December 11, 2019

Sheriff Porter Gets His Man, Part 2: Moonlight Subterfuge

First you should read Part 1: The Trip to Babcock's Hole
Babcock Hole, in 2004, looking south, before the forest fires of 2005 and 2011.

Babcock Hole, looking east, 2019. A ranch is in the farthest meadow, center,
and that was probably the site of Goodnight's line camp as well. In terms of tree cover,
this might be more similar to the 1877 version. The stage road came ran at the base
of the farthest ridge (right to left), passed the ranch site, and then passed out of the frame
at left.


On June 29, 1877, the moon was three nights past full. If Sheriff Porter and his companions left Greenwood at 10 p.m., they would arrive at Aikin's cabin about when a still-bright gibbous moon was rising.

The printed account suggests that storekeeper Morgan guided them over the saddle between the Hardscrabble Creek drainage and the small valley known as Babcock's (or Babcock) Hole, then turned back. Although Porter needed a guide — he was in unknown country and it was nighttime — the group was probably just following the Siloam Stage Road, which started in Pueblo, ran southwest to the community of Siloam, then into Babcock's Hole, and thence up Hardscrabble Canyon to the mining town of Silver Cliff in the higher Wet Mountain Valley.

Charles Goodnight, about 1880.
Babcock's Hole itself was part of the Rock Canyon Ranch, owned by the famous cattleman Charles Goodnight (1836–1929), who lived near Pueblo from 1868 to the mid-1870s, when he returned to Texas. He had established a permanent camp in the Hole, one of several "line cabins" used by his cowboys on the open range.

There was also logging in the Hole by at least 1873, with trees being cut for railroad ties, among other uses. A small stone foundation, possibly for a steam engine or boiler, still survives.

So the Hole was not exactly the deepest wilderness. Porter could probably have ridden into the valley in his wagon, but that was not his plan.
Learning that Aikin had a large family, Porter determined that it would be better, if possible, to get him away from his house before making the arrest, thereby avoiding the risk of hurting other members of the family.

It was therefore agreed that they should represent themselves as a party from Chicago who, in looking around the country, and desired to be piloted out to Greenwood. Going up close to the house, which was a low double-log cabin, Porter called until Aikin came to the door and inquired what was wanting. History of White County, Illinois, 1965 [1883].
Aikin agreed to guide them for $5. Porter assumed that he was armed with a revolver. They started out of the hole, "guided by the uncertain light of the moon, which was just breaking over the huge mountains and down into the dark valley."
When the party had gone about a mile from the house and reached an open glade where the moonlight fell full upon them, according to prearranged programme, one of the assistants walking behind suddenly, in a deep, stern voice, cried "Halt!" The prisoner turned to see what it meant, and at the same instant Porter, presenting his gun to his [Aikins'] head, ordered him to throw up his hands, which he did, and the shackles were put upon him and he was informed that he was arrested for murder.
One of the deputies returned to the Aikin cabin to inform the family that the man of the house was never coming back and also to procure additional clothing for him. Once he returned, the group walked back to Greenwood, retrieved their wagon, and rattled into Cañon City about six o'clock the following morning.

Then, with Aikin handcuffed to his wrist, Sheriff Porter retraced his rail journey to Carmi, Illinois.
The prisoner at all times denied his identity, refusing to recognize men with whom he had been acquainted for years, and while admitting that his name was John Aikin, denied that he was the man that had formerly been arrested for the murder of Stewart, until several weeks after he had been placed in jail his sister-in-law visited him, and seeing that was impossible longer to deny it, admitted his identity.
After trial in a neighboring county, he was found guilty and given a life sentence in the prison at Joliet (now a tourist attraction and concert venue).

My one remaining question: how did Sheriff Porter's no-doubt-modest budget cover this trip? Or did citizens of White County engage in a little 19th-century crowdfunding?

December 10, 2019

Sheriff Porter Gets His Man, Part 1: The Trip to Babcock's Hole

White County is in SE Illinois, part of "Little Egypt."
On the evening of March 19,1864, a prosperous farmer in White County, Illinois named Augustus Stewart was murdered in front of his family by home invaders. These were two robbers who, as it turned out, had a man on the inside, an apparently lone traveler who had arrived earlier and asked permission to stay the night. The three fled together.

Stewart's neighbors tracked the robbers' horses for some distance the next day. Two of them, the Glide brothers, escaped, but the "inside man," John Aikin, was captured and confessed. Held for trial, he broke out of jail and disappeared.

"Thirteen long years had passed away, the wife of the murdered man had gone to her grave, the children scattered, and the awful crime had almost faded from the public mind amid the ever-changing scenes and busy strife of the world." History of White County, Illinois, 1965 [1883].

The "old" White Co. courthouse, built
in 1828. Presumably Sheriff Porter
knew it well.

Then White County Sheriff Thomas I. Porter learned from one of Aikin's cousins that Aikin was in "the southern part of Colorado" and set out to bring him to justice. In June 1877 he left for Colorado, maybe on the Illinois Southern Railroad (later calld  the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad), which passed through the county seat of Carmi, according to the map above. It was a trip of more than 1,000 miles, back when trains poked along at 25 mph or so.

After reaching Denver on June 28, he procured "necessary papers from the authorities of Colorado" and started for "Cannon City" (Cañon City, that should be), presumably on yet another train with a change in Pueblo. He arrived on June 29th.

He learned from the Fremont County sheriff there that Aikin "lived about twenty-five miles southeast, in a place called Babcock's Hole, up among the Rocky Mountains; and to effect his capture the greatest caution and vigilance would be required, as he was considered a dangerous man."

Babcock's Hole is actually in Custer County, but Custer County had been carved out of Fremont by action of the legislature only three months before, and most of its population was up in the Wet Mountain Valley to the west.

How did the Fremont sheriff know Aikin was so dangerous, if he was living peacefully? Or is the author just exaggerating? At any rate, Sheriff Porter decided to make his move at night.
Taking two Fremont deputies with him, he rented a spring wagon and team and departed about three in the afternoon. The drive might have taken him four or five hours, presumably on dirt roads that approximated today's Colorado highways 115 and 67. Or maybe longer: the text says he arrived "about dark" in the settlement of Greenwood, south of Wetmore, three miles short of the Hole. The officers "put up" their team and ate supper themselves.
Greenwood in the 1880s, a decade later. Note store building in center distance.
Taking Mr. Morgan, the storekeeper, as their guide, they set off on foot about 10 p.m.

November 29, 2019

What Does the Fox Say? Fox Says, "Which Way is North?"



Maybe you have seen a fox diving for rodents under the snow or in tall grass — coyotes do something similar.

"They hear their prey under the snow," you say, and you are right — but there is something more going on, something that I personally never ever would have guessed.

Read all about it: "'You're Invisible, But I'll Eat You Anyway.' Secrets Of Snow-Diving Foxes"

Pop culture reference here. (Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho!)

November 28, 2019

What Would a Mountain Lion Eat for Thanksgiving?

A wintry view of the riparian area in or near Santa Ana Pueblo,
photographed from Amtrak's Southwest Chief on November 20th.
Brokenleg (Pueblo of Santa Ana DNR)
Deer, you say? That might be a good answer, insofar as a common formula is that an adult must eat a deer-size animal every week to ten days. But down on the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque, researchers at the Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources collared and tracked one male who specialized in badgers.

And here I thought badgers were difficult game for any predator, given their ferocity and ability to dig in.

The lion they called Brokenleg (because of a visible old fractured that had healed and calcified) was monitored for 15 months. Here is what he killed for food:

He was no cripple, as you can see: he took down 17 elk as well.
Brokenleg was one of six lions that the pueblo's Department of Natural Resources collared and tracked. On their Facebook page, they wrote,
We recently posted a graph of Brokenleg's kills that generated a lot of great questions and responses. This graph might do the same and is intended to show the varied diet of 5 lions (3 males and 2 females) that we GPS-collared and followed over variable time spans. The 3 males (months collared in parenthesis) are Big Tom (6), Brokenleg (17), and Lefty (15). The 2 females are Notch (12) and Little Girl (16). We documented 155 kills across 20 species, which are color-coded for individual lions. While Brokenleg's dataset is mostly complete, there are gaps in the other lion datasets because we did not have permission to enter onto some lands to verify kills. Despite not having a complete dataset for all lion kills, the graph clearly illustrates the varied diet of the 5 individual lions. Furthermore, we believe that Big Tom and Notch probably killed at least 15 more feral horses based on kill locations and amount of time at kill site, but because we didn't have permission to verify the kills, we can't confirm this. This is an ongoing project, so we expect we will add some species to the list in the future. (October 14, 2019)
The pueblo controls 73,000 acres, and I have always been told that a lion in the Rockies hunts  territory of 70–100 square miles (640 ac. per square mile). But since mountain lions do not care about human boundaries, obviously a number of them hunt partly on and partly off the pueblo lands. And it is risky to be a badger, a coyote, or a feral horse along the Rio Grande.

November 24, 2019

Colorado State Parks Free on Friday, Nov. 29th

News release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife

DENVER- Reclaim Nov. 29 by avoiding the shopping hysteria and getting outside for a breath of fresh air! On Fresh Air Friday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife welcomes visitors to any of our 41 state parks by providing free entry in what has become an annual tradition of encouraging Coloradans to get out and give thanks.

“Studies have shown that spending time outside, no matter the activity, is great for your health,” said Dan Prenzlow, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We’re actively encouraging folks to enjoy their natural surroundings with family and friends rather than participate in the usual shopping frenzy. After all, the Colorado outdoors are the best deal out there.”

However you decide to get outdoors this Fresh Air Friday, CPW has the tools to make it an easy, stress-free experience for the whole family. Discover your new favorite state park with our state park finder, plan a short stroll or thorough post-Thanksgiving workout with our free COTREX trails app, find a secluded fishing spot with our CPW Fishing App, or have fun with the kids with Generation Wild’s 100 Things to Do Before You’re 12 list.

To help conserve our natural spaces and keep them wild while recreating, please be sure to follow Leave No Trace Principles. Be Colo-Ready with common-sense practices such as sticking to the trails and packing out all trash (including peels and cores), visiting less-visited and off-peak destinations, and keeping wildlife at a safe distance (use your zoom for photos and never feed wildlife!).

Several Colorado state parks will also have hikes planned for the day for those looking to walk off that Thanksgiving dinner and to connect with others in nature. Plan your visit to
Ridgway
Chatfield
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area
Mueller
Barr Lake
For more details on these activities, or to get more ideas on how to Live Life Outside, visit cpw.state.co.us.

As you enjoy a day of outdoor adventures, make sure to share it with us by using the hashtag #FreshAirFriday on your social media posts.

Most importantly, no matter where you go, get out and turn Black Friday into a blue skies Friday, a great views Friday, a green trees Friday… a Fresh Air Friday!

November 16, 2019

Ma Boyle's Amazing Outdoor Retailing Concept

Gert Boyle (Outside).
Reading a post in Outside online about Gert Boyle, who built Columbia Sportswear from a little hat company to what it is today — and who passed away November 3 at the age of 95, still involved with the business — I came across this observation from a competitor:
“She and [her son] Tim did something no one else was even trying,” says Jim Thomsen, co-founder of outdoor brand Wilderness Experience. “All the other real outdoor companies, including mine, looked at ourselves as so cool, making products for the elite. And we sold them only to the coolest stores. Then along came Gert and Tim and they made really good products, but they did something none of the rest of us would ever think of doing . . .  they sold products to sporting goods stores, those non-cool places that sold to people who didn’t even know how to climb. And they started selling a lot.”
Selling to the non-elite outdoors person. Not being a prisoner of "coolness." What a concept.

One of Columbia's first new products when they branched out was a fishing vest that Gert designed. Probably worth a bit if you have one, which I do not, but I like my Columbia upland hunting vest.

November 13, 2019

Pine Trees, Electric Lines, and Fire Fears

A small Stihl saw dangling from his harness, Jesse nips bits of the problem
branch from between the electric lines.
All summer I had been noticing that some branches from one of our pine trees were becoming entangled with the electric wires coming from the nearest pole to our meter. Some heavy wet snow, and the branches might force the wires into contact with each other.

In early October, I took a photo and emailed our local electric coop. I heard nothing until today, when I got a phone call, and 40 minutes later a truck pulling a wood chipper rumbled up the driveway.

The two young guys aboard were tree-trimmers, not properly "linemen." They both said they were waiting for lineman apprentice positions to open up. They wanted to become qualified—one said he hoped some day to be an engineer, and his buddy laughed and said, "Nah, you'll be a lineman."

"Get that certification, and you will never be unemployed," I said.

They grinned and agreed.

There are miles and miles of electric lines running through pine forests in southern Colorado. You have heard about PG&E lines starting fires in California — we have had the same problem on a smaller scale.

I have seen scorched branches on my place, and helped to put out fires started by electric lines. The worst one, seven years ago, took out fourteen houses nearby — not exactly Paradise, California, but still pretty shocking in a smaller community.

The then-fire chief of Rye, Colorado, once told me he lost count of how many fires they have had started from power lines (none really bad so far).

Unfortunately, my pruning saw is only 12 feet long, and I lack professional tree-climbing gear, not to mention the aptitude. So I was happy to see Jesse and Bill arrive, do the job, chip the limbs (biomass, always so much biomass!), and head off to their next assignment.

One less thing to worry about.

November 12, 2019

Should I Throw Away this Water Bottle?


If you buy something from Backcountry.com,
you get a mountain goat sticker with your order. 
You may have seen these on gear like 
my water bottle, on car windows, etc.

If I had a retail company called "Mountain Sports, Inc.," and someone else made skis, let's say, under the trademark "Mountain High," could I sue them for infringing on my right to the word "Mountain"? Seems ridiculous, right?

Using that strategy, big Utah-based mail-order retailer Backcountry.com has been threatening dozens of smaller businesses and forcing them to change their names or be ground into the courtroom carpet.

"Backcountry Denim" got the letter threatening a lawsuit. So did the "Backcountry Babes" avalanche-safety clinic and the maker of the Marquette Backcountry Ski, among many others.

Not surprisingly, a lot of outdoor types who cherish those little gear companies have been angry with Backcountry.com, which while it was started by mountaineers, is now owned by TSG Consumer Partners. The "Boycott BackcountryDOTcom" Facebook group has more than 21,000 members.

Faced with the backlash, the company is backing down, kind-of sort-of, the Colorado Sun news service reports:
Backcountry.com CEO Jonathan Nielsen wrote in an open letter that the retailer’s attempts to protect its brand “were not consistent with our values.” Not everyone is buying it. . . .
Nielsen said the federal lawsuits filed this year against the nonprofit avalanche education provider Backcountry Babes, the one-employee Backcountry Denim Co., Utah’s Backcountry eBikes and Marquette Backcountry Ski were “a last resort” that followed attempts to resolve the trademark disputes “amicably and respectfully.”
So do I believe that corporate-speak, or do I peel their goat off my water bottle? Their website under "Our Values" lists "Take ownership." Yeah, like they own the word "Backcountry"?
David Ollila, who founded Marquette Backcountry Ski in 2010 and trademarked the name in 2013, laughed at the notion that the company’s initial petitions for cancellation of his trademark, filed through the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, were respectful. 

He points to emails the company’s trademark lawyers with the IPLA law firm sent to business owners like Boulder’s Jenny Verrochi, who was bullied into abandoning her registered trademark for Backcountry Nitro coffee and ended up rebranding her canned cold brew as Wild Barn Coffee.
The law firm that was in charge of bullying smaller companies has been fired, but what could is that to people who had to spend money changing their trademarks and losing name recognition?

I would say, do your holiday outdoor-gear shopping elsewhere until we see how this shakes out.

UPDATE: The hashtag is #scrapethegoat

November 10, 2019

The Walls of the Old Ones — Old Cowboys, That Is




Not too far from where I live, a steep ridge crowned with rimrock separates two drainages.  On the right hand side (upper photo) or left side (lower photo) was ranch land controlled by famous cattleman Charles Goodnight in the 1870s.

At some point, someone — more likely, several someones — rode up there  (it's easier from the other side than the Goodnight side) and stacked slabs of the native sandstone to make drift fences where there were breaks in the rimrock. Evidently, they did not want cattle drifting from one side over to the other.

For a variety of reasons, I think this was done in the early-to-mid-twentieth century, not in Goodnight's day. A generation after him, in the 1890s, the whole area was being logged — but by the 1950s it was grazing land again, thanks to a Forest Service grazing lease.

As is typical all over the West, there were drastic changes from one generation to the next. No one figured out a life that was truly sustainable.

Maybe this needs a longer blog post, so I can tell the tale of Sheriff Thomas Porter of White County, Illinois, who tracked an escaped murderer all the way here and arrested him by clever subterfuge. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the rock walls — never really finished — remain. There are others lower down. Think of someone grunting with the effort . . . slipping around in smooth-soled cowboy boots — maybe he just ran out of suitable stones that he could lift.

November 03, 2019

Reunited with my Favorite Seasonal Ale

I missed my favorite Colorado seasonal brew, Odell's Isolation Ale, completely last year. By the time that winter had arrived, it had vanished from the stores!

As the owner of a small Pueblo liquor store with a good craft beer selection put it, "Beer is like clothes these days. They sell the fall line in the summer, and by fall, it's gone."

This year I timed it right. They seem to have switched to cans. Oh well, I can still pour it in a glass — except when there is firewood to split.

The liquor store owner says it might last through November. Then it's time for the spring seasonals, apparently. Time is out of joint.

October 21, 2019

Chemical "Stewardship" and Vanishing Shelterbelts

Hunter walking a North Dakota tree row.
Beginning in the 1930s, government programs helped prairie farmers to plant shelterbelts (a/k/a tree rows or windbreaks) in order to reduce wind erosion and to protect isolated farmsteads across the Great Plains.

In the program's best years, the 1950s–1960s, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. North Dakota alone had 55,000 miles of shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. They are not all there now.
“Those windbreaks still play a huge role out there. They do a lot to encourage protection from erosion, up to 10 times the distance of their height. They increase row crop productivity by 10 to 25 percent, and livestock sheltered there see improved weight gains of 10 percent,” [Larry Kotchman, head of the North Dakota Forest Service] said. “A farmstead will see energy savings of 20 to 30 percent in less heating and cooling.”
Shelterbelts changed the environment for wildlife, providing more habitat for songbirds and encouraging whitetail deer to move into more areas. Thanks to the increased deer population, eastern North Dakota—where I am writing this—now even has a few mountain lions.
Trees can also provide an important refuge for wildlife. Two years ago, [when]  the snow was very deep, wildlife suffered when their grass and food plots were buried, [Diane Erickson, district conservationist in Clark County, S.D.] explained.
“Deer and pheasant loss was high,” Erickson said. “Shelterbelts or thick tree plantings are their main source of shelter and even a good food source. Wildlife needs habitat, and tree belts are the best winter habitats.”
Today, government agencies still encourage and fund shelterbelt planting, but more and more are being bulldozed in the name of "stewardship," which means profit. An agricultural-business site reports,
Fields often are divided into quarter sections (160 acres) and "80s" (80 acres.)

Decades ago, one or more shelterbelts often were planted on a quarter or 80.
That divided a single field into several -- for example, an 80 might have become two 40-acre fields -- and protected topsoil in all the fields from wind erosion.
Now, many farmers are removing shelterbelts to combine fields into a single, bigger one.
Shelterbelts did what they were supposed to, but times have changed, [Terry Weckerly, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association] says.
Most farmers today use production methods that leave more organic matter on the field and disturb the soil less, greatly decreasing the need for windbreaks, he says.
Shelterbelts often become "a nuisance, an obstacle," he says. For example, branches breaking off trees and falling into fields complicates farming, he says.
More significantly, shelterbelts make it more difficult to apply chemicals properly, he says. (Emphasis added)
So let's review this. Shelterbelts, once established, provided all their agricultural benefits for free while benefiting multiple species.

But "Being a good steward of the land is more than just putting trees in the ground."

Evidently, "being a good steward" means cutting the trees to gain a few more acres, then spraying all kinds of herbicides and insecticides on the ground, which run off with the snowmelt and also filter into the groundwater. That is what "no-till" farming requires: lots of honeybee-killing Roundup and the like.

(See the picture-perfect farmstead with the neatly painted house, the huge metal equipment sheds, the rows of stately trees—they don't cut the ones by the house—and the perfectly mowed lawns? Who knows what is in its well water?)

Plus convenience: "Another reason farmers have wanted to take out windbreaks is to make it easier to turn equipment. In the wet years two and three years ago, when sloughs took over parts of fields, tree rows made it harder to navigate tractors and combines—especially since equipment is all larger than it was years ago."

Nevertheless, the financial incentives to plant new shelterbelts and replace dying trees are still there, through various agencies. Those staffers keep making the same recommendations that they made in the 1950s—and they are still good ones.

And the same farmer who defends today's methods—who says that he needs them to pay off his loans—will sit across from you at lunch and agree that there aren't as many sharptail grouse as there were even ten years ago, that there aren't as many big whitetail bucks as there used to be, that there aren't as many birds in general.

No contradictions, nope.

October 13, 2019

How Much Heat Is in that Firewood?

Split into six or eight or ten pieces, each round might last a mid-winter day.
A big (by foothills standards) ponderosa pine blew down several years ago, breaking into two with the top section hung up in some big one-seed juniper trees. I spent a lot of time last winter freeing and getting it onto the ground without killing myself, then cut it into rounds, rolled them down a little hill, split them, and moved them to the house.

In process, I ended up with a lot of juniper too, most of which has been drying through the summer, and I am moving it now. That is a one-seed juniper in the background.

Meanwhile, the butt section of the pine tree, which had been soaked by snow, is now dry, so I finished cutting it up today. (That small chunk next to the saw is from another tree.)

Intuitively, I thought the juniper offered more value as fuel, but it does not come in convenient pieces like pine.

But pine surrenders gracefully to the saw — juniper wants to hurt you. If it can't pinch the chain, its rigid twigs will rip your shirt.

Back in 1913, the eight-year-old US Forest Service was answering that question. "The object of the investigation is to determine the heating values of the woods commonly used for fuel in New Mexico and Arizona, including about 10 different species."

They compared them to coal, since many people burned coal for home-heating back then, and also to "Bakersfield crude oil."

The tests were conducted using a "bomb calorimeter." I would like to own one of those just for the name. ("Professor Murcheson will now demonstrate the bomb calorimeter.")

The big winners were alligator juniper and the bark (not the wood) of Douglas fir, both of them delivering more than 10,000 BTUs per pound, or 76 percent as much per pound as Cerrillos anthracite coal. (The area around Cerrillos and Madrid, N.M., used to produce a lot of coal.)

One-seed juniper was almost as good, 9,900 BTUs/lb., equivalent to 75 percent of Cerrillos anthracite.

Ponderosa pine sapwood produced 8,856 BTUs/lb., while the bark produced 9,275.

Aspen (quakies), incidentally, came in at 8,555. They did not measure Gambel oak, but another source placed it almost as high as the one-seed juniper, which fits what I feel standing next to the stove. Piñon pine, 8,629. Some people would that it burns hotter than ponderosa, which I always thought was true. At least one other site supports me.

Another site calculates heat values in million BTUs per cord, a cord being a tightly stacked pile of wood measuring 4 x 4 x 8 feet. (The method of measurement is not specified.)

Here we see ponderosa pine at 21.7 million BTUs/cord; cottonwood, 16.8; aspen, 18; Douglas fir, 26.5; white fir, 21.1— and they don't measure Gambel oak, one-seed juniper, or Rocky Mountain juniper.

What this means, in the end, is that I will pick up any piece of juniper that is as big around as my wrist.

October 04, 2019

A Strange Summer for Southern Rockies Gardeners

The Green Roof Farms honor-system farm stand.
Your money goes in the white-painted ammo box at lower right.


Scott's working 1950s Farmall Cub tractor, perfect for the small operation.

M. was at the hair salon last week, and her stylist, who lives in Colorado City, was lamenting how her garden had produced poorly this summer. Well, join the club. I have been hearing that a lot.

Let's review the year.

After a cool wet spring. Colorado was declared drought-free. I expected a great spring wildflower show, and while that was true at higher elevations, it was not true here in the ponderosa pine forest. Some regulars, like wild geranium, hardly showed up at all. Subsoil moisture still not replenished?

Then it got hot in July, but that was followed by a decent "monsoon" that gave us an adequate if not great mushroom harvest in early August and the usual flash floods below the recent burns.
Wild bee on some kind of
groundsel, at about 9800 feet,
early August.

Then more hot and dry weather all through September and into October. Up near Poncha Pass, a lightning-caused forest fire, the Decker Fire, that was burning up beetle-killed timber in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, has now crossed control lines and is moving towards foothills subdivisions and little communities along the Arkansas River like Swissvale and Howard.

The violent changes have been hard on garden plants and flowers. In some cases, we have just cut back perennials and let them go while focusing on collecting seeds from annuals. No hard freeze yet at this elevation, but the dryness is as good as a freeze. I have rolled up hoses and pronounced the season over.

In Florence, where there is irrigation water, truck gardeners Scott and Robin have been supplying us from their farm stand, which often just operates on the honor system. (M. says that reminds her of her girlhood visits to the Vermont side of her family.) If you are in that area, you can find them under "Green Roof Farms" on Facebook.

Thanks to them, we are drying tomatoes and have plenty of squash, peppers, and onions.

Some migratory birds left on schedule (black-headed grosbeaks, for one) while others are hanging around way past their usual departure dates (band-tailed pigeons, broad-tailed hummingbirds.) But that is another topic.

September 27, 2019

"Nice Job, Pixies" — a Weird Day in the Woods

Something weird happened last month while mushroom-hunting. I still have not quite figured it out.

During mushroom season, which peaks in August hereabouts, there is a ridge in the Wet Mountains that M. (my wife) and I try to visit every week. It abuts an area that we named The Mushroom Store; unfortunately, that spot has been discovered, but we are willing to walk farther at 10,000 feet than some mushroom hunters are.

We have been visiting that area for more than ten years, so we have our landmarks: the "long meadow," the cow elk's skeleton, the "little gate," the "big gate," and so on.

The plan, as usual, was to walk downhill parallel the "long meadow," loop around to the south and back east to the crest of the gentle ridge, where we would hit a barbed-wire drift fence that we would then follow north to "the big gate," and from there it is a short walk to where M's Jeep Wrangler would be parked.

So we did that. We were going along according to plan, finding an occasional "good" mushroom, and I was feeling pretty about my deep-woods navigational skills. (Don't get cocky, kid!)

At some point, as we swung back toward the top of the ridge, I looked down to my left and instead of a glimpse of the "long meadow," there was a steep ravine there, so steep that fir trees barely clung to its sides. Where had it come from? 

It was between us and the Jeep (I figured), but I did not want to go down into it and try to climb out again

I looked ahead — the top of the ridge was only maybe 200 yards away. M. looked at me and asked if I was lost. I said something noncommittal, but afterwards at home she said, "I can read you like a book. You were lost." (She will cheerfully admit to being a poor navigator herself, so she trusts me to do the job.)

That feeling you get, a punch in the stomach. Where am I? How did I get here? 

On the ridge crest, I looked south. There was Little Sheep Mountain, a little closer than it should have been, and also a road that I recognized. I knew where I was — I just was not where I should have been.

"Nice job, pixies," I said aloud.

Since I was high enough up to get a signal, I pulled out the iPhone, turned on the GPS and loaded the Avenza Maps app with a county road map. Yep, there we were — the pulsing blue dot —  about where I reckoned we were. Thus oriented, we walked down the other side until we hit a certain little dirt Forest Service road and followed it to the Jeep.

At home, there were mushrooms to be sliced and dried, and life otherwise got in the way. But after a couple of nights I opened Google Earth, where our mushroom sites are marked, and took a look. Everything seemed as it should have been, but I could not find that steep ravine.

OK, so Google Earth gives false ideas of slope. Next, I studied the topographic quad map for that area. I could not find the steep ravine there either.

In the old stories, you go through a portal into the fairy mound, and you eat and drink, and when you come out, a hundred years have passed. Or something like that.

We went back a couple of weeks later for one last foray. Maybe we should walk south and try to find that ravine, I suggested.

"Let's not, and say we did," M. responded.

I did not try to persuade her otherwise.

September 21, 2019

Where Is My CBD-infused Green Chile?

Some shots from this year's Chile & Frijoles Festival in Pueblo, still going on through Sunday. My visit was early, while the sun was still up and before the bands started playing, so it was a sort of sparse crowd.
It's more or less a celebration of every Southwestern street food
to which Pueblo County's Mirasol green chiles can be added.


And there were a lot of CBD (cannabidiol) products as well.
I foresee a certain convergence, a synergy if you will.
Yes, every kind of fast food and finger food.
Loaded-up fry bread ("Navajo tacos") is all right once a year.

The "Pueblo Chile Beer" is from Walter's, an old label that has been revived by craft-beer aficionados.
"Pueblo chile beer" is not one of their pre-Prohibition recipes, however.


These men are examining ristras of red chiles (sorry about the sun flare).
They were for sale along with many varieties of powdered dried peppers.

But what you could not buy were fresh-roasted Pueblo green chiles. Evidently the vendors don't think that anyone wants to walk around with a ten-pound sack of peppers, even though they are the best. 

Next year: CBD-inflused green chile beer. I will bet you money.