June 26, 2017

First Scout Camera Bear of 2017

This lanky young black bear was out ambling around on Sunday the 18th, but I just changed out the SD card in that camera today and found its picture.

Bear sign has been scant, which is probably a good thing, if it means that they are dispersed and finding stuff to eat. I did have a birdfeeder knocked down the night of June 4th, which reminded M. and me that it was time to go into summer mode and bring them in each evening.

I this color phase a "Siamese bear," as in cat, because the old fur being shed looks light over the darker undercoat.

June 20, 2017

Blossom from a Rock

I see this every so often, but it still impresses me: a little Opuntia-genus cactus growing out of a crack in a big sandstone boulder. For "planting mix," decomposing pine needles.

June 09, 2017

It's Time to Fire Up the Coleman Lantern

Last weekend at Sylvan Lake State Park, the solar lantern just was not bright enough for both M's and my reading, so I fired up the single-mantle Coleman lantern to illuminate the trailer.

Coast to coast, this lantern has illuminated many campsites. It heated my old van on waterfowling trips in the San Luis Valley as the temperature plunged well below freezing.

As best I recall, it came from the garage of an old smelter worker's cottage on Cañon City's unfashionable south side, after a co-worker rented it.

(I lived next door. Those were not shining times.)

With new washers in the pump and a new globe, it was back in operation.

The special pungency of Coleman's blended white gas, poured through the distinctive filter funnel — bright red, so you don't leave it sitting on the picnic table, as I almost did last Sunday.

You spin the cleaning lever, pump it, light it, pump some more, open the gas — OK, I admit it sounds like starting a Model T Ford or something like that.

Apparently an ad for the British market.
I never heard of the "Empire" model.
Maybe it's that early-20th-century technology. But it works — and you don't send empty gas canisters to the landfill or let them pile up at Base Camp for someone else to deal with.
Some people say Aladdin lanterns are quieter and better, but growing up in Colorado and South Dakota, I never saw one.

Back in the 1980s when I occasionally served as a camp hand for a local outfitter in return for free outdoor adventure, I heard this story from one of the clients.

He had been looking for a little store that existed or was supposed to exist near Red Wing in Huerfano County because we were low on Coleman mantles, the original kind that you tie on with cold-numbed fingers.
 
As the client stood by his truck, he recalled, this ranchman rode up on horseback. When he learned what the problem was, the horseman pulled out his billfold, opened it, and extracted a mantle, which he handed down, saying, "Some fellows carry condoms, but up here, these are more valuable."

Or maybe he said "carry rubbers." Anyhow, if it's not true, it should be.

May 29, 2017

When Lightning Strikes, Survivors Are Changed Forever

When I was a college student working a summer construction job in Taos, New Mexico, there was an old man next door, Eloy M., who people in the areas said had been struck by lightning.

They said that that was why he was shy, kind of reclusive — he worked his corn field, but never seemed to go anywhere.

Was it the lightning that changed him? According to this article in Arts Technica,
The changes in personality and mood that survivors experience, sometimes with severe bouts of depression as well, can strain families and marriages, sometimes to breaking point. Cooper likes to use the analogy that lightning rewires the brain in much the same way that an electrical shock can scramble a computer—the exterior appears unharmed, but the software within that controls its functioning is damaged.
It's a fascinating article both on the mechanics of lightning and what happens to survivors of lightning strikes.

Some quick Internet research turned up differing answers as to which U.S. states have the most lightning strikes.

Some say Florida is number one; others say Texas. New Mexico makes the top ten.

May 17, 2017

People Who Run With Dogs Are Doing It Wrong

Hoedad (Forestry Suppliers).
• "And it might seem harmless to push especially active breeds beyond what their owners do themselves, for example by having them run alongside a bicycle. Some can handle this, but apparently not all."

• Intersectional squirrels transgressing ontological boundaries. Or something. The weirdest, most contorted, theory-obsessed (in a stumbling mechanistic way) sort of academic paper on wildlife you will ever read.  Usually it's grad students who write like this. But Teresa Lloro-Bidart has, presumably, a tenure-track job.

• I have swung my hoedad and planted a few trees in my time. So did Dad in his forestry-student days. We did not know about innoculating them with fungi, but thanks to people like mycologist Paul Stamets, the idea is catching on, as shown in this spruce-planting video.

UPDATE: Second link fixed. Sorry.

May 11, 2017

Just Don't Put It in Salt Lake City

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wants to move the Bureau of Land Management national headquarters out of Washington, D.C., to somewhere in the West and has introduced legislation to that effect. Rep. Paul Tipton (R-Cortez), whose 3rd District includes some of southern Colorado and most of the Western Slope, has a similar measure in the House.

This makes sense in a way: most of the land managed by the BLM is west of the Mississippi or in Alaska. Modern communication techniques make centralization of federal functions in D.C. less crucial.

When I heard this proposal, I figured that Denver was the hypothetical location. But the Grand Junction Sentinel  is blowing the local horn (as a newspaper should):  "But the Republican from Colorado told The Daily Sentinel in an interview that he still thinks Grand Junction is well positioned to compete for the office if legislation he introduced this week becomes law."

He is not specifying Grand Junction, however, but you can expect that he is pulling for a Colorado location. Still, there a political realities:
Gardner has gotten what he called a “great group” of Senate bill sponsors from a number of Western states, with the sponsorship list growing. But he acknowledged that those senators may have an interest in seeing the headquarters moved to their home states. And he’s previously noted that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, of Montana, might want to see it moved there.

So if the measure passes, “this will be a bit of a — I think I’ve said it before — a bit of a Western food fight (to land the office). But I think Colorado comes up pretty good in this,” he said.
The BLM's Colorado state office is already located in Lakewood,  at a satellite location of the Denver Federal Center (an office complex that grew up post-World War Two on land that had held  a military munitions factory).

Speaking as a former BLM contractor and someone with an interest in public lands, I am all for moving the national office. Just don't put it in Utah. After the anti-public lands performance by Utah's governor and congressional delegation — so stinking disgraceful  that it has driven the outdoor industry's annual trade show out of SLC —that state frankly does not deserve it.

April 30, 2017

Why Didn't the Hummingbirds Die in the Snow?

"I'm not dead yet!" (Cornell University).
It snowed here two nights ago. It snowed a lot. We had at least eighteen inches — fifty centimeters for those you who like cute little centimeters — or as I prefer to say, "a cubit and little more."

Yesterday the temperatures got barely above the freezing point, but today was warmer, and with the southern Colorado sun beating down, the snow is fast retreating.

But yesterday, when it was still cloudy and cold, a resident posted to one of the county's Facebook pages (usually devoted to photos of  sunset-over-the-mountains-from-the-deck-of-our-new-home), a photo of a hummingbird at a sugar-water feeder with a question: Why was the hummingbird just sitting there and not moving? Was something wrong with it?

I think that she had a great opportunity to observe the topor of the broad-tailed hummingbird.

The Cornell ornithology lab's site says of them, "To survive the cold nights in their high-elevation habitats, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds can enter torpor, slowing their heart rate, and dropping their body temperature."

Speaking of hummingbirds in general, here is more on torpor:
Besides being among the smallest of all warm-blooded animals, hummingbirds also lack the insulating downy feathers that are typical for many other bird species. Due to their combined characteristics of small body size and lack of insulation, hummingbirds rapidly lose body heat to their surroundings. Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. This threshold is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C recorded for other similarly-sized birds.
And there is this advice:
When hummingbirds sleep and are in the Torpor state, they have been known to hang upside-down. If you find a hummingbird that is hanging upside-down and they appear to be dead, it is actually more likely that they are just asleep. They will probably not even respond if you touched them. If at all possible, leave them alone and they will wake up when they get warmer. 
The male broad-tails usually arrive during the first two weeks of April — this year it was April 7th. I always expect one snowstorm after this arrival, and this year (so far) there have been three. Obviously, the reproductive advantage of showing up early to claim a good territory must outweigh the chance of becoming a hummingbird-sicle. And torpor is how they do it.

Today the resident male (they are all named Chico) was back at the sugar-water feeder.

April 22, 2017

First There Is A Mountain, Then There Is No Mountain

Click to embiggen.
I look at the façade above the front door of the defunct Ponderosa Restaurant in Magdalena, New Mexico, and I wonder why it is asymetrical.

Then I see that it duplicates the outline of Magdalena Peak on the southern horizon.

And I think of a pleasant piece of psychedelic pop from years ago.

April 14, 2017

MOAB (Mother of All Bison) and Other Links

Steppe bison were the ones painted at
Altamira Cave in Spain (Wikipedia).
Research suggests that all North American bison (buffalo) are descended from one steppe bison, or Bison priscus, an ungulate that roamed Europe and Asia for millions of years.

And they were a lot bigger in the good ol' days:
"The scientists compared the mitochondrial DNA from the fossil found at Ch’ijee’s Bluff [Yukon] to that taken from 45 other bison remains, including one of the oldest and most interesting specimens, the fossil of a giant, long-horned bison — belonging to the species Bison latifrons — found in Snowmass, Colorado.

Bison latifrons is an interesting beast,” said Dr. Duane Froese, a geologist with the University of Alberta, in a separate statement.

“Its horns measured more than two meters across at the tips, and it was perhaps 25 percent larger than modern bison.”
All the kool kidz will be using these on their desert campouts soon. The Burners will have to have them. 

• Another illusion shattered. Human flesh may not be as nutritious as you thought.

April 13, 2017

America's Best Outdoor Recreation Value Will Cost a Little More

Trail signs, Colorado National Monument.

America's best recreational value.
Maybe someone realized that ten dollars for a lifetime senior national parks pass was just too good a deal in 2017. At any rate, the cost is going up — to $80.

If you are 62 or older, however, there is still a window to buy the pass at the old cheap price:
But if you get a lifetime pass before the change is implemented, it will cost only $10. Passes can be purchased online for an additional service fee of $10 or at any of the parks without an extra charge.

National Park Service officials are unsure how long it will take to implement the change, but it’s expected before the end of 2017. Meantime, they are spreading the word informally.
It's one good deal. Just show that pass to the ranger at the gate, and a whole carload of people get in. Some groups have been known to rearrange themselves so that the pass holder is driving, but I don't know if that is really necessary.

Even at $80, the pass would pay for itself if you made three national parks visits in a year.

IN OTHER PARK SERVICE NEWS:  President Trump donated his first-quarter 2017 salary to the National Parks Service, according to The Hill, a website focused on political news. That sum of 78,333.32 is, what, about equivalent to the annual salary of national monument supervisor? What do they make, anyway?

It's a nice gesture — and an under-reported one — but the park system needs a lot more money than that, mostly for non-spectacular stuff like repairing water systems, upgrading employee housing, fixing roads, etc.

April 09, 2017

Colorado Sand Dunes from Space and How to Say the Creek's Name

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
photographed from the International Space Station (NASA photo).
I came across this quick explanation for why southern Colorado has sand dunes on the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve's Facebook page.
Many visitors wonder: Why is there so much sand only here, but not at other locations along the mountains?

In this view from space, part of the answer becomes clear. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are curved here, and at the same location are low passes to funnel wind and sand from the valley floor into this pocket.

Then why doesn't sand accumulate, for instance, at the base of La Veta Pass to the south? The mountains also curve there below a low pass.. The answer is that this northeast part of the San Luis Valley is a closed basin. Streams carrying sand into this basin don't exit, so all the sand they carry is deposited here. In the past, these streams fed into huge lakes; when these lakes disappeared through natural climate change, vast quantities of sand blew and accumulated here below Mosca, Medano, and Music Passes. In other parts of the valley, and in most places in the Rocky Mountains, sands are continually washed away and carried downstream into larger and larger rivers.
That is the San Luis Valley on the lower left and the Wet Mountain Valley to the upper right, so the top of the photo is roughly northeast.

A lot of visitors also pronounce the name of the creek that flows by the dunes as "Meh-DAH-no," thinking that that is the correct Spanish pronunciation, whereas in the Wet Mountain Valley, you hear something more like "MAD-uh-now" or "MAD-uh-no," usually in reference to Medano Pass, which connects the two valleys.

The latter is actually closer to the Spanish Médano — note the accent mark — which means "sand dune" and comes from an old Castillian word for mountain.

April 04, 2017

Geoffrey Chaucer Understood Our Weather—If You Change One Word

When that aprill with his blizzards soote
the droghte of marche hath percèd to the roote,
Than dogges go they forth to play,
And what they thinke, Ich ken ne say.

March 28, 2017

A Colorado Moment and a New Book on Yellowstone Death, Nature, & Science

So I sold a pair of World War 2-vintage snowshoes on eBay and used the money to buy hemp oil (CBD) for my dog.

A Colorado moment, circa 2017.

I probably could have asked more if I could definitely have linked those 1943 snowshoes to the 10th Mountain Division — Dad did acquire them in Colorado in the 1960s — but that was just a "maybe."


What I want to read:
 
Jordon Fisher Smith, whose Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra is one of my favorite reads, has a new book out, Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature.
"Harry Walker had come to Yellowstone in 1972 in search of himself. Instead, he became a tragic symbol of poor wildlife management and the killer grizzly bear. Walker’s death prompted a fierce debate over the human role in engineering nature, with some of the biggest names in wildlife biology at the time on either side.

"While a tempest of people, places and ideas rage within the pages of Engineering Eden the author is a calm voice in the storm, letting the reader take it all in and form an opinion of their own."
In this interview with a Florida NPR station, he says,  "“I wanted the artistic form of this narrative nonfiction work to resemble the endless interconnection of nature itself. Instead of saying to my reader, ‘Okay, now watch this. I’m gonna try to really make this complex web of relationships right in front of you,’ I just did it.”

(I really dislike the phrase "find yourself" or "in search of himself," etc. You don't just find yourself out there lying on the ground out in the woods; you build yourself by what you do day to day.)

March 20, 2017

Let the Women Carry the Loads

Women carrying cassava root (?) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Some time ago, I blogged a fascinating tale of South American exploration, The Lost City of Z. Oh, to enjoy the bounty of "rain, unceasing rain" again, as it fell six springs past!

More recently, I returned again to that book, following trails out from it, as in reading advice on wild-country travel by Francis Galton (1822–1911), a long-time member and officer of Britain's Royal Geographical Society. Its author, David Grann, writes,
During the Society's early years, no member personified the organization's eccentricities or audacious mission more than Sir Francis Galton. A cousin of Charles Darwin's, he had been a child prodigy who, by the age of four, could read and recite Latin. He went on to concoct myriad inventions. They included a ventilating top hat; a machine called a Gumption-Reviver, which periodically wet his head to keep him awake during endless study; underwater goggles; and a rotating-vane steam engine. Suffering from periodic nervous breakdowns––"sprained brain," as he called it––he had a compulsion to measure and count virtually everything. He quantified the sensitivity of animal hearing, using a walking stick that could make an inconspicuous whistle; the efficacy of prayer; the average age of death in each profession (lawyers: 66.51; doctors: 67.04); the exact amount of rope needed to break a criminal's neck while avoiding decapitation; and levels of boredom (at meetings of the Royal Geographical Society he would count the rate of fidgets among each member of the audience).
Galton attempted to quantify everything about exploration, from daily dietary needs to the maximum feasible load for a donkey, mule, horse, or camel on different types of terrain.

You may sample his calculations in his book The Art of Travel; Or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries, available as a free download from the inestimable Project Gutenberg.

He also rated women highly as "native bearers" for several reasons, quoting the explorer Samuel Hearne on the matter:
As the [Chipawyan?] chief said . . . "When all the men are heavy laden, they can neither hunt nor travel to any considerable distance; and if they meet with any success in hunting, who is to carry the produce of the labour?" . . . "Women," said he, "were made for labour: one of them can carry or haul as much as two men can do. They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night; and in fact there is no such thing as travelling any considerable distance, or for any length of time, in this country [northern Canada] without their assistance."
"Women," said he again, "though they do everything are maintained at a trifling expense: for, as they always cook, the very licking of their fingers, in scarce times, is sufficient for their subsistence."
That was Galton quoting Hearne, I believe, but the original speaker may have been a man named Matonabbee, who has his own Wikipedia entry. In his own voice, Mr Galton comments further, videlicet:
I believe there are few greater popular errors than the idea we have mainly derived from chivalrous times, that woman is a weakly creature . . . . It always seems to me that a hard-worked woman is better and happier for her work. It is in the nature of women to be fond of carrying weights; you may see them in omnibuses and carriages, always preferring to hold their baskets or their babies on their knees, to setting them down on the seats by their sides.
So, gentlemen, if you go afield backpacking with a member of the female sex, let her carry the tent.

March 13, 2017

Tunnel Vision, Survival, and Who Lives

Your ship sinks, your airplane crashes, you are sliding on your back down an icy slope into a crevasse — will you be the survivor?

I had read bits of Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why but never the whole thing until a couple of weeks ago when I chanced across a used copy.

The first part mixes stories with a quick guide to brain function, especially Our Friend the Amygdala and the wondrous intelligence-reducing effects of the stress hormone cortisol, which makes you stupid.

Or as Gonzales' father, a World War II bomber pilot said, "When you walk across to your airplane, you lose half your IQ," a line echoed by a contemporary Navy pilot who observes that during the stress of a nighttime  carrier landing, "Your IQ rolls back to that of an ape."

It's that stress-induced tunnel vision that comes up again and again. Learning to get past it is the most valuable thing, whether it is through training, through mentally rehearsing scenarios, a little bit of body memory —or maybe the need to focus on other people's needs.

I am not a pilot, but I remember one day when I was still new to our little volunteer fire department. I had to take out the brush truck (small wildland fire engine) for a call. Normally you need two people, minimum, but this was a case where I would be picking up the second person en route to the incident, which is permitted.

I opened the engine bay door, walked around the truck to check for open compartment doors, unplugged the battery trickle charger (I've heard of other people at other departments driving away and yanking out the wires!) and started the engine. I pulled out, thumbed the door-close button on the remote, and called Dispatch to say I was leaving the station.

Then I pulled out onto the highway and could not remember how to turn on the overhead light bar. Traffic was light, I kept going, and when I pulled off to pick up the other firefighter, it hit me: You move that little lever down there. Maybe having someone else with me reduced my stress enough that I could remember. Memory of what to do came flooding back.

In this book's second half, he drops the brain chemistry, instead mixing his stories with Stoic philosophy, the Tao Teh Ching, and some distillation of basic principles for survival.

When you look at Gonzales' twelve-step plan for survivors, you have to realize that it is not all about falling a mountain or lying alone in a life raft. Maybe you need those twelve steps on the day your boss calls you in and says you're laid off. (He has a newer book called Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things that I would like to read too.)

March 11, 2017

What Keeps Me Awake at Night

How to lay sandbags: the right way, the wrong way, and the Army Corps of Engineers way.
The future seems to have two probable paths.

1.  A dry winter thus far here in the foothills (the high mountains have lots of snow) means extremely high fire danger this spring and summer. Despite Nature's and humans' best efforts, we have not yet burned all the trees around here.

2. Some typical spring snows and rains break the winter drought but also create debris flows and flooding coming off last October's 18,400-acre burn scar, much of it coming past my area and down into town. (Not as big as 2013's floods up north, but potentially devastating on a two-county scale.)

My house is well above any potential flood short of the "End of the Ice Age" melt, but if both of two bridges were slammed by floating logs or otherwise knocked out, I would be back in the foot-travel and dog-travois era. 

A team from the Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque district office has been here. They are quite excited about studying the burn scar's flood potential from hydrological and other perspectives, but that is all they can do for us short of a federal disaster declaration, which has not happened yet. (A few body bags would speed up the process, one suggested.)

The flood potential may last for years. That's what they want to study. Yay science!

They did conduct sandbag training today, however. I feel so much better. A neighbor and I laid the first few bags today to protect our shared well house, which sits closer to the creek.

All joking aside, isn't it better to do something and also worry instead of just worrying by itself?

March 10, 2017

Nuts to You, Says Abert's Squirrel

Abert's squirrel in ponderosa pine.
Everyone thinks of squirrels as caching nuts (thus inadvertently planting trees), but not the Abert's squirrel of the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau.

They just eat their favorite tree, ponderosa pine, which happens to be my favorite tree too, although I rarely eat any parts. (The pollen is a tonic, though.) Colorado Parks and Wildlife says, "Abert’s squirrel does not hoard food, but eats whatever part of its host tree, ponderosa pine, is available in season: cones and inner bark of twigs."

Many are a sort of salt-and-pepper grey (like these), but in southern Colorado they are mostly black. I think I have seen one grey one near the house in twenty years.

This degenerate squirrel has abandoned its healthy wild lifestyle
to eat sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.
Its name is one of those 19th-century "Westward the course of empire" relics, for it is named after James William Abert—explorer (Corps of Topographical Engineers), artist, and Civil War staff officer.

James William Abert
As Lieutenant Abert roamed the West in the 1840s, his proud father wrote to John James Audubon, "My son, Lieut. A., has some taste for Natural History. He has just returned from Santa Fe, having been on General Kearney's expedition. . . "

Together with collecting specimens, he also discoursed in the 19th-century manner on color theory for artists interested in natural history.

You can see Lt. Abert's reconstructed room and sketchbook at Bent's Old Fort, where he (and Everyone who was Anyone) stayed c. 1846.

February 26, 2017

A Kid, a Dog (?), and the World's Greatest Cave Art

What he or she saw: lions and prey at Chauvet
Sometime, say 26,000 years ago or more, a kid and a canid (wolf? dog? wolf-dog?) went exploring  underground.
The human prints are of a barefooted child aged eight to ten years old and standing about 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) tall. The child was walking, not running, although at one point it appears that he or she slipped a little in the soft clay. Researchers know that the child carried a torch because there is evidence of him/her stopping at one point to clean the torch, leaving behind a stain of charcoal.

It is amazing to think of a Paleolithic kid exploring this ancient cave, examining the paintings and bear skulls that were placed reverently at the back of the cave. Even more amazing is that accompanying (not stalking) the child’s footprints are the paw prints of a wolf (or possibly a large dog). This timeless image of a child and dog shatters the notion that dogs were only domesticated 15,000 years ago. More importantly, the new time period radically alters the answer to how dogs became man’s best friend.
OTHER NEWS: 

There are more prairie dog towns in Colorado than we thought. But I am still sorry that my sister did not ever follow up on her plan to clandestinely reintroduce them in South Park, from where, she said, they had all been poisoned in the mid-20th century.

• Hunting writer Dave Petersen of Durango interviewed in High Country News.
When I interviewed Western writer David Petersen for a magazine article several years ago, I really only had one question to ask him: Could hunting be morally defended in the 21st century?

At a time when few people seem concerned about that question — either they’re already convinced that hunting is barbaric, or just the opposite, that it’s a right that ought to be exercised with as few restrictions and as easily as possible — Petersen has spent much of his life examining what it means to kill in order to eat.
More about his hunting-ethics documentary here.

New study revises tree-ring dating of archaeological sites.
Currently, archaeologists have to rely on relatively sparse evidence for dating the history of Western civilisation before 763 BCE, with Chinese history also only widely agreed from 841 BCE. For example, they depend on ancient records of rare astronomical phenomena, such as the solar eclipse during the ninth year of Ashur Dan III of Assyria, to determine the age of historical events. In the absence of such records, standard radiocarbon measurements provide the best estimates, but these are still often only accurate to within 200 to 300 calendar years. If the radiocarbon spikes in the tree-ring data were also found in archaeological items attributable to specific historical periods, the information could be used to anchor exactly when events occurred, says the paper.

February 25, 2017

Colorado Forests Are Changing. Part of Me Likes That.

Pine beetle-killed lodgepole pine in Colorado (University of Colorado).
I spent last weekend camping with friends on the White River National Forest in Summit County, Colorado. The mountain pine beetle worked its magic there some years ago, which means there is lots of firewood in the form of dead trees.

As humans, I think we are hardwired for orgies — not talking about sex here, but more in the sense of "Run all the buffalo over a cliff and eat meat until you fall down!" "Dig all the gold!" "Drink all the beer!" Or in our case, "Build big fires!" Really, it makes our little ape-hearts feel good.

Let's take the long view, if we can. Only what we think is a long view is just childhood for a tree.

According to the Colorado State Forest Service, one in fourteen forest trees in the state is dead, for a total of 834 million standing dead trees. (A projection from sample counts, that has to be.)
Infestations of mountain pine beetles and spruce beetles are the main cause of the die-off, [State Forester Mike] Lester said. Beetles are native to the state but have caused far more damage than normal over the past 20 years, attacking more than 7,900 square miles of forest, or more than 20 percent of total forested land.
Standing dead trees made fighting last summer's 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire more difficult, fire  commanders said. Earlier studies about dead trees' effects on fire were more ambiguous, so I wonder if the pendulum will swing.

A big post-fire issue is flooding with associated erosion — I will be writing more about that later this spring.

And then there is Our Friend the Spruce Beetle.
At this point, there’s nothing stopping the spruce beetle. We’re observing it. We’re going to let nature run its course,” said state entomologist Dan West, who helped run aerial surveys with the U.S. Forest Service involving 40 flights over forests.
Some people are saying that the highly visible, highly visited forest along the Front Range will "never look the same."
Limited conifer regeneration following wildfires in dry ponderosa pine forests of the Colorado Front Range, by Fire Ecologist Monica Rother and CU-Boulder Professor of Geography Thomas Veblen, surveyed conifer regeneration at six low-elevation Front Range sites that burned eight to 15 years before. Released in December and published in the journal Ecosphere, it found that "current patterns of post-fire seedling establishment suggest that vegetation composition and structure may differ notably from historic patterns and that lower density stands and even non-forested communities may persist in some areas of these burns long after the fire[.]"
That prospect does not bother me on one level. I find the "start-up phase" of forests to be interesting. The big-game hunting is better too. Now if your house in the woods burned to the ground, you may not feel that way. And if you look at trees just as unharvested timber, you may not agree with me.

(But some of the land that has burned around me was never logged, because it is just too steep and rough. Other areas were logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but then not managed for timber sales after that because of low productivity.)

"Lower-density stands"? Bring 'em on. Along with a predilection for orgies of food, drink, and firewood, I favor those evolutionary psychologist who think that human inherently like a meadow-and-forest (or savannah-and-trees) environment better than dense forest or grassland.

February 04, 2017

Out of Asia, Always Something Old

Float like a snowshoe, glide like a ski

At 145cm, Altai's Hok backcountry ski
is about the same length as my old Army
surplus trail shoes — but they glide, some.

When it comes to outdoor sports, Americans tend to favor gear over technique. We want to ride or ski on what the racers use, or what the pros use. "I know that this $1,200 fly reel machined from unobtainium alloy will make me a better angler!"

I chuckle a little at the converts to tenkara fly-fishing with their newly learnt Japanese vocabulary, because I think it is just the 17th-century English fly-fishing that Izaak Walton would have recognized — but with contemporary high-tech materials.

Yet I appreciate and support the minimalism of tenkara. A rod, a line, a few flies —go do it! It really works.

Getting around in the snow.

I have owned snowshoes since my teens, then got cross-country skis in my twenties (I wish that I had started sooner). 

Both let you move through snowy landscapes (not too steep). Both have long historical pedigrees. We identify snowshoes with North American Indians, but they were also used in Stone Age Europe. They are what you make with stone tools. 

With metal tools, you can cut and shape boards, giving you skis. Archaeologists suggest that skis were invented in Central Asia, but maybe they were invented independently in Scandinavia.

In a century, ski touring bindings went from simple straps that you slip your toe under (why Finns wore boots with turned-up toes) to these (or fancier). Synthetics largely replaced wood.

Ski like a Mongol/Tuvan/Kazakh/Siberian

Even as tenkara gets rid of the reel and the long fly line, a new Asian-inspired approach to ski touring takes a middle road between snowshoing (slow, utilitarian) and Nordic skiing (faster but trickier on steep slopes).

Some skiers are even getting rid of ski poles and returning to a simple stick, like these guys:


Or, more appropriately, like these guys — contemporary skiers in the Altai Mountains.
Contemporary Altai Range skiers. OK, I do see some ski poles there. (Photo: Alta Skis)
Formed in 2011, with offices in the US and Canada, Altai Skis revived the Central Asian style of wide skis with skins permanently attached. Their first model, the Hok (from Tuvan for "ski"), comes in just two adult lengths, 125cm and 145cm (and a 99 cm kids' model). It has metal edges and a permanently installed nylon skin with waxable Ptex tips and tails.

If you're more of a snowshoer at heart, you can buy bindings that fit any winter boot. If you come from an x-c ski background, you can get regular or cable 75mm three-pin bindings or adaptors for other styles, like NNN.

And for forty bucks, they will sell you a Tiak ("stick") if you can't make your own.

The problem with skiing here in the southern Rockies is that good snow and gentle terrain does not happen often enough. To get good snow, you have to move into more rugged forested areas and break trail. Lots of people use snowshoes with ski poles, which seems silly on level ground but helps when you're in powder on a slope.

After decades of flipping between speed (x-c skis) and flotation (snowshoes), I learned about the Altai Skis and bought a pair of 145cm Hoks (They also have a slimmer, faster backcountry model called the Kom,with fishscale waxless bottoms.)

I put three-pin cable bindings on them, because I have the boots, and in a nod to old-school skiing, have been using some old bamboo poles. I always wanted to be the last guy in Colorado with bamboo poles. One day I will cut a pine stick though; skiers with sticks do have an archaic silhouette. The stick is for balance and braking, but does not give the diagonal-stride push of the ski pole.

I took them out for two short test runs along the Sangres and then yesterday for a two-hour trip along the base of the Sawatch Range. My first thought was "Comfortable! I can go right into the trees with these."

The first two trips were more for familiarization and adjusting bindings. Yesterday I alternated between following a marked trail and going into untracked snow, up to knee-deep with some wind crust in places.

The Hoks certain held me up better than my skinny skis as I moved from soft snow to crusted powder to packed powder-and-ice. But unlike with snowshoes, I could get a little bit of a glide. Breaking trail is always work no matter what you use.

I have not yet used the Hoks in fresh deep powder, but an opportunity will come.

• • •

About that headline: The Romans used to say, "Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre" (Out of Africa, always something new.) They in turn got it from the Greeks, but to them it had the connotation of "Out of Africa, always something weird."

Aristotle, (384 to 322 B.C.), referred to the proverb in two of his books, Historia Animalium and Generatione Animalium, to explain the wild mélange of animals in Africa. He wrote that many of the animals unique to Africa were strange hybrids, suggesting that the lack of water forced the animals to meet at watering holes where they mated indiscriminately with one another.

February 02, 2017

When Bears — and Deer and Badgers — Wear Fur Coats

Fawn on furs (Wet Mountain Wildlife).
M. and I swung through Pueblo last week on a typical supply run and picked up some fur coats — one rabbit, one mink.

They are for the bears. Or the fawns. Or whatever other young animals turn up at the wildlife rehabiltation center west of town later this spring.

A program called "Coats for Cubs," run by resale clothing retailer Buffalo Exchange, collects unwanted fur coats for rehabilitation centers nationwide.
To celebrate a new year and a new you, donate fur to Coats for Cubs! From January 2 to April 22 (Earth Day), Buffalo Exchange locations across the country will be collecting real furs in any condition. We then ship them off to wildlife rehabilitators, who use them to create a nurturing environment for injured and orphaned animals. 
Our friends at the center here got a deluge of coats this summer. They have always put stuffed toy animals in with some of their orphans, such as foxes. But the furs were better.
In fact, Sanders was amazed how well the animals took to the furs, noting a bond that was formed between the baby mammals and donated items.

“I just couldn’t believe the response from the animals,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything bond with anything like that before. They really love them.”
After that story ran in the Pueblo Chieftain, a new donor got in touch with the center directly, hence our coat-transport.

So if there is an unwanted fur coat in your house, contact Coats for Cubs, which maintains a list of participating wildlife rehabilitation centers around the country.

January 31, 2017

Valley of Broken Dreams and Broken Owls

Owl tangled in a barbed wire fence.
Not today's owl, but similar.
(Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
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You drive south from Westcliffe and after the shooting range, a subdivision with "Ranch" in its name, and the Silver West Airport with its 7,000 foot runway (handy for private jets), you pass over a hardly perceptible divide into Another Place, the upper Huerfano Valley.

I think of it sometimes as the Valley of Broken Dreams— there were the people who thought that they would make it as ranchers, and mostly did not, and in the 1960s, various artists and countercultural dropouts who thought it was the place to be. It still attracts some hardscrabble retirees. Fine if you want lots of solar power but do not plan to grow gardens.

Drop City, founded by art students from the U. of Kansas, is claimed as the "first rural hippie commune." The Libre community was also well-known. And there were others — read Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture.
All this is running through my mind as I blast south on Colorado 69 towards Gardner, which looks more like northern New Mexico than adjacent bits of Colorado — flat-roofted adobe or pseudo-adobe houses, piñon pine and juniper, no water to speak of.

My purpose is to pick up a great horned owl, found by a resident's daughter the previous day tangled in a barbed wire fence.

PRO TIP: If you find a bird tangled in barbed wire, do not peel the wire away. Take out your fence pliers or bolt cutters and cut the wire on either side, then bring wire and bird together to a raptor center or veterinarian. If you don't have fence pliers, stop at the hardware store and get some!

I found the house—acres of bone-dry pasture and a little house with good passive solar that was in the usual country status — never quite finished. As I walked through the crowded entryway with my gloves and pet carrier, the owner (70-ish, jeans and sweatshirt) asked me if I knew anyone who could help put some all these 4 x 8-foot panels of particle board that she had stacked up.

I wondered if she had come in the days of Drop City or if she had selected this as a retirement homestead more recently. She would have told me —she seemed lonely and talkative — but I just wanted to get some vet care for the owl.

Of course they had peeled off the wire. I asked if the owl had had any food, and she said that she had tried to give it some "baby oatmeal." But then (after a day) she had called the Raptor Center and been told not to do that. I silently agreed. Owls eat mice.

Its head was up, but it did not struggle much as I lifted it from her cardboard carton into my carrier. "They're going to help you feel better," she cooed to the bird.

I am not a vet nor even a trained Raptor Center volunteer. I just try to get the bird loaded with minimal handling and then drive hard for Pueblo, which was about 90 minutes away. Kind of like a 1950s ambulance driver — in the pre-EMT era. But I know that broken wing bones usually mean the final injection. The Center has enough one-winged birds on exhibition already.

Eventually I reached the interstate, accelerated up to 70 mph and hated modern life. Most of the time, we don't even to make space in our world for the other non-human peoples. There were no cattle around that house — why all the barbed wire?

As I think of that, I pass a cluster of bird-bashing wind turbines. And then at Burnt Mill Road a billboard for the Pueblo Zoo with some cute exotic felid kitten on it. I would rather see a healthy owl that belongs here than some exotic cat inside a cage.

At the raptor ICU, I did the paperwork. "Is this the owl from Gardner?" asked the ICU volunteer. "There's another one coming from Fowler."

There are three other great horned owls in the ICU. What is happening to them? This is their breeding season — are they just out and about more and getting into bad situations?

Paperwork done, I say goodby and start home. I have driven 167 miles (64 Spanish leagues or 534 li). The bird probably won't make it, but it was important to answer the call.

UPDATE: The owl did not survive, but I learned a new term, "capture myopathy."


January 30, 2017

Look an Eagle in the Eye, February 3–5

Bald eagles at Pueblo Reservoir (Ron Drummond/CPW)
In our "wildlife taxi" volunteer gig for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, M. and I frequently make runs to the Raptor Center in Pueblo.

Too often, we are facilitating an injured hawk or owl's rendezvous with a hypodermic needle. But sometimes there is good news and we get to release a rehabilitated bird.
At the center of this whirl stands Raptor Center director Diana Miller, and the Colorado Springs Gaztte has an article about her: "Raptor center gives southern Colorado raptors a second chance at survival." 
 The ICU sees roughly 250 birds a year - about half of which are released back into the wild after a few months in captivity, said Diana Miller, director of the center.

"They get hit by cars, they get electrocuted on power lines, they get hung up on barbed wire," Miller said. "There's a million things that can go wrong. It's not an easy life when you're out and about."
Miller and some volunteers will be center-stage again next weekend during Pueblo Eagle Days on the 3rd through 5th.

Stop by the state park headquarters at Pueblo Reservoir and see if you have what it takes to look an eagle in the eye.

January 29, 2017

Colorado Wildife Commission Endorses "19th-Century Science"

Mule deer does in recently burned area — good habitat for them!
M. and I own a cabin in the Wet Mountains, near our home, which functions as a guest house, occasional writing hide-out, and which we also rent to tourists now then.

Recently a woman from Virginia whose family stayed there last summer wrote, "I thought Colorado was better than this."

And by "this" she meant the Wildlife Commission's decision to "capture and kill up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears each year in the Piceance Basin [and in the upper Arkansas River drainage] of northwest Colorado. beginning in the spring of 2017."

 From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Wildlife crews will capture up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears each year using cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs, then shoot them, according to CPW documents. . . .  The plan will cost about $4.5 million, according to CPW. Predator control is one of seven strategies identified in CPW plans to restore the state's mule deer population, which currently sits about 80 percent of wildlife managers' desired population of 560,000.

The first source, NPR, said,  "The state said it would also pay $435,000 per year for a nine-year study of the "effects of mountain lion population density on mule deer populations."

Times nine years, that makes $3.9 million plus change. OK, let's take the lower number. It is equal to selling 10,142 nonresident deer licenses, or 126,290 resident licenses.

Maybe. But is it good science?

"We find it surprising that CPW’s own research clearly indicates that the most likely limiting factors for mule deer are food limitation, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance – not predators,” wrote CSU biologists Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry Noon in a letter to the commissioners.

 "Nineteenth-century scicnce" is what they called the state's proposal.

But the designated "sportmen's representative" on the Wildlife Commission, John Howard, chose to mock the three biologists on his blog, calling them tools of "various groups on the left side of the conservation movement."

And he was upset that they did not cancel class or whatever and come to a commission meeting when it was held in Fort Collins.

The implication seems to be that unless the commenter kneels and kisses Howard's ring, then their comments, whether written, emailed, or telephoned in, can safely be disregarded by the commissioners.

If you want mule deer, create mule deer habitat. It's that simple.
Ironically, big forest fires create mule deer habitat — they like brush better than deep woods — so maybe the commission should hire some arsonists instead of hired guns from USDA Wildlife Services (Motto: "Trapping and poisoning animals is not all that we do.")

In 2014, I got a nice buck on a ridge that burned in  2012, and I had never seen so many deer there as I did that summer and fall.

So Colorado Parks and Wildlife scores a twofer: While dodging the real issue on mule deer populations, they have given the state a black eye noticeable all the way across the country.

UPDATE: Now there is a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians.
The lawsuit contends mule deer numbers in Colorado are rising at a pace that by 2020 could result in the population reaching CPW’s goal of 501,000 to 557,000 deer. It also says the agency’s population goals fail to account for loss or degradation of historical habitat due to development.

January 26, 2017

Trout 1, High Art 0: The Arkansas River Will Remain Undraped

Christo and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, in 2009
with a sketch of how "Over the River" would look (Keystone/Dominic Favre).
Zee artiste Christo has canceled his plan to drape miles of the Arkansas River in plastic sheets. 

He blamed Donald Trump of course, but locals who have fought the project since 1992 want some of the credit for his decision.
The controversial project that was first conceived in 1992 by Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, has been mired in legal battles as opponents feared the environmental impacts of the 14-day installation above the river between Salida and Cañon City that would take 2½ years to build.
Opponents' bumper sticks are often seen.
The Arkansas River is heavily used for whitewater kayaking and rafting, and many boaters (but not all) were not happy about the project.

The Denver Post quotes one opponent:
Colorado river activist Gary Wockner was equally excited, although more snarky. “This may be the first good thing Trump has done for Colorado’s environment,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The New York Times called the Colorado opposition the world's largest art protest, quoting Christo as blaming President Trump for his decision. In other words, from their point of view, it is not about Coloradans protesting Christo's decision to hang plastic over the river, it is about his protest of Trump's election.

Maybe that is just an excuse, and local opponents ran out the clock. In a Wednesday announcement, it was reported elsewhere, Christo did not mention President Trump but said, "After pursuing Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, for 20 years and going through 5 years of legal arguments, I no longer wish to wait on the outcome."

January 21, 2017

When Liberals Turn Preppers

A new meme has been going around news media lately, the "liberal prepper."
The signs of change are surely in the air. Groups that cater to gun-toting bleeding hearts — such as the aptly named Liberal Gun Club — say they’ve seen a surge in paid membership since the election. Candid talk of disaster preparedness among progressives is showing up on social media. Even companies that outfit luxury “safe rooms” — which protect their wealthy owners from bombs, bullets, and chemical attacks — attribute recent boosts in business to the incoming administration.
Terrified by the so-called "Trumpapocalypse," this (presumably) Hillary voter is stocking up on guns and canned food — example: Colin Waugh of Independence, Mo., an "unapologetic liberal . . . no fan of firearms."

Read the article, watch Colin Waugh make a string of newbie mistakes, but don't be too judgmental.

And remember, we don't say "survivalist" any more; we say "prepper." 

For instance,  Waugh has been "browsing real estate listings in Gunnison County, Colorado, which he’s determined to be a 'liberal safe-haven.'"

Does he know that the average low temperature this month in Gunnison is -6° F. (-21° C)?  Does he know how short the growing season is? Or how expensive the college town/resort-area real estate is?

In the event the "Trumpapocalypse" occurs, does he plan to drive 750 miles across lawless prairies to his Secret Mountain Hideout?

He would be a lot better off staying in Missouri. I recommend Moniteau County. It's close by, has no large cities, and land is much more affordable.

To protect himself against "state-sanctioned roundups of Muslims, gays, and outspoken critics," Waugh has purchased two guns, a 9mm pistol and an unspecified shotgun.  I hope that he gets some serious instruction and practice with them. Start with the assumption that everything you see in movies and TV about guns is wrong. (People do not fly through the air when shot, for one thing.)

But here's the thing. Planning for disaster is a good thing. Sure, there is plenty of apocalypse porn out there, even "Trumpapocalypse"-porn, but you don't have to wallow it it.

Taking care of yourself and yours is a good plan. Government cannot do it — at least when disaster first strikes. Even with good resources and planning, it takes at least 48 hours for the wheels to turn, and that is a best-case scenario. 

(As a member of my county's emergency services board, I have seen plenty of planning and discussion, not to mind that I have been evacuated from my home four times in the last eleven years.)

As blogger Liz Shield writes, "Are we sure this guy isn't one of us? . . . . Welcome to the world of 'taking care of yourself and your family.'"

Anyone who is serious about self-defense, about food, and about general preparedness — "keeping your wits about you," etc. — is going to be a more effective citizen and less of a drain on public resources.

Unfortunately, bullets will not stop a Missouri ice storm.

January 18, 2017

Eat Peppers, Live Longer? Also Prehistoric Cattle and Stuff.

Portuguese Maronsa, part of the gene stock (CNN).
Some people found these boots' tracks to be offensive. The designer has been sent to a social-justice re-education camp. Or would have been, but is probably in China, where they just move on to the next knock-off and counterfeit.

¶ If I can't have mammoths in Arizona (They used to live there), I will accept aurochs in Eastern Europe. I have seen some negative comment on the Tauros Programme though, although this CNN story claims,
The animals get closer with each generation, and the team have the advantage of being able to test the offspring's DNA against the complete genome of an auroch, which was successfully sequenced at University College Dublin.
¶ "Eat Peppers, Live Longer?" Well, yes, sort of, says the New York Times. Duh.

¶ In firewood, fat is good.

January 11, 2017

How Birds Survive the Winter



Happy to see some my favorite winter birds here, like pine siskins and evening grosbeaks.

January 10, 2017

No Farms at Chaco Canyon, Off-Road Vehicles, Lynx Surprise

A "great kiva," restored but roofless, at Chaco Canyon
¶ All boats, snowmobiles, and ATV's in Colorado have to be state-registered. Proof of ownership is required, but the state is fairly flexible about documentation.

¶ Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico is the site of a collection of ancient "great houses," multi-room dwellings. They were not built simultaneously, and it is unclear how many people actually lived there. And apparently they did not grow their own food, so apparently it was backpacked in by the Anasazi equivalent of serfs.  Or maybe they were willing pilgrims.

¶ With typical feline nonchalance, a lynx surprises skiers at the Purgatory ski area in southwestern Colorado. 

UPDATE, Jauary 10, 2017: A sad ending to the lynx story.