December 31, 2013

Wildfire Investigations and the Rumor Mill

Two weeks ago I was emailing back and forth with a reporter friend about the still-undisclosed cause of the Royal Gorge Fire last June in Frémont County.

It seems that the feds still have not said anything—she got the usual "bureaucratic syrup" (full of empty calories) from a Bureau of Land Management spokesman: "The cause of the fire is still an active and on-going investigation."

So does that mean that it is a criminal investigation? And if so, why not say so?

The conventional wisdom is that the 2013 Waldo Canyon Fire was started by an escaped campfire, but no one has been fingered for setting it. (Hard to catch them, I realize.) That same summer there was a string of small arson-caused wildfires in nearby Teller County as well.

And last summer's big Black Forest Fire started at a private home—but how?

No wonder rumors are flying, or as the Colorado Springs Gazette recently headined, "Languishing Colorado wildfire investigations feed rumor mill."

All they can say for Black Forest is,
No obvious accelerant were uncovered in the evidence collect from the place where the Black Forest fire started, just one of multiple clues that have pushed investigators to lean toward a conclusion that fire was accidentally started.
Instead we see a lot of coverage of the Black Forest fire chief and the El Paso County sheriff having a pissing contest in the news media.

Government "public information" at its finest . . .

December 30, 2013

What Does the Fox Take?*

What does the fox take?
See the while ball with part bitten out? I found it a few days ago while scrambling through a brushy, rocky up behind the house, an area that today (after a light snow) is a maze of fox tracks.

And the other balls? Someone carries them two or three hundred yards up from the neighbors' houses, only to decide that they are not edible.

Maybe the fox thinks that they are eggs. Red fox or gray? That I do not know, but I am putting more scout cameras up there.

And the teddy bear? Same story, from the other side of the ridge.

*It just hit me that if I don't use this headline now, it will be spoofing last year's catchphrase, and no one will know what I meant, ring-ding-ding.

December 29, 2013

Sleeping in the Cold

A young guy in northern Minnesota decides to try sleeping outdoors for a year in the back yard. He started out in a kind of tree house, but then winter came.
The snow house smelled like straw, which littered the white floor. In this holiday season, Hummel seemed to be occupying his own Nativity scene.
Lots of foam pads, that's the secret. (Via Free Range Kids.)

I have done some winter camping, but a year—I respect that.

M's and my second dwelling was a sort-of-winterized little house in Manitou Springs. We slept in an unheated, uninsulated sun porch. It did have glass windows—jalousies that did not seal too well and let little patches of snow drift in.

But our rule was that when the temperature in our bedroom dipped much below 20° F (-7° C), we would move into the indoor guest room.

December 27, 2013

The Revolution Was Not Televised, So I Missed It

From the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, as reported in the Cañon City Daily Record.

Wednesday, December 18: FCSO captain spoke with two parties in the lobby demanding assistance with contacting the Secret Service. One party had been contacted several times in the past week regarding the same request. Today he had an accomplice who was wearing a green mask and cape and wouldn't identify himself or speak. They warned that there would be a revolution on Friday.

Thursday, December 19: FCSO in Cañon City, male party was in the lobby again asking for the Secret Service and updating the captain on Friday's revolution. He stated it wouldn't take place in Fremont County.

I was in one Fremont County town on the 22nd and streets were quiet. I may be down in Cañon City today, and I will keep my eyes open. But I remember what Gil Scott Heron used to say.

December 26, 2013

Killing Eagles for Green Energy

Eagles are still federally protected — except when they get in the way of "green energy."

I have been fuming for two weeks, ever since reading that the Obama Administration signed off on letting wind farms kill them (not to mention other birds and bats) for the next thirty years:
Hundreds of thousands of birds die each year flying into the deadly turbine blades atop the soaring towers that compose wind farms. The rule will give wind farms thirty year permits for the “non purposeful take of eagles-that is where the take is associated with but not the purpose of, the activity.’’ The take of eagles is also a euphemism for the slaughter of them. (Video at the link)
Why, it's a "struggle to balance," notes the New York Times:
[The Obama Administration] has increasingly found itself caught between two staunch allies: the wind energy industry and environmental organizations. . . . “A 30-year permit is like a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, which was involved in months of negotiations on the rule. “It basically says you can go operate these wind turbines and kill as many eagles as happen to die.”
And you can tell whose votes Obama's people take for granted.

Here in Colorado, the Danish wind-turbine firm Vestas threatens layoffs unless they keep getting federal tax breaks, and noted conservationist Senator Mark Udall is all for it, trumpeting how he is all about the tax credits:  "The wind production tax credit supports Made-in-America energy and jobs across Colorado."

I do think the day will come when we have something better than wind-energy— fuel cells the size of air conditioners or something else that generates fairly clean power around the clock and does not fill up thousands of square miles of land with bird-swatters.

Then people will look at wind farms the same way that we look at passenger zeppelins—an interesting technology that failed to work as advertised.

December 24, 2013

Great Tumbleweed Migration

On the prairie west of Pueblo, the tumbleweeds are migrating.

Think nature-documentary film: "Onward they come, their destination unknown, driven by a force they cannot name. In twos, sixes, and twenties, large and small, the tumbleweeds march inexorably eastward across the savannah."

The wind was blowing the dogs' ears inside out, and a cloud of dust in the distance looked an awful lot like a grass fire, but was not.

(M.'s thought: "At least we have both dogs with us." My thought: "It's too far from my department's territory—unlikely that we would be called out.")

Fisher the maniacal Chesapeake galloped into the wind, propelled by jets of craziness from his butt — or whatever motivates him.

When he squatted to poop, tumbleweeds piled up against his legs.

December 20, 2013

More People Hunting and Fishing, says Multi-state Survey

This news comes from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which in its news release cited these factors:
Responsive Management, a public opinion research organization specializing in survey research on natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, focused on recent showing a nine percent increase in hunter participation among Americans nationwide from 2006 to 2011.

The study pinpoints 10 major reasons for the increases:

•    The economic recession

•    Higher incomes among some segments of the population

•    Hunting for meat and the locavore movement

•    Agency recruitment and retention programs

•    Agency access programs

•    Agency marketing and changes in licenses

•    Current hunters and anglers participating more often

•    Returning military personnel

•    Re-engagement of lapsed hunters

•    New hunters and anglers including female, suburban and young participants
Just to pick a few numbers, Colorado resident hunting-license sales are up 14 percent since 2006 but New Mexico are down 3 percent. Illinois, however, saw a 78-percent increase in those years — one of the larger increases. In many cases, these numbers represent an upturn after several years of declines. So it is not a complete turnaround by any means.

Interestingly, the top major influence to go hunting listed by respondents (68 percent of them) was "Interest in hunting as a local, natural, or green food."

Read the complete survey (PDF).

December 19, 2013

Blog Stew in Abandoned Houses

¶ Kind of a fairy-tale ambiance, if your idea of fairy tale runs to weasels, fog, and decay: "Forest Animals Living in Abandoned Houses." From Finland—where is the Southern Rockies version?

¶ A guide to telling what is eating your livestock.

¶ Colorado College professor Walt Hecox gets an environmental-policy award.

¶ Always topical: Survival Mom's guide to "50 Last-Minute Ways to Prepare for an Emergency." A lot of it is about water.

December 18, 2013

No Blog Stew, Please, We're Neanderthals

¶ Ongoing study of Neanderthal DNA genes in modern humans, including adaptation to UV light: 
Interestingly, the authors note, the geographic distribution of the Neanderthal genomic region suggests that UV-light mutations were shown to be lost during the exodus of modern human from Africa, and reintroduced to Eurasians from Neanderthals. “Overall, it is still very controversial whether there is more Neanderthal DNA contributions to Asians than Europeans, as we have evidence to argue against this,” said Lin. “Although in the case of the Hyal2 variant, it did indeed have a higher frequency in Asians.
¶  Another study suggesting that Neanderthal people did bury their dead, as opposed to the notion that modern archaeologists misinterpreted bone deposits:
The findings center on Neanderthal remains first discovered in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France. The well-preserved bones led its early 20th-century excavators to posit that the site marked a burial ground created by a predecessor to early modern humans. However, their conclusions have sparked controversy in the scientific community ever since, with skeptics maintaining that the discovery had been misinterpreted and that the burial may not have been intentional.

December 17, 2013

Mindworms at the Woodpile

Why is it that I cannot cut and carry pine logs — especially at this time of year — without hearing a particular Victorian Christmas carol in my mind? (The tune itself is from the13th century, and the original lyrics referred to springtime!)

And why is it that when I split the logs, I cannot avoid thinking of Saying 77 of the Gospel of Thomas?

We need to be able to delete "files" from our memories, I think, as we do on our computers. I get tired of the repetition.

December 14, 2013

Lost Italian Restaurants, Ghost-Town Guidebook Snobbery, and a Whiff of Coal Smoke in the Air

A wave of disappointment rippled across southern Colorado on December 4th when an article in the Pueblo Chieftain announced that Merlino's Belvedere restaurant was closing at the end of 2013, a casualty, its owners said, of the economy in general—and maybe another domino following after last summer's Royal Gorge Fire.

Opened in 1946 in the fruit-growing area of Lincoln Park, on the south edge of Cañon City, it had been operated by three generations of the Merlino family and drew diners from at least four counties.

We still go back there for dinners with visiting friends and relatives, so last Friday night we decided to make a farewell visit. An early time would be OK, we thought.

So did about seventy other people — and they had reservations.

We ended up instead at the Royal Gorge Brewing Co. in downtown Cañon City, eating OK pub food, but it wasn't the spaghetti aglia e olio that M. had set her heart on.

Sali's Club Paradise, 807 Cyanide Avenue, Prospect Heights, from old postcard.
And we talked about restaurants and about our six years (1986-1992) in Cañon City, which started in near-poverty and ended with us on our way up and out.

We went there because I had a magazine-editing job that collapsed with the magazine itself — most start-ups fail. Then 1987 was the worst — collecting unemployment, doing odd jobs, selling a few freelance pieces, with the emphasis on few.

When we could afford a cheap dinner out, we did not go to Merlino's but to somewhere even closer to our modest 1908 smelter worker's cottage in South Cañon — Sali's Paradise, haunt of movie stars and (reputedly) Pueblo and local mafiosi looking for a quiet place to eat their steak, noodles, and red sauce.

Cañon City, we learned, was glued together from three towns: East Cañon, South Cañon (our part, sort of the wrong side of the tracks), and Cañon City proper.

Then there was unincorporated Lincoln Park and other little towns: tiny Prospect Heights with its abandoned one-cell jail, Brookside (former location of the Hell's Half Acre saloon district), and the other "coal camps": Radiant, Rockvale, Coal Creek, Williamsburg, Chandler — some reduced to true ghost-town status, others merely clinging on.

Gus and Doris Salardino (hence "Sali's") had come from Rockvale, where the family had the Gold Nugget saloon before coal mining dropped off in the 1920s. But at Sali's Paradise, the calendar seemed to have stopped in 1948, with the neon lights in the bar and the big sepia photo of President Harry Truman hanging in the dining room.

But they got the antipasti to the table fast, and if they were out of the wine you ordered from the modest list, the waitress would scamper across Cyanide Avenue to the liquor store.

That's right, the restaurant stood unabashedly at 807 Cyanide Avenue. And there are streets named "Cyanide" in neighboring Florence, Colo., and Lead, S.D., among other places I have been. It's a mining-town thing.

Something I had already figured out was that there is a sort of "class line" in Colorado ghost town writing. You can find lots of books by authors such as Sandra Dallas about the precious-metals mining towns — you get St. Elmo, Victor, Blackhawk, East TIncup, etc. etc. over and over again.

But you never hear about the coal camps: Cokedale, Segundo, Coal Creek, and the rest.  Because gold and silver are romantic but coal is dirty? The work, the labor issues, the mining-town life — a lot of that seemed about the same. (1)

M. and I had thought of moving to Rockvale — it seemed safe from any threat of gentrification —  but there was no irrigation water, so we ended up in South Cañon as shareholders in the DeWeese-Dye Ditch, which gave our quarter acre plenty of water once I re-dug the lateral. (2)

When the annual meeting came, I would collect my neighbors' proxies and attend, just for more "time travel." We would meet in Brookside Hall, a bare rectangular room furnished with folding chairs, bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, and a whiff of coal smoke in the air. 1948? It was more like maybe 1932. Someone would come around holding out his Stetson had, and you would toss your ballot in.

But "time travel" and the odder nooks of eastern Fremont County could not hold us forever — we wanted cooler summer temperatures and trees, and so we moved upwards in elevation, out of the piñon-juniper belt and into the pines.

And for several springs thereafter I would get this uneasy feeling in March: "When is a good windless day to burn the ditch?"

Sali's Paradise is long gone, Merlino's Belvedere is closing, and I don't know where the ditch company holds its annual meeting anymore.

(1) Some of the coal camps were company towns, such as Chandler, and the mining company sold off all the buildings when the mine shut down.

(2) Acequita to my New Mexico readers.

December 10, 2013

It's a Deer's Life

November 11: There is something odd going on the woods. I'll slip around before dawn on this concealed trail!

November 22: I feel safer now, and it's time to party! Where are the ladies?

November 25: Did someone say "party"?

December 09, 2013

Looking for Cameras in the Snow

That scout camera is near here somewhere.
Hardly anyone climbs this ridge. In fact, until last November 1st, I had not been up it in years, although it is quite close to home.

That day, working my way up through the thick trees and rocks, I found myself looking at cut stumps from spindly north-slope Douglas fir. I had wandered into the edge of the burn, and here, at my feet, was the ragged "scratch line" dug through the rocks by the San Juan Hotshots on July 3, 2011. Theirs were probably the last boots on this part of the mountain.

I remember the day of the fire, hearing their chainsaws whining way up the slope. I was with our department's water tender on the Forest Service road lower down. It was our job to refill our brush truck's tank, emptied as its crew chased hot spots up and down the road — the fire kept wanting to jump over it.

Sure, it would have been more fun to be in the thick of things, but my assignment meant that I could literally run 200 yards home and warn M. if the fire changed direction and headed for our house. That it did not do. A fast initial response with federal hand crews, two or three volunteer departments' engines, and air assets stopped its run, and we slept in our own bed that night.

And the ridge was given back to the deer, the bears, and the foxes. 

Even before the fire, I had been placing a scout camera on a certain game trail low on the ridge, where the bears in particular follow their own parallel way to the road.

Finally late this autumn, I got more ambitious. I put one camera, call it #2, midway up the slope, and on November 1st, I revisited the ridge's crest and placed another, #3,  at what seemed a likely pinch point.

Two days ago, with snow on the ground and temperatures well below freezing, I figured that all the camera batteries were probably dead and that I really ought to get the cameras down off the mountain.

The trail to camera #1 is easy, a walk in the park. I pass it and keep climbing. Where was #2. It's so confusing — the thick woods, the shallow ravines. Which is which? I should have brought my GPS receiver, since I waymarked it back in October.

Now I know that I have climbed above it. I might as well keep going for the crest, look for #2 later.

It's cold, maybe 15° F. I need to pee, so I face downhill, and realize that the tree trunks are all scorched on the uphill side. I have wandered east into the burn.

I move fifty yard west, detour around some fallen trunks, and I think that I am on the right path, more or less. There are deer tracks going up, and I follow them. Will they crest the ridge at the right point? Underfoot are tumbled rocks, a sort of lightly forested talus slope, covered with snow. Maybe the deer know the best way up and over.

Following the deer tracks, I climb to the top — and I am staring right at camera #3. It was well-placed!

I unstrap it from the tree, sling in my shoulder, and start down, following the 2011 fireline (I think). The snow has covered my little marker cairns, most of them.

I am making good progress going down — and not falling! — until I look out through the trees, spot a neighbor's house, and realize that I have now drifted too far west. So it is time to contour to the east until I intersect my upward-bound footprints.

Still no camera #2. I will just have to come back with the GPS receiver and find it. I make my excuses: everything looks different in the snow.

And then I see it. And I see my tracks not six feet from it. I had walked right past it while looking off to the other side. Some woodsman I am!

I sling #2 on my other shoulder, continue on down, sure of the way now, collect #1, and walk down the snow-packed road to home.

Photos to follow. I need to learn that piece of country better.

December 08, 2013

Here Is Your Winter

As good or better than the Farmer's Almanac.  You could probably extrapolate that Northern Rockies precipitation forecast into Alberta and eastern B.C. Click to embiggen.

December 07, 2013

Winter Camping in the Age of Ignorance

I was skimming this article (and its informed comments) about temperature rating on winter
This looks like my childhood sleeping bag.
sleeping bags
and how many manufacturers (in the writer's opinion) overstate them. In other words, a bag rated to -20° F (-28° C) is really more like a -10° bag for a man — maybe a -5° bag for a woman.

With the temperatures hovering around 0° F. outdoors, I remembered my first serious winter camping trip and sleeping in a Korean War-surplus M1949 "down and feathers" mummy bag.

That was not the worst of it. Compared to the rest of my gear, that was a high-tech sleeping bag.

My Boy Scout troop went to the annual Winter Camporee, held in Rocky Mountain National Park — near Bear Lake, I think. I was about 12 years old.

The troop supplied canvas tents, while we Scouts brought our own personal gear. Maybe if Dad had been around, he could have offered good advice and some of his own stuff — he got me started on camping and backpacking, after all — but at this point, the marriage was dissolving, and he was living elsewhere.

As I recall, I was equipped with cotton long underwear, probably cotton socks, cotton blue jeans, some kind of shirt and sweater (?), a not-great ski parka, knit hat, and mittens. On my feet were oiled leather pull-on boots, "Wellingtons" in the American sense of the word. They leaked.

If you had a down parka back then, you were probably a pro mountaineer, like Jim Whittaker on Mount Everest, or else had the money to pretend to be one.

Under my M1949 sleeping bag was a plastic-covered foam-rubber pad off a patio chaise longue. And maybe a GI poncho.

I shivered through the night and spent part of the morning standing next to the campfire that was slowly sinking down, down into the snow. (We "cooked" on campfires, as I recall).

I learned some things right away, such as that blue jeans freeze, and since there were no outhouses, just the woods, you can spend hours working up the courage to take a shit in the snow.

On the plus side, I spent a lot of time snowshoeing, and that plus the bright Colorado sunshine warmed me up. The snowshoes kept my inadequate boots up out of the snow as well.

The second evening, the Scout leaders loaded us into their cars and took us to some Park Service building where we watched a natural-history movie. I suspected even at the time that the real reason for the trip was to let us spend a couple of hours inside a heated structure.

I made a few improvements to my bed, survived the second night, and ran in the snowshoe races the next day. And then it was time to head home. I thought that I had had a good time overall, and I proudly sewed the Winter Camporee patch onto my uniform.

December 06, 2013

'A Giant Suffering Mass'

A series of photos compare purebred dogs from a century ago and now. Compare, for example, the change in the St. Bernard "from useful happy work dog to giant suffering mass." (You could say the same thing about Newfoundlands. too.)

December 05, 2013

Browns Canyon and a New Spin on Wilderness Advocacy

Senator Udall outlines his bill.
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) stood up in front of a group of mostly Chaffee County folks on Tuesday to announce that his bill to create the Browns* Canyon National Monument soon start its perilous journey downstream through the dark canyon that is Congress.

As snow swirled outside the venue, the reception area at Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting, no doubt some of those present were mentally calculating what percentage of a decent snowpack had accrued thus far in the season.

This proposal has been a long time coming. I remember seeing Browns Canyon from a raft for the first time in 1986 or '87 — and that trip was a junket organized for some conservation group (Trout Unlimited?) connected either with Browns Canyon or the proposed Arkansas River state park. And I can recommend testifying at a public meeting in Buena Vista six (?) years ago before Ken Salazar when he was in the Senate. And there has been a lot more done along the way.

Part of the proposed national monument — to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, not the Park Service — has been a BLM wilderness study area (WSA) since the 1980s, at least.

Like a lot of the BLM WSA's, it is a not a high-altitude alpine forest-and-snow area, but would protect lower elevation forest (important big game habitat) and riparian areas. It had a road into it to an old mining camp. And lots of people wanted a say for or against the proposal: recreational gold miners, hunters, dirt bikers, four-wheelers, cattlemen, commercial rafters, private rafters, anglers . . . and one group that surprised me, but whose inclusion makes perfect sense.

Over the years, compromises were made, and the original proposal shrank down to about 10,000 acres.

Udall praised the effort as "emblematic" of how a public lands bill should be crafted, from the bottom up and as a "common sense proposal" that would "protect all existing legal uses."

Then came brief statements from supporters. There was the motel owner-real estate agent from Buena Vista, who said that a designated national monument would bring more visitors. I suspect that he is right. The vice president of the commercial rafters association made a similar point, noting that whitewater rafting on the Arkansas is a $54 million industry.

Another outfitter, Bill Dvorack (holder of Colorado outfitting license #1) spoke about protecting wildlife habitat. Bill Sustrich of Salida, at 87 years probably the oldest life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, talked about ATVers ruining elk hunting.

Interestingly, there was another speaker from a nonprofit group helping veterans reintegrate into society. He identified himself as a former Army sniper in Iraq, and talked about the part that public lands recreation played in his own de-stressing from his war experience.

That rang a bell — I remembered outdoor writer and vet Galen Geer writing an article about how hunting did something similar for him after his tours in Vietnam. His article seemed to stand alone at the time (the late 1980s or early 1990s), but now people are organizing such outdoor experiences.

* About a century ago, the US Board of Geographic Names or some such agency decided that the possessive apostrophe was too complicated for them.

December 03, 2013

Reading Water Flows with Trees

Via Coyote Gulch, I learned about TreeFlow, a project to reconstruct centuries' worth of river flows in the West through correlating them with tree rings. "A tree-ring reconstruction is a best-estimate of past streamflows, based on the relationship between tree-ring data and observed streamflow over the modern period."

Here, for example, is the reconstruction of the Colorado River's flow at Lees Ferry, Arizona, going back to 750 CE (scroll down for that graph).

Closer to home, the Arkansas River at Cañon City, Colorado, from 1685–1987.

The process correlates tree rings with observed data from the late 19th century to the present, then projects the correlation back over older tree ring samples from cores or archaeological sites. More about the process here.
The persistent drought conditions that emerged across the West in 1999, especially the extreme drought year of 2002, indicated that the observed records of streamflow in the region did not capture the full range of natural hydrologic variability. This drought, along with increasing demands on water supplies led to a need to assess the range of drought conditions that were likely to occur. Tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow, extending several hundred years or longer, provide a more complete representation of past variability. Accordingly, streamflow reconstructions attracted more interest within the water management community as a potentially useful tool for planning.

December 02, 2013

Blog Stew for Free-Range Kids and Tactical Barbequers

¶ A northwest section has been added to the Colorado Birding Trail. The "trail" is a series of wildlife-watching stops and driving loops. Here is the site for all the "trails."

¶ Exurban Kevin rounds up some of the "tactical" Christmas-gift ideas out there. A MOLLE-gear barbeque apron? Tactical paper? I never go hiking without it.

¶ It snowed last week in Walsenburg too. With photos.

¶ No MOLLE gear, but check out "A Terrible Mother's Holiday Guide to Dangerous Gifts," via Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog.

December 01, 2013

Turkeys in the Snow


M. and I came home Thanksgiving Day to find about eight inches of crusted snow on the ground, the remains of a storm from three days earlier.  These photos were taken Saturday the 29th, when eight wild turkeys showed up just in time for a Project Feeder Watch count day. The turkeys were scuffling around under the bird feeders looking for sunflower seeds that the jays had pushed out.

It's tough being a ground-feeding bird in snowy weather, which is why they usually for south-facing slopes and other places that melt out early.  The monsoon rains this summer brought on a good crop of native grass seed, which they will eat when it is exposed — and I have mixed feelings about that. Sure, turkeys got to eat, but I wanted to see some of that blue grama etc. germinate and fill in the bare places.

Sure, my opinion matters a lot to the turkeys!

Meanwhile, the snow. The first county road we take on the way home was fairly clear, but the second was icy. At the right moment, I popped the Jeep into 4WD and gunned it for the first little hill in our unplowed driveway, making the first turn and slewing in S-curves through its dips and rises (must get new tires!) up to the house.

Wind and freeze-thaw cycles had made the snow compact and granular, hard to shovel and too chunky for my big snow-blower. More sunny days and cold nights have turned the tire tracks into ice ribbons. If more snow falls soon on top of them, the result won't be pleasant.

November 30, 2013

On Not Paying Attention to Cranes

Don't use a 200mm lens to take photos of birds in the sky. But it was what I had when these sandhill cranes were overhead. As always, click to embiggen.
Thanksgiving Day, in the dining car of the Southwest Chief, somewhere near Lamar, Colorado. Off in the distance, hundreds of white birds settle into a field. A larger flock is a smear against the northern sky.

"Snow geese," I say to my dining companion (Amtrak uses "community seating). But at the table across the aisle, someone is saying that they are sandhill cranes. I don't think so — they don't fly like cranes, and I have never seen a flock of cranes that big, not even during the evening flight at Bosque del Apache. And the crane migration is pretty much done by now.

I have been writing this blog long enough that I have a bunch of "cranes" entries. In October 2005, standing on a wide, busy sidewalk at Colorado State University-Pueblo and watching a flock overhead, I felt my heart lift, yet I was saddened that no one else looked up. Should I have adopted a prophetic voice? "Behold the cranes, O people, and learn from them!"

A few years later, I was at our little fire station on a warm October day — some of us were working on an engine outdoors — when a migrating flock came over and everyone stopped to watch. I felt better about some of my fellow firefighters that day.

But then I recently heard some long-time locals speak of geese flying over on the same afternoon that I took the picture of cranes chasing a thermal. Just not paying attention? (Shades of the Dances with Wolves soundtrack error.)
Cranes are cumbersome flyers. They prefer to migrate during daylight hours, when the thermals created by the midday sun provide rising air currents which the cranes ride to gain elevation before gliding down to the next thermal. It is this thermal riding which many observers mistake for being lost of confused.
Dale Stahlercker and Martin Frentzel, Seasons of the Crane.

November 25, 2013

I've Had Enough . . .

 . . . of the city, in this case Baltimore, and would rather be at home, where winter has arrived and the county road-and-bridge department is saying "Don't drive if you don't have to."

But I will not be there until Thursday, after three forecast sunny days. Then regular blogging can resume.

Meanwhile, Chicago is next.

November 20, 2013

Wyoming Mountain Living—More than 2,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists find a series of Archaic mountain villages in Wyoming, and the dates lead them to wonder if Numic-speaking people (ancestors of the Comanche, Ute, Shoshone and Northern Paiute) migrated from the Rockies to California, instead of the other way around, as had been assumed.

It reminded me of a trip that I made to the Windy Gap site in Colorado's Middle Park back in my newspaper-reporter days. It dated back at least 5,000 years, and the unusual feature was that it showed evidence of a hut with wattle-and-daub walls. The elevation, as I recall, is at least 9,000 feet.

Wattle-and-daub construction has been found around the world, but its presence suggests at least semi-permanent seasonal occupation, as opposed to building a quickie shelter or small tipi for a hunting camp.

High altitude living probably was not a winter proposition — Fraser, Colo., near Windy Gap, used to claim it was the "Icebox of the Nation." (So have some other towns elsewhere.) The Wyoming sites were probably too chilly too, if one had the option of going lower down.

November 18, 2013

Blog Stew with Sunflower Seeds (You'll Like Them)

¶ You could use this fancy online tool at the Cornell ornithology lab to find the best food for your favorite winter birds. Or you could just put out black oil sunflower seeds because almost all the cold-weather birds like 'em. As one of the local Auduboners once told me, "They're like ice cream for birds."

¶ The US Forest Service takes a step back in its tug-of-war over water rights with ski areas operating on national forest land — which is a lot of them. Durango Herald reporter Joe Hanel writes, "The Forest Service has tried sporadically for years to get legal control over snowmaking water rights, because of worries the rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing."

That, yes, but also conservation groups like Trout Unlimited have worried about ski areas drying up streams for snow-making.

¶ Workers at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico recently found a large new room. They are calling it Halloween Hall, whether for the date or for the multitude of bat bones in it, I am not sure. Photo at the link.

November 17, 2013

Boots on the Ground, Russian and American

Smith & Wesson Breach boots
In 2007 I wrote an unexpectedly popular post about the Russian military moving away from the old two-sizes-fit-all pull-on boots—with foot cloths. (In Soviet Russia, boots wear you.)

Strategy Page recently summarized combat boot developments among both Russian infantry and Americans in Afghanistan.
Most Russians are also unfamiliar with the foot wrappings (“portyanki”) that soldiers were still taught to use. For portyanki to work the user has to wrap their feet just so before slipping the foot into the “tarpaulin” boots. If you did not do the wrapping correctly some of your flesh would be exposed to the rough inside surface of these canvas boots. This usually leads to debilitating blisters.
The old-fashioned boots were widely disliked by most of the troops forced to use them. The number of older officers who still favored this 19th century footwear are also fading away. So the portyanki and valenki are officially gone this year, along with the old canvas boots that only came in two sizes.
Meanwhile, the American military has modified its boots too:
Over the last decade the army and marines have changed their attitudes towards combat boots. Instead of trying to design boots themselves, the military has recognized the superior design of commercial boots created for hikers, mountain climbers, and outdoor activists in general. This has resulted in a new generation of combat boots that are more durable, and comfortable, than earlier generations of combat footwear. Many troops in the Russian military, especially the career officers and troops, noticed this trend as well and were able to keep up with developments via the Internet. 
As an example, here is a boot review from Chris Hernandez, who served in Afghanistan, discussing Smith & Wesson Breach Athletic Boots:
You need to know if [your boots are] going to lose shape and look like clown shoes within weeks, as my boots from a very popular company did back in the 90’s. You need to know if they’re going to weigh a ton each, like those horrible speedlace boots I was issued in the Marine Corps in 89. You need to know if, like my Danners at Fort Lewis, they’re going to keep your feet all warm and toasty while your footsoaked, freezing, miserable friends mutter curses at you (I still have wet dreams about those boots). You need to know if the soles are going to be worn so smooth after less than six months in Afghanistan, like my issue “desert jungle boots”, that your French buddy asks, “Chrees, did you walk through ze acid in zose boots?” 
Not to mention that there is a military boots blog.  What would Marshall Timoshenko say, were he alive?

November 16, 2013

Meanwhile in the Similkameen Valley

A 1935 Packard that functioned as a "school bus" for ranchers' and orchardists' kids in Keremeos, BC. From left: George Hodson (the driver), Ivadelle Clifton, Art Harris, Ike Harris, Wilson Clifton, Wendell Clifton, Mrs. Harris, Shirley Harris, Mrs. Louise Clifton. Photo taken probably in 1936. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Virtual Museum of Canada)

A couple of days ago I was notified of publication of a new issue of The Goose, an online publication of The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada. The contents promised, "Harold Rhenisch’s memoir on the Similkameen Valley," which caught my attention, because my Canadian relatives either live there or originated there, particularly in Keremeos, "the fruit stand capital of Canda." (You can download the issue as a PDF.)

Three of those scruffy kids are Dad's first cousins: I still get Christmas cards from Ivadelle, who ended up living just over the line in Washington state, while Wendell and Wilson kept the cattle business going. In fact, thanks to my great-uncle Ivan's reproductive success, the Canadian Cliftons outnumber my side of the family.

"Similkameen Peaches," Rhenisch's memoir, starts in the 1960s. It's a fine piece of impressionistic writing — family, local culture, ecology, and history all tossed together. If I were still teaching nature writing, which I'd rather call nature-and-culture writing, I would assign it.
I’m cold. Men have just walked on the Moon. Charlie still owns the jungle in Vietnam, and just a few weeks ago I watched Canadian fighter jets scramble to meet American fighter jets over the Reserve down south, on the Line, as we put it around these parts, above the dwarf shrews of Nighthawk, Washington, at any rate, above the 1858 American-Canadian border, the one put in to keep the peace, although not between any of the people here. Virtually all the people here were Indians and Americans, who all walked back and forth across the border pretty much as they pleased, and saw, really, no great use for it.
And you thought people only talked that way about la frontera? Even in the 1960s, you get the feeling that in Keremeos, "Canada" was an abstraction. Someplace else.

In fact, reading and hearing and viewing photos about the Old West era there, there is a definite sensation that southern British Columbia was more like eastern Washington or Montana than anywhere else. Ontario? Quebec? Far away and sort of foreign.

(A memory of Wendell slapping the table in a Keremeos cafe: "Ottawa wants to take away our guns!")

Maybe that "Old West" unity broke down somewhat after World War I and Prohibition emphasized the differences between the nations. But there is still a lot of similarity.

My great-uncle made no conscious decision to emigrate, as I understand; he was just a young guy moving from one railroad-telegrapher job to the next. Then he put down roots, literally — fruit trees — and later the cattle business. I remember him in his mid-nineties, tottering out to the barn to show me "my boys," the prize bulls.

November 15, 2013

Are Dogs "Chinese" or "European": the DNA Debate Continues

And it is summarized in this New York Times article, "Wolf to Dog: Scientists Agree on How, but Not Where."
Scientists have long agreed that the closest living relatives of dogs are wolves, their link confirmed by both anatomy and DNA. Somewhere, at some point, some wolves became domesticated. They evolved not only a different body shape, but also a different behavior. Instead of traveling in a pack to hunt down prey, dogs began lingering around humans. Eventually, those humans bred them into their many forms, from shar-peis to Newfoundlands.

November 08, 2013

Clinging to the Panhandle

Kenton, Oklahoma, is somewhere on my list of Towns to Disappear To." It is possible, though, that Kenton might disappear first.

You would not disappear in Kenton though. Any newcomer would stand out.

According to old stories I have heard, shady characters used to like Kenton because it was convenient to the state lines of Colorado and New Mexico and not too terribly far from Kansas and Texas.

Now those state lines pose other kinds of problems.
It’s another reason I [writer Sheilah Bright] have fallen hard for this shriveled land. People don’t dance around how they feel. Nearly everything they say deserves quotation marks. If someone dies of a heart attack or pneumonia or cancer, the burial arrangements are handled quickly since business is so slow. A suicide up on the Black Mesa trail (leading to Oklahoma’s highest peak at 4,973 above sea level), or a missing hiker found dead from heat exhaustion exposes a serious flaw in the system.

Those bodies aren’t supposed to be moved without permission from a medical examiner. The nearest medical examiner office is 220 miles away in Woodward. The next nearest is 379 miles away in Oklahoma City. Temperatures climb well past 100 degrees in the summer.
“By law, I’m supposed to either embalm, bury, or cremate someone within 24 hours unless there’s refrigeration,” said [funeral director Mark] Axtell. “The closest refrigeration is in Oklahoma City. The nearest crematory is in Dodge City, Kan. or Amarillo, Texas. I can’t cross state lines with a dead body without a permit from the medical examiner’s office.”

There is one group of visitors, however, who like the Kenton area just the way it is!

November 06, 2013

Blog Stew with Shredded Tamarisk

¶ In Palisade, Colo., there is an anti-tamarisk militia.

¶ The northern Colorado secession movement did not do too well at the ballot box.  The question is whether it was any sort of symbolic victory.

¶ An Indiana deer hunter is paralyzed by a fall from a tree stand. He tells his doctors to "pull the plug."  Do you wonder if his hunting experiences made him less likely to cling to life as a quadriplegic? There is a possible hint of that in the article.

November 05, 2013

The Tumbleweed Menace

Colorado Springs Gazette columnist Bill Radford notices the tumbleweed hordes of 2013. 

Oh yeah. I am not one of those people who goes around mowing everything mowable — that is so Midwestern— but this year I mowed one little meadow that I had not touched in twenty years, because it was sprouting kochia and Russian thistle, the baddies:
In El Paso County, the two chief culprits are Russian thistle and kochia, [rancher Sharon] Pattee says. The Colorado State University Extension labels them both as "troublesome annual weeds of rangeland, pastures, fields, disturbed areas, gardens, roadsides, ditch banks and small acreages."

Both are non-native species. Russian thistle originated in, yep, Russia, and is believed to have come to the United States in the late 1800s through contaminated flax seed. Kochia is from Asia.
Tumbleweed Christmas trees? Been there, done that. One year when I was little, I was sick in bed during Christmas, so my older sisters decorated a big globe tumbleweed with glass ornaments and put it by my bed.

This was when we lived in Rapid City, S.D., where they were easy to come by.  This year in southern Colorado, every barbed wire fence looks like a fuzzy brown wall. Yeech.

November 04, 2013

October 31, 2013

A Too-Quiet Halloween in the Foothills

As I write, it is after eight o'clock on Halloween, and not one trick-or-treater has come up our driveway (usually by car, I should add).

Last year, a week after a wildfire took out part of the town, we had at least two groups, I recall. And in those instances, one or both parents were volunteer firefighters. Maybe they were showing that they were not defeated.

A year later, the road is darker and less-inhabited.

The fire did most of its physical damage in an hour, and by the time they brought in the Type 2 Incident Management Team and all that, it was already slowing down in spots, running out of heavier fuels.

The psychic damage came more slowly: the never-to-rebuilt houses, the not-even-cleaned-up sites, the abandonments, the deaths, the divorces, the business closings.

Now many small towns, especially on the prairies, have shrunk over the decades. Main Streets are full of empty storefronts. We had far less distance to fall.

When M. and I arrived 21 years ago, there were two churches, a post office, a little grocery store (where you would go if suddenly out of dog food or beer), and a bar-cafe with regular hours.

Now there are two churches, the post office with hours reduced, and a so-so steakhouse that opens two evenings a week.

I would call our community a village, except that in the West, no one but real-estate developers uses that term, reserving it for planned developments: "The Village at Elk Meadows," that kind of thing.

Maybe we are settling toward how Colorado writer Merrill Gilfillan, in his excellent Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains, defined the word "hamlet."
Hamlets have no visible means of support; no schools; no class plays; no historical museums; little public enterprise save the occasional gas station/grocery combination.
Except the nearest gas station is 14 miles away, in the small town of which we are effectively a suburb.

And maybe the deaths and divorces would have happened away. It takes two or three years to sell a house anyway — job changes often mean that people move away and leave the old place empty, paying two mortgages.  Or the heirs dump it cheap.

I certainly would not trade this situation for manic growth. I have been there much of my life.

One landowner — a rich doctor —buys up some of the properties that come on the market for his hobby-ranch empire. He claims to be saving us from rampant development. Really?

For now, the nights are darker. Mostly, M. and I are all right with that. We like the darkness. But sometimes I am troubled just a little bit by the sensation of community dwindling away.

And the irony there is that for at least ten of those years, we were just exurban refugees. We did not really interact with anyone but our immediate neighbors. We worked elsewhere (most people do). It took a long time to develop local social knowledge, even a little.

One family with young children has moved in nearby. We have talked with the father just a little. They are doing the whole chickens thing, and now there are goats. (How will that work out without irrigation?) But their kids did not come trick-or-treating. They too must find the darkness and distance strange and threatening

October 28, 2013

Blog Stew: Now with Quicksand!

¶ Trapped by quicksand: A hunter tells Denver Post columnist Scott Willoughby how he nearly died along the South Platte River.

¶ The Bureau of Land Management offered some big solar-power sites for auction — and there were no bidders.

I wish that we could understand that the best place for solar power is at the point of use — on top of the office buildings, etc. Not tearing up the desert (or in this case the near-desert San Luis Valley) and then building more transmission lines, etc.

¶ Evidently if you are Chinese, you set the bar for "harmony with nature" pretty low. Other funny stuff about Americans at the link as well.

¶ Ammonia from feedlots, big dairy farms, and other ag operations is affecting Rocky Mountain National Park.  At least they are not totally pretending that there is no problem:
“So if we can just get more exact data about how and when that ammonia is moving into Rocky Mountain National Park ... and then develop a warning system ... that could really go a long way in fixing the problem,” said Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association. “We know we’re not the only contributor to the issue, but we certainly want to do our part to help fix it.”

October 27, 2013

Hunting Season? Your Dog Needs "Isa-tai"

Does your dog go into the woods during hunting season? Does he dart off the trail, refuse to come to the whistle, and then you find him gulping fat and guts where someone field-dressed a deer or elk — no doubt thinking that bears or coyotes would clean up the pile?

Does he then get diarrhea or, twenty-four hours later, throw up a mass of fat the size of both your fists together and stand over it growling because he thinks that he is going to re-eat it?

Most of the time, your dog eats food out of a sack, supplemented by whatever he can steal off the kitchen counters. He lacks the right blend of beneficial intestinal bacteria for digesting elk guts, hair, hide, etc.

He needs Isa-tai!*

Here at Hunt-Pro Labs, we start with the fresh feces of wild Wyoming wolves. We culture the bacteria and package it in clean, odorless capsules. A short course of Isa-tai and your dog will be able to digest everything that he finds in the woods, short of Amanita muscaria.**

He'll be a happier dog, and you won't have to clean up messes!

Isa-tai, for dogs who run a little wild!


* Isa-tai was a Comanche warrior active in the 1870s on the Southern Plains. His name translates to Wolf Shit, although an alternative translation is wolf's (or coyote's) vagina. Anyway, the name is a tribute.

** For that you want milk thistle.

October 23, 2013

Some Applause for Victorinox

Some web-surfing in September led me to the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife website, and I discovered that for $5 they would look and and if possible repair a damaged knife.

I had this knife in my pocket knives-and-key chains box — I don't even know where it came from — but the scissors were broken and the scales (side pieces) were both chipped. Miraculously, the tweezers and toothpick were still intact.

So I sent it in and about three weeks later had it back, good as new. They returned the old scales, don't ask me why.

October 22, 2013

Necropsy on Coyotes that Attacked Boulder County Man

An update on the attack by three coyotes on a northern Colorado man earlier this month.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release:

DENVER – Three coyotes were killed last week in response to an unprovoked attack on a 22-year old man last Monday morning in Niwot.

The man was walking to work around 5 a.m. on North 73 St. when he heard a sound in the grass close to him.  When he turned with his flashlight, three coyotes ran at the man and proceeded to attack him, jumping, scratching and biting at him for about 70 yards as fought back.  He was brought to Longmont United Hospital for treatment and released later that day.

Two coyotes were removed at the immediate location of the attack on Monday (10/14) and Tuesday (10/15).  The third was taken within the vicinity on Wednesday (10/16).  Officials observed and tracked two distinct groups of coyotes in the area, this group of three and a group of four around ¼ mile west of the first group.

All three animals tested negative for rabies. Other details on the necropsied animals are as follows:

--#1 coyote was an adult female, no placental scars (had not dropped pups), good body condition, large rodent (possibly prairie dog) in stomach.

--#2 coyote was an adult female, placental scars for 3 pups, good body condition, large bird in stomach.

--#3 coyote was an adult male, good body condition, feathers, 2 mice and thick skin probably from domestic dog or cat in stomach.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare; however, coyotes in the metro area become habituated to human presence.   Habituation can cause coyotes to lose their healthy and natural fear of people, become territorial and sometimes aggressive.   Coloradoans can share the landscape with these wild neighbors by following three important tips:

-- Don't feed wildlife!

-- Protect your pets!

-- Haze coyote when you see them!

Finally, in the event of an attack on a person, fight back!  Report any attack on a human to Colorado Parks and Wildlife or by calling 911 as soon as possible.

For more information on coyotes.


Blog Stew with "Thump Thump Thump"

¶ "Wind-turbine syndrome" — on its way to becoming a diagnosis.

¶ Colorado, where you can't bank your legal marijuana money, but you can defend it with firearms.

¶ "Dead zone" is putting it a little strongly, but yes, if you live in the mountains (or parts of the prairie) the ambulance is thirty minutes away. So is the fire engine and the deputy sheriff. Have a plan and hope for the best?

¶ Now this is truly a "sportive dackel." (Literary reference.)

October 21, 2013

An Incident on the Prairie

Griggs County, North Dakota

West of the Sheyenne River things are different. The sloughs and ponds that are everywhere in my friend Galen's county are fewer here. The country has more of an upland feel — it's snowier too, he says — and there are more "No Hunting" signs.

That is not necessarily a problem. North Dakota allows hunting on unposted private land, and even posted land can be negotiated.

In fact,  at one point we pulled overwhere a guy tacking up a "no hunting" sign and talked with him, and it was as Galen had suspected — he wanted to keep out deer hunters for some reason,  but he had no problem at all with us walking his pastures for sharp-tailed grouse.

But before that encounter, we found a little valley that was open, parked, released the dogs and started walking. I took the high route along some hills like those in the background of the photo. The grouse often hang out on the leeward slopes — and they were there— but so were little copses of wind-stunted trees — some looked like crab apples (!?).

Two or three times grouse flushed on the other side of the trees, making their er-er-er, and I was unable to see them until they gained some altitude, by which time they were rapidly going out of range.

I watched one circle downwind way out over the little valley until it was just a dot against the grass. It sat down somewhere near the little cabin in the photo.

Walking on, I munched rose hips for locavore Vitamin C (It is not only Alberta that is "wild rose country") and marveled at the spread of wormwood onto the prairie. I struggle to grow a little in the herb garden here, and there it is scattered all over the place.

We were were just on the prairie, Mother Earth below, Blue Sky God above — and us, like the fleeing grouse, just dots. Mobility is crucial.

When Fisher the Chessie and I came up to a fence enclosing a pasture with cattle in it, we stopped and walked down toward the truck. We all drove to a spot about half a mile away, putting most of the little valley upwind.

Again we loaded our shotguns, called the dogs, and started a big loop out across the valley floor. Occasionally the wind brought the chug-chug of a tractor where one of the ranch hands, half a mile away, was pulling a manure spreader.

Fisher was off on Galen's side, so I whistled, and he came running, big happy grin, and as he passed through the tall grass, a whitetail doe popped up just behind him — he never sensed her.

I laughed at that and turned to go forward as he passed me, and then a grouse (that same grouse?) flew up on my left, er-er-er-er.

I spun counterclockwise, fired the first barrel wildly as the grouse caught the wind, and as my finger slipped to the second trigger, knew I was right on it, and it fell thump. This is my body, which is given for you.

Off in the distance, the manure spreader drew brown contours on the hillside.

On the Road: Name That River (3)

No one is winning the fabulous invisible prize, so I will try one last time.

I wanted to photograph this river on my first traveling day (October 4th), but the weather was just too dismal. It was not so dismal on the way home, but still dismal in some respects.

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I got a winner . . . on the Facebook feed. It's the Dismal River in the Nebraska Sandhills.

October 17, 2013

Brian Sykes Says The Yeti Is A Bear

From my occasional interest in things Bigfoot-ish: Noted British geneticist Brian Sykes says that purported yeti (abominable snowman) hair samples from the Himalayas are actually from a bear.
Sykes compared DNA from hair samples taken from two Himalayan animals — identified by local people as Yetis — to a database of animal genomes. He found they shared a genetic fingerprint with a polar bear jawbone found in the Norwegian Arctic that is at least 40,000 years old.

Sykes said Thursday that the tests showed the creatures were not related to modern Himalayan bears but were direct descendants of the prehistoric animal.
So in a way that conclusion replaces one mystery with another one.

South Dakota As You Have Never Seen It


Dakotalapse is a site featuring time-lapse photography videos created by Randy Halverson of Kennebec, S.D. (That is the White River in one series.)
I shot Horizons from April - October 2012 mostly in South Dakota, but also some at Devils Tower in Wyoming. From the rugged Badlands, the White River valley and the Black Hills, the horizons seem to endlessly change.
You can download the videos for a small fee. They are gorgeous.

October 15, 2013

The Passing of "Dr. Trout," Robert Behnke

Robert Behnke (Phil Pister via Trout Unlimited)

Robert Behnke of Colorado State University, a leading conservationist and authority on trout and salmon, died last month.
Bob was best known for his interests in native trout conservation and taxonomy.  He was a traditional taxonomist and depended heavily on body morphology, color and spotting patterns, and the like to differentiate species and subspecies.  On this, he was a great authority.  Most of us depend on his seminal books: Native Trout of Western North America and Trout and Salmon of North America as the bibles of taxonomic and distributional studies for trout and salmon.  These are highly recommended for any trout enthusiast.
Colorado Trout Unlimited has a page up with more information and a place to share memories of him and his work.

October 14, 2013

It's about Selling Clothes, not Praise for Outdoor Passions

At Clash Daily, Doug Giles likes it that Ralph Lauren is using some pseudo-vintage hunting photographs to promote a clothing line. He writes,
I'd like to personally thank Ralph Lauren for …

a.) Creating a line of clothes for dudes that’s not effeminate.
b.) Showcasing these awesome, traditional designs in a hunting and fishing context.

Hunters, Anglers and Outdoors-men: Check out RRL and show your support for Ralph’s praise of our passions by purchasing some of his bad ass threads
Me, not so much. Pseudo-vintage is just a tool for Lauren (born Ralph Lipshitz). Whether it is an East Coast WASP horses-and-sailboats vibe, or his fantasy-Western ranch outside Ridgway, Colorado, Lauren's designs often have a nose-pressed-to-the-glass feeling to them. "If only I could be one of those people."

But even if you have it, do you really have it? As Ed Quillen's review of a book about Ridgway and the "New West stated,"
[The book] will resonate in many other towns undergoing an uneasy transition from Old West to New West — a transition from neighbors who relied on each other to get through hard times to residents who moved there precisely because they don’t want neighbors and who remain isolated from the local economy.
And Lauren is Exhibit A.

Models in clothes with the flavor of 1910? Color me unimpressed.

October 13, 2013

Blog Stew: Only Partly Faked

¶ "Nature-faking" at the BBC. This is nothing new.

¶ Cornell Ornithology Lab has owl sounds for free download. Missing: spotted owl, flammulated owl, but a pretty good North American selection otherwise, since a lot of owling is done with the ears.

¶ The rising trend of fake service dogs. I have noticed this in the last two or three years. But service dogs are supposed to be calm, so there is no point in strapping a SERVICE DOG vest on Fisher.

¶ How mulching helped the High Park burn scar during last month's deluge.

October 10, 2013

On the Road: Name that River (2)

This river is a tributary to this one. Its name would be familiar in sound to anyone in Wyoming or eastern Colorado, but this river's name is spelled differently.

Identify it for a fabulous invisible prize!

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ANSWER: This is the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River of the North, photographed in Griggs County, North Dakota.

October 09, 2013

On the Road: Name That River

Identify this river and win a fabulous invisible prize.

Hint: it is colorado but not in Colorado nor is it the Colorado.

For an even bigger invisible prize, from what state was this photo taken?



ANSWER: The river is the Red River of the North. The photo is taken from the Minnesota side in East Grand Forks, looking at the greenway created after  the big 1997 flood that badly damaged downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota, on the opposite bank.

October 08, 2013

Blog Stew on the River

¶ Legal challenges to zee artiste Christo's "Over the River" continue.

¶ Do vultures take baths? Chris Weems has the video. Also owls.

¶ Colorado's first legal industrial hemp crop is harvested.
Loflin used social media to line up about 45 volunteers to hand-harvest his crop on Saturday and Sunday
Probably not a long-term harvesting model, however. Don't the Canadians have a combine head for hemp?

Colorado Flood Diary

Thoughts on flood survival from a contributor to Survival Blog.
FEMA help is a mixed blessing.   They provide a lot of help, but are pretty nosy. I paid my taxes for 40 years, and getting some back would be soooo nice. FEMA is a road show - they may leave here this week, so coordinating their inspectors with my Jamestown expedition is challenging. 
Hat tip to Peter Grant. And be ready to take care of yourself.

October 07, 2013

It's Tarantula Sex Season

We have been seeing tarantulas crossing the county road lately, ever since the fall equinox. Normally they are almost invisible, but now it's mating season. (Funny, I was just at Cabela's and did not see any bull tarantula calls.)
The warm weather is perfect for the males, who will be out looking for love. After living in burrows for the first five to 12 years of their lives, the males risk all sorts of dangers as they seek to sow their seed.
And you never find older males living in Mom's burrow, because if they do, they are eaten
(Hat tip, Holly Heyser.)

October 05, 2013

Let's Re-Brand Turkey Hunting

I don't see any "outdoor" televisions when I am home, but now I am on the road and have just finished watching an episode about turkey hunting on the The Outdoor Channel.

Now the problem is that when you are in ideal (private, I'm guessing) turkey habitat along the Black Warrior River in Alabama, and you have champion turkey caller working with a veteran turkey hunter, everything just goes so perfectly.

And all the products and shows advertised are "extreme" or "ultimate." Where is left to go?

There might be more drama or at least comedy in a show called Incompetent Turkey Hunters" or Newbies Afield, but you won't see, because those would not be the TV personalities  to endorse the extreme ultimate hunting products.

Since all galliform birds — especially the bigger ones — seem most to evoke their reptilian ancestors, let's re-think turkey hunting.

Let's call it dinosaur hunting. That name also gets you away from the negative slang meaning of "turkey."

"Sweetie, I'm going dinosaur-hunting this weekend." That's primal!

And think of the marketing possibilities, not to mention the cooking shows.


Bison, Bears, and Wolves . . . in Europe

That buffalo (bison) in the photo banner up top is part of a private herd at the Wolf Springs Ranch in Huerfano County, Colorado. Where he is grazing is historic habitat, but the herd was re-introduced and built up by a wealthy rancher, Tom Redmond.

His distant relatives in eastern Europe, once almost extinct, are making a managed comeback in Poland and Belarus. So are some other species that seemed likely to be preserved only in museums and heraldry, says The Telegraph:
The European bison, which was extinct in the wild in Europe at the start of the 20th century, has increased by more than 3,000 per cent after a large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme. It now has particular strongholds in Belarus and Poland.
Brown bear numbers have doubled and the grey wolf population of Europe quadrupled between 1970 and 2005.
There were also sharp rises in numbers of several species of bird, including the Svalbard breeding population of the barnacle goose, the white-tailed eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle.
But tell me, did someone at The Telegraph use a stock photo of North American bison? Compare to these.For a moment I wondered if someone was cross-breeding our bison, but I don't think so. The website of the European Bison Conservation Center says, "The [captive breeding] program should ensure separation of the pure Lowland and the Lowland-Caucasian lines and avoid hybridization with any other related species."


October 04, 2013

Backcountry Hygiene for Women

Answers to all the difficult questions, from a woman who has backpacked the length of South America — and more.
Even if you’re a guy, it’d be worth reading this article: If you ever want your girlfriend, fiancee, or wife to join you on a backpacking trip, your ignorance on this subject could be major roadblock.
Hat tip: Mountain Matters

September 28, 2013

Burned Area Revegetation, Six Months Later

May 2013
Last May I used this photo of Fisher playing in a little seasonal spring to illustrate a post about the Bureau of Land Management's aerial seeding of a burned area near home.

The black ground is burned by the fire. The wood chips are mulch dropped by helicopter along with a mixture of grass seed.
September 2013
Here is Fisher again at the same spring (Camera Trap Spring). The mullein (upper left) would have arrived on its own, as did some of the other plants, but it looks like the grass mixture took hold, thanks to the late-summer rains.

We were spared the massive rains that hit northern Colorado, so there has not been an erosion problem, and now with any luck, there won't be.

Not shown: the Gambel oak is ankle to knee-high up there already. It needs no encouragement.