September 22, 2016 Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

Teton Bison and Pronghorns

Clouds Over the Tetons
Clouds Over the Tetons

Been fighting the weather here recently, very mixed bag of conditions, lots of clouds, heavy morning fog, and late afternoon rain. The early morning image above is a good example of the mountains creating their own weather conditions. This was taken several days ago and was one of the last mornings the Tetons were even visible.

The Oxbow and Mount Moran
The Oxbow and Mount Moran

Fall has officially arrived here as the trees are starting to put on their autumn show.

Mount Moran
Mount Moran
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Cottonwoods
Cottonwoods

Mormon Row

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

Mormon Row is a north/south dirt road connecting the Gros Ventre Campground to the Antelope Flats Road. I drive this road every morning that it is not raining because there is a large herd of bison grazing in the area, plus a couple small bands of Pronghorns, and, if the animals are on the correct ( west ) side of the road, in just the right portion of the fields, they can be photographed with the Tetons in the background with the mountains being bathed in the early morning light.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

The past week, I have had a few opportunities to almost get the perfect shot. But something is always just a little less than perfect. The sun is covered by low hanging clouds leaving nice light on the mountaintops but the bison and foreground in shade …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… or I manage to get some light on the foreground and the sky clouds up over the mountains …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… or the clouds throw some part of the image, trees in the mid ground above, in weird dark shadow.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

What seems to happen most often though is that the herd will be grazing on the wrong side of the road, west side in the afternoon so you are shooting into the sun, or the east side in the morning …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… resulting in this kind of impossible shot.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

But still, I have some really nice reference photos for when I finally get back to painting, where I can then paint in the perfect sky or well lit foreground.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

You might ask why I don’t just hop out of the car and hike out in the field to get the herd between myself and the mountains with the sun at my back? Well, these fields  ( flats, meadows? ) are hundreds of acres in size, on both sides of the road, and there is not a single tree anywhere in those hundreds of acres, so I don’t really feel it would be too wise to go tromping around out there amongst hundreds of bison with nowhere to hide if one of them happened to take offense with my being out there.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

These guys are seriously large, and even with the car as my protection, when you are right in the midst of them, they can be very intimidating.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison

Pronghorns

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

These beautiful animals are one of my favorites out here in the west. But, like the bison, they just refuse to cooperate for this photographer and are always located in the worst possible lighting conditions when I encounter them up close enough to get some nice shots.

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

In dead shade wth the rising sun behind them, like in the two shots above.

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

This group I actually encountered in a place where I could get them out in good light, with the sun at my back, as you can see with the sun on the mountains behind them. But just when they arrived at the perfect spot for a ridge top photo, a cloud blocked the sun behind me … just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to these guys.

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

And they are moving fast, so there is no waiting for the sun to pop back out and get that great shot.

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks

These guys put themselves in position to get some great light on them, so, of course they moved out onto a section of the flats that is being reclaimed  for native grasses to take over.

Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks

Someday I’ll get that perfect shot!

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July 15, 2016 Ridgeway State Park, Colorado

Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird

Exploring Back Roads Through the Rockies

I have spent most of the last week taking day trips out of the state park hitting many of the county roads that head up into the mountains around Ridgeway. These are all dusty gravel roads varying in condition, mostly washboarded, narrow in some places, and some bad enough to force me to turn around and backtrack, wishing I had a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Most have yielded little more than the opportunity to travel to higher, thus cooler elevations, escaping the heat down below, few have yielded any great panoramic views, and wildlife sightings have been few and far between.

Ridgeway State Park
Ridgeway State Park

Ridgeway State Park

The image above is of my campsite in the large, crowded, campground here at Ridgeway State Park. I was fortunate that the park ranger found me a level site after the site I had reserved online was way too severely sloped to even get close to level even maxing out my hydraulic leveling system. If coming here, and this is a very nice campground, be aware that at least half the sites are unusable for larger rigs, not because of length, but because of slope.

All interior roads and sites are paved and there are water spigots located throughout the campground for filling tanks. 30 amp electric is provided at each site and some, not all, sites have a shelter. Sites are reasonably spaced and there is a pretty good Verizon signal here. The campground is full every night this time of year so reservations are necessary. I would stay here again, but would probably do so in the fall for foliage, just a little too warm for me this time of year even at an elevation of 7,000′, mid to high 80’s every day, but cooling off nicely to the 50’s at night.

Along Last Dollar Road
Along Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road to Telluride

Open Range
Open Range

After reading quite a bit about the Last Dollar Road, a county road up through the mountains to Telluride, off Route 145, I figured I would give it a go and see how far my Prius could make it. Surprisingly, I made it all the way, though certainly would have been turned back had there been any rain lately, the road would be way too slick and deeply rutted for a low clearance vehicle in wet conditions.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

There was one weird aspen grove on the ascent, where the trees were all twisted and leaning in every direction, not the straight, erect forest you usually encounter.

Above Telluride
Above Telluride

After a loooong steady climb on the northern end of the road through meadows and forests, the road makes a long, steep, very steep descent towards Telluride. As I inched down this road, a herd of sheep was being driven out of the woods below to a large field.

Above Telluride
Above Telluride

As I watched they spread out and grazed for a short while ….

Above Telluride, Shepherd and Dogs
Above Telluride, Shepherd and Dogs

… then the shepherd and his two dogs hurried them back into the woods. Kind of fun to watch how quickly and efficiently the two dogs worked from this vantage point. When I looked at the photo above on my monitor, I noticed the shepherd had a rifle slung over his shoulder, must be for coyotes ?

Boondock Site Above Telluride
Boondock Site Above Telluride

At the bottom of the long descent, just a short distance above the spread of multi-million dollar homes and ” ranches” you encounter before coming back down to the highway just outside Telluride, I found a few folks camping on this spot ( image above ), what a great view from this popular boon docking spot, one I might consider approaching from the south end, but certainly not from the way I just came. If you look closely at the image above, you will see a local resident  using the rocks surrounding the fire pit as a vantage point to take in the great view.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

The beautiful aspen groves here near the campsites are, of course, marred by carvings.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

The weather during my stay here has been incredibly consistent, 85 and sunny days, cool, clear nights in the 50’s, every day. A little warm by day for my tastes, but if you drive up into the surrounding mountains, it becomes fairly comfortable. So far, the afternoon thunderstorms I was warned about, have not made an appearance.

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July 11, 2016 Ridgway, Colorado

Columbine
Columbine

Exploring Back Roads Searching for Wildflowers

The last couple of days I have been driving the dusty, washboarded back roads around Ridgway and off the Million Dollar Highway, searching for mountain meadows carpeted with wildflowers. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any.

Columbine on the Edge of the Woods
Columbine on the Edge of the Woods

Columbine is in bloom along several of these roads and I have found some small patches with several clusters of flowers, but nothing on a grand scale … yet.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove
Columbine
Columbine

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed this single clump growing out of the sheer face of the road cut  along the Million Dollar Highway. It was hanging on about twenty feet up the sheer vertical face of the rock cut and with no shoulder on one side of the road ( just a straight drop down about 200 feet, no room for a guard rail ), and the rock wall just three feet from the fog line on the other side, the only way I could get the shot was setting my tripod up on the road, dodging in and out of traffic.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught in Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

This is getting to be a regular occurrence for me, I believe this is the fifth cattle drive I have gotten involved with in the past couple months.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

I’m getting to be an old hand at staring down these bovines.

A Young Cowboy
A Young Cowboy

And this is definitely the youngest cowboy I have photographed to date !

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain

More Shots From Route 550 and Roads Outside Silverton

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain
Along the Million Dollar Highway
Along the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
From Yankee Basin Road
From Yankee Basin Road
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton

Caught Up in My First Sheep Drive

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

I ran into three large and empty livestock carriers ( tractor trailers, 18 wheelers ) parked on the side of a narrow dusty road outside of Silverton and assumed I was going to run into yet another cattle drive, but when I rounded the next corner I encountered my initial “sheep drive “.

Sheep Drive Chaos
Sheep Drive Chaos

Several hundred sheep, one sheepdog, one guard dog, three shepherds on foot and another walking with a horse. At times the sheep were bouncing all around the place and the three shepherds were running like crazy trying not to have the herd breakup.

What made it really interesting was the fact that they were driving them down the road and one side of the road was a National Forest designated camping area, full of people and tents … and many of the sheep were running through the campsites and among campers and their tents as the men and the sheepdog attempted to get them back to the flock. I felt kind of sorry for the campers because the road and all the ground in the flocks’ path was now covered with sheep droppings, and several hundred sheep leave a lot of droppings.

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

Eventually the flock was driven off the road and up the side of the mountain.

Sheep Drive
Driving Them Up the Mountain

And the side of this mountain was very steep, probably a 30 degree slope or more and they were being pushed straight up by the shepherds. These guys had to be in some kind of great shape for this job since this location is about at 10,000′ elevation and they were driving the flock straight up the mountainside and it was a long way to the top. How they don’t lose individuals is beyond me.

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June 12, 2016 Heron Lake State Park, New Mexico

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

Exploring Southern Colorado

Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage

At these high elevations, this Skunk Cabbage seems to grow prolifically just about everywhere.

The West End of Colorado FR 103
The West End of Colorado FR 103

I had checked out FR 103 on my New Mexico and Colorado Atlases and wanted to see if I could drive it in the Prius to try and find the catering building of the Cumbres & Toltec RR out in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. The atlases showed  a few miles of drivable gravel road before it appeared to turn into 4-wheel drive road, when you entered FR 103 from the west, so I figured I would see just how bad it got.

As you can see from the image above, the road starts out in pretty good shape as you head down into a beautiful valley, but after about four miles, as it heads back up into the woods, it deteriorated quite rapidly, forcing me to turn around at about the five mile mark.

View From Colorado Route 17
View From Colorado Route 17

So, back out to Route 17, and north across the state line into Colorado to try FR 103 from the east side. The image above is from the side of the road as you descend into Colorado. If you look closely, the gravel road on the right that heads uo into the mountains is one I will take a little later in this post.

At the summit of Cumbres Pass there is a gravel road to the west that takes you about two miles up to the Trujillo Meadows NF Campground, so I had to check that out. There is a very nice campground up there at over 10,000 feet of elevation with several sites that would easily handle my rig, but, unfortunately, the campground looks like a bomb hit it. It used to be a well wooded campground but the bark beetles have killed a very large portion of all the surrounding woods up here and the forest service obviously felt the need to take down all the dead trees in the campground, leaving it completely bare, nothing but stumps. Still a nice place to truly get away from it all.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I continued east on Route 17 to Road D-5, just past Fox Creek, and that connected me to FR 103’s east access. FR 103 is a fairly decently maintained gravel road with a fair share of washboarded stretches for about 14 miles in, where it becomes a little narrower, slicker, and less well maintained.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I passed several aspen groves along the first several miles and finally had to stop and get some shots.

Approaching Storm
Approaching Storm

At about 6 or 7 miles in, the sky began to darken and I could see lightning flashing to the north.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

In this area, there were a couple of meadows where one could possibly pull off the road and find a decent boon docking site, something I may well do in the future. I think I would dare take the motorhome out to at least this point, though I don’t think I would dare go beyond these meadows as the road does get narrower and there are no obvious places where a large rig could get turned around.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

The rain was soon upon me as I made the final push to get to the catering building, about 15 miles in from the east end of FR 103.

Switching Track
Switching Track

kLunchStop

All these shots were taken in the rain so they are a little dull and spotty, but I found it kind of interesting to see all these people and all this activity out here in the middle of nowhere.

lLunchStop2

The Cumbres & Toltec RR serves a complete dinner, included in the price of your ticket, out here in this building. The road at this point became so bad that I could not get down to the building to check it out, plus the rain was really starting to come down heavy and I had a narrow, winding uphill to do in what was now a very muddy road, so it was time to turn around and head out.

Approaching the Water Tank
Approaching the Water Tank
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers

As I slid and sloshed back up the road, the heavy rain turned to marble sized hail and within seconds the road was now white with hail. This was my first experience with the summer season’s afternoon storms, and it was a little terrifying for a few minutes. At 10,000 feet of elevation, I guess you must be right inside the storm as I could quite literally “feel’ the thunder as it seemed to explode around me and the hail was so heavy, I could not see the narrow road in front of me. But it was all over in a few minutes and I was able to make the return back out to Route 17, no worse for wear.

Cumbres & Toltec Open Gondola car
Nice Ride !

A shot of the open gondola car as the train passed in a little nicer weather.

My Second Cattle Drive
My Second Cattle Drive

Exploring Colorado Route 250 to Platoro

Only a few miles up Route 250, a wide, well maintained gravel road ( though quite dusty and washboarded in sections ), I encountered my second cattle drive of the season. This lone cowboy and his dog were single handedly driving about a hundred cattle up the road to greener summer pastures.

Mom Looking Out for Junior
Mom Looking Out for Junior

Just as with the first cattle drive I encountered back outside Raton a couple weeks ago, the cowboy came up to me and told me to just slowly head into them,” they’ll move “. And they did, but it took about five minutes of looking at the messy butts of a lot of cows and calves to nudge through the herd and get back on my way. I could easily have reached out my window and touched many of these cows as I made my way through.

rBlocked

These next few shots are actually are from my return back down Rte 250 later in the afternoon, this and the next few taken through my windshield, when I met up with the same cowboy and cattle drive about 3 hours later. Turns out to be a slightly different feel when you run head first into them and they have to make their way around you, than when you work your way through them from the rear.

Hereford Bull
This Guy Has Me Worried

This lone bull, about the size of my Prius, had me more than a little worried when he seemed to look down at me from in front of the car, as though he was trying to decide if he should push through me, or go around. Thankfully, some cows to the left moved around me, giving him room to move that way also.

Hereford Bull
That’s a Lot of Animal
Colorado Cowboy
Colorado Cowboy

Quite a job to tackle by himself, I would think. When the herd was moving through this area of cabins with no woods or fences along the roadway, the cattle were scattering all over the place and he was bouncing from one side of the road to the other trying to gather them all in and keep them heading in one direction. I wish i could have gotten some shots of his dog, looked like a sheltie/sheepdog type, as he raced all over chasing strays back to the road, seemingly without any commands that I could see or hear, from his master.

Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing
Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing

Views From 10,000 Feet

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I ended up going about 18 miles into the mountains on Route 250, mainly to check out the two National Forest Campgrounds, Spectacle Lake CG at about 6 miles in and South Fork CG about 18 miles in. Both campgrounds were secluded and fairly nice with interior roads and several campsites that were able to handle larger rigs. I might well try one or both someday in the future, this is just breathtakingly beautiful country.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I got a little spooked as I was taking the shots above, when rocks began crashing down into the road behind me from the steep slope on the other side of the road.

Mule Deer
Rock Throwers

I looked up and there was the reason, two mule deer does scrambling up the steep talus slope, probably to get away from me.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green
Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green

The hillsides are an unbelievably brilliant green and the sky an incredible blue. The air so clean and dry … WOW !!!   Spring in the Rockies!

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

Years ago, I made a trip out here and had a little trouble with the altitude. This time, I suppose because of my slow, months long pace of gradually climbing up in elevation as I made my way north and up, through New Mexico, thankfully, I am not experiencing any of the same symptoms. Just another perk, I suppose, of the leisurely pace of a fulltimer.

Sunbathing Horses
Sunbathers

Had to take a shot of these two, seemingly really enjoying the warmth of the noonday sun at 10,00 feet.

Abandoned House
Abandoned House

And I can never pass by a deserted building.

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