November 26, 2011

Amtrak, Raccoons, and the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr climbs the Big 10 curve west of Denver
M. and I are home from a week-long trip to San Francisco -- mostly business for me, but she got to spend time with family.

We took the California Zephyr west from Denver, "mountains and rivers without end."

And we got where we needed to go, although there was one rough patch at the beginning.

As usual, click the photos to enlarge them.

You usually end up dining with strangers but can always talk about the trains.

We woke up at dawn in our Denver hotel, checked the Amtrak train-status page, and oh no, the westbound train was six hours behind schedule. Later we would learn that it had been held up waiting for work crews to repair some damaged track somewhere in Iowa or Nebraska.

So we went out to breakfast, read exotic magazines at the Tattered Cover's LoDo store, and eventually got a lift in the hotel's town car to the temporary station that Amtrak is using while Denver Union Station is being renovated.

In the photo, two guys who just met through the dining steward's command to "Sit there" are getting acquainted.

Passengers ("Pax" in train-speak) on the platform at Fraser, Colo.
The first "fresh air stop" after Denver is Fraser/Winter Park, immediately after you come out of the long darkness of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
The station in Glenwood Springs, Colo., right in the center of town.
After Fraser, the railroad follows a roadless area of the Fraser River Canyon, breaks out into Middle Park, and then enters roadless Gore Canyon, where the river is already freezing over in spots. It then passes a few isolated spots like Radium, State Bridge, and Bond, before rejoining I-70 at Dotsero and continuing on down Glenwood Canyon.

Western terminus of the Zephyr: Emeryville, Calif.
And a bus ride over the Bay Bridge, a taxi to the hotel, and we're there, only three hours late at the end.

We left Wednesday the 23rd for home. Everything started well: up through the across the Delta, up through the eucalyptus, cypresses, and palms of Roseville, then into the Sierras, with cedar, manazanita, firs, and other conifers.

Into Reno on time. Through basin and range -- Winnemucca in the late afternoon, Ely after dark, then salt flats and Salt Lake City. The "gray desert" around Green River, Utah. Into Grand Junction on time, and we saw a bald eagle sitting in a snag along the Colorado River somewhere between Dotsero and State Bridge.

Through Middle Park and the Moffat Tunnel, everything tickety-tock, running even a bit ahead of schedule.

Then Conductor Renée comes on the p.a. system: the westbound Zephyr hit a "herd of raccoons" in Iowa the previous evening, had to wait for a replacement locomotive, and has now limped into Denver many hours late. We must wait for it to clear the wye at the station before we in turn can back in. So we wait, somewhere in Arvada, and eventually arrive an hour behind schedule. No problem. 

But a "herd of raccoons"? Since when do coons come in herds, as opposed to small family groups? And how big a herd does it take to damage (air hoses, etc., she said) a full-size locomotive?

You know Amtrak does not put out news releases about such incidents, so it must remain a mystery of rail travel.

UPDATE: Here is a posting on a train-fan web site, which gives a location and speaks of a "pack of raccoons."

November 14, 2011

Do Bears Roll in the Woods?

Since I am leaving this week for a place that has not seen a bear since the early 19th century, I leave you with this sequence of photos taken at one of my favorite scout-camera spots. Note that the photos span several hours—the bear left, came back, rolled on the ground, left, and came back. I am still not sure what the attraction was. 

Wildlife and Culverts

Badgers in a British Columbia culvert, from
Patrick Burns links to a study on how animals use -- or don't use -- culverts to pass under roads. Some have definite preferences as to size and materials.

November 12, 2011

A Pre-Winter Chore at the Fire Department

Someone needs to tuck that nozzle away on the hose reel.

Colder weather is coming, so today some of the volunteer firefighters met to empty our two above-ground 3,000-gallon storage tanks, located about a mile and a half from my house. We had filled them in the spring from the creek—before it went dry.

They give us a reliable summer water source in this area, just in case we cannot draft from the creek, and they have been used in the past by engines from other departments that do not carry floating pumps.

The creek is running again, but rather than just drain the tanks into it, we pumped them into our old water tender (rear bumper pictured) and a larger water truck borrowed from the county road-and-bridge department. We dumped all the water into a new semi-underground tank at the fire house, then added more from the creek.

I made several trips up and down the highway in between the two sites, getting in some practice driving that tender with its 1970s GMC split rear axle. A west wind blew ferociously the whole time—that means snow is falling in the higher mountains.

November 11, 2011

Strange Stuff in the Woods and Deserts

A thread on an outdoors forum where hunters and anglers discuss strange "encounters" in the outdoors, everything from animal weirdness to UFOs to pot farms to airplane crashes to dead people.

Mostly but not all from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

Via The View from the Porch, where Tam rightly notes, "CAUTION: SEVERE TIME SINK WARNING!"

November 09, 2011

Most Honey Ain't Honey, Honey

Most honey sold in the supermarket barely deserves to be called "honey."
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn't honey. However, the FDA isn't checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey — some containing illegal antibiotics — on the U.S. market for years. 

Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin. 
The old advice that you should eat local honey to reduce the severity of hay fever is bad science anyway, because the problem pollen is blown by winds, not carried by bees, so it will not be in the honey. But if there is any good to eating honey beyond the taste, local honey (definitely not Chinese or Indian honey) would be the best.

November 05, 2011

Breweries and Brew Pubs of the Mountain West

An interactive map, part of a larger one covering the whole country. Note the concentration in Colorado. Beer-buying has certainly become more interesting over the past decade or two.

(Via Borepatch.)

The Yoga Instructor and the Cattle Drive

They figure in "Sad River Roundup, a short short story by Tim Cooper from Mountain Gazette.

"Texas Vertigo" is a useful phrase for southern Colorado and New Mexico—I am going to remember it.

November 03, 2011

How the Humane Society of the US Does Not Help Animals

It's too busy managing its investments.

From the New York Post:
HSUS's advertisements employ the images of downtrodden dogs and cats to tug at the heart strings and wallets of America's pet lovers. But CCF's new analysis finds HSUS is a "Humane Society" in name only, sharing a meager $527,566, or 0.4 percent of its $120 million budget with sheltering organizations nationwide in 2010. In the same year, HSUS spent $47 million in fundraising-related costs (37 percent of its total budget) and put $32 million in hedge funds.
Yep. $32,000,000 in hedge funds. That's where your donation goes, if you are uninformed enough to give HSUS your hard-earned dollars.

November 02, 2011

Light-Colored Cars Get Better Mileage

That is, if you are running the air conditioner.

I never understood why anyone in the sunny Southwest would buy a black car or truck, but some do. They're looking cool while being hot—and not in a good way.