March 12, 2014

Backcountry Rendezvous Comes to Denver!

In just ten days I will be traveling to Denver for the annual rendezvous of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a conservation group that while still pretty new, punches above its weight.

Let me pass the mike to outdoor/nature writer David Petersen, who was present at the creation:
"What hunting desperately needs," one of us opined, "is a national grass-roots sportsman's group comprising outdoorsmen and women who are sufficiently enlightened to put ecological integrity above all else, including our own self-interests." 
Indeed, what we were daydreaming about was a nonprofit organization built firmly upon Aldo Leopold's "land ethic." By "land," Leopold meant what we know today as the ecology -- including wildlife, fish and their habitats. "A thing is right," Leopold's land ethic proposed, "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
You may not realize how revolutionary a statement that is. There are other good conservation groups that put ecological integrity first yet are still comfortable with hunting or fishing—I think Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited rank highly. TU in particular works to protect aquatic ecosystems that just happen to have Salmonids in them, which means most higher-elevation Colorado waters.

BHA's focus is protecting "backcountry" (not just designated draw-a-line-around-it wilderness areas) from disruptive motorized travel and anything else that negatively affects what lives there. And yes, these just happen to be good places to hunt and fish in traditional ways.

Dave continues,
And that's the briefest possible overview of how BHA came to be and who we are. Now let's fast-forward to March 21-23 -- next week! -- and the Red Lion Hotel Denver Southeast, where a now mature BHA with members in every state and several foreign countries, and 17 active chapters in the U.S. and Canada, is holding its third annual rendezvous and 10th birthday celebration. . . .
If you can't afford to spend the entire weekend with BHA members from all over America, you're most welcome to drop by on Friday evening, March 21, for kick-off events including a reception, vendor booths and displays, opening remarks by BHA Executive Director Land Tawney, dinner, and a get-acquainted "backcountry bash" featuring live bluegrass music.
 Here is a full schedule of events and registration information.

March 08, 2014

Blog Stew on the Scenic Railroad

After the June 2013 fire, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is reopening for limited hours. Meanwhile, the scenic train that goes from Cañon City up the gorge and back is upgrading and hoping to get its tourist riders back.
[Owner Mark] Greksa believes his yearly passenger counts will increase as he continues to add amenities. Last year, he let passengers pay to ride in the locomotive next to the engineer. He also eliminated the train's "concession car," which offered only vended foods to coach customers, and created a dining car where they can order hot food, and a "bar car" with bistro-styled tables. Food offerings include beef and buffalo items, organic chicken and a crafted pale ale, Royal Gorge Route Rogue, Greksa said. In the summer, the train will offer dishes made from rattlesnake, antelope and ostrich.
Managers at the national wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley are wondering if groundwater pumping rules will affect the areas flooded for sandhill crane habitat.GQ

GQ magazine runs another art-of-manliness story on being introduced to deer and elk hunting in Montana. Actually, it's not bad; it has a Chesapeake Bay retriever in it. (Hat tip: Suburban Bushwacker)

Most water from the Fraser River in Middle Park gets sent under the Continental Divide and into Denver's water system. Trout Unlimited, however, has worked out a new deal to protect flows for fisheries by regulating when the water is removed and how much.
The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout.
Me, I see the Fraser only when looking out the window of Amtrak's California Zephyr and thinking, "That looks really fishable in there." Maybe I should do something about that.

March 06, 2014

Blog Stew for Airport Survival

¶ News from the other America. A headline on the Reuters news site reads "Winter travel survival tips," and I am thinking, yeah, blanket in the car, something to eat and drink, warm coat . . . But the subhead continues, "Here’s what to do when your flight gets canceled." Get creative.

Some people suggest that you call the service desk and tell them you want to book an international, first-class flight, in order to jump to the head of the queue. And if the plane crashes, remember the Chilean rugby team.

¶ "After more than 30 years living in metropolitan Detroit, Kristen Schmitt moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont and now she's determined to make hunting part of her new life." So she started a blog, "City Roots to Hunting Boots." Just one post so far, on the sustainable/locavore food angle.

¶ A big solar plant is planned for Pueblo. Supposedly, the power produced "will be equal to the power used by 31,000 homes." No one ever comes back and checks those optimistic projections, however. At least it is next to an existing coal-fired plant, which means that transmission lines are already in place.

March 05, 2014

Now We're Talking about a Little Ice Age Again

This is not reported on the five o'clock news, but solar activity is declining.

A short video at the BBC, which I cannot embed, "Has the Sun Gone to Sleep?" explains what is happening—a possible return to the Maunder Minimum.
The Maunder Minimum [1645–1715] of course was a period of almost no sunspots at all for decades and we saw a really dramatic period where there were very cold winters in the northern hemisphere. It was a period where you had a kind of mini ice-age. You had a period where the Thames froze in winters and so on. It was an interesting time.
Another name for that period is The Little Ice Age. In the video, you hear researchers talking about phenomena "that we don't really understand." And about "a redistribution of temperature around the North Atlantic."

Full transcript here (scroll down).

March 04, 2014

A Piñon Canyon "Armistice"

The big news in southern Colorado back in the late 1970s was the Army's search for a new training area for mechanized troops.
Blue is the current PCMS, brown the proposed expansion area.
Green areas are the Comanche National Grasslands (Wikicommons).

Fort Carson, formed during World War II (at the begging of city fathers who wanted soldiers' pay spent in Colorado Springs), was created by expropriating ranch land to create the 137,000-acre military reservation.

But it was not enough anymore, the Army said. They wanted another training area close enough to shuttle units back and forth. Various locations were suggested: South Park, the San Luis Valley, the High Plains.

The High Plains "won," and a new round of condemnations created the 235,896-acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site along the Purgatory River.

Some landowners took the money and ran, while others fought futilely against the federal government.

It's possible to hunt on PCMS, and my friend Eric and I took advantage of that to explore various archaeological sites, old and new. I remember walking into an abandoned house in the late 1980s and finding, for example, a 1977 Sears Roebuck catalog still lying on a kitchen counter, while kids' toys littered the living room floor. It was a sad scene.

At the same time, I had to admit that Army ownership gave those of us who jumped through a couple of bureaucratic hoops opportunities to explore country that we never could have entered before.

The Army's civilian wildlife specialists kept windmills pumping water for deer and antelope and lobbied to keep training activities out of "sensitive areas." One of them told me that they would mark off small wetlands, for example, with engineer's tape, and the troops were supposed to treat them as "minefields."

An area containing the now-famous dinosaur trackway was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and opened to the public.

But generals kept hinting that they needed still more land — more than 400,000 acres — and local residents lobbied Colorado politicians to stop that. Homemade signs saying "This land is not for sale to the Army" went up in Otero, Las Animas, and other counties.

Late last November (I missed this at the time), the Army backed down.
At the urging of Sen. Mark Udall, a Boulder County Democrat, Army Assistant Secretary Katherine Hammack used the paperwork equivalent of a wooden stake to kill expansion plans for the 235,000-acre training site.

"It's kind of an emotional moment," said Las Animas County Commissioner Gary Hill, a rancher and neighbor of the training area who has been at war with the Army over expansion for years.
The Army's reason is that fewer troops means less need for training. But then they would never admit that the years of bad publicity, political conflict, and hard feelings mattered.

Furthermore, generals and assistant secretaries come and go, but the expansion plan, once written, can last for decades.

March 02, 2014

One Frosty Morning

The forces of fog advance toward the house.
Hoarfrost on Gambel oak.
Yesterday felt like a clash of the weather titans. When I woke up, the air was foggy and the temperature about 20° F. I put on a warm jacket and took Fisher on the road climbing into the national forest. In little more than two hundred yards we had climbed out of the fog, and at the top of the first low ridge, it felt twenty degrees warmer.

All day, a warmer westerly breeze fought the fog advancing up from the plains. (Sort of like the California coast if you substitute the High Plains for the Pacific Ocean.) In the end the fog was triumphant, giving us something that we see only once or twice a year — hoarfrost.

Today the sun broke out, illuminating the frost.

The driveway.
Mixed pines and juniper.
If I had taken the last photo an hour later, I would have heard the Clock of the Cranes — a flock of sandhill cranes overhead, the first of the season here that I have heard.

They were at Monte Vista NWR a few days ago, where they will be "Celebrating Spring in the Valley of the Cranes" next weekend, March 7th–9th.

February 22, 2014

Drought Monitor, February 18, 2014

This is a screen shot. Go to the original site and you can select regional maps and see down to the county level.

February 21, 2014

Gold Medal Water versus Over the River

In January, the Colorado Div. of Parks and Wildlife named much of the Arkansas River a Gold Medal stream, a designation given to the state's best fishing waters.
The Gold Medal reach is 102 miles long from the confluence with the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River, near Leadville, downstream to Parkdale at the Highway 50 bridge crossing above the Royal Gorge.

The designation has been 20 years in the making, and although anglers have enjoyed the improved conditions for years, it is an official acknowledgement of the myriad efforts undertaken by state and federal agencies to turn an impaired river into one of the most popular fishing destinations in Colorado.
Now Rags Over the River (ROAR), the group opposed to ze artiste Christo's "Over the River" plan to hang plastic sheeting over several miles of the river, is trying to use that Gold Medal designation to leverage a new environmental assessment.
“Gold medal designation is an extremely high standard for any body of water to meet. The art project threatens to seriously affect the Arkansas River’s important and sensitive fishery and the ability of anglers to access the river,” [ROAR's Joan] Anzelmo said.
Christo's people say otherwise. A lawsuit is still pending. Christo is 79, so one imagines certain actuarial calculations at work.

February 20, 2014

Mountain Snow Pack, February 1, 2014

Snow levels in central and northern Colorado are good (I can attest to that after last weekend's trip). Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges still way low.

February 19, 2014

Testing Tipis in the Jet Stream

16-man tipi and woodpile (Photo: Jamie Marchbank)
The sociologist of religion Peter Berger is known for his 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. I was thinking about it Friday night as I lay in the snow just outside the Eagles Nest Wilderness, as the Jet Stream ripped across the Gore Range.

Berger writes, "The sheltering quality of social order becomes especially evident if one looks at the marginal situations in the life of the individual, that is, at situations in which he is driven close to or beyond the boundaries of the order that determines his routine, everyday existence"

Such as winter camping, for example — definitely not part of my everyday existence.

Ira Chernus, a religious-studies professor at CU-Boulder, summarizes what Berger means by "the canopy":
What we want more than anything else, according to this sociological view, is to be in balance--to have a permanent stable order in our lives, so that we can predict both the environment and the responses to it that we and others around us will choose. Society's main project is to create this sense of stable predictable order and to make all of us believe in it, although in fact it is always a false illusion.
We want a stable order, yes, which means that the tent stays up. But in one sudden 60 mph-or-higher blast, the high-tech "16-man" cooking/dining tipi, centerpiece of the annual Colorado Kifaru Winter Rendezvous, has simply vanished — and I lay in my sleeping bag, looking up at an angry murky sky, semi-illuminated by the Moon.

The canopy, sacred or otherwise, was gone. Stability was a false illusion.

Up, out of the sleeping bag, pulling on my boots, I made sure that the fabric had not snagged on the wood-burning stove — now tipped on its side — that still held a few embers.

Plan A, check with Kevin, my near neighbor, who had an "8-man" tipi set up. I turned that way and—where was the tipi? It was down too, and its stove had tumbled a pot of melting snow onto his sleeping bag. Luckily, the temperature was only slightly below freezing, and so Kevin had covered his sleeping bag with a bivvy sack, zipped it up, and planned to deal with everything in the morning.

Since I had no bivvy sack, my Plan B was to wrap up in the tent fabric like a human tamale and wait out the night. 

Then I saw a head lamp moving over in another direction. Another tent was down. It was Eric's, and he had room, so I traded help in re-rigging his small tipi for shelter space. By shoveling snow around the edges, we cut down on the ground blizzards that were moving through the tent.

Kifaru's tipis should have stood up to that wind, and in fact, not every one of them went down. For the big tent — maybe the others too – I blame the fact that it was erected late in the afternoon, and the snow had not really set up around the long snow pins. We re-did it the next morning, making everything extra-taut and weighting down the edges with snow, and it did fine.

Eric cooking in the snow cave's vestibule.
But Eric had another idea: he had started a snow cave the day before, and on Saturday we spent another hour enlarging it to two-man capacity.

Snow caves are so quiet. You can hear yourself blink.

February 15, 2014

Disfigure that Peacock!

Now that you have the whole "murder of crows," "parliament of owls," etc. in your vocabulary — expressions probably never used by persons who actually dealt with crows and owls, but which, to use great-grandpa's expression, "smell of the lamp"* — let us move on to the culinary.

Just remember this: pigeons are "thighed," but quails are "winged," while hens are "spoiled." 

Or people teleporting in from the late seventeenth century will think that you are uncultured.

This reminds me, I think there is one grouse in the freezer. What do I do? Allay it?

* Odd expression? Well, dip a wick in some whale oil, light it, and smell for yourself.

February 11, 2014

A Red Fox with a Missing Tail

While watching birds out the bedroom window yesterday I saw this fox go by. Obviously something has sheared off part of its tail — a pursuing predator?

It walked to each of the sunflower feeders and checked for fallen seeds, then circled around the house and climbed the hill up into the trees.

The same fox.
I thought it seemed a little stiff in the hips, but was I projecting that, still thinking of the loss last month of Shelby, our arthritic old dog?

We watched it from the kitchen, and M. said something about the hard lives of wild animals.

I wonder if we will see it again.

February 10, 2014

In the Dust Bowl of 2014

There is nothing to see in eastern Colorado. It's all flat and treeless.
 Almost a month ago — January 18th — I took County Road 11 south from Manzanola, Colo., toward part of the Comanche National Grassland. I had driven nine or ten miles when something struck me — I had seen only one small herd of cattle, maybe six head, no more. The rest had all gone to the sale barn, apparently.

I was right about where the red arrow is pointing in the graphic from the United States Drought Monitor, and what was in theory a quail-hunting trip was, admit it or not, turning more into disaster tourism.

Outdoor writer Chad Love blogs from a location downwind of that location, and he has posted some photos that, once converted from color into black-and-white, evoke the Dirty Thirties.

I didn't photograph those six cows, nor the herd I saw somewhere on Colorado  Hwy. 10 grazing in the slanting sunset light in a pasture that was about half dirt, even though it would have been nice and National Geographic-y. Like something from East Africa.

Windmill on the national grasslands. Not pumping.
Fisher the dog and I took a walk around this windmill. There was no water in the tank, no bird tracks of any sort in the dust.

We drove on to another spot closer to the Purgatory River where there was a little water, but all we saw was a single mule deer slipping away. Very quiet. Very dry. Just a general sense of absence.

Chasing scaled quail involves a lot of a windshield time—and to be honest, I have done better in more agricultural areas, but this trip was degenerating into disaster tourism.

So I admitted that I was doing that, ate a late lunch of crackers and coffee, and drove around.

We drove past the Huerfano River Wind Farm outside Walsenburg—as usual for wind farms, not all the blades were turning—and Fisher got a piss break at Huerfano Butte.

And there is the mystery of those deserted commercial buildings on the gravel road in totally misnamed Apache City.

It was good to be back into the mountains and seeing snow.

February 06, 2014

They Walk Among Us

Over in Frémont County, a/k/a "Prison Valley" (photo essay), people must be extra-worried about other people walking down the road. Reading the sheriff's blotter in the Cañon City Daily Record, I keep seeing entries like these, from late January:
CR 123/Brush Hollow/Penrose, reporting party reported a male party going down the road waving his arms and talking to himself. Subject was contacted, and he was walking home from Walmart and was OK.

Colo. 115/Telck/Florence, report of a party dressed in black walking on the edge of the road. Deputy checked the area with no contact.
Maybe it is because every year there are a few actual escaped inmates wandering around, most of them caught fairly easily.

On the other hand,
Fremont Street, Penrose, deputy dispatched to check on a party acting strangely in his driveway. Party's behavior was part of his religious practice.
If he had a colander on his head, he would be a Pastafarian. Otherwise, we need more information!

February 05, 2014

Ancestral Air Produced Ancestral Maize

A wild grass from Mesoamerica called teosinte is accepted as the ancestor of maize/corn, but it does not look much like varieties of corn we know:
How teosinte looks today. (Wiki Commons)
The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.
But some greenhouse studies that replicated different atmospheric conditions resulted in teosinte growing more modern corn-like stalks and ears! According to one of the researchers,
“When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication. The environment may have played a significant, if serendipitous, role in the transition through inducing phenotypic plasticity that gave early farmers a head start.”