August 18, 2019

Whatever Happened to Pickup Campers?


A couple of weeks ago, my friend R. and I were talking about trailers and RVs and such (maybe because he had recently gotten a new-used boat), and we both had the same question: When did pickup campers go away?

They were the inexpensive gateway to car-camping if you did not want to sleep in a tent due to weather or (conceivably) bears. 

"And you could tow your boat behind it," R. pointed out.

We both remembered how when we were kids, a lot of the dads in the Boy Scout troop or whatever showed up with campers mounted on their 1960s or 1970s or maybe early 1980s pickups. 

Sometimes the camper was slid out of the pickup bed in the off-season and left sitting on sawhorses in the side yard, while the pickup was used for other hauling or just as a daily driver.

Was this just another example of American Feature Creep? More and more gadgets, more and more dollars? Did Plain Jane pickup campers not offer enough profit margin compared to motorhomes and camping trailers? I suspect that they did not.

I still see a few, often with pop-tops, which helps with the wind resistance out on the highway, but nothing like during my childhood.

August 13, 2019

Fighting Washboard Gravel Roads

The county Road and Bridge department put this up on the road that I travel now and then. I appreciate what they are trying to do — in a county full of gravel roads, maintaining them is a constant job.

Today I noticed that the road up to our mushrooming grounds had gotten noticeably rougher in just a week, to where if I don't slow down, the lightweight Jeep Wrangler will want to start dancing sideways.

So what is going on? Some physicists worked on the issue:
Just about any road with a loose surface — sand or gravel or snow— develops ripples that make driving a very shaky experience. Physicists have recreated this "washboard" phenomenon in the lab with surprising results: ripples appear even when the springy suspension of the car and the rolling shape of the wheel are eliminated. The discovery may smooth the way to designing improved suspension systems that eliminate the bumpy ride. . . .
"The hopping of the wheel over the ripples turns out to be mathematically similar to skipping a stone over water," says University of Toronto physicist, Stephen Morris, a member of the research team.
"To understand the washboard road effect, we tried to find the simplest instance of it," he explains. "We built lab experiments in which we replaced the wheel with a suspension rolling over a road with a simple inclined plow blade, without any spring or suspension, dragging over a bed of dry sand. Ripples appear when the plow moves above a certain threshold speed."
At Midwest Industrial Supply, which sells dust-control and soil-stabilization products to counties like ours, they note that 
Protracted periods of dry weather can also lead to washboarding, as arid conditions cause the crust that forms on the surface of gravel roads to loosen and become more susceptible to reshaping by passing tires. Conversely, if a gravel road doesn’t have the appropriate crowned road profile, water won’t be able to drain properly. Water will then accumulate in depressions and ripples in the road, which will in turn be deepened by passing traffic.
 That "certain threshold speed" is about 3–5 mph, depending who you ask, and speed does make the washboarding process worse.

All this raises another question in my mind. Did horse-drawn carriages and wagons create washboard surfaces too? (I expect that their narrow wheels mostly left ruts, but I do not know for sure.) And if so, did the advent of washboarding lead the old-timers to cuss those newfangled motorcars for ruining the roads?

Hawk's Wing in Hiding


This is Sarcodon imbricatus, known to its friends as hawk's wing — or hedgehog mushroom, but there are no hedgehogs in North America, ergo we don't use that name.

Some people say they can be bitter, but I, my wife, and Wild Food Girl like them.  There is a soup recipe in the download at the link, or see this.

August 07, 2019

Things that Grow from White Fir Stumps

Another fir seedling. It is not growing from the stump's
root system, but from a seed that started in the decayed sump.

A mushroom. Yes, it is attached.

A rock. I figured it was attached as well.

August 05, 2019

Brome Grass and Bear Shit — Thinking about this Summer

I
Liatris punctata

The Liatris are starting to bloom, which marks beginning of Late Summer here in the foothills. Funny thing, with last spring having been so wet, I expected a wildflower explosion. And the summer has been fairly rainy, although with a hot and dry period in July.

Nope. Where are the wild geraniums? Golden banner? Where are [fill in the blank]? Some asters, vetches, locoweed, yarrow . . .  they showed up.

At higher altitudes, there is much more profusion. We must have been in some kind of  meteorlogical "doughnut hole" again.

The Magyar Menace
Instead, early summer turned into March of the Brome Grass.  There have been patches of it here and there, but something — presumably the extra moisture — really threw its switch this year.

Fun fact: Smooth brome was imported from Hungary in 1884. Some consider it invasive, but the ranchers seem to like it. Not like cheatgrass, in other words, which is a brome too but which is evil.

What are some alternatives? The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources suggested these natives:
I tried my own line-up this year with plants bought from Hartungs' Desert Canyon Farm in Cañon City, one plant each of Indian ricegrass, Achnatherum hymenoides; big (giant) sacaton, Sporobolus wrightii; and silver spike grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis

These are my three test plants. They are hard to see, but all are doing well. Now it's a matter of harvesting seed.

And the bears!

A black bear left this little calling card near the house on July 24th. Fisher the dog had been on alert that night — rushing out onto the veranda barking, then into the back dog run barking — he knew Somebody was out there.

It looked like the bear had eaten some immature currants, but I don't know how much nutritional value it extracted. One bush not far from the site was pretty well stripped. I ate on currant for form's sake the next morning, out of a sense of brotherhood with the bears, who taught the peoples what to eat.

That was Early Summer. Now it is Late Summer, mushroom season. More to come about all that.

August 02, 2019

Driving Around Looking for a Farmers Market

Farmers market in Westcliffe, Colorado.
A few years ago, we had a membership in a CSA farm on "the mesa" outside Pueblo. In the summers, we planned our weekly shopping/library trip to coincide with the day when we could harvest or pick up our fruits and vegetables.

Then "our farmer" had some life changes and closed his operation, scattering his interns to the Colorado winds.

Vegetable gardening here in the foothills is a tricky operation, so for more volume and variety, we relied on farmers markets.

Only most of them that we see are only about 10-percent fresh food to begin with. The rest are selling crafts, preserved foods (jellies, etc.), burgers, brats, tamales, homemade soap, CBD products, house plants, fabric thingies, wooden thingies, adoptable dogs . . . you name it.

We made a circuit of four or five markets in a three-county area but more or less settled on the Saturday market at El Pueblo History Museum. In June the Pueblo Chieftain proclaimed,
The grounds of El Pueblo History Museum will soon be inundated with farm-fresh produce, crafts made by local artists, popular Pueblo food trucks, and countless other locally made goods as the museum gears up for the annual El Pueblo Farmers Market.
"Inundated" is not the word I would use. Yes, there were food trucks, but some food vendors that had been there last year had disappeared. One organic-grower couple whom we called "the Ravens" were back, but with less than usual. On our first visit, the third week of June, we bought some veggies from them and from Arkansas Valley Organic Growers. AVOG's radishes were too woody to slice, and their mushrooms were about a day away from rotten.

M's very favorite grower was not there that day or subsequently. Meanwhile, the museum's market day had shifted from Saturday to Friday, putting them in head-to-head competition with another one in town. In an editorial titled "Dueling Farmers Markets," the Chieftain noted,
Obviously, it will be tougher for shoppers who work regular weekday schedules to make it to either market, unless they can find time on their lunch hours. Trying to spend any significant amount of time browsing at both markets on a lunch hour would pose a significant challenge. . . .  it seems logical that at least some of the vendors would like to hedge their bets by selling at both markets. For small mom-and-pop operations, that will be difficult, if not impossible, with the conflicting dates and times.
In Fremont County, the Thursday market in Florence seemed sparser than ever in terms of actual food. One significant organic grower had dropped out two years ago for unspecified reasons, while another, smaller operator decided that he was better off selling from his own farmstand two days a week.

In Custer County, the Westcliffe farmers market was the healthiest of the bunch, in terms of producers' offerings, which (being Westcliffe) included local grass-fed beef and too-sweet Amish cakes and breads. My favorite tamale vendor was there too.The county's population triples when the summer people arrive, and there is a distinct vibe of said summer people wanting to shop there in order to participate in local culture. (I have no problem with that.)

Also, there is live music, although you have to wonder if "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" is music for food-shopping.

M. and I weighed the reasons why we visit these different towns, and in the end, we started planning some errands so that we could visit the farmstand. No more chasing the perfect farmers market.

But I still need to buy and freeze more tamales.