November 30, 2010

What Killed the Cave Bears?

Sometimes when I want to wallow in nostalgia for lost and long-ago times, I pull out a coffee-table photo book of paintings from Chauvet.

There is a sketch on the right, student work from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts des Grottes, no doubt.

Such bears are long-gone, and while many would suspect that Cro-Magnon hunters with spears did them in, some scientists still seek other explanations for their disappearance.

Climate change? Housing shortage? High-tech tools are being deployed in the search for answers.

However, if the Cro-Mag boys killed one, they quite likely ate it. Did they make bear dumplings? Or did that recipe have to wait for the Neolithic, when, if you are in the Paul Shepard camp, you assert that everything went downhill.

November 29, 2010

Invasive Phragmites in Fountain Creek

If it isn't one thing, it's another. While the War on Tamarisk proceeds, an invasive variety of phragmites (a type of reed, say it in three syllables) is now potentially a problem in the Fountain Creek  drainage  around Pueblo.

(Photo by Chris McLean, Pueblo Chieftain)

The Emperor Norton Grape

The Hermanoff winery tasting room and delicatessen occupy this building.
A long time ago—three dogs ago—M. and I passed through Hermann, Missouri, after visiting my sister's farm in southeastern Missouri. We bought some white wine—most of the local wines were whites—and had a picnic.

Later, after the same sister moved up to Little Dixie (Randolph County), she took Dad and me to Les Bourgeois winery, and I discovered that Missouri did offer some drinkable reds (although it is indicative that Les Bourgeois' best-selling red, Riverboat Red, is described as "a tantalizing blend of raspberry and cherry aromas, this chilled sweet red dazzles the palate with rich layers of ripe fruit."

Cherry ... sweet ... ripe fruit. Uh, no thanks.

Last week, M. and I visited three Missouri wineries: Les Bourgeois, Adam Puchta, and Hermannhof, the latter two in the German immigrant-founded town of Hermann, whose wine-making history goes back to the first half of the 19th century. We also had a bottle of Stone Hill's Norton varietal wine one night at dinner.

All of these wineries' dry red wines rely on the Norton grape, grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and introduced to Missouri around 1860.
Well adapted to sweltering Midwestern summers, the grape became very popular in the [Missouri] area. Several nurseries along the Mississippi River began selling seedlings, especially in and around the tiny town of Bushberg, just east of Pevely. Catalogs from 1870 proudly advertised Norton, which by that time had already become one of Missouri’s most popular grapes. 

In the 1920s, prohibition shut down the entire American wine industry. European wines regained preeminence on the world stage, a position they have been loath to relinquish ever since. But now, with American wine making a comeback, Norton is gaining momentum. “It has made a remarkable recovery,” noted Laszlo Kovacs of the Mid-America Viticulture and Enology Center, located in Mountain Grove, Mo. He specifically praised Norton as an “American grape that can be made into a premium-quality wine.” He’s not the only one in on this secret – today, Norton is the most widely planted red grape in the state.

We tasted Norton-based wines at all of these vineyards, and they all have a family resemblance. I lack the fancy vocabulary of a wine writer, but compared to the California wines that I am used to, the Nortons tasted "grape-ier" (My favorite was Adam Puchta's "Legacy.") It's not a bad taste, just different from the "big" California reds that I am used to.

We brought a few bottles home and will try them out on our wine-loving friends.

This post's title invokes the real Emperor Norton.

November 28, 2010

Across the Wide Missouri (2)

Faced with a big river, I keep trying to get a good photo of it. Visiting the Les Bourgeois winery at Rocheport, Missouri, for the first time in several years, I discovered that they had built a new restaurant.


If you walk down to the edge of the bluff past the building and look upstream, you see this:

If that view doesn't make you feel like you want to be in a boat heading upstream (or down), I don't know what would.

Next, a few thoughts on the wines.

Across the Wide Missouri (1)

Like the late, lamented Steel City Diner in Pueblo, Colorado, Glenn's Cafe in Boonville, Missouri, hides a white-tablecloth restaurant behind a proletarian name. M. and I ate there Tuesday night and liked it.

Just out of the photo to the left: the Boonslick Bridge across the Missouri River.

November 26, 2010

The Indian Pueblo in Kansas

Foundations of "El Cuartelejo," a Pueblo Indian ruin in western Kansas
First, a timeline:
  • 1541-42 The Coronado expedition travels across the southern Great Plains. Sometimes all who wander are indeed lost—or being deliberately misled.
  • 1598 Spanish colonists led by Juan de Oñate colonize the Rio Grande valley in what is now the state of New Mexico.
  • c. 1656 A group of Indians from the Taos, N.M., area flee the Spanish and their missionaries and travel about 300 miles northeast to an "oasis" on the Great Plains, a small valley watered by a tributary of the Smokey Hill River in what is now western Kansas.This is all in the pre-horse days, which means they walked. What did they eat? What information did they have about where to go?
  • The Spanish idea of colonization was to have the Spanish noble on his plantation with his family and then the Indians to work the plantation to keep him in a very peaceful situation. Well obviously, this didn't work. Around 1656 ... somewhere around there approximately, a group of Taos pueblo Indians fled from the Spanish. .... Well, these Taos Indians fled into the plains to escape the Spanish oppression. And where they fled was to a rancheria of a Plains Apache group. (source)
  • 1680 In a rare example of cross-tribal cooperation, inhabitants of various New Mexican Indian pueblos launch a coordinated attack on Spanish colonists (particularly the priests), killing some, destroying mission churches, and chasing the remaining Spanish south into old Mexico.
  • 1692-96 New Spanish soldiers and colonists led by Diego de Vargas complete the so-called "bloodless" reconquest of New Mexico, which actually involved some hard fighting against die-hard Indian warriors. 
  • c. 1696. Some inhabitants of Picuris Pueblo near Taos also journey to the little settlement in western Kansas to escape the Spanish vengeance
  • 1697 The Pueblo Indians at El Cuartelejo are "brought home," maybe?
 A definition: The Spanish referred to the southern Great Plains as El Cuartelejo–The Far Quarter of their empire, at least on paper. The name is also applied to this particular small Indian pueblo. In its plural form, the name also referred to some of the Plains Apache people who lived there until the early 18th century.
A 1925 historic market gives a date for the pueblo that is probably too early.

(In Kansas, they sometimes spell the word El Quartelejo. They can't help it. They also call the river Ar-KAN-sas.)

All this is background. Some time ago, I heard of ruins of an Indian pueblo in western Kansas. Since we usually associate rectangular, stone-and/or-adobe buildings with the Southwest—New Mexico and Arizona—this was certainly an "outlier" in several senses.

Last Saturday I visited it, part of Scott State Park: How strange to see such a foundation in this land of cattle ranches, center-pivot irrigation, and gigantic farm machinery. There is a historical marker out on US 83 for those travelers in a hurry.

Tom Witty, former chief archaeologist for the Kansas State Historical Society, describes the site's discovery in the 1890s:
There were two naturalists ... actually, they were paleontologists from the University of Kansas—Williston and Martin And they excavated and found the remains of a small, seven-room pueblo ... just the foundations, with the floor literally covered with burned corn and artifacts. They had the pueblo, and then they discovered three major irrigation ditches. These run off of the springs that were there at that time.
[Witty describes] this rancheria as a large village complex, in which the Taos Indians built their pueblo structure and practiced horticulture in nearby garden plots, while the Apaches with whom they were associated roamed farther afield.
As mentioned, more refugees from Picuris followed those from Taos:
Tu-pa-tu, one of the principal leaders in the revolt, was a native of Picuris, and after the slaughter of all resident Spaniards, led the warriors of the pueblo to Santa Fé to take part in the siege of Otermin. The Indians not only massacred the priest, whose name was Mafias Rendon, and burned the church and surrounding buildings, but they killed every individual Spaniard living in the valleys of the vicinity. There is no record of the escape of even one to tell the tale. When the reconquest took place, quite a fraction of the population, not reconciled to renewed subjection to the Spaniards, emigrated to Cuartelejo, on the plains of western Kansas, but they gradually returned when matters became settled and their fears had subsided.
Visiting the site on a chilly, windy November day, I can attest that the small valley (or large arroyo, depending on your perspective) protects you from the gentle prairie breezes. But it must have been tough there on really severe-weather days, huddling over a fire of buffalo chips.

We have only the Spanish account for why they allowed themselves to be "retrieved." (An earlier Spanish expedition passed by on its way to disaster.)
For the moment, however, we must note the activities of Governor de Vargas, whose reconquest of New Mexico compelled him to engage in the fall of 1696 in an expedition to the east. In that year some Pueblos, obstinately refusing to accept the Spanish king and God, rebelled and fled from their homes eastward over the Taos Mountains. De Vargas, setting out at once from the Picuries Pueblo recaptured, after an exciting chase, the majority of the rebels but the rest escaped in company of some Apaches. The general’s Journal of the event does not give sufficient information to state how far he penetrated on this march. He later stated he traveled eighty-four leagues; but whether this is the distance for one or both ways is not clear. His entire journey, going and coming, however, consumed only seventeen days, two of which were spent in camp because of a blinding snowstorm. Colonel Twitchell, nevertheless, has interpreted his remark and the diary to mean that the journey took de Vargas eastward beyond Clayton, New Mexico, into the western Panhandle of present Oklahoma.

In the following year, 1697, the Reconquest of New Mexico was completed but the re-occupation of the lost province still presented serious problems to the Spaniards. Constantly on the qui vive against a new uprising, they were quick both to investigate suspicious rumors of revolt and to lend helpful hands to the Pueblo Indians. In this latter spirit the governor despatched in 1706 an expedition to the far off Cuartelejos to bring back the fugitives who escaped De Vargas in 1696, and others there enslaved, and who now sought the privilege of returning to their kinsmen. The expedition, commanded by Captain Juan de Uribarri, journeyed through the Jicarilla country of Northeastern New Mexico, the Carlana country south of the Arkansas and then eastward from near present day Pueblo, Colorado, to the Cuartelejos in Eastern Colorado of to-day. These savages received the expedition with genuine expressions of friendship, offered no objection to the loss of their slaves and servants but loaded the Pueblo ponies high with corn and sent off Spaniards and Indians rejoicing.

Enslaved? So the Spanish were doing them a favor? You have to wonder. Poor, grateful savages. Or, perhaps, some Picuris people were indeed enslaved by the nomadic tribes, separate from those living at El Cuartelejo settlement. Who knows? Other accounts give a different reason for abandoning the settlement:

By the 1730s raids by Comanche, Ute, and Pawnee had decimated the Cuartelejo Apache. The survivors moved south to join the Jicarilla Apache at Pecos. However, after 1763 and the French retreat from the area, the pueblo was abandoned. Its walls decayed and the structure was buried by drifting soil.
And that was the story until American scientists re-discovered it in what was now called the state of Kansas.

November 24, 2010

Blizzards, Forest Fires Possible

At Odious and Peculiar, Peculiar notes a characteristically Southwestern weather alert.

M. and I meanwhile are still in the Boone's Lick Country (a/k/a Boonslick), where it is raining. But my thoughts are in El Cuartelejo as I prepare a long historical blog post about an Indian pueblo in Kansas.

November 23, 2010

Motel of the Admonishments

If you did not already feel like a person of low moral character before checking in to the Cowboy Cabins Motel in Scott City, Kansas, you will feel like such a person after a few minutes in your room.

First, there was the sign by the office: "5 MPH THIS MEANS YOU." Ok, fine, no speeding in the parking lot.

Once in the room, however, lists of rules blossom on every wall, including such casually spelled admonishments as "Do not leave doors open with air conditines on. It freezes them up and burn's compressers out."

Likewise, the cold-weather guest is cautioned against leaving the door open while carrying items to or from a vehicle, lest the entire Great Plains become unwontedly warm.

A surveillance camera is mentioned. And there is one in the parking lot, pointed at the owner's pickup truck, from what I can see.

It all comes down to this: "Do not clean pheasants in the room or we will put you out."

November 19, 2010

Off to the Boone's Lick Country

M. and I are packing for a trip to the Boone's Lick Country. For the next week, this may be a cross-country photo blog.

Some small business related to my late sister's estate remains in Little Dixie, but I don't think that I need to see Moberly, Huntsville, or for that matter Clifton Hill, again.

To put ourselves in the mood, we watched Winter's Bone. Of course, that is southwestern Missouri, not the central part. No similarities, nope, not at all, no sir.

But in addition to family, we intend to focus more on historic hotels, sightseeing, and wineries.

"Dogs Don't Undestand Basic Concepts Like Moving"

This blog post at Hyperbole and a Half is rapidly attaining Web platinum status.

November 15, 2010

A Little Victory

After six months of back-and-forth, the Internal Revenue Service has decided that M. and I do not owe an additional $250 federal income tax for last year.

Not a huge amount, but, damn it, we did not owe it!

If we had prepared our own tax returns and had not had our tax accountant to hold our hands through this process, we might have thought that we really did owe more money. How many people just pay up?

But he generated some "Prove it, you stupid, clumsy bureaucrats!" letters, and the IRS backed down. He probably has the letter template in his computer and just inserts the clients' names.

I used to tell my writing student that "the IRS hates freelancers." Funny that this happened the first full year of my return to freelance work.

We don't make very much money, but we make it in complicated ways, filing a federal tax return fat with Schedule This and Worksheet That.

November 11, 2010

Elk Country . . .

In the Wet Mountains, just before the snow began to fall.
. . . is keeping me busy right now.

Those are tooth marks on the aspen bark from winter nibbling.

November 09, 2010

Hunting on Junk Food

I am trying to clean eighty-plus emails from my inbox, plant some flowers for spring, and gather my gear for the afore-mentioned elk hunt.

If I get an elk (far from guaranteed), I can brag on its being "natural meat."

The funny thing is, when I hunt alone and no one else is cooking, I tend to run on processed foods, the kind that are bad for you long-term.

There will be an MRE in my day pack. Like what's in those? And supermarket burritos for fast breakfast while I am trying to get the dogs organized so that I can leave.

I suppose a hunk of bread and some cured sausage would be more authentic. Maybe next year.

(For a historical look back into the nutritional needs of people toting rifles in rough country, visit this site on military nutrition.)

November 08, 2010

A Grizzly Bear in Hot Pursuit

Alex Wypyszinski, a retired professor and amateur photographer, shot this amazing series of photos of a grizzly bear chasing down an injured bison when he stopped to take photos of geysers in Yellowstone National Park in May.
I have two days to get ready for a short elk hunt*, so I leave you with a series of photos (if you have not already seen them elsewhere) of a grizzly bear's pursuit of an injured bison right down a highway in Yellowstone National Park, courtesy of Field & Stream.
Something that makes these photos even more remarkable is that [Alex] Wypyszinski didn’t use a high-end camera and lens to shoot the series.

“It was just a (digital) point-and-shoot, but it had a 15x zoom lens on it. The professionals are always out there with their 800mm lenses and run around in a group when they hear about something like this…”
As the man (possibly Weegee) said, "f/8 and be there." Today, it's more like "fresh batteries and be there."

* The elk are regular-size. The hunting period is only five days.

November 07, 2010

Why [Blank] Love Their Guns

"Why Do East Tennesseans Love Their Guns?" asks an article in the Knoxville, Tenn.,Metro Pulse, an "alternative" newspaper.

Answer: Pretty much for the same reasons as Coloradans, New Mexicans, Vermonters, or any one else:
  • Personal protection
  • Hunting
  • Recreational target shooting
  • Competitive shooting
  • Collecting
The article asks why "we" are "obsessed" with guns, but it does not really try to answer that question.  Given the venue, it is remarkably calm writing.

Via law-blogger Glenn Reynolds, who is quoted in the story.

Reynolds thinks the gun-control movement was partly driven by civic panic in the 1960s and ’70s in the wake of high-profile assassinations and mounting urban crime rates. As crime rates have fallen even while gun ownership continues to grow, he says, “Maybe we’re back to sort of a renormalization”—a society that is growing more comfortable with guns on its streets, in its office buildings, in its restaurants and movie theaters.
 The most-blogged gun shop in America (thanks to Tam) is prominently featured.

November 06, 2010

Driving Miss Vulture

Why do wildlife-transport calls and fire calls always come an hour before suppertime? That is M.'s lament, and to be honest, it does seem to be the pattern.

This time it was Diana Miller, director of the Raptor Center, who had been contacted by some people from the other end of my county.

They had picked up an injured turkey vulture—which otherwise should have migrated south by now. They were willing to bring it down our way—could we bring it to Pueblo?

Well, of course. We accepted the bird at the little store out on the state highway, and they already had it in a cardboard box, so my carrier was not needed.

Raptor Center director DIana Miller examines the turkey vulture that we had driven to Pueblo this afternoon.

She was young, hungry, and her wing injury had mostly healed on its own—but she will never be fully able to fend for herself, so she will become an "education bird," a permanent resident of the center who is taken to schools and so forth.

We also checked the progress of the peregrine falcon that we transported at the end of August.

She now resides in a 95-foot-long flight pen, and demonstrated that she could fly to the far end quite well, thanks very much, rather than be bothered by people. Diana said that she will be moved to a larger flight pen later this winter and released in the spring, if all goes well. We hope to be on hand for that event.

Western Colorado is Burning--Underground

Wildfire Today links to an interesting piece on western Colorado coal fires that burn for decades. I did not realize that there were so many in southwestern Colorado. It's the sort of thing that I associate with, say, Pennsylvania.

November 05, 2010

EPA Rejects Lead Fishing-Weight Ban

Last August the Environmental Protection Agency rejected a ban on lead ammunition.

Now the EPA has also rejected the second part of the petition, against lead fishing weights.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Avian Veteranarians, [the astroturf "hunters group"] Project Gutpile, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the petition on August 3 to ban the production and sale of lead based ammunition and fishing tackle under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.

EPA sent a letter to the petitioners today [Nov. 4]  stating that they failed to demonstrate that the rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. The letter also states that the increasing number of limitations on the use of lead fishing gear on some federal and state lands, as well as various education and outreach activities, call into question whether a national ban on lead in fishing gear would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach to address the concern, as called for under TSCA. EPA's letter also notes that there are non-lead alternatives currently in the marketplace.
Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine, as I understand, do ban small (under 1.0 or 0.5 oz., depending) sinkers (split shot, etc.), partly to protect loons. I think that there is a ban on such in Canada (all provinces?) too.

From the Outdoor Wire, a daily digest of outdoor-industry news and agency news releases that you can subscribe to.

November 01, 2010