Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Last Dollar Road, Last Day of September

Driving up into the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, I hooked a right turn onto Last Dollar Road. Always worth it.

The fall aspen colors were not quite at their peak, despite some early snows. Light snows. The aspen forests seemed to be sitting it out for another day, week, whatever before casting their leaves for the winter.

Since fall is my favorite time of year, I was in no hurry to see it go any faster than necessary.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mesa Verde: the Green Table-Mountain is Greening Up

View southwest from Point Lookout Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.
Point Lookout Trail, along the North Rim, Mesa Verde National Park.
Mesa Verde is Spanish for "green table". Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado encompasses that "table", which is actually a tilted one (a cuesta, in geologic terms).

It's a high table, deeply dissected by canyons that flow (when there is any flowing water) to the south. The "mesa" is also titled toward the south. Between these two conditions, it came to be home to the largest cliff dwellings in North America.

Square Tower House cliff dwelling, Mesa Verde.
This particular mesa is a high desert environment for most of the year, though it's position on the surrounding landscape, high above the Montezuma Valley and the Mancos Valley, causes it to wring significantly more moisture out of passing storm fronts, making it more like a mountain environment.

Point Lookout, the very northern edge of Mesa Verde.
And since its uppermost surfaces are also tilted toward the south, toward the sun, it's like a giant solar panel. The combination of more moisture than the surrounding valleys, along with the solar-panel effect of a longer growing season, meant that corn could be grown here. In abundance. And it was, along with beans and squash, by the Ancestral Puebloan people, until about 700 years ago, when they migrated onward, out of here. To the south.

From the northern edge of Point Lookout.
 It's springtime at Mesa Verde, and the green tilted table-mountain is quickly greening up. No Ancestral Puebloan people plant their corn seeds up there anymore. Native Americans do continue to worship the place as sacred, though. While the tourist crowds flock to it to see what they have left behind, and to savor the views that they did when they lived there. The National Park Service rangers do all they can to balance the land with the crowds. They do a superb job overall.

Looking north from atop Point Lookout, onto the Mancos Valley and the La Plata Mountains.
See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mesa Verde in Early Spring

Sleeping Ute Mountain from Montezuma Valley Overlook, on the North Rim of Mesa Verde.
After a late March snowfall, I drove into Mesa Verde National Park at dawn. I was early enough that I didn't take my first photographs until I was well into the north end of the park, when full light had arrived.

The road was icy but not treacherous to my all wheel drive RAV4. No slipping and sliding, just go slowly.

At the Montezuma Valley Overlook I got out of my vehicle, but immediately pulled on my boots' traction devices. Otherwise it was apparent that I would be on my butt in just a step or two down the inclined sidewalk.

The icy sidewalk at Montezuma Valley Overlook, at dawn.
The Montezuma Valley, about 2,000 feet below, is where the town of Cortez is located. That, and a lot of fertile farmland.

Every photographer's favorite snag (standing dead tree) at Montezuma Valley Overlook.
Two snow plow trucks were heading outbound (here downhill) as I was driving inbound. They didn't seem to be scraping off the ice at all. They just had to do their duty, knowing that the real ice removal would happen naturally in a few hours.

Snowy coating to the North Rim of Mesa Verde. It wouldn't last long.
Icy road through one of the hillside cuts as sunrise colors tinge the clouds, Mesa Verde.
Later in the day, after work, it was time to drive back out. The sun had done its work on this early spring day.

Dry roads in the afternoon.
Snow has melted on the south facing slopes and the road, anything not in shadow.
Montezuma Valley Overlook in the afternoon. No need for traction devices anymore. You could have a picnic in the sun.
 Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg / Stephen Krieg Photographics

Saturday, January 21, 2017

In Between the Snows: Highway 211 to Indian Creek

An overnight dusting of snow on Entrada Sandstone along Highway 211.
During the night our area in San Juan County, Utah received another few inches of snow at 7,000 feet. Quite a bit more was forecast for the following day and night. But for now it was a lull between relatively mild January snowstorms. Time to get out and about while the main roads were freshly cleared by the snow plow trucks.

In certain conditions overcast skies can be an advantage: soft light. One can use that to their advantage. Particularly in the case of a snowy landscape, which highlights details that one otherwise might miss.

Driving north from Monticello on US 191, I turned west onto Utah-211, a scenic back road and the highway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Not far from Hwy. 191 there are outcrops of Entrada Sandstone rising above the sagebrush flats. They are always nice to look at, but this morning with new snow, a light coating, I could see all the waves, folds, and joints in what was left of these sand dunes that had eons ago been turned into rock.

An column of sandstone along the cliff face.
On the flat, the meadow grasses were blonde in their winter color, their season of germination and growth last spring long past. As the slope rose a bit the sagebrush appeared. And higher up, shrubs and Utah Juniper trees.

Highway 211 and eastern boundary of the BLM's Indian Creek Recreation Area.
Several miles in on 211 the road switchbacks down from the high flats to the upper Indian Creek canyon. Just before it does there is a sign announcing the edge of the Bureau of Land Management's Indian Creek Recreation Area. Beyond this sign the area is now part of the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, adjoining the boundary of Canyonlands National Park.

Fresh snow highlights the layers of the Kayenta Formation in Shay graben.
As Highway 211 descends from the upper flats, the geology changes immediately. Suddenly you're going down through a dark red layer of rock. What gives?

A geology guide to this scenic drive says that this spot is called Shay graben. A graben is where there are two parallel faults in the Earth's crust--breaks--and the block in between has downdropped because of them. The red layer is the Kayenta Formation, which the upper flats sit on. The highway is now dropping down through the graben to get down to Indian Creek canyon.

At any rate, I stop a couple of times to photograph the Juniper and Pinyon Pine dotted horizontal layers of the red Kayenta cliffs, set off by the snow coating.

Kayenta Formation red cliffs in Shay graben.
Below the graben the highway straightens out again, because it is following the stream course of upper Indian Creek. Soon after is Newspaper Rock, one of the best panels of petroglyphs (inscriptions pecked into the patina of the rock) in the Southwest.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site, Indian Creek at Highway 211.

Shortly after Newspaper Rock the elevation became too low for last night's snow to stick. So I turned around and headed back up to the flats.

Photo location: northern San Juan County, southeast Utah.

See more of my landscape and nature photography on my website at: www.naturalmoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December Trout Fishing

At Waldens Lake for some more December trout fishing.
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion." -- Henry David Thoreau.

Yes, Henry. I hear you. I continued to fish for trout at the lake (which I have nicknamed Waldens Lake) from the delightful fall into the early winter. On only a few days was there another fisherman on the lake. I had it all to myself almost all the time.

Last catch of Rainbow Trout from Waldens Lake.

I was there almost every day, often twice a day so that I could be there for sunrise and sunset colors when they occurred.

My freezer has plenty of trout to tide me over the winter.

Shortly before the deep freeze weather finally arrived on December 18, I made a short video to wrap up the season. I've embedded it below, from my YouTube channel at YouTube.com/stephenkrieg.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Monday, October 24, 2016

View From Abajo Peak

Looking down to Monticello from Abajo Peak.
Southeast Utah in October. What a place to be in. The Four Corners country, the mile high (and above) Colorado Plateau.

At the edge of Monticello, Utah, I caught my limit of trout, then drove up the public road to Abajo Peak. It's the forefront, the frontispiece, of the Abajo Mountains. Also called the Blue Mountains by the locals.

Geologically, they are a laccolith. Molten rock (magma) had surged upward but not exploded onto the surface like those photos and videos we see from Hawaii. Later (much later, though in geologic terms quite recent) the overlying layers of rock eroded away. Exposing the long hardened granite that had swelled up.

And there you have it, in as simple of terms as I understand.

You don't even have to care about such scientific things to appreciate what has happened since. What's there now. Forests draping those mountains and foothills. A rural, small town culture surrounding them. Clean air, clean water.

It doesn't get much better than this. Probably not any better.

The road up Abajo Peak, late September.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, Utah.

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

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cave Towers and Harvest Moon, Southeast Utah

Apex of the evening: Harvest Moon over White Mesa, from Cedar Mesa.
It was the evening of the September Full Moon. The Harvest Moon, named back in pre-industrial days when the corn had to be cut and tied into shocks to finish drying, and the bright moon rising at dusk allowed the families to work the fields as late as they could stand it. Because it was their year's crop, their income, their everything, on winter's doorstep.

But this was 2016, not 1700s colonial America back East. The moon didn't care. It would rise true in its orbit regardless of who cared.

I cared. I watch for Full Moon time each month. For landscape photos. For the once in a month visual and visceral experience. Weather permitting, you know, so some months are clouded out even here in the high and dry and lovely mostly clear skies of the desert Southwest.

Rabbitbrush in bloom, September, San Juan County, Utah.
This time I was scheming for a different kind of photograph. One featuring the rubble of an ancient tower ruin on Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah. If I could line it up with the rising moon at dusk, that could be so cool. There was only one way to find out.

So I drove out to a ruin that is known locally and in certain guide books as Cave Towers Ruin. It's on public land, but it's unmarked from the highway, so you have to know how to get there. Open the gate, close the gate behind you, and drive on in. Unless you have a high clearance vehicle (AWD, like a Subaru) you should stop at the new (courtesy of Friends Of Cedar Mesa) buck-and-pole wooden fence and walk the rest of the way. It's not far.

West tower ruin at Cave Towers.
Cave Towers? What kind of name is that? Isn't that an oxymoron? Is it in a cave, or is it towering above the landscape? It can't be both, can it?

Well, why not? Towers above the cave? A recess (overhanging) cave in the sandstone layers, with cliff dwellings below and brazen towers above on the canyon rim. Not a subterranean cavern.

Late day sunlight just below the rim on cliff dwellings rubble.
Now it's making more sense. For the Ancestral Puebloans of 800 years ago, a reliable water source was a strategic scarcity to be defended for the livelihood of the community. Building a two story tower out of shaped sandstone slabs and adobe mortar announced to anybody approaching that "we live here, respect us or suffer the consequences". It is also suspected that such towers were used to build signal fires. A communication network across vast distances. Fire light, after all, is speed of light messaging. All is well. Or: enemies approaching, spread the alarm.

Cliff dwellings below the rim, underneath the towers. How to get down there?
Don't ask how I got off on all of that. Obviously there was a lot more on my mind as I walked in to the rubble of the several towers that were in this one spot. This lip of a side canyon of Mule Canyon, with its spring below. Even an historic gravesite fenced off with a small slab of sandstone for a tombstone. (Things are always surprising in Canyon Country).

Peering into the canyon below Cave Towers Ruin. Sleeping Ute Mountain on the far horizon.
 Yes, I was thinking of the Ancient Ones as I again visited this sacred spot. The mid-September sun was already low, sliding quickly toward sunset. I arrived at my favorite tower ruin, the most prominent one, and got out my compass. Using The Photographer's Ephemeris app, I knew that the full moon would rise almost due East. It was already swinging back north from its southeasterly position at midsummer. 

The west tower and its entry doorway, from below.
I worked around the site, but it soon become obvious that I could not get the moonrise in a good composition with the tower ruin this time. Maybe October. So I photographed the tower rubble and its environs and quickly walked back out to the truck. There might still be time to find a better location for moonrise, without any ruins. Though on the walk out I could not help but to photograph a lovely clump of bright yellow wildflowers.

Yellow wildflowers, some of the last of the season.
Climbing back westward up Highway 95, I decided to make my last stand (of the evening) at Salvation Point, elevation 7,110 feet. A wide open clear view to the east.

The Earth's Shadow, and Sleeping Ute Mountain, just after sunset, from Salvation Point.
 The sun set behind me as I continued to stare east. The Earth's shadow grew blue, with the pink Venus Belt fringing it at the top. Sleeping Ute Mountain lay stretched out, a lumpy and slightly darker blue across the state line in Colorado.

Waiting, waiting. Waiting for the moon to show. I knew it would be about 20 minutes after sunset this night.

Harvest Moon emergence, from Cedar Mesa.
Then it began to peek through the blue.  The upper yellow arc of the circle still hidden behind some clouds, or maybe even the La Plata mountain range in southwest Colorado. The haze on the horizon made it a deep yellow-orange orb slowly rising from the blue. Incredibly lovely. Almost orange as a pumpkin, fitting for the Harvest Moon in America.

Lord of the eastern horizon on this lovely September evening...
 Silently creeping up as the Earth rotated beneath my feet toward it.

A lonely highway in the middle of nowhere, so almost no traffic. Wide open skies. Moonrise. The high desert. September, the second best month of the year.

Panorama: Risen moon over White Mesa, from Cedar Mesa, Utah.

It doesn't get much better than this.

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