September 25, 2022

Trail Rebuilding in the Wet Mountains

Ahead, the sawyer searches for the lost trail while others clear saplings and logs.

I spent Saturday with a volunteer trail crew rebuilding a trail in the Wet Mountains, a process that we began last summer.

Post-wildifre erosion, followed by a lush growth of grass and aspen, and erased the trail in places. Jeff Outhier, the San Isabel National Forest's "master of trails," marked a new route where the old one been washed out by the normally tiny creek.

When I hiked there before the fire in 2016, I mentally subdivided it into three sections: The Ravine, The Wall, and The Summit Aspen Groves.

Last summer's work was mostly in The Ravine and partway up The Wall. 

The Wet Mountains lack craggy, snowy summits, being mostly below timberline, but they excell in steepness. Somebody with a GPS measured a 2300-foot gain in altitude in about a mile and a half (?).

Summit ridges tend to be gentler and fine for just strolling, once you are up there. 

Here, the summit ridge had offered big aspen groves, probably created by a long-ago forest fire that took out the white fir, douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. 

Loppers for small aspens and conifers. The aspens, being clones, will come back eventually, Job security!

The groves, in turn, burned again six years ago, and now show dead standing dead trunks (until the wind blows them all down) and an understory of saplings that make foot travel difficult. Sometimes I think I can find the old trail most easily by shuffling my feet around in the leaf litter.

And then, mid-afternoon, we call it a day, and it's down down down, an hour's walk (with a break). Maybe by this time next year we will have the whole trail rebuilt. 

About those shirts: I could not decide if I felt like an early-seaon deer hunter or a county jail inmate on work-release.

September 18, 2022

Marco Gets a Poem at the Taos Farmers Market


The Saturday farmers market in Taos, New Mexico, is a rarity: sellers of food outnumber the sellers of homemade soap, crocheted potholders, and other non-edible items. Especially now, when local tomatoes, corn, pears, etc. are flooding in. 

I bought some pears that were small, with brown patches, not pretty enough for a supermarket display—but wow, the fresh pear flavor! 

And you can buy poetry. There are often one or two poets for hire who sit with portable typewriters, ready to produce a poem for any prompt—which is a great way to develop your poetic virtuosity.

 I ordered a poem a few years ago about a long-gone downstairs bar on the plaza after I overheard two guys talking about it. I had my first legal (American) drink down there when I turned 21, while working here. (This is not counting a certain Third World country where I think I had my first drink in a bar at 16.)

Today it was for Marco, the new Chesapeake Bay retriever. I introduced him to itinerant poet Marshall James Kavanaugh, who started tapping the keys. It's one draft only, no capital letteers but one, no revision, don't keep the buyer waiting too long!

a big day
for a big fella
finding the small world of home
extends into a community at large
a place for harvests to grow
for friends to be had
every tail wag of golden splendor
ricochets with raucus energy
such sweet tastes
and alluring smells

to be Marco at the market
is to be a gentle discoverer
sailing ancient seas
tapping the toes to paths leading
in every direction

like a dream, there are things
to chase that give themselves
up to our impressions

a companion that grows
like this scene of abundance
he is the explorer
that gives curiousity its name.

Your dog deserves a poem too.

September 17, 2022

"Right to Wade" Advances in New Mexico and Colorado

Fly-fishing in Colorado (Colorado Parks & Wildife photo)

I am writing this from northern New Mexico, where there are some trout streams — and the usual controveries over landowners blocking access.

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an important decision:

The court’s long-awaited opinion further clarifies its March 1 oral decision, which overturned a State Game Commission rule that allowed private landowners to exclude the public from streams flowing through their property. This unanimous decision, as many anglers interpreted it, effectively re-established the public’s constitutional right to wade and fish in these streams.
The court explained that the public’s right to fish and recreate in New Mexico streams has always superseded a private landowner’s right to exclude the public from privately owned streambeds. The justices stressed that as long as the public does not trespass on privately owned lands to access public water, they have every right to walk on and float over these streambeds in order to fish.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has noticed the access war on Colorado rivers, with a case sparked by angler Roger Hill, 81, who enjoys fishing the Arkansas but has encountered viscious opposition by riverside landowners.

The exploding popularity of the outdoors, fueled in part by the limits of the pandemic, has brought a new term to what has long been an etiquette-obsessed sport: combat fishing.

“I tried to take my son fishing last spring,” said Flora Jewell-Stern of Denver, a member of the first all-female team to win the state’s prestigious Superfly tournament. “There was nowhere to park for three miles. And it was a Wednesday.”

For advocates of public access, an upside to the conflict has been the formation of an increasingly assertive alliance of rafters, hunters, kayakers and other river users. Many see themselves as defending more than just pastimes.

Colorado does not have a definitive high-court opinion, but one will be coming. At issue, whether a river or stream is "navigable," which means accessible.

“We’re a total outlier,” said Mark Squillace, an environmental law professor at the University of Colorado who is representing Mr. Hill. “Standing in the bed of the river is something the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly guaranteed, and the idea that Colorado would try to deny those rights, which are enjoyed by the citizens of every other state, is pretty shocking.”

Mr. Hill would like the state to clarify its position in the face of his historical evidence, which mainly consists of newspaper clippings from the 1870s demonstrating that the Arkansas was at the time flooded with timber used for railroad construction.

“There’s no doubt it’s navigable,” he said.

The attorney general has argued that Mr. Hill lacks standing; the State Supreme Court is reviewing the case, potentially paving the way for a trial this fall.

August 31, 2022

Mushrooms, Fake Art, Food Trucks, and Controversy at the Colorado State Fair

The last bolete of August? Where is the Jägermeister to summon the hunting horns to blow the "last call"?

We are having what southern Colorado calls "State Fair weather," in other words, hot and dry after a pretty good July-August "monsoon."  Most of my county is now officially out of drought, although my home is on the line between that and "abnorally dry."  The mushroom-hunting ground was a bit dry and not so productive two days ago, so that may be the end of the season, pending some other changes.

Meanwhile, down in Pueblo its time for the Colorado State Fair. No, I have not been yet this year, but there is more weirdness in the news rather than the usual inflated attendance figures.

The Denver Post sent one Conrad Swanson to cover it, who expressed his feelings about the assignment on Twitter with the comment above: "It's no Iowa State Fair but it will have to do." 

Someone responded to the effect that, "Yeah but our butter is infused." 

Meanwhile, Governor Jared Polis himself ventured out of the Denverplex for a ribbon-cutting at a new Interstate 25 interchange near Trinidad.

This is a Good Thing (well, getting Polis out and around the state is probably a good thing too) because it is supposed to aid vistors to the new, big, wild Fisher's Peak State Park. I want to go see it too! (I have a parks pass.)  

Gov. Polis also went to the fair and presented an award to the winning food truck, out of nine contestants. Theme: Your Take on Fair Food.

Charles McKay of the Hungry Buffaltofood truck.
Meanwhile, about fifteen trucks parked at a church across from the fair. These insurrectionist food truck operators were not considered for the award because they were outside the sacred precinct.

[Pastor Tim] Miessler asked the Food Truck Union to staff the portion of the parking lot the church owns during the fair “to offer a more affordable choice and healthy, fresh foods."

Yes, there is a financial angle too, a dispute between the church and the state fair. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence tricked the art judges

The winnah! (Discord screengrab via Vice.com)
This has already gone national.  Apparently judges at the fair's art show gave a first place to a painting created by articial intelligence at a website.

“I won first place,” a user going by Sincarnate said in a Discord post above photos of the AI-generated canvases hanging at the fair. . . .

The image, which Allen printed on canvas for submission, is gorgeous. It depicts a strange scene that looks like it could be from a space opera, and it looks like a masterfully done painting. Classical figures in a Baroque hall stair through a circular viewport into a sun-drenched and radiant landscape.

But Allen did not paint “Théâtre D'opéra Spatial,” AI software called Midjourney did. It used his prompts, but Allen did not wield a digital brush. This distinction has caused controversy on Twitter where working artists and enthusiasts accused Allen of hastening the death of creative jobs.

 I expect that we will hear more about the art award.

August 27, 2022

Where Is the Mountain Lion in This Photo?

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service
 

The elk triggered a scout camera at Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. But someone else was watching. Can you see the mountain lion? 

It helps to enlarge the photo.

A Parks Pass for You! And a Parks Pass for You! Parks Passes for Everybody!

Annual Colorado state parks pass on a windshield.
These passes cannot be switched between vehicles.
 
The Denver Post had the story last June, but I don't think that it has sunk in yet:

Colorado residents who register a non-commercial vehicle will automatically pay for and receive a pass that allows entry to state parks under a bill Gov. Jared Polis signed Monday [June 20, 2022] that would take effect in 2023.

In the meantime, the state will set the fee, which to start won’t be more than $40, for the Keep Colorado Wild annual pass and work out other details of the program. Residents who don’t want to pay for the pass may opt out.

Affected vehicles incude passenger motor vehicles, trucks with an empty weight of16,000 pounds or less, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles.

Right now, the annual "affixed" pass as pictured is $80/year. Residents 64 years or older pay $70. There is also a "low income" pass.

Additional annual passes are $40/year per vehicle. For the same price, $120, you can buy a "family" pass that can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle if they are "associated" with the same household address.  

But maybe you should not buy one now. Keep reading.

A little-known fact is that many public libraries can "check out" a state park entry pass for a week.

But wait, there's more!

After first saying that a hunting or fishing license would be required to access state wildlife areas, which became more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, CPW did a 180 and created access passes for most of these state-managed lands (some are owned outright; other are leased): One-day pass $9, annual pass $36.08 (plus habitat stamp) youth/senior/low-income annual pass $10.23. Online purchase here.

Now, big changes!

Ta-da! The Keep Colorado Wild Pass. One pass to rule them . . . or least replace the annual state parks pass — not the wildlife area pass. That stays as above.

"The $29 pass fee is included in the vehicle registration pricing total for each vehicle a resident owns unless they choose to decline."

In other words, you will be charged for the pass unless you decline it. So if you never take your restored 1964 Chevy Impala into a state park, you have to opt-out, otherwise you will be charged.

On the other hand, it is cheaper than the current annual pass.

[Otero County Clerk Lyyn] Scott says the renewal card you receive in the mail will have the extra fee on the card, if you do not want it you must subtract the $29 fee from the total you send in. The easier way, of course, is to just go to the clerk and recorder's office and opt out.

Other sources says that you can opt out if you renew your vehicle registration online. I wonder how many people who do it that way will even notice the extra charge.

In five years, "visitation at Colorado state parks has increased from about 14 million to 17 million visitor days per year."

The Keep Colorado Wlidfe Pass, says CPW,  means millions for "wildlife habitats, search and rescue programs, avalanche awareness education, outdoor equity learning programs and more."

 It should at least double the always-stressed state parks budget. It's also just a little bit sneaky.

August 20, 2022

This Bear Was Here

Next time, please face the camera
Beside the photo from the 18th, I had been seeing other signs of a hungy bear in the neighborhood: another dumped garbage can (not photographed) and a couple of big fresh bear turds with green apple skins in them. 

So maybe this individual, who ambled past a camera set about a quarter-mile from my house, is the one? Good luck finding those daily 20,000 calories, Bear!

August 19, 2022

The Eternal Verities of Tarantulas


Yesterday at the grocery store in Pueblo, the conversation was about tarantulas — one of the employees explaining how he tries to usher the huge spiders out of the house before his wife sees and kills them.

It's that season:

Every year, 10,000s of male tarantulas start marching around the southern part of Colorado, typically from late August through October as summer nighttime temperatures cool.
The eternal verities: we Homo saps might all vanish, but giant hairy spiders will still march across the land.

Generally, the first tarantulas to appear will show up in southeastern Colorado around the end of August, roaming throughout the month of September. A second, southwestern wave will appear a bit later in the year, with their presence peaking in October. These fuzzy fist-sized arachnids creep around on a quest to find a mate and after mating, they'll die — typically at the hands of their mate or due to cold weather.

They really should be the mascot for Colorado State University-Pueblo, not the made up-by-a-committee "thunderwolf":

Lira is a student ambassador at CSU-Pueblo, and she often leads campus tours for prospective students and their parents. During these outings, Lira touts the tarantula as a captivating aspect of the campus that sits on a bluff above the Arkansas River several miles from downtown Pueblo. It’s not uncommon to see a tarantula skirting an open expanse as summer cedes to fall. But don’t worry, Lira assures visitors, sightings are intermittent, and the spiders are not harmful to people.

“It’s one of my engagement points when I talk to students because it’s one of the unique things they might experience here,” said Lira, a junior on a pre-veterinary track. “Not having a city impede on you allows you to see the wildlife around us, and tarantulas are part of what you might see. It’s cool being on the outside of the city because you get to experience the prairie. It’s an opportunity for discovery.”

Let the rhythms of nature sooth you.

August 18, 2022

A Bear Was Here


Put your garbage out the night before pickup, and a bear will find it.

Some years back, a Colorado Division of Wildlife (as it was then called) public relations job opened up in Montrose, and I seriously considered applying for it. M. was not keen on the moving there though — later she changed her mind about Montrose County — but I had already moved on.

I had done institutional public relations before — in higher ed — so I did not have too many illusions about my role in a bureacracy. And yet that was a reason for my ambivalence — I have always done best in jobs with a fair amount of autonomy, and that probably was not one of those jobs.

The other thing about institutional p.r. is that you put out the same news releases at the same time every year — and that has to be done, I understand. Like every year about now you have to tell people that bears are trying to bulk up before hibernation and so will be aggressively checking out food sources, "legitimate" or not.

Bear doing what they do (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Here is this year's CPW news release: "As fall approaches hyperphagia begins, bear activity increases in preparation for winter."

 Black bears in Colorado are entering hyperphagia and will spend up to 20 hours a day trying to eat more than 20,000 calories to fatten up for winter. As bears start to prepare for hibernation and hunt for food, Coloradans may see more bear activity in urban areas.

I am not sure I could visualize 20,000 calories. 

This year, at least along my creek, there are almost no acorns ("mast") on the Gambel (scrub) oaks. An unexpected snowstorm last May 22 hit the oaks when they were flowering, and many never set fruit. Lots of leaves, but no acorns.

Those acorns are a high-calorie food for bears, deer, turkeys, and other animals. So I don't know what they will do. Pulling potato chip packaging out of the garbage won't make up for no acorns.

Serious money is spent on bear-human relations. Here is one example:


Bear Smart Durango - Greater Durango Human-Bear Challenge: $206,539 awarded

Partners Bear Smart Durango and the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado applied for funding on behalf of the Bear Working Group with a partner match and in-kind contribution of $297,135 for a total estimated project cost of $503,932. Their project is aimed at infrastructure and personnel. The infrastructure side will provide all-metal bear-resistant trash containers, food storage lockers, and conflict mitigation materials. The personnel aspect will create a Bear Enforcement Officer and a Fruit Gleaning Coordinator. The grant will cover the first two years for the Bear Enforcement Officer, with La Plata County and other partners assuming expenses by year three. The Fruit Gleaning Coordinator will expand the capacity of this existing position to develop and implement an on-demand, bear mitigation gleaning strategy
Fruit-gleaning? I will admit that I went out today and picked all the apples off this little Haralson apple tree that is just starting to bear. It is surrounded by hog wire to keep the deer from browsing it, but a bear would plow right through that.

It produces tart little green apples. Sometimes I harvest some, but it would not bother me if an athletic bear went after them.

 How many apples make 20,000 calories?

August 12, 2022

Western and Colorado Drought Maps, August 9, 2022

 We remain "abnormally dry," despite all the rain. Dry soils, low reservoirs.



August 11, 2022

What the Mushroom Monsoon Looks Like

A quick shot from the Junkins Burn of 2016 in Colorado's Wet Mountains  — looking roughly west, so the haze is a cold front (relatively speaking "cold") rolling in from the north.

The summer "monsoon" lost its quotation marks in the 1990s or 2000s and is now full-fledged cultural appropriation — English language for the win! 

So July and early August have been fairly wet by southern Colorado standards. Our standards are these: 

1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain in a day: "Ma! Ma! The crops are saved!"

2 inches of rain in a day: "Oh no! Flash floods! The road will wash out — but we need the moisture."

Shaggy parasol, Lepiota rachodes.

On the plus side, mushrooms. Like everyone else who hunts them, M. and I are making forays, and while we have had no bonanza days, we never have come home empty-handed.

Tuesday was such a day: we drove 45 minutes, hiked to a new ridge top, Marco the dog ran happily,  and then when we came home, there they were! Mushrooms just yards from the house. 

Shaggy parasols with caps the size of softballs hiding in the scrub oak —  I left the biggest ones to spread their spores. 

I think this one is Suillus granulatus.

The Suillus that we see only in wet Augusts  — often called slippery jacks, a name applied to several species.

I think of them as the dollar-store version of king boletes: not as big, not quite as tasty, but OK to eat as long as you them before the worms appear.

July 24, 2022

Which Colorado County Is "Most Rural"?

Hinsdale Co. Courthouse, Lake City, Colo. (Hinsale County)

This particular set of numbers is based on permanent population density, so a couple of tourist-heavy counties such as Pitkin County (Aspen) and Eagle County (Vail and its suburbs) make the list, along with places you would expect, such as Jackson and Cheyenne counties.

"The Most-Rural Counties in Colorado"

The winner, Hinsdale County, also has mostly summer residents, but its year-around population is the lowest.

I live in one of these counties, and our sheriff says the population triples in the summer. That probably is typical.

Now is it just me, or is the language changing? 

I keep hearing people say county names without the suffix "County" on them. Like, "I used to live in El Paso, but then I moved to Fremont." Or "I'm going to be up in Chaffee all day tomorrow."

Anyone else hearing this?

July 23, 2022

CPW Fishing App Discontinued & I Wonder Which Others to Keep


You maybe did not notice, but last April, Colorado Parks & Wildlife shut down its CPW Fishing app. 

It's still the Apple app store (Android too, I assume), but a CPW spokesman said,

The app is no longer being updated or supported. As we close it down, those who have downloaded the app may still be able to use several functions, but we consider it closed as we are no longer updating the app and that may cause App and Play stores to remove them without notice. We are building a new website with this type of functionality included moving forward.

Users are instead directed to the online Colorado Fishing Atlas,  "an interactive mapping tool offered by CPW that allows users to search for fishing opportunities by species or proximity to your home or destination" and to the division's printed guides.

Here are some outdoor apps that I am keeping and others that I am deleting to free up space.

CPW's  Match A Hatch Colorado app is still available on Google Play, but I don't know what happened with Apple. It works for me because it does not require a data connection. It just serves up photos of what insects should be on the water this month and suggests some matching fly patterns. Keep.

CO Woody Plants (Colorado State University) is straightforward, but it has to download photos. Are you out in the boonies? Carry a printed field guide. I like Derig and Fuller's Wild Berries of the West. Delete.

The myColorado app (State of Colorado) is supposed to hold your driver's license, Colorado Parks and Wildlife licenses, car registrations, etc. Well, the first one works. The driver's license is up to date, but the app still displays my 2019 fishing license with EXPIRED across it. Gee, thanks. Better keep the paper license in my wallet. (But I did drive off without my wallet last Thursday, so I could have needed that digital driver's license, hypothetically.) Keep.

Merlin Bird ID (Cornell University) needs 1.14 GB of iPhone storage, but I hardly use it. It seemed like a good idea, especially when traveling. But sometimes when I test it against known birds, it is not even close. When you do have a good connection and screen space, Cornell's All About Birds website is really useful. Otherwise, a field guide that shows ranges, so you are not trying to identify a Florida bird in Arizona. Sibley Birds West is a good one. Delete.

Explore USFS (US Forest Service)—another example of "just because you can put it on a smartphone does not mean that a smartphone works best." It works better in a web browser on your computer. The app take up "only" 766 MB, but every "tour" of a national forest requires an additional download. Delete.


Colorado Trails Explorer, otherwise CoTrex. "COTREX puts information about all of Colorado’s trails in your hands, thanks to a collaborative effort by land managers at every level." Well, not really, but it has gotten better since its first version.

When CoTrex first launched (rushed out), it was basically a hiking aid for state parks with good cellular data service — Cheyenne Mountain State Park next to Colorado Springs, for instance, although it might have a few dead spots.

There have been improvements since. You can use the website to pick a trail (foot? bicycle? ATV? dogs allowed?), get some information about it,  and download the smartphone app for iPhone or Android. 

You can get driving directions to the trailhead using Google Maps, which means there are some  . . . oddities. One southern Colorado trailhead is labeled "Florence Re-2," which is a school district in a different county. Why? (Letting users add info leads to mis-info. There is plenty of wrong labeling on Google Maps —nonexistent places and so on.)

Users can create profiles, leave trip reports, all the usual stuff. There is a brief tutorial. 

On the other hand, smartphone users will have the usual problems with small-screen navigation, and I have seen some errors in the driving directions, like using the wrong name for a road. It all comes down to whether the state agencies will commit to long-term maintenance.  Keeping, for now.

If you value any outdoor apps in particular, let us know in the comments!

July 10, 2022

Some Wednesday Wildflowers in the Wets

Spurred by Facebook reports of increasing mushroom finds, M. and I went for a walk last Wednesday. Although the higher Wet Mountains were not as dry as we feared, we found no fungi but saw lots of wildflowers.

News meadows created by the Adobe Peak Fire of 2018.

At the upper end of one of my favorite old meadows.

Fringed gentian was plentiful too.


July 08, 2022

Colorado Drought Map July 5, 2022


Right now I call this good news, getting upgraded to "abnormally dry." And there was more good rain the evening of the 6th as well.