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?