December 03, 2022

How a Popular Hunting App and a Conservation Group Forced a Public-Access Issue

Sample OnX map.

An article on "corner-cutting," public access, and whether landowners own airpace over property corners makes it to the New York Times.

I am giving you a link to an archived copy so that you won't have to deal with the paywall: "It's Public Land. But the Public Can't Reach It."

Not bad reporting, but I bet Hal Herring is mighty pissed off over having a quote edited to make him sound anti-hunter.

First, the app:

This was the “game changer,” he has said. By collating state and county data and putting it on a microchip, [OnX founder Eric] Siegfried turned the project in the scrapbooking room into a company that just received more than $87 million from investors and that understands the American landscape arguably better than the government does.

It turned OnX almost overnight into a popular tool for the nation’s 15 million hunters.
In answering the question of who owns what, OnX helped bring to light how much public land — often highly coveted — is not reachable by the public. That’s because private landowners control access.

Enter some Wyoming hunters who "corner-crossed" from one section of public land to another to access a highly desirable but "land-locked" public land for elk hunting. They were arrested for trespass, acquited, but then sued by the landowner, "Fred Eshelman, a drug company founder from North Carolina."

The "boots on the ground" conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers got involved.


Backcountry Hunters & Anglers helped the Missouri hunters find lawyers, rallied its 35,000 members for support and started a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $110,000 to pay the hunters’ legal bills

“What judge, jury or person with two firing brain cells is going to say that crossing that airspace is worth $7 million?” [BHA's Wyoming co-chair] said. “That’s not going to happen. It’s absurd.”

Mr. Eshelman did not respond to an interview request for this article. Discussing the case in an email statement to The Wall Street Journal this month, he said “forcible trespass” was a safety issue and could affect the property value.

If OnX supercharged the question of who gets to go where — though the company declined to take a side in the case — Backcountry Hunters & Anglers gave it an influential platform.

 Read the whole thing and stay tuned.

November 25, 2022

Thunder without Tears: The Passing of Tom McIntyre


1987 was the worst year of my life. A dream job of working on an outdoor magazine was falling apart (with the publication itself), leaving M. and me stuck in a Colorado town that she barely tolerated. Yet we had no money to leave. 

I had signed up for the Outdoor Writers Association of America's annual conference, that year held in Kalispell, Montana, and hoping Something Might Turn up, drove up there with M.

At a reception a big, husky guy came up and shook my hand, saying, "Chas? Remember me? We were in Robert Peterson's creative-writing class together at Reed."

I read his nametag. "Tom McIntyre." I sure knew who he was—a rising figure in American outdoor writing, but more than that, someone whose work was grounded in literature as well as "what calibre for [species]?".

That night, lying in the camper next to my sleeping wife, I hit absolute bottom. My journalism-magazine editing-career was taking flak, and the starboard engine was on fire. I had a started a master's degree, done the classwork, but not yet written my thesis. I was stuck in a one-industry town with no prospects, doing casual work in a friend's greenhouse over in Pueblo, with M. able to find only part-time work herself.

Around 3 a.m. I thought, "It's about time for suicidal thoughts, isn't it? That would be appropriate about now."

But we made our way back to Colorado and got through the summer somehow on unemployment checks. That fall, as the rising sun silhouetted a mule deer buck on Poverty Mountain, I made the shot and dropped him where he stood. When I came home, there was a phone message from the editor of the local newspaper, offering me a job. I had not meant to go back to newspaper work, but I was desperate, and I stayed there three years. Finished that thesis too. 

Meanwhile, I was on Tom & Elaine's Christmas card list. When Dad died, Tom bought his Mannlicher-stocked 7 mm Mauser sporter—Dad's saddle gun and everything-big game rifle, something like this one—for his son Bryan, who put it to use.



Tom and I emailed, sharing our mutual love for the weirdness of George Leonard Herter's books — he collected enough info on Herter for a biography — our shared Reed College stories (such as a fondness for a gritty North Portland bar, the White Eagle), and writing progress.  I offered small edits on bits of his new book, Thunder without Rain

And now he's gone. November 3, while I was unpacking from my North Dakota trip. 

I had been thinking that I should drive up to Sheridan . . . well, too late. Don't put these things off, dear reader. 

Someone has written a thoughftul obituary:

Thomas McIntyre, one of America’s renown outdoor writers, died at his home on

November 3, 2022 in Sheridan. He was 70 years old and died of natural causes.

He was born in Downey, California on January 23, 1952. Educated by the Jesuits at Loyola High School and Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Tom was a wildly curious and a well-read individual. Few things on this mortal coil did not interest him.

As a writer, he focused on hunting and the outdoors. At age nineteen, he made his first trip to Africa, developing a life-long affection for the continent. He returned numerous times over the years. Yet Tom did not limit his travels to the Sahara and Savannah. He visited every continent in the world except Antarctica, writing story after story. They numbered in the hundreds and graced the pages of nearly every outdoor magazine imaginable: Field and Stream, Sports Afield, Petersen’s Journal, Outdoor Life, Bugle, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Sporting Classics, Men’s Journal, Garden and Gun, and the London-based The Field.

Tom was one of the few writers listed as a contributing editor for both Sports Afield and Field and Stream. Sporting News and Carl Zeiss Optics recognized him for his work, awarding him prizes.

He also wrote prolifically for the screen, creating 750 episodes of outdoor television programs for Orion Entertainment, including “Buccaneers and Bones,” — narrated by Tom Brokaw — and the documentary “Wyoming: Predators, Prey, and People” for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Tom was probably best known for his books. These include Days Afield, The Way of the Hunter, Dreaming the Lion, Seasons and Days and Augusts in Africa. In 2012, he published his only work of fiction, The Snow Leopard, which critics hailed as a minor masterpiece.

Shortly before his death, he completed what he considered his magnum opus, Thunder Without Rain, a history of the Cape buffalo. Five years in the making, publication is scheduled for February 2023.

It would be an impoverishment to suggest Tom was merely an “outdoor writer.” He possessed knowledge on an astounding range of subjects. If you wanted to have a conversation about the vagaries of African big game rifles then, in the next sentence, delve into the interpretations of a passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Tom McIntyre was your man. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and not just the Oscar winners, either.

He relished a dry martini (no olives, please) and good food. In his travels, he sampled rather unorthodox fare, including musk ox bile in Greenland. He also savored rigorous conversation. Tom possessed both a wicked sense of humor and a huge and generous heart. He loved his family above all. He is survived by his wife Elaine, son Bryan, daughter-in-law Morgan, brother Robert, many extended family members, and a tireless English cocker named Mickey.

A memorial service is planned for spring of 2023.

There is more at Steve Bodio's blog, including some old photos and tributes by other writers.

November 18, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 2

When Henryk Sienkiewicz crossed the Great Plains on his way to California and adventure in 1876, I assume his train took the "Golden Spike" route, crossing Nebraska and southern Wyoming, then Utah and Nevada on the way to the Sierra Nevada. 

(By contrast, today's Amtrak California Zephyr opts for mountain scenery, passing from Nebraska into northeast Colorado, stopping in Denver, then entering the Moffat Tunnel, and following the canyons of the Fraser and Colorado rivers to Grand Junction, and thence west through Utah.)

I was not shooting many photos as I drove north on Colorado 71, mainly trying to keep the truck between the white lines in the face of strong NW wind.

There was a quick stop at the Cabela's "mother ship" in Sidney, Nebraska. The place was not as depressing as I described last year, but it cannot be doing the sales it was five years ago. Once again, on a bright morning in hunting season, I was able to park almost next to the front door. I needed a cot to sleep on in my friend Galen's under-reconstruction house, so I dashed in, found on, grabbed a bag of jerky and was back on the road.

Hay bale and field of unharvested sunflowers, south central North Dakota (ND Hwy 31).

Sunflowers came from North America, were exported to Europe, bred for size and oil production, and returned around 1880 as the "Mammoth Russian" variety.  Plants and people from southern Russia and Ukraine were arriving on the prairies of the US and Canada then. (Unfortunately, Kali tragus, the "tumbling tumbleweed," was one of them.) Now I see sunflowers and think of (a) gamebirds and (b) the viral video of the Ukrainian sunflower death curse delivered at the beginning of the invasion. It must be working.

An eastern North Dakota steppe view, but with a Lutheran spire instead of Orthodox dome.

The Sheyenne River creates a little topography in eastern North Dakota.

Stepples mean grains. These are just some of the grain elevators storing corn,
soybeans, etc. in Finley, North Dakota. Sign directs grain-truck drivers: "Keep line moving. Thank you."

Further south, in central Nebraska, the Sandhills are grass-covered sand dunes, sort of honorary steppes. Where did the sand come from? The winds blew it east from the Rockies after the ice melted last time. Fine grazing for cattle and/or buffalo — not suitable for growing crops in rows.

Part of the Valentine National Wildife Refuge, Nebraska.



Sandhills people look to the sky. Sonrise Hill in Thetford, Nebraska, hosts
Easter sunrise worship services, weather permitting.



I like it when we honor the long-term world rather than just people:
sculpture of life-size blue herons at I-76 rest area in Julesburg, Colorado,
in the state's northeast corner.

November 10, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 1

 

St. Mary's Holy Dormition Orthodox Church, situated on the prairie east of Colorado Springs.
When I set out on the annual trip to North Dakota in October, I was under the spell of a 19th-century Polish novelist, Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916).

Sienkiewicz in the 1880s,(Wikipedia)

On the advice of a friend teaching at a Polish university, I was reading one of Sienkiewicz's epic novels, With Fire and Sword, published in 1884.

Undying friendship! Massive battles! Heroism! True Love! Massive Battles! Sword-swinging Zaporozhian Cossacks! Sly and dangerous Tatars! Invincible Polish heavy cavalry, the "winged hussars"! A fat Falstaffian knight who still wins some fights! And did I mention true love?

It is set in the 1650s in what is now Ukraine, then ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Confederacy, which was a regional power at the time.

But when Sienkiewicz was writing in the 1880s, there was no such political entity as Poland. There were Polish people, of course, but their nation had been partitioned between imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany. So in writing of lost glories he was feeding his people's national spirit.

But here is the irony: according to my friend, Sienkiewicz never visited the areas he was writing about. Perhaps such travel was politically sensitive or difficult.

He had, however visited the American West. He was traveling by train on what is now the route of Amtrak's California Zephyr when he and his fellow passengers got the news about the 7th Cavalry's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In California he traveled widely, among other things seeking a location for a utopian commune of Polish expatriates near Anaheim (which never came to pass), hunting grizzly bears with Spanish vaqueros, and enjoying city delights in San Francisco. He also wrote about the experiences of Polish immigrants in the US—all for the newspapers back home that were paying his way. You can find his articles collected and translated as Portrait of America (various editions). 

Therefore, my friend argues, Sienkiewicz's views of the forests, wheatfields, and grassland of Ukraine owe more to the American West than to the places he is writing about. Those steppes are actually our steppes!

A few years had passed since I had last seen St. Mary's Holy Dormition Church in eastern El Paso County, Colorado, but nothing says "steppes" like Orthodox church domes against the tawny grasslands, so I stopped by to take some photos. It is still a functioning parish with a complicated history.

Read Part 2 here.

October 29, 2022

When an Old Man Wants to Sell His Guns

Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) on the road in The Straight Story.


When you see someone grocery shopping on a riding mower, it usually means that he has had too many DUIs and lost his license, or he cannot get it renewed for reasons of health. In Ralph's (pseudonym) case, it was the latter.

It put me in mind of the movie The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch and starring Richard Farnsworth, anactor who had never registered with me until The Grey Fox (1982), at which point I became a big fan. 

In the movie, Alvin Straight (Farnsworth) sets off on a lawn tractor to drive 240 miles through Iowa and Wisconsin to reconcile with his dying brother. It was Farnsworth, however, who had reached the end of his journey, for he passed in 2000.

Take away Farnsworth's cowboy hat, makes his hair and beard longer,  and give him more of  paunch, and you have Ralph — we're going for the crusty old biker look here.

Ralph had come over earlier to ask a favor. "I want to sell my guns," he said. "I'd like to get a ride to Fargo."

Galen and I had gone to his place. It's a sick man's house: bed in the living room, and by the TV sofa, enough prescription bottles to fill a dinner plate. 

"What guns do you want to sell?" Galen asked.  Ralph reached under his pillow and pulled out not one but two Remington Model 1911 pistols in .45 ACP, both looking new. 

Then he opened a large new-looking gun safe in the hallway and pulled out more: two newish pump shotguns, a genuninely old boxlock shotgun in original case,  a Marlin .270 bolt action with synthetic stock, scope, and bipod, two .50-caliber muzzeloaders, a vintage Stevens .22 rifle, and several others. Some still had price tags.

Ralph wants to go to a pawn shop. Galen tells him that he will get the lowest payout there. On the other hand, he seems to think that if he paid $900 for a pistol, he can get that much for it from a store, which just ain't true over a short span of years.

We are equidistant from Cabela's and Scheels stores—both large outdoor clothing and equipment chains that buy and sell firearms. I called the Cabela's in East Grand Forks—yes, they will be open late, and we can bring the guns there to be evaluated by their buyer. 

But Richard objects. EAST Grand Forks is in Minnesota, and somehow every deal he has done in Minnesota turned to shit, or whatever. No Minnesota!

I call the Scheels store in Fargo. Yes, but they don't want fifteen firearms all at once. Maybe six. 

But suddenly no, they should go to auction! I call the nearest auction house. In fact, the owner knows Ralph slightly.  He also says, "It's about to get frozen up." The frequency of farm-country auctions drops off in winter. He wishes that he had had those firearms a month ago. He'll let Galen know when he has another one planned. 

We left it there.

There are other subtexts. When Ralph putt-putts up on the riding mower, he wants to borrow Galen's phone so he can call his son, Jacob, leaving an almost-begging message for Jacob to call him. 

Earlier, he had grumbled that he should just take the guns out to the farm where Jacob lives, crush them or something, and "take care of it." 

We both caught the subtext in that. It was reinforced when when he said he had told the clinic where he goes for dialysis that he wasn't coming in for his next appointment.

I plan to leave in a couple of days, so I won't be around for the final act. I do hope that Ralph and Jacob work out their differences. It is damaging to lose a parent with unresolved issues still hanging between the generations, athough that happens all the time. But a father who can say to his child, "You're doing OK. I'm proud of you" gives a gift that lasts a long long time.

October 08, 2022

How Do You Open This Thing?

The wildlife rehabilitation center where I help out sometimes as a taxi driver for orphaned critters has had a quiet year so far — a few mule deer fawns but no bears, no cats, no beavers or badgers. 

The fawns have all been "soft-released," in other words, let wander off into the foothills.

But the raccoons. There is a whole little nest of them, and they are still a bit small to be released this season. So much attention goes into keeping their busy little brains stimulated. Puzzles are good, especially if they can be "solved" by tearing something apart.

That "salmon" will be a bit of a disappointment though.


Photo credit: Tom Sanders

October 07, 2022

Got a Match? No, You Can't Have One

Danger! These are unlicensed matches!

The second chilly day row, and again I built a fire in the wood-burner, striking a match on the flagstones where it sits and touch the flame to a little pile of twigs and newspaper.

Striking a match. A "strike-anywhere" match, a.k.a. kitchen match. Tried to buy some lately?

They have been going away. Maybe you can blame "Brussels," in other words, the European Union, which outlawed "strike-anywhere" matches — as opposed to the "safety" strike-on-box/book type — effective May 31, 2018. (Some people claim that they started disappearing earlier than that.)

That should not affect North America, but you know the story: big companies often stop making products if they lose part of a market. So if little Hans and Francesca must be protected against strike-anywhere matches, so must we.

Last winter I went into a King Soopers (supermarket chain owned by Kroger) looking for strike-anywhere matches, which I use mainly for the wood stove and secondarily as a survival tool, keeping a few stashed in every backpack, etc. 

They were not there in the picnic and barbequeing stuff, where I had always found them.

I asked a clerk. "Oh, we don't carry those anymore." America's largest supermarket owner is saying no more kitchen matches? The only strike-anywhere matches were the extremely long, decorative, and expensive ones that some peope use to light fireplaces, charcoal grills, etc.

I immediately went online and bought several years' supply. Here is a website devoted to them — that's what happens when something becomes a niche market, I suppose. They are "dangerous."

This website discusses strike-anywhere matches, "safety" matches, and how to waterproof the former. to make "storm matches."

Matches in general are disappearing from popular culture. Back when people smoked in bars, when those people wanted to light up, they might ask the bartender for a light, and he woud pull a book of paper matches (printed with the bar's name, of course) out from under the bar and set it by their drink. 

Restaurants and cafes had bowls of free matchbooks by the cash register — when was the last time you saw some of those? They just quietly went away.

People used to collect them. An uncle of mine had a wall in one room covered with matchbooks that he collected, and he was not the only such interior decorator. 

Minnesota newspaper writer James Lileks, a big fan of mid-20th century pop culture, has a huge online matchbook museum. It's indexed, with photos and commentaries.

So between the demise of public smoking and some EU bureaucrat deciding citizens can't be trusted, matches are turning into this niche market, and pretty soon you will have to go to an outdoor-speciality store to find them?

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October 02, 2022

The Secret to Picking a Hummingbird Feeder


Some of these designs work and others do not

Here in the southern Rockies, our hummingbirds have almost gone. 

I saw one female broad-tailed hummingbird yesterday (Sept. 30th). Evidently, she was the stickler who said, "We paid rent on this mountain cottage, and I am going to stay there until the month is over!" 

Meanwhile, Dad was already flying to Mexico to look for a winter apartment.

Some friends gave us a newfangled hummingbird feeder this summer. It is the one in back — a horizontal tube with multiple feeding stations. And they use it. I grant that.

The problem is that refilling it involves removing one of the little rubber feeding ports and pouring sugar water in through a tiny funnel — while not tilting the tube to let sugar water flow out the other ports

Sorry, too much hassle, too much mess. 

Then there was the ceramic globe feeder someone once gave us — a globe with a single tube to drink from. How did you clean the spherical feeder? Beats me. Vinegar and slosh a lot?

The tube feeder on top is garbage. The one at lower left is not bad but requires careful cleaning.  The one at lower right, with its bottom part botton center, is plain, un-artistic plastic and is super-easy to keep clean.

Here is the secret. Get a feeder that disassembles for easy cleaning. Everything should be accessible to a toothbrush or bottle brush. You need to to clean it thoroughly at least every couple of weeks. Use white vinegar if you see patches of mold growing.

Keep it simple. Mix white sugar with water 1:4 (that's one part sugar to four parts water). No food coloring. No honey. No agave syrup. Nothing else.

And pick a feeder that you can take apart and clean.

September 25, 2022

Trail Rebuilding in the Wet Mountains

Ahead, the sawyer searches for the lost trail while others clear saplings and logs.

I spent Saturday with a volunteer trail crew rebuilding a trail in the Wet Mountains, a process that we began last summer.

Post-wildifre erosion, followed by a lush growth of grass and aspen, and erased the trail in places. Jeff Outhier, the San Isabel National Forest's "master of trails," marked a new route where the old one been washed out by the normally tiny creek.

When I hiked there before the fire in 2016, I mentally subdivided it into three sections: The Ravine, The Wall, and The Summit Aspen Groves.

Last summer's work was mostly in The Ravine and partway up The Wall. 

The Wet Mountains lack craggy, snowy summits, being mostly below timberline, but they excell in steepness. Somebody with a GPS measured a 2300-foot gain in altitude in about a mile and a half (?).

Summit ridges tend to be gentler and fine for just strolling, once you are up there. 

Here, the summit ridge had offered big aspen groves, probably created by a long-ago forest fire that took out the white fir, douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. 

Loppers for small aspens and conifers. The aspens, being clones, will come back eventually, Job security!

The groves, in turn, burned again six years ago, and now show dead standing dead trunks (until the wind blows them all down) and an understory of saplings that make foot travel difficult. Sometimes I think I can find the old trail most easily by shuffling my feet around in the leaf litter.

And then, mid-afternoon, we call it a day, and it's down down down, an hour's walk (with a break). Maybe by this time next year we will have the whole trail rebuilt. 

About those shirts: I could not decide if I felt like an early-seaon deer hunter or a county jail inmate on work-release.

September 18, 2022

Marco Gets a Poem at the Taos Farmers Market


The Saturday farmers market in Taos, New Mexico, is a rarity: sellers of food outnumber the sellers of homemade soap, crocheted potholders, and other non-edible items. Especially now, when local tomatoes, corn, pears, etc. are flooding in. 

I bought some pears that were small, with brown patches, not pretty enough for a supermarket display—but wow, the fresh pear flavor! 

And you can buy poetry. There are often one or two poets for hire who sit with portable typewriters, ready to produce a poem for any prompt—which is a great way to develop your poetic virtuosity.

 I ordered a poem a few years ago about a long-gone downstairs bar on the plaza after I overheard two guys talking about it. I had my first legal (American) drink down there when I turned 21, while working here. (This is not counting a certain Third World country where I think I had my first drink in a bar at 16.)

Today it was for Marco, the new Chesapeake Bay retriever. I introduced him to itinerant poet Marshall James Kavanaugh, who started tapping the keys. It's one draft only, no capital letteers but one, no revision, don't keep the buyer waiting too long!

a big day
for a big fella
finding the small world of home
extends into a community at large
a place for harvests to grow
for friends to be had
every tail wag of golden splendor
ricochets with raucus energy
such sweet tastes
and alluring smells

to be Marco at the market
is to be a gentle discoverer
sailing ancient seas
tapping the toes to paths leading
in every direction

like a dream, there are things
to chase that give themselves
up to our impressions

a companion that grows
like this scene of abundance
he is the explorer
that gives curiousity its name.

Your dog deserves a poem too.

September 17, 2022

"Right to Wade" Advances in New Mexico and Colorado

Fly-fishing in Colorado (Colorado Parks & Wildife photo)

I am writing this from northern New Mexico, where there are some trout streams — and the usual controveries over landowners blocking access.

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an important decision:

The court’s long-awaited opinion further clarifies its March 1 oral decision, which overturned a State Game Commission rule that allowed private landowners to exclude the public from streams flowing through their property. This unanimous decision, as many anglers interpreted it, effectively re-established the public’s constitutional right to wade and fish in these streams.
The court explained that the public’s right to fish and recreate in New Mexico streams has always superseded a private landowner’s right to exclude the public from privately owned streambeds. The justices stressed that as long as the public does not trespass on privately owned lands to access public water, they have every right to walk on and float over these streambeds in order to fish.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has noticed the access war on Colorado rivers, with a case sparked by angler Roger Hill, 81, who enjoys fishing the Arkansas but has encountered viscious opposition by riverside landowners.

The exploding popularity of the outdoors, fueled in part by the limits of the pandemic, has brought a new term to what has long been an etiquette-obsessed sport: combat fishing.

“I tried to take my son fishing last spring,” said Flora Jewell-Stern of Denver, a member of the first all-female team to win the state’s prestigious Superfly tournament. “There was nowhere to park for three miles. And it was a Wednesday.”

For advocates of public access, an upside to the conflict has been the formation of an increasingly assertive alliance of rafters, hunters, kayakers and other river users. Many see themselves as defending more than just pastimes.

Colorado does not have a definitive high-court opinion, but one will be coming. At issue, whether a river or stream is "navigable," which means accessible.

“We’re a total outlier,” said Mark Squillace, an environmental law professor at the University of Colorado who is representing Mr. Hill. “Standing in the bed of the river is something the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly guaranteed, and the idea that Colorado would try to deny those rights, which are enjoyed by the citizens of every other state, is pretty shocking.”

Mr. Hill would like the state to clarify its position in the face of his historical evidence, which mainly consists of newspaper clippings from the 1870s demonstrating that the Arkansas was at the time flooded with timber used for railroad construction.

“There’s no doubt it’s navigable,” he said.

The attorney general has argued that Mr. Hill lacks standing; the State Supreme Court is reviewing the case, potentially paving the way for a trial this fall.

August 31, 2022

Mushrooms, Fake Art, Food Trucks, and Controversy at the Colorado State Fair

The last bolete of August? Where is the Jägermeister to summon the hunting horns to blow the "last call"?

We are having what southern Colorado calls "State Fair weather," in other words, hot and dry after a pretty good July-August "monsoon."  Most of my county is now officially out of drought, although my home is on the line between that and "abnorally dry."  The mushroom-hunting ground was a bit dry and not so productive two days ago, so that may be the end of the season, pending some other changes.

Meanwhile, down in Pueblo its time for the Colorado State Fair. No, I have not been yet this year, but there is more weirdness in the news rather than the usual inflated attendance figures.

The Denver Post sent one Conrad Swanson to cover it, who expressed his feelings about the assignment on Twitter with the comment above: "It's no Iowa State Fair but it will have to do." 

Someone responded to the effect that, "Yeah but our butter is infused." 

Meanwhile, Governor Jared Polis himself ventured out of the Denverplex for a ribbon-cutting at a new Interstate 25 interchange near Trinidad.

This is a Good Thing (well, getting Polis out and around the state is probably a good thing too) because it is supposed to aid vistors to the new, big, wild Fisher's Peak State Park. I want to go see it too! (I have a parks pass.)  

Gov. Polis also went to the fair and presented an award to the winning food truck, out of nine contestants. Theme: Your Take on Fair Food.

Charles McKay of the Hungry Buffaltofood truck.
Meanwhile, about fifteen trucks parked at a church across from the fair. These insurrectionist food truck operators were not considered for the award because they were outside the sacred precinct.

[Pastor Tim] Miessler asked the Food Truck Union to staff the portion of the parking lot the church owns during the fair “to offer a more affordable choice and healthy, fresh foods."

Yes, there is a financial angle too, a dispute between the church and the state fair. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence tricked the art judges

The winnah! (Discord screengrab via Vice.com)
This has already gone national.  Apparently judges at the fair's art show gave a first place to a painting created by articial intelligence at a website.

“I won first place,” a user going by Sincarnate said in a Discord post above photos of the AI-generated canvases hanging at the fair. . . .

The image, which Allen printed on canvas for submission, is gorgeous. It depicts a strange scene that looks like it could be from a space opera, and it looks like a masterfully done painting. Classical figures in a Baroque hall stair through a circular viewport into a sun-drenched and radiant landscape.

But Allen did not paint “Théâtre D'opéra Spatial,” AI software called Midjourney did. It used his prompts, but Allen did not wield a digital brush. This distinction has caused controversy on Twitter where working artists and enthusiasts accused Allen of hastening the death of creative jobs.

 I expect that we will hear more about the art award.

August 27, 2022

Where Is the Mountain Lion in This Photo?

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service
 

The elk triggered a scout camera at Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. But someone else was watching. Can you see the mountain lion? 

It helps to enlarge the photo.

A Parks Pass for You! And a Parks Pass for You! Parks Passes for Everybody!

Annual Colorado state parks pass on a windshield.
These passes cannot be switched between vehicles.
 
The Denver Post had the story last June, but I don't think that it has sunk in yet:

Colorado residents who register a non-commercial vehicle will automatically pay for and receive a pass that allows entry to state parks under a bill Gov. Jared Polis signed Monday [June 20, 2022] that would take effect in 2023.

In the meantime, the state will set the fee, which to start won’t be more than $40, for the Keep Colorado Wild annual pass and work out other details of the program. Residents who don’t want to pay for the pass may opt out.

Affected vehicles incude passenger motor vehicles, trucks with an empty weight of16,000 pounds or less, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles.

Right now, the annual "affixed" pass as pictured is $80/year. Residents 64 years or older pay $70. There is also a "low income" pass.

Additional annual passes are $40/year per vehicle. For the same price, $120, you can buy a "family" pass that can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle if they are "associated" with the same household address.  

But maybe you should not buy one now. Keep reading.

A little-known fact is that many public libraries can "check out" a state park entry pass for a week.

But wait, there's more!

After first saying that a hunting or fishing license would be required to access state wildlife areas, which became more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, CPW did a 180 and created access passes for most of these state-managed lands (some are owned outright; other are leased): One-day pass $9, annual pass $36.08 (plus habitat stamp) youth/senior/low-income annual pass $10.23. Online purchase here.

Now, big changes!

Ta-da! The Keep Colorado Wild Pass. One pass to rule them . . . or least replace the annual state parks pass — not the wildlife area pass. That stays as above.

"The $29 pass fee is included in the vehicle registration pricing total for each vehicle a resident owns unless they choose to decline."

In other words, you will be charged for the pass unless you decline it. So if you never take your restored 1964 Chevy Impala into a state park, you have to opt-out, otherwise you will be charged.

On the other hand, it is cheaper than the current annual pass.

[Otero County Clerk Lyyn] Scott says the renewal card you receive in the mail will have the extra fee on the card, if you do not want it you must subtract the $29 fee from the total you send in. The easier way, of course, is to just go to the clerk and recorder's office and opt out.

Other sources says that you can opt out if you renew your vehicle registration online. I wonder how many people who do it that way will even notice the extra charge.

In five years, "visitation at Colorado state parks has increased from about 14 million to 17 million visitor days per year."

The Keep Colorado Wlidfe Pass, says CPW,  means millions for "wildlife habitats, search and rescue programs, avalanche awareness education, outdoor equity learning programs and more."

 It should at least double the always-stressed state parks budget. It's also just a little bit sneaky.

August 20, 2022

This Bear Was Here

Next time, please face the camera
Beside the photo from the 18th, I had been seeing other signs of a hungy bear in the neighborhood: another dumped garbage can (not photographed) and a couple of big fresh bear turds with green apple skins in them. 

So maybe this individual, who ambled past a camera set about a quarter-mile from my house, is the one? Good luck finding those daily 20,000 calories, Bear!

August 19, 2022

The Eternal Verities of Tarantulas


Yesterday at the grocery store in Pueblo, the conversation was about tarantulas — one of the employees explaining how he tries to usher the huge spiders out of the house before his wife sees and kills them.

It's that season:

Every year, 10,000s of male tarantulas start marching around the southern part of Colorado, typically from late August through October as summer nighttime temperatures cool.
The eternal verities: we Homo saps might all vanish, but giant hairy spiders will still march across the land.

Generally, the first tarantulas to appear will show up in southeastern Colorado around the end of August, roaming throughout the month of September. A second, southwestern wave will appear a bit later in the year, with their presence peaking in October. These fuzzy fist-sized arachnids creep around on a quest to find a mate and after mating, they'll die — typically at the hands of their mate or due to cold weather.

They really should be the mascot for Colorado State University-Pueblo, not the made up-by-a-committee "thunderwolf":

Lira is a student ambassador at CSU-Pueblo, and she often leads campus tours for prospective students and their parents. During these outings, Lira touts the tarantula as a captivating aspect of the campus that sits on a bluff above the Arkansas River several miles from downtown Pueblo. It’s not uncommon to see a tarantula skirting an open expanse as summer cedes to fall. But don’t worry, Lira assures visitors, sightings are intermittent, and the spiders are not harmful to people.

“It’s one of my engagement points when I talk to students because it’s one of the unique things they might experience here,” said Lira, a junior on a pre-veterinary track. “Not having a city impede on you allows you to see the wildlife around us, and tarantulas are part of what you might see. It’s cool being on the outside of the city because you get to experience the prairie. It’s an opportunity for discovery.”

Let the rhythms of nature sooth you.

August 18, 2022

A Bear Was Here


Put your garbage out the night before pickup, and a bear will find it.

Some years back, a Colorado Division of Wildlife (as it was then called) public relations job opened up in Montrose, and I seriously considered applying for it. M. was not keen on the moving there though — later she changed her mind about Montrose County — but I had already moved on.

I had done institutional public relations before — in higher ed — so I did not have too many illusions about my role in a bureacracy. And yet that was a reason for my ambivalence — I have always done best in jobs with a fair amount of autonomy, and that probably was not one of those jobs.

The other thing about institutional p.r. is that you put out the same news releases at the same time every year — and that has to be done, I understand. Like every year about now you have to tell people that bears are trying to bulk up before hibernation and so will be aggressively checking out food sources, "legitimate" or not.

Bear doing what they do (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Here is this year's CPW news release: "As fall approaches hyperphagia begins, bear activity increases in preparation for winter."

 Black bears in Colorado are entering hyperphagia and will spend up to 20 hours a day trying to eat more than 20,000 calories to fatten up for winter. As bears start to prepare for hibernation and hunt for food, Coloradans may see more bear activity in urban areas.

I am not sure I could visualize 20,000 calories. 

This year, at least along my creek, there are almost no acorns ("mast") on the Gambel (scrub) oaks. An unexpected snowstorm last May 22 hit the oaks when they were flowering, and many never set fruit. Lots of leaves, but no acorns.

Those acorns are a high-calorie food for bears, deer, turkeys, and other animals. So I don't know what they will do. Pulling potato chip packaging out of the garbage won't make up for no acorns.

Serious money is spent on bear-human relations. Here is one example:


Bear Smart Durango - Greater Durango Human-Bear Challenge: $206,539 awarded

Partners Bear Smart Durango and the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado applied for funding on behalf of the Bear Working Group with a partner match and in-kind contribution of $297,135 for a total estimated project cost of $503,932. Their project is aimed at infrastructure and personnel. The infrastructure side will provide all-metal bear-resistant trash containers, food storage lockers, and conflict mitigation materials. The personnel aspect will create a Bear Enforcement Officer and a Fruit Gleaning Coordinator. The grant will cover the first two years for the Bear Enforcement Officer, with La Plata County and other partners assuming expenses by year three. The Fruit Gleaning Coordinator will expand the capacity of this existing position to develop and implement an on-demand, bear mitigation gleaning strategy
Fruit-gleaning? I will admit that I went out today and picked all the apples off this little Haralson apple tree that is just starting to bear. It is surrounded by hog wire to keep the deer from browsing it, but a bear would plow right through that.

It produces tart little green apples. Sometimes I harvest some, but it would not bother me if an athletic bear went after them.

 How many apples make 20,000 calories?

August 12, 2022

Western and Colorado Drought Maps, August 9, 2022

 We remain "abnormally dry," despite all the rain. Dry soils, low reservoirs.



August 11, 2022

What the Mushroom Monsoon Looks Like

A quick shot from the Junkins Burn of 2016 in Colorado's Wet Mountains  — looking roughly west, so the haze is a cold front (relatively speaking "cold") rolling in from the north.

The summer "monsoon" lost its quotation marks in the 1990s or 2000s and is now full-fledged cultural appropriation — English language for the win! 

So July and early August have been fairly wet by southern Colorado standards. Our standards are these: 

1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain in a day: "Ma! Ma! The crops are saved!"

2 inches of rain in a day: "Oh no! Flash floods! The road will wash out — but we need the moisture."

Shaggy parasol, Lepiota rachodes.

On the plus side, mushrooms. Like everyone else who hunts them, M. and I are making forays, and while we have had no bonanza days, we never have come home empty-handed.

Tuesday was such a day: we drove 45 minutes, hiked to a new ridge top, Marco the dog ran happily,  and then when we came home, there they were! Mushrooms just yards from the house. 

Shaggy parasols with caps the size of softballs hiding in the scrub oak —  I left the biggest ones to spread their spores. 

I think this one is Suillus granulatus.

The Suillus that we see only in wet Augusts  — often called slippery jacks, a name applied to several species.

I think of them as the dollar-store version of king boletes: not as big, not quite as tasty, but OK to eat as long as you them before the worms appear.

July 24, 2022

Which Colorado County Is "Most Rural"?

Hinsdale Co. Courthouse, Lake City, Colo. (Hinsale County)

This particular set of numbers is based on permanent population density, so a couple of tourist-heavy counties such as Pitkin County (Aspen) and Eagle County (Vail and its suburbs) make the list, along with places you would expect, such as Jackson and Cheyenne counties.

"The Most-Rural Counties in Colorado"

The winner, Hinsdale County, also has mostly summer residents, but its year-around population is the lowest.

I live in one of these counties, and our sheriff says the population triples in the summer. That probably is typical.

Now is it just me, or is the language changing? 

I keep hearing people say county names without the suffix "County" on them. Like, "I used to live in El Paso, but then I moved to Fremont." Or "I'm going to be up in Chaffee all day tomorrow."

Anyone else hearing this?

July 23, 2022

CPW Fishing App Discontinued & I Wonder Which Others to Keep


You maybe did not notice, but last April, Colorado Parks & Wildlife shut down its CPW Fishing app. 

It's still the Apple app store (Android too, I assume), but a CPW spokesman said,

The app is no longer being updated or supported. As we close it down, those who have downloaded the app may still be able to use several functions, but we consider it closed as we are no longer updating the app and that may cause App and Play stores to remove them without notice. We are building a new website with this type of functionality included moving forward.

Users are instead directed to the online Colorado Fishing Atlas,  "an interactive mapping tool offered by CPW that allows users to search for fishing opportunities by species or proximity to your home or destination" and to the division's printed guides.

Here are some outdoor apps that I am keeping and others that I am deleting to free up space.

CPW's  Match A Hatch Colorado app is still available on Google Play, but I don't know what happened with Apple. It works for me because it does not require a data connection. It just serves up photos of what insects should be on the water this month and suggests some matching fly patterns. Keep.

CO Woody Plants (Colorado State University) is straightforward, but it has to download photos. Are you out in the boonies? Carry a printed field guide. I like Derig and Fuller's Wild Berries of the West. Delete.

The myColorado app (State of Colorado) is supposed to hold your driver's license, Colorado Parks and Wildlife licenses, car registrations, etc. Well, the first one works. The driver's license is up to date, but the app still displays my 2019 fishing license with EXPIRED across it. Gee, thanks. Better keep the paper license in my wallet. (But I did drive off without my wallet last Thursday, so I could have needed that digital driver's license, hypothetically.) Keep.

Merlin Bird ID (Cornell University) needs 1.14 GB of iPhone storage, but I hardly use it. It seemed like a good idea, especially when traveling. But sometimes when I test it against known birds, it is not even close. When you do have a good connection and screen space, Cornell's All About Birds website is really useful. Otherwise, a field guide that shows ranges, so you are not trying to identify a Florida bird in Arizona. Sibley Birds West is a good one. Delete.

Explore USFS (US Forest Service)—another example of "just because you can put it on a smartphone does not mean that a smartphone works best." It works better in a web browser on your computer. The app take up "only" 766 MB, but every "tour" of a national forest requires an additional download. Delete.


Colorado Trails Explorer, otherwise CoTrex. "COTREX puts information about all of Colorado’s trails in your hands, thanks to a collaborative effort by land managers at every level." Well, not really, but it has gotten better since its first version.

When CoTrex first launched (rushed out), it was basically a hiking aid for state parks with good cellular data service — Cheyenne Mountain State Park next to Colorado Springs, for instance, although it might have a few dead spots.

There have been improvements since. You can use the website to pick a trail (foot? bicycle? ATV? dogs allowed?), get some information about it,  and download the smartphone app for iPhone or Android. 

You can get driving directions to the trailhead using Google Maps, which means there are some  . . . oddities. One southern Colorado trailhead is labeled "Florence Re-2," which is a school district in a different county. Why? (Letting users add info leads to mis-info. There is plenty of wrong labeling on Google Maps —nonexistent places and so on.)

Users can create profiles, leave trip reports, all the usual stuff. There is a brief tutorial. 

On the other hand, smartphone users will have the usual problems with small-screen navigation, and I have seen some errors in the driving directions, like using the wrong name for a road. It all comes down to whether the state agencies will commit to long-term maintenance.  Keeping, for now.

If you value any outdoor apps in particular, let us know in the comments!