is still used by area Native American tribes for collection of edible, medicinal, and ceremonial plants and their fruits and nuts. This will be the first National Monument to be co-managed by representative of those tribes, in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service.

Bears Ears and Elk Ridge from Blanding, Utah
Bears Ears Buttes and Elk Ridge from Blanding, Utah.
Photo location: Bears Ears Buttes, Manti-La Sal National Forest and from surrounding public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service (Natural Bridges National Monument), San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Bears Ears panorama with rainbow, San Juan County, Utah.
Rainbow panorama, Bears Ears Buttes.
© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Winter Time at Arches National Partk

Visitors at Delicate Arch, December 20. 

Winter is the time to visit Arches National Park. The park has become so famous that it's almost un-visitable (if that's a word) for most of the year. Crowds, full parking lots, dumb visitors stopping their cars in the road to jump out and take pictures, blocking any traffic behind them. The National Park Service has weighed all options to relieving the overcrowding. Don't be surprised if they feel they have to go to a reservation system before long. Yes, just to drive into the park. That's how bad it's gotten.

Wintertime is much better, the only time I go there any more. The town of Moab is uncrowded, the motel rates are very reasonable if you're staying overnight, and the weather is not unbearably hot like in summer. Finally, in winter the distant La Sal Mountains are shining in the sun with a fresh coating of snow. Better photos.

From the entrance station at Arches (only one lane open, and I was the only vehicle at the time, giving me time to chat with the Ranger on duty) it was a 30 min. drive to the trailhead to Delicate Arch at Wolfe Ranch. The parking lot was only about half full. The weather was chilly but sunny, quite pleasant for a hike.

The 1.5 mile long hike took a leisurely 45 minutes to the arch. There was a small crowd of people there, but if you waited a bit you could get a closeup of Delicate Arch with nobody standing underneath it for their selfie picture. Or get one with a human posing to show the scale. Your choice.

If you use your imagination, Delicate Arch looks like a cowboy's legs, with leather chaps. Bowlegged and all. Nothing above the belt, though.

Delicate Arch and the distant La Sal Mountains.

Photo location: Arches National Park, near Moab, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last Trout Before the Big Freeze

Waldens Lake and Abajo Mountains, December 17.
December 17 was my last day of trout fishing for the year. I caught my limit of four rainbow trout as usual, despite the cold and bitter wind. It was beautiful in the high country sunshine at 7,000 feet despite the wind.

Rainbow Trout, the last catch.
The next day a deep freeze moved into southeast Utah. A couple inches of snow, no big deal. But then low temperatures in the single digits (F.). And perhaps more importantly after the storm moved east into Colorado, the wind died. For days. Calm, no real breeze stronger than about 5 MPH. Which meant that there was no longer any strong wave action on the lake to keep busting up the thin shelf ice along the shoreline.

Abajo Mountains panorama on the last day of trout fishing.

I knew it was coming sometime. That's why I was out there fishing every day. Because each day could be the last of the season.

This day turned out to be the day.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Choppy Lake Sunset Reflection

Sunset reflection and Abajo Mountains.
A cold sunset at the lake, wind whipping the water's surface to whitecaps. I had hopes for a colorful sunset -- the clouds looked to be positioned about right -- but the roiling lake surface would not do its part by providing a mirror surface reflection.

To my surprise, the sunset afterglow colors were so strong that it reflected off the waves, a wrinkled reflection of reds and blues.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Abajo Peaks: Sunset to Sunrise

Abajo Mountains, early sunset colors.
An early December evening at the lake. Until today, the sunsets had been devoid of colors for about a week. Why? Too clear, as in not enough clouds in the right position to create colors.

South Mountain and golden cloud bank, early sunset colors.
The recipe is pretty straightforward: Clouds over the setting sun on the western horizon, with a "slot" of clear sky below them. The clouds serve as a reflector screen for the just-set sun's rays to light up. So it's not the exact sunset time for peak colors, it's just past sunset. The afterglow.

Abajo peaks, late sunset colors.
On this particular evening, it was a double show of colors. The early colors were yellows and golds. I had thought that was the climax. But after another five minutes or so the clouds turned red. Never leave too early!
Abajo Mountains at sunrise.
The next morning the peaks were bathed in a soft golden glow for several minutes just after sunrise. From left to right: South Mountain, Abajo Peak (the tallest of the Abajos, at 11,360 feet (3,463 m), and Horsehead Mountain.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Iceman Cometh

Partially melted and refrozen ice "berries" on weed twigs.
I was at the lake last week to do more trout fishing, before the weather gets too brutal here at 7,000 feet in elevation. It gets me into the outdoors for several hours a day in a way that I otherwise wouldn't be. So it's good.

Standing in and walking around a relatively small area outside for hours allows me to relax into the scenery, the weather, while watching the birds move around doing their thing. Their things.

For instance, the other day when I got to the lake shore at my favorite, most productive spot, I saw that the lake was starting to freeze. Only in one small protected cove, but that's how it starts. It caused me to realize that I was going to get to watch the lake freeze over, stage by stage, for the winter. Then I will watch it lie dormant, frozen and snow covered through the "dead" of winter. Then watch it start to re-emerge in several months as springtime returns. I'm looking forward to that. I have the time, the convenient proximity to the lake, and the health to be out there daily if I want.

Early ice shelf on a protected cove on the lake.

Besides the beauty of the modest ice shelf itself, I became intrigued by some somewhat spherical "blobs' of ice that were on the stalks of weeds a few inches above the surface of the ice sheet. It wasn't hard to guess how they had come to be.

They formed when the lake level was as couple inches higher. It had been cold enough to freeze around the twigs a little bit, probably with a gentle lap of the water's surface with a gently breeze. That's my guess.

The Abajo Mountains in the distance, source of the lake's water.

Then the lake level dropped with the colder weather,  because the stream that feeds it reduced in flow as its headwaters in the mountain slopes above became frozen. The lake continues to evaporate slowly while its water supply from the mountains is all but shut off by winter's freeze up higher.

Ice berries on dead weeds, sparkling in the cold sunlight.

As for the ice "berries", the sunlight partially melted them during the day, while it stayed cold enough to not melt them entirely. Pretty amazing.

The ice berries were so gorgeous that I had to suspend my fishing to photograph them.

Rainbow trout, perfect pan frying size.
Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, December 2, 2016

Snow Squall Lake Sunset

Snow showers at sunset time over the Abajo peaks.
I was at the lake, trout fishing. Yes, in late November at 7,000 feet. Pretty fortunate to have such cold (temperature near freezing) but not brutal winter weather yet. I'll take it as long as it lasts, because then it will be a long several months until spring.

Sunny most of the day, but lingering snow showers from the most recent light storm were cloaking the Abajo peaks. Like a veil dance they would cover, partially pull off, tease.

At the lake, the sun slid behind the southernmost peak, lighting the clouds from behind. A slight tinge of gold, but no strong reds this time. No matter. The spectrum of blues from light to dark to black, reflecting off the lake, was spectacular enough.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg