Showing posts with label Wet Mountain Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wet Mountain Valley. Show all posts

September 16, 2018

End of the Season in a Mountain Town


M. and I went over to Westcliffe Friday night to watch a movie in a real (and historic) theater.

Westcliffe is not a ski town, not a river town, not a mountain-biking town. When its one ski area, Conquistador, finally faceplanted too many times and shut down in 1993, the town gave a collective yawn and got on with its real industry, building mountain mini-mansions.

There are a bazillion photos taken looking west down Main Street toward the Sangre de Cristo Range, all variations of this one:
Add more a few more trees, neo-historic streetlamps, paving, and diagonal parking,
and you have the Westcliffe of today.


It occurred to me as I sat on a street bench across from the Jones Theater that you could pick up the whole place and set it down in, say, Phillips County—only with neo-historic streetlamps and a "dark skies" ordinance. The two counties' populations are about the same, and the buildings would fit right in.

The only difference is that almost no one is building mini-mansions all around Phillips County, thus supporting numerous small construction firms. On the prairie there is maybe less talk about agricultural "heritage" and more actual agriculture.

Walking down Main Street, it seemed like every third retail space was for rent and almost every restaurant for sale. Chappy's, our favorite bar for Westcliffe visits, was "closed for renovation." I hope that's not a euphemism.

The Chamber of Commerce types want more economic activity. Factories? In all these towns and small cities the refrain is, "We don't want our kids to move away." But guess what, the kids are going to move away.  Maybe some will come back later and find a way to make a living. Most will not. (Did I go back to Del Norte or Rapid City? Nope.)

What you can get in a place like Westcliffe:
  • First-run movies
  • Hardware store merchandise (the Ace store is pretty good)
  • Carhart clothing (at the hardware store)
  • "Western decor" items
  • Paintings by local artists
  • Grass-fed beef
  • "Lowest-common denominator groceries" (M.'s phrase)
  • Hiking boots 
  • Firearms
  • Automotive repair
  • The rural health clinic

What you cannot get:
  • Auto parts
  • Books
  • Other clothing
  • Appliances
  • Specialized medical care
  • All kinds of other things that send people "down the hill," leading to much Facebook angst about road conditions
Then there is the new but growing Amish population (buggies at 8,000 feet!) who have a different set of shopping needs and probably rely sometimes on mail order from Gohn Bros. or wherever.

So there is much complaint about how retail businesses (except hardware) cannot succeed with a season that is only four months long.

On the other hand, there seems to be little desire to be one of those resort towns with a different manufactured "festival" every other weekend throughout the year. The argument goes around and around.

But the views!

September 21, 2017

Smashing Painted Ladies

I was driving up the canyon into the Wet Mountain Valley, flinching every time that a Painted Lady butterfly hit the windshield.

They are migrating this time of year, headed south, and apparently this summer produced good breeding conditions.

"I must have killed millions of them," said the FedEx driver as she passed a package to the café owner in Westcliffe.

"We'll call her Butterfly Killer," said the owner facetiously, after the driver went out the door.

As usual, we go smashing along through beauty.

UPDATE: The migration was large enough to create radar echoes. That's kind of wonderful.

August 18, 2017

An Owl in a High Valley Pasture

The Wet Mountain Valley
I was dispatched yesterday to catch an injured owl at a building site near the Custer County airport, Silver West. (True fact: it has a 6,954 ft./2.1 km. paved runway, in case you need a place to land your 737 in a hurry.)

I found the site, and there under a backhoe sat a great horned owl. It looked too alert to simply walk up and grab. The "toreador" technique of tossing a blanket over it might have worked, but the blanket might well have caught on the machine. So I took the big, soft net and ambled along, checking out the owl.

No slacker, the owl made a little hopping flight, landed — and then ran like a pheasant under a barbed-wire fence. #*@$%!

The woman who had called me asked if she and her twenty-something son, who were the only people working there, could help me. I said yes, I could use your help. She fetched him from where he was running a plate compactor on the other side of the site.

I arm-signaled: "The owl is there. Go around. Pincer movement."

We crossed the fence, made our pincer, and the owl, distracted, let me come close. When it tried to fly, I swiped  with the net, not exactly catching it. But it dropped to the ground and assumed its defensive posture — on its back, talons up. An easy snatch,  and it was time for a long drive to Pueblo and the raptor center.

I do not have the veterinary diagnosis, other than that the owl was probably "young of the year." That it could still fly a little makes me hope that it had only a soft-tissue injury, but I don't know.

Without the woman and her son, I would have been pursuing that owl solo across the landscape shown above, and would I have ever captured it, both of us tired and stressed?

Right now I am reading The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks by Susan Casey,* who used to be with Outside magazine. Describing her time with shark researchers on the Farallone Islands near San Francisco, it has lots on hunting behavior, of course.

When I met the son close-up, after the owl capture, we had a brief conversation, and I thought, "I never saw this guy before, but he immediately understood through nonverbal signals what was happening and what we needed to do. Truly, humans really are pack hunters."

* Her website shows the nature writer in a little black dress, a change from the usual boonie hat-and-boots image.

August 02, 2017

iPhone versus Pentax Point-and-Shoot

M. and I went for a hike today — a mushroom reconnaissance, really — and I got to thinking about pocket cameras.

In this corner, my ten-year-old Pentax Optio E40, 8.1 megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom plus digital zoom, 6.2–18.2 mm focal length.

In the other corner, my three-year-old iPhone 5s, also about 8 megapixel sensor, and a tiny lens (no optical zoom) coupled to software jiggery-pokery that produces pretty good pictures.

Both have built-in flashes, but today's comparison was outdoor photography.

Like almost everyone who has a smartphone, I carry it most of the time — especially in fire-and-flood season.

The Pentax Optio has a logged a lot of miles in my daypack, hunting vest pocket, etc. How would it hold up head-to-head against the iPhone? Should I still bother with it? With batteries, it's an extra 6.2 oz. (177 grams).

On to the test. Both cameras produced JPG images in the 4–6 MB range, about 45 x 34 inches (Pentax) or 45 x 32 inches (iPhone). For the blog, I have reduced all of them to 12 inches in width (no cropping) at 72 dpi.

1. Wildflowers
Monarda (bee balm) / iPhone 5s


Monarda / Pentax Optio E40
I have not adjusted the exposure, which was a little darker on the Pentax. Neither focused perfectly, partly due to the trouble of seeing the camera screen in bright mountain sunlight. (A through-the-lens viewfinder camera is what you really need in this situation.)

2. Long-distance landscape
View across the Wet Mountain Valley / iPhone


View across the Wet Mountain Valley / Pentax

The iPhone did a better job with the values in the clouds than the point-and-shoot Pentax did. Lightening the latter's photo to match the iPhone tended to wash out the definition in the clouds.

3. Maximum zoom
 
The town of Westcliffe from about seven miles away / iPhone



Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom 

Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom + digital zoom
The Pentax zooms more, but there is probably a spy satellite that could give a better street view of Westcliffe, Colo., on a sunny day. I wonder what sort of software jiggery-pokery they have.

4. Other considerations

Features: Both shoot videos. The Optio has built-in settings for close-up, landscape, portrait, action, night photography, etc.

Storage: With the right SD card, the Optio can equal the iPhone's storage capacity.

Weight: The iPhone5s is slightly heavier, about 5 grams. But it is a computer that takes photographs, whereas the Optio is only a camera.

Battery: Both suck in different ways. All cell phones run down their batteries too fast, even when asleep, unless you turn off GPS, wireless, etc. The Optio runs down its AA batteries just remembering the time and date, and when you change them, you have to reset those numbers. Figure on a set of batteries a day with active shooting, although you can use rechargeables.

Durability: I keep my iPhone in an OtterBox case, and so far I have not broken it. The Optio is susceptible to dust because of its zoom lens, so normally it rides in a tactical case, which is a plastic sandwich bag. If I dropped it off a cliff or it fell out of the boat, I would not feel so bad, which is a plus.

5. Conclusion

Smartphones are killing the low-end point-and-shoot compact camera market. The Optio and its competitors offer built-in shooting modes, which I like, but smartphone owners can add apps to improve their features. (I like Solocator, which adds altitude, compass bearing, and latitude and longitude to photos.)

My conclusion: I will probably keep using the Optio until it breaks, but I doubt if I will replace it, except possibly with a cheap used one. I will keep my digital SLR for the "serious" photography.

July 29, 2015

Morning Rainbow


A morning rainbow near Hillside in the Wet Mountain Valley, taken in early June.

July 07, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge - Part 4

Missouri-Pacific Railroad tourism brochure, 1927

Selling the San Isabel to Out-of-State Visitors

The first post in this series described Arthur Carhart's vision for scenic roads connecting campgrounds, picnic grounds, and private resorts in the Wet Mountains, the "cradle of car camping."

But what about out-of-state visitors? From the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 into the 20th century, many North American tourists arrived at the nearest railway station to their destinations.

Then they might walk or take a coach to the nearest hotel. Some were grand, like the Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888–89. From the hotel, they could self-guided or escorted tours, such as by stagecoach from Livingston, Mont., into Yellowstone under U. S. Army escort (the Army patrolled the park until 1918, when the National Park Service took over). 

The Baver Li Lodge on Highway 165, late 1920s or 1930s.
The Missouri Pacific RR operated a route west from St. Louis to Pueblo, Cañon City, and on to Salt Lake City via Grand Junction. Eager to attract passengers, it provided this 16-page brochure about the San Isabel National Forest, "Colorado's newest playground." 

According to the grandson of the Baver Li Lodge's founders, the Missouri Pacific tried to buy the lodge (built in 1927) in 1929, but his grandparents would not sell. (It closed as a lodge in the 1960s but is still in the family.)

The brochure offered numerous one, two, and three-day automobile tours, for example, this one booked through the San Isabel Forest Tours Co. of Pueblo: 
"No. 1" — One day. Includes automobile transportation and mid-day dinner. From Pueblo via Rye and Willow Creek Camp to Squirrel Creek Community House [Lodge] for dinner; returning through Squirrel Creek Canyon [Colorado 76], Pine Drive to Pueblo. Fare, $8.00 per person.
Another day trip went from Pueblo to Wetmore and Westcliffe, included a meal at the Alpine Lodge, and returned through the Arkansas River canyon and Cañon City to Pueblo. When you consider that was almost all on gravel roads with a maximum possible top speed of perhaps 40–45 mph, it would have been a long day's car ride for your $10.50 fare.

In today's dollars, that trip cost $142 per person, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics site. A cabin plus meals (fireplace heat, no plumbing) at the Baver Li Lodge cost $40–$50 in today's money (I would book one, definitely). I have not yet seen a menu for the Squirrel Creek Lodge, but I suspect that it featured fried chicken, since the archaeologists identified one foundation nearby as the chicken house.

The Missouri Pacific's brochure gushed about "Mountain Trout," "History and Romance," "The Wooliness of the West," "Altruistic Purposes" ("exorbitant charges for accommodation and services will not be countenanced"), "Scenic Grandeur," and "Special Vacation Summer Fares," among other headings.

One section, "The Hospitality of Colorado, reads as follows:
The spirit of wholesome friendliness is one of the refreshing pleasure to be anticipated in a visit to Colorado, and particularly to the San Isabel. The inhabitants of this country seem to be imbued with the bigness of their environs and manifest a sincere cordiality. In Colorado, all class distinction seems to be neutralized.
I wonder what areas we were being compared to.

To be continued at some point.

August 06, 2012

Notes on Some Southern Colorado Farmers Markets

CCFA farmers market at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City
Our usual CSA farmer offered only spring shares this year, for various reasons, so last month M. and I were faced with making the rounds of farmers' markets to supplement our garden.

First we tried the Pueblo Riverwalk Famers Market, which starts a 4 p.m. on Thursdays for the after-work crowd. Once you sort out the artsies and craftsies, there were four food producers selling — all local, but non organic. The booths were jammed onto one sidewalk between Union Avenue and Victoria Street — one of the few spots with shade! We bought some Rocky Ford cantaloupe, which was riper than what the supermarket had.

On Thursday mornings you can try the Florence farmers market in shady Pioneer Park. It features one local organic producer (Lippis farm) plus some sellers of honey (sometimes), spices, goat cheese, and potted plants.

The Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance sponsors markets in Cañon City, Salida, and Buena Vista.

We visited the Cañon market a week ago — it is held on Saturdays — and came away with a few items, including some raspberry-chipotle jelly from Shirley Ann's Field Fresh Produce of Manzanola (down the Arkansas Valley east of Pueblo). Any economic activity in Manzanola needs to be encourage, and the jelly had a nice zing.  You can buy Shirley Ann's products online.

Check the CCFA site for more information about times, places, producers, etc.

Another market that we have not visited since last summer is held in Westcliffe on Thursdays from 2–5:30 p.m. Not too many vegetables are grown locally (compared to the early 20th century, when the Wet Mountain Valley produced lettuce, potatoes, sugar beets, and I don't know what all else—before refrigerated railroad cars brought everything from California). It should offer herbal remedies, local beef, and Amish (i.e., very sweet) baked goods along with veggies that are least Colorado-grown within the "foodshed."