July 30, 2010

What is it about Zombies Anyway?

I don't normally cover the zombie beat, but you can download a podcast about preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

We are happy to be able to have Michael Culver, a member of Zombie Squad on the show to talk about disaster preparedness and give a few tips on how to survive a disaster short- and long-term. "If you can survive the Zombie Apocalypse, then a hurricane is just a breeze!"

In Wilmington, Vermont, it appears to have already started.

July 25, 2010

Waiting for a Train

Waiting for Amtrak's Southwest Chief, La Junta, Colorado.

Rejecting Air Conditioning on Principle

The New York Times describes a couple in the mysterious land of Kansas who actually live without air conditioning.

Mr. Cox does not seem to be the kind of man who would ruffle anyone’s feathers. But he has faced death threats since critically questioning the role of air-conditioning in contemporary life in an opinion article this month in The Washington Post. Sixty-seven pages of cringe-inducing e-mail messages followed. “Idiot!” one person wrote. Another threatened to shoot Mr. Cox.
 Their methods for staying cool sound exactly like those of my Kansas-born mother, only she was more concerned with saving money than avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions.

July 21, 2010

Right about Now ...

... M. and I should be boarding the big silver snake on our way to the Mysterious East, where I plan to harass the pickerel, perch, and trout of southern Vermont, check out some of the Green Mountain National Forest, and (this is for the geocachers out there), drop off some travel bugs, etc., that I have been hoarding since June.

I will try to blog if I find anything truly mysterious.

July 20, 2010

Asclepius Summer

Two members of the Asclepius (milkweed family) growing near the house: butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa spp. terminalis) and antelope horns (Asclepius asperula).

I had to look up the botanical names, being normally happy just to remember the genus.

Its name comes from Asklepios, son of Apollo and god of medicine.

Antelope horns is definitely an odd-looking wildflower, with its green-turning-white petals.

Butterfly weed is a mainstay of high-altitude xeriscape gardening, but this one is wild. Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on antelope horns in some areas.

July 13, 2010

A Uniquely Colorado Sport on Film

Over at Hardscrabble Times, Hal Walter mentions his appearance in Haulin' Ass, a documentary about the uniquely Colorado summer sport of pack burro racing.

He himself appears at about the 50-second mark.

A fairly small pool of male and female athletes not only run multi-mile courses at high altitude, but they do it while leading members of the species Equus africanus asinus.

In a nod to the donkey's role in old-time prospecting, each animal carries a pared-down version of a prospector's equipment kit.

The donkey cannot be ridden, it should go without saying.

Sometimes this partner goes along with the plan, and sometimes not. Many times the lead in a race has changed because one runner's four-footed partner suddenly decides against crossing a bridge, for example.

July 10, 2010

The Case Against Oil Shale--and For Other Alternatives to Oil

Popular Mechanics debunks ten "pernicious" energy myths "that could derail our progress—and one of them connects with Colorado:

Myth No. 8: U.S. Shale can Provide Energy Independence

Shale oil hasn't gotten too much attention since the oil crisis of the 1970s. But today, proponents are once again pointing out that there are more than a trillion barrels of oil locked in the shale deposits of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, more than all the proven crude-oil reserves on the planet. That would be enough to meet current U.S. oil demand for an entire century.

The problem, then and now, lies in the financial and ecological costs of extracting the oil. Shale oil naturally occurs in the form of kerogens, solid, waxy substances with a texture similar to that of ChapStick. Once the kerogens are heated to over 500 F, they exude hydrocarbons, which must be treated with hydrogen in order to be processed into usable fuel—a highly energy-intensive process that releases large amounts of CO2.

And just to get at these kerogens, energy companies would have to mine and process millions of tons of shale from the earth—leaving behind toxic heavy metals and sulfates that could seep into groundwater. "There's a water contamination issue," says Olayinka Ogunsola, an engineer at the Department of Energy. "There's also a land reclamation issue—[mining] would create a lot of disturbance in the area." Mining and processing shale also require vast amounts of water—producing 2.5 million barrels of shale oil per day would require 105 million to 315 million gallons of water daily. That might be the biggest deal breaker of all for parched western states.

I have had a hard time making that argument to people from the wetter end of the country, who see the numbers on potential barrels of shale oil and simplistically say, "Problem solved"

But read the whole thing—these are not green vs. growth choices. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

July 07, 2010

Shiraz for Smokey

Other than the Medano and Parkdale fires--both too far away for my little department to become involved with--it has been a quiet summer.

But now the thunderstorms are coming, and I got my first fire call about five o'clock this evening.

Smoke up the canyon at mile marker 20.

We rolled both of our trucks. T. picked me up in the brush truck, and we started up the highway. Mile marker 21--nothing. Mile marker 20--windows down to smell smoke, looking up the steep mountainsides--nothing.

We drove the brush truck, lights flashing, through an informal camping area, where there was indeed smoke hanging over campfires, no doubt alarming the campers, but saw nothing unusual.

It turned out that the smoke was much higher up the mountain than we were looking, by the time we learned its location. And a Forest Service guy arrived to say that their crew was coming. Given that the smoke was (a) on national forest, (b) not likely to threaten any homes, and (c) wa-ay up there in the thick timber on a north-facing slope, we were happy to load the shovels, fire rakes, etc back in the brush truck and go home.

Supper was waiting, and I toasted Smokey Bear in cheap Australian shiraz.

Meanwhile, there is a hazmat class this weekend.

July 03, 2010

More Bear Pictures from Close to Home

On Sunday, June 27, I placed another "camera trap" on a faint game trail on the national forest near our house.

On Monday the 28th I walked the dogs up the Forest Service road nearby. Fisher, the madcap young Chessie, went galloping up the road as usual, but Shelby, the older collie mix, was staying closer to me.

Then she was lifting her nose and staring up into a narrow little meadow. I looked too, and saw the head and shoulders of a bear up there in the oak brush, perhaps 80 yards away.

Since Shelby tends to forget what "Come" means when she is excited, I snapped a leash on her. Fisher came racing back, and I made him sit and wait for a few moments to give the bear time to move away.

Given the terrain, the bear probably was moving parallel to the road. I did not want the dogs to scent it and give chase--who knows what might happen? So I convinced them that they really wanted to go home and have breakfast.

Fisher did break and run up toward where the bear had been, but I whistled him back, and we went home without incident.

Today I retrieved the camera. Notice the time and date on the strip below the photos. They seem to show the bear first moseying toward the little meadow and then retreating after it encountered us.

I am going to rest this spot for a while, but I think it deserves another camera visit later. It's in thick cover, and I have seen no sign of anyone but M. and me ever walking up there.

July 02, 2010

The Siamese Bear

I broke my own rule last evening about not always keeping a long lens on my camera in case something wanders by.

In this case, it was an unusual blond bear, whose darker legs and face reminded us of a Siamese cat. I have never seen that color phase before.

But after getting two large barking dogs under control, it was all I could do to grab a couple of shots with the 55mm lens.

The bear was less than full-grown. M. and I will know if we see it again.

Suspected Colorado Wolves Were Coyotes, This Time

Scat gathered from a large western Colorado ranch that was thought to have some wild wolves turns out to have been deposited by coyotes instead.

High Country News, which had a big feature on the possible wolves, will be publishing an update.

As writer Michelle Nijhuis notes, the story is not finished, since other wolves have filtered down from Wyoming.

July 01, 2010

The Best Online Weather Forecast--for Colorado

I have decided that the best summertime online weather forecast is not from the National Weather Service, nor the Colorado Springs TV stations, nor Accuweather or Weather Underground nor any other commercial site.

During fire season, I go to the Rocky Mountain Area Fire Potential Outlook weather briefing.

Narrated by a serious, nerdy sort of voice (definitely not a broadcast media major), it gives more detail about what is going on than do any of the television meteorologists.

The focus is on Colorado and Wyoming, but you can also see what is happening large-scale in New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

It looks like southeastern New Mexico is getting some moisture flow from Hurricane Alex, but that flow is being blocked from our area, unfortunately.

June 28, 2010

It's a Banner Year

Golden Banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa) in the Wet Mountains
For more on gardening with native plants, including golden banner, visit this site maintained by the Colorado State University herbarium.

June 23, 2010

A Quick Bigfoot Retrospective

I could be blogging about the latest fire--started by the Royal Gorge tourist train, we are told--but it is thirty-plus miles away, and the smoke is going a different direction. (And my little fire department has not been been summoned and probably will not be.)

So let's have a Bigfoot round-up.

What prompted this was a recent piece about a North Carolina man who said that a bigfoot responded to his predator call.

The real question, however, is why J.R. Absher wrote, "Self-proclaimed North Carolina mountain man."

Back in my newspapering days, I was told by an editor that we used "self-proclaimed" to distance ourselves from a descriptor that might otherwise be considered libelous. (The example was "self-proclaimed witch" for a follower of the Wiccan religion.)

So "mountain man" is libelous? Or is the writer just questioning Peeler's credibility?

During the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Colorado rendezvous two weeks ago, the topic of Bigfoot came up again, as it might when you're walking through a thick stand of lodgepole pine amid wisps of fog.

Here is one originally from the Denver Post  seven years ago: "Legitimate scientific study of legend gains backing of top primate experts."

Another piece from 2001 by the same writer, Denver Post environmental reporter Theo Stein, mentions huge footprints along Colorado's Eagle River. (Stein is now communications director for the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, which is officially mum on Bigfoot.)

This Bigfoot site has quite a list of articles.

When it comes to giant hairy primates, I am firmly agnostic. People who spend more time in the woods than I do have "seen stuff."

The late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, made the case for a creature occupying somewhat the same ecological niche as a bear--but more nocturnal--in his 1992 book Big Foot Prints.

Krantz taught at Washington State University, and his evidence and arguments pertained mainly to the rainy Pacific Northwest  forest.

But I cannot imagine a flesh-and-blood giant primate living in the harsher climate of the Rockies without the ability to enter a state of near-hibernation like a bear, because there is not much for an omnivore to eat in the winter time. No other primate does that.