December 31, 2012

Things You Might Find on the Moon

A future archaeologist's dream is waiting on the Moon.Heritage Daily lists some of the items left behind both by astronauts and unmanned spacecraft:
  • more than 70 spacecraft, including rovers, modules, and crashed orbiters
  • 5 American flags
  • 12 pairs of boots
  • TV cameras
  • film magazines
  • 96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit
  • numerous Hasselbad cameras and accessories
  • several improvised javelins
  • various hammers, tongs, rakes, and shovels
  • backpacks
  • insulating blankets
  • utility towels
  • used wet wipes
  • personal hygiene kits
  • empty packages of space food
  • a photograph of Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke’s family
  • a feather from Baggin, the Air Force Academy’s mascot falcon, used to conduct Apollo 15′s famous “hammer-feather drop” experiment
  • a small aluminum sculpture, a tribute to the American and Soviet “fallen astronauts” who died in the space race — left by the crew of Apollo 15
  • a patch from the never-launched Apollo 1 mission, which ended prematurely when flames engulfed the command module during a 1967 training exercise, killing three U.S. astronauts
  • a small silicon disk bearing goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, and left on the moon by the crew of Apollo 11
  • a silver pin, left by Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean
  • a medal honoring Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin
  • a cast golden olive branch left by the crew of Apollo 11
  • There is another object that lies on the Lunar Surface and that is an  urn containing the ashes of Eugene Shoemaker, the famed planetary geologist.  His lifelong ambition was to visit the moon.

December 30, 2012

Blog Stew with Mystery-Animal Ingredients

• Who is buying guns? Women and Democrats. The Washington Post says so, and they would not lie about it.

• A new journal of crytozoology discussed in a long post by Darren Naish, one of the contributors.

• Colorado writer Dave Petersen brings "the mule deer wars" to The Huffington Post.
In fact, the most dangerous long-term enemy of mule deer and hunting throughout the West is a growing and increasingly consumptive and nature-ignorant human population, causing habitat loss, degradation and splintering.

December 29, 2012

Bad News from Mountain Gazette

If you have been picking up free copies of  Mountain Gazette at your favorite high country coffee house, store, etc, or if like me you subscribed, those days are apparently over.

A recent letter from from MG speaks of a "pause" in publishing and a "next iteration of Mountain Gazette."

None of this sounds too encouraging.

Subscribers are being offered T-shirts and/or bumper stickers.

December 28, 2012

A Veterinary Medicine "Bubble"?

Law professor and blogger Glen Reynolds often talks about the "bubble" in legal education—new law schools opening, older ones expanding, even as few graduates find jobs in their field but leave school with their JD and a huge load of debt.

Now he suggests that something similar is going on in veterinary medicine.

The vet clinic that we use most is basically a father-and-son (and for a time, daughter) operation — plus a revolving cast of new Colorado State University graduates, especially on the small-animal side.

You go and meet with "Dr. Susie" or "Dr. Kevin," and on the next visit, it's someone else.

Dog-blogger Patrick Burns often rants about vets up-selling additional tests and services just to pad the bottom line.

Maybe there is a connection. Too many vets, not enough clients? And are "Dr. Susie" and "Dr. Kevin" underemployed and carrying their own load of debt?

December 26, 2012

Must-Watch Neanderthal Television

Watch Decoding Neanderthals Preview on PBS. See more from NOVA.
Nova's January 9 episode will be devoted to the latest research on Neanderthal people, says anthropologist John Hawks.

That's his voice on the trailer, talking about the "mother of all image problems."

Rocky Mountain PBS actually has it scheduled on that date at 8 p.m., unless they suddenly decide to replace it with Antiques Roadshow or another John Denver special.

December 24, 2012

Hunting, Hipsters, and the Truths of Conservation

Once you get past the usual cliches —
In modern culture, hunting has been dominated by a stereotype of burly men in camouflage who view the pastime mostly as a sport. [Speak for yourself, Jacki Lyden. My friends and I were writing hunting-related poetry and essays in our twenties.]
— this NPR piece is interesting. Interviewed is Lily Raff McCaulau, author of Call of the Mild: Learning How to Hunt Your Own DInner. (Her book seems to have had two different subtitles.)

McCaulau takes a state-sponsored Becoming an Outdoors Women workshop in Oregon, including a pheasant hunt, of which she says,
And there was one other woman who hadn't shot a bird. So the two of us went up kind of close to where the dog was holding the bird, and when the bird flushed, it flew up in the air. We both took a shot and killed the bird. And I was really shocked by my reaction because I was expecting to just be wracked with guilt and really confused about what had just happened. And instead, I was euphoric. I couldn't believe that I had it in me and that I'd done it. I felt empowered and proud and amazed and relieved.
Others on the program talk about women in their 20s and 30s who take up hunting. Read the transcript.

Meanwhile, Slate says that "hunting is undeniably in vogue among the bearded, bicycle-riding, locavore set."
The expansion of hunting into liberal, urban circles is the latest development in an evolving and increasingly snug coexistence between humans and beasts in North America. Jim Sterba’s new book, Nature Wars, examines the paradox of the rebound of many wild species, particularly in the densely populated East Coast of the United States. Whitetail deer, turkeys, Canada geese, black bears, and trees are all doing wonderfully in 2012, thanks to conservation measures in the past and vagaries of history and cultural change. The problem, Sterba says, is that most modern North Americans have no idea what to do with these species. We gawk and gape; we feed them doughnuts; we run into them with our cars; we are surprised and alarmed by their messy habits and occasional aggressiveness; we manage them all wrong; we want them gone from our neighborhoods, but we abhor the idea of killing them.
(Let's see . . . Beard? Check. Bicyle-riding (well, sometimes)? Check. Locavore? Check. I had no idea that I was so much in tune with the zeitgeist — or maybe the zeitgeist is now in tune with me?)

So hunting is not a red state thing. It is a red meat thing," concludes writer Emma Marris. "And, more than that, it is a necessary thing."

December 23, 2012

Drop the Smart Phone, Go Hiking, Be Smarter?

I am not sure how you measure creativity — it's not like saying how many pull-ups you can do or something like that, but if being outdoors enhanced creativity, then I will support the meme.
Earlier studies have shown that children spend only 15 to 25 minutes outdoors daily and that outdoor recreation has declined over the past 30 years. People ages 8 to 18 spent more than 7.5 hours daily watching TV or using cellphones or computers.
But I always feel a little guilty about now in writing such a blog post, because guess where I am at this very moment.

OK, tomorrow, serious hike. It's supposed to snow too.

December 21, 2012

Mountain Lions at Lunch

With the bears now out on their own, our local wildlife rehabbers were able to meet us in Nearby Town for a long lunch.

The conversation wandered around "secret" hiking trails, local water issues, and of course critter tales — specifically mountain lions.

Back when M. and I were hired by the Bureau of Land Management to census Mexican spotted owls, we were stalked by mountain lions twice that we knew of, and probably other times that we did not know of.

But these people hand-raised them. They had two lions that lived out their lives with them, because the cats had been seized from people who owned them illegally and who had had them declawed. There was no way that these cats could be released into the wild.

The lions were quite friendly, almost cuddly. But they were still cats — unpredictable.

One day one of them jumped the woman as she was leaving its pen, knocked her down, and bit into the back of her head. It sounded like a dog chewing a bone, she said.

Her husband got the cat off of her with a couple of swift kicks to the head and a squirt of pepper spray. She was half-scalped. It was a real La Brea Tar Pits moment, he says.

He himself was in a bad car wreck once and was rebuilt with pins and plates, so we figured that their skeletons would astonish archaeologists of the future.

"Look," they might say, "people in the Plastic Age were still preyed on by large carnivores. Yet this woman survived — her people took care of her."

"And the man — clearly he had many enemies, but someone rebuilt his skeleton in a primitive way."

December 18, 2012

Waldo Canyon: What Went Wrong

I was going to blog the Colorado Springs Independent's report on what happened when the Waldo Canyon Fire entered the city last June, but I have been too busy wrapping up a big project.

So here are Wildfire Today's summary and comments.
After reading the article in yesterday’s Colorado Springs Independent, I am left stunned. Regarding the management of the fire within the city of Colorado Springs, I have never heard of a wildland fire with such a huge impact that was so utterly, catastrophically mismanaged.
I, too, thought that Colorado Springs was better prepared for wildland interface fire. 

December 12, 2012

Blog Stew for Kids Who Survive

• I think of catfish as bottom-feeders, but under the right conditions, they are sharks!Say Uncle.

• Dog seat belts don't work. No, that's not a real dog.

• If you have kids on the gift list, check out the "I Survived . . . " series. They come recommended from the Free Range Kids blog, where a reader comments, 
One of my son’s favorite book series this year is the “I Survived…” 9/11 attacks, Titanic, San Fran Earthquake (from Scholastic Books).  At first, I was concerned of his interest in disasters but after reading a few of the pages, I understood why he enjoyed them. He wanted to find out what kids did to survive and not be  victims.

Orphan Bears Returned to the Forest

The formerly undersized yearling black bear heads back into the woods. (Colorado Parks & WIldlife photo)
Last winter, I wrote about how orphan bears that had spent the summer and fall at a nearby rehabilitation center were released into a special purpose-built bear den somewhere in southern Colorado.

Recently, I learned that they had not used it through the winter. Ungrateful bears! What do they think they are, wild animals?

Meanwhile, the rehabbers had two bears to care for this past summer. One was found in the spring, weighing only 12 pounds — yet he was a yearling! How had he survived the winter? A normal weight for a yearling black bear at that stage of life would be 40–50 pounds.

The other was a cub brought in after its mother and sibling were hit by a car.

Both gained a lot of weight over the summer. As our friends reported,
Walmart once again provided tons of bear necessities. The bears gorged on peaches, plums, avocados, grapes, dry dog food (their least favorite), apples and assorted other fruits and vegetables that came with the bear packages. I also gave them as many natural foods as I could harvest. Chokecherry, juniper berries, wild plums and acorns were added to their diet.
This time they were just turned loose into the forest to find their own dens.

December 11, 2012

A Good Experience in the World of Outdoor-Gear Retailing

When this blog was young (2006), I wrote a post about the snobbery of some outdoor-gear shops and gun shops:
You walk through the door, and the clerk's look says, "Are you cool enough to be shopping here? Do I recognize you from Outside or Fly Fisherman magazine?"
This time, M.'s favorite Patagonia hiking shoes were dying, so Santa agreed to take her to Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs and replace them.

But that model, the "Bly," was not on display. The saleswoman fetched a printed catalog, and M. found the shoe, somewhat redesigned but now apparently discontinued, or at least that was the story.

Still, the saleswoman praised them: "Half the women who work here bought those shoes." Or else she was shrewdly praising M's judgment, a little ego-boost for the customer — whatever. 

Then she did something that surprised us. She went to a computer, looked up the shoe, and found that Sierra Trading Post, a Wyoming-based chain that sells a lot of discontinued and closed-out outdoor gear and clothing, still had them. I had my laptop computer with me, so I went down Tejon Street to Rico's wine bar, ordered a glass of something, and dropped the shoes into my virtual shopping cart, at 40 percent off the original price.

So to give credit where it is due, she did not make a sale, but she left us with warm, fuzzy feelings about Mountain Chalet, and when M. wears out these shoes in a year or two, we will probably look there first again. When you have a brick-and-mortar (literally!) specialty store, you have to do these things.

December 09, 2012

Skiing Aspen When It Was (sort of ) Affordable

Skiers on the bus to Aspen. She brought her corkscrew.
A photo gallery of skiing and après-ski at Aspen and Snowmass in 1974, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency and collected at the Denver Post.

December 08, 2012

Perils of a Liberal Arts Education When Cutting Firewood

Every year it happens: I cannot swing the Monster Maul(TM) without thinking of Saying 77 of the Gospel of Thomas.

It was the topic of my first halfway good religious-studies paper, written in my sophomore year at Reed.

I even translated one theological term on the spot into German, and the professor did not blink at it, so either I put one past him or the expression actually existed in works that I had not read.

Everything is a web of textual allusions.

The tree itself I cut on Thursday, with snow in the forecast. A beetle-killed pine — the chainsaw skated through its trunk, cutting the hinge, and down it fell.

Perfectly dried, and bearing the fatal blue fungal stain, the logs go into the wood stove, as a light as an old person's limbs.

Who was there?

December 05, 2012

Blog Stew with your Fishing Buddy

• Alfred Packerov? Cannibalism suspected in Siberian survival story.

• Is she a "horse hater" or a "realist"? A Colorado member of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board wants to talk about the 46,000 wild horses vegetating in corrals and the $60 million the government spend annually on wild horse management. One problem is that people are not lining up to adopt them. Private "sanctuaries" are overwhelmed with unwanted horses.

• New Mexico dog rescuer accused of crossing the line into theft and abuse.
Torrance County sheriff's officials say they have had a flood of new calls since news of Swenerton's arrest broke. One woman, approached at a hamburger stand, seemed startled to hear of the case.
"My dog is missing. A lot of dogs are missing," Melissa Crozier said. She said her dog, Simba, recently disappeared from inside her home, behind an unlocked door. "I came home and he was gone. I have no idea how he could have gotten out" unless someone opened the door.

December 04, 2012

Weather: The Kid Is Not Showing Up

Morning rainbow after brief squall on November 10, 2012.
Checking around for El Niño updates—the weather condition that usually give us snowy  winters, I find this news:
With sea surface temps cooling to near average in much of the equatorial Pacific, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has dropped an El Niño watch that’s been in effect for the past several months.
And from the same meteorologist:
We are going with a 52% chance of above average snowfall and above average temps for Denver, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs and Provo, UT.
Which is about the same as no prediction at all. Could go either way. Flip of the coin. Et cetera. He is right about the "above-average temps" though.

Something similar about the Kid from the World Meteorological Organization.

Let's see, we had a couple of inches of snow after the fire in October, and then a quick squall on November 10th . . . and that is all.

December 03, 2012

Blog Stew with Live Ammunition

• Does Boulder, Colorado, really have "the largest population of armed vegans in America"? (Via Michael Bane.)

• Have you wondered what would happen if your — or your neighbor's — store of rifle, pistol, or shotgun ammunition was consumed by fire? This professional video sets out to answer that and other similar questions, complete with slow-motion cameras and firefighters. (I had already answered that question to my own satisfaction when I was 12 or 13, and that is all that I will say about it.)

• Still geographically limited, but some work is being done on using smartphone apps to collect data on roadkill as well as live wildlife sightings.

November 30, 2012

Under the Volcano (5): Looking for Camera Trap Spring

Now home from our travels, M. and I hiked up yesterday to where a forest fire burned near our house a month ago.

The little bowl on BLM land that I call "Camera Trap Valley"
I call it "Camera Trap Valley" because it contains the little seasonal spring that attracts quite a variety of wildlife. But on the evening of October 23rd it was effectively "nuked."

On the way over the ridge, Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came trotting down the trail with something in his mouth. It looked like a bear cub's paw, stripped of flesh. "Was the bear a casualty of the fire?" we wondered. So we bribed him with a dog biscuit to surrender it.

Fisher on the fire line
My trail to the spring is based on a series of game trails, augmented by rock cairns to guide me through the brush and a little discreet pruning to make the going easier for upright bipeds. At one spot, the containment line dug by federal firefighters exactly followed "my" trail. That was useful, for a short distance.

At this point, the fire had been moving against the wind, which is why, I think, that it dropped down to the ground instead of crowning from tree to tree. Then it stopped (mostly) at the rim rock.

Unburned strip of forest floor
In the photo above, a strip of the forest floor was mysteriously spared as the fire passed over it. Fisher, barely visible at the top, has found another bone.

A small cairn.
I made little rock cairns to guide myself through the talus and  oak brush. They are no longer necessary.

Dropping down into the valley, I found that another of my markers, a deer pelvis bone hung on a tree branch — near where we found the mysterious teddy bear — was missing. Completely consumed, no doubt.

A completely burned-out pine stump.
We started seeing signs of the fire's power.

That thing that looks like a dinosaur track is actually a completely burned-out ponderosa pine stump. If you poured plaster of Paris into it, you would have a positive image of the root system. It is eerily like the plaster casts of victims at Pompeii.

Meanwhile, a single crow flew overhead, making the "soft bell-toned woh-woh, woh-woh" sound.

We answered, but what was it telling us?

Camera Trap Spring
All my landmarks gone, I found the spring (dry, of course) by the lay of the land. I will come back in April or early May to see if it is flowing.

In the burned forest nearby, Fisher found a more substantial bone to chew. A post-apocalyptic landscape is nothing to a dog.

Turkey track.

There were turkey tracks in the ash and soil. Can't you imagine the third turkey in the group saying, "Guys! There is nothing to eat here! Why are we here? Let's go back, guys."

We walked up through the bowl and returned home by a different route. I cannot think when I have been in an environment so sterilized. Maybe one bird, perhaps a chickadee, flew past us as we walked. Otherwise, M. , Fisher, and I seemed to be the only living beings above ground.

Such silence.

November 29, 2012

Bigfoot DNA — Whose?

Various people are having their say about comparisons underway between human DNA and that of alleged Bigfoot hair samples.

Brian Sykes, one of the researchers, is a geneticist who has figured in a lot of high-profile cases, like sorting out the murdered Romanovs.

And the obvious question: how do you know you have a Bigfoot sample? Benjamin Radford of The Skeptical Inquirer notes, 
Previous alleged Bigfoot samples subjected to DNA analysis have been deemed "unknown" or "unidentified." However, "unknown" or "unidentified" results do not mean "Bigfoot." There are many reasons why a DNA sample might come back unknown, including that it was contaminated or too degraded by environmental conditions. Or it could simply mean that the animal it came from was not among the reference samples that the laboratory used for comparison. There is no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it with, so by definition, there cannot be a conclusive match.
Anthropologist and blogger John Hawks says that he is withholding judgment, adding,
One benefit of the world of genetics as opposed to traditional anthropology: The original sequence data must be made available to the public. No data, no discovery.
Two big hurdles to jump there before you can start talking about "indigenous people."

November 28, 2012

Sheep May Safely Graze

Part of a flock of bighorn sheep seen grazing in the Wet Mountains today. There were actually about twice as many of them than the picture shows.

This flock was, I think, (re)established by transplanting in the 1970s and 1980s. Today's was the largest group that I have seen in the area. Several rams were in with the ewes, busy sniffing their butts — it's that time of year.

November 26, 2012

The Great Plains Tour of 2012

Cast letters on the Oliver Building, Chicago. See note below.
In the last five weeks, I have traveled (on the ground) from Colorado through eastern Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas — from end to end four times — plus a corner of Iowa, Illinois, and some of Missouri.

The tour was in two parts, interrupted by that forest fire.

M. and I just drove in from Medicine Lodge, Kansas tonight, in fact. We've seen the Flint Hills, the Gypsum Hills, and all the khaki-colored country between Dodge City and the Colorado foothills.

Now I want to experience house as hibernaculum for a while — and to type a little.

NOTE: The Oliver Typewriter Co., one of the first successful manufacturers of such instruments, had its headquarters in the Oliver Building on Dearborn Street.

November 25, 2012

Are Trees the Enemy?

View from the front porch, September 1975
View from the front porch, November 2012. All natural reproduction.
Some time when driving you might a see a bumper sticker reading "Trees are the Answer," produced by the Arbor Day Foundation, whose slogan is, "We inspire people to plant, nutrure, and celebrate trees." (Interestingly, the foundation was formed in 1872, in eastern Nebraska, which was judged by settlers to need more trees.)

When M. and I moved into this house in 1992, we found in a crawlspace a box of the original owner's stuff, including this torn photograph, dated September 26, 1975 on the front and labeled "From the front porch—fall colors" on the back.

I don't know the fire history of the area. Up the ridge (180° from this view) there are a few big pine stumps and a log that was cut but never hauled away — bigger than 90 percent of today's trees.

From the 1870s–1960s, this was marginal grazing land, I think. Then part was subdivided in the early 1960s. My house and the one in the upper photograph were both built in the mid-1960s, as was the cabin that is now our guest house.

And the trees just kept growing. No fire, of course, and not enough thinning. (And you can't thin Gambel oak.)

Prescribed fire helps, but you cannot always burn right next to people's houses. Doing so makes the residents nervous, for some reason.

There is always controversuy. Take this New York Times piece by Jim Robbins, "Forest Fire Research Questions the Wisdom  of Prescribed Burns," It displays that typical journalistic  approach of "two sides" in disagreement. Who is "right"?
Scientists are at loggerheads over whether there is an ecological advantage to thinning forests and using prescribed fire to reduce fuel for subsequent fires — or whether those methods actually diminish ecological processes and biodiversity.
I don't think it works that way, but I suppose that Robbins has played up the agonistic aspect of the story because that is how most journalists think. When it comes to sides of a story, they can't count past two.

Remember this series of time-lapse photographs? The first view of the forest shows the result of lots of burning. You can get the same effect with mechanical thinning — but that is labor-intensive and then you have a lot of biomass to dispose of, usually by burning.

November 24, 2012

What People Are Missing from this Story?

The view from the porch on a cove in Table Rock Lake.
M. and I are spending the long Thanksgiving weekend with her siblings and their spouses in a rented "chalet" on Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri—all imitation log siding, cathedral ceilings, stuffed animals (M. not too keen on them), and rustic lodge-themed art of the Hobby Lobby variety.

It's been all feasting and sleep, which is what we needed after the stressful last two weeks.

Yesterday she and I broke off from the group and hiked around in Table Rock State Park, adjacent to the big 1950s dam that created this impoundment with its 700-plus miles of shoreline. (Purposes: flood control on the White River, hydropower, recreation.)

Then we visited the Corps of Engineers visitor center at the dam. The historical exhibit began with the Osage and other Indian tribes . . . and then suddenly it was 1954. Nothing from the early 1800s until the 1950s.

Apparently the people living here then were just "dumb hillbillies" not worth memorializing except for a brief video appearance as victims in the Great Flood of 1927.

Assuming that eminent domain was employed to get the land that would be flooded, some people must have left their farms and businesses in sorrow, cursing the federal goverment.

Perhaps others took the money with delight and never looked back. Maybe others sold to private buyers for what seemed like a lot of money, while the buyer made much much more selling what would become prime lakeside building lots.

Whatever the stories are, the Corps of Engineers is not telling them.

There is a parallel with the National Park Service erasing history in Shenandoah National Park:
After all, the Blue Ridge dwellers were not only different from the mainstream of American society, but, according to one contemporary journalist, their existence in the dark hollows represented "about the limit of destitution at which human life could be sustained." Park promoters and government officials publicized the fact that "these people will be moved to more civilized regions of agriculture and industry." 
I suspect that the attitude of officialdom towards the Ozarks residents was much the same, but you will not find out at the Dewey Short Visitor Center.

November 22, 2012

Blog Stew: You Can't Buy It at the Mall

• Dead malls of Denver: A slideshow.

• A second wild colony of black-footed ferrets has been found — in South Dakota. 

• in the southern Rockies, we think of ghost towns as being mining towns. In the Pacific Northwest, there is another type.

November 13, 2012

Citizen Science for the Birds

Project FeederWatch
If you have a bird feeder, live in the United States or Canada, can count to twenty, and like making a small contribution to the natural sciences, consider signing up for Cornell University's Project FeederWatch. It's not too late.

Every week you count the birds (at your convenience) for a two-day stretch, note the weather, and report the results online. You pay $15 for a data-entry kit and all the bird-counting that your heart desires. Urban, suburban, rural — all locations are valuable.

Here is M.'s and my first count of the year. The second and third columns are "average group size when seen" and "average group size per count period," which since it is the first count are the same as the head (or beak) count.

Eurasian Collared-Dove 4 4.0 4.0
Northern Flicker 1 1.0 1.0
Steller's Jay 7 7.0 7.0
Blue Jay 1 1.0 1.0
Western Scrub-Jay 1 1.0 1.0
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1.0 1.0
Mountain Chickadee 1 1.0 1.0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3 3.0 3.0
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 1.0 1.0
Dark-eyed Junco 9 9.0 9.0
Cassin's Finch 2 2.0 2.0
Pine Siskin 16 16.0 16.0
American Goldfinch 2 2.0 2.0
Evening Grosbeak 1 1.0 1.0

November 11, 2012

Blog Stew — Don't be an Ingredient

• Forget zombies — what load for Quetzalcoatalus? Jackson Landers, the "Locovore Hunter," has an answer.

Sportsman's Guide, a source for discounted (sometimes with good reason) outdoor gear and "Cold War dividend" militaria, mostly European, has returned to American ownership.

• Will Colorado's (known) lone wolverine, M56, get any federal help? He has covered immense amounts of territory, that's for sure.

November 01, 2012

'It's Like the Devil Went Bowling'

M. and I were eating breakfast at the sunny end of the veranda on Thursday, and we started compiling some statistics.

• Evacuations since 2005: Three (Mason Gulch, Sand Gulch, Wetmore).

And the amount of time available dropped for each one, from six hours to thirty minutes to "Go now!"

• Pre-evacuation notices that never required leaving home: Two, one in  2011 (the Biplane Fire, a/k/a the Mason Fire) and one in 2012 (the Ditch Creek Fire). We should have received a reverse-911 evacuation notice last week, but the telephone lines had already burned by then.

• Number of smokejumper drops that you could have seen from the house in the last two years: Two, one of them just across the road.

• Named fires within one mile in the last two years that made the national incident list: Three.

• Other minor wildland fires in this area in the last two years: Five? (I would need to check the incident reports at the fire house to be sure.)

• Number of Forest Service plans presented for prescribed fires, thinning, etc. in this area since 1987, the first year that I started following the issue: Several. Six?

• Number of prescribed burns actually carried out: One, in April 2000. Some mechanical thinning was also done in the area burned over during the Mason Gulch Fire. The Forest Service claims that it helped slow the fire. But no burning or thinning has been done in the actual "interface" area, close to homes.

• Number of naturally occurring fires that were categorized as "prescribed use" and allowed to burn, only to explode after the Forest Service assured residents that everything was under control: One (Sand Gulch), in 2011.

Sticking It Out

 But as much as I might call ours the "Burned-Over District" (a little scholarly joke there), I think that title really goes to the area west of Boulder, Colorado: Gold Hill, Black Tiger Gulch, Sugar Loaf, Four Mile Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Lefthand Canyon — All place names, all fire names.

This documentary, Above the Ashes, focuses on local residents who fought the Fourmile Fire (September 2010) on Boulder's western edge at their own homes and their neighbors', because there were simply not enough trained firefighters to cover the area. It's a good depiction of how people react — and act. (Hat tip: Wildfire Today.)

Best line: "You send four gay men into a burning house, they grab the art."

October 31, 2012

A Hallowe'en Screed

I am tired of blogging about the fire, and I need to clean my desk — the whole room, in fact.

So visit The Mallard of Discontent and read Chad Love's updated "Hallowe'en screed" with Ray Bradbury references.

Steve Bodio offers additional commentary.

October 30, 2012

Under the Volcano (4): This Time as Farce

The red dot at left is our brush truck. Click to embiggen.
Things have been pretty quiet on the Wetmore fire, although the Forest Service is still patrolling at a reduced level. I thought it was safe to put on my city clothes, go to the city (Colorado Springs), and do city things (drink cappuccino, visit the computer store).

Oh, no, not so fast.

As I am nearing home, the cell phone starts ringing. Another fire call. Closer to home, I think I spot our brush truck heading away through the center of the burned area, leaving a cloud of dust on the dry gravel road.

Once changed into firefighting clothes, I call on the radio, get directions, and before long am creeping in the Jeep over steep, rocky, two-track roads into the burn. I've never been here before, but the radio helps. "Yeah, turn by that old water truck. You'll see where we cut the fence."

I find the two firefighters who were ahead of me standing on a knoll, looking out over the burn. There had been some smoke, they say, but a Forest Service crew was in the area. Maybe those other firefighters were just burning a "bone pile" of charred wood, or they had otherwise stirred up smoke in their mop-up operations.

Meanwhile, we see a smoking stump a couple of hundred yards away—at the spot from which I took this photo—so we hike over and put it out. That way we feel that we have done something to justify the drive into the burn.

It will never be easier to hike through oak brush (Gambel oak) than it is today, because it will come back in the spring and be thicker than ever.

October 27, 2012

Under the Volcano (3): Random Fire Jottings

Residents arrive in a tour van to see ruins of their homes.
(Why I use the term "volcano.")

When M. and I went to Pueblo on a supply run, I had forgotten my cell phone, which is why I did not know about the fire until we started back and saw the big, horizontal smoke plume. At first I thought — hoped — it was a big grass fire out by Pueblo Reservoir. The first state patrolman who stopped us set me straight.

* * *
Stopped at the last of four roadblocks on Tuesday afternoon as we tried to get home, I talked with one of the local sheriff's deputies, who said something like, "Good luck with your house. I lost mine." And he clapped me on the shoulder and sent us through. Outwardly calm, doing his job.

* * *
Overheard at the one of the many folding tables in the firehouse: "Does anyone have, like, a team leader badge?"

* * *
From the latest update on InciWeb: "Incident Commander Jay Esperance expressed his gratitude for local firefighters and agencies saying, 'It's been an honor working with everyone.' "

It is nice to be recognized, no doubt as much for my folding-table hauling (facing the threat of arrest!) as for putting water on fire.

* * *
Listening to radio chatter, I decide that some sheriff's deputies take a positive pleasure in denying access to reporters, particularly TV reporters. (Someone from the local weekly, however, is escorted by the sheriff himself.)

TV people crack me up though: One reporter does a stand-up in front of a bare foundation. It is, however, the foundation of a roadside tavern that burned to the ground in 1948, if I have the date correct.

For print and television both, if you read the news release on InciWeb and then read or listen to the broadcast, you will see where almost every word comes from. One reporter at the Cañon City Daily Record seems to have no qualms about putting her byline on a news release without even making a telephone call or two to "put a new top on the story."

* * *
Some animals died in the fire. Some fended for themselves. On Thursday, when I was taping fliers to front doors, I came to one mobile home and found dry cat food scattered on the front steps. As I turned from the door, a tabby cat circled my feet, meeowing. "Sorry, kitty, the folks are not back yet — but they'll be here soon."

October 25, 2012

Under the Volcano (2): A 'Critical' Mission

Steam rises from a house foundation being hosed down.
I am just back from a "critical' mission, driving around putting fliers on residents' doors reminding them to check to see if firefighters had turned off their propane tanks, that food might have spoiled because the power was off, or that we might have cut their fences.

"Smoke may still be seen over the coming weeks and months," the flier warns. Yup.

Certainly I was tempted to some fences on Tuesday evening while chasing spot fires in a cottonwood grove located on an old dairy farm. It was like a World War One battlefield — barbed wire fences everywhere in the trees, while loose pieces of wire waited to wrap around your ankles.

Yesterday — Wednesday — the fire had moved into grassland and scatted piñon-juniper country. The forecast renewed southwest wind never arrived, and with lighter winds, the aerial tankers (both fixed-wing and rotary) were on the job. It was good to see them overhead, especially when I went home to get a change of clothes, toiletries, etc. for M. and myself.
All the apparatus bays were full of tables, chairs, and people planning.
Because part of the fire was on public land, the Forest Service and BLM presence was heavy. Rather than fire-fighting, I found myself moving more folding tables and chairs from the community center to the fire house so that the "overhead" could spread out their laptop computers, maps, charts, and ample catered food.

An eager-beaver state patrolman actually pulled over my partner and me — a suspicious civilian pickup truck, loaded with tables and chairs. Must be looters!

Aside from that, we did truck and pump maintenance and ate some of the abundant food that the logistics people had procured.

The sheriff has said that power lines hitting trees in the wind (gusting over 70 mph) caused the fire. I did hear some radio chatter Wednesday evening about a "large piece of evidence" being impounded, but I do not know what it was.

October 24, 2012

Under the Volcano (1)

Camera Trap Spring is going to look a lot different the next time that I visit.

I have "war gamed" this fire in my head a lot of times. Usually the scenario has me doing structure protection on a nearby county road, which is indeed what happened.

So I did not have time for more than a quick grab shot from the driveway of the house where I was stationed.

Always knew that that heavily timbered little valley, full of blown-down trees, would burn like a volcano when it finally did.

I doubt that the guardian of the spring would have survived a fire this hot.

October 21, 2012

The $1,000 Duck

Cookie the doughty Drahthaar and a duck. Otherwise known as a German wire-haired pointer.

I write ths in Valentine, Nebraska, on my way home from the hunting trip to North Dakota. As I blogger earlier, Galen and I were weathered out for the first two days.

On day two, reconnaissance continued, and the rain let up enough to sneak up on some sloughs. Result for me: one mallard.

The next day — Saturday, the nicest day of our four-day hunt — we went off to see Farmer Dennis. He packed us into his pickup truck and took us on a 30-minute tour of his land ("I often see pheasants here when I'm working this field"), other huntable nearby land, a federal duck-protection area, and for a bonus, his gun room and collection of military memorabilia.

Finally free of his friendliness, we drove to a promising section of prairie grassland across the road from a harvested corn field, unloaded the dogs and started walking. And walking. And nothing of game bird size flew up.

So we moved a couple of miles to "this field," pushing through its brushy edges and some shelter belts. No birds but a harrier, which startled me when it swooped low over my head. Fisher munched some fresh moose turds, while I wondered what he (and I) would do if a moose loomed up in the shelter belt.

We decided that maybe the pheasants were still "dug in" after the windy, rainy days. Or maybe we just needed one of those big Midwestern pheasant-hutning productions with drivers, flankers, and blockers.

But the conversation was good, the skies were immense, and I got my annual dose of prairie.

Maybe in the end it was only an $800 duck, but whatever it cost, it was worth it.

October 19, 2012

Telling the Deer to Cross the Interstate is Irresponsible

Want to hear a talk-radio host with nothing to say? I heard about this episode when I arrived in North Dakota Tuesday. Now it has gone viral: Donna the Deer Lady.

Another example of being disconnected from the larger world.

October 18, 2012

Weathered Out

I am somewhere on the left side of this green swirl, drinking coffee from the battered metal thermos with the Ducks Unlimited sticker on it, but I am drinking that coffee indoors.

I am not too happy about that — and neither is Fisher the dog, whose frustration is audible — but with strong wind and horizontal icy rain and whitecaps on the sloughs, it has gotten to the point of being weather even too nasty for duck hunters and their dogs.


October 17, 2012

Here's Your Winter Reading List

From High Country News, new books with connections to the West or Western authors.

I have just started one of them, Tom McIntyre's The Snow Leopard's Tale.
There are a few creatures left in the world who live still untamed, prowling through the rocks, blinking slowly at the encroaching civilization far below. On China’s Bountiful Black Mountain, a snow leopard hunts alone, artifact of a vanishing age. But hungry, desperate, when he is finally forced away from the cold stones of his mountain home toward the tents and fires of the valley, he encounters an impossible, startling world. And as we follow him on his journey, as the talented pen of Thomas McIntyre shows us how we appear through the leopard’s eyes, it’s a vision that will finally startle us as well.
But first, some duck reconnaissance here in North Dakota.

On the Road: Newcastle, Wyoming

Donna's Main Street Diner — the classic knotty pine-and-deer heads Western cafe.

What did I eat? Some kind of scrambled up eggs-potatoes-meat combination.

Coal trains rumbled past the motel all night, but whereas highway traffic bothers me, trains do not so much. When I was a college student, a friend and I rented a house in Portland, Oregon, of which we said, "The Southern Pacific runs through the kitchen."

The trains kept me awake for one night, but never again thereafter.

Nourished at Donna's, I set out for a day poking around in the Black Hills.

October 14, 2012

On The Road: Flashback

No octopi today.

Still in the afterglow of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula, M. and I re-watched the movie last night.

One of these days I really need to read both books. I enjoy Steinbeck's work, but I just have not paid him a visit in a long time.

October 13, 2012

Gordon Novel and the Sipapu of Weirdness

A little off-topic but too weird to pass up . . .

At his blog Of Arms and the Law, lawyer Dave Hardy mentions the passing of Gordon Novel, whom I had not heard of but who sounds like one of the American Illuminati — or something.
Two things he would vigorously deny: (1) he said he'd never worked for the CIA. Hung out with them a lot, but never was employed by them. (2) He had nothing to do with the JFK assassination. Jim Garrison had subpoenaed him, he fled, and Garrison tried to have him extradited, but, he said, that was just to decoy Garrison, not because he had any useful information. 
Oh, but there is more: secret CIA footage of the massacre of the Branch Davidians? J. Edgar Hoover sex tapes?  Playboy magazine? A shaky trial over a "conspiracy to firebomb part of New Orleans by balloons on behalf of a world's fair Novel was promoting"?

Many stories have a New Orleans connection. Truly, that city is the omphalos, the very sipapu of weirdness in America.

Hardy's judgment: "There's no way to sum the man up: his Wikipedia page is just a beginning. The strangest thing was that with him, the more impossibly outrageous a claim seemed to be, the more likely it was provably true."

October 08, 2012

Blog Stew with Salt, All the Salt You Want

• Talk about a long dry spell. "The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago."

• You are not a hypertensive rat. And salt is not necessarily bad for you.
“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”
• Dry spell of the literary variety? Just write to your pal Robert Heinlein, and he will give you lots of ideas and advice. Oh, wait a minute . . .

October 07, 2012

Ballistics, and Why Animals Are Tougher than We Are

Hunters like to talk about ballistics and "stopping power." So do archers, with their own variations. Likewise, shooters concerned about self-defense carry on at great lengths about the advantages of this cartridge over that.

After reading "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power," I realize why animals, pound for pound, are tougher than humans.

Image: Buckeye Firearms Assn.
In the article, Ohio police trainer Greg Ellifritz analyzes ten years worth of shootings by police and civilians both.
I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot.
He developed tables by cartridge size for hundreds of shootings both within and without the law.
I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I'm glad I did it and I'm happy to report the results of my study here.
The results are counter-intuitive. Bigger does not equal better. For instance, the "Average number of rounds until incapacitation" number for .22 caliber was 1.38, whereas for the poplar and larger 9mm Luger round it was 2.45, and for the even larger .44 Magnum it was 1.71.

Does that make the .22 a better "man-stopper" than the .44 Magnum? Not necessarily. See below.

People generally don't like to get shot. We are likely to dwell on the consequences. "Oh shit, I've been shot." Bleeding . . . chance of infection . . . need for medical help — we think about these things.
In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don't want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these "psychological stops" occurring.
While a lot of attention is paid to stopping the psyched-up, adrenalin-filled opponent, even many criminals are not in that state of being. I venture to say that many people killed in combat are not either.

Ellifritz adds,
If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a "physical stop" rather than a "psychological" one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.
That brings me back to animals. They are tougher because they are immune to "psychology," I reckon, not because they can go "berserk."  They just keep on keeping on until they no longer can.

So if you look at page 12 of the Colorado big-game hunting brochure, you find minimum caliber requirements,  for instance, a minimum of .24 cal. (6mm) for big game with a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy delivered at 100 yards. As a hunter,  you want a quick "physical stop."

If there were a minimum requirement for a self-defense gun . . . it would not make a bit of difference. The Internet forums would still be as contentious as they are today.

October 05, 2012

Big Comet Coming

It is supposed to be a bright one:

National Geographic reports C/2012 S1 is expected to pass at about 6.2 million miles/10 million kilometers (0.07 AU (10,000,000 km; 6,500,000 mi) from Mars on October 1, 2013. This will allow NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars opportunity to snap pictures.

Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory, Italy have assured that the comet is not on collision course with Earth. They say C/2012 S1 "will get to within 0.012AU of the Sun at the end of November 2013 and then to ~0.4AU (about 37 million miles) from Earth at the beginning of January 2014."

October 02, 2012

False Alarm Forest Fire

Imagine yellowish-white dust, lots of it, rising in a column above the forest
Today was sort of like a bad dream.

Maybe not a bad dream, but more like one of those "stuck in a loop, can't do anything" dreams.

(This is a bad dream.)

I was working on an editing job when the phone rings, and it's a friend whose home was threatened in July by another forest fire.

She was seeing smoke, a big column. Her neighbors were seeing smoke.

I called the sheriff's office, but the dispatcher had no reports and no reports of controlled burns either.

So I took a radio and binoculars and drove about three miles to where I could see the area in question. No smoke was visible. I called the dispatcher again, on the radio this time.

"FIre," he said. Nearby Town's department was en route, staging on County Road Such-and-such, and requesting assistance.

I asked him to activate the fire siren and dashed home, asked M. to call our friend back, put on my Nomex clothes, grabbed my fire pack, stuck the magnetic red light on the Jeep, and headed back to the fire house.

No one was there. 

Two issues were in play.

1. It's policy that no fire truck rolls out of the house without at least two firefighters on board. This is a good policy. Even the little brush truck requires one person to watch the pump and/or drive while one or more firefighters advance a hose line.

2. For those (like me) who cannot hear the siren up the canyon, we rely on a telephone-tree system to notify firefighters. I checked with couple of the lead callers. They said that X, Y, and Z were at work. L and M were not answering their phones. E and F were moving cattle and not in cell-phone range. D was putting up hay two counties away. G was at a meeting up in the county seat. And so on.

Meanwhile, Nearby Town's brush truck went tearing up the road past the fire house, followed by a Bureau of Land Management brush truck. They waved to me as I stood in the open bay. I felt sort of useless. Then came Nearby Town's bigger wildland engine, driven by the chief himself.

I waved him down (and briefly considered asking for a ride). They had abandoned the idea of staging on the first road and were now headed up this one. Off they went. I kept feeling useless.

I waited. Various communications and non-communications ensued. The dispatcher said that County Seat's fire department had been "toned out," i.e., notified of a fire, and did I want them to come or should they stand down?

Cautiously, I suggested that they stand down. If I was wrong, that could be bad. I'm not the chief or anything. And where was he? (Answer, probably off working thirty miles away.) Such are the joys of accidental leadership.

Then here came Nearby Town's two engines, down the road, lights and sirens going, turning onto the state highway — what was that all about? 

Finally two of our guys arrived. Better late than never, I started the brush truck and off we went. The dispatcher said that Nearby Town had a structure fire in progress, which explained the rapid departure of their apparatus.

We started up into what I previously called Something Creek Estates, one of my least-favorite areas in terms of wildland-interface fire potential.

Up and up we went, pausing at times to look at tire tracks in the dirt, trying to trace the traffic patterns.

There was some chatter on the federal radio frequency: something about "up on the ridge" and "tell Pueblo" and "false alarm."

Then we saw the green BLM engine coming down. We pulled alongside. Its crew of healthy young firefighters was beaming. One guy with chin whiskers looked right out of Two Years Before the Mast. What fine specimens of wildland firefighters!

Yes, the driver said, that had been them on the radio. It was a false alarm. A water well-drilling rig at a home site up on a ridge had kicked up a tall column of dust. Just look at the photo above and visualize lighter-colored dust — lots more of it.

Nearby residents who had experienced a lightning storm four nights before had imagined the worst.

Twenty minutes later I was back at the firehouse filling out the incident report. You always have to do the paperwork.

I had just enough time to come home, change clothes, and take Shelby the dog to her appointment at the vet for an abscessed insect sting or whatever it was.  There went the day.

October 01, 2012

"Roadless Rule" Upheld

The Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court's decision in favor of the "so-called roadless rule, which prevents road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 [some sources say 50] million acres of National Forest System lands."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune,
The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association said closing so much forest land to development has had serious consequences for residents of Western states and the logging, mining and drilling industries.
Supporters of the rule said the nation’s forests need protection from development to preserve pristine areas that provide wildlife and natural resource habitat for hunting, fishing and recreation.
I feel like this particular controversy has been ongoing through my entire adult life—and there is probably more to come.