Showing posts with label summer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label summer. Show all posts

July 29, 2015

Morning Rainbow

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

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 01, 2015

Where Lightning Strikes in Colorado

Click to embiggen
Now you know why Nikola Tesla built a laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899, right in the central red patch.

This map was created at the National Weather Service office in Pueblo, Colo., where its page includes links to more maps for the (48) United States (Florida wins!) and the world.
The maps of Colorado and the United Statea show the number of Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. . . . The lightning flash density maps of the world show total lightning activity, that is, Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning plus In-Cloud (IC) lightning.
All lightning flash density plots for the state of Colorado are calculated with a very high spatial resolution of 0.01 degree latitude by 0.01 degree longitude squares. This corresponds to anapproximate resolutionof 1 km squared for the state of Colorado. Data is from 1994 through 2011, excluding 2000.
 M. and made up our term, the "Pike's Peak Swirl," when thunderstorms would interfere with our old summer job of censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management in areas south and southeast of Pike's Peak. Or as the Coloado Springs Gazette puts it, "Why Is Pike's Peak a Giant Lightning Rod? Blame Denver. "
Moisture from the south tends to circle around Denver and slam back into the Palmer Divide, combining with heat generated by the Pikes Peak massif and its surrounding peaks, said Steve Hodanish, a meteorologist and lightning specialist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

September 20, 2014

Thoughts Post-Pioneers Day Parade

The band kids practice their "hurry up and wait."
The Pioneer Days king and queen, in a buggy drawn by a matched pair of white horses, clatter up alongside the fire engine.

“We’re supposed to follow you,” says the queen, who has the reins. “You’re not going to be siren-ing, are you?”

“No siren,” I say, “Just lights.”

She is relieved. The horses have been nervously watching the high school marching band, practicing nearby. Ford 550 brush trucks don’t bother them — they know trucks — but forty kids in shakos banging drums and playing horns are definitely Strange and Possibly Threatening. Their ears tilt forward and their eyes seem to bulge.

For the first time since 2009, we have sent an engine down to participate in Florence’s parade. Are not all small-town parades about the same? I always flash back to my boyhood in Rapid City, although by comparison, this parade is short on Indians and U. S. Air Force units.

There is, however, Fort Carson’s mounted color guard in their quasi-19th-century uniforms, and when the fire house siren sounds, they lead off.

In a small fumble of parade-marshaling, someone has placed the second color guard with their piper right behind the high school band, so after a quick run-through of “Scotland the Brave” (hey, the vote was two days ago), the piper decides not to compete with the band kids’ music.

Up front, the local fire department is siren-ing, but looking in my mirror, it appears that the queen has her team under control

Rounding the curve onto Main Street, we are briefly halted, while a Forest Service engine and the Fremont County sheriff’s wildland fire team pull in ahead of us — three more brush trucks. I let a short gap open up — we’re not them, we’re us.

Up ahead, the band kids’ gold shakos waver in the heat waves rising from the fire trucks. “It’s the 'Your Tax Dollars at Work' parade,” I say to J., who is waving from the right-hand seat.

Really, aside from two high school bands, Shriners on big motorcycles and tiny cars, and a some entries by local stores, there are few home-grown entries.  The majority appear to be governmental (if you count schools too). That is troubling. Not even a classic-car club.

It is over so fast, and we break formation on a side street, turning toward the highway back into the mountains, going home.

August 27, 2014

Dodging Anatoly and Other Mushroom Thoughts

Emerging king bolete.


Baskets were stacked in the pickup's bed — big, flat-bottomed baskets with integral handles — serious mushroom-collecting baskets.

I had just parked M's Jeep at the edge of a little clear-cut, a spot close to but not too close to the place we call "the mushroom store." We were standing behind it, her looking sort of woods-ninja, all in black with binocular slung, me in the red shirt I wore so that she could keep track of me. No packs, no baskets, no bags.

That pickup came up the narrow rocky Forest Service road and stopped, "Finding any mushrooms?" asked the driver. He was  a big guy with a pronounced Eastern European or Russian accent.

"We're looking for elk,*" I answered. Sorry, Anatoly, you think I am going to tell you? Archery season was two weeks away at that point, so scouting is a reasonable thing to be doing in the boreal forest.

He and his passenger drove off and turned onto another little logging road that went right to "the store." But then we heard doors slamming, and we saw the truck coming out again as we slung our packs (each holding several string or cloth shopping bags) and walked into the woods

Hunting mushrooms is like hunting elk in this respect: You do better away from roads. The farther we walked, the more we saw. When we saw big boletes next to one of the old logging roads, I knew that "Anatoly" had not ventured that far.


The local Search & Rescue (SAR) group drops hints about some kind of Chicago (Polish immigrant) — Wet Mountains pipeline: unprepared flatlanders getting dropped off to hunt mushrooms and becoming lost. ("Anatoly" did not strike me as one of those.) Apparently they are out there somewhere.

I have always felt there was a sort of snobbery with SAR: the mountain climbers they pluck (dead or alive) off peaks like Crestone Needle are idiots, but heroic idiots. The lost mushroom hunters are laughable idiots, "old ladies," etc., in their re-telling. But you won't get easily lost mushroom-hunting if you know to walk uphill — the roads are on the ridges. And blown-down trees usually point northeast. (I have relied on both of those bits of knowledge at one time or another.)

Is This All There Is?

We cut and cleaned mushrooms part of two days, filling the electric dehydrator and the screens in the greenhouse. Now that they are in jars, will the season allow us another hunt? But once the storage shelf in the basement is full, I find my desire changing

It is like the old fly-fishing dictum: First you want to catch fish, then you want to catch the most fish, then you want to catch the most difficult fish.

First I want to find "good" mushrooms, then I want to find lots of mushrooms and then . . . maybe I want to learn more about all those mushrooms that I walk past, whether they are "good" or not.
* OK, if the Huichol Indians, while on their sacred peyote hunt, can refer to the cactus buttons as "deer," I can refer to Boletus edulis as "elk"—especially as the elk do eat them. I saw some with cervid tooth marks and only the stems remaining.

August 02, 2014

Walking in the Wets

I apologize to everyone whose email I did not answer or whose editing job I am behind schedule on, but yesterday despite (because of?) the rainy week, I just had to get out of this house. So M., the dog, and I took a walk in the rainy forest and found some mushrooms, some to admire and some to eat.

The Wet Mountains were living up to their name. All the pores of the forest were open. That is Lake Isabel down below.

July 31, 2014

Memories of Floods Past

1933 flood waters at Union Station, Denver (Colorado Historical Society).
At the end of a rainy week, let's remember some famous Colorado floods —not the only ones, and not just last year's.

Today is the anniversary of the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood, which killed 143 people, including a state trooper who was racing ahead of it, trying to warn people. (That canyon flooded again, less destructively, last September.)

Sunday will be the anniversary of a flood that I was unaware of: the 1933 Castlewood Dam disaster, August 3, 1933, when a dam on Cherry Creek burst in what is now Castlewood Canyon State Park, sending flood waters clear into downtown Denver. 

It is being commemorated at the park on Saturday with "Dam Day" educational and fun activities:  
Kids can build candy dams mortared with frosting (a word to the wise — do not follow the design of Castlewood Dam, it lasted only 43 years). There will be a model of the canyon and dam. They can also fill the Castlewood Reservoir with water and see the effects rushing water can have on the canyon.
Cherry Creek and nearby Plum Creek struck again in June 1965a month of flooding both in the South Platte and Arkansas river drainages.

On June 16, 1965, fourteen inches of rain fell near Castle Rock, sending flood waters north into Littleton and Denver.

Many homes were lost, but there were only 21 deaths.

My mother had taken me to Pueblo to visit my grandmother, and now we were trapped — there was no way to travel north from Colorado Springs toward Fort Collins, where we then lived. Interstate 25 was washed out at Castle Rock and (I assume in retrospect) state highways 105 and 83 were closed or washed out too.

One of the 1921 Pueblo operators drew this sketch.
She was told that the only to go north was to go a mountain route (Woodland Park-Deckers-US 285) or the plains route (Colorado Springs-Limon-Denver). She chose the latter.

I remember rain lashing down and water running across US 24 between Colorado Springs and Limon up to the hubcaps of her 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. The prairie seemed like a succession of little rivers. But we made it.

Cherry Creek Reservoir was built to prevent another episode: see an aerial photo.

Southern Colorado, however, remembers also June 3, 1921, when Pueblo flooded. There was this new technology called the telephone, and the operators in their downtown building stayed at their switchboards even as the waters rolled in. (They survived.)

Sketch from the site of the Virtual Telecommunications Museum.

July 19, 2014

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: Fly or Die!

Cordilleran flycatcher
(Cornell Ornithology Lab).

As I mentioned in the previous episode, there was a built-in design problem. Four fledglings, but only comfortable nest space for three.

One, probably the last-hatched by several days, always seemed to be the runt, the usual story.

Were its siblings shoving it out of the nest by the first week of July? Despite our efforts — putting a metal sheet between the nest and the top of the porch light where it was built in order to add a sort of safety zone before the drop — I came out a few days later and found the runt outside the nest, stiff in death.

The others kept growing and were suddenly starting to look like fuzzy adults. On the 13th I checked them — and one was gone, while another, startled, instead of cowering just flew away, a whole ten feet down to a railing.

Later in the day, #3 disappeared. And that was that. No practice flights, just go now!

And birds never come back to their old bedroom after venturing into the larger world.

It was over. They all dispersed. We hear an occasional flycatcher-ish peep! in the trees behind the house. At some point, it will be time to winter in Mexico.

M. and I felt a little diminished, that's the funny thing, even though it is nice to not have to duck our heads when going in and out the front door.

July 07, 2014

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: The "Plop Plop" of Falling Birds

This year's brood of flycatchers, on top of the front porch light.
Is four fledglings too many?

Right now, there is a large pillow — actually an L. L. Bean dog bed — laid under the porch light on the veranda.

Baby Cordilleran flycatchers keep falling out of the nest on top of the porch light, which they built in late May while we were away in Taos, ignoring my purpose-built special flycatcher nesting ledge on the back of the house.

This is an ongoing drama every year: will Lucinda (all females are named Lucinda) successfully incubate her eggs and raise some babies? Some times things go very wrong.

Often four eggs are laid, but only three hatch. Or four chicks are hatched, but one is found dead and dessicated in the nest.

This year, we still have four starting to grow adult feathers. But the nest, built according to whatever evolutionary pattern — and better sized for three — is not big enough. They are starting to fall out.

I was working at my desk Sunday afternoon when I heard M. scream at Fisher, the Chesapeake Bay retriever. "Bad dog!" etc.

But here he is, the product of umpteen generations of bird-dog breeding, catching the breeze just inside the front door, when a bird falls from the sky in front of him. Of course he went for it.

The chick seemed OK, I thought, just a little damp from saliva. So I put it back in the nest. M. put a baby gate in the doorway and moved one of Fisher's outdoor dog beds under the nest.

Thirty minutes later I looked out and there was a chick lying on the dog bed. Back into the nest with it.

Then we ate supper on the veranda, as usual, noting Lucinda's constant trips to the nest to feed the kids with whatever insects she was catching. (Her mate helps too.)

I started to carry the plates inside and, Whoa! "Grab Fisher!" I said. Luckily, he was still sniffing under the dining table for crumbs.

There were two fledglings on the dog bed. Back into the nest they went.

How long is this going to keep up? Do we have to keep Fisher off the veranda, where he is accustomed to lounging during the day between walks and meals?

They can't grow up fast enough for me. Or for Lucinda.

June 17, 2014

Fawn-Transport Season Starts with a Thud

M. and I were preparing to go to Pueblo when the telephone rang. On a hot, dry day with the wind blowing, that sound always makes me jump. (Why I prefer email.)

A game warden was driving down from Colorado Springs with a newborn, weak fawn. Could someone meet him and shuttle it to the rehabbers? I went quickly, but he was quicker—when I reached the roadside cafe that was our rendezvous, I could see the big tan pickup with the light bar on top parked under some cottonwood trees.

The fawn—one of two whose mother had apparently been hit by car—was almost limp. Just a rag doll. He lifted it from his pet crate into mine, and we took off on our separate ways. It bleated a few times, but I had twenty miles still to go, which was too far, as it turned out.

Still, we tried. This was a legitimate rescue—the mother was dead. Al Cambronne at Deerland has a good post with photos of fawns that may look abandoned but are not, no matter how tiny and helpless they look.
It was hard to just stand back and wait for the mother to return. But I guess by deer standards, those does are being very good parents.
The only time to pick up a fawn is if you see the mother dead or if it is obviously injured and bleeding. Or if a wildfire is coming. Otherwise, leave them alone.

Cottonwood fluff in the air, red flag warning, and orphan fawns. It must be late June.

March 29, 2014

Hummingbirds Slo-o-o-o-wed Down

In about three weeks (three weeks!) it will be time for the first hummingbird to arrive, and shortly thereafter, the Hummingbird Wars will start as they chitter and streak from feeder to feeder under the veranda roof.

This video (not mine) slows their voices and motion down ten times.

September 28, 2013

Burned Area Revegetation, Six Months Later

May 2013
Last May I used this photo of Fisher playing in a little seasonal spring to illustrate a post about the Bureau of Land Management's aerial seeding of a burned area near home.

The black ground is burned by the fire. The wood chips are mulch dropped by helicopter along with a mixture of grass seed.
September 2013
Here is Fisher again at the same spring (Camera Trap Spring). The mullein (upper left) would have arrived on its own, as did some of the other plants, but it looks like the grass mixture took hold, thanks to the late-summer rains.

We were spared the massive rains that hit northern Colorado, so there has not been an erosion problem, and now with any luck, there won't be.

Not shown: the Gambel oak is ankle to knee-high up there already. It needs no encouragement.

September 22, 2013

Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge

The present

Walking around the Hurricane Ridge parking lot and then up the trail, I felt that my energy level was high. In fact, I was congratulating myself at how bouncy I felt up there at timberline. Then Rational Mind kicked in: "Dude, you're at a lower altitude than your house."
Hurricane Ridge visitor center, with Mount Olympus in the background
Timberline is so much lower there, thanks to latitude and whatever other climactic factors. The visitor center is at 5,242 feet (1,911 varas, 1,598 meters), in other words, the same as the high plains city of Denver. Mt. Olympus is 6,900 feet but gets massive snowfall as storms sweep off the North Pacific.
Trail in the Hurricane Ridge area
Looking north: the white streak is a cloud bank on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, while the dark strip on the horizon is Vancouver Island.
The past

Driving up to the ridge, I was trying to remember and reconstruct the last time I had entered Olympic National Park. It was between my freshman and sophomore year of college, and my girlfriend and I had driven up from Portland for a quick backpacking trip in her Volkswagen squareback.

Did we car-camp the first night in the park? I know we hiked to some lake —  Lake Angeles? Why did we go there? What did we eat? What did we talk about? All I can remember is camping beside some lake in the forest. And the "green tunnel" effect of driving on the Olympic Peninsula, which still struck me even after my first year in western Oregon.

I was keeping a journal then, but I can't consult it, for it was one of the volumes that my mother trashed (and then lied about it) after I left them in my old desk at her house. So it goes.

September 20, 2013

Drought Conditions Improve in Colorado, New Mexico

The strong monsoon season has helped ease the drought. I see that our area has dropped from "severe drought" to "abnormally dry." 

The creek near our house faltered in mid-summer but recovered before going completely dry. A rancher neighbor says that he has been able to irrigate for a few days, although I am sure that he would rather have had that water in June.

Denver Post photo
In northern Colorado, there is no drought at all! That happens when you get a year's worth of precipitation in a few days.

In fact, in some areas, soil moisture has been recharged the old-fashioned way.

Then there is the oil-spill problem.

August 19, 2013

The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds

Go ahead, make a move. It's your move . . . you talkin' to me?
Mid-afternoon and there is a ruckus from the dogs, who are penned on the veranda. The gray fox is not too impressed by the dogs' threats.
Yeah, I eat them. You got a problem with that?
Aesop, La Fontaine, and others made a story of "The Fox and the Grapes." So what is the moral lesson of "The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds"? (The seeds fall from a bird feeder.)

Here is your cinematic reference for the first caption, in case you forgot.

And don't forget the movie, which is excellent. But you will need a VHS player.

August 16, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (3) Pagosa Springs & Assorted Mushroom Thoughts

Boletus edulis in the Wet Mountains
Saturday the 10th was our last full day of the camping trip. I put away the fly rods and picked more mushrooms (and wild strawberries) on Cumbres Pass, then drove on west through Chama, N.M, to Pagosa Springs.

I had planned to be in Pagosa the previous weekend for a state-sponsored fire class, but it was cancelled, so this was sort of a consolation visit.

In Pagosa, the weather was warm, and the San Juan River was running high and brown. Tubing outfitters were busy shuttling their customers to the east side of town so that they could ride down past the city park and the mineral springs, where the terraces were crowded with bathers.

In the midst of this "rubber hatch," I saw one guy casting a spinning rod. I thought of congratulating him for upholding the archetype of the always-optimistic fisherman, but he gave up and walked away.

We visited a couple of thrift stores—nothing exciting—where does all the outdoor gear go?—and then had a late lunch/early supper at the Riff-Raff brew pub ("Hoppy people. Hoppy earth").

I reckoned that my cabrito burger with Hatch green chiles was sort of quasi-locavore-ish.

It rained steadily most of the way back to the campground.

The next morning I observed a mulie doe moving strangely through the woods. She had her nose down like a dog following a scent trail.

Was she eating mushrooms? I had picked a few in that area, mostly Suillis  ("slippery jacks"). I tried to follow, but I could not get too close without spooking her, and there were a lot of spruce boughs in the way.

I did see some Suillis that had been scraped by what looked like a deer's lower incisors (Deer don't have upper incisors.) Were there fewer mushrooms than before? Not sure.

Two days later, having done well on a mushroom hunt closer to home, M. and I were easing down a rough forest road in the Jeep when we saw a squirrel wrestling — or something — in the road. It turned out to be trying to carry the stem of a Boletus edulis ("king bolete"), which was nearly as big as it was.

Yesterday M. was walking Fisher on lead down the driveway when he dashed into the oak brush, dragging her along. He had scented another bolete, one unfortunately past its prime. It was probably another Boletus chrysenteron, which grows under oaks, like the one he snarfed off the kitchen counter a few days ago.

Does this mean that he might have a talent for finding good mushrooms? If the French have truffle-sniffing dogs, could we have a Southern Rockies bolete-sniffing dog? Further research is required.

August 15, 2013

Hurray, Drought is only "Severe"

The recent rains, which are not really above normal for the time of year, have lowered the drought status to "severe" in some southern Colorado counties. 

Stream flows are up, but soil moisture is still low in most places.

August 14, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (2): Platoro y Yo

Platoro, Colorado. The bands of light at right are windshield reflections.
With the Conejos River running high and turbid, I decided to travel upstream. That meant Rio Grande Forest Road 520, which might be described as a pretty good road — if you were in Afghanistan.

Mile after pothole'd mile crept by. I would stop now and then and check the river. Still roily.

Eventually we reached the resort hamlet of Platoro (plata plus oro — weren't those early miners clever?) which always makes me think of what the Alaskan bush might look like (having never visited Alaska) — dense forest, a straggle of modest frame and log buildings, thick willows along the river.

The old lodge, currently bearing the name Sky Line Lodge, is classic, but right now its owners cannot decide whether it is a grocery store or a fly shop and so fall between two stools. (It and I make an unflattering appearance in Ed Engle's memoir Seasonal: A Life Outside. That's what happens when you hang around writers.) A UPS driver was making a delivery, and the shelves of his van were empty. Platoro is the end of the line.

The inlet to Platoro Reservoir, managed by BuRec for flood control, etc. It's quite low right now.
Above Platoro is Platoro Reservoir, and we continued past it to the Three Forks area, at the edge of the South San Juan Wilderness Area, where the stream was clearer, and I got into a few small trout while playing peekaboo with a herd of cows in the dense willows.

Rain clouds build above Platoro Reservoir.
And then it was time for the afternoon deluge, plus hail. Too much driving time versus fishing time.

(to be continued)

August 13, 2013

Monsoon on the Conejos (1)

We brought a screen for drying mushrooms.
The campground host's name tag said "Noah." That should have been a hint.*

M. and I set out Thursday for a camping trip to the Conejos River. I had looked at the stream flow online, and it was up from July's average, but I still had this picture in my mind from other late-summer trips: clear waters, a slight crispness in the air.

Just getting there had its moments. When we stopped in Antonito to get some snacks from the trailer, people driving by kept looking at us. Sure, Antonito seems a little insular, but why the stares?

Maybe it was because the Jeep and the pop-up trailer were liberally coated with mud.

Conditions on the Secret Cut-off Road had been worse than I had expected. Seeing the trailer in the rear-view mirror going sideways is unsettling. All I could think was, "This would be worse if I were going downhill."

We kept going and later in the afternoon reached the Forest Service campground that was our destination. About 5:30 p.m. it started raining. That would be the pattern: two-hour downpours each afternoon or evening.

But with a hot meal, wine, a good book, and a Coleman lantern, all was good.

Friday morning I got up (mist-filtered sun), put on hip boots, and walked to one of my favorite fishing spots. The river looked like chocolate milk. A tributary stream was re-enacting the June run-off.

Walking back to the campground, I picked a few mushrooms. That would be the theme.

(to be continued)

* No, there was no name tag. I am joking.