July 19, 2011

Places Where You Can See the Stars

An interactive map of locations with dark enough skies to really see the stars. Another reason to appreciate the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

July 18, 2011

Iran Fashion for Pet Dogs Collides with Official Islamic Morality

Says one Iranian wannabe dog owner, "After a while I didn't know if I was buying a dog or dealing in an international drug trade."

And then if you walk your dog in public, you're in trouble.

Rocky Mountain Low

Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states lead in suicides. No one knows why, but they trot out various explanations. Is because too many non-suicidal people live here?

ADDED: National parks also attract those who wish to die in beautiful settings.

July 16, 2011

A Meeting on the Trail


Last Monday, M. and I bought some land adjacent to our home. It came with a sort-of cabin on it. There is a long story behind the purchase, almost twenty years' worth, so let me just say that I wish the cabin were not there—and perhaps some day it will not be.

Now that we own the land, I plan some year-around camera-trapping up there. This was my first sort-of good picture: a mule deer doe meets an immature gray fox on a game trail just before dawn two days ago.

July 12, 2011

Industrial Detritus of the Wet Mountains



Southern Colorado's Wet Mountains in the foreground and middle distance, with the Sangre de Cristo Range farther away. The Wet Mountain Valley separates the two ranges.


Looking north. 
The Wet Mountains are older than the Sangre de Cristo range. Unlike the Sangres, they were not glaciated the last time that ice was here. (Illustration courtesy of Prof. Wayne Anderson, University of Northern Iowa.)
Multiple episodes of glaciation and deglaciation occurred in the towering Sangre de Cristo Range during Pleistocene time. No glacial deposits have been recognized in the Wet Mountains, probably because they were too low in elevation for glacial ice to accumulate.
They do, however, grow trees well, particularly white fir and ponderosa pine. Serious logging began in the 1880s and continued through the "get the cut out" years of the Reagan Administration in the 1980s.

Here is a place I often visit, which appears to be the site of an early twentieth-century sawmill. Earlier mills tended to be at canyon mouths or a little ways up a canyon, whereas this one is higher on a mountain and was probably accessed by motorized transport rather than horse-drawn.

Scattered timbers on an artificial terrace mark the site of a narrow, rectangular building—the sawmill itself?

One of several can dumps. I noticed tobacco (e.g., Prince Albert) cans and condensed-milk cans among them. Many appear to have been opened expeditiously with a knife or screwdriver.

I first saw this rusty tank about twenty years ago and thought it was the boiler for a steam engine that presumably ran a saw mill. Now I am not so sure--it has no tubes inside and no fittings for water. Anyone have an idea? Some other sort of water tank?

A more recognizable collapsed building—a bunkhouse? The roof is made from milled lumber, so as with the trash dumps, I tend to think it is early-twentieth century.

The site was evidently occupied for a while. There is no evidence of mining—this was outside the mining district that centered on Silver Cliff and Rosita.

July 09, 2011

Woodpecker Taxi

Sapsucker hatching held by rehabilitator Nancy Kelly.
The sapsucker hatchlings were still in the tree trunk, but the tree was no more.

When the telephone rings at 5 p.m., it seems to be always either a fire call or a wildlife-transport call.

This call involved some hatchling woodpeckers—probably red-naped sapsuckers or possibly yellow-bellied sapsuckers—I am not enough of a birder to tell at that age.

The story starts with someone from the Denver suburb of Littleton who owns a cabin in the Wet Mountain Valley.  They came down for the weekend yesterday, bringing some aspen logs they had cut (somewhere else?) for firewood. Or did they cut aspen there at their cabin? I'm not sure.

The nest was in a cavity in one chunk of wood. OK, they did not know about the nest when they cut that dead aspen down. But then apparently their reaction was, "Oh well. Just let 'em die."

Someone else—friend or neighbor—would not let that happen. The length of aspen trunk with the peeping hatchlings inside ended up at the office of a veterinarian in Silver Cliff.

The vet is not a bird vet. She tried contacting the local district wildlife manager. He was away. She talked to the Forest Service staffer at the FS work center next door. He suggested that she call the Sanders, the rehabbers we often deliver to.

"We don't do birds," they said, and referred her to a rehabber in Pueblo who does. Whereupon our telephone rang.

M. and I rushed through supper and then headed for Silver Cliff. All down the canyon and across the prairie to Pueblo, the Jeep was full of a cheeping sound like someone sharpening a saw with a very small file.

UPDATE, February 11, 2012: It turned out that the hatchlings' yellow color fooled us all. They grew up to be hairy woodpeckers instead, and here are more photos from rehabilitator Nancy Kelly's site.

The Bosworth Fire Trencher: Another Bright Idea

The Bosworth Fire Trencher being demonstrated in the Black Hills National Forest in 1939.

Back in the days of "Fire: Enemy of the Forest," the Bosworth was touted as a useful tool. Funny thing, you don't see them now—just firefighters with hand tools or, in some circumstances, bulldozers and tractor plows. From a late-1930s report on firefighting on the Shoshone National Forest in western Wyoming:
New improvements are being constructed in the never-ending fight to prevent or quickly control forest fires. Equipment, such as the Bosworth fire trencher, is being developed. This is a small machine which is guided by an operator and motored by a marine engine. The motor propels a series of steel lugs which kick out dirt and debris and speedily clear a fire trail down to mineral soil.
This tiller-type tool might have worked in the Black Hills, where many slopes are not too steep and you do not have any type of inter-rooted scrub oaks to contend with, just nice, straight-trunked ponderosa pines. How well it handled rocks I do not know.

In 1939, Dad was just out of forestry school at Fort Collins and engaged in his ill-fated attempt to become an Army Air Corps pilot at Randolph Field, San Antonio. A year later he was back into forestry—were he still alive, I would have asked him if he ever had encountered the Bosworth Fire Trencher. Probably not, I suspect.

I like the way that the operator is dressed: hat, leather jacket, twill trousers—classic. What Indiana Jones was imitating.

July 08, 2011

Firefighting with Steam

A week ago, I felt that I was posting too much about fire. But I maybe I should just "embrace the suck," as they say in the Army, and blog about fire. After an inch of rain yesterday, I feel briefly optimistic.

So now for something completely different. Steam-powered fire engines--not generally used in wildland fire-fighting.

I used to see photos of these smoke-belching affairs drawn by horses (and by motorized tractors for a brief time in the early 20th century) and wondered how they operated.

Thanks to (a) dedicated tinkerers who like to restore old machinery and (b) YouTube, you can see how it went.

First video: Atmosphere. An 1890s fire battalion in Brooklyn, N.Y., leaves the house (sound added in recent years, clearly).


Next, some historical and technical background:


Finally, a modern demonstration of a steam-powered pump, this one originally run to ruin during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (the speaker says "1909," but that's a slip of the tongue). The operator had to stay fully attentive to the engine at all times!


One question still remains: I understand that the horses were stabled next to or behind the apparatus, trained to come out of their stalls and stand in position while the harness was lowered onto them. But since you could not have unvented coal fires burning inside the station house, how did they get quick ignition?

Maybe the coal was pre-soaked with kerosene, and one man tossed in a match while the horses were being harnessed. Time spent heating the boiler hot enough to make steam was always the limiting factor when minutes were precious. Otherwise, in terms of volume and pressure, the steam-powered pumps did well.

July 07, 2011

Passing of Anne LaBastille

Wildlife ecologist and conservationist Anne LaBastille has died. She was 75.
LaBastille was an outspoken proponent of environmental conservation whose book Woodswoman reached a national audience and served as inspiration for legions of women interested in the outdoors. At the same time she was a controversial Adirondack figure who served as Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioner from 1975 to 1993, a tenure that showed her to be a tenacious defender of the wild character of the Adirondack Park.
Besides the important of Woodswoman to women interested in the outdoor life, she had a Colorado connection too: "She left Cornell to attend graduate school at Colorado State University where she received an M.S. in wildlife management in 1961. Her master's thesis was An Ecological Analysis of Mule Deer Winter Range, Cache la Poudre Canyon, Colorado."

July 05, 2011

We May Hear More Claims Like This over Wind Turbines

An English farming family is going to court over the noise from wind turbines near their home.

Granted, North America has more wide-open spaces for turbines, but I could see something similar happening here too.

Meanwhile another  British study shows that the real money in wind farms is not so much selling electricity as it is selling the "renewables obligation certificates" to owners of fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Quite often windy periods come when demand is low, as in the middle of the night. Wind power nonetheless forces its way onto the grid, as wind-farm operators make most of their money not from selling electricity but from selling the renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) which they obtain for putting power onto the grid. Companies supplying power to end users in the UK must obtain a certain amount of ROCs by law or pay a "buy-out" fine: as a result ROCs can be sold for money to end-use suppliers.
And that comes from a study funded by the John Muir Trust.

Mega-renewable energy projects seem to be mostly about gaming the system, whether it's wind turbines in Scotland or huge solar projects in American deserts, built because the voters demanded "green energy," and big utility companies build big projects.

Solar panels belong on the end users' rooftops.

July 04, 2011

A Smokin' Hot Wedding Anniversary

Sunday was our wedding anniversary, and we planned a small celebration—a hike in the Wet Mountains followed by pizza.  (Hike photos to follow.)

On the way into Silver Cliff for the pizza, a sheriff's SUV, running hot, passed us going the other way. "Car or motorcycle wreck down the canyon," we think.

Then another sheriff's car goes by, lights flashing. No big deal. As we parked at the pizza place, a Forest Service pickup marked "Fire" heads east too, lights flashing. Did the wreck start a fire? But when someone wrecks on the national forest, the FS usually checks just to be sure—I know this from experience.

We order and are having drinks when two wildfire crew vans and a brush truck, all from Utah, go past. "OK," we said, "Those guys must have been on the Duckett Fire, and now they demobilizing."

(Those are the same vehicles we would soon find parked in our tiny meadow.)

Then we start home, in the same direction as all the emergency traffic. The sky is full of broken clouds. Is that smoke? No, it's a cloud. . . .a few miles on . . . "It's smoke." "Maybe it's south of us  . . . "

Of course it is not south of us. My mind goes into a tunnel, not thinking, just driving (floating down that "river in Egypt").

A water drop this morning--photo from my porch.
There is a roadblock at the first turnoff. I flash my county firefighter ID, say I live up that way, while M. is shouting across the seat, "Our dogs are there!" Same thing again at the next turnoff, where the San Juan Hotshots are resting by the road, faces black like old-time chimney sweeps'.

Home. Into my wildland fire clothes, then packing a few things—I try a couple of radio frequencies until I get one of our guys. "We're just parked up here on the saddle on stand-by," he says.

I ask him to radio me if the fire comes where he is, because I don't always trust the sheriff's Reverse 911 system—it has missed us before.

Again I hook up the camping trailer, load Fisher's kennel crate, my computer, etc.

M. goes to check the neighbor and hears how the rich doctor with the nearby hobby ranch had staggered to her door, head bleeding, saying only "Plane down. One dead." Her home health-care aide had driven him to a hospital.

We had seen the bright yellow biplane overhead that morning and thought nothing of it. Apparently the crash started the fire.

Another of my department calls me on the radio—he has the water tended parked where our property meets the national forest, so I walk up there and help with refilling the brush truck as needed—its crew now involved with stopping the fire where it has spread along the Forest Service road.  Mainly we hang out, swap stories, listen for updates.

And we watch the air show. Three tankers are in the crowded airspace: a small, single-engine model; a C-130, and an old P-2 Neptune (I think), plus heavy helicopters and spotter planes. At one point it appears the C-130 pilot aborts a slurry drop to miss hitting a helicopter, but we cannot hear them talking, so we do not really know.
At dusk, the engines are coming out.
At dusk the wildland fire engines start coming out, but the hand crews' chainsaws are still screaming up on the ridge. The fire has run to the crest and started burning bigger trees that had survived 2005's Mason Gulch Fire. Soon after, I walk home.

Like a good blogger, I open a beer and start downloading my photos. M. comes and puts her hand on my shoulder. ""Dear," she says,  "you really don't have to plan anything so exciting next year."

July 03, 2011

Normally I Would Be Angry . . .

Fire crew trucks from Utah
. . . if someone parked in our meadow, but when it's firefighters, I can't complain. I was standing by our department's water tender when I took this. Yes, the fire was that close. More soon.

July 01, 2011

On Being Green but not Greener-than-Thou

Cat Chapin-Bishop admits that she is a little peeved with people who parade their green credentials, even as she and her family attempt to live a more low-impact life:
We’ve all met those types, haven’t we?  I call them the Buddhist earth-mother-with-a-trust-fund people.  If you’ve learned how to grow your own tomatoes, they’ve learned how to grow all-organic heritage tomatoes from an endangered variety that has twice the vitamin C of other tomatoes, and how to can enough of them to last them through the apocalypse.

And they do it all while wearing organic cotton yoga pants, grinding their own baby food, and never watching television or using deodorant–or needing to.  (That type of woman’s armpits never smell.  Except, possibly, very faintly of patchouli.)

I admit to being seriously intimidated by these mountains of serene competency.  I run into them all the time at farmers’ markets and at our local CSA–which is one of the reasons I like farm stands so much.  (They tend to be run by plump women in polyester, wearing out-of-fashion eyeglasses.  I love those women; they are Of My People. They remind me of me.
Read the whole thing here.