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