April 30, 2015

Colorado Ghost Towns You Never Saw?

How to write a clickbait title: "Five Colorado Ghost Towns You Probably Never Knew Existed."

Except that one of them is St. Elmo, which even has highway signage. Hasn't everyone in central Colorado been to St. Elmo?

So let's call this "Four Colorado Ghost Towns . . . and St. Elmo."

I give the Gazette credit for mentioning "coal towns abandoned when the coal, or need for it ran out," but the "coal camps" never make it into the books. (Sandra Dallas, I'm looking at you.)

Coal is dirty? Too many coal miners spoke Italian or Slovenian? 

How about a hashtag, Twitter users? #coalcampsmatter

April 28, 2015

Bear 1, Scout Camera 0

I went to check the scout camera nearest to the house on April 25th, and as I approached, I saw it lying on the ground. Apparently a brief series of events took place the day before.
Here was a trail through the scrub oak, pine, and Douglas fir. Nothing happening, it would seem — but something had tripped the infrared sensor.
A minute and a half later. But wait, the camera has been turned 180 degrees! This must be the perpetrator, a bear shedding its bleached winter coat. It just smacked the camera as it walked by?
Uh-oh. It came back.
And now the camera is facing another direction. And then — not shown — it's on the ground, with the mounting bracket broken.

OK, so I have ordered another "bear box" security box from an eBay seller that will fit not this camera but another model.

Yet other bears at this same location have paid the camera no attention while acting a little goofy. They are individuals.

April 27, 2015

"ATF" in Florence

There is an Internet meme to the effect that "ATF should be a convenience store, not a government agency." You can buy the T-shirt.

Down in Florence, Colo., that is almost true.

April 26, 2015

A Question of High-Altitude Terminology

I saw Marie Arana's biography of Simón Bolívar on the library shelf, and realizing that I knew only the minimal facts about him, checked it out. It's a good read.

At one point in 1819, he is leading one of his small, ragged armies (including some British soldiers of fortune) from Venezuela into New Granada — today's Colombia — which means crossing a 13,000-foot Andean pass in the Páramo de Pisba, with a plan of attacking Spanish forces an unexpected direction.

Arana writes,"As they rose into thinner air, the icy wind and hyaline numbed some minds, clarified others."

Psychology aside, I thought, what is "hyaline"?  "A substance with a glossy appearance," says Wikipedia. Does she mean the same as verglas or black ice? (I picked up verglas as a kid while reading Dad's Road & Track magazines —  Coloradans usually say "black ice.")

Mountaineering friends, do you ever speak of "hyaline"?

Meanwhile, eight years since the declaration of the first republic of Venezuela, we are now up to the second. A three-cornered war has raged — the Spanish, the mostly white Creole revolutionaries  (Bolívar's class), and the third force of ex-slaves, mixed-race people, Indians, and poor rural whites who are not so much pro-Spanish as they are opposed to replacing the old ruling class with a new one that looks much the same.

Bolívar blows his first chance for American aid when he orders the execution of eight hundred Spanish prisoners held in a fort, which does not go over well with President Madison. (And then the War of 1812 complete distracts the United States.) There is much genocidal massacring going on, leaders and soldiers switching sides to their own advantage — imagine the American Revolution with not one but multiple Benedict Arnolds.

At least, for his second try, Bolívar realized that he had to free the slaves, even though it meant many of his own social class lost their labor force.

April 25, 2015

Blog Stew Built from Stone

• Bishop's Castle, the hand-built fantasy castle that has become a southern Colorado icon, has a new owner—or not. There are complications. If you are on Facebook, there is this.

• "Bent on Birding," a combination birding and historical-prehistorical tour of Bent County in SE Colorado, is coming up.

• Another argument that despite all the dead trees you see, bark beetles do not increase the risk of forest fires. 

Current Drought, Snowpack Conditions in the West


As we await the formation of another "Albuquerque low" and with it some upslope rain and snow on Sunday and Monday, here is the situation as of two days ago.

April 14, 2015

Don't Give Red Nectar to the Hummingbirds

Female broad-tailed hummingbird (U. of Georgia)
The first bold broad-tailed hummingbird arrived on the 10th, and for once I already had sugar water mixed up (4:1 water to sugar) and waiting in the fridge.

Here is why the people at The Birding Wire say you should not dye it red:

• It has NO purpose - Most hummingbird feeders you can buy have enough red color on them to attract hummingbirds without the need for red dye in the nectar. If there is no red on your feeder, simply tie a piece of red flagging, rope, or fabric to it.

• Red dye is typically petroleum based - The dye in colored nectar is red dye #40. Red dye #40 is now made mostly from petroleum, which is not good for any animal to ingest!

And a couple more. Read the whole thing.

 Besides, the sugar water comes in handy when you need to make a quick Birder's Margarita.


April 11, 2015

Are Recycled Freight Pallets all that Green?

There is something about freight pallets. All that wood — it must be good for something.

As a grad student with a fireplace, I would pick them up for free at the city dump — and than I would come up against a problem. If your only tools are a handsaw and a claw hammer, it takes a lot of time to break one up, and the reward is not all that much firewood.

About that time I visited some Cree Indians living near Great Falls, Montana. This man had a big sweat lodge out behind his house, and he had a good source of freight pallets.

So he would stack them about chest high, set rocks on top, and toss some gasoline at the base of the pile. Add fire, whoomp!

Drink a little coffee, and then you had a bunch of hot rocks sitting in the ashes. People would strip down, crawl into the sweat lodge, and the fire keeper would carry in some rocks on a shovel. Commence lengthy prayers in the Cree language.

That is one thing to do with them.

Then M. is thinking about building some raised garden beds, protected with hardware cloth from the insidious gophers. She mentions this to a neighbor who also has a good source of freight pallets at his workplace, and he drops off about half a pickup load.

In the comments of that site are people worried about chemicals and bacteria in the wood. Hello, we're building garden beds to be filled with dirt. Dirt is full of bacteria, mostly good stuff. But there those people are, wiping down the wood with bleach. M. would be more upset at having bleach in her garden.

And every time I hear someone worry about chemically treated wood in freight pallets, I wonder, have they ever handled some? They are BUILT CHEAP. Some wood looks recycled, other looks like discards from a lumber mill. Who worries about treating something that is basically a disposable product?

Maybe on their planet you find heat-treated pallets. I never see them.

The other problem is that the cheap, untreated wood splits easily, and prying it loose from those spiral nails that a lot of pallet-builders use causes more splits. Many cross pieces are not even truly rectangular. So a lot of the pieces end up in the firewood stack.

And that brings me back to the beginning. Even with a power saw, I'm cutting and stacking and realizing, once again, that there is not that much volume of wood in a freight pallet. But there it is, and it's free.  It fills that space between kindling and actual firewood chunks.

April 10, 2015

Royal Coachman

Royal Coachman (The Fly Shack)
Fidget. Eyes sticky/watering from hay fever. I have a long paper that I am supposed to be editing for an academic journal, helping the author whip the prose into shape.

Fidget. I write an email to a friend, mentioning that I am truly in editorial mode today.

But instead I walk ten minutes up into the national forest to check a scout camera. It has thirteen images, but I have forgotten to bring a new data card to swap. Looking around, I see fresh turkey droppings.

And on the way home, I hear a turkey gobbling right up where I took Fisher on his walk this morning.

Fidget. Internet. Nap. M. comes back from a trip to the grocery store, and I tell her that since her Jeep's engine is warm, I would like to borrow it and go fishing.

Not far, just up the canyon, where I park and put a new leader on the 5-weight line. A package of tippet material in my vest says "Best used by November 2002."

Does that mean
  1. that I don't fish enough?
  2. that "use by" dates are meaningless on fishing gear?
  3. that I buy more supplies than I need, forgetting what I have?
  4. all of the above?
On the stream, I tie on a Royal Coachman — a little season-opening ritual in honor of my father — and I catch a a couple of tiny brook trout, which go back into the little creek. I demand at least a six-inch minimum on brookies.

At least they are back, after nearly being lost to drought. The beaver ponds, I think, act as refugee camps when the creek goes dry, but the trout do not get very big.

So I feel better now. Maybe I can start that paper after supper.

March 22, 2015

On the Road – The Arizona Jinx

Colorado River floodplain with the uncharacteristically misty Chocolate Mountains in the distance.
Another visit to Arizona is winding down, and again it seems like there is something here that wants to frustrate it.

The family-visit part was good; it is the hiking-and-birding parts that always go off the tracks.

Our 2006 trip took a sudden detour to the E.R. at St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson, as detailed in
"A Misadventure in Crotalia."

In 2010, a ranger-guided hike to the Bétatakin Ruin (you can't go on your own) at Navajo National Monument was aborted when another hiker injured herself, stopping the trip for everyone.

Last Tuesday, we drove our rented car into Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (named for the King of Arizona mine), bumped along some miles of gravel road, and finally found a pullout to park in. All ready to go hiking, I glanced at the left rear tire. It was flat.

The next ugly surprise was in the trunk. Of course there was no full-size spare tire, but Hyundai does not even give you a short-range "donut" spare. Instead, they provide a canister of tire sealant that attaches to a 12-volt electric air pump, complete with warning not to drive the repaired tire more than 10 km. or six miles. Right. There's a tire shop just down the hill, past the big saguaro.

So I pumped up the bad tire and, keeping it to 15–20 mph, drove carefully down to U.S. 95 (more than six miles), then dialed the car rental company's roadside-assistance number. I got through to a human being on the third try, and he was trying to locate us by triangulating my cell phone or something, because "Highway 95 north of Yuma, milepost ••" was too simple for him.

And then to wait, as a military blimp hovered overhead, a drone buzzed in the distance, and artillery thumped. Yes, we were now by the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, where "in a typical year, over 500,000 artillery, mortar and missile rounds are fired, 36,000 parachute drops take place, 200,000 miles (320,000 km) are driven on military vehicles, and over 4000 air sorties are flown."

When the tow truck showed up, about two hours after the original incident, the driver said that he had been given a location ten miles way, but he knew to call us himself.

By the time we had obtained a new car, it was tequila time.

• • • 
Muddy rental car.
Re-equipped with a Ford Focus, M., my sister, and I went to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday. This riparian refuge along the Colorado River is mainly about birds, with interior roads, overlooks, and hiking trails.

Did I mention that it was raining? Yes, in the area that get about three inches a year, it was raining. We ducked into the visitor center, where upon hearing M.'s question about a hummingbird seen outside,the staffer on duty immediately had his Sibley guide open to the hummer pages.

Phainopepla (Cornell Ornithology Lab)
It cleared off enough for us to walk a couple of miles, although the skeeters was fierce. And then we relocated to the Rio Loco Bar on the river at nearby Martinez Lake, where we could check out a few birds through the plate glass windows behind the bar.

We decided that that was a pretty nice place, so much so that we drove back out there after supper — because I had left my Sibley bird guide lying on the bar that afternoon.

One other question. The Phainopepla has no common name? Really??

March 18, 2015

Don't Be Alarmed! Keep Calm and Click On

Astute readers may have noticed that this blog's URL has changed. It is now www.southernrockiesnatureblog.com.

Maybe that will help in search-engine optimization.

Anyway, the cool kidz say it's cooler.

March 17, 2015

On the Road — By the Lower Colorado River (2)

YumaLanding1885.jpg
"Yuma Landing 1885" by George Rothrock (Wikimedia Commons).
The Colorado River today is not big enough for steamboats at Yuma, Arizona.
Today's walk came courtesy of an article in Orion, "Down by the River," written by Rowan Jacobsen.

M. and I were headed here anyway to visit my sister and brother-in-law, but we did not know that Yuma, Arizona, is a place where the tamarisk (salt cedar) invasion has been driven back significantly.
Few areas were hit harder [by tamarisk[ than Yuma, and the calamity went beyond the tremendous loss of biodiversity. In 1999, community developer Charlie Flynn took the helm of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which is part of the National Park Service’s program to foster community-driven stewardship of important natural or cultural landscapes. His task was to bring the riverfront back to life, but he found the area so overgrown with invasive tamarisk thickets that no one could get near the water, and in the few places where people could, they didn’t dare because of drug smugglers who used the abandoned waterway as a thoroughfare. “Once all the non-native vegetation grew up, it was the perfect breeding ground for drug traffic, meth labs, hobo camps, trash dumps,” Flynn explained to me. “You name it, it was down there. It was a no man’s land. People just didn’t go to the river. They were afraid to. Even the police hated going down there. You couldn’t see two feet ahead of you.”
Now you have people like us walking around with binoculars, excited to see birds that are probably commonplace here but not in so much southern Colorado — black phoebe, great-tailed grackles — and American coots, which are common enough in, for instance, the San Luis Valley, but I am not used to seeing little flocks of them walking around in city parks.

At least one of those hobos, whose road name was Lucky, gets his own interpretive sign. Found camping in the thickets, he took a job on the restoration crew and is credited with planting 5,000 trees.
Leveled and diked, some areas can be flooded with water pumped from the river.

Instant cottonwood grove, with drip irrigation.
Built in 1915, closed in the 1980s, reopened in 2002, the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge is the near one.
The farther bridge carries the railroad (BNSF and Amtrak).







On the Road: By the Lower Colorado River

(Credit: Cornell University)
Two Eurasian collared doves are having hot dove sex on a roof across the street — feathers float down — while others provide a raucous chorus. And there are mockingbirds. I must be back in southern Arizona.

Next: a trip to a historic battlefield in the War Against Tamarisk.

March 09, 2015

Blog Stew: I'll Eat my (Coyote Brown) Boots

 I have so many links to offer. Does anyone still click on hyperlinks? Here is a start, anyway.
Note crucial color difference.

• The Army is switching to "coyote brown" boots, just so you will know. "Desert tan" is just so Operation Enduring Freedom. Having the better boot color will aid the fight against Islamist terrorists.

• "Guntry clubs" — apparently this is a "thing" now, as people say on the Internet. "Savvy investors" are interested, says the Washington Post.

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry.

Me, I will stick with the Blood of Christ Shooting Sports Club.

• Hunting-angling-food blogger Hank Shaw on the dangers of trichinosis, particularly from eating bear meat.
It is a fact that bear and cougar meat are the most prominent vectors for trichinosis in North America. Pigs, which are what most people think of when they think of trich, are actually not commonly infected.
This is a link that you definitely should click.

It's March, and People Are Starting to Get a Little Funny

A neighbor posts in a local buy-and-sell group on Facebook:
I have several pickup loads of gently used snow I would part with at a very reasonable price. No deliveries. You haul. Message me fer details.