June 29, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge - Part 3

It's not just an incinerator, it is a "Kernerator,"
by the Kern Incinerator Co. of Milwaukee.

The US Forest Service's remaking of Davenport Campground into something like Arthur Carhart's original vision, as mentioned in my last post, was praise-worthy.

But does it make up for the Service's obliteration of much of Carhart's original vision for recreational faciltiies? Not really.

Under the supervision of Carhart and his former landscape-architecture professor-turned-business partner, Frank Culley, Boy Scouts and other workers built facilities on South Hardscrabble Creek — the Florence Picnic Ground — and on North Creek, just north of Beulah. Another picnic ground was built at Smith Creek, in Hardscrabble Canyon above Wetmore.

In the late 1970s, the Forest Service demolished them all. According to a friend of mine, a life-long area resident who attended a public meeting about this decision held in Beulah, the USFS representative claimed these facilities were "inacessible" and "rarely visited."

Another friend, a Westcliffe resident, said he had heard they were demolished due to vandalism problems. In any case, the Forest Service no longer wanted to maintain them.

Instead of picnic tables, trash receptacles, outhouses, etc., the new model was "dispersed camping." Tack up a sign saying "Pack in it, pack it out," and all is good. Of course, no one packs out human shit.

A lot of this dispersed camping takes place in very locations where Carhart laid out picnic and campgrounds!

We have come full circle back to 1919, except that the standard of environmental education among forest visitors is a little higher. Sometimes.

The incinerator built to burn trash from the 1920s Squirrel Creek campsites slowly crumbles away.

Arthur Carhart's contract with the Forest Service lasted only from 1920–1922, after which time funding was . . . lost. He went into private practice and did other interesting work, but eventually became a full-time writer of fiction and nonfiction with outdoor themes.

Just tonight, I heard a professional chef praising his The Outdoorsman's Cookbook. Of course, this praise was from a guy who has walked the Squirrel Creek Trail himself.

Until recently, recreation was not truly a Forest Service priority — at least that was my perception. As a specialty, it lacked prestige. From its early twentieth-century creation onward, the Forest Service was all about timber management — and also grazing management — and firefighting to protect those two priorities.

I remember Dad when he was a USFS district ranger in the Black Hills saying (without irony), "We're tree farmers."

As opposed, it did not need to be said, to the pressed-pants-wearing, somewhat sissified  (Dept. of the Interior) National Park Service rangers who led tourists around by the hand, (Dept. of Agriculture) Forest Service rangers did real stuff with horses, axes, increment borers, cruising rods, and log-scaling rules.

Recreation on his district was handled by one man, a "recreation guard," who lived in a cabin off away from the work center and had a crew of seasonal workers in the summer.

People who rose in the hierarchy came from a forestry background, not a recreation background, although that has changed some in the last generation.

But thanks to the San Isabel Public Recreation Association and Carhart's and Culley's work, private interests began pushing tourism in and around the San Isabel National Forest, something I will look at next.

June 27, 2014

Blog Stew Cooked on the Campfire

This link is supposed to get you a free campfire cookery ebook. It will definitely get you onto The Wilderness Society's email list, but you can unsubscribe if not interested.

¶ The American Bird Conservancy is challenging the federal plan to let wind turbines kill eagles without penalty.
"Eagles are among our nation's most iconic and cherished birds. They do not have to be sacrificed for the next 30 years for the sake of unconstrained wind energy," said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC's Bird Smart Wind Energy Program. "Giving wind companies a 30-year pass to kill Bald and Golden Eagles without knowing how it might affect their populations is a reckless and irresponsible gamble that millions of Americans are unwilling to take."
¶ Why do we have cougars (mountain lions) with us still but not American lions and sabertooths? Because the cougars were less-picky eaters. More evidence from La Brea Tar Pits.

June 26, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 2

Here are the 1947 flood waters one drainage north of Davenport Campground, near Baver Li Lodge.
What was then described as the Davenport Camp-Picnic Ground evidently survived the flood of 1947, which was most destructive in the narrow canyon of Squirrel Creek.

This photo is probably Davenport Picnic Ground in the 1920s, as the valley here is wider.
1920s-style cooking shelter recreated at today's Davenport Campground.
In 2004, Forest Service archaeologists Steve Seguin and Jennifer Cordova, together with historian Jack McCrory, prepared documentation to place the "Squirrel Creek Recreational Unit, " otherwise known as the "cradle of car camping," on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bases of guard rail posts at scenic overlook
on what was Colorado 76.

They listed all manner of remaining relics, down to guard rails and sign posts, but did not (so far as I noticed) say anything about a telephone line. But I found two mentions of a line that connected the Baver Li Lodge (of which more later), built in 1927, to the town of Beulah, running mostly along Squirrel Creek and the now-vanished Colorado Highway 76.

According to a 1967 article in the Pueblo Chieftain, summarized on this site,
The telephone line had been installed through Squirrel Creek by the Forest Service in the 1920’s. As their private line, Tena and later, grandson, Chuck, had to maintain it. Every spring one of them would ‘walk the line’ to find where the breaks had occurred and repair them. One year the Boy Scouts from Rye came up to help.
A short historical article about Beulah's Pine Drive Telephone Co. mentions it too:
One notable line was the one maintained from Baver-Li Lodge in Ophir Creek down Squirrel Creek. It took great fortitude to maintain that line after the ‘47 flood!

In 2009, as part of the U.S. Forest Service's centennial, Davenport was remodeled into a "retro" tents-only campground—and it remains popular.

You have to drive down into the campground (trailers and motorhomes should park above the entrance, in the Second MaceTrailhead parking lot) to see the interpretive signs.

There is nothing about Arthur Carhart's vision for forest recreation in any historical marker on any highway at this time. More signage, including a panel about him, has been proposed for the junction of Colorado 67 and 96 in Wetmore, part of the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway.

June 21, 2014

Godawful USFS Graphic Design from the 1960s?

In connection with the "Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge" series (yes, more to come), I was going through my old forest maps folder.

I nominate this one for Worst Forest Service Graphic Design Ever. It is the cover of the San Isabel National Forest visitor map from  . . . well, I cannot say, because there is no copyright date on it!

The photos have a sort of late 1950s-early 1960s look to them, but they could be recycled from an earlier edition. (I have the 1948 map, but nothing with a 1950s date.)

Anyone recognize the font? The artwork suggests a forest inhabited by nightstalkers and werewolves.

June 19, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 1

It is 1923, you are suffering the summer heat in Pueblo, Colorado, and you want to go car-camping up in the cooler Wet Mountains. So you load your blankets, quilts, and canvas tent in and on the Ford, pack some flour and bacon, maybe grab a fishing pole, and off you go. You take Colorado State Highway 76 (a gravel road) southwest to the foothills town of Beulah, then stay on 76 as it enters Squirrel Creek Canyon and the San Isabel National Forest.
1948 San Isabel National Forest map shows Colorado 76 coming southwest from Pueblo.
Bridge dated 1916 on Squirrel Creek Road, formerly Colorado 76, in Beulah.
You know this part of the road is new — in fact,  it was laid out by Forest Service landscape architect Arthur Carhart. His former professor from Iowa State, Frank Culley, was involved too on the project to design numerous campsites along the road, all with hand pumps, designated concrete garbage pits, and "sanitaries" (outdoor toilets) — all a response to the trash and piles of human waste that popular campsites had been attracting.

The first picnic and camping sites there had been designated in 1919. That was just five years after the southern Colorado Coalfield War that culminated in the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. It was two years after the Russian Revolution, which had segued into civil war, and one year after the end of World War One.

Private money — the San Isabel Public Recreation Association (SIPRA) — helped pay for the first improvements. Colorado Fuel & Iron, southern Colorado's industrial behemoth, with its coal mines, coke ovens, and steel mill, was the largest contributor. Wholesome outdoor recreation will lure its workers away from Red agitators.

Carhart writes,
There is a chance in this sort of [forest] camp to teach better Americanization of the people of foreign blood now living in our midst . . . these men will become better citizens and far less open to insidious suggestions of the radical agitator to strike at this land they have come to know and love.*
Enjoying one of the new campgrounds on Squirrel Creek. Woman takes photo of men by fireplace. Check gen-u-wine ten-gallon hat on man in foreground.
The campgrounds are wildly popular. On summer weekend days, as many as 700 cars pass up Colorado 76, which connects to Colorado 165, the north-south road through the Wet Mountains.

Many people stay or take meals at the privately operated Squirrel Creek Lodge, a two-story log structure in the center of the camping area. It stays popular until the World War II era, when it faces competition from the San Isabel lodge (which also began as a SIPRA project).

But Carhart's cool, winding creekside road is vulnerable. Rockslides menace it from the slopes above, and in 1947, a major flash flood rips down the narrow canyon, destroying all the little bridges, tearing out campsites, and wrecking many parts of the road.

Squirrel Creek Lodge: A central room with two wings, front porch on the left.
Dinner • Refreshment • Lodging • Souvenirs.

Click to enlarge for photos of original lodge.
The lodge falls into disuse and eventually burns in a 1979 forest fire.

The state builds a new highway from Beulah to Colorado 165. Formerly the Twelve-mile Road, it is now designated Colorado 78, and it  takes a higher route up a ridge.

Its last nine miles are still gravel today, and according to a friend on the Custer County Road & Bridge Dept., are the last gravel stretch of a state highway. (Many state highways around here were gravel roads into the 1960s, when there was a big push to pave them.)

Mentally remove the young trees along the trail, and there is the old Colorado 76.
Hiker at mortared wall that marked a scenic pull-off on Colorado 76.
Colorado 76 devolves into a Forest Service trail — one that oddly features mortared-stone retaining walls, log guard rails, and steel culverts. It passes the ruined campsites, where campers improvise new fire pits, and the ruins of the Squirrel Creek Lodge and its associated cabins.

You, meanwhile . . . Dad is in the steelworkers' union and has a new car with a powerful V-8 engine. Mom doesn't wear those 1920s cloche hats anymore.

You can go anywhere — Yellowstone, Banff . . . no more chugging up Squirrel Creek Hill with the Model T threatening to boil over.

Remember those days when you were younger, when the Squirrel Creek campground was the oldest auto campground in the national forest?

Next: Part 2: Davenport, the "Retro" Campground

*Tom Wolf, Arthur Carhart: Wilderness Prophet  (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2008), 55.

June 17, 2014

Fawn-Transport Season Starts with a Thud

M. and I were preparing to go to Pueblo when the telephone rang. On a hot, dry day with the wind blowing, that sound always makes me jump. (Why I prefer email.)

A game warden was driving down from Colorado Springs with a newborn, weak fawn. Could someone meet him and shuttle it to the rehabbers? I went quickly, but he was quicker—when I reached the roadside cafe that was our rendezvous, I could see the big tan pickup with the light bar on top parked under some cottonwood trees.

The fawn—one of two whose mother had apparently been hit by car—was almost limp. Just a rag doll. He lifted it from his pet crate into mine, and we took off on our separate ways. It bleated a few times, but I had twenty miles still to go, which was too far, as it turned out.

Still, we tried. This was a legitimate rescue—the mother was dead. Al Cambronne at Deerland has a good post with photos of fawns that may look abandoned but are not, no matter how tiny and helpless they look.
It was hard to just stand back and wait for the mother to return. But I guess by deer standards, those does are being very good parents.
The only time to pick up a fawn is if you see the mother dead or if it is obviously injured and bleeding. Or if a wildfire is coming. Otherwise, leave them alone.

Cottonwood fluff in the air, red flag warning, and orphan fawns. It must be late June.

June 15, 2014

Hanging Out at the Spring

I recently checked the scout camera at Camera Trap Spring (in a forest that burned in 2012). On May 10 these bull elk had pretty well stomped the spring into more of a "wallow." You can see their antler buds as this year's antlers start to grow. By now the antlers would be much larger and "in velvet,"  being covered with a nourishing layer of skin and blood vessels.

June 14, 2014

Primroses, Wild Mustard, and Homiletics

Having a sort-of average spring after several dry years means seeing old friends, plus some plants we regard with suspicion.

Cutleaf primose scattered in pasture.
I mentioned the purple/blue mustard. They were succeeded in May by cutleaf (or prairie) primroses—not the huge banks of them sometimes seen on the remaining High Plains grasslands, like Pawnee National Grasslands, but a lot for us.
Cutleaf evening primose, Oenothera coronopifolia
Here is a close-up —these were a little shredded by hail on the previous day.

They have been followed by a yellow-flowered wild mustard that has a sort of rotting-soap smell (or "stale dishrag") when stepped or driven upon. It looks like this one: Sinapis arvensis, but the distribution map does not show it in Colorado. Maybe a relative? Can't mow it all to stop the seeding, so it will be back when conditions are right.

Or as the gospel says, "But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

If preachers ever interacted with the natural world, they might dust off their sermons on the parable of the mustard seed this year. People could visualize it.

June 13, 2014

I Need This Steam Fire Engine

Apparently the birthday fairy forgot my Wilesco D305 Steam-Driven Fire Engine. (Click link for video).

It would appear to be only slightly more complex and temperamental than the department's aging tactical tender.

Perfect for initial attack on a fully involved chafing dish.

(H/t to Matt G.)

June 12, 2014

Birds, Beer, and Birds

This is not a condor nest.
¶ A California condor chick may have hatched in Zion National Park; nest still under observation.

SW Colorado sheriff tries shaming high-schoolers after end-of-year kegger that trashed a national forest site. Why the coyness about "a mountain town," Channel 4?

¶ Cornell's ornithology lab as a contest for "funky nests in funky places" — urban bird nests that are cute, funny, funky (a versitile word), or inconvenient (to humans).

I am not entering, but if I did, I would once again nominate the Cordilleran flycatchers, who sneaked in while M. and I were away in Taos and built a nest on the front porch light.

Of course, they ignored the nice, high, safe, sheltered nesting platform that I built for them on the back side of the house in favor of being right next to the front door.

The female is on the eggs, but I did not want to blast a flash in her face up close.

It's the annual flycatcher soap opera, a repeat of 2012's episode.

The photo contest entry deadline is July 1st.

June 11, 2014

Executing Bears in Colorado

I later wrote a prequel to this post: "The Short, Footloose Life of Bear 389."

If you hunt bears legally in Colorado, you are governed by a couple of pages of regulations. But if you just want to shoot one for the crime of  investigating your garbage, go right ahead. All you have to do is report the shooting within five days.

That is the impression I get after watching the system handle my new neighbor, "Mr. Tactical," who wounded a bear on May 22nd that then wandered over near my house. When I found it still alive, I called a game warden to come put it down — and to cite him for "illegal take" of wildlife, I thought, but I was wrong about that part.

To make things worse, I now strongly suspect that, after that visit by the game warden, he turned around and shot and wounded a second bear a few days later, but I cannot prove it. I merely have circumstantial evidence and strong suspicions.

Quick recap: The first bear shooting happened on May 22nd and I blogged it. On May 24th, M. and left for a planned trip to Taos, returning on the 31st. On Sunday, June 1st, I took the dog for a walk up on the high side of our property, and he flushed four turkey vultures from the woods.

"That's odd," I thought, "I wonder what attracted them."

Game warden inspects the second, decomposed bear carcass on June 3rd.
I went back up that afternoon and found the carcass of a small bear, this one with ear tags.  That rang a bell. Mrs. Tactical had babbled something about a bear with ear tags hanging around their house and allegedly frightening them, but I had tuned it out, because the bear that her husband admitted shooting had no tags.

This new dead bear was about as far from their house as the wounded bear on May 22nd had gone. If he did shoot it, he did not report it. But there is no way to prove that he shot it unless he volunteers that information.

(If a Colorado bear is found being a "nuisance" or spending too much time around human habitation, wildlife officials will often tranquilize it, check it for age, sex, and health, and put livestock-style plastic tags in each ear. Then it is relocated to a more remote spot. If it is a "nuisance bear" again, they will kill it. One strike and you're out.)

On Monday, June 2nd, I contacted the district wildlife manager for this area (not the same one who responded on May 22nd). She came out the next day, and after hearing the whole story, she collected the skull and the tags and left.

(I had sent my account of events on May 22nd to the area wildlife supervisor, but he never acknowledged it. Not into public relations, apparently.)
This scout camera photo may show the same bear that I found dead a week later, but I cannot read the ear tags to be sure. Click to enlarge.
Bureaucratic wheels turn slowly, but I doubt if Mr. Tactical will pay any price at all. Look at how the law reads, Colorado Revised Statute 33-3-106, if you want to look it up.
(3) Nothing in this section shall make it unlawful to trap, kill, or otherwise dispose of bears, mountain lions, or dogs without a permit in situations when it is necessary to prevent them from inflicting death, damage, or injury to livestock, real property, a motor vehicle, or human life and additionally, in the case of dogs, when it is necessary to prevent them from inflicting death or injury to big game and to small game, birds, and mammals. Any wildlife killed as permitted under this subsection (3) shall remain the property of the state, and such killing shall be reported to the division within five days.
Seeing a bear attacking your calf or llama is going to provoke an emotional reaction, to be sure. But motor vehicles? If you leave food in the car and a bear tries to break in, bang, dead bear. Just call Colorado Parks and Wildlife within five days. Maybe a dumpster counts as "real property." But I am not a lawyer.

All the educational programs Be Bear Aware — and all that, are just smoke and mirrors from an enforcement perspective. They are not backed up by law, and the game warden with pistol and handcuffs on his or her belt is not going to write you up for your unsecured garbage or your predator-buffet hobby chickens at the forest's edge. Maybe you have to commit a hunting-type violation, like following the bear, lion, etc. onto someone else's property without permission.

As long as you don't save the bear skin or sell its gall bladder for Chinese medicine, you're cool. Blast away.

UPDATE: The neighbor was cited for two counts of "failure to report." That was all that he could be charged with. So he pays less than $300 in fines, but at least he knows that the game wardens are on to him. Maybe that will be the end of it?

June 04, 2014

Cannabis and Water Law: A Western Reportorial Twofer

Despite the huge importance of water issues in Colorado — headwaters of four or five major rivers (depending how you count) and home of more water lawyers than anyplace — news outlets often don't cover water issues well.

On my first reporting job, at the now-vanished Colorado Springs Sun, it seemed like my colleagues found water issues to be arcane and scary. "Water is hard," to paraphrase Teen Talk Barbie

On my second reporting job, I sat out to educate myself — with not a little help from the late Charles "Tommy" Thompson, long-time general manager of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or as I liked to think of it, the secret government.

The concepts of Colorado water law are fairly simple, but their permutations are endless, and the system operates like warring tribes — if you don't fight, you lose.

But add cannabis culture, and suddenly water issues are not just vital, they are sexy!

"Water District Votes Dry on Pot" (mostly paywalled)

"[Pueblo West] water available for pot growers; St. Charles Mesa keeping moratorium"

"Pot Shop Battles for Water Supply

But this is all the legal stuff. Drought-stricken California sees legal, semi-legal, and outlaw grows using up water and polluting streams:

"Pot Farm Pollution: Too Dangerous to Deal With?"

"Study Finds Medical Pot Farms Draining Streams Dry"

June 03, 2014

He Digs Caves in New Mexico

One of Ra Paulette's hand-dug caves (courtesy of the artist)
I cannot embed the video due to privacy restrictions, but follow this link to a brief trailer to a short documentary about artist/cave digger Ra Paulette.
Ra Paulette creates cathedral-like "eighth wonder of the world" sculptural caves using nothing but hand tools. Working in the malleable sandstone cliffs of Northern New Mexico, his creations rival the work of the great earth artists — Goldsworthy, Heiser, Smithson.

But Ra’s work has gone unrecognized. Patrons who commission caves often cut him off due to artistic differences or lack of funds, leaving Ra struggling.

Following his passion has cost him almost everything. Undaunted, at age 65, he’s decided to pursue his 10-year magnum opus on public land, without permission [really?!], working for no one but himself.
Visit the artist's website for a slideshow and more information.

June 02, 2014

Blog Stew with Distributed Ticks

¶ It's hard to improve upon this summary: "A problem with northern New Mexico written all over it: Go organic, cause a nuclear waste accident."

¶ What tick bit you? If you find a tick on your body (or someone else's), are you interested in determining the species? If you were in Missouri, it probably was not a Western black-legged tick, for instance. But brown dog ticks are everywhere in the continental U.S. Check this map of tick geography. Your tax dollars at work.

¶ In a move toward civilization, dogs are now allowed in the patios of bars and restaurants in Denver if the establishment permits.
Any food service establishment with a patio of 400 square feet or larger qualifies. Dogs must enter from the street or sidewalk, and at least half the space must be reserved for customers who may prefer not to dine so up close and personal with others' dogs.

June 01, 2014

Surviving the Jamestown Flood

These blog posts by "Roger I." were written in September and October 2013, but I just now discovered them. They describe his and his wife's life in the first month after their mountain community, Jamestown, west of Boulder, was clobbered in last September's northern-Colorado flooding.

There is good stuff here on the psychology of disasters and on who makes it and who does not do so well. And humor: "Using  software engineers as pack animals is always an iffy proposition, but after some training, Nate did great."

He has kinder things to say about FEMA than did many Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors —  whether due to the agency learning some lessons or to the smaller scale of the disaster plus a different local culture, you can decide.

(Via Peter Grant.)