August 31, 2013

Colorado's Ugly New "Hazmat" Tourism Logo

This "brand new logo" looks like a hazardous-materials placard. "This truck is carrying carbon monoxide."

Or maybe it's a tent, and you have been left the camping stove on with the tent flaps closed, and now you are dead.

Did someone in the highway department design it? It's highly visible, all right, but does it say "Come visit"?

August 30, 2013

Where the Wild Trees Are

Based on a NASA map found here.
The map above shows the total amount of woody biomass in the [continental] USA. It's displayed at a 30 meter resolution, where every four pixels constitutes an acre and every ten represents a hectare.
There are also trees in Alaska and Hawaii, I understand.

August 29, 2013

New Hunters Not Joining Habitat-Protection Groups?

Hank Shaw, author of Hunt Gather Cook and the forthcoming Duck Duck Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild, worries that too many "locavore" and "adult-onset" hunters are failing to join conservation groups like Duck Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that protect wildlife habitat.

Is it a culture-war sort of thing?
There is a myth among new hunters that long-time hunters merely eat the choicest bits of an animal, leaving the rest to rot — if they eat the animal at all. I freely admit I used to think this way, a decade ago. While I’ve never had a problem getting along with people of all political stripes — I was a political reporter for nearly 20 years, after all — I certainly held my nose high when I heard about how this hunter or that angler cooked his or her quarry. But as I met more and more “traditional” hunters, and actually listened to them, I began to realize that even though they might not make a liver creme caramel from that whitetail they just brought home, they might still just cook up that liver in some butter, or grind it into sausage. And isn’t that the point? To eat it, and not to waste. Everything else is aesthetics.
It is this culture clash that lies at the root of a much larger dilemma. In my experience, the vast majority of the new hunters, or as my friend Tovar Cerulli calls them “adult-onset hunters,” either have never heard of the various habitat organizations organized around the animals they seek, or reject them as right-wing old boys’ clubs.

This is a grave error.
He offers two reasons for joining. One is that most of these groups are efficient charities that put the majority of their money into programs, not into salaries and further fundraising. Second, by being part of the hunting or angling community, you learn stuff and make connections.

I could speak to both sides of this question. While I support Ducks Unlimited or RMEF, for example, with occasional checks, a big banquet hall full of people I don't know is not a comfortable experience for me, although I have been to a few.

If my only connection with people is shared waterfowling or trout-fishing, it's hard to stay enthused. (I was president of a Trout Unlimited chapter once, not necessarily a good one.)

So staying home and writing checks is my contribution, as it working some with smaller, locally focused groups, because I support what they do, even though I last attended a DU banquet in about 1996.

I noticed the comments to Shaw's post ended up deteriorating into Republicans-vs.-Democrats stuff. That is another grave error.

August 27, 2013

Mammoths, Mushrooms, and Extinction

Coprophilic fungus offers a clue to the extinction of North American mammoths, seeming to point away from the "Pleistocene overkill" hypothesis. Maybe.

The debate continues here at the Vanished Giants blog.

(I chose the title for the alliteration. It is fungus but not really a mushroom. But it was on the Cornell Mushroom Blog. OK?)

Getting out of Horses — and Horse Products

It was several years ago that I heard of livestock auctions asking horse-sellers to pay a fee up front, because the horses themselves brought so little money in the sale ring.

Now, via Coyote Gulch blog, some thoughts on what the rising price of hay is doing to the world of pleasure horses. (Well, there are not many working horses these days, are there?)
“With prices going up, I see people getting out of having horses,” [Colorado rancher Kent] Whitmer said. “It’s a luxury — that’s the first thing to go before a car payment or mortgage for most people.”
It is probably no coincidence that I recently found myself offered the chance to take an email survey on dog-care products sponsored by the makers of Absorbine lineaments. The whole premise of the various sample advertisements shown was something like "a respected name in horse-care products now has stuff for your dog."

All I could think was, "Yes, and which market is growing and which market is static or shrinking?"

Let's now even go into the wild horse mess. Did you know that there are more of them standing around in BLM corrals than there are running wild? 

The mustang-cultists will do anything except actually take the critters home with them, all 49,000-plus, because then they might have to feed them $9/bale hay.

Yet they will go to court to keep slaughterhouses from opening.

August 22, 2013

Colorado's Retail Cannabis Producing a Legal Patchwork

What is happening in Colorado with the new legalization of retail cannabis sales is starting to resemble the situation when states had "wet" and "dry" counties. Counties and cities are all making different decisions, e.g., Pueblo County's acceptance of a large growing operation.

¶ The mountain town of Westcliffe turned down a proposal (PDF file) to use an empty industrial building for a growing operation that would supply retail outlets in the ski town of Breckenridge. 

Those sybaritic ski towns, right? Keep 'em high and happy.

¶ Yet Aspen, most sybaritic of all, is located in Garfield County, which has said no to both growers and retailers. The Aspen Times accused opponents of "paranoia."

¶ Touristy Glenwood Springs proposed a marijuana-sales moratorium. So did less-touristy Cañon City.

I could go on.

Meanwhile, people who proudly got medical marijuana cards (a lot of them young men in their twenties) suddenly are realizing that the cops can go traipsing through those records.

The other big problem is money and banking. Banks have been reluctant to handle marijuana dispensaries' cash because doing so illegal under federal if not state law.
"The mere acceptance of the deposit is literally the very definition of money laundering," explained Don Childears, President and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association.
Dispensaries, therefore, end up trying to places to put all their cash, and piles of cash attract criminals.

Federal legislation has been introduced to remedy the problem, but has not yet gone anywhere.  All states with medical marijuana plus Colorado and Washington with their newly legalized recreational use face the same problem:
In all 21 of those states, federal laws are creating criminal and regulatory barriers to banks and credit unions, prohibiting them from accepting licensed marijuana growers, retailers and dispensaries as customers.
The federal government has the big stick, and the political journal Roll Call reports that President Obama's thinking "hasn't evolved."

Previous post on growers, "Making Money in a Mountain Subdivision."

August 20, 2013

Blog Stew in the Petroglyph Bowl

¶ An article on the possibly oldest petroglyphs in North America associates them chronologically with a set of human remains known as Spirit Cave Man. The interesting thing is that Spirit Cave Man (like Kennewick Man) does not appear to be an American Indian but looked more Caucasoid, perhaps like the Ainu of Japan and Far Eastern Russia.

¶ An update on the "North(ern) Colorado" secession movement. It's going to the voters in some counties.

¶ A recent spate of bear attacks. Bear spray was used in Yellowstone, but maybe not quickly enough?

Couple in Divide successfully start a goat cheese business. The site is the former Alpine Lakes Resort north of town.
"We did not intend to make it on this level," Bob McMillan said. "It started as a harmless retirement thing that got out of control."

August 19, 2013

The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds

Go ahead, make a move. It's your move . . . you talkin' to me?
Mid-afternoon and there is a ruckus from the dogs, who are penned on the veranda. The gray fox is not too impressed by the dogs' threats.
Yeah, I eat them. You got a problem with that?
Aesop, La Fontaine, and others made a story of "The Fox and the Grapes." So what is the moral lesson of "The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds"? (The seeds fall from a bird feeder.)

Here is your cinematic reference for the first caption, in case you forgot.

And don't forget the movie, which is excellent. But you will need a VHS player.

August 16, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (3) Pagosa Springs & Assorted Mushroom Thoughts

Boletus edulis in the Wet Mountains
Saturday the 10th was our last full day of the camping trip. I put away the fly rods and picked more mushrooms (and wild strawberries) on Cumbres Pass, then drove on west through Chama, N.M, to Pagosa Springs.

I had planned to be in Pagosa the previous weekend for a state-sponsored fire class, but it was cancelled, so this was sort of a consolation visit.

In Pagosa, the weather was warm, and the San Juan River was running high and brown. Tubing outfitters were busy shuttling their customers to the east side of town so that they could ride down past the city park and the mineral springs, where the terraces were crowded with bathers.

In the midst of this "rubber hatch," I saw one guy casting a spinning rod. I thought of congratulating him for upholding the archetype of the always-optimistic fisherman, but he gave up and walked away.

We visited a couple of thrift stores—nothing exciting—where does all the outdoor gear go?—and then had a late lunch/early supper at the Riff-Raff brew pub ("Hoppy people. Hoppy earth").

I reckoned that my cabrito burger with Hatch green chiles was sort of quasi-locavore-ish.

It rained steadily most of the way back to the campground.

The next morning I observed a mulie doe moving strangely through the woods. She had her nose down like a dog following a scent trail.

Was she eating mushrooms? I had picked a few in that area, mostly Suillis  ("slippery jacks"). I tried to follow, but I could not get too close without spooking her, and there were a lot of spruce boughs in the way.

I did see some Suillis that had been scraped by what looked like a deer's lower incisors (Deer don't have upper incisors.) Were there fewer mushrooms than before? Not sure.

Two days later, having done well on a mushroom hunt closer to home, M. and I were easing down a rough forest road in the Jeep when we saw a squirrel wrestling — or something — in the road. It turned out to be trying to carry the stem of a Boletus edulis ("king bolete"), which was nearly as big as it was.

Yesterday M. was walking Fisher on lead down the driveway when he dashed into the oak brush, dragging her along. He had scented another bolete, one unfortunately past its prime. It was probably another Boletus chrysenteron, which grows under oaks, like the one he snarfed off the kitchen counter a few days ago.

Does this mean that he might have a talent for finding good mushrooms? If the French have truffle-sniffing dogs, could we have a Southern Rockies bolete-sniffing dog? Further research is required.

August 15, 2013

Hurray, Drought is only "Severe"

The recent rains, which are not really above normal for the time of year, have lowered the drought status to "severe" in some southern Colorado counties. 

Stream flows are up, but soil moisture is still low in most places.

Another Ski Trooper Conservationist Leaves a Legacy

Stuart Phelps Dodge, another of the World War II ski troopers from the 10th Mountain Division, has passed on, leaving a huge conservation legacy in El Paso and Teller counties, Colorado.
Dodge left his conservation footprint on countless open spaces, including the Garden of the Gods, Bear Creek Regional Park, the historic Palmer Blair Bridge, and the Christian Open Space contiguous with the south end of Fountain Creek Regional Park.

He helped build systems for acquiring those open lands to benefit landowners and the state.

"If you have walked any trails around here, he probably helped preserved them in perpetuity. The city would not be what it is if it hadn't been for him," said Linda Overlin, former president of the Palmer Land Trust. "He was an instrumental part of the conservation easement movement statewide in the 1980s and 1990s to preserve open spaces."
It is amazing how much of what we grew up accepting as "normal Colorado" was shaped and affected by that group of men — in the case of David Brower, much more than just Colorado.

August 14, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (2): Platoro y Yo

Platoro, Colorado. The bands of light at right are windshield reflections.
With the Conejos River running high and turbid, I decided to travel upstream. That meant Rio Grande Forest Road 520, which might be described as a pretty good road — if you were in Afghanistan.

Mile after pothole'd mile crept by. I would stop now and then and check the river. Still roily.

Eventually we reached the resort hamlet of Platoro (plata plus oro — weren't those early miners clever?) which always makes me think of what the Alaskan bush might look like (having never visited Alaska) — dense forest, a straggle of modest frame and log buildings, thick willows along the river.

The old lodge, currently bearing the name Sky Line Lodge, is classic, but right now its owners cannot decide whether it is a grocery store or a fly shop and so fall between two stools. (It and I make an unflattering appearance in Ed Engle's memoir Seasonal: A Life Outside. That's what happens when you hang around writers.) A UPS driver was making a delivery, and the shelves of his van were empty. Platoro is the end of the line.

The inlet to Platoro Reservoir, managed by BuRec for flood control, etc. It's quite low right now.
Above Platoro is Platoro Reservoir, and we continued past it to the Three Forks area, at the edge of the South San Juan Wilderness Area, where the stream was clearer, and I got into a few small trout while playing peekaboo with a herd of cows in the dense willows.

Rain clouds build above Platoro Reservoir.
And then it was time for the afternoon deluge, plus hail. Too much driving time versus fishing time.

(to be continued)

August 13, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (1)

We brought a screen for drying mushrooms.
The campground host's name tag said "Noah." That should have been a hint.*

M. and I set out Thursday for a camping trip to the Conejos River. I had looked at the stream flow online, and it was up from July's average, but I still had this picture in my mind from other late-summer trips: clear waters, a slight crispness in the air.

Just getting there had its moments. When we stopped in Antonito to get some snacks from the trailer, people driving by kept looking at us. Sure, Antonito seems a little insular, but why the stares?

Maybe it was because the Jeep and the pop-up trailer were liberally coated with mud.

Conditions on the Secret Cut-off Road had been worse than I had expected. Seeing the trailer in the rear-view mirror going sideways is unsettling. All I could think was, "This would be worse if I were going downhill."

We kept going and later in the afternoon reached the Forest Service campground that was our destination. About 5:30 p.m. it started raining. That would be the pattern: two-hour downpours each afternoon or evening.

But with a hot meal, wine, a good book, and a Coleman lantern, all was good.

Friday morning I got up (mist-filtered sun), put on hip boots, and walked to one of my favorite fishing spots. The river looked like chocolate milk. A tributary stream was re-enacting the June run-off.

Walking back to the campground, I picked a few mushrooms. That would be the theme.

(to be continued)

* No, there was no name tag. I am joking.

August 12, 2013

The So-Called Romance of Steam

Cumbres & Toltec train on Cumbres Pass. The white cloud is steam from the whistle.
I like trains and take Amtrak rather than an airplane whenever possible, but I do not partake of the "romance of steam."

Ride one of these steam-powered trains, and you quickly understand why nineteenth-century people wore a lot of black. Once they put glass in the car windows, people then had a choice between no ventilation and breathing sooty smoke while wearing cinders too.

But maybe the fascination with steam comes from its being almost as understandable as animals.

Combine fire and water and you have steam, and then it works those big external pistons, and chuff chuff chuff, the locomotive goes down the track.

M. and I were driving up Colorado 17 on Saturday, and despite the two hours of rain at our nearby campsite the night before, she suddenly stiffened: "Is that a fire?"

No, it was the excursion train puffing away as it sat on the pass, one of the stops on its scenic interstate route.

To recreate nineteenth-century industry even better, find yourself in downtown Durango on a wintry day with a thermal inversion as that steam train leaves the station, filling street after street with coal smoke. Then multiply times fifty.

August 05, 2013

Fisher's New Job

Walking the dogs yesterday morning, I picked a mushroom not far from the house, a bolete,  but not one that I knew

I left it on the kitchen counter while I fed them, then got busy with other stuff.

After M. was working at the same counter, I asked her if she had seen it.

No, she had not. It was nowhere to be found.

The obvious suspect was lying on a rug by the front door: Fisher — Raider of Kitchen Counters, Eater of Everything.

Going from memory, I checked the mushroom book, and it looked like I had had Boletus chrysenteron, which is edible. (From Fisher's viewpoint, if it fits in his mouth, it is edible.)

Mushroom taster, that can be his new job.

August 02, 2013

Making Money in a Mountain Subdivision

A while back we were visiting someone who lives in one of those typical Colorado mountain subdivisions — winding gravel roads, five-acre lots, the whole wildland-urban interface picture.

M. goes walking and meets this thirtyish guy — let's call him Zach — out with his dog. He seemed eager for conversation. Before long, he invites us down to his camping trailer-plus-attached shed summer home to show us his plants. His six legal Colorado medical marijuana plants, that is. We duly admired the greenhouse that he had built and the well-tended and labeled plants.

Then he gestures down toward a copse of trees down in a ravine, where the other cannabis is growing. Why was I not surprised?

Walking back to our hostess's place, we pass the house that Zach says is his landlord's. It looks fairly new, and given the potential views, M. wonders why one two-story wall has no windows. That's the "grow room," I say, half-seriously.

Heck, yeah. Zach, whose didgeridoo playing echoed up from his greenhouse in the evening, takes us in there the next day. It's a communal growing operation between his landlord, some friends, and him, all Mylar-faced insulation and bright lights.

He had started growing on the East Coast, did his "post-graduate" work in Mendocino County — he is very proud of that — and discourses at length on varieties, propagation, fertilization, and the rest.

But he misses his partner and their kid, who are elsewhere, hopes to see them soon, and meanwhile gets out a couple of days a week to play in a pick-up band at a tavern in a nearby tiny town.

We talk about the changing law and habits, the growing popularity of "vaping," etc.

"Twenty years from now," he speculates, "people will be saying, 'Do you know they used to roll this up in paper and smoke it?' "

He is probably right about that.

At last, a form of economic activity that you can practice in your mountain subdivision, where there is not enough forage for livestock and the outdoor growing season is too short for many vegetables.

You think people like Zach are not exporting beyond the legal MMJ marketplace and the new, liberal laws in Colorado? Of course they are.
Last year, police across the country made at least 274 highway seizures of marijuana that investigators linked back to Colorado. According to the report, the seized pot — 3½ tons of it in 2012 — was destined for 37 different states, most frequently Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.
There is a lot to sort out here.