June 29, 2005

It's him, it's him

So M. and I stop in at the Hotel Jerome bar in Aspen for a mid-afternoon drink, and there he is: Hunter S. Thompson: lanky, sunglasses, little hat, worn leather briefcase for manuscripts. Only as we all know, Hunter Thompson died a few months ago. We figured that we were witnessing a flowering of the Hunter Thompson-impersonator phenomenon.

Key West has its "Papa Hemingway" lookalike contest, so maybe Aspen will follow suit. Johnny Depp can serve as celebrity judge.

LEFT: The real Hunter Thompson.

Since I rarely visit Aspen, I don't know when the restored high Victorian spendor of the Jerome Bar was junked up with flat-screen TVs permanently tuned to ESPN. What happened to dignified drinking?

June 28, 2005

Gleaming white stone

A part of Colorado that I had never seen before (nor had M.) was the Crystal River valley up from Carbondale through Redstone and Marble.

What you see on the right is not a fragment of the temple of Zeus from some mountainous part of Greece, nor a fragment of the architectural vision of Albert Speer, but a wall from one of the marble mills in the town of the same name. Marble, Colorado, boomed in the early 20th century, furnishing building material for numerous buildings, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Now sculpture students work among the ruins.

You know you are nearing Marble when you turn off Colorado 133 at the sign and begin seeing Dumpster-size chunks of white rock, some marked by drill holes, just scattered in the aspens and willows along the road. The Old West-style Marble General Store has white marble steps rather than creaking planks.

We were unable to visit the quarry itself--the access road was closed by landslides--part of the snowy winter that has now has the Crystal River running high, murky, and unfishable. But no one complains about too much water here.

June 24, 2005

Are they talking about you?

Researchers discover that the number of "dees" in the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call of the black-capped chickadee, as well as other factors, gives information about predators to the flock.

"These birds are passing on way more information than anyone ever dreamed possible, and only by carefully looking at these calls can we really appreciate how sophisticated these animals are."

June 22, 2005

It all comes down to water

Colorado Luis heralds the return of Bob Morris' Politics of Water blog.

Bob is from southern California, but he's not all about taking water from the Colorado River and spraying it all over lawns down there -- far from it. He's an old school, Prius-driving ex-Green Party member from West L.A., and I'm glad he is getting back in the water-blogging groove. If water blogging interests you as much as it interests me, check out Bob's site.

June 21, 2005

Commerce of the Prairie

Nicole of Plastic Daisies takes a clear-eyed look at camping in southeastern Colorado

Wanting to escape from our original escape (follow that?), we again load up the car for a short day trip to Lamar where a General Electric windmill farm is located. I throw my headphones on and rock some Gillian Welch, because songs about the sad nature of a worn-down, dreary farm life is a perfect soundtrack for driving through a sad, worn-down, dreary farm town: rotten fences surrounding grazing livestock, boarded-up windows adorning deserted buildings, badly faded paint flecking from wooden houses and shops. Beyond this struggling town, past miles of fields speckled with cattle and sheep are clusters of brand new windmills rotating in sync, harnessing energy from the unending wind.

The colonial Spanish considered that area to be part of El Cuartelejo, the Far (with a connotation of empty) Quarter. My students on Southern Colorado magazine call it "the forgotten Colorado" and they go there on wild-goose chases.

Some Kansans keep the name alive, but they could do more for Juan de Padilla. A highway rest area maybe?

June 20, 2005

The Forest Service - II

While the Black Hills National Forest was the laboratory for conducting timber sales, the San Isabel NF here in southern Colorado was for a time a laboratory for indoctrinating recreational users in wholesome outdoor values.

You could call it "Smokey Bear versus the Bolsheviks," but Smokey was not invented until World War II and the threat of Japanese balloon-borne incendiary bombs. (Originally the anti-forest fire campaign used Bambi, but Walt Disney did not want to permanently give up his money-making cartoon deer to a government agency; hence Smokey was created by a commercial artist.)

A key player was the landscape architect Arthur Carhart, hired as the FS's first "recreation engineer" in 1919, at a time when it seemed like the National Park Service was a growing threat in bureaucratic budget wars.

Carhart came to the San Isabel, never a large timber-producer, with new ideas for the new automobile-oriented style of forest recreation. The Park Service put had put big hotels in places like Glacier and Grand Canyon that were served by railroads, but what about the auto tourist?

In only a few years, before he left to create the Denver Mountain Parks system and other large projects, Carhart worked with business interests in Pueblo, Colo., to make the "San Iz" visitor-friendly, with roads and campgrounds. (The above-timberline hotels never were built.)

"He created our idea of the beautiful--and the safe (because it is predator free) wilderness," writes Tom Wolf in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Pueblo's steel mill and the coal mines in surrounding counties were full of immigrants, but Carhart wrote, "The thousands of citizens of foreign birth or of foreign extraction found residing near the borders of the Forest . . . will through cooperation of the Forest and with the Industrial Companies, come to know the hills and by means of camps . . . these people will become better citizens and far less open to insidious suggestions of the radical agitator to strike at this land they have come to know and love."

Today's task: Take a Islamic jihadist camping.

More to come.

June 14, 2005

The Forest Service - I

Earlier this month there was a little celebration of the 100th anniversary of the US Forest Service up in Westcliffe, the county seat. A little history: Westcliffe once had its own district ranger station as part of the San Isabel National Forest. Then during the consolidation of the 1960s, the office was moved to Cañon City. Consequently, FS staffers put in a lot of "windshield time" actually getting to the national forest. Finally, in the 1990s, an office was reopened in Westcliffe. with one staffer.

This one staffer was supposed to present two movies the Sunday before last and discuss some historic equipment--pack saddles, and like. I did not go; I grew up with all that. Being a Forest Service brat means that not until my twenties could I disentangle the agency itself from personal stuff. After all, if Dad was a district ranger, and Dad, to my kid's eyes, could do anything, then everyone else in the agency must be as cool as he was to the 8-year-old me.

One thing that the Forest Service cannot seem to do well is preserve institutional memory. Back in 1948, the author of the FS official publication, Black Hills National Forest 50th Anniversary wrote of pre-1905 records, "The fact remains, however, that all these records have disappeared--been destroyed, perhaps. They would have included information about the first Supervisor, H.G. Hamaker, whom [Gifford] Pinchot dealt with not too kindly; and Seth Bullock, second Supervisor, appointed by his friend Theodore Roosevelt."

Yes, how many people watching HBO's Deadwood realize that Timothy Olyphant's Seth Bullock becomes a national forest supervisor, with a lookout tower named after him?

That booklet was published in 1948; you can see that they are not even sure when to start counting from.

1891-Congress gives the president power to establish forest reserves

1897-Grover Cleveland signs law creating Black Hills Forest Reserve, and administration begins the next year, hence "50th anniversary".

1899-"Case No. 1," the first managed federal timber sale, made to the Homestake Mining Co. from the Black Hills forest.

1905-reserves transferred from Dept. of the Interior to Agriculture; Bureau of Forestry renamed Forest Service. ("We're tree farmers," Dad would say.) That date gives the current centennial.

More to come

June 11, 2005

The Bird in the Road

This morning M. and I were driving to town when we saw a small bird standing in our lane of Colorado 96. There was no traffic, so I swerved around it, but it did not fly off.

"Stop," she said. I was just turning to take the back road into Wetmore, so I made the turn and pulled over. M. jogged out of sight around the bend and came back a minute later with her hands cupped close to her jacket.

She held a male rufous-sided (Eastern, if you prefer) towhee. He had let her just pick him up. She thought that his wing was injured.

We stopped at the post office, and from the clerk I got the telephone number and directions to the home of some local state-licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Their telephone line was busy, so we drove.

Looking for the "green gate," I overshot it slightly and stopped to turn around. About then, the bird escaped and started fluttering around inside the Jeep. M. was trying to catch him gently.

"If he can fly," I said, "we should let him go and not bother Cec and Tom."

I opened the back and the towhee flew into the oakbrush, using both wings. It was the right habitat, just perhaps two miles from where he had been.

"He shit on me," M. said, looking down at her jacket.

"What do you expect from a bird? A handwritten thank-you note?" I said.

June 10, 2005

It's a natural right

Thanks to Robert "Pol Pot" Mugabe, a Canadian blogger who has always looked askance at gun-totin' Americans rethinks this whole "keep and bear arms" thing.

Talking--and thinking--in birds

Guest post by Steve Bodio.

I have always been fairly unimpressed with the "linguistic" exploits of our closest genetic relatives, the great apes--the communications chasm seems wider than that between us and our dogs, despite their having been trained to manipulate some symbols.

Which is why recent developments in bird speech and cognition are so mind-boggling, especially as the avian brain is physically extremely different in its structure. There is a lot of info out there, but check out this BBC story for a good example of the most talented talking bird, the African gray parrot.

June 08, 2005

The Trouble (or not) with Cormorants

Driving with M. up to Tom Hirt's hat shop in Penrose today to order a birthday-present Panama hat, I saw a cormorant fly overhead as we crossed the Arkansas River at Florence.

When I was a kid, I hardly ever saw one. The same DDT that weakened the eggs of bald eagles attacked these fish-eating birds. I once photographed several cormorants sitting on a half-submerged log somewhere in the Sand Hills of Nebraska and thought I was seeing an exotic species. Now they are an "environmental success story"--or not, depending who you ask.

Allegations that cormorants are hurting game fish populations are now common. It's turned into a predictable battle between angler-funded state agencies and animal-rightists.

In the UK, where everything to do with sport fishing and shooting is so much more complicated, expensive, and screwed up, we see similar conflicts. "Cormorant Busters," indeed.

I haven't heard so much anger over cormorants here in Colorado, but maybe I haven't been hanging around at the right bait shops. I am hoping to go back to Penrose this evening to try for crappie at this little irrigation impoundment, and I will look for cormorants.

Meanwhile, summer will be half gone before the hat is ready, but that is the price you pay for custom work.

UPDATE: Two cormorants (two more than I would have seen ten years ago), no crappie, too much wind, but success on bluegills and too-small-to-keep largemouth bass.

June 06, 2005

"The Ungulates"

Does this happen to you? You're hiking or cycling or backpacking and a tune just gets stuck in your head?

Today I was walking with M. down an overgrown skid trail in the Wets, where the passage of deer and elk keeps a little path open among the young firs that are filling the opening that the loggers made decades ago, and it starts (with apologies to Desmond Dekker):

Get up in the morning, searching for browse, sir,
so that every mouth can be fed.
Poor me, the ungulate.

My cows and my calves, they pack up and a-leave me.
Darling, they said, we were yours to receive.
Poor me, the ungulate.

Antlers them a-tear up, velvet is long gone,
I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.
Poor me, the ungulate.

After a storm there must be a calmin'
Your catch me in your farm. You sound the alarm.
Poor me, the ungulate.

Enough. I'll stop now.
New southwestern nature blogs are popping up like spadefoot toads after a desert rain. Chas has asked me to mention Jonathan Hanson's iconoclastic Alpha Environmentalist, but I am going to take the opportunity to introduce my own new website, Stephen Bodio On the Web, which includes the blog "Querencia". With Jonathan in deep Sonoran desert territory near Tucson, Chas in the Rockies, and me in the South- Central New Mexico high country, we certainly have a lot of our region's diverse ecosystems covered (not that any of us are likely to confine our opinions to our own backyards).

I suspect all this cross- fertilization will have us all posting more, on our own and other's blogs...

June 01, 2005

Oaks are nothing special

And that is the reason for their worldwide success, says William Bryant Logon in the L.A. Times

But the oaks have never sought a niche. "Oaks have been so successful exactly because there is no reason that they are," Cornell University taxonomist Kevin Nixon said. "Restricted distribution happens because there is just one reason for a creature's success." This is a tantalizing idea. The persistent, the common, the various, the adaptable is valuable in itself. The oak's distinction is its insistence and its flexibility. It specializes in not specializing.

Our oak here is the Gambel oak, more of a thicket than a tree, definitely nothing special as individuals (unless you prune and fuss over one), but cheerfully coming up again and again after fire or cutting. (A tip of the acorn hat to Jason Pitzl-Waters)