June 14, 2021

A Lesson from a Veteran Tracker


I never got a chance to learn animal tracking from some near-mythical Apache who could track a mouse across slickrock. But a couple of weeks ago I had another kind of tracking lesson.

Some of us volunteer firefighters  were called to a motorcycle wreck just inside the county line, but when we rolled up, there was no rider, no ambulance, just a couple of Colorado State Patrol troopers walking up and down beside the highway. There was nothing for us to do, but you always stop to make small talk anyway.

According to the CSP troopers, someone—the victim's riding buddy, I think—had called it in, and an ambulance came and picked him up before law enforcement was notified. Just one of those weird Dispatch things. 

(Maybe the call went to the larger adjacent county's dispatch center. Just because you call 911 does not mean you get the right jurisdiction.)

So what you do in these cases is stroll around and try to figure how this Suzuki C90 "Boulevard" came to be upside-down amidst spring wildflowers.

Someone pointed out narrow tire marks on the asphalt that veered toward the edge. Was that where he had gone off? Then a sheriff's deputy arrived, and the troopers treated him deferentially. Why? Because he was a senior CSP sergeant who had recently retired and—to fill his days and supplement his state pension—had gone to work as a county deputy.

(He is not the first. It's a good deal for the sheriff: for a small-county deputy's salary, he gets an experienced officer who is not yet ready to hang up his handcuffs.)

He was the "Apache tracker." He looked at the rubber skid mark and quickly dismissed it as an unrelated track left by (probably) a light trailer with a flat tire: "See how the mark is darker on the edges than in the middle?"

A few steps more and he pointed down—here was the motorcycle's track in the gravel, he said, estimating that the rider had come up a hill and gone almost—but not quite—around a curve at considerably above the 65 mph speed limit.

I bent down and looked. Oh yeah, and there farther on were flat drag marks on either side, left by the rider's boots as he struggled to keep control. It was all clear—or at least clear-er. 

Then the small shallow ditch and the tall grass had taken charge, rolling the Suzuki and tearing off various small parts. Apparently the rider survived.

It's always interesting to watch a master craftsman at work.

June 02, 2021

100th Anniversary: The Southern Colorado Floods of 1921

 

 

A Pueblo telephone operator made
this sketch after she was able to return to work.
If you have spent any time in southern Colorado, you've heard about the floods of early June 1921. Pueblo's gets the most attention: there are markers on old downtown buildings showing how far the water rose, with special attention to the old second-story telephone exchange room, where the "telephone girls" stayed at their switchboards, relaying emergency messages, until the water rose around their ankles and they were evacuated by boats.

The video comes from this Rocky Mountain PBS page about the flood.

Pueblo gets the attention because of the loss of life and the the property damage. 

But it was only Pueblo that suffered. The community of Penrose in eastern Fremont County was ripped by a flood whose damage still lingers when the days of steady rain cause the collapse of the earthen Shaeffer Dam on Beaver Creek.

The Glendale Stage Station in Penrose was put out of business
in the flood of 1921 and finally burned by vandals in the 1970s.
Heavy rains fell in early June of 1921, and by June 4th, cracks were appearing in the Schaeffer Dam. An urgent message was sent via horseback to all the settlers along Beaver Creek. Everyone heeded the call and took their livestock and as many household goods as possible to higher ground. On the morning of the 5th, the dam gave way and torrents of water raced downstream. The floodwaters continued from Beaver Creek down the Arkansas River all the way to Pueblo, where horrible flooding occurred. The fertile topsoil was washed away and most families did not return to the homesteads. No lives were lost and all the livestock were saved, but this was the end of the thriving settlements along Beaver Creek.

I don't think anything like June 1921 was seen again until June 1965, when Cherry Creek, which flows from the south into Denver, flooded, washing out Interstate 25 at Castle Rock and flooding parts of central Denver, but without as much loss of life. Cherry Creek Reservoir was built to keep that from happening again, and now it is a popular recreation area.

If you have information on the floods in other non-urban areas, please comment.