July 19, 2019

Fictional Game Wardens and the "Natural Resources Mystery Novel"

I have just started reading Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash.

Rash, a poet and novelist, has deep roots in western North Carolina. I chose this book because I like "natural resource mystery novels," and the protagonists are a newly retired county sheriff and a state park ranger. 

The honorary parents of the "natural-resources mystery novel" might be Tony Hillerman  (1925–2008) and Nevada Barr. Hillerman's two Navajo tribal policemen, Lt. Jim Leaphorn and Officer (later Sgt.) Jim Chee, deal with all sort of crimes, but a percentage of them involve people wanting to exploit something about the Big Reservation—archaeological sites, minerals, whatever. (His daughter, Anne, carries on the series.)

Barr (b. 1952) worked in theatre and television before taking a job as a seasonal National Park Service ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, the site of her first mystery novel, Track of the Cat (1993), which introduced protagonist Anna Pigeon, a Park Service law-enforcement ranger.

All I can say about Ranger Pigeon is that she is extraordinarily physically resilient. Any actual NPS ranger with her list of injuries — all logged here — would have retired on full disability five or six books ago. Wikipedia sums up Barr's plots: "The books in the series take place in various national parks where Pigeon solves murders that are often related to natural resource issues."


So it would seem that natural-resources crime would be perfect for mystery writers. It does not always work out that way.

Wyoming writer C. J. Box created state game warden Joe Pickett, who first appeared in Open Season (2001), followed by eighteen more. As the series moves on, Joe Pickett quickly spends less and less time catching poachers, etc., and more being a sort of special investigator for the governor of Wyoming, although that gig ends when the governor leaves office.

A typical plot involves Joe getting in over his head facing a family of criminals, drug-cartel sicarios, or some other baddies, only to be rescued by his own personal "noble savage," the mystic falconer/special-ops veteran Nate Romanowski, who appears suddenly to save the day, eliminating bad guys with his .454 Casull revolver by shooting offhand from half a mile away.

Box can write a tight thriller — the Cassie Dewell novels, starting with The Highway, are better-plotted and less repetitious than the Joe Pickett series.

Maine is not Wyoming, and Paul Doiron's series about Maine warden Mike Bowditch seem more rooted in nature and culture than Joe Pickett's Wyoming.  Maybe that is because Doiron used to edit Down East, "the magazine of Maine." The series begins with The Poacher's Son (Mike, of course)

The next one I need to read is The Precipice. Here is the synopsis:
When two female hikers disappear in the Hundred Mile Wilderness — the most remote stretch along the entire Appalachian Trail — Maine game warden Mike Bowditch joins the desperate search to find them. 
Hope turns to despair after two unidentified corpses are discovered, their bones picked clean by coyotes. Do the bodies belong to the missing hikers? And were they killed by the increasingly aggressive wild dogs?
Soon all of Maine is gripped by a fear of deadly coyote attacks. But Bowditch has his doubts. His new girlfriend, wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, insists the scavengers are being wrongly blamed. She believes a murderer may be hiding in the offbeat community of hikers, hippies, and woodsmen at the edge of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. When Stacey herself disappears along the Appalachian Trail, the hunt for answers becomes personal.
Real police work is bureaucratic — and so is being a game warden or park ranger. But because they so often work alone, far from back-up, they make appealing protagonists with a dose of "What would I do out there?"

July 11, 2019

Bobcats Released, Bunnies Beware


Bobcats. Photo by Tom Sanders, Wet Mountain Wildlife.
Two  bobcat kittens (Felis rufus) came into the local rehabilitation shelter a year ago. Actually, at one point there were three, but one released himself, hung around for a time for the free meals, and then went on his way. These two stayed put and ate rats. Lots of rats, delivered by the Rat Man, who was usually me.

I picked up so many rats at the Raptor Center that I felt I needed a steampunk Rat Man costume and a Cockney accent: "Foine rats, madam. None better!"

I always thought the Raptor Center raised their own rats and mice, but they buy them too. They come neatly arranged on a plastic-wrapped foam tray, just like when you buy rats at the supermarket. 

Rats may be ordered by size, up from "pinkies" to "jumbo," or whatever the New York-size ones are called.

But enough about rats. The bobcats are them, grew up, and on the summer solstice they were released on the High Plains near Limon, Colorado. If you were thinking of them as a forest cat, think again — they were found near Limon, and they can make a living on rabbits, rodents, and maybe by scavenging birds knocked out the sky by the renewable electricity project in the background of the video (courtesy of Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

July 09, 2019

San Isabel, Where the Internet Ends, Sort of

That mysterious box at lower right.

My friend Galen has been visiting the Lodge at San Isabel since boyhood; me, I probably came first in the late 1980s. On a fishing trip last week, we stopped to photograph this newish sign (not 1930s original), but we noticed something else — the functional pay phone.

The information sheet that you get when asking about the lodge's rental cabins makes it clear: no mobile phone service (unless you have a satphone), no wifi at the lodge or cabins, no broadcast television, and no satellite-based TV or Internet access. (Some homeowners have satellite dishes, of course.) You can borrow DVDs to watch. Messages for guests are posted on a notice board by the main door.

Otherwise, go fishing. Go for a walk. Paddle a kayak. Do something.

It is almost like "the land where the Internet ends," a piece about Green Bank, West Virginia, that ran in the New York Times last month.

Green Bank is home to several giant radio telescopes, all set in a "National Radio Quiet Zone, 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain with few cell towers or other transmitters." (That sounds a lot like much of the Wet Mountains, if you stay off the ridges.) Scientists studying weak signals from the cosmos want no interference. The area also attract "electrosensitives," people who think that cellular phone signals and other transmissions make them ill.

The writer, Pagan Kenndy, wonders,
Activists have already created “dark sky reserves” to protect wilderness from artificial light. In the future, might we also create “privacy reserves” where we can go to escape the ubiquitous internet?
As it happens, San Isabel is (mostly) in Custer County, where to the west, in the Wet Mountain Valley, there is already a "dark sky reserve" with a website, "star parties" and so on.

She talks to a stranger in line at a convenience store. There is something odd about him.
The man carried himself oddly, with his chest puffed out and his head swiveling as if to scan everything in the store, from the hunting gear to the Little Debbie display case. I thought his posture must have been a remnant from his brain injury, but then realized everybody seemed to be walking around with the same heads-up attitude. Take away the cellphones, it turns out, and you also take away the cellphone hunch. And with nothing else to do but meet one another’s eyes, people talk. 
 Or they are gazing at the lake, watching the ospreys dive, looking to see if the trout are rising.

July 08, 2019

A "Blue-collar Glass Rod" and Other Discoveries

It was time to dump out, sort, and organize all the fishing tackle
and to discover things that I did not know that I had.
After a humongous spring runoff, southern Colorado streams are clearing. An old friend came to visit, but for various reasons, we stayed off the creeks and fished a favorite small lake for a couple of evenings. More on that later.

Inspired by catching fish for the first time this summer, I decided to bring up all the fishing tackle to the front porch, dump it out, sort things, and organize them — for the first time in years. Of course, there were some "Oh, that's where [that item] was!" moments.

How did I get so many red-and-white plastic bobbers? By picking up lost ones on various lake shores, enough that I will donate a bag of them to Goodwill.

Whose flies are these? Oh . . . I remember.
In a carton holding spools of monofilament, trolling line, and new-in-the-box flyline from years back, I found a small fly box of streamers and wet flies, mainly.

I looked at them kind of blankly. Where did I . . . . oh, those were Dad's! He used to fish mainly small streams with wet flies. It's been sixteen years, and it's like he reached out to me. Why did I put them away? I am not in the flyfishing museum business! Fish them! So they went into my vest.

I brought up all the rods and rod cases. That one-piece spinning rod missing its tip? I've caught a number of fish on it in that condition anyway. But now it will go to Goodwill, and maybe some handy Pueblo angler can glue on a new tip.

These empty rod cases — they are not empty! Out slides a Shakespeare "Ugly Stik" fiberglass fly rod that I probably used last in in the late 1980s. Really "noodly." It goes. That leaves me with three fly rods (4-wt, 5–6 wt., and 7-wt.) which ought to be enough.


In the mid-1960s, this rod's list price was $22.95. Using the "US Inflation Calculator,"
today''s price would be $181.40, only in reality it would be much less than that. One word: China.

And this one: a Heddon Pal Mark II #8353, 7 1/2 feet for 6-wt. line,  with the Controlled Flex action, which is less noodly than the aforementioned "Ugly Stik."

I stared it it. The slightly abraded cork grip—from a dog's mouth? Something else? Ferrules, guides, and wrappings were all in good condition. The problem was, I just did not remember fishing it.

I turned to the Internet. A "blue-collar glass rod," one source called it. Another said,
By the mid 60s, Heddon made a wide range of fly rods. They sold the Pal, Pal Mark I, II, III, and IV rods, as well as the Pro Weight, Mark I Custom, and Lifetime Pal Stainless Steel models. Like the earlier rods, the various models may have been made on the same blanks with the variations in price simply due to the cosmetics and hardware.

The Pal rods were the economy models, with with olive painted blanks, black wraps over a white backing, nickel silver ferrules, and an anodized black reelseat with silver hoods.
At another website, someone opined that a like-new Mark I Pal that sold for $17.95 would be worth about $50 to a collector today. Assuming you could find a collector. Otherwise, going by eBay listings, it is probably worth about $20 in 2019 dollars, since it lacks the original case.

Of course, there is apparently a retro reverse-snobbery thing going with fifty-year-old fiberglass rods. Wouldn't you know.

Was it Dad's too? I thought I remembered him fishing mostly "hardware store-grade" bamboo rods, but I was pretty young then. In 1975, he and my stepmom moved from Colorado to Whidbey Island, Washington, where he bought a 28-foot boat, took navigation and seamanship classes, befriended local fishermen, and threw himself into the pursuit of salmon -- interspersed with halibut, bottom fish (such as lemon sole), crabs, and clams. I looked forward to my trips out there.

All the saltwater gear went to M's nephew, who was fishing a lot in the Gulf of Mexico at the time. Was this fiberglasss fly rod something I set in a corner of my basement and forgot?

I suppose there are collectors of hardware store-grade fiberglass fly rods from the 1960s out there — there is a niche for everything — but it will probably go to Goodwill too. I am not sure if it "sparks joy."

July 07, 2019

Feds Sue Historic Durango Train over 416 Forest Fire

Helitanker over the 416 Fire (Inciweb).
The federal government has filed suit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co., a major southwestern Colorado tourist attraction, for startling the 416 Fire in June 2018, reports the Durango Herald.
“The United States alleges that the fire was ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on a coal-burning steam engine locomotive owned and operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
The lawsuit seeks $25 million to repay firefighting costs.
About 9:45 a.m. June 1, 2018, a resident in the Meadowridge subdivision saw a “wisp of smoke” near a bend in the tracks as the D&SNG passed by, igniting intense speculation that the train was the cause of the 416 Fire.

The neighborhood of about eight homes a few hundred feet from the tracks had grown used to seeing the D&SNG start fires, and residents even had their own water truck to help put out small fires ignited by small cinders emitted from the steam locomotives’ smokestacks.

But their efforts were in vain that day. Even when the railroad’s own water tanker arrived about five minutes later, the fire had advanced too far.
The D&S steam engines do have screens on their funnels, 19th-century technology that stops at least some hot cinders. But the old=time trains did start fires. I remember once looking at Colorado 67 in Teller County from across a valley— it follows an old railroad grade in places — and there are all these patches of aspen above (but not below) the highway. They sure look like places where small fires started along the line and then burned out on their own.

The thing is, not only is the train a big tourist attraction, but at least some residents really like it. One of the homeowners first on the scene to fight the fire also said,
[Cres Fleming] also loves the train. He called himself a “foamer” and “railroad nut,” who has done a lot of volunteer work for the train and played Santa Claus for a number of years on the Polar Express. He and Chione both said they live where they do because of the train.
That, and if you are in downtown Durango during a temperature inversion when the train is leaving the station, you can experience 19th-century street-level atmosphere conditions, otherwise known as "Why the Victorians wore black."

July 03, 2019

Reviewing Colorado Parks and Wildlife's New Apps

I was going to review two new free smartphone apps from Colorado Parks and Wildlife today, but I will be reviewing only one, because I am having problems with the other.

First up is CoTrex, "Colorado's Trail Explorer." Subtitle: "We're mapping Colorado's trails."

They have a way go on that. Based on my trial, it works well in state parks. But standing on my front porch, I am within two miles of three or four marked US Forest Service trailheads, and none of them shows up on CoTrex. Yet every trail up at Lake Pueblo State Park is visible.

Colorado's state parks are popular, and it is good to get people out walking around. When I tested CoTrex at Trinidad State Park — which has good connectivity, since it is just outside the town of Trinidad — the app was more convenient in some ways than a paper brochure, but it did not give me the historical/ecological information that the park's trail brochures contained.

Cotrex lets you save routes (if you create an account—more on that below) and even set up a sort of "friends" network and other social mediumistic stuff, if you're into all that.  You may complete “challenges” to earn badges.

You can also download your trail map for when you lose your data signal. (If you come to my neck of the San Isabel National Forest, even digital-trunked radios don't work well, not to mention cell phones.) But at that point, no device screen will show you as much as a paper topo map, unless you keep a MacBook Air in your day pack. Me, I like my iPhone SE because it fits in a shirt pocket, even inside its Otterbox fumble-finger protection case. But it is a way-too-small screen for map-viewing.

Pluses: Easy to use. If you have a data signal and GPS enabled, you can see your position on the trail and reassure your anxious hiking partner that you are not lost and that an important trail junction is just head. And it's free.

Minuses: Shows only a fraction of "Colorado’s unique trail experiences" at this time. The app designers invite uses to add them (otherwise known as do their work for them), which could lead to all kinds of confusion over trailheads, private property, seasonal trail-closures, etc. But the makers do promise to grow their database. Like any app, it encourages you to stare down at a screen when you should be looking around and orienting yourself.

I expect that CoTrex will help newbie hikers who are using urban and state parks systems primarily.

I also planned to review an app called CPW Fishing.

It is supposed to help you "visualize your trip and track your catches with CPW Fishing, the official fishing app of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. CPW Fishing can help you discover new fishing locations, learn new skills, stay on top of the latest regulations and journal your fishing experiences.​"

I downloaded it, created an account (see below), received a verification code in my email, typed in the code, hit "Go" — and it stalled. After looking at an "Authorizing . . . " screen for five minutes, with no way to restart the process, I just removed the app. (I emailed the "support" address, but no response yet.)

Still, it's out there, and maybe I can get it work later. Tell me your experience if you use it.

There is also a "Match a Hatch" app that I mean to try as well. My little iPhone should display invertebrates well enough.

CoTrex was created by a software firm called Natural Atlas, whereas CPW Fishing was created by Crestone Digital. Apparently they do not talk to each other — they are competitors, after all. Worse, no one at CPW is forcing them to talk to each other and to agree to make accounts interchangeable.

Right now, I have four CWP accounts:

1. For buying hunting and fishing licenses
2. For volunteer work
3. For CoTrex
4. (in theory) for CPW Fishing.

Wouldn't it be nice to have One Password to Rule Them?

June 29, 2019

Bigfoot Likes Blog Stew!!

That suppressor says we are not in the USA.
OK, readers, I have more saved links than I can turn into blog posts. So here they are, short form.

You will need a big spoon.

• I mentioned Laura Krantz's Bigfoot-related podcast, Wild Thing, which I really admired.  Here is an interview with her, "Bigfoot hunters aren’t crazy, just curious, says ‘Wild Thing’ podcaster Laura Krantz." No, she is not a True Believer, but that is what makes her work interesting.

• Related: A forty-year-old "Bigfoot hair sample" finally emerges from the FBI.

• If you use Instagram, here is a listicle: "10 Amazing Female Hunters You Should be following on Instagram." They are Scandanavian. But the secret to being an Instagram "influencer" is to show women alone in scenic/exotic places, which really makes some people become unhinged.

Good advice for "spring cleaning" your first-aid kits. Yeah, I need to do that, especially for the one that sits in the Jeep getting heated up in the summer.

There is gun culture and there is hunting culture, "rather similar, but also rather different. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the two, there would be a lot of overlap, but there would also be a lot of areas where they don’t meet. For example, a hunter may completely eschew firearms for political reasons, but retain the use of a bow or crossbow. Meanwhile, plenty of people own guns for personal defense but have never traveled into the woods to take any game."

So a self-described "stereotype of a Northeastern liberal" with "a New Yorker’s visceral aversion to firearms" connects with a "Yale-trained stage actor and bartender," who also mentors novice deer hunters. They set out into the woods, and here is what happens. (First he needs to get Joy Williams, Ernest Hemingway and a bunch of other voices out of his head!)

June 28, 2019

Hunters, Gatherers, and Pedal Power

Photo: Terry Milne, Porter Creek Secondary School
If you thought that yesterday's post on experimental archaeology and cutting up deer with stone tools was too easy, then send your high-school kid to Porter Creek Secondary School, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.

They like to ride fat-tire bikes. They use them to hunt buffalo. On snow and ice.
Students and teachers from Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse — Yukon’s largest city, with 25,000 of the territory’s 35,000 people — killed a 1,500-pound bison during a hunt on a field trip in March, and feasted on its meat with classmates and parents earlier this month. Three teachers and three government guides led eighth and 10th grade students on a four-day trip into the wilderness filled with camping, hiking, ice fishing and bison-stalking.
Do these kids make the young wranglers of Deep Springs College look like Cheetos-munching gamers? (You decide.) Can I travel back in time to the days when I lived on a bicycle?
Then as night fell, they switched on their headlamps and field dressed the animal, bringing the tenderloin back to camp for a midnight snack.

During the recent community feast, dishes included the animal’s heart and tongue, along with more traditional cuts of meat.

“It was amazing,” [teacher Alexandra] Morrison said. “The northern lights were out. The wolves were howling in the distance. It was the most wonderful, respectful experience.”
Their hunt reminds me just a little of Stephen Stirling's "After the Change" novels — the first one, in which bicycles become important, was Dies the Fire

June 27, 2019

This Is the Anthropology Class You Wish You Could Have Taken

Prof. Schindler shoots a stone-tipped arrow.
(Photo: Washington College)
Anthropology professor Bill Schinldler starts with students like these:

The skills prehistoric peoples depended on seem exotic to today’s college students, who Schindler says arrive on campus each year with less and less of the sort of practical experience that he emphasizes in his class. He tells of the time he asked some students to crack eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. He returned to the kitchen 10 minutes later to find that not a single egg had been cracked. “I asked them if the problem was that nobody had ever told them how to separate the yolk from the whites, and received blank stares in return,” he recalled. “After a minute of silence, one of them said, ‘I’ve never cracked an egg.’ I was floored—how do you even make it to 19 without cracking an egg?

But by the time he has had them for a while:

On the last day of the course, Schindler and his class feasted on stew made from the deer they had butchered, out of bowls they had fired from local river clay. As they ate, some of the students gave presentations about their efforts to do as early humans had done. These attempts had not all been successful: Stone axes fell off the handles they were hafted to, wood in a charcoal kiln turned mostly to ash instead of charcoal. “It wasn’t a failure at all,” Schindler reassured the distressed charcoal maker, “because now you know what you would do differently.” 

Read the whole thing — "Professor Caveman: Why Bill Schindler is teaching college students to live like early humans."

June 26, 2019

Give a Man a Pile of Rocks . . .


. . . and he will spend a while trying to stack them into a balanced cairn.

I say "man" because the boot tracks down here were pretty large, just in case you are questioning my gender assumptions.

There used to be a road under this slide, but then came a forest fire, followed by flash-flooding.  I used to know the area well. Now it's all changed. Time for re-exploring.

Yes, the ridge in the background was burned pretty thoroughly. Gambel oak is coming up in profusion, so the deer, bears, and turkeys will benefit from acorns.

June 17, 2019

How Can You Be Neutral in the Chile Wars?

To be loyal to my bioregion, I have should have this license plate, but . . .

In August 2018 the state of Colorado announced an addition to its growing collection of specialty license plates — the Pueblo chile plate.
After months of working to get the famous pepper to appear on a Colorado specialty license plate, Pueblo farmers, the Visit Pueblo Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pueblo Chile Growers Association and Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce celebrated its availability at the steps of the Pueblo County Courthouse Monday morning.

The new plates went on sale for $50 early Monday [August 6, 2018].

“This is a great thing for the Pueblo Chile. People in Colorado want to be a part of it,” said Dalton Milberger, president of Pueblo Chile Growers Association and of Milberger Farms in Pueblo County. . . . Former Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, who helped Esgar kick off the idea for the license plates, said the plate represents another part of brand layering to increase Pueblo Chile’s market share competing with the rivals from New Mexico.
The Empire, however, had made a preemptive strike. New Mexico's 2017 chile pepper license plate was already winning awards in 2018.

Gov. Susana Martinez said she was proud to accept the award.
“Chile plays a significant role in our state’s culture and is one of our greatest treasures," she said. "This license plate lets the world know that New Mexico is — without a doubt — the Chile Capital of the World.”

In a bid to become the Princess Leia of the Pueblo Chile Rebel Alliance, Colorado State Representative Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) announced in February 2019 that she had gotten a tattoo of a Pueblo chile pepper with the words "Death Before Hatch."

She also sponsored the license plate bill. (Photo: Pueblo Chieftain.)

I would put the Pueblo chile plates on my Jeep, but I admit to some fear. I am in New Mexico two or three or four times a year. Would I face road rage from Hatch Empire loyalists? Would pickup truckloads of Hatch Stormtroopers blast me with their pepper cannons? Should I risk it? Maybe I should stick with the generic "greenie" plate.

Meanwhile, our Mirasol peppers are getting hotter. Last year (2018), dry weather kicked up the hotness of Pueblo chiles, this expert says:
Dr. Mike Bartolo with Colorado State University's Arkansas Valley Research Center looks specifically at local crops around the area, especially chili peppers. 
“I don’t know if we have any scientific evidence to validate that peppers are getting hotter," said Dr. Bartolo. "But certainly with hot dry conditions we experienced earlier in the summer, it wouldn’t be too surprising if that was the case. Especially if they were water stressed."
Not everyone in Pueblo is in agreement on whether the new crop's heat has increased. Pueblo chile pepper growers, like Kasey Hund with DiTomaso farms, says the pepper's level of spiciness is noticeable.
The power of the Pueblo Alliance continues to grow. And there is a long-range plan at work here — I blogged about it in 2007: "Chile Peppers and Pueblo's Identity."

How Your Dog Controls You with "That Look"

That Look. It is the one that makes you say, "Oh, poor puppy! Would you like part of my sandwich?"

It's evolution at work, say some scientists.
A paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dogs’ faces are structured for complex expression in a way that wolves’ aren’t, thanks to a special pair of muscles framing their eyes. These muscles are responsible for that “adopt me” look that dogs can pull by raising their inner eyebrows. It’s the first biological evidence scientists have found that domesticated dogs might have evolved a specialized ability used expressly to communicate better with humans.

June 16, 2019

Nuestra Señora de Cannabidiol


Buy CBD products with spiritual benefits. Ledoux Street, Taos, New Mexico.

June 15, 2019

They Are Sandbagging La Veta


Along Main Street in the little resort town of La Veta, where sandbags are piled (sometimes) in front of the shops, in case the Cucharas River floods due to run-off from the area burned a year ago in the Spring Fire, west of town.

June 14, 2019

The Poppies of Taos

One strong visual memory from the two summers that I spent working in the Taos, New Mexico, area during my undergrad years — away from Portland's drizzle -- was orange Oriental poppies against adobe walls. It is always rewarding to come back in June and see them again.

These are at the museum named for Taos artist Ernest Blumenchein (appropriate name, right?), but you can see them all over town.

June 11, 2019

Our First Trip to Trinidad Lake State Park

Part of Carpios Ridge Campground from an overlook.
As I turned into the Carpios Ridge Campground at Trinidad Lake State Park, pulling the little pop-up trailer, I saw this tall building with a bright red-orange metal roof.

"That must be the visitor center," I said to M. But I was so wrong. It was the "camper services" building — toilets, plus coin-operated showers, laundry room, and vending machines. The actual visitor center was more modest.

By happenstance, the first weekend of June found us holding reservations for the dogs at the boarding kennel, but our original planned destination was impossible. What to do? A lot of the high country was still snowy and/or in the middle of the Big Melt, so we looked lower down.

A view from our campsite. The forest here is mostly piñon-juniper.
Trinidad Lake SP was not too far away, and thanks to our volunteer work, we had a brand-new hang tag for the Jeep that would give us free park admission — we still had to pay for the campsites. I went online to check, and there were two left, so I grabbed one. (All these campsites are by reservation only.)

The Purgatory River was dammed to create the lake in 1979, making it slightly younger than Pueblo Reservoir.  The lake's level fluctuates, but it is around 800 acres.

Creating the lake drowned some former "coal camps," but you can see visit Cokedale at the park's west end, with its long row of former coke ovens aging under the Colorado sun — when they were working, that little valley must have filled with choking smoke.

One morning I went down to fish before breakfast, and I admit to being skunked—I saw a couple of fish, but they rejected my lures. Some anglers in boats were not doing well either, but I saw one hooked by a fisherman on the shore.

Muddy water flowing into the lake.
When I don't know a lake, my default strategy is to fish the inlet. We went up there later, but the muddy water of "the Purg" was flowing in big-time out of the Culebra Range. So I switched to hiking and geocaching — CPW staff have placed some excellent caches, as well as those left by other geocachers.

The riparian zone meets the P-J in Long's Canyon.
The best hike is Long's Canyon, about a three-mile round trip, because it is away from roads and follows a creek and riparian area that offers the best birding and wildlife-viewing opportunities. There are even some permanent blinds.

It also includes a geological feature, the KT (KPg) Boundary, as described in "An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park."

If all this is not enough, you are only about five miles from the Corazon de Trinidad National Historic Area.

June 10, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (4)

"Stinky" in November 2018.
 Last November, as described in a post called "The Mountain Lion Who Hated Everyone (With Reason)," I talked about the vomit-covered kitten that we picked up from a Huerfano County game warden and brought up to the local wildlife-rehabilitation center.

(Here is CPW's news release about her.)

I called her "Stinky," for lack of a better name. She soon gained a cage-mate, another kitten from down the Arkansas River in Otero County, whose even more antisocial demeanor — a good thing, really — earned him the nickname of "Hissy."  He would hide inside a hollow log in the enclosure, peer out, and hiss in the most hostile manner that he could.
"Stinky" six months later. She is crossing
the hollow log but would not fit inside it.


This was Stinky at the end of May, when she and Hissy were deemed sufficiently grown to be released into their original territories. They weighed 50–60 pounds, Hissy being a bit larger.

So I thought back to the case of Travis Kauffman, who got his fifteen minutes of fame last February when he "fought off" and killed a mountain lion west of Fort Collins.

A subsequent necropsy put the little lion's weight at 24 pounds (9 kg.) So it weighed maybe half or less what Stinky weighed upon release. 

Kauffman stomped a kitten, albeit a big one.

I and everyone else who wrote about that thought that he had been attacked, his running triggering a predatory reflex.

But the rehabber had a different view. She pointed out that Kauffman's injuries were on his front, whereas a mountain lion normally attacks from the rear or side. She thought he was probably bent over the kitten snapping photos with a smartphone when it literally got in his face.

The kitten was big enough to scratch him up, but not big enough to take him down.

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

June 06, 2019

Wildflowers in a Scrambled Spring

Penstemon virens, low penstemon — I think.
This spring has been unusually cool and wet. The "wet" means that all of Colorado is now officially out of drought. I kept thinking locally that the soil moisture was still not what it could be—I was not seeing the spring melt trickles in the little draws—but the last May snowstorm produced some, so hurray for that.

The early wildflowers (spring beauties, pasqueflower) were nothing much, but these penstemons came on strong. M. and I were in south central Texas in April when the bluebonnets (which are lupines) were blossoming—the slope behind the house is almost like that.
Clematis hirsutissima, hairy clematis or sugarbowl.

These hairy clematis (I say Clem-atis, you say Cle-mat-is) usually bloom by late May; this year there are just getting going now. Ditto the wallflowers, not pictured.
Rocky Mountain locoweed, Oxytropis sericea. They are blooming in full force too. On the other hand, the apple trees in the neighborhood had a very few blossoms. It was chilly for so long.

Four-nerved daisy or "Perky Sue"


Perky Sue? Isn't that an old rock 'n' roll song? No, that was "Peggy Sue," as first performed by Buddy Holly — video here. (Supposedly its name commemorates this  Texas lady.)
 
Its botanical name is Tetraneuris Ivesiana.  Photographed at Trinidad Lake State Park on the first of June.

June 02, 2019

An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park

Right here is when (most of) the dinosaurs died.


Things you learn. Not being a paleontologist or a geologist, I did not know that that the K-Pg boundary — Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary — is visible at a southern Colorado state park. (It used to be the K-T boundary [Creataceous-Tertiary], but the kool kidz have changed the name, and if you don't keep up, you're just so 1990s.)

In a  recent New Yorker article, "The Day the Dinosaurs Died," Doug Preston writes,
Today, the layer of debris, ash, and soot deposited by the asteroid strike is preserved in the Earth’s sediment as a stripe of black about the thickness of a notebook. This is called the KT boundary, because it marks the dividing line between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period. (The Tertiary has been redefined as the Paleogene, but the term “KT” persists.) Mysteries abound above and below the KT layer. In the late Cretaceous, widespread volcanoes spewed vast quantities of gas and dust into the atmosphere, and the air contained far higher levels of carbon dioxide than the air that we breathe now. The climate was tropical, and the planet was perhaps entirely free of ice. 
You stand there, and you look at it, and you think, "Right there. Death and chaos like we cannot imagine."
His X-Acto knife unearthed the edge of a fossilized fin. Another paddlefish came to light; it later proved to be nearly six feet long. DePalma probed the sediment around it, to gauge its position and how best to extract it. As more of it was exposed, we could clearly see that the fish’s two-foot-long snout had broken when it was forced—probably by the flood’s surge—against the branches of a submerged araucaria tree. He noted that every fish he’d found in the site had died with its mouth open, which may indicate that the fish had been gasping as they suffocated in the sediment-laden water.

Here is another view of the layer from sciencebuzz.org.
This site is on the Long's Canyon Trail at Trinidad Lake State Park. It is just a quarter mile or so from the trailhead. 

May 18, 2019

The Lone Lilac Abides

I was climbing the steep dirt road up behind the house, following the dog, mind off somewhere (probably volunteer fire department stuff) when I ran into a wall of lilac scent.

There it was — the survivor. A family from down in Rocky Ford used to have a cabin up there — really just a parked camping trailer with an addition. They planted a lilac bush on a southwest-facing slope behind it, and they must have picked just the right variety, in the late 1960s or whenever it was.

They stopped coming much after 1998, when the father died. Eventually the adult children sold us those acres, and one tough lilac bush.

Through drought years, blizzards, and total neglect the lilac prevails. This is one of the good years. Among the scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine — pungent lilac.

May 13, 2019

Nevertheless, She Pointed


Wendy, the visiting German wirehaired pointer, is a  .  .  .   pointing dog. She is impressive on pheasants, but she cannot pass up a robin in a city park either.

Tonight it was the broad-tailed hummingbirds that earned her concentrated and beady/birdy stare. They. Are. Birds.

Evidently that's how it works.

'False Spring' Pasta


We are used to "false spring" along the Eastern Slope of the Rockies.

Maybe now, with the last snow melted, this is the real spring, but I am still calling this dish pasta falsa primavera — with fillaree, lamb's quarters (quelite cenizo), clover, and dandelion, all picked within yards of the house.

April 27, 2019

Trendy Chefs, Libertarians Discover Roadkill Cuisine

A presentation of raccoon meat resembling the scene of roadkill created by the late Moto executive chef Homaro Cantu and Chris Jones, chef de cuisine, at their now-closed restaurant at Fulton Market on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. (Alex Garcia/MCT/Newscom, published in Reason magazine.)
Once when I was working at an outdoor magazine, the executive editor and I daydreamed a whole series of events for a sort of Redneck Olympics.

One of them was the "roadkill pickup," inspired by the time when, while following him along US 50 in Cañon City, I had seen another car smack into a cock pheasant near Colon Orchards, and I had stopped, hopped out, grabbed it, and driven on as though someone were standing behind me with a timer.

His wife cooked it that evening. It was fine.

At Hit & Run, the blog of Reason magazine, food lawyer Baylen Linnekin applauds laws (including Colorado's) that liberalize the collection of road kill.
Bizarrely, though, many states prohibit the practice. In fact, as I detail in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, nearly half of U.S. states prohibit harvesting roadkill. Nevada, for example, conflates roadkill harvesters with poachers. Last year, a Louisiana man faced a fine of up to $750 and up to a month in jail for harvesting a dead fawn.
But help is on the way. Oregon's roadkill law, which I discussed in an earlier column, was adopted in 2017 and took effect this January. Subject to certain conditions, the law allows anyone who obtains a permit to harvest a deer or elk, which a person can eat, share, or give away. (Sorry, no skunk meat; though it's fine to harvest stink steaks in Idaho.)
Then there are the "concern trolls":
"Our concern really is where people might intentionally hit animals for trophy or food," says John Griffin, senior director of urban wildlife programs with the Humane Society of the United States. "Like an elk or something large. It's incredibly dangerous. For both species."
Does John Griffin know what hitting an elk does to your car, and maybe you?  How many people would sacrifice a minivan or SUV for a free meal? He just does not want anyone eating wild game under any circumstances, that much is obvious.

April 24, 2019

Quick, It's Nest Box Time!

American robin (Cornell)
Want to Build the Right Nest Box for Your Area's Birds?


The Cornell University has an interactive guide that will help you download appropriate building plans and place your nest box: Right Bird, Right House.

Want to Monitor Bird Nests for Citizen Science?


You can sign up to monitor a wild bird's nest through Cornell's Nest Watch program.
Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Simply follow the directions on our website to become a certified NestWatcher, find a bird nest using our helpful tips, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and then report this information on our website. You can also download the NestWatch Mobile App for iOS and Android and record what you see at the nest in real time.

Why It Is All Worthwhile (Besides Science)


The inimitable Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, writes how seeing birds enter her childhood birdhouses provided "a little flush of pride dangerously near possession" and muses,
In Britain, the class system inflects nestboxes as it does everything else. You can buy boxes that resemble scale models of pubs or churches, ones with poems or flowers painted on the front, with tiny glued-on gates and picket fences. These are frowned upon by the gatekeepers of British nature appreciation, who recommend plain wooden ones. The RSPB explicitly warns against using decorative boxes in case their bright colours might attract predators, even though there’s no real evidence for this. Yes, metal boxes are a bad idea because they can overheat nestlings, but a handwritten “home sweet home” isn’t much of an issue when robins can and will nest happily in discarded teapots.
Read the rest of her "Spring Reflection: A Birdhouse Makes a Home."

April 21, 2019

Spring Flowers &c. Seen While Walking the Dog

Sand lilies, Leucocrinum montanum.

Spring beauty  Claytonis rosea (says the guidebook).

Dropped feather from a Eurasian collared dove, busy breeding already.
Pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens
Three good websites: Wildflowers of Colorado, Eastern Colorado Wildflowers, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

April 20, 2019

This is the Best Bigfoot Podcast

Earlier this month I was in a bar in San Marcos, Texas talking about Bigfoot, as one does. Some friends who teach at Texas State University there had organized a conference on "monsters" in literature, religion, folklore, cryptozoology, etc.

I was trying to come up with the last name of the late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, but having a brief memory lapse when the guy sitting next to me supplied it. An instructor at the U. of North Carolina at Charlotte, he was a walking Bigfoot database.

My connection to Krantz was just that I had worked at Johnson Books in Boulder, which published his Bigfoot-is-an-actual-ape book Big Footprints: An Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch.  (Johnson is now part of Bower House.)You can read about Krantz and Bigfoot in Smithsonian.

I had left Johnson Books by then, so I did not get to meet him, but the editorial director sent me a copy. I read a lot of it by lantern light at night, curled up in my van, parked at some duck-hunting spot in the San Luis Valley. It helps to be alone in the dark when reading any Bigfoot book.

The guy sitting next to me offered another piece of information: Lauren Krantz, Gover's distant cousin, a former National Public Radio reporter-producer, started a Bigfoot-related podcast last year, Wild Thing

Wild Thing is the best-produced podcast that I have ever heard. So many of the podcasts out there consist of one person ranting, or two or three buddies Skyping or calling via cellphone, so that sound levels are inconsistent as they can be. They trash-talk each other or swap in-house gossip or talk about what they are for lunch, and it just drags on.

I can think of one podcast where the main hostess is trying to answer questions in a chatroom while her guests are talking, so you hear the tickety-tock of her keyboard all the time.

Not here. When it comes to production values, Krantz's podcast sounds as good as Radio Diaries or This American Life, if you ever listen to any public radio.

Wild Thing
Nor is Krantz a "true believer." She describes her subject as " our collective fascination with Bigfoot," and the first episode is devoted to learning about her cousin Grover, whom she never knew when he was alive. Read summaries of episodes here. Mostly she follows the issues raised by Grover Krantz's hypothesis of a surviving giant ape, as opposed to UFOs and "interdimensional beings."

Hear her interviewed on Skeptic magazine's Monster Talk podcast. And here is Krantz interviewed by the Seattle Times: "Bigfoot Hunters Aren't Crazy, Just Curious."

She talks to experts, visits Bigfoot sites, and sits down for an interview with Bob Gimlin, now in his late eighties, but still willing to discuss the social and economic price he paid for being half of the famous "Patterson-Gimin" film of 1967, which purports to show a minute of a female Bigfoot striding through a Northern California riparian zone.  There is the world of Bigfoot hunters and their disagreements, and of course, she goes on a Bigfoot hunt of her own.

You can find it on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Android, and on its own website. And buy T-shirts.