July 31, 2014

Memories of Floods Past

1933 flood waters at Union Station, Denver (Colorado Historical Society).
At the end of a rainy week, let's remember some famous Colorado floods —not the only ones, and not just last year's.

Today is the anniversary of the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood, which killed 143 people, including a state trooper who was racing ahead of it, trying to warn people. (That canyon flooded again, less destructively, last September.)

Sunday will be the anniversary of a flood that I was unaware of: the 1933 Castlewood Dam disaster, August 3, 1933, when a dam on Cherry Creek burst in what is now Castlewood Canyon State Park, sending flood waters clear into downtown Denver. 

It is being commemorated at the park on Saturday with "Dam Day" educational and fun activities:  
Kids can build candy dams mortared with frosting (a word to the wise — do not follow the design of Castlewood Dam, it lasted only 43 years). There will be a model of the canyon and dam. They can also fill the Castlewood Reservoir with water and see the effects rushing water can have on the canyon.
Cherry Creek and nearby Plum Creek struck again in June 1965a month of flooding both in the South Platte and Arkansas river drainages.

On June 16, 1965, fourteen inches of rain fell near Castle Rock, sending flood waters north into Littleton and Denver.

Many homes were lost, but there were only 21 deaths.

My mother had taken me to Pueblo to visit my grandmother, and now we were trapped — there was no way to travel north from Colorado Springs toward Fort Collins, where we then lived. Interstate 25 was washed out at Castle Rock and (I assume in retrospect) state highways 105 and 83 were closed or washed out too.

One of the 1921 Pueblo operators drew this sketch.
She was told that the only to go north was to go a mountain route (Woodland Park-Deckers-US 285) or the plains route (Colorado Springs-Limon-Denver). She chose the latter.

I remember rain lashing down and water running across US 24 between Colorado Springs and Limon up to the hubcaps of her 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. The prairie seemed like a succession of little rivers. But we made it.

Cherry Creek Reservoir was built to prevent another episode: see an aerial photo.

Southern Colorado, however, remembers also June 3, 1921, when Pueblo flooded. There was this new technology called the telephone, and the operators in their downtown building stayed at their switchboards even as the waters rolled in. (They survived.)

Sketch from the site of the Virtual Telecommunications Museum.

Blog Stew: Who Lit the Fire?

¶ After a year, is El Paso County about ready to prosecute someone for starting the Black Forest Fire? It seems obvious that it started at someone's home.

Women & Guns celebrates a 25-year anniversary with a retrospective article about the magazine, concealed-carry purses, bra holsters, and the evolution of the firearms market.

¶ The Denver Post looks at the decline in Colorado's mule deer population, which I think the robust elk numbers tend to mask.

Energy development on the Western Slope — what we used to call "the deer factory" — gets some of the blame.

July 30, 2014

The Bachelors

The re-seeding of one of the recent forest fire burns near home, combined with two wet-enough springs in a row, produced wonderful grass. Despite the lack of thermal cover, this one area is holding a little bachelor herd of as many as five (just four here) bull elk, captured in June on one of my scout cameras.

July 25, 2014

The Short, Footloose Life of Bear 839

A neighborhood in Aguilar (Google Maps).
A prequel.

I do not know where Bear 839 (her ear-tag number) was born or when—maybe in 2011—but on August 24, 2013, she entered a open residential garage in the tiny town of Aguilar, in southern Colorado.
Culvert trap for bears

There she found a chest freezer  — and another — and helped herself to their contents. As the local district wildlife manager's (game warden) original report read,
Bear(s) came to freezers in open garage, no doors. Destroyed two chest freezers and contents. RP [reporting party] tried to run off by throwing rocks, etc.
He made the usual recommendations: close and latch windows and doors. Maybe use some electric fencing or an electric-shock  "welcome mat" to discourage prowling bears.

Whatever the homeowner did or did not do, 839 came back. Next step, the culvert trap — a large metal tube mounted on a utility trailer frame. Some bait attracts the bear to climb in, moving the bait triggers the door to slam shut, and the DWM hooks up the trailer to a pickup truck and drives away.

Now she was a "problem bear." Trapped, she received an injection of Telazol (Tiletamine) at 11:07 a.m. on August 26 and within two minutes was comatose. She was recorded as a subadult female, breeding status "unknown/not applicable."

While she was out, her lip was tattooed ("4838") and she got two yellow plastic ear tags ("839"). And she got to ride in her culvert trap into some forested, canyon-cut land west of Trinidad, where she was released.

From the release site to my house is 75 miles if you are an airplane, no doubt much longer if you are a bear. By May 2014 she was here.

What drove her to travel north, ever north? Certainly the DWM left her in what he considered to be good bear habitat. He was trying to give her another chance.

She might be the bear in a scout camera picture taken May 20th, but by the end of May she was dead — shot, I am convinced, by the man whom I refer to here as "Mr. Tactical."

That investigation and the two that go with it are not yet over. I raised a little commotion with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and now I am getting phone calls from middle management.  When I have more to say, I will. But don't hope for satisfying justice.

July 24, 2014

How Do You "Prep" for a Solar Storm?

There would have been no more arguments about global warming, etc., after 2012 if this had happened a little differently — mainly because there would have been no electric grid, hence no Internet.
Analysts believe that a direct hit … could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
 No more cat pictures either.

July 22, 2014

Walter's Beer Makes a Comeback

This is the building, except it is painted white now.
The Walter Brewing Co. was a southern Colorado institution from 1898 until 1975, having been founded by Martin Walter, a German immigrant from a family of brewers, who thought that all those Pueblo steelworkers and railwaymen might be thirsty.

Now, the name is back — as a microbrewery with new owners but the old recipe, says Pueblo Chieftain columnist Anthony Sandstrom.

Follow the link for lots of great photos from the old days of the company.
The Walter Brewing Tap Room, located at 126 Oneida St., near D St. and the Pueblo Police Department offices, had its soft opening in June and plans a grand opening in September, [co-owner Andrew] Sanchez said. 
I went by today — the sign in the window said OPEN but the door was locked. Eh, start-ups, whatever. Have to try again later. 

July 20, 2014

A Rant about Shoes

I have always owned sneakers, but they become more and more expensive yet don't last any longer.

M. usually blows out a pair of sneakers in a year, "blow out" meaning cracks so large you can see the wearer's feet inside, just by walking vigorously on dirt roads and forest trails. I get maybe two years — that was the case with my last pair of Teva sneakers — because I rotate more pairs of shoes.  (Check the prices: something comparable is $66 on sale.)

H. S. Trask: Bison leather
and a softer kind of Vibram sole.
What to do? Back to leather? I already had these H. S. Trask "Deer Camp" low boots, bison leather, leather-lined, with replaceable Vibram soles. (They are on their second set of soles.) Not in the catalog anymore, but similar to these.

"Deer Camp"? Maybe if it's a three-story log Adirondack-style log lodge, where someone drives you to the heated deer blind at dawn and leaves you there with a hamper of snacks. Very nice, comfortable, but a little country-gentleman-ish for the usual gritty dog walks and digging out drainage ditches.

Keen: The soles need help.
What about something cheaper? In the Cody, Wyo., Sierra Trading Post store, back in 2011. I found these Keen lace-up shoes. They seemed like the leather equivalent of sneakers. And they have lasted three years.

The uppers are in great shape, but the soles, as you may see, are already being repaired with Shoe Goo. (Great stuff, Shoe Goo.) And these soles are not replaceable. By buying them at Sierra, I paid a lot less than the $110 that these similar shoes are listed for.

Some designer, sitting his or her air-conditioned office, wrapped a sturdy layer of rubber over a softer, less resistant under-sole. With wear, inevitable gaps develop between them,  where grains of sand and small pebbles get stuck. Where the heel strikes, the thin, harder rubber wears away, exposing the softer stuff. Hence liberal use of Shoe Goo to seal them back together and rebuild the heel — because the uppers are still fine.

"Engineered Durability" —
It says so right on them.
Next try, some Cat walking shoes (as in the maker of large yellow machines). Bought these at Sierra Trading Post also, which means they are no longer in the catalog, as Sierra sells lots of close-outs.

These approach the platonic ideal of Sturdy Leather Shoe with Grippy Sole except for two weird designer touches: small elastic inserts in the back, which will probably break before the leather wears out, and this "window" in the heel, in case you wish to observe the inner workings of the sole, in which case you must be the James Hillman of shoes.

Regardless of the label, I think shoe designers mentally envision their shoes in only three environments: city sidewalks, basketball courts — and if they are "walking shoes," manicured graveled trails on which you could push a baby stroller.

I say that because I broke down and bought some sneakers, because they were featured in one of Amazon's 60 percent-off-today-only sales.

Excuse me, these are New Balance "Low Tactical Boots" and they list at more than $100.

But if you wear these sneakers while walking through a meadow in July, you will find that the awns of needle-and-thread grass go through their sides like a 50-caliber bullet through a Toyota Hilux pickup truck. Cheatgrass awns too.

Like most sneakers, they have panels of that mesh-covered foam crap, although there is a bit more of a rubber bumper in front than you usually get.

The soles are aggressive — I tested them on a 90-minute rocky scramble just this morning — but the uppers will probably give out first.

Also tried, some moccasin-style boat shoes (sort of like these but with slitty soles) from the venerable firm of C. & J. Clark, found at a close-out price. Not bad for everyday wear, but too soft-soled for outdoor work like digging garden beds.

So you can buy leather at sneaker prices, if you look around. It lasts longer and it can be repaired, at least some of the time.

July 19, 2014

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: Fly or Die!

Cordilleran flycatcher
(Cornell Ornithology Lab).

As I mentioned in the previous episode, there was a built-in design problem. Four fledglings, but only comfortable nest space for three.

One, probably the last-hatched by several days, always seemed to be the runt, the usual story.

Were its siblings shoving it out of the nest by the first week of July? Despite our efforts — putting a metal sheet between the nest and the top of the porch light where it was built in order to add a sort of safety zone before the drop — I came out a few days later and found the runt outside the nest, stiff in death.

The others kept growing and were suddenly starting to look like fuzzy adults. On the 13th I checked them — and one was gone, while another, startled, instead of cowering just flew away, a whole ten feet down to a railing.

Later in the day, #3 disappeared. And that was that. No practice flights, just go now!

And birds never come back to their old bedroom after venturing into the larger world.

It was over. They all dispersed. We hear an occasional flycatcher-ish peep! in the trees behind the house. At some point, it will be time to winter in Mexico.

M. and I felt a little diminished, that's the funny thing, even though it is nice to not have to duck our heads when going in and out the front door.

July 17, 2014

The Cycles of Sand

I wlll look at the sandstone boulders behind the house in a new way after reading this:
Most of us are used to the idea that sand is created from rock by weathering, but less familiar is the idea that it can be turned back into rock again. "Sand grains originally born from granite long ago", Welland explains, “may accumulate, be buried, and become naturally glued together, lithified (from the Greek for stone or rock) into . . . a sandstone. When this, in its turn, is exposed at the surface, it is attacked by weathering and the sand grains are liberated again. The whole process is cyclic, over and over again." He estimates that half of all quartz sand grains have completed that circuitbeen turned to stone and then rebornsix times.
From a fascinating review article, "The Magic of Sand."

July 11, 2014

The Vanished Corn Farmers and a Cooler, Drier Future?

There is a lot of Apocalypse Porn going around, like in the closing of this article on the flooded shopping mall in Bangkok. Coastal inhabitants will be living in shacks on the roofs of flooded office buildings, etc. etc.

We have been telling the story of the Great Flood for at least 4,000 years, after all.

On the other hand, some researchers of solar-output cycles still see a better chance of a coming period that is cooler — and drier. Let's start with the story of some corn-growing prehistoric villages in what is now Iowa:
There were possibly over one thousand Indian villages on the Great Plains from Iowa to Colorado during the Medieval Warm Period. In the early 19th century when the explorers who spearheaded the European invasion of the American heartland crossed the plains, they found no corn-farming villages. They left behind the last of the agricultural tribes as they moved out onto the grasslands – the Akira and Mandan on the Missouri and the Pawnee in eastern Kansas – not to find corn fields again until reaching the Pueblos in the southern Rockies. Remnants of the villages were uncovered in the early 20th century as layers of debris covered by wind-blown soil.
In other words, the subsequent Little Ice Age made maize farming more and more difficult except in favored locations, and no one was doing it (except maybe at El Cuartelejo) much west of present-day Wichita.

The phrase "lower solar activity, and thus a posited colder climate" produced a lot of heat in the comments section, at least.

July 08, 2014

Changes in the Neighborhood, 1887 to Now

A. C. (or A. Q.) Monroe's Cash Store, 1887 (Denver Public Library)

I found this photo while researching the Squirrel Creek Lodge series. It was taken not far from where I live. My first thought was that that is more people than live on that road now.

My second thought was, "Maybe not, but the population skewed a lot younger in 1887. The school bus does not even come halfway up the road today."

Here is another photo dated 1887, with the store in the center. Click for a bigger image, and you will see a man sitting in a wagon.
Denver Public Library collection.
Not one of those buildings remains today. In the Teens and Twenties, some new cabins were built there— a little resort catering to the new automobile tourists, called "Greenwood Cabins," I have been told. Some friends have one of the cabins (no heating, no plumbing) on their property and use it as a summertime guest bedroom.

I wonder about the photo dating, though, because in the larger photo, the false front of Monroe's store is not missing a corner.(Update: See comments for probable explanation.)

I was in the area today (a cloudy day) and tried to replicate the photograph, lining up the two little rocky ridges on the hillside behind.

Actually, this is the biggest house on the road, so not typical of the area.
I think the store stood just to the left of the large house, which was built in 1989. There is a cement foundation there too, but I suspect that it is early twentieth-century. Those 1880 buildings were lucky to have a row of rocks in a shallow trench for a foundation.

And what were all those people doing? Ranching (the public land was open and un-managed) and small-scale sawmilling (ditto)? This was not a mining district. There were coal mines and even oil wells in the next county north, about 10–15 miles away, but back then miners usually lived within a mile of the mine and walked to work. There may have been some small dairy operations.

Denver Public Library collection.
One thing has not changed. A lot of backyard target shooting goes on. That is Mr. Monroe (of the store?) fourth from left. I don't recognize any of the surnames, although one of them, Holbert, is the name of a drainage about twenty miles north, as the Mexican spotted owl flies — M. and I found a nesting pair there twenty-two years ago when we were paid by the BLM to census owls.

I am tempted to check these names against the oldest graveyard hereabouts.

And the forest looks a little different too. Put that down to a century-plus of fire suppression and and cessation of local logging. It's mostly private land, with a little BLM at the far left of the ridge.

The burnt tree in the foreground of today's photograph is a relic of the 2,500-acre fire in 2012 that cleared away most of the houses on that side of the road.

Now there is a row of concrete foundations there for visitors of the future to wander among and wonder about.

July 07, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge - Part 4

Missouri-Pacific Railroad tourism brochure, 1927

Selling the San Isabel to Out-of-State Visitors

The first post in this series described Arthur Carhart's vision for scenic roads connecting campgrounds, picnic grounds, and private resorts in the Wet Mountains, the "cradle of car camping."

But what about out-of-state visitors? From the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 into the 20th century, many North American tourists arrived at the nearest railway station to their destinations.

Then they might walk or take a coach to the nearest hotel. Some were grand, like the Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888–89. From the hotel, they could self-guided or escorted tours, such as by stagecoach from Livingston, Mont., into Yellowstone under U. S. Army escort (the Army patrolled the park until 1918, when the National Park Service took over). 

The Baver Li Lodge on Highway 165, late 1920s or 1930s.
The Missouri Pacific RR operated a route west from St. Louis to Pueblo, Cañon City, and on to Salt Lake City via Grand Junction. Eager to attract passengers, it provided this 16-page brochure about the San Isabel National Forest, "Colorado's newest playground." 

According to the grandson of the Baver Li Lodge's founders, the Missouri Pacific tried to buy the lodge (built in 1927) in 1929, but his grandparents would not sell. (It closed as a lodge in the 1960s but is still in the family.)

The brochure offered numerous one, two, and three-day automobile tours, for example, this one booked through the San Isabel Forest Tours Co. of Pueblo: 
"No. 1" — One day. Includes automobile transportation and mid-day dinner. From Pueblo via Rye and Willow Creek Camp to Squirrel Creek Community House [Lodge] for dinner; returning through Squirrel Creek Canyon [Colorado 76], Pine Drive to Pueblo. Fare, $8.00 per person.
Another day trip went from Pueblo to Wetmore and Westcliffe, included a meal at the Alpine Lodge, and returned through the Arkansas River canyon and Cañon City to Pueblo. When you consider that was almost all on gravel roads with a maximum possible top speed of perhaps 40–45 mph, it would have been a long day's car ride for your $10.50 fare.

In today's dollars, that trip cost $142 per person, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics site. A cabin plus meals (fireplace heat, no plumbing) at the Baver Li Lodge cost $40–$50 in today's money (I would book one, definitely). I have not yet seen a menu for the Squirrel Creek Lodge, but I suspect that it featured fried chicken, since the archaeologists identified one foundation nearby as the chicken house.

The Missouri Pacific's brochure gushed about "Mountain Trout," "History and Romance," "The Wooliness of the West," "Altruistic Purposes" ("exorbitant charges for accommodation and services will not be countenanced"), "Scenic Grandeur," and "Special Vacation Summer Fares," among other headings.

One section, "The Hospitality of Colorado, reads as follows:
The spirit of wholesome friendliness is one of the refreshing pleasure to be anticipated in a visit to Colorado, and particularly to the San Isabel. The inhabitants of this country seem to be imbued with the bigness of their environs and manifest a sincere cordiality. In Colorado, all class distinction seems to be neutralized.
I wonder what areas we were being compared to.

To be continued at some point.

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: The "Plop Plop" of Falling Birds

This year's brood of flycatchers, on top of the front porch light.
Is four fledglings too many?

Right now, there is a large pillow — actually an L. L. Bean dog bed — laid under the porch light on the veranda.

Baby Cordilleran flycatchers keep falling out of the nest on top of the porch light, which they built in late May while we were away in Taos, ignoring my purpose-built special flycatcher nesting ledge on the back of the house.

This is an ongoing drama every year: will Lucinda (all females are named Lucinda) successfully incubate her eggs and raise some babies? Some times things go very wrong.

Often four eggs are laid, but only three hatch. Or four chicks are hatched, but one is found dead and dessicated in the nest.

This year, we still have four starting to grow adult feathers. But the nest, built according to whatever evolutionary pattern — and better sized for three — is not big enough. They are starting to fall out.

I was working at my desk Sunday afternoon when I heard M. scream at Fisher, the Chesapeake Bay retriever. "Bad dog!" etc.

But here he is, the product of umpteen generations of bird-dog breeding, catching the breeze just inside the front door, when a bird falls from the sky in front of him. Of course he went for it.

The chick seemed OK, I thought, just a little damp from saliva. So I put it back in the nest. M. put a baby gate in the doorway and moved one of Fisher's outdoor dog beds under the nest.

Thirty minutes later I looked out and there was a chick lying on the dog bed. Back into the nest with it.

Then we ate supper on the veranda, as usual, noting Lucinda's constant trips to the nest to feed the kids with whatever insects she was catching. (Her mate helps too.)

I started to carry the plates inside and, Whoa! "Grab Fisher!" I said. Luckily, he was still sniffing under the dining table for crumbs.

There were two fledglings on the dog bed. Back into the nest they went.

How long is this going to keep up? Do we have to keep Fisher off the veranda, where he is accustomed to lounging during the day between walks and meals?

They can't grow up fast enough for me. Or for Lucinda.

July 06, 2014

How the South Canyon Fire Changed Firefighting

In a photo taken shortly after the 1994, shirts mark spots where smokejumpers successfully deployed fire shelters on "Lunch Stop Ridge" during the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo. . (US Forest Service photo)
The same spot, right after the smokejumpers left their shelters.
John Maclean, whose book Fire on the Mountain was the first of a series he has written analyzing wildland fires that killed firefighters, revisits the South Canyon Fire of 1994 and compares it with last summer's even deadlier Yarnell Hill Fire.

There is a good two-part video on YouTube about South Canyon, with interviews of people who were there (one of them is a neighbor of mine). The animations in the video are helpful in visualizing what happened.

Maclean (and others) credits South Canyon with changing firefighting culture a little bit, making crews more concerned about their own safety and less likely to tell the boss that everything is OK.
A key lesson from the video: Firefighters in charge "should listen to everyone on the crew," [smokejumper Eric] Hipke said. "That's not the way it used to be."

And fire crews, Hipke said, should be more aggressive in voicing their concerns about dangerous situations. During the South Canyon Fire, he said, he and other firefighters failed to tell [lead smokejumper Don] Mackey that they were worried about venturing so far into dense brush without a sure way out.

"As workers we want to work, so we shut up," Hipke said.

July 01, 2014

Blog Stew with Corn. Just Corn. And Bigfoot

¶ The Baby Boomers? They lived about a thousand years ago. In the Four Corners area.

¶ Related: Have you ever noticed that there are no Anazasi restaurants? How many different ways can you fix corn mush? But maybe the jalapeño-filled tamales that I had yesterday are related. 

¶ I came home from a trip last November and found a young pine tree broken off at waist height. I blame the strong downslope winds from the southwest, which are a feature of winter around here.

But to the gang at Sasquatch Investigation of the Rockies, that would be a sign that the Big Guy had come by. On the other hand, here is a recent purported footprint and some other stuff from an undisclosed location in Colorado.

¶ Related: DNA samples are not being helpful for Bigfoot hunters. But you have to understand, sometimes the Big Guy is not corporeal.