August 26, 2015

"Peaceful, Corn-Growing Ceremonialists"

Cahokia is in the northern part of the "Middle Missippi" area (Wikipedia).
Further study of mass graves from Cahokia, once the largest city in what is now the United States, suggests that  many of the people in them were not "foreigners" (war captives? slave tribute?) but locals. From Western Digs:
But one of the many mysteries lingering among the city’s ruins, just outside modern-day St. Louis, is a burial mound excavated in the 1960s and found to contain more than 270 bodies — almost all of them young women killed as victims of human sacrifice.

Dated to between 1000 and 1100 CE, their remains were mostly buried in large pits, laid out in neat rows, and bearing few signs of physical trauma, perhaps killed by strangulation or blood-letting.

But the mound also contained a striking group of outliers: a separate deposit of some 39 men and women, ranging in age from 15 to 45, who — unlike the rest — had been subjected to all manner of physical violence: brutal fractures, shot with stone points still embedded in their bones, even decapitation.
Ancient America was not a tidy place. This article reminded me that fifteen years have now passed since the publication of Christy and Jacqueline Turner's Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest, the book that pretty well killed off the idea of the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans as being, in someone's sarcastic phrase, "peaceful, corn-growing ceremonialists."

Let's just say that it does not make for good bedtime reading. I thought of it at the time as CSI: Chaco Canyon.

What impressed me too, in a negative way, was that I remembered a National Park Service archaeologist telling me about some of the same material that Man Corn describes and catalogs earlier, in the 1980s. Only genocide and cannibalism were so "politically sensitive" that he would not discuss them in his office, but invited M. and me over to his house.

And I left them out of the visitor-oriented news feature that I was writing, but I did not forget either the images of skeletons dumped in towers and kivas or my encounter with bureaucratic political correctedness.


August 14, 2015

She Could Be Timothy Treadwell's Mother (In Spirit)

Surveillance photo at Jo Ann Medina's home. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
It's one thing to be the "crazy cat lady," but quite another to be the "crazy bear lady."
Now, the woman is under arrest and at least three of the bears she has reportedly been feeding will have to be put down because they've been caught before near humans. The remaining bears will be evaluated to see if they can survive being relocated. It's a possibility they also will have to be killed.
She is out on $800 bond: 
Neighbors often complained that Medina fed black bears - some of which got too close for comfort. One woman complained that a bear "charged" her and another neighbor counted at least 10 bears visiting Medina's house seeking food in 2012. . . .

Medina admitted spending nearly $1,200 a month in 2008 on bird seed to feed deer, a citation shows. That year, she told an officer it wasn't a "bad thing to do," especially because she only did it during the winter when deer looked "so hungry," the citation said.
When suspected the following year of feeding bears, Medina told an officer that "it was the will of God for her to continue feeding the bears" to help them survive, another citation said.
(If you can't get enough Timothy, YouTube is your friend.)

UPDATE August 19th: A second bear hanging around her house has been trapped and killed by wildlife officials. But it sure rambled in its day.

August 10, 2015

The Machine That Must Run Forever

Leadville Mining District (Bureau of Reclamation).
This is the website for the "10,000 Year Clock" proposal, also known as the Long Now.
There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years.
Very nice, but we already have a "10,000-year clock." Several of them, in fact.

They do not tell time, but they must run forever. As in forever, as long as people live downstream from Colorado mine pollution.

Or until there is some major geological change, a technological breakthrough, or society devolves into some kind of Max Max, The Dog Stars, or World Made by Hand kind of future.

In that case, cadmium and other heavy metals in your drinking water and a lack of trout in the river might be lower down your list of problems. Who can say?

Maybe you heard about how work by the Environmental Protection Agency to remedy mine-drainage pollution in a tributary of the Animas River in SW Colorado went horrible wrong.

A toxic slug is flowing downstream into New Mexico and eventually to the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

Some people just want to use this incident to beat up on the EPA. Others worry about the effects on people dependent on the river and on its aquatic life.

My point is, this is not unique. Colorado, "mother of rivers," (South Platte, North Platte, Rio Grande, Arkasas, Colorado) is also a state built on mining.

Take the headwaters of the Arkansas River — the mining area around Leadville. It boomed on silver, but in the 1940s, the call was for zinc — zinc to make brass — brass for all the cartridge cases and artillery shells of World War Two.

But the mines filled with water as they went deeper, water percolating from rain and snow melt. So miners drilled a long, long tunnel to drain them, routing it into the river.
Leadville Mine Drain — the "floor" is water.

The metals that the tunnel picked up killed the river. So in 1991, the Bureau of Reclamation opened a treatment plant to neutralize the drainage. It's simple chemistry really.

When I co-taught an environmenal writing class at Colorado State University-Pueblo, my colleague and I used to take students up there on a field trip. We would rent some vans — it is about 160 miles one way, and many students had never been that far up the river that feeds their city.

We would tour the treatment plant and also drive past  the similar Yak Drainage Tunnel.

As some who read the old Whole Earth Review and CoEvolution Quarterly, I know about the "Long Now" project. I was interested, but I wanted to bring those Bay Area techno-hippies up to Leadville.

"Look here," I would say. "It's already running. Just add the chimes."

Because this "machine" has to run forever.

Forever.

Forever.

In the words of that old treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy in New York, "as long as the waters flow."

We all know how that worked out.

August 06, 2015

But You Already Knew This: Chiles Are Good for You

At the Horseman's Haven Cafe, Santa Fe (New York Times)
You might bookmark this New York Times blog piece to send to the chile-phobic, however.
After controlling for family medical history, age, education, diabetes, smoking and many other variables, the researchers found that compared with eating hot food, mainly chili [sic] peppers, less than once a week, having it once or twice a week resulted in a 10 percent reduced overall risk for death. Consuming spicy food six to seven times a week reduced the risk by 14 percent.
 Now pass the hot sauce.

August 05, 2015

Trinidad, Not Yet a Center for the Arts

Trinidad, Colorado, streetview (Pueblo Chieftain).
Colorado's governor is backing a plan to make the town of Trinidad some kind of artists' colony, reports the Pueblo Chieftain. (Story behind paywall.)
The red brick streets, historical buildings and gorgeous mountains to the west are just a few characteristics that make this small town a place that catches the eye.

Because of that, Gov. John Hickenlooper has chosen Trinidad to be the first town to participate in the first state-driven initiative in the nation for affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organizations.

The Space to Create Colorado program also will position Colorado as the nation’s leader in artist-led community transformation in rural creative place-making.

“The feeling is amazing. The change and excitement is palpable. It’s all over,” said Marilyn Leuszier, chair of the newly formed Corazon de Trinidad Creative District.
This is the "X is magic" school of economic development, where X is semiconductors, Christian ministries, rockets, artists, outdoor recreation, information technology, marijuana . . .

Yes, Trinidad has lots of Victorian commercial architectures (cheap rents) and brick streets, but to some southern Coloradans  that it also has a certain reputation, as in, it helps to have a few cousins to cover your back.

A former co-worker, once a varsity basketball player at Cañon City High School, claimed that when they played in Trinidad, the players left without showering — just got onto the bus in their sweaty uniforms and hit the road, rather than stay longer and invite some kind of trouble.

Sadly, this reminds me a little of Las Vegas, New Mexico, which for the last few decades has been heralded as "the next Santa Fe," but which still is not.

Given that Pueblo, ninety miles north, now has a genuine "creative district" — if putting up street signs makes it so — maybe Trinidad will be the next Pueblo?

August 04, 2015

"Where Were You When the Dam Broke?"

Sketch by one of the Pueblo operators in 1921
Click over to Coyote Gulch, the water blog, for a short video and story about the failure of the Castlewood Canyon Dam and the subsequent flood in Denver, eighty years ago yesterday.

As so often happened in such disasters, it was the telephone operators who authorized themselves to make "reverse 911" calls, decades before such systems were invented.

(They still are not perfect. I remember once getting a 4 a.m. telephone call that was just "Ring . . . click." Fortunately, I could see the mountainside on fire from the bedroom window.)

On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. . . . Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property
That was back when you rang for the operator and got someone relatively local who could, at times, make decisions and show initiative.

Now we have 911 call centers — although your mobile telephone call does not necessarily go to the right one. For other telephone needs, you get somebody in India who is reading from a script.

The sketch was drawn by Wilma Cary, one of the Pueblo telephone operators who stayed on the job during the big flood of 1921.

July 29, 2015

Morning Rainbow


A morning rainbow near Hillside in the Wet Mountain Valley, taken in early June.

July 27, 2015

Four-legged Forager

Suillus americanus (Wikimedia Commons).
July rains brought a brief flush of Slippery Jack mushrooms (Suillus americanus) near the house. We don't see them every year; it takes wet weather to bring out the mushrooms in this ponderosa pine-Douglas fir-Gambel oak environment.

 I collected a few on morning dog walks for drying— they turn wormy very quickly, and many that look good are not. The flavor is OK, nothing special, but they are mushrooms and picking them fulfills the Hunting and Gathering Imperative.

But someone was watching.

Twice this morning Fisher the dog darted into the oak brush and started munching. He was after the mushrooms — and he does not care if they are dessicated and/or wormy. (We have to keep him away from screens of drying mushrooms at home.)

So this is another one of those dog-behavior conundrums. Does he like mushrooms naturally, or does he like them because they are People Food and hence higher-status than Dog Food?

M. says that he is a dog out of place (but then she says that a lot). If we had truffles, he could have easily been trained to find them.

Given his love for finding dead stuff in the woods, he could have been an outstanding corpse-searching dog too.

July 11, 2015

The Pinnacle of Outdoor Fashion Style

Osa Johnson checks her rifle on safari.
At the Frontier Partisans blog, Jim Cornelius suggests that the 1900–1930 period represented the pinnacle of outdoor wear, at least from the standpoint of style.
From safari boots to slouch hat — that’s the way a man oughta dress. Functional and classically stylish. You could walk down the street in 1915 or 2015 and the look is never out of style.
He praises the costumes of the 1985 movie Out of Africa (Robert Redford, Meryl Streep), but his heart is with Martin and Osa Johnson.
Now, Finch-Hatton and Karen Blixen are an interesting couple, “Out of Africa” is a fine book and a beautiful movie. But if you’re looking for an adventurous, stylish couple from the first half of the 20th Century, the go-to pair is without a doubt Martin and Osa Johnson. Way more compelling than Finch-Hatton/Blixen (and I always liked Bror Blixen best anyway).
"But where do I find those clothes today?" you ask.

Comes with waistcoat and britches.
Go to the Covent Garden area of London — and bring money. There you will find The Vintage Showroom, a vintage-clothing shop-cum-museum "covering the early mid 20th century and specialising in international work, military and sports clothing, classic English tailoring and country wear."  And also some contemporary clothing that invokes those days.

You can see, for example, this bespoke traveling suit, owned by a noted Egyptologist, perfect for crawling through tombs and temples.

July 10, 2015

Looking for the Gifts of Rain

Old cabins in the rain with broad-tailed hummingbird
On the 4th of July, walking in the Sangres, I found two boletes near the trail — and they were already a little past their prime. Then came more rain— five inches (0.25 Egyptian cubits) since Saturday — and further mushrooming was postponed, until last night, when M. and I thought we had a chance.

We wanted to check an area in the Wet Mountains that seemed promising for early, lower-altitude foraging, but about half a mile along, it started to pour.

We ended up at the old lodge, watching hummingbirds dart under the eaves while we had coffee and cherry pie.

RIGHT: The large mushroom is Agaricus silvicola,  I think, and if so, not edible.

Twenty years from now, whenever someone says "It's been a rainy spring," the retort will be, "This is nothing compared to 2015."

In one nearby town, the precipitation is at 209 percent of the average year-to-date figure. And the summer monsoon season is just beginning.

A double rainbow formed briefly over the lake, while anglers with inadequate rain gear walked past, heading for their cars or cabins.

July 05, 2015

Is a Off-the-Shelf Survival Kit the Best Approach?

I saw this "5-Day Survival Backpack" on sale in the grocery store in Westcliffe, and my first thought was that someone would buy and it and figure they were ready for an overnight in the Sange de Cristo range, if you count a Mylar blanket as "warmth."

Not enough water though.

Reconsidering, I thought it more likely to be the sort of kit you toss behind the seat of your truck for emergency use. The maker promotes as an "emergency survival kit" as well. It lists at $79.99 but is available online for $50–70.

Could you make someething better for less than $50?

July 04, 2015

Only for Weather Nerds

If you live in Wyoming, the Black Hills, Colorado, or western Kansas and Nebraska, the most interesting weather forecast happens online, a service of the Geographical Area Coordinating Centers (now there is a bland and opaque bureaucratic name).

The "Daily Fire Fire Potential Briefing," a short mp4 video, talks a lot about relative humidy and wind but also serves well for forecasting weather in your area or where you plan to be going for outdoor activities.

Admitedly, the narrator sounds like the most boring graduate student teaching assistant that you ever had in college. But the info is solid. (So was the TA's, probably.)

July 03, 2015

John Martin Reservoir is Full Again

Enjoy it while it's this way.
I have never fished John Martin, but I have tried it for waterfowling with mixed success. When it is high like this, you can find some cover and improvise a blind.

But when it is low,  the best areas are surrounded by a wide margin of boot-sucking mud. I wonder how far down the original bottom is under the the silt that has washed in.

News release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

HASTY, Colo. - The wet Colorado spring at John Martin Reservoir has allowed something that hasn’t been seen for quite a while: high water levels.

That means it’s a great time to visit the park. There’s plenty of room for boating in the reservoir that now spans roughly nine miles long and two miles wide. There's also 200-plus campsites and nearly five miles of hiking trails to explore.

Water levels at John Martin Reservoir are nearly seven times higher than levels last year. As of June 23, the reservoir had 276,000 acre feet of water, while last year at a similar time of year the reservoir held only around 30,000 acre feet.

"The reservoir hasn't looked like this in a long time," said Park Manager Dan Kirmer. "If you haven't been to the reservoir before or haven't been in awhile, you definitely need to come check it out."

Boat, picnic and fish at this peaceful oasis known for its wildlife. John Martin Reservoir is also considered a birdwatcher's paradise with almost 400 species documented in Bent County.

Beat the crowds and long lines at boat ramps at other reservoirs across the state and enjoy the open water at John Martin Reservoir. While the dock at the east boat ramp had to be closed, boats can still launch and both the east and west boat ramps remain open.

The reservoir is letting in water at a rate of around 3,900 cubic feet per second and is releasing at a rate of about 820 cfs, so the high water levels will remain for a while.

For more information about John Martin Reservoir State Park call 719-829-1801, or click here.

July 01, 2015

Where Lightning Strikes in Colorado

Click to embiggen
Now you know why Nikola Tesla built a laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899, right in the central red patch.

This map was created at the National Weather Service office in Pueblo, Colo., where its page includes links to more maps for the (48) United States (Florida wins!) and the world.
The maps of Colorado and the United Statea show the number of Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. . . . The lightning flash density maps of the world show total lightning activity, that is, Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning plus In-Cloud (IC) lightning.
All lightning flash density plots for the state of Colorado are calculated with a very high spatial resolution of 0.01 degree latitude by 0.01 degree longitude squares. This corresponds to anapproximate resolutionof 1 km squared for the state of Colorado. Data is from 1994 through 2011, excluding 2000.
 M. and made up our term, the "Pike's Peak Swirl," when thunderstorms would interfere with our old summer job of censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management in areas south and southeast of Pike's Peak. Or as the Coloado Springs Gazette puts it, "Why Is Pike's Peak a Giant Lightning Rod? Blame Denver. "
Moisture from the south tends to circle around Denver and slam back into the Palmer Divide, combining with heat generated by the Pikes Peak massif and its surrounding peaks, said Steve Hodanish, a meteorologist and lightning specialist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.