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.

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

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