October 28, 2009

Your Butt is a Running Muscle

Not really new stuff -- there were man vs. horse races in the 19th century, and the man could win over distance -- but the New York Times joins the reaction against high-tech running shoes.

October 26, 2009

Nature is Scary! Get Me Out of Here!

The headline: Rescuers Fear Yuppie 911.

People carrying GPS-enabled emergency beacons ("Onstar for hikers", "Yuppie 911") are pressing them whenever they feel mildly inconvenienced, causing problems for seach-and-rescue teams and other first responders.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep [Grand C]anyon walls.

What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst "tasted salty."

Or the woman who activated hers because she was frightened of a thunderstorm. Great-grandmother would have hunkered down and waited it out, y'know?

Charging more people for unnecessary rescues seems like one option. Or fining them, as the National Park Service did the Grand Canyon idiots.

In Colorado, purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses automatically contribute to a Search and Rescue Fund that reimburses at least some costs of a rescue. Or you can buy a state SAR card that does the same thing. Three bucks, and you can get it online.

If a service is free, people will misuse it. Ask this guy.

UPDATE: New Hampshire bills hikers for rescues; other states differ.

October 24, 2009

Colorado in the 1930s

Rocky Mountain PBS has an online exhibit called "Colorado in the 1930s." (Funny, why all this interest in the Great Depression?)

The photos are good, although navigation is a little tricky.

While some people had "dust pneumonia," others were taking the ski train to Winter Park.

Dad was in forestry school in Fort Collins, having come here from Tulsa where, he used to say, "There was no Depression."

Meanwhile, my mother's family's furniture store in Colorado Springs was going bust, as people put off buying new furniture (or paying for it) ahead of groceries.

As my uncle (her younger brother) said in an email today, reminiscing about the 1930s, "Times were tough, and furniture stores carried their own paper. Customers couldn’t pay the store. Paper profits were not collected."

October 23, 2009

Blog Stew with Software Skulls

• Trainer killed by ice-skating bear. Because putting bears on ice skates is still a hoot in the former Soviet Union.

• The amazing survival of a coyote. Driver Daniel East, however, not only did not care to check on the coyote, he did not even check his car for radiator leaks, etc. He and sister Tevyn had more important stuff on their minds:  they were on their way to join a community of artists.

•  "Crash-testing" skulls: Video summarizes research on using architectural modeling software to model animal skulls and to see the impact when an animal kills its prey.

Cougars Return (Officially) to Kansas

A Kansas hunter photographs a mountain lion, documenting their return to that state. The photo was taken near WaKeeney, in west-central Kansas.

Since the cat may have come from Colorado, I say, "You're welcome, on behalf of all Coloradans. And please send more quail."

October 22, 2009

Three Dog Books

Some people think that their dogs are "angels" or "fur babies."

I suspect (but I don't know) that most readers of this blog think that they are, in fact, dogs.*

But the first group probably has us outnumbered, and they are spending jillions of dollars on doggie mineral water, doggie day care, and doggie tranquilizers.

That group is chronicled in Michael Shaffer's One Nation Under Dog: America's Love Affair with Our Dogs.

Think of it as ethnography. And for a bonus, here is Shaffer's review of Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, which sounds more cynographic.

Along with One Nation Under Dog, I have been reading John and Amy Dahl's The 10-Minute Retriever: How to Make a Well-Mannered, Obedient and Enthusiastic Gun Dog in 10 Minutes a Day. I like it because although it is a general retriever-training book, the Dahls address some particular ... issues ... known to those of us with Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

But the very best book on adopting adult dogs (which we have now done twice) was sent by M.'s sister-in-law, who volunteers with Stray Rescue in St. Louis.

It is Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problems, by Stray Rescue's founder, Randy Grim (with Melinda Roth).

Follow Grim's advice and, Mimosa in hand, you can begin to cope with rescued dogs who suffer from separation anxiety, dog-aggression, extreme fearfulness, and many of the other problems that plague adopted adult dogs.

With chapters like "Dogs Who Lick Baby Snot" and "Cujo in the Dog Park," Grim realistically explains that as much as you can train the dog, maybe you just have to change the environment to make things better. Sometimes, if the dog gets in the garbage, moving the garbage is less stressful than trying to change to dog.

His motto might be, "The perfect is the enemy of the good [dog]."

Animal shelters ought to buy Don't Dump the Dog by the case and give copies to everyone who adopts.

*Dad used to say, though, that "dogs have by nature qualities than humans struggle to acquire," so even we Cliftons can get a little sentimental sometimes.

Skeleton Not Everett Ruess's After All

New tests show a skeleton found in the Utah desert is not that of artist Everett Ruess.

Last spring, I thought the mystery of his disappearance had been solved.

From an AP story:

Everett Ruess vanished in southern Utah in 1934, writing in a final letter to his family in California that "as to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon" and "it is enough that I am surrounded with beauty."

He was 20 and a gifted poet who explored the Southwest over much of four years. In between journeys, he hobnobbed with famous artists of his time.

Initial DNA tests were termed "irrefutable" months ago by University of Colorado researchers, but one of them said Wednesday he accepted as final the new results from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md.

Utah's state archaeologist, Kevin Jones, had questioned the original results, prompting the family to seek a second opinion.

Jones said a recovered lower jawbone was characteristic of an American Indian's, not a man of European descent, and that worn teeth suggested a lifetime diet of coarse grains. It's not known whose remains were actually found.

But I still think he probably was murdered. He remains one of nature religion's saints, Blessed Everett the Martyr, patron of the Canyonlands.

October 21, 2009

The Peeping Trees

Wet snow is falling, with the temperature just at the freezing point.

I walked the dogs a quarter mile or so into the national forest, the road sloppy underfoot. Fisher's gallops left gigantic paw prints.

Across the valley the snowplow blade rattled on the state highway, hidden in the fog.

And several of the large juniper trees along our walk were peeping—full of juncos and other little birds.

October 16, 2009

Turkeys at Twelve O'Clock Low

It's too funny. The wild turkeys that normally live near us on the ridges have been right on the property the past few days, running down the driveway (which is 100+ yards long) when I take the dogs for what I think is a "safe" off-leash walk, gliding out of the tall ponderosa pines, and generally driving the canine family members nuts.

A few minutes ago, Fisher, the Chessie, went dashing off down into a ravine and up the other side. Three turkeys came flying across it, low, over my head and over the house. I called him back and gave him a treat. Shelby, the ninja collie, barked from the veranda but was gated in. She has already had her turkey chase for the day.

In seventeen years, I have never seen them all over us like this. Are the acorns better here?

The photo of the hen turkey was taken through the window of our back door.

Chainsaws Rev Up in Northern Colorado

To protect travelers and campground users, the Forest Service is starting to cut beetle-killed lodgepole pines near roads, trails, and campgrounds in northern Colorado.

Cutting crews are to fan out, lugging gas-powered chain saws along trails and roadways and at campgrounds, working to prevent some of the hundreds of millions of dead trees from falling on hikers and motorists on federal lands.

Yes, "gas-powered, " notes Post reporter Bruce Finley. Years of experience have taught government foresters that two-mile-long power cords for electric chainsaws are not practical.

My own little Husqvarna saw sent me a message yesterday. I went to start it, and the starter cord snapped. I think that it was telling me it really wanted a full-blown, in-the-shop cleaning and tuneup, which it has not gotten for years.

So off to Tap's Small Engine Repair we went. Establishments like that are invaluable.

Until I get it back, I am cutting what I can with a bucksaw that is probably ex-Forest Service too.

October 14, 2009

Firefighters Contemplate Rooftop Solar Panels

Although I have no plans to put them on my house, I like the idea of rooftop solar shingles--especially if they can be integrated with the grid to pick up some of the daytime load.

Firefighters, however, have a different set of concerns. For example:

If there is a solar electric system involved, "pulling the meter" will only kill power coming in from the utility grid. Other circuits may remain live — household circuits if the system has battery backup or an auto-start gasoline generator, and PV circuits whenever the sun is shining. Multiple disconnects for various parts of the system are very common.

Some people in this county have roof-top solar panels. I am not aware of any in my little volunteer department's primary service area, but that is perhaps because I have not seen every single house.

October 11, 2009

Blog Stew is Warming or Cooling

• Greenpeaceniks have climbed the Houses of Parliament to "raise the temperature of the debate," but the BBC admits that the data are confusing. I was looking a pictures of shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park (I think it was), and that evidence was incontrovertible, but could glaciers be lagging indicators?

• Recent Google searches bring visitors: "mad mountain bird feeders slave labor," "nature bear man blog," "on a map what does a blue line mean," and "beautiful suicides."

• Did things go really wrong on your last walk in the woods? Maybe it qualifies for Hiker Hell.

October 10, 2009

A Plot for Black Hills Bears

I wonder how many people drive past the Bear Country USA private zoo on US 16 near Rapid City and find themselves modifying Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." (Video here.)

It would be something like, "Took all the bears, put 'em in a bear museum / And charged the people fifteen dollars just to see 'em."

(Doesn't scan as well as the original. Blame inflation.)

All through our recent trip, I would do something like leave the cooler outside our pop-up trailer, catch myself—"A bear might get into it!"—and then realize that there are virtually no bears in the Black Hills.


I read that the last Black Hills black bear was shot in 1968 near the hamlet of Rochford, which means there were a few around when I was a boy, but I do not recall anyone needing to be too "bear aware" with garbage cans, etc., back then. (Grizzly bears were extirpated earlier.)

If you see a black bear, you are supposed to inform South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, which categorizes them as "state threatened," and fill out a "Rare Species Report Card," available as a PDF download from the web site.

But if I had (a) lots of money and (b) some close-mouthed co-conspirators, I would acquire the following:
  • one or more large culvert-style bear traps
  • one or more small cargo trailers, modified with additional air vents
  • large pickup truck to pull the above
And we could do our own bear-reintroduction program. After all, there are plenty in Colorado, where they have been taking food out of the mouths of the poverty-stricken Aspenites.

From capture to release should not take more than ten hours, on average—not too long for the bear to be confined. It's feasible.

Really, I am surprised that more black bears have not wandered over from the Bighorn Range or elsewhere in Wyoming. Too much open country, coal mines, Interstate 90, etc. in the way?

Quieter Skies in the Black Hills

Just a couple of things left to say about our trip to the Black Hills. One sneaked up on us after we had been there two or three days--the quiet skies.

Wherever you go in Colorado, you are under some air route centered on Denver International Airport. High-altitude jet noise is just part of the background--and the higher you climb, the closer the airplanes are.

I remember how quiet it right after the Sept. 21, 2001 hijackings when all air travel was shut down. I was sitting over a spring in the Sangre de Cristo range during muzzleloader season when a Learjet streaked overhead (Mr. Big coming back from the coast?) and all I could think was, "Oh shit, we're back to normal."

But Rapid City Regional Airport has far fewer flights, and about a third of them go eastward to the Twin Cities or Chicago, making for much quieter skies.

October 09, 2009

The Siloam Stage Road and an Unbuilt Railroad

What we call "the old road" runs from our house to the national forest boundary. As far as I can tell, it is a piece of the 1870s Siloam Stage Road, which connected Pueblo with the Wet Mountain Valley before a new wagon road was built, more or less where Colorado 96 now goes.

(That is to say, Colorado 96 before the construction of Pueblo Dam, early 1970s, and the Jackson Hill realignment, late 1980s.)

This photo was taken this morning before the sun burned through to start melting yesterday's little snow.

But apparently, in some alternative steampunk universe, I can catch the train coming up from Pueblo and travel to the San Luis Valley, before transferring to a light-rail car to zip from Alamosa to Saguache, for instance.

One hundred years ago, the Wet Mountain Tribune reported,

Incorporation papers have been filed with the secretary of state for an $8,000,000 company which is to build a railroad from Pueblo across the Sangre de Christo mountains and down into Costilla County where an interurban electric system will be established connecting all the towns in the San Luis Valley. According to the plans, a line will be run from Pueblo southwest into the Wet Mountain Valley. Thence it will run southwest into Huerfano County until it reaches the Sangre de Christo range. It will cross the range into Saguache or Costilla counties at a point not yet decided and then proceed to Alamosa, Monte Vista or Del Norte. The electric railway system spreading up and down the San Luis Valley will run spur tracks into the mining regions, the timber areas, the agricultural districts and the quarries.

Yeah, what happened to that?

October 07, 2009

Kirby Clears the Concertina Wire

This image comes from the Denver Post's Captured Photos blog, where it carries this cutline:

In this picture taken Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, U.S. Army dog handler Sgt. Adrian Garcia, 24, from El Paso, Texas, carries Staff Sgt. Kirby over a concertina wire fence during a patrol with 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo) (Click photo for a larger version.)

Doesn't that photo look as though it could have been taken near Delta, Colorado, if you swapped adobe houses for double-wide trailers?

The Hot Springs Mammoth Site & Other Proboscid News

Earthwatch volunteers at The Mammoth Site. Photo by Chas S. CliftonAbove: Earthwatch volunteers excavate Columbian mammoth skeletons. The skull of a short-faced bear sits on the green sheet of paper at lower center.

Thirty-five years ago a bulldozer operator clearing ground for a subdivision on the edge of Hot Springs, South Dakota, grazed some Columbian mammoth bones—and realized that he had hit something important.

Today that spot is The Mammoth Site, a combination of working excavation, museum, laboratory, and gift shop.

Its structure covers a site that 25,000 years ago was a sinkhole that trapped dozens of mammoths who, perhaps while grazing in lush vegetation growing by the warm spring water, slipped in and could not climb out. (This was thousands of years before the accepted date of human arrival in North America.)

It is disquieting and sad, as M. noted, that all these big animals died struggling to breathe—except, perhaps, the short-faced bear. Did it climb down to gorge on mammoth meat and eat itself to death? Couldn't a big, agile bear make it up the slippery slope of decomposed shale? Or not?

It's a little touristy—get your mammoth hand puppets and key chains here—but definitely worth seeing.


In other ancient proboscid news, a baby Siberian woolly mammoth found nearly intact has provided more information about the species not obtainable from fossils.

"We had no idea from preserved skeletons and preserved carcasses that young mammoths had a discrete structure on the back of the head of brown fat cells," said Prof [Daniel] Fisher.

Meanwhile, on June 1, 2009 two Colorado boys were poking around in a creek bed. They were not engaged in organized youth activities, mentored by adults and involving clear boundaries and a rulebook. They almost certainly were not wearing helmets.

"We were just thinking about walking up and down that stream and looking at the side of the banks to see if we see anything," said Tyler [Kellett] . "That would be fun."

They found a mastodon skeleton.

October 06, 2009

A Tale of Two Caves

Park Service ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.Above: Kids peer up at calcite crystals as our Park Service tour guide describes the formation of Jewel Cave.

Outdoor travel in late September is always chancy. More than once we have faced the "disappearing campground blues," when forest and park campgrounds start closing, forcing you into more crowded quarters at the few the authorities deign to leave open (e.g., Madison Junction at Yellowstone).

In Yellowstone last year, I kept thinking, "If this is the 'off-season,' I am glad that we did not come during the high season." There seemed to be plenty of people at all the auto-accessible geothermal features, not to mention the scores of wolf-cultists.

Likewise the Park Service thinking on ranger-led tours.

When we came to Wind Cave on September 29th, all of the cave tours were canceled but one, the "Garden of Eden" tour, which M. and I decided should be called the "geezer tour." It lasted an hour, but most of that was just standing around listening to the ranger guide tell stories. He told them well, interweaving geology and history, but still, of miles of public cave trail, we saw maybe a quarter mile and three rooms, chiefly the room called the Garden of Eden by its discoverer in the 1890s.

I assume there are staffing issues with seasonal rangers, etc., but it also seems that the Park Service assumes that anyone traveling after Labor Day is decrepit and unable to handle a longer walk and a few more stairs.

For that "geezer tour" you pay $7. And, yes, we had a full tour group on a Tuesday afternoon.

Things were somewhat better over at Jewel Cave National Monument. Again, some of their most interesting tours are offered only in the high season.

But we were able to take the Scenic Tour—a half-mile loop, one hour and twenty minutes, $8 for an adult ticket—a better value than Wind Cave offered. There were more than 20 people in our group, on a snowy Thursday, October 1st, and another group was entering as we were leaving. There are plenty of "off-season" visitors.

You spend a lot of time trooping along clanging industrial aluminum catwalks and stairs, which give the cave a sort of "secret lair of the super-villain" feel. But wood would not last well in the 99-percent humidity. And you see enough rooms, passages, formations, etc., to give you a real feeling for the cave, which actually includes about 140 miles of mapped passages.

Notice the absence of geezers in the photo above. Home-schooled kids? Kids whose parents thought that they would benefit more from a cave trip than the classroom? Either way, I was happy to see them there.

October 05, 2009

Hunting as a Rite of Passage

I am adding Randall Eaton's From Boys to Men of Heart: Hunting as a Rite of Passage to my Amazon wish list one of these days, as soon as Amazon stocks it.

Here is a review from a parenting blog.

The author's web site is here.

Parkitecture in the Black Hills

Above: the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park, built in the 1920s, with its two recent wings.

One way in which Custer State Park resembles a mini-Yellowstone is that it offers a few examples of "parkitecture," the building style of the 1900s-1920s that features massive timbers, rustic stonework, and an overall "hall of the mountain king" effect. (You can see more examples at the Parkitecture web site.)

Norbeck Visitor Center, Custer State Park. Photo by Chas S. CliftonCuster's Peter Norbeck Visitor Center (above) suggests the Norris Geyser Basin Museum in Yellowstone--classic parkitecture. Here (below) is a detail of the copper downspouts:

Wind Cave National Park visitor center, 2009. Photo by Chas S. CliftonThe visitor center at Wind Cave National Park (above), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, offers a relaxed and inviting face as well.

Although I do not visit just to see the buildings, I make a point of experiencing them—having a drink in the bar while watching tourists interact with the buffalo, wandering the museums, eating a meal in the dining room. It's all part of slowing down and being there.

October 03, 2009

Why We Go to South Dakota

Park ranger at Wind Cave National Park. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.Wind Cave National Park ranger Garrett Roke leads a tour underground.

It happened several time that when M. and I told friends we were going to South Dakota, the response was, "Why South Dakota?

Despite the fact that the state tourist authority runs regular ads in the Denver Post Sunday travel section advertising the Black Hills, you do not see many green-and-white Colorado license plates here. Lots of Midwestern plates instead: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, etc.

Bird-hunters may come for pheasant, etc., in the prairie counties, but the Black Hills don't draw us Coloradans.

Too bad.

Yes, the eastern Black Hills are one of the most touristy and billboarded places you will see. When I was a kid, one of my regular playmates was the son of the manager of Reptile Gardens, a private zoo that put up more huge signs than any Black Hills "tourist trap," including Bear County USA, the Big Thunder gold mine, the Circle B Chuckwagon, and all the many others. We thought it was all normal at the time.

One the other hand, Wind Cave National Park (28,295 acres) and the adjacent Custer State Park (71,000 acres) make up a mini-Yellowstone.

What they lack in geothermal features and grizzly bears, they make up in underground stuff, in the case of Wind Cave, where interpretive ranger Garrett Roke describes 133 miles of explored passages underlying a square mile of surface area—incredibly complex, in other words. Exploration began in the 1880s with candles and balls of string and has not finished yet.

Although the local Indian hunters probably knew about the cave's natural opening (still there), which only a small adult could wiggle through, they apparently made little or no use of it. No Chauvet-style cave paintings.

And down the road is Jewel Cave National Monument, with less surface area but even more miles underground. More on it later.

Wind Cave NP and Custer State Park together preserve a good chunk of edge habitat, where the prairie meets the hills, where your hiking plan may have to include a big bull buffalo snoozing in the middle of the traill

While my fondness for the Black Hills starts with having spent eight years there as a kid, I have good reasons for going back now and again.

Some more photo posts will be forthcoming.