November 15, 2018

The Mountain Lion Who Hated Everyone (with Reason)

"When I am bigger, I will eat you." Mountain lion (cougar) kitten reclines on a donated
fur coat at Wet Mountain Wildlife rehabilitation center.
Yesterday's wildlife-transport gig has already been turned into a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release. I will just cut and paste parts of the release here and add some commentary.
WALSENBURG, Colo. – After removing a mountain lion kitten from a private home, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reminding the public it is illegal to possess wild animals and dangerous to the animals’ health.

Although sick from being fed bratwurst, the kitten appeared to be in good health otherwise, said Travis Sauder, CPW district wildlife manager, after he retrieved the kitten and sent it to the nonprofit Wet Mountain Woldlife Rehabilitation.
The "sent it," that's us. Our job is to save him about an hour and a half of driving time so that he can return to his other duties — and so that he no longer had to share his pickup truck with the smell.
But the incident could have turned out much differently since the kitten, estimated by wildlife biologists to be under six months of age, was fed human food when it probably was not yet weaned from its mother’s milk and may have only eaten regurgitated solids from its mother.

"If you find wildlife you believe to be orphaned, leave the area immediately and call CPW,” Sauder said. “By leaving the area, mom will feel safe to come back and retrieve her young.

“Many animals intentionally leave their young behind when startled, relying on the built-in camouflage of the youngsters’ spotted fur to keep them safe. The mother will then return to retrieve its young once the area is safe.”

The people in possession of the kitten published photos Monday on social media showing it in a cage. They claimed they found it in a snowbank after a snowplow passed by. They also claimed they released it back to the wild after allowing it to “thaw out.” In fact, Sauder collected the kitten from their home in Walsenburg on Tuesday.
Newly arrived at its enclosure,
the kitten peers from its vomit-flecked carrier.

The people who had grabbed up the kitten somewhere near La Veta gave it bratwurst, which it violently vomited.

What Sauder handed us was a pet carrier flecked with vomitus, containing a very unhappy little mountain lion (slightly larger than a typical house cat) who looked like something found in a gutter.

Periodically it let loose with a ROWWARRR! that sounded just like a big lion, only more treble. Who could blame it?  It had been kidnapped, fed indigestible food, confined by people, and it was filthy. Like all cats, it hates to be filthy.
Sauder said this kitten was kept far too long by humans to return to where it was found.

“It had been almost 30 hours since it was picked up Monday and its mom would not be in the area any longer,” he said. “This is why it's vital to leave baby wildlife where you find them and call us immediately."
As of today, when the photo at the top was taken, the kitten had eaten some elk meat (Dream big, little lion!), groomed itself, and settled in on an old fur coat for a bed. The rehabbers collect such coats, believing that animals, particularly predators, are more comfortable sleeping on fur.

Right now it is an enclosure used for small cats, which as multiple platform levels and a tree trunk to climb, but the plan is to move it to a larger one, since it will have to stay all winter. Some of the deer who hang around the rehabilitation center — former orphan fawns, for the most part — peered in at it. I wonder when it will realize that they are its prey.

November 08, 2018

A "Wolfy" Aspen Tree

"Wolfy" aspen tree, Wet Mountains, Colorado
A "wolf tree" has nothing to do with Canis lupus. It is a tree that has grown larger and broader than normal for its kind.

A New England definition:
These trees are large individuals that have a large diameter trunk and a widely spreading crown. There is also a good chance that a wolf tree will have some or even extensive damage. This may be a large limb that has broken away from one side of the tree or the top being blown out, usually from a lightning strike.

Wolf trees are the result of having grown in an open area. In many cases these trees were once in or at the edge of an open field. Wolf trees were initially left when forest was cleared to create a pasture or they got their start in an existing pasture and somehow managed to remain despite their cleared surroundings. Since a wolf tree once grew free of competition with other trees they were able to grow wide, broad crowns.
A Michigan definition:
If you have ever seen a tree in the forest that seems out of place because it is much larger than the trees surrounding it, you may have seen a wolf tree. A wolf tree is defined as a tall forest tree with large girth and great, spreading branches. Wolf trees are usually surrounded by smaller trees, signifying that the tree was once the only tree in the area and that the smaller trees have grown up years after the wolf tree was established. 
The Rocky Mountain definition that I learned as a kid was closer to the first — a tree, typically a conifer, that grew alone, broad and bushy because it did not have to grow up and up in search of sunlight.

Dad, a forester, scorned them because they did not produce as many board feet of useful timber as they would have when growing in a denser stand.

On the other hand, once retired, he turned landscape painter and depicted a few wolf trees.

Range conservationists also will use the term: "The grass in that pasture is old and wolfy. It needs to be burned."

November 03, 2018

Red-Jacketed Rangers Give Up Their Lee-Enfields; Somber Danes Keep Theirs


A Canadian Ranger shoots his Lee-Enfield rifle in .303 British.
I like shooting old wooden-stocked bolt-action military rifles, so I was a little sad to learn recently that the Canadian Rangers were giving up their Lee-Enfield rifles, based on the model adopted by the British army in 1895.

The Canadian Rangers are military reservists who establish a government presence in the Far North ("sovereignty patrols"), perform search and rescue, and so on. Why the bolt-action rifles? Mainly for hunting and for aggressive bears. As reported by the National Post, the Lee-Enfield worked well for decades:

Canadian Rangers with Lee-Enfield rifles
at a shooting match in Ottawa (National Post).
Since 1947 the Lee-Enfield has remained the main service weapon of the Canadian Rangers, a part-time force mainly devoted to Arctic patrols. [In August 2018]  the Canadian Rangers began replacement of their Lee-Enfields with the specially commissioned Colt Canada C19.
Unlike many other antique items in the Canadian military, the Lee-Enfield didn’t hang on for so long out of apathy or tight budgets. Rather, it’s because it’s still one of the best guns to carry above the tree line. . . . .

The Lee-Enfield is on
the Rangers' insignia.
Its wood stock makes it uniquely resistant to cracking or splitting in extreme cold. The rifle is also bolt-action, meaning that every shot must be manually pushed into place by the shooter. This makes for slower firing, but it also leaves the Lee-Enfield with as few moving parts as possible.

“The more complicated a rifle gets … the more prone you are to problems with parts breaking or jamming in a harsh environment,” said Eric Fernberg, an arms collection specialist at the Canadian War Museum.

“It might seem old-fashioned … (but) the retention of the Lee-Enfield by the Canadian Rangers was a wise choice for their role and environment.”
The Rangers' new C19 in .308 Winchester.
The new rifle, still bolt-action, is lighter and more accurate, says the government.

Canadian Rangers march with their Lee-Enfield rifles.
As the photos show, the Rangers are mostly Indians and Inuit people.
The Canadian Rangers provide a limited military presence in Canada's remote areas and receive 12 days or so per year of formal training (often more days of training are offered but attendance is not mandatory), albeit they are considered to be somewhat always on duty, observing and reporting as part of their daily lives. Canadian Rangers are paid when formally on duty according to the rank they hold within their patrol and when present on operations or during training events. They are paid in accordance with the standard rates of pay for Class-A (part-time) or Class-B (full-time) Reserve forces, except when they are called out for search and rescue missions or domestic operations (such as fighting floods and wildfires), when they are paid as Class-C Reserves and receive the full Regular Force pay and benefits ("Canadian Rangers," Wikipedia.)
When I was introduced to mountaineering as a teenager, I received two conflicting pieces of advice about colored outerwear.

One was to wear bright colors because they cheered you up, particularly if the sky was grey and the wind was blowing. I took that counsel to heart during my five years in western Oregon, where my burnt-orange cotton anorak was my go-to jacket. I had a bright red down-filled jacket too, but it was better back in Colorado, out of the Northwestern drizzle.

The opposite advice came from famed mountaineer Paul Pedzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School. I never met him, but I read somewhere that he told his students to wear subdued colors above timberline as a courtesy to other mountaineers. Let other climbers sit on a summit and enjoy the view without having to look at dots of orange, bright blue, or red on the next ridge over — that was the gist of it.

While the Canadian Rangers have their new rifle, another elite group of Arctic patrollers, the Sirius Dog Sled  Patrol, part of the Danish navy, is sticking with a related Enfield — in their case, the Model 1917 American Enfield, as carried by many "doughboys" in World War One.

And while the Rangers favor their British red, the Danes seem to be in Pedtzoldt's somber-colors camp.

You can see them in this recruiting video (in Danish with English subtitles):


November 02, 2018

Looks Like Less Daylight Ahead


A couple of weeks ago, this was me (less the abnormally straight backpack) calculating whether there was sufficient time to eat supper on our WSW-facing veranda before the sun went behind the ridge.

Now, why bother? Standard time resumes in the wee hours of Sunday morning, don't forget.  And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth from one member of this household.

October 31, 2018

A Coal Camp Ghost in Southern Colorado

Ruins of coke ovens at Cokedale. Coke is made by heating soft coal in an airless atmosphere,
so it is to coal as charcoal is to wood, sort of.
Today is Halloween, which means that newspaper editors are open to ghost-hunting stories.
In this case the ghosts are in a southern Colorado coal camp. The most infamous of those was Ludlow, the company-owned coal-mining town forever associated with the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914.

This ghost-hunting, however, takes place in nearby Cokedale (not to be confused with Coaldale, which is on the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida).
For the past several months, Light in the Dark Paranormal — a local group that specializes in ghost towns and mining sites — has focused its investigative efforts on the Cokedale Mining Museum, a onetime company store located in the heart of the former coal mining camp west of Trinidad.

These investigations, Paul Hill said, were prompted by reports of unusual activity from museum staff and even Cokedale's town clerk.
Cokedale's mining musuem.
"We conducted an initial investigation back in February," said Hill, joined by his wife Adrian and Louise Bosche in Light in the Dark Paranormal.
"And we discovered, quite readily and easily in a short time, quite a bit of evidence."

Evidence, Hill said, that included an antique wooden wire cutter mysteriously spinning around and Maglights turning on in response to questions.

That's all well and good. But I wonder if they would have the cojones to go ghost-hunting at Ludlow. Occasionally I visit the monument where the strikers died — the last time was in September — but I go only in the daytime, and the place gets under my skin even then.

October 26, 2018

Nebraska Cattle and a Lemonade Stand

Along US 20 in the Nebraska Sandhills
"Pastoralists often have the same distinct qualities of personality regardless of the region of the world in which they live.  Specifically, men in a local group tend to be cooperative with each other and aggressive towards outsiders.  They usually can make important economic decisions quickly and act on them independently.  They have a profound emotional attachment to their animals."

Dennis O'Neill
(study materials for a cultural anthropology class)


Nebraska Sandhills from space, 2001 (Wikipedia).
I was flying from London to Denver, sitting ahead of two young English guys who had bought a ski-holiday package in Breckenridge. I think it was their first trip to the United States. The airplane was gradually descending over the South Dakota and Nebraska, when one of them spoke up: "What's that?"

I had a window seat, so I looked down.

There were the Nebraska Sandhills, looking like multiple loads dropped by a gigantic dump truck. Unlike hills formed by erosion, these are grass-covered sand dunes, formed by particles eroded and wind-carried from the Rocky Mountains when the last Ice Age ended.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) designated the Sandhills as an ecoregion, distinct from other grasslands of the Great Plains. According to their assessment, as much as 85% of the ecoregion is intact natural habitat, the highest level in the Great Plains. This is chiefly due to the lack of crop production: most of the Sandhills land has never been plowed. ("Sandhills (Nebraska).")

As we dropped lower, the two Brits, coming from a land of winding lanes, were equally amazed at Colorado State Highway 71, running ruler-straight for miles north of Brush and I-76.

Nebraska State Highway 2 gives the best east-west trip through the Sandhills, with US 83 the best north-south view.

For variety, this time I took US 20 west from Valentine, which brought up an old memory.

I was driving it the other way, having left southern Colorado early and hoping to make it Valentine in order to interview this staffer at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge office near Valentine before he went home for the day.

Passing through the little town of Rushville, I saw two young children sitting by the curb with a lemonade stand (it was June) in front of a Victorian house.

Wanting to become a better writer-photographer, I saw them as a perfect subject for my personal stock photos files. But there was question of photo releases—could I get one? They were out in public, so I did not really need one, but some editors were fussy.

I kept going. Had to get to Valentine. But then I kicked myself (mentally) and kept kicking myself for the next forty miles;

Forget the perfect neo-Norman Rockwell photograph, what I should have done was stop and buy some lemonade!!

So I made a vow that I have more or less kept since then: when I see a lemonade stand, I stop and buy some, even if it is crappy lemonade made from a powdered mix.

At that time in Rushville, Lenore Skenazy had not yet popularized the term "Free-Range Kids," but buying lemonade is sort of reinforcing Free-Range behavior.

Back Across the Wide Missouri: This Explorer's Record Was Real

Leaving Pierre for Fort Pierre. You know it is pronounced "Peer," right?
When I re-crossed the wide Missouri at Pierre, South Dakota, homeward bound, I stopped to see a historical spot that I had never visited.

Looking across the Missouri R. at Pierre, South Dakota, from the Verendrye Site.
The Verendrye Site is in Fort Pierre, Pierre's smaller sibling on the west side of the river. The leaders of a French expedition in 1742-43 left a lead plaque here memorializing their visit as they gazed over the junction of the Bad and Missouri rivers.
There is a small public park at the site today.


The French explorers placed their lead plate in a cairn, which fell down or was destroyed, but local children found it again in 1913.

Unlike the Thoen Stone, which is sort of the Kensington Runestone of South Dakota, the veracity of the  Verendrye plate has never been questioned.

Found in 1887, the Thoen stone was supposedly cut by the last survivor of a group of gold prospectors who had entered the Black Hills illegally in 1834..  If you know the history of the Kensington Runestone, you can see a certain parallel: "I (we) am (are) the last survivor(s)"
Looking downriver across Fort Pierre from the Verendrye Site.

October 25, 2018

"Fields End Freedom"

Harvested cornfield and corn bins, North Dakota
"As centuries, then millennia passed, the areas open for retreat [back to a hunter-gatherer way of life] dwindled, and farming culture became ingrained and habitual. The assumption of its  'superiority' has likewise become ingrained in us, its modern inheritors.This is the assumption that we now have to question. Superior it certainly was in most cases as the mode of production at the base of a new competitive complex — the militarized urban-agrarian state. But in terms of the quality of life for the general run of the population at the time of its introduction, as opposed to the elite? It seems doubtful. It must be remembered: fields end freedom. Whatever the astonishing subsequent achievements of civilization, it had a little-recognized price: humanity itself became one of its own domesticated species. We enslaved ourselves to conquer."

Chapter 5, "War and the Logic of Short-term Advantage."

October 24, 2018

Abandoned Farmhouse


Looks like the perfect place for a Halloween pop-up store, right? I just wanted to post this because it permits me to say that I was there with the guy who used to be married to the step-daughter of a man who grew up on a nearby farm and used to date a girl who lived here.

Are we clear?

October 22, 2018

Across the Wide Missouri

The bridge across the Missouri River on US 212 near Charger's Camp.
Friday found me driving through western South Dakota's buttes county. There was the famous Bear Butte — state park and ceremonial site —hazy to the south, like one of the Black Hills that had wandered out from the herd. 

Mud Butte (also the site of a famous T-Rex skeleton, but not as complete as Sue's, was close to the highway. There must be stories about it that go way, way back.
"Hey, remember the time when there was that little herd of mammoths on the north side of the butte? Crazy Kid, Many Arrows, and White Dog were going to circle around on the west side, but they bumped into some of those really big wolves that had the same idea. They about shit themselves."

"Oh yeah, those big big wolves. Haven't seen any since I was a kid."

"Me neither. Not so many mammoths either."
"That's all right. I like the taste of bison better anyway."
The story of Charger's Camp. Click to enlarge and read.
The Missouri is wide here, but what you are seeing is Lake Oahe, backed up by a dam down by Pierre, the state capital. One of those big Corps of Engineers projects from the 1960s. Still, the river was big enough for 19th-century steamboats, at least during a window of high water from late spring into late summer.

If we followed the geographer's rule that a river is named from its longest piece, not for a tributary, then the Missouri (2,341 miles/3,767 km) is the main river, while the Mississippi (2,320 miles/3,734) is, by a riverine whisker, the tributary.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim would have rafted the Missouri River. The bluffs at Vicksburg and Natchez would look down on the Missouri. Some people like that Missouri Delta blues sound, while levees keep the Missouri from flooding New Orleans.

Most of all, instead of the Mississippi dividing the 48 states into East and West, the Missouri would divide the continental US on a sort of northwest-southeast line, and I wonder how differently that would make us think about ourselves — how it would line up with cultural patterns.

For instance, "East Dakota" and "West Dakota." West Dakota would have been scenic but economically struggling until the Bakken oil came in.

October 19, 2018

That Steampunk T-Rex named Sue

It was big news in paleontology circles in the 1990s when private fossil hunters in western South Dakota unearthed an outstanding Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that was given the name of Sue, after  discoverer Sue Hendrikson.

A lengthy custody battle ensued (hah), with an FBI raid and a state-private-tribal-federal kerfuffle, since the site where Sue was found was managed by the Department of the Interior in trust for the Sioux nation. Ultimately, the private fossil hunters lost, and the skeleton was auctioned by Sotheby's and bought by the Field Museum in Chicago for $7.6 million.

"Sue" by John Lopez.
So Sue is in Chicago and now quite famous, but in Faith, South Dakota, the little town nearest the site, she is also created in a very fine and sort of steampunk-ish sculpture by South Dakota sculptor John Lopez (here is his studio website with other examples).
Built to last. Note the heavy drive chain.



October 18, 2018

Heading onto the Prairie

Northbound, breaking free of the Colorado Front Range corridor
I don't drive Interstate 25 north of Denver very often, but when I do, it reminds me more and more of Interstate 95 in New Jersey. Like how many shopping malls can there be? Or how about RV dealerships the size of Army posts?

There comes a time, though, when you leave all that behind. It's like Fort Collins just sucks three-fourths of the vehicles off the road.

I stopped briefly at the Sierra Trading Post mother ship in Cheyenne for a cappuccino and to browse the discounted hiking pants. Lots of great deals for short, tubby guys there! Bought some socks.
Somewhere south of Newcastle, Wyoming
I continued north on US 85 along the western edge of the Black Hills, Inyan Kara mountain, and so on. One of my favorite drives.

Tomorrow, some serious prairie melancholy.

October 10, 2018

Blog Stew in a Lost Landscape

Craig Childs' Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America won a special jury award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.  This is a book that I have read once, loaned out to a friend, and may be reading again this winter. Click the festival link for more on travel, fiction, mountaineering, etc.

•  KOAA Channel 5 profiles the only wildlife rehabilitator in the Colorado Springs area who handles fawns, Linda Cope of Wild Forever Foundation.

Loved to death: You now need a permit for photography at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. Wedding photographers hardest hit.

Related to that: You have learned to "leave no trace" when camping, etc. Now there is a digital version of Leave No Trace.  It's like not writing about the pool where you caught the big trout.
People want to learn how to get outdoors and most want a blueprint for the easiest way to do this. But that’s the thing: there is no direct route. And now, Leave No Trace is confirming what many have been noticing for awhile: social media is causing significant impact on our wild spaces.