April 30, 2012

Visitor Opportunities Reduced in Two Colorado National Forests

In northern Colorado, the US Forest Service promises "rolling" closures of trails and roads as beetle-killed lodgepole pines on the Arapahoe National Forest are cut to reduce hazards.
Almost every popular national forest access in Grand County will be affected at some point during the spring and summer, from mountain biking access near the towns of Winter Park and Fraser to hiking and backpacking trailheads to anglers and campers who use the Arapaho National Recreation Area (ANRA). 
in southern Colorado, where windstorms knocked down thousands of trees in the Sangre de Cristo Range, blocking trails and damaging a popular campground on the San Isabel National Forest, there is talk of "prioritizing" the response.
[District ranger Paul] Crespin, [Jeff] Outhier and other USFS officials will be meeting with local elected officials, civic groups and tourism organizations here to explain the situation in the Sangres, and to encourage them to urge summer visitors [instead] to take advantage of trails, campgrounds and public lands in the Wet Mountains. 
Crespin said it may take many months to open the Sangre trails, and some may never be restored to their prior conditions.
In both cases, it's mainly a recreational/tourism issue. If people can't play, will they stay? The Wet Mountains offer some hiking trails and only one developed campground, at Lake Isabel.

(And then there is the whole frozen-cow disposal issue.)

Mushroom-Hunting Dogs

If we had more morels around here, I would train Fisher like these dogs. But I think M.'s and my mushroom hunting will continue to rely on sight primarily.

Wind Farms Causing Local Warming

Ever drive past an orchard and see one or more big fans above the trees, particularly in low spots?

The fans can be turned on when temperatures drop to the freezing point. They break up a layer of colder air close to the ground that can harm budding flowers.

Something similar happens at wind farms.
Researchers used satellite data from 2003 to 2011 to examine surface temperatures across as wide swath of west Texas, which has built four of the world's largest wind farms. The data showed a direct correlation between night-time temperatures increases of 0.72 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) and the placement of the farms.
As in the orchards, the cool air next to the ground is mixed by the blades with warmer air above.

Will this "put a damper on efforts to expand wind energy as a green energy solution"?

At first, I thought no, because it is just a local phenomenon. But in the overheated (sorry) debates on energy policy, expect to see this finding dragged in.

April 25, 2012

Attack of the Miller Moths

Yes, there are more of them this year.
Linda McMulkin, horticulture coordinator for Colorado State University Extension of Pueblo County, said the spring moth population usually experiences a wild population explosion only after a wet summer and fall that's followed by a mild winter.

It's been bone dry in these parts for some time, but the mild winter and earlier spring temperatures may have allowed more of last fall's eggs to survive and take flight in search of a sweet buffet . . . . What can miller-hating humans do about the flitty, nasty creatures? Not much.
I've been seeing more of those smaller, tan moths that normally invade in May. Should look them up in the insect field guide.

Update, May 5, 2012: Revenge of the moths.

April 24, 2012

Fire Call at 5 a.m.

When the telephone rings at 5 a.m., it's never good. Thirty minutes later I am taking my turn on the nozzle, spraying down the remains of someone's detached garage, workshop, and home-brewery.

Then, as the "overhaul" stage of pulling down ceilings and carrying out the remains of the chest freezer and everything else is proceeding, our chief discovers that he forgot his reading glasses, so he hands me the clipboard with the NFIRS forms on it.

I walk up the driveway to where the owners are standing side by side, and I say that I am sorry about what happened, apologize for dragging hoses through the newly planted vegetable garden, and "What is the exact address of this property?"

At that point, I truly feel as though I am in someone else's movie. Psychic dislocation—I'm sure that EMTs, etc., go through it every day. For us, it's just random and sporadic.

I will say this for our crew: We are more used to wildland than structure fires, so people are always looking over their shoulders at the woods to see if flying sparks are starting new fires — and, sure enough, a couple of them did.

April 18, 2012

Levitating Ghost Trains of Pueblo

Sitting quietly in an old industrial area of Pueblo, Colorado, on West D Street, one of the "gee-whiz" technologies of the 1970s quietly rusts away.

Here, behind a chain-link fence and some fading signage, rest the prototype Rohr Industries Aerotrain and the Grumman TACRV (Tracked Levitated Research Vehicle).

When I visit Pueblo, I often stop at a coffeehouse about three blocks away, but had it not been for a geocache, I would never have known of their existence. Here is how they came to be there.

Nose of the Rohr Industries Aerotrain. No windshield—the "pilot" watched a video screen. Skirting kept in the compressed air under the train, while the vertical monorail kept it on the track.
Finding them was like driving to the airport by a different route and suddenly discovering a derelict zeppelin hangar. What is that

Both "tracked air-cushion vehicles" were designed to float on cushions of compressed air rather than wheels, which potentially offered speeds as high as 300 mph. In the 1970s, both underwent testing at the Transport Technology Center northeast of Pueblo.

The Rohr Aerotrain was a single, streamlined unit with a pilot compartment in front and passenger seating toward the rear. See it and other similar vehicles on this Aerotrain website.

It was a sort of monorail, to be powered by electricity from its track.
Grumman TACRV. You can see the turbine engine air intakes to the rear. The look reminds me of its contemporary, the Space Shuttle.
The Grumman vehicle, in contrast, would run in a sort of concrete trench, pulling hovercraft-style passenger cars, and propelled by gas-turbine engines.
The "pads" on the bottom and sides were where compressed air was forced out to "float" the vehicle.

Grumman TACRV testing at Pueblo (Aerotrain website).

Why did this technology die? The Aerotrain website offers several issues that could not be overcome.

1. Each train would have required a new, expensive sort of track, for which rights of way would have had to be acquired.

2. The Aerotrain's electric induction motors required their own power infrastructure and a lot of electricity.

3. The air compressors, turbines, etc., made these "hovercraft" trains incredibly loud.

4.The Aerotrain's engine built up a static electric charge that had to be grounded before anyone could get on or off.

5. The fans generating the compressed-air cushion also kicked up sand, gravel, etc., like a traveling sandstorm in arid climates. Every part of the train had to be levitated on compressed air, which mean lots of machinery to move air.

For all their City of Tomorrow flavor, they were less practical than improving conventional trains, which are still more energy-efficient on a passenger-mile basis than aircraft or buses.

My next business trip to Chicago will involve steel wheels on steel rails.

April 17, 2012

Learning to Walk

A good series in Slate about how the American built environment is designed to thwart — or even denigrate — walkers.
Simply by going out for a walk, I had become a strange being, studied by engineers, inhabiting environments whose physical features are determined by a rulebook-enshrined average 3 foot-per-second walking speed, my rights codified by signs. (Why not just write: “Stop for People”?) On those same signs in Savannah were often attached additional signs, advising drivers not to give to panhandlers (and to call 911 if physically intimidated), subtly equating walking with being exposed to an urban menace—or perhaps being the menace. Having taken all this information in, we would gingerly step into the marked crosswalk, that declaration of rights in paint, and try to gauge whether approaching vehicles would yield. They typically did not. Even in one of America’s most “pedestrian-friendly” cities—a seemingly innocent phrase that itself suddenly seemed strange to me—one was always in danger of being relegated to a footnote.
 I also like writer Tom Vanderbilt's description of walking as the "ultimate mobile app."

Added:  Columnist Rod Dreher at The American Conservative asks his readers, "Don't Conservatives Like Walking?"

The Silence of the Burn

Fire burned hot in this little gulch.

Woodecker-drilled pine at the burn's edge.
A week ago M. and I took a walk through one of nearby areas burnt in last summer's forest fires.

It was so quiet. Even with a breeze, we heard just the crunch of our shoes in the soil. This area had burned hot—not so much of a fire mosaic as two ridges and the intervening valley just wiped out.

Gambel oak was coming from from its roots—those are the tan sprouts in the photo below—as was mountain mahogany — the green leaves in the same picture.

And some grasses and mullein—that was about it.

A few birds went by—a mountain bluebird, some kind of warbler, and a pair of downy woodpeckers chipping the charred bark off a ponderosa pine (photo at right).

It's good, though sobering, to walk around in burned places. There is a feeling that this is the baseline—a near total erasure of the forest—except for that oak brush that sprouted last summer.

I did not see a single deer track or indeed any kind of mammal, so I'm curious to see how long it is before they return.
Gambel oak and mountain mahogany return.

April 16, 2012

Studying Wiley amidst the Minivans

Consider the life of the urban wildlife biologist. No hiking, no sleeping in tents. You collar and tag your species of concern, then toss the gear in the truck and walk across the parking lot to that new VIetnamese restaurant in the strip mall.

Then you can shoot rubber bullets or something at them—for science!

Flume-Building, Victorian Style

Drive along Colorado 141 in the red rock country of far southwestern Colorado, and you will see what is left of the "hanging flume," originally a ten-mile long wooden trough built high on a canyon wall, part of a hydraulic-mining operation from the 1890s.

The Denver Post describes how carpenters, engineers, industrial riggers, and other volunteers have rebuilt a portion of it as a sort of experiential industrial archaeology project.
But as was done in another era, they use ropes to ease 200-pound ponderosa pine frame pieces and rough-sawn planks over a cliff face to two men balanced on bits of antique wooden braces 100 feet down the red-sandstone wall. Those men, who rappelled to their spots, fit the unwieldy pieces into what shapes up to be a 6-foot-wide and 4-foot-high wooden trough. The trough is perched on the original wooden braces that look like a long line of number 7s pinned with iron supports into the rock.
Good photos at the link.

Maybe it's just the reporter's style, but how big is the "mystery" here? It's not like we're talking about how they build the pyramids of Egypt or moved the stones for Stonehenge. This was just great-grandad's generation, albeit with hemp ropes, no portable power tools, no hard hats, and at most hobnailed boots for safety gear.

April 09, 2012

The Literary Field—One with Trees and Nameless Indians

I found this New York Times travel piece, "A Taos Field Evokes the Extraordinary" to be both interesting and frustrating.

Writer Henry Shukman is both connected to the place yet, in important ways, so disconnected.
The field is the kind of small, almost accidental place that, for visitors and residents alike, seems to quietly capture the essence of the entire area. In northern California, it might be a hidden stretch of rocky beach; in upstate New York, it might be an untouched stretch of woodland beyond the garden fences at the end of a small-town street. For me, in Taos, it was this field. 
And so on. He meditates on Taos Mountain, sees a group of Taos Pueblo men drumming and singing in the field and while napping in the field has "a vivid dream" wherein "an old tribal man" gives him a special message.

But whose field is it? What is its agricultural use? I would not want to see it turned into a Family Dollar store any more than Shukman would, but I was frustrated by the essentially literary appreciation. You read about famous artists, but the landowner is missing. So are the birds and plants (except cottonwood trees).

Still, the message of "notice the unappreciated" place is worth hearing.

H-Day + 1

Credit: National Park Service
On March 29th at her BIrds and Nature blog, SeEtta Moss linked to a report showing broad-tailed hummingbirds migrating through southern New Mexico.

Two days ago I brought up the feeders from the basement and mixed some sugar water—and sure enough, yesterday, morning, a male hummer buzzed the house.

Only we have not heard or seen him since. Must have been the advance scout.

Typically they arrive around April 15th, a few times earlier, and one snowy spring not until May 1st. Last spring, which was dry, "Chico" arrived on the 17th.

Pesticide Linked to Bee Colony Collapse

Pesticide residues are a leading cause of bee colony collapse disorder (CCD), says a report in Harvard Science.
Pinpointing the cause of the problem is crucial because bees — beyond producing honey — are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of the crop species in the United States, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and livestock feed such as alfalfa and clover. Massive loss of honeybees could result in billions of dollars in agricultural losses, experts estimate.

[Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health] and his co-authors hypothesized that the uptick in CCD resulted from the presence of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid introduced in the early 1990s. Bees can be exposed in two ways: through nectar from plants or through high-fructose corn syrup beekeepers use to feed their bees. (Since most U.S.-grown corn has been treated with imidacloprid, it’s also found in corn syrup.)
Now you can expect wailing about how civilization will end without the use of imidacloprid.

April 08, 2012

MM and BB?

Found this photo on the Web without clear attribution. It does suggest the 1950s in Yellowstone, when black bears eating garbage were considered to be a cute tourist attraction. And is the cute tourist really Marilyn Monroe?

BB? Black bear. Did you think I meant Brigitte Bardot?

April 06, 2012

"Trapped!": A Short Film on Camera Trapping

I like to mess around with scout cameras (trail cameras, camera traps, game cameras), but Chris Wemmer — Camera Trap Codger in the blogroll — used them professionally as a wildlife biologist and still "traps" and teaches.

He has contributed images to Trapped, a documentary on camera-trapping by Emily Narrow, a graduate student in science and natural history filmmaking at Montana State University.

She has some camera-sniffing deer too.

April 05, 2012

Western Snowpack Map, April 2012

I wonder how much difference Tuesday's snow made along the southern Colorado mountains. Ten inches fell at our foothills location, with twice that up higher, according to a friend on the county road crew. All maps from the National Water and Climate Center.

April 03, 2012

The Droughte of March Hath Perced . . .

Snow caps the bird feeders.
. . . to the roote? Maybe not, but a good start, Ich wis.

And þe snow is yet ycumen down.

So how did Geoffrey Chaucer come to understand our weather?