February 12, 2016

Of Sage Grouse and Prairie Chicken Display


This is the time of year when people are booking tours to the dance grounds (leks) of sage grouse and prairie chickens.

If the tours are full, here is some footage from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, outtakes and behind-the-scenes material from the film The Sagebrush Sea.

I have long assumed that some of the traditional Plains Indian dance-costuming and moves are based on these amazing spring displays.

February 01, 2016

Where's That Snow Plow?

Screen shot of the area around Florence this morning.
Apparently, The Kid is paying us a visit, having dropped six inches (15 cm, 1/3 cubit) overnight with more expected today.

Out walking the dog, I could hear the rattle of a snow plow on the state highway. But I could have stayed indoors and played with the computer, where a new system lets you track Colorado state snow plows online.
The Automated Vehicle Locator (AVL), will allow the public to go online to see which areas have already been plowed in a snowstorm. 
With that information, users can see which roads are the best for driving. People will also be able to check a plow's current location and see the direction they're traveling.

Plows that haven't moved for more than 16 minutes will not be visible. CDOT says 860 of 970 plows will be outfitted with the AVL system.
Track the plows here, or go to the highway-information home page for links to webcams and other information.

January 16, 2016

Andre Norton Messed with my Mind

Reconstruction of a man checking the roof
on his house framed with mammoth bones.
(The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, S.D.)


Recent Web-surfing (Do people still say that?) led me this fascinating article on Gizmodo: "A Mysterious Mammoth Carcass Could Change Human History."

The problem was that I read as far as this line — "A rounded hole through the interior jugal" —and immediately I think, "A bullet hole! Time travelers!" (And as a second thought, "What caliber for mammoth?")

Whose fault is that? Andre Norton's — pen name of Mary Alice Norton (1912–2005), who published in days when female SF writers pretty much had publish under male names for a nearly all-male readership.

Specifically I am thinking of her novel The Time Traders (1958). Wikipedia summarizes the beginning of The Time Traders
At the end of the Twentieth Century petty crook Ross Murdock is given the choice of facing a new medical procedure called Rehabilitation or volunteering to join a secret government project.

Hoping for a chance to escape, Ross volunteers to join Operation Retrograde and is taken by Major John Kelgarries to a base built under the ice near the North Pole. Teamed with archaeologist Gordon Ashe, he is trained to mimic a trader of the Beaker culture of Bronze-Age Europe.
(The Time Traders and one of its sequels, Key Out of Time, are available as free e-book downloads from Project Gutenberg.)

When I read it, after finding it in my tiny branch county library in Lakewood, Colo., I was maybe 11. It was not a good time— my parents had separated — Dad had moved out —and my mother was seeing some counselor whose office was in the same strip mall, so she would park me at the library. Then he moved back in — I was so glad —and then he moved out again. So maybe that was actually a good time for time travelers and for thinking about that evocative phrase, "the Beaker People."

Meanwhile, about that mammoth.
This 45,000 year-old mammoth’s life ended violently at the hands of hunters. That wouldn’t be surprising—it’s well known that Pleistocene humans were expert mammoth killers—but for the location. It was excavated from a permafrost embankment at Yenisei bay, a remote spot in central Siberia where a massive river empties into the Arctic Ocean.

That makes this brutalized mammoth the oldest evidence for human expansion into the high Arctic by a wide margin. Its discovery, published today in Science, might push back the timeline for when humans entered the northernmost reaches of the world—including the first entries into North America.
Reading about it is still a form of time travel, but I want to go to the Bronze Age via a secret base in the Arctic, damnit.

January 02, 2016

Propping up Charlie Goodnight's Barn

Goodnight's barn — the oldest standing structure in Pueblo?

"Charles Goodnight c. 1880" (late 40s) by University of Oklahoma Press; photo by Billy Hathorn -Wikimedia commons.
Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight is usually associated with the Texas Panhandle region, but he had a ranch in the 1870s that stretched southwest from Pueblo into the Wet Mountains. A feature of this ranch was a sandstone barn built in 1870. Goodnight dreamed big, but he never would have dreamt that his barn would have its own Facebook page.

And its own preservation committee, whose website says, 
Charles Goodnight was born in 1836 in Illinois and when he was 10 years of age his family moved to the newly formed State of Texas. Here learned about cattle herding and began his life-long love affair with Texas Longhorns. He and Oliver Loving began trailing Longhorns north to Colorado and Wyoming in the 1860s. Goodnight invented the chuck wagon in order to more easily feed the drovers on the trail.
In 1868, Goodnight put down roots just west of the newly created town of Pueblo, Colorado. He built his Rock Canyon Ranch below the bluffs of the area just west of what is named Goodnight Street. He ran his cattle all over the Gervacio Nolan Grant and had line camps over the area, including Babcock’s Hole Ranch in Wetmore, Colorado. The ranch remains today as a testament to Goodnight’s western heritage.
Goodnight and his wife lived several years in Pueblo before he transferred his headquarters to Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. The barn lies between the Arkansas River and Thatcher Boulevard/Colorado 96 on the city's west edge. Formerly it was surrounded by the buildings and machinery of a gravel operation mining the alluvial deposits. Now all that is gone.

In a classic bureaucratic snafu, there is a sign by the barn about its history, but you cannot (legally) enter the property, even it is (I think) state-owned now. Bring your big telescope.

The barn needs structural help. As the committee reported last week,
The City and County are set to approve $5,000 each toward the cost of Construction Documents and Specifications. The total for the documents is $37,500.00! Frontier Pathways and HPI are funding $1,000 each toward this amount. The Committee is giving $26,540.00 which we raised already! . . . . In April we will be writing a State Historic Fund Grant for $200,000 to begin the exterior work on the barn next Autumn. Our grant writer is also submitting grants to go toward the cash match and more. We are looking forward to a HUGE 2016!
Assorted factoids about Charles Goodnight from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

• Young Charlie was too busy being a cowboy and then a Texas Ranger to be bothered much with schooling, never learning to read and write. About the time the barn was going up, he married Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer, a Texas schoolteacher, who handled all written matters for him. She died in 1926.

• He smoked numerous cigars every day.

• He is credited as the (very loose) inspiration for the character of Woodrow F. Call in Larry McMurtry's novel Lonesome Dove (1985) yet also appears himself as a minor character.

• At the age of 91, after Molly's death, he married a woman of 26. She got pregnant, but miscarried. (He and Molly had no children either.) He died two years later at the age of 93.

January 01, 2016

El Niño ya viene

When I posted those snowpack numbers, I knew that for the Arkansas River drainage, where I live, the better-than-average figure represented snowfall along the Continental Divide. At my foothills location, the ground is mostly dry, and the High Plains mostly likewise.

But this latest NASA report suggests that we may yet get the big snow. Maybe it will be "three feet of glop," as sometimes happens in the spring.

Must. Cut. More Firewood. Now.

Let's Start 2016 with a Look at the Snowpack

Lots more information at the National Weather and Climate Center.

December 29, 2015

Bear with Me — There's More

Bear enjoying late-season tomatoes.
More links that I need to clear . . . 

• "The Hermit: New Mexico's First Mountaineer" — it's a story of religion, violence, penitence, and isolation, in other words, New Mexico.

• Some birds do well in cities and suburbs. How can we help them?

• We are told the decades of forest-fire suppression has led to hotter, bigger files. But a CU study suggests that severe fires are not new on Colorado's Front Range.  

Plans to sequence the genome of the oldest dogs found in North America.

Outdoor magazine's best 25 books for well-read explorers. Old Glory, yes!

• Everyone hears about Coronado's expedition in the American southwest,  no one about Francisco Leyva de Bonilla's. Maybe that is because it was such as disaster.

• Saving a big piece of southeastern Colorado's canyon country. And a chunk of the High Plains east of Pueblo.

Why are we still talking about Chris "Supertramp" McCandless?
Twenty-three years after his death, McCandless still has people talking — debating his cause of death, condemning his choices and discussing how perhaps they, too, can leave everything behind and walk into the wild.
A "river of sheep" in northwestern Colorado. Good photos.

December 28, 2015

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

Chef Jess Noy. See squirrel item.
I too often save a link to blog about it but them am too busy to do so. So here they are! All free!

Aspens in western Oregon could be "refugees" from Ice Age floods.

An article on Outdoor Wire wondered if the movie Wild would give a boost to backpacking or if The Hunger Games would increase the sale of archery gear. Well, did they?

• Not sure how this turned out: a Jewish kind-of-guru and a land-use battle in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado.

• What is the best survival knife? I would say that it's the knife you have with you. But, gear heads, read this article.

• When I was in the 6th grade at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colo., my teacher, Miss Carter, became engaged to the son of a carnation-raising family. She took us on a class trip through the commercial greenhouses — there used to be operations like that all over the area. Then, boom! no more. All the cut flowers came from Colombia, thanks to the War on Drugs ("We will pay them to grow roses instead of coca.") Now, "Colorado farmers, florists seek renaissance for local flower scene."

• Cañon City commercial herb and flower grower Tammy Hartung blogs on "Protecting Wildlife in the Garden & Farm Landscape."

• BoingBoing offers "The Best Adventure Stories for Kids from 1965." Is having adventures retro-cool? Elidar was actually one of Alan Garner's weaker books, I thought.

• Counting roadkill is depressing: "Our Highways' Toll on Wildlife." A game warden in Fremont County, Colo., once told me that he figured a deer or elk was killed every night of the year by a motor vehicle. No doubt some of those drivers think that hunting is cruel.

The English discover that squirrels are tasty. Also, redheads rule.

The Salton Sea was an accident, but birds love it. I finally saw it this past March.

• It's cold this week. Are you at risk for "the frozen five"?

The "locavore movement" boosts deer hunting, in case you did not know.

• What southern Colorado needs is a good "guntry club." But I expect that northern Colorado will get (or has gotten) one sooner, since that is where the money is. Still, I can fantasize.

• Are you feeding the birds this winter? Some thoughts on where to put your feeders. And keep them clean.  And if you want birds, you have to tolerate some insects.

• What happens when a professional wedding photographer goes elk hunting.

Don't make these dumb moves when you go to a gun shop.

• I have heard some of these: "Female Hunters Share Tales of Sexism."

How to shoot down a drone. Hint: they are more like pigeons than geese.

• It kind of amazes me that Bishop's Castle is the must-see tourist attraction in the Wet Mountains. But almost everyone who rents our cabin goes there.

• When I worked at the Cañon City Daily Record, part of my job was visiting the local humane society and photographing the adoptable pet of the week. I learned some these things by trial and error, but I wish that I had had this article to read.

December 25, 2015

Maybe I Should Call This "Marginal Galaxy Nature Blog"



Maybe not. I am better at thinking about the migration paths of elk than the migration paths of galaxies. But it is a stunning video. Laniakea means "immeasureable heavens" in Hawaiian. More here.

December 23, 2015

Best of Bigfoot, 2015


"Local" decor in the new Trader Joe's grocery store in Colorado Springs.
Via the Bigfoot Lunch Club blog, Animal Planet's ten best Bigfoot video clips of 2015.

These have a short commercial at the beginning. At least one that I watched was for cosmetics, which means that someone thinks that there are female Bigfoot fans too (I always think of Bigfoot-hunting as a guy thing, for some reason) or else there is a joke in there about putitng lipstick on a sasquatch.

In related news, Bigfoot-hunting figures into the upcoming trial of Eddie Tipton, the "former Multi-State Lottery Association security director who is accused of rigging jackpots in Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma from 2005 to 2011 to enrich himself and his friends."

It was all for science!

In yet other news, a Canadian Native band gets their 75-year-old sasquatch (?) mask back from a museum.

December 18, 2015

Look What Smokey Bear Left in my Stocking!

The Fiddlin' Foresters
Am I opening presents early, when Smokeymas is still a week away? Not really, I found this CD, "In the Long Run" by the Fiddlin' Foresters, at ARC today.

I had no idea that (a) the US Forest Service had an "official old-time string band" and (b) that their website had been presidentially singled out by Barack Obama as an example of government waste. Was that a taxpayer-funded banjo too?

Thank heaven we have saved $10 annually on domain registration fees. The deficit will melt like snow in May if we keep this up.

The album is still available.

I played it on the long drive home from Colorado Springs. They do a tricky thing in the middle, moving from the campfire-singalong jollity of "Smokey the Bear" through another cut and then into "Cold Missouri Waters," which is a song I rarely listen to because it interferes with my vision, and that's not what you want at 65 mph. Jane Leche gets into Joan Baez territory with the vocal track (YouTube).

"Is that about a wildfire?" M. asks.

"Mann Gulch," I manage to say, although my voice sounds funny.

But let's be real. The song is a weeper, but I was not even born yet when the events took place.

I am thinking more of a sunny dining hall at the Wheaton College science station/summer camp in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota. A boy sits off in a corner while his father, the Pactola District ranger, gives some students a quick version of what would be today the S-190 and S-130 "red card" wildfire-training classes, in case they have to fight a fire on or near their 50-acre site.

Sheet music to "Smokey the Bear" sits on the rack of the upright piano in the dining hall, and the ranger is telling the students how you should never run uphill from a fire, how something bad happened in Montana not too many years before.

December 17, 2015

Chile Thoughts on a Cold December Night

Not my stove (via Preservation Archaeology)
Last night I was roasting some poblano chile peppers on the gas stove because I came across a recipe that I wanted to try, from Jacques Pépin of all people — I did not know he was into Mexican food.

That got me musing about a dish that I made years ago when we lived in Cañon City. It was supposed to be a post-Civil War Army recipe from the days of the Indian Wars — real stark, basically beef and red chiles, lots of them. Maybe onions, no beans.

And then I went down the Internet rabbit hole looking for it.

My Army recipe might have been something like this one, from an article in True West:
But the army’s official chili recipe was not published until 1896 in its The Manual for Army Cooks, says John Thorne, chili [sic] [1] scholar and e-zine publisher at outlawcook.com. Labeled “Chile Con Carne,” the recipe calls for round beefsteak, one tablespoonful of hot dripping, two tablespoonfuls of rice, two large, dry red peppers, one cup of boiling water, a half pint of boiling water and salt, onions and flour. The time hadn’t yet come for garlic and tomatoes to be added to the mix.
I don't remember the rice, but years have passed.

Speaking of which, I will always think of jackrabbit chile as "poverty food," remembering those years.

If you want to make chile con carne for 100, here is a more contemporary Army cooks' recipe (PDF), involving canned tomatoes and beans.

Here is a Texas-centric history of chile, including some home-boy bombast from that master politico, Lyndon Johnson. Treat it with the skepticism that you normally bring to writing that includes phrases like, "According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend. . . " [2]

New Mexico has its Official State Question, "Red or green?", but here in the northern fringe of the fictive province (not the state) of New Mexico — south of the Arkansas (Nepeste) River — the question has already been answered for you: "Green."

I know I am somewhere near home when I can ask for a side dish of green chile with my meal, and no one bats an eye — even if it is canned stuff off the Sysco truck, which happens.

Jacques' recipe is simmering in the big iron pot, meanwhile, and there is some venison sausage that might go in later.


1. Father, forgive them, for Texans can play football, but they know not how to spell. Also, the website has changed at bit.

2. Or to anything written on Texas history.

December 12, 2015

Do I Have to Throw Away My Ducks Unlimited Shirts Now?

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, I had fantasies of being an outdoor/nature writer. I published articles, had a newspaper column for a couple of years, and spent a year on the staff of the late and unlamented Colorado Outdoor Journal. And I got to know a lot of writers. I still do some freelancing, but mostly in other areas now —  except this blog (which would qualify me for membership in the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America, if I wanted to go back).

If there is anything writers like to talk about, it is their shabby treatment by editors, publishers  and producers. Everyone has stories of producing work and then being stiffed on payment.

So when I read Steve Bodio's account of Ducks Unlimited not only firing contributing editor E. Donnall Thomas, Jr., better known as Don Thomas — but also scrubbing all of his previous work from the DU website, making him into a "nonperson" as much as they could, I boiled.

Steve quoted Thomas on what happened, and I will borrow that quote:
"In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, "A Rift Runs Through It", about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. . . .To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

... The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization... DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.
As I said, I boiled. I fired off a set of letters to Ducks Unlimited president Paul R. Bonderson, Jr., and to CEO Dale Hall. I delayed writing this blog post for a while to see if I got a response, maybe a form letter from the office intern, whatever. Nada.

I have served on the board of a state-level conservation group, and I know nonprofits often get most of their cash from a few big donors, who outweigh the dues and small gifts of us average members putting in $35 a year for dues and also responding to certain appeals.

But, I wrote to them, it is those thousands of average members, if properly used, who give the organization its political leverage.

And although I have been a member for close to thirty years, I suggested that in the future James Cox Kennedy could cover my dues and gifts.

Charity Navigator, which tracks nonprofits and how they spend their money, gives Ducks Unlimited three stars out of four overall, with a score of 74.49 out of 100 on "financial" and a 96 on "transparency."

According to DU's reports, fundraising and administrative costs take 23.6 percent of all income, with the rest going to programs. That's not bad. It is when over half goes to fundraising and administrative salaries that you want to back off.

Membership dues raised $19.4 million in fiscal year 2014, fundraising (all those banquets) raised $24.6 million, and contributions and grants accounted for $28.35 million.

They won't miss mine.

I am conflicted about this decision, and yes, I even wondered if I should keep wearing the stuff that DU sends as gift-appeal premiums. That's a pretty nice fleece vest, for instance, and I like it, even with the logo on the front.

I thought about how I had defended giving to the Salvation Army to a friend who advised against it because the SA was not, in her opinion, friendly enough to the LGBT population. "Who else does a better job and ticks off all the correct political boxes," I asked rhetorically.

Who else does more for duck research and habitat?

Who else screws over writers so blatantly?

Maybe DU, like many nonprofits before it, has gotten too big, too clubby, too established. Their treatment of Don Thomas is an awfully big straw in the wind, an indicator of their corporate mindset. You wonder what else is going on if they are that sensitive about a perceived insult to one of the insiders.

(UPDATE: Among other coverage of DU's shabby treatment of Don Thomas, here is a brief summary from High Country News.)

December 03, 2015

Louie the Bear has a Fundraiser! Help Louie Eat!

I posted in October about Louie the pizza shop bear and his little buddies. M. and I have been helping out a little — some big bags of puppy chow and some big bags of peanuts — but those go fast. Louie's caretakers at Wet Mountain Wildlife could use some help, so they have started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. But first . . . Louie in the pizza shop!

OK, you saw him, now help him bulk up for hibernation by contributing here!

November 27, 2015

Of Avalances, Machismo, and Derring-Do

Local search-and-rescue groups on Facebook are all cross-posting this Denver Post article: "Ignorance and Early-Season Avalanche Danger."

The author, columnist Steve Lipsher, writes,
Each year, it seems, the reckless streak grows bolder among Colorado skiers and snowboarders, eager to show off their GoPro videos on YouTube and earn bragging rights among their friends.
And each year, on average, six or seven of them will die in avalanches.
He is not sold on the latest gadgets:
[Other backcountry snow enthusiasts] carry specialized equipment designed to help them breathe in a burial or inflate giant airbags instantly to help them stay on top of an avalanche, falsely thinking that replaces good decisions or adequately protects them.
The SAR groups will still have work to do. Humans are hard-wired for risk. I am all for education on avalanche-awareness, but education will never reach them all.