Showing posts with label Sangre de Cristo range. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sangre de Cristo range. Show all posts

January 13, 2019

Where Are the Dogs of Yesteryear?

Ubi sunt?
"Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" asked the medieval French poet François Villon. Usually that is Englished as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

And where are the dogs of yesteyear?

M. with Jack the Chesapeake Bay retriever and Shelby the collie-Lab mix, also known as the Bandit Queen. North Taylor Creek, Sangre de Cristo Range, early winter, 2002(?).

May 10, 2018

The Old-Time Forest Service Is Still Out There If You Look

Packing supplies up the fire line, Jeff Outhier pauses to survey the Junkins Fire in October 2016.

When he was a Forest Service district ranger in Rapid City, S.D, my dad kept a photo on the office wall of himself in his previous post on the Rio Grande National Forest in southwestern Colorado. It showed him riding his saddle mare Queenie over a grassy ridge, followed by a loaded pack mule (named Mule), going out on patrol.

I missed all this because I was not yet born or just a baby. Rapid City, by contrast, was not a "horseback district" in any sense of the word, but a pickup truck district.

That photo summarized the Forest Service that he signed up for, and when he was forced up the ladder into a big office, he took a lateral transfer just to get to somewhere smaller and then started counting the days until retirement.

It seems today like more USFS employees touch keyboards more than ax handles or horse bridles. But there are some exceptions. One of them lives just over the hill, Jeff Outhier, whose horse tack-littered office is in Westcliffe — but he himself usually is not.

Jeff Outhier talks to
a volunteer trail crew.
His responsibilities are modest: all the trails in the San Isabel National Forest — from Leadville southward nearly to the New Mexico state line. A few hundred miles of trails, that's all, much of them in wilderness areas.

He has his methods, like trimming back encroaching trees from muleback. In the wilderness areas where motors (even battery powered) are forbidden, he has been known to build and repair trails with mule-drawn scrapers and plows.

He still knows how to sharpen a big crosscut saw, although he is also a fan of Silky saws like this one. Apparently there is a network of foresters who keep up the traditional woodsman skills.

When we talked last Saturday, he was happy that his seasonal worker was about to come on duty. That's one (1) seasonal.  Sometimes he can get some firefighters who are not otherwise occupied. For a lot of work, he depends on volunteers, which is why I was there.

So there is some of that old-time Forest Service left.

One of the volunteers asked about dealing with a fallen tree inside the wilderness that might be too big for our handsaws. Should we "waymark" it and report its coordinates.

"No," says Jeff, "I don't use GPS. Just say it's 'beyond the rockslide after the creek crossing' — I'll find it."

January 18, 2018

Navajo Nation in Real Estate Rampage

This has not been getting much coverage outside of southern Colorado, but the Navajo Nation has purchased two large ranches in Huerfano and Custer counties, along the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range.

First was part of hair products-magnate's Tom Redmond's Wolf Springs Ranch (16,000 acres, 6,574 ha), mostly in Huerfano County. Next was the adjoining Boyer Ranch in Custer County (12,500 acres, 5,057 ha).

The photo on the banner of this blog was taken at the Wolf Springs Ranch in northwest Huerfano County.

From the Wet Mountain Tribune:
The acquisition extends the Nation’s presence in the county by another 12,505 acres for an approximate total of 28,855 acres straddling both Huerfano and Custer counties. The land is significant for the Navajo, as it is near the sacred mountain Tsisnaasjini’, also known as Blanca Peak. 
In announcing the purchase, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said , “It is a blessing for the Navajo Nation to once again have land in the state of Colorado. When land was being designated by the federal government they refused to include Colorado as part of Navajo. We now own more of our ancestral land with the purchase of Boyer Ranch. It is a beautiful place surrounded by mountain ranges in the shadows of Tsisnaasjini’.

He went on to speak about the economic opportunities the new addition brings to the Nation: “This is a place where we can develop the Navajo Beef program and eventually provide more opportunities for our ranchers. There is a good market for quality beef in restaurants and grocery stores and Navajo can meet that demand.”

The Nation’s portion of the Wolf Springs Ranch includes about 400 head of cattle, and over 900 head of bison.

The importance of the Boyer Ranch to the Nation goes beyond ranching however, as the ranch has early priority water rights, and the gravel pit there could be used to develop Nation infrastructure. Vice President Jonathan Nez also sees the potential to one day develop an athletic program that takes advantage of the high-altitude of the land.

“We have some remarkable athletes on the Navajo Nation,” he notes, “and this would be a great opportunity to train our youth and celebrate health and wellness. The land there is beautiful and it is not just for us but also for future generations.”
In other news, restaurant workers in Westcliffe, Silver Cliff, and Walsenburg are learning how to say "Yah-ta-hey" with the correct intonation.

(In other other news, insiders report that the Navajo Nation will petition the U. S. Board on  Geographic Names to rename the Sangre de Cristo Range the Monster-Slayer Mountains.)

Wolf Springs Ranch had been involved in Colorado Parks and Wildlife's "Ranching for Wildlife" program, which is a money-maker for the landowner as well as opening up private land to a limited amount of big-game hunting.  I wonder what will happen with that.

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.

July 10, 2015

Looking for the Gifts of Rain

Old cabins in the rain with broad-tailed hummingbird
On the 4th of July, walking in the Sangres, I found two boletes near the trail — and they were already a little past their prime. Then came more rain— five inches (0.25 Egyptian cubits) since Saturday — and further mushrooming was postponed, until last night, when M. and I thought we had a chance.

We wanted to check an area in the Wet Mountains that seemed promising for early, lower-altitude foraging, but about half a mile along, it started to pour.

We ended up at the old lodge, watching hummingbirds dart under the eaves while we had coffee and cherry pie.

RIGHT: The large mushroom is Agaricus silvicola,  I think, and if so, not edible.

Twenty years from now, whenever someone says "It's been a rainy spring," the retort will be, "This is nothing compared to 2015."

In one nearby town, the precipitation is at 209 percent of the average year-to-date figure. And the summer monsoon season is just beginning.

A double rainbow formed briefly over the lake, while anglers with inadequate rain gear walked past, heading for their cars or cabins.

July 05, 2015

Is a Off-the-Shelf Survival Kit the Best Approach?

I saw this "5-Day Survival Backpack" on sale in the grocery store in Westcliffe, and my first thought was that someone would buy and it and figure they were ready for an overnight in the Sange de Cristo range, if you count a Mylar blanket as "warmth."

Not enough water though.

Reconsidering, I thought it more likely to be the sort of kit you toss behind the seat of your truck for emergency use. The maker promotes as an "emergency survival kit" as well. It lists at $79.99 but is available online for $50–70.

Could you make someething better for less than $50?

October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

August 11, 2014

Sheep Mountain Wearing a Hat

Sheep Mountain in western Huerfano County under an uncommon cap of cloud, post-thunderstorm. It and its neighbor, Little Sheep Mountain, are known for their carbon dioxide field. There is a jokey title in there somewhere.

February 08, 2013

Pine Beetles Down, Spruce Beetles Up

A new report from the Forest Service shows that the pine beetle infestation that has been so widespread in northern Colorado is waning, but spruce beetle activity is increasing, particularly in  the San Juans.

Read the entire summary here, with maps and graphs.

February 07, 2013

Mountain Snow Pack, Feb. 1, 2013 — What It Looks Like

Here is the map . . .

Click to embiggen.
. . . and here is what one of the tan areas looks like.
On the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Yesterday I had some x-c ski and other snow equipment to test in advance of an upcoming overnight trip — will this boot work well in those bindings, and that kind of thing.

So M. and I drove off toward the Sangres looking for snow.

The last time we had gone up this road in winter time was February 2009, and we parked her Jeep about halfway from this spot to the green timber and skied up from there.

This year I was driving on up into the timber, partly on dirt and partly on ice and corn snow, until I came to the end of "easy 4wd conditions," parked it, and got out the gear that I wanted to test.

At least I came away with some ideas about how to modify those climbing skins to fit on these skis. I have been feeling awfully house-bound lately.

All snow pack maps are here.

June 03, 2012

Clearing Trails in the Sangres

I mentioned concern in the Wet Mountain Valley that blocked trails in the Sangre de Cristo Range from last winter's windstorm would discourage visitors.

The Forest Service has been working clearing trails, but the job is not yet finished.

M. and I took a walk on the Rainbow Trail in late May between Venable and Hermit creeks.

We could hear chainsaws running further up the slopes, and the Comanche Creek trail was closed completely, as was Alvarado Campground.

On the Rainbow, some blockages had been removed, but there were still a number that looked like this.

At one creek crossing, falling trees had smashed the handrail of the footbridge.

August 23, 2011

Afternoon on the Upper Huerfano

Here endeth ye brooke.
It's a dry year. The upper Huerfano River, on the national forest, just ended at one point, right at my toes as I took this photo. The water trickled over this emplaced log, fell into a plunge pool, and was absorbed into the cobbles.

Fortunately, there is more water down lower from springs and tributaries, and I caught some trout. (Sorry, no fish photos. They were browns.)
Wildflowers placed in a desiccating medium.
Our first goal was to gather some wildflowers so that M. could make a dried-flower arrangement for her sister's housewarming. Here are gentians and larkspur in a shoebox.
An out-the-windshield shot of retreating bear cubs
Driving out, we spooked a black bear and her cubs out of the roadside currant bushes. Here go the cubs running to catch up with their mother.
Mule deer fawn with summer spots. Another grab shot through the dirty Jeep windshield.
Mule deer fawns were much in evidence too, in ones and twos.

We stopped for bar burgers on the way home and tried to remember if we had ever heard of anyone with peanut allergies when we were kids. Like where did that come from?

November 29, 2009

Big Fire Years in the Sangre de Cristos

Going through an old notebook, I discovered notes from a talk given ten years ago by Catherine Alington, at that time a PhD student in landscape ecology at Colorado State University-Fort Collins.

She researched fire cycles on both sides of the northern Sangre de Cristo range, and in some cases was able to go back three centuries. Her work was published in her dissertation, "Fire History and Landscape Pattern in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains" (1998).

According to my notes, some big fire years--when multiple valleys burned--were 1636, 1703, and 1851. Don't you wish you knew what was going on then?

Low-elevation forests burned on the average every 30 years, while higher elevations, above 10,000 feet, burned about every 100 years.

After teaching at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and at the University of Wellington, New Zealand (her home), she is now, according to Linked-In, the head of professional development for the New Zealand Police.

October 10, 2009

Quieter Skies in the Black Hills

Just a couple of things left to say about our trip to the Black Hills. One sneaked up on us after we had been there two or three days--the quiet skies.

Wherever you go in Colorado, you are under some air route centered on Denver International Airport. High-altitude jet noise is just part of the background--and the higher you climb, the closer the airplanes are.

I remember how quiet it right after the Sept. 21, 2001 hijackings when all air travel was shut down. I was sitting over a spring in the Sangre de Cristo range during muzzleloader season when a Learjet streaked overhead (Mr. Big coming back from the coast?) and all I could think was, "Oh shit, we're back to normal."

But Rapid City Regional Airport has far fewer flights, and about a third of them go eastward to the Twin Cities or Chicago, making for much quieter skies.

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?

August 11, 2009

Trout between the Tree Trunks

Up into the Sangres today to beat the heat. No mushrooms in sight--I do think the Wets are the place for mushrooms.

But the trout were there in a small creek that flows through a real jungle, where you crawl out on old silvered tree trunks cut by long-gone beavers to dap a brushy dry fly into three feet of flowing stream that is exposed between the tree trunks.

No room to play a fish, obviously -- you "horse" it out, or it breaks off. Both happened.

At one point, realizing that I could only see a few feet in any direction, I was momentarily glad that there are no grizzly bears hereabouts. On the other hand, if there were, I would wear my bear spray cannister on my hip and fish anyway. Carefully.

Meanwhile, Colorado newspapers are having a time with the case of the late Donna Munson, whom it appears was killed by one of the bears that she fed all the time -- in defiance of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Was her maternal instinct in overdrive? ("These animals need me!") Was she advertising that she was more in tune with wild critters than is the average Coloradan? Was she another "animal hoarder" of the type Mary Scriver encountered in her former job?

Like Timothy Treadwell, she inadvertently caused the death of two bears. That seems to be what such people do.

February 12, 2009

August 19, 2008

Thar's Fungus in Them Thar Hills

Looking across the Wet Mountain Valley from the Wets towards the Sangres. Photo (c) by Chas S. CliftonMushroom-hunting weather is definitely here.

View of the Sangre de Cristo range from the Wet Mountains.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Mycological Society links to a story from Outside on Colorado mushroom hunting.

October 06, 2007

A Walk to Music Pass

Head of Sand Creek drainage, Sangre de Cristo range, Oct. 5, 2007. Photo by Chas S. cliftonView west from the top of Music Pass into the Sand Creek drainage.

Friday promised a crisp fall day with optimum aspen-viewing conditions.

But when we crested the hill on Colorado 96 and looked down into the Wet Mountain Valley, it was filled with rain, and the Sangre de Cristo range was invisible.

Wipers slapping, we drove through Silver Cliff and Westcliffe and stopped at Candy's for coffee, muffins, and The Denver Post.

After 45 minutes, the squall had blown through, and we headed for the lower Music Pass trailhead, figuring that if the weather turned bad again, we would just take a walk on the Rainbow Trail.

We met two backpackers from Colorado Springs coming out of the Sand Creek Lakes drainage on the far side of Music Pass. They carried fishing rods, but they babbled not of fishing but off the horrible night they had passed in wind, rain, sleet, and snow. And then they turned and hustled down the trial.

We ended up going all the way to the top of the pass (11,3080 feet), where the wind poured across from the San Luis Valley like an invisible waterfall.


"Tree" "Elk" "Tree" "Elk"

In the fir forest below the crest, I heard an elk bugle.

No, M. said, it's a fallen fir tree rubbing against another.

Just then I heard the gulping sounds that follow a bugle.

No, M. said, it's two trees rubbing. And she was right.

But on the way down, we did hear an elk bugling at a lower elevation, maybe 9,500 feet, about at the point where I was deciding that I really did not need to be wearing gloves anymore.