Showing posts with label San Luis Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Luis Valley. Show all posts

January 27, 2018

Windmills, Missing Cattle, and Free Online Hunter Ed

The model on the left needs a jacket that fits her, don't you think?
Outdoor gear made from women's bodies-- still too hard to find (NRA American Hunter magazine.)
The NRA is putting together free online hunter-education classes — they are only acceptable for a certificate in three states right now, but safety is safety, right? Here is an article about them from American Hunter.

• If you hunt on the High Plains, your eye is drawn to windmills? Is it still pumping? If there water there that might draw quail or whatever? You can still buy one if you need it. Otherwise, here is a good history of American windmills.

•  Range cattle are disappearing in the San Luis Valley, reports Saguache Today. And this being the SLV, the writer can't help write the expected lede: "Missing Livestock. For many residents, these two words usually conjure up one of two images: outlaw-cowboy rustlers or visiting-alien mutilators."
Last November, the largest herd of 46 was reported to have vanished from the Double X Cattle Company as they were out running in the Cumbers Forest Allotment. In total, 114 head of cattle went missing in Colorado during the month of November. And those were the ones that were officially reported.
But seriously, a really big rustling ring? Or maybe some insurance or loan fraud going on.

A  public meeting was held last Thursday—  sounds like it was mostly devoted to reporting procedures.

October 05, 2017

Make It Snow Make It Snow Make It Snow

1920s rain dance, probably at the Prairie Band Potawatomi agency in Kanas (WIkipedia).
Colorado ski areas and water managers keep employing rain-makers, but of the mechanical cloud-seeding variety, not the ritual variety, reports the Summit Daily.
The concept of cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s, when Bernard Vonnegut (brother of author Kurt) discovered that silver iodide could produce ice crystals when introduced into cloud chambers.

In those heady days, cloud seeding was heralded as a way to produce rain where there was none, boosting crop yields and filling reservoirs to the brim.

That was a wild overstatement, and cloud seeding's reputation suffered for it.
 • • •

Western Weather Consultants claims that its two seeding operations in the High Country generate between 180,00 and 300,000 added acre-feet of water per year, and that has been backed up by independent studies.
That's pretty impressive. Read the whole thing.

June 09, 2017

It's Time to Fire Up the Coleman Lantern

Last weekend at Sylvan Lake State Park, the solar lantern just was not bright enough for both M's and my reading, so I fired up the single-mantle Coleman lantern to illuminate the trailer.

Coast to coast, this lantern has illuminated many campsites. It heated my old van on waterfowling trips in the San Luis Valley as the temperature plunged well below freezing.

As best I recall, it came from the garage of an old smelter worker's cottage on Cañon City's unfashionable south side, after a co-worker rented it.

(I lived next door. Those were not shining times.)

With new washers in the pump and a new globe, it was back in operation.

The special pungency of Coleman's blended white gas, poured through the distinctive filter funnel — bright red, so you don't leave it sitting on the picnic table, as I almost did last Sunday.

You spin the cleaning lever, pump it, light it, pump some more, open the gas — OK, I admit it sounds like starting a Model T Ford or something like that.

Apparently an ad for the British market.
I never heard of the "Empire" model.
Maybe it's that early-20th-century technology. But it works — and you don't send empty gas canisters to the landfill or let them pile up at Base Camp for someone else to deal with.
Some people say Aladdin lanterns are quieter and better, but growing up in Colorado and South Dakota, I never saw one.

Back in the 1980s when I occasionally served as a camp hand for a local outfitter in return for free outdoor adventure, I heard this story from one of the clients.

He had been looking for a little store that existed or was supposed to exist near Red Wing in Huerfano County because we were low on Coleman mantles, the original kind that you tie on with cold-numbed fingers.
 
As the client stood by his truck, he recalled, this ranchman rode up on horseback. When he learned what the problem was, the horseman pulled out his billfold, opened it, and extracted a mantle, which he handed down, saying, "Some fellows carry condoms, but up here, these are more valuable."

Or maybe he said "carry rubbers." Anyhow, if it's not true, it should be.

April 09, 2017

Colorado Sand Dunes from Space and How to Say the Creek's Name

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
photographed from the International Space Station (NASA photo).
I came across this quick explanation for why southern Colorado has sand dunes on the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve's Facebook page.
Many visitors wonder: Why is there so much sand only here, but not at other locations along the mountains?

In this view from space, part of the answer becomes clear. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are curved here, and at the same location are low passes to funnel wind and sand from the valley floor into this pocket.

Then why doesn't sand accumulate, for instance, at the base of La Veta Pass to the south? The mountains also curve there below a low pass.. The answer is that this northeast part of the San Luis Valley is a closed basin. Streams carrying sand into this basin don't exit, so all the sand they carry is deposited here. In the past, these streams fed into huge lakes; when these lakes disappeared through natural climate change, vast quantities of sand blew and accumulated here below Mosca, Medano, and Music Passes. In other parts of the valley, and in most places in the Rocky Mountains, sands are continually washed away and carried downstream into larger and larger rivers.
That is the San Luis Valley on the lower left and the Wet Mountain Valley to the upper right, so the top of the photo is roughly northeast.

A lot of visitors also pronounce the name of the creek that flows by the dunes as "Meh-DAH-no," thinking that that is the correct Spanish pronunciation, whereas in the Wet Mountain Valley, you hear something more like "MAD-uh-now" or "MAD-uh-no," usually in reference to Medano Pass, which connects the two valleys.

The latter is actually closer to the Spanish Médano — note the accent mark — which means "sand dune" and comes from an old Castillian word for mountain.

December 30, 2016

Where to Eat in San Luis, First Aid, and Other Links

Where to eat in San Luis now that Emma's Hacienda is closed. And there is a new-ish coffee shop and bakery, Rosa Mystica, that I keep meaning to try.

¶ From the National Outdoor Leadership School: "27 Considerations for a Wilderness First Aid Kit." Having taken their wilderness first aid class a couple of times, I think about these things more than I used to, back when my first-aid kit was a few bandaids and a small tin of aspirin.

¶ Why your dog likes bread, oatmeal, and other grain-based foods and can digest them just fine. They learned to do it to live with Neolithic farmers, apparently. They are not wolves.

¶ Instead of just shooting a suspect bear and looking at its stomach contents to see if it ate the missing camper, the National Park Service is learning to use non-lethal DNA evidence.

October 02, 2014

In the Southeastern San Luis Valley

The evocatively named Flat Top mesa in eastern Conejos County, just north of the New Mexico state line. Taken from a spot looking west, near San Luis-the-town.

March 08, 2014

Blog Stew on the Scenic Railroad

After the June 2013 fire, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is reopening for limited hours. Meanwhile, the scenic train that goes from Cañon City up the gorge and back is upgrading and hoping to get its tourist riders back.
[Owner Mark] Greksa believes his yearly passenger counts will increase as he continues to add amenities. Last year, he let passengers pay to ride in the locomotive next to the engineer. He also eliminated the train's "concession car," which offered only vended foods to coach customers, and created a dining car where they can order hot food, and a "bar car" with bistro-styled tables. Food offerings include beef and buffalo items, organic chicken and a crafted pale ale, Royal Gorge Route Rogue, Greksa said. In the summer, the train will offer dishes made from rattlesnake, antelope and ostrich.
Managers at the national wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley are wondering if groundwater pumping rules will affect the areas flooded for sandhill crane habitat.GQ

GQ magazine runs another art-of-manliness story on being introduced to deer and elk hunting in Montana. Actually, it's not bad; it has a Chesapeake Bay retriever in it. (Hat tip: Suburban Bushwacker)

Most water from the Fraser River in Middle Park gets sent under the Continental Divide and into Denver's water system. Trout Unlimited, however, has worked out a new deal to protect flows for fisheries by regulating when the water is removed and how much.
The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout.
Me, I see the Fraser only when looking out the window of Amtrak's California Zephyr and thinking, "That looks really fishable in there." Maybe I should do something about that.

March 02, 2014

One Frosty Morning

The forces of fog advance toward the house.
Hoarfrost on Gambel oak.
Yesterday felt like a clash of the weather titans. When I woke up, the air was foggy and the temperature about 20° F. I put on a warm jacket and took Fisher on the road climbing into the national forest. In little more than two hundred yards we had climbed out of the fog, and at the top of the first low ridge, it felt twenty degrees warmer.

All day, a warmer westerly breeze fought the fog advancing up from the plains. (Sort of like the California coast if you substitute the High Plains for the Pacific Ocean.) In the end the fog was triumphant, giving us something that we see only once or twice a year — hoarfrost.

Today the sun broke out, illuminating the frost.

The driveway.
Mixed pines and juniper.
If I had taken the last photo an hour later, I would have heard the Clock of the Cranes — a flock of sandhill cranes overhead, the first of the season here that I have heard.

They were at Monte Vista NWR a few days ago, where they will be "Celebrating Spring in the Valley of the Cranes" next weekend, March 7th–9th.

June 16, 2013

Blog Stew, a Little Burnt

Items that might deserve longer individual posts but will not get them. . .

Speculation about the closure of the Royal Gorge Bridge and park (now reduced to the bridge and a tollbooth, as in 1929) and its effect on southern Colorado tourism, with a telling photograph.

Unlike Bloomberg, I would not all the American Prairie Preserve project a "land grab." Its rich backers are buying the land. But true, once the number of cattle and/or sheep ranchers falls below some critical point, there might be domino effect on the rest.

• A piece from the Nature Conservancy magazine on "water wars" in the San Luis Valley. Speaking of rich guys buying up big chunks of the West, I don't care how many monks his wife brought in, I never trusted Maurice Strong at all. This was the issue that dominated the 1990s there and led, ultimately to a new map of the valley's west side.

May 07, 2013

Mountain Snowpack, May 1, 2013

Click to enlarge.
Colorado looking much better, except south of the Arkansas River and in the San Luis Valley —  New Mexico not so good. Compare past years' maps.

February 21, 2013

Bats, Birds, Bighorns: Colorado's Wildlife Festivals

Mallards in the San Luis Valley, from Crane Festival website.
I remember how when the Monte Vista Crane Festival started in the 1980s I thought it was good to have a festival keyed to the natural year rather than another variation on "Pioneer Days."

Now there are many more such events: Colorado Parks & Wildlife provides a comprehensive list for 2013, including such wonders as Grand Mesa Moose Day. (Here is the 2012 announcement for Moose Day, for background.)

September 29, 2012

Playing the Rancher Card in a Legislative Race

Down at our one-clerk post office, I was talking with A. behind the counter about how it seemed that we were getting more election-related mailing pieces this year than ever before.

She was angry at a 9:30 p.m. telephone polling call ("When my kids are asleep!"). Me, I like the survey calls that you respond to by pressing numbers on the pad. To paraphrase the famous New Yorker cartoon, in the voter survey, no one knows that you're a dog.

Here in my state senate district, the two candidates are attempting to out-rancher and out-family roots each other.

But have I been missing something? Is it the new fashion to not mention party affiliation?

Exhibit A: Crestina Martinez is a young (for a politician) rising political figure from Costilla County. She knows retail politics — she called me twice (herself, not a robo call) during the primary season, and I could not even vote for her.

Her campaign slogan is "As Independent as Southern Colorado."

Independent? I spotted the "union bug" on her mailing piece. Only Democrats make a fetish of hunting up a unionized printing shop — there are a few* —to print their campaign brochures.

Exhibit B: Unlike Martinez, who can talk about working as a kid on the family ranch near San Luis, the other candidate, Larry Crowder ("Farmer. Rancher. Veteran.") grew up outside the district, though he pointedly mentions that he is a "fifth-generation Coloradan." His mailing piece does say "Republican" in one spot.

And there is more about "rural values" and "protect our rural economy."

A recent High Country News piece explored how candidate wearing the "rancher" or "farmer" label — this time in Montana — actually might be more or other than those labels suggest.

Today's mailer  is a hit piece (from a PAC that specializes in them) on Martinez, accusing her of having a "political agenda that is from New York City — not southern Colorado."

Yep, vote for Martinez and soon you won't be able to buy 40-oz. soft drinks at the Loaf 'n' Jug in Alamosa. You see, Mayor Bloomberg has made the "maximum legal donation" to her campaign.

I wonder if this campaign shows that Mitt Romney's coattails are not very long, while Barack Obama's are nonexistent. 

* How you find them, I don't know. The website of the Communication Workers of America, which absorbed the old ITU, is not very helpful. The Pueblo local's website domain name has expired — way to go, communications workers.

June 18, 2011

Poem for the Dry Spring Wind

 No rain since mid-May, and most days are windy. Only the names of the fires change: Sand Gulch, Purgatoire, and Bear replaced by Track and Duckett.

Looking through a new anthology of writing from the San Luis Valley, Messages from the Hidden Lake, I found this poem by Julie Waechter, who works on the staff of Adams State College in Alamosa. (If you are going to write "after" or in the style of someone, you could do a lot worse than Richard Hugo.)

It's a good poem for the spring of 2011 in southern Colorado.


the enemy’s not poverty it’s the wind
after Richard Hugo


you stitch patches onto patches
layer the kids in castoffs
water down the milk
spice up another pot of beans

but wind defies even the sun
smothers its heat in gritty haze
blows you to the earth’s edge
where yesterday mountains stood

spring wind devours her own child
sucks watery marrow from grass
pursues the plow to clothe
her nakedness in good earth
stretches almost solid across the sky

you almost prefer winter

it’s cold, yes
so cold pine logs freeze hard as piñon
so cold water crusts over in the bucket
before you can haul it to the barn
so cold the redtail hawk cowers on a bare cottonwood

but cold is clean
honest

wind you can’t trust

April 25, 2010

Mountain Community Photo Gallery

If you can't get enough of pictures of people telemarking down the Great Sand Dunes and the like, visit Mountain Gazette's Community Photo Gallery, where you can upload your own shots.

December 20, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

How do cattle die? Lots of ways. Lightning kills hundreds on the Colorado prairie every year, I learned when I was a reporter. Add in various infections, "hardware disease," rattlesnake bites on the nose—and, yes, four-footed predators.

Back then, I was exposed to all the wildly elaborate explanations of the mutilations, each one requiring more secrecy, more advanced technology, and a bigger cover-up than the last. Occam's razor was nowhere in sight.

Then one day in the early 1980s I was deer hunting in eastern Washington with my father. On our lunch break we crossed the border to visit the ranching cousins on the British Columbia side.

Somehow the conversation turned to predators. My cousin Wendell was saying how right after a cow dies of natural causes, coyotes will approach the carcass but not chew on it right away.  Dad (hunter, forest ranger) nodded in agreement.

"Aha!" I thought. How many times had I been told that it was spooky and weird how coyotes, in particular, would approach a "mutilated" (eyes, rectum gone) cow but not eat from it right away!  Yet here were Dad and Wendell treating that as normal behavior. (more after the jump)

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 3

(Part 1 here. Part 2 here.)

Let's return to Manuel Sanchez's dead calves over in the San Luis Valley. And let's think about wildlife rather than mad cultists, cow-snatching aliens, or secret government agencies.
Let's make "surgical incisions" with Occam's razor.

First, although I am not a rancher, some of my relatives are, and we have talked about how predators and scavengers deal with cattle.

Second, I grew up with big-game hunting, so I know a little big about what happens when you leave a large dead animal out in the wild—in particular, what happens to the gut pile (the internal organs, intestines, etc.).

1. Manuel Sanchez says he lost four calves, one week. Right there I would wonder about mountain lions, which typically eat a deer every week to ten days. Would a large calf be similar enough to a mulie doe as a food source?

2. "Their innards gone. Tongues sliced out. Udders carefully removed. Facial skin sliced and gone. Eyes cored away."

Watch out for those verbs: "sliced" and "cored" and the adverb "carefully." They might imply the use of tools and make you think of human perpetrators. 

Predators such as wolves (not in Colorado in any number) and mountain lions go for the underbelly when opening a carcass—no bones in the way.

3. "Not a drop of blood on the ground or even on the remaining skin."  (more after the jump).

December 19, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 2

(Part 1 here.)

The sudden decrease in mutilation reports in the 1980s suggests that what changed was not the phenomenon but the narrative(s) that explained it. True believers like Linda Howe kept telling their stories, but the news media, at least, lost interest in a story that was rural, weird, and had no resolution.

Perhaps the nearest thing to resolution was the Rommel Report, written by former FBI agent Rommel, working as consultant to New Mexico's First Judicial District. His conclusion: "scavenger-induced damage"

The FBI has other PDFs of documents related to mutilation investigations, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hardcore UFO "researchers" maintained their position. Note the categorical statement in the first sentence. (more after the jump)

December 17, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 1

On Nov. 26, 2009  story moved on the AP wire (I know that is obsolete terminology. So sue me.) about "mysterious cattle mutilations."

Cattle mutilations in the San Luis Valley. Oh my, here we go again.

The San Luis Valley of southern Colorado has a reputation for "high strangeness." (Did I mention I was born there? It's true.)

Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" wave of the mid-1970s, which actually stretched from Alberta to New Mexico. But were cattle actually mutilated?

During that first "wave," my curiosity about it contributed to my desire to be a newspaper reporter. But by the time I actually was one, the "wave" was over, although I did write one retrospective story in the Colorado Springs Sun circa 1981.

My better piece, "Mutilation Madness," was published in Fate magazine in June 1988. It is not available online. Perhaps I should scan it.

But back to the 1970s ...

The "cattle mutilation" phenomenon, I decided, had two aspects: One was a failure of journalism. The other was observers' tendency to wrap a narrative around just a few shaky points of data. (More after the jump.)

October 09, 2009

The Siloam Stage Road and an Unbuilt Railroad

What we call "the old road" runs from our house to the national forest boundary. As far as I can tell, it is a piece of the 1870s Siloam Stage Road, which connected Pueblo with the Wet Mountain Valley before a new wagon road was built, more or less where Colorado 96 now goes.

(That is to say, Colorado 96 before the construction of Pueblo Dam, early 1970s, and the Jackson Hill realignment, late 1980s.)

This photo was taken this morning before the sun burned through to start melting yesterday's little snow.

But apparently, in some alternative steampunk universe, I can catch the train coming up from Pueblo and travel to the San Luis Valley, before transferring to a light-rail car to zip from Alamosa to Saguache, for instance.

One hundred years ago, the Wet Mountain Tribune reported,

Incorporation papers have been filed with the secretary of state for an $8,000,000 company which is to build a railroad from Pueblo across the Sangre de Christo mountains and down into Costilla County where an interurban electric system will be established connecting all the towns in the San Luis Valley. According to the plans, a line will be run from Pueblo southwest into the Wet Mountain Valley. Thence it will run southwest into Huerfano County until it reaches the Sangre de Christo range. It will cross the range into Saguache or Costilla counties at a point not yet decided and then proceed to Alamosa, Monte Vista or Del Norte. The electric railway system spreading up and down the San Luis Valley will run spur tracks into the mining regions, the timber areas, the agricultural districts and the quarries.

Yeah, what happened to that?

April 11, 2009

Another Wildlife-related Festival: Plover in Karval


Maybe "festival" is too strong a word. But you have to start somewhere.

The town of Karval will host its Third Annual Mountain Plover Festival, April 24-26. This year's event adds new bird watching sites, a photography contest, and an extra day of activities including a Friday night stargazing trip. Karval is a farming hamlet, population "about 35," in southern Lincoln County. Registration deadline is April 15.

Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The eastern plains of Colorado are the primary breeding grounds for the mountain plover and more than half of the world's population nests in the state. Mountain plovers, are a considered a species of "special concern" in Colorado because of declining numbers.

"The Mountain Plover Festival is a great way for people to experience the small town atmosphere of a rural community while watching birds and learning about the culture and history of Colorado's eastern plains," said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.


I once thought that some kind of corner in becoming rooted in place would be turned when we started having festivals more rooted in natural cycles.

And I don't care if someone at the Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea (see, for instance, Pueblo's Chile & Frijoles Festival) -- the message is bigger than that.

First came the Monte Vista Crane Festival, followed by Lamar's Goose Festival.

It's a trend, and a good one.

Mountain plover photo courtesy of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.