Monday, March 5, 2018

Bedrock to Old La Sal

The Bedrock Store. Eat your heart out, it's finally reopened with limited hours.
The end of February of an unusually dry winter. I was driving around southwest Colorado, taking advantage of the dry roads and relatively mild weather. High, wide, and lonesome.

My first stop (after two hours' driving from Cortez) was Bedrock.

Leaving Bedrock for the Utah state line. The Bedrock Post Office on the left, with the La Sal Mountains in the distance. 
Bedrock, Colorado can barely count as a wide spot in the road. A few people live around there. Ranchers and highway department workers and such. No famous ski resorts close by to drive the cost of living out of sight.

To the west, not far over the Utah state line, were the La Sal Mountains, gleaming with new snow. I decided to take a short side trip.

The hulking Mount Peale, highest peak in the La Sals.
Up at Old La Sal (no services) I pulled over for another lovely shot of Mount Peale. At 12,721 feet in elevation (3,877m) it's the tallest peak in the La Sal Mountains. There are some subdivisions in this area, but they don't seem to have realized the developers' expectations. You could probably get a good deal if you have the money and don't mind being in the middle of nowhere in the winter. I would like to be both.

But I'm not rich so I did not call any of the realtors listed on the signs. Instead I reversed course back to Colorado. Because there was a lot more to see that day.

See more of my photography at my website:

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

January Down the Dolores River

Snow showers on the Abajo Mountains, from the Colorado state line.
A winter storm was coming in. Not a strong enough one for me, because it had been way too dry in the Four Corners region. But we'd take what we could get, with appreciation.

From Dove Creek, Colorado ("Pinto Bean Capital of the World") I headed north toward the Dolores River. On the way there I pulled over to photograph the bare winter fields with a light snow squall and the Abajo Mountains in the distance, across the state line toward Monticello, Utah.

The Dolores River at Slick Rock, Colorado.
Crossing the Dolores River at Slick Rock, Colorado made me pull over for some photos. This past spring the high country had run high with runoff and the river runners had been very happy. Now it was low water, and all of us were hoping for a lot more snow late in the winter and spring, like last year.

Disappointment Valley, Colorado. Wide, high, and lonesome!
It was an overcast winter day, without the snow that it should have had, but still I found it beautiful. Without strong sunlight and deep shadows, the soft colors appealed to me. Into Disappointment Valley, then through the cut over into Big Gypsum Valley.

This is ranch country, for sure.
It was there that I had my on a gravel road heading north from the highway that looked interesting. Because it was high desert, and nobody was around. Perfect.

Down Big Gypsum Valley, toward the river landing.
I was heading toward the river landing on the Dolores River. It would be frozen, but then again this wasn't the river running season. It was the off season. Wonderfully lonely.

Cottonwood trees to the left, red rock cliffs to the right.
At the boat landing, I familiarized myself with the facilities. Quite low key. A shelter, some picnic tables near the river. Nice.

The Gypsum Valley boat landing on the Dolores River. Nothing to float right here, now. But beautiful.
I love the high desert in the winter, since I get too sweaty in the summer.

Down the Dolores...riverbanks of rust and gold.
Finally I reached a bridge crossing of the Dolores below which there was a Wilderness Study Area.

Panorama of the Dolores River where it leaves the Big Gypsum Valley and down into the Wilderness Study Area.
From Google Earth, I could see why it was a red rock river canyon wilderness area.

Photo courtesy Google Earth.
Just look at the sinuous, deeply entrenched river canyon continuing to cut through the middle of nowhere in southwest Colorado. As Edward Abbey called such canyon country: "the back of beyond".

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Friday, January 12, 2018

January Up The Dolores River

Highway 145 north of Dolores, Colorado.
My favorite highways are those that are so lightly traveled that, if you saw a must-have photo, you could hit your emergency flashers and stop without pulling off to the side. Most of the time, anyway.

The Upper Dolores near Stoner, Colorado. (Yes, its real name.)
I usually pull over anyway, if at all possible. Because frequently it turns out that there's more than one good shot to be had, now that I have stopped rolling down the road.

Snow covered Alder branches along the Dolores River.
A mid-January snowstorm failed to make it all the way down to the Montezuma Valley of southwest Colorado in any meaningful way. So I decided to go up into the nearby San Juan Mountains to meet it up there.
Blue Spruce sapling, Dolores River.
From Cortez to Telluride, Highway 145 is the way to go. Scenic and lightly traveled, it crosses the Dolores River at the town of Dolores (elevation 6,936 feet), then follows the upper part of the river to its headwaters near Lizard Head Pass.

Due to a very dry and warmer than normal winter, the upper Dolores was partially ice free at about 7,500 feet. Above that it was almost totally frozen over.

Downtown Rico, Colorado, the historic former silver mining boomtown.
I paused once again at my favorite mountain town, Rico (elev. 8,825), which gets a lot of snow in the winter. The roads were wet but clear of snow or ice.

The Rico Community Church, and the Town Hall just down the block.
Above Rico, on the way up to Lizard Head Pass, I spotted a herd of elk up on a mountainside, lounging around in a high meadow. Amazing. Not that there were elk there (it's public land, after all, on the San Juan National Forest), but that they were there now. In January. When normally they would have migrated down to the ranches down near Dolores.

Elk herd in a mountain meadow above Rico, Colorado.
But with the snowpack so thin, why bother? They will happily stay up there unless more vigorous storms force them lower.

Rest area at Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet (3,116 meters).
Soon I arrived at Lizard Head Pass itself. The high mountain meadows there are favorites of mine. Especially on such a snowy day when I couldn't see the surrounding high peaks.

Partially thawed mountain meadow stream at Lizard Head Pass.
After a couple more hours I decided I was satisfied with my day up in the high country, and started back down the Dolores. Interestingly, the further down in elevation I drove the more snow was flying. And sticking to everything. I was driving into a snow squall coming in from the west.

Snow flocked Cottonwood trees along the Dolores River.
I paused several times to photograph the ethereal beauty of the white-flocked cottonwood trees along the river, which would drop off their branches early the next morning at the slightest bit of warming.

Upper Dolores River valley in the snowstorm.
Photo location: Montezuma and Dolores counties, southwest Colorado.

See much more of my photography at my website:

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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.
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© 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:

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg