June 23, 2015

Is This How the Whole Dog Thing Started?

Ethiopian wolves hunt better with monkeys nearby — and then it is only an evolutionary eye-blink to women carrying Yorkshire terriers in their purses.

June 21, 2015

Walking with Dinosaurs at the Summer Solstice

Led by a white Forest Service pickup, the "auto tour" forms up.

What I think of when I hear "auto tour."
There is something old-fashioned about the phrase “auto tour”— as in Picketwire Canyonlands Guided Auto Tour — which suggests maybe a 1920 Studebaker Big Six “touring car” with the top down. Goggles and dusters absolutely required.

We were instead in M’s faithful 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and I was shifting in and out of 4wd low range all day long, mostly when descending steep, rocky, glorified wagon roads into the Puragatory Canyon.*

Seventeen vehicles full of people who had paid $15 apiece for adults started out; fifteen made it into the canyon. Flat tires were like a spreading virus — blame the sharp shale up top or the sharp rocks anyplace?

Friends in Pueblo set this up—we were supposed to have gone in May, when it would not have been over 100° F as it was on Saturday, but all tours were canceled due to wet weather. We still had to skirt a few mud bogs, but most of the roads were dusty. Very dusty. And there was little shade, and if there was, the piñon gnats were waiting.

The centerpiece of the tour is the famous dinosaur trackway, which preserves more than "1300 prints in 100 separate trackways  [along] a quarter-mile expanse of bedrock," to quote the brochure. And there are more waiting to be uncovered.

Credit for the discovery goes to a 1936 schoolgirl in the downstream hamlet of Higbee; some paleontologists made quick visits shortly after that — and then scientific interest languished until the 1980s when they were "re-discovered."

Scaled-down dinos play out the tracks' drama
Now there is signage, and a pilgimage to "the dinosaur tracks" has become One of the Things You Do in Colorado.

In the photo, our Forest Service interpreter-guide-wagonmaster has set down  Allosaurus and Apatosaurus models — placing them in the tracks made by real things in the muddy shore of a Jurassic lake.  At this spot, the carnivorus Allosaurus has stepped directly on the tracks of an apparent family group of large and small Apatosaurus browsers. The presumption is that it was stalking them.

Some smaller dinosaurs, Ornitholestes, also left their tracks. They too walked on their hind legs and weighed maybe 25–35 pounds.

As Anthony Fredericks wrote in Walking with Dinosaurs: Rediscovering Colorado's Prehistoric Beasts, "You don't have to be a dinosaur fanatic to enjoy this venture."

In fact, the different stops are like an experiment in temporal dislocation. While it is 150 million years ago at the trackway, at another stop, it is a few hundred years or a couple of millennia ago. At yet another, a 19th-century family cemetery holds the graves of New Mexican settlers who farmed from the 1860s to the early 1900s, while up the canyon, time has stopped in the 1970s, when the Army condemned thousands of acres to create the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. All of this in eight hours of dusty roads!
A juvenile hominin follows adults across the trackway by the Purgatory River. No Allosaurus is chasing him!
Kevin, our guide, held off on the "get out of Purgatory" jokes until it was time to do just that, for which I thank him.

*In Spanish, El rio de las animas perdidas in purgantorio (River of the lost souls in Purgatory); in fur-trapper French, Purgatoire; and in cowboyese, Picketwire. Named for members of a 17th(?) or 18th(?)-century Spanish expedition wiped out by Indians, an expedition that no one seems to be able to date or accurately describe. Nowadays often just called The Purg. But the name is old. M. is dismayed that the Forest Service has given its official blessing to "Picketwire" in its maps and signage on the Comanche National Grasslands.

June 04, 2015

The Conspiracy to Take Away Public Lands

John Gale from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers speaks to a rally
at the Colorado State Capitol in February 2015 (Durango Herald).




There is a threat to public lands in the West, and the mainstream media are largely igoring it. Even HighCountry News is ignoring it, but then HCN more and more  focused on California — that must be where the big donors are).

Unlike the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion of the mid-1980s, this is stealthier.

State legislatures in places like Colorado and Montana are seeing bills introduced urging that public lands administered by the federal government — Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, maybe even National Parks Service — be turned over for the states for management.

Doing so would be “more efficient,” “closer to the people,” whatever. The states, of course, would not be able to take care of them.

Can you imagine Colorado footing the bill for a bad forest fire season? Even my state representative, Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who strikes anti-Washington poses (“Personally, I would like to see the Feds out of the picture”) admits it:
If the Federal government were to give the land to the state of Colorado, how would we be able to afford the management costs?  I doubt that the Federal government would give back to the Colorado all the public tax dollars that are spent annually on those lands.  Not to mention the PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) dollars that are used by Colorado counties to fund essential services as well as education.  And, to sell and/or develop the land to afford to manage the land is like eating your seed corn...not a sustainable practice!
But this stealth movement keeps puttering along.

You can imagine the scenarios if a state with a lot of public land, such as Utah, got ahold of it. Everything would be wide open — even more than now—to leasing for drilling and mining. Wildlife, water quality, etc., would not be be merely in the back seat; they would be clinging to the rear bumper of the development-mobile.

Since the state always is short of money (roads! schools! Medicaid!) the pressure would be on to start selling. The buyers would line up:

(a) energy companies
(b) mining companies
(c) rich people wanting huge ranches (doubling as private hunting grounds
(d) other land developers

So who is bankrolling this movement. My bet is (a).

There has been some media coverage, but it is isolated. No one is connecting Montana with Colorado, for example.

Some sample headlines:

Colorado Wildlife Federation's "Public Lands Update":
Throughout the 2015 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, CWF defended public lands managed by the US Forest Service and BLM from two bad bills: Senate Bills 15-039 (an attempt to confer concurrent state jurisdiction over federal lands) and 15-232 (to study how the state could manage these lands). Both bills were rejected. Colorado, as well as other western states where similar bills have been proposed, does not have the financial resources or personnel to take over management of a huge additional 23-million acre portfolio of public lands that are managed by BLM and US Forest Service. The likely outcome from such transfers would be sales of some of these irreplaceable lands to private interests.
 "[MontanaGovernor Steve] Bullock Vetoes Federal Land Task Force Bill
"A careful reading of the bill … reveals that the transfer of public lands is still very much in the sights of the task force,” Bullock’s veto letter says. “My position on this issue is crystal clear: I do not support any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of our public lands heritage.”
If you backpack, hike, hunt, fish, look for mineral specimens, collect mushrooms, take photos, or do anything else on public lands, imagine losing that access. You would be no better off than a Texan.

May 25, 2015

A Last Chance to ROAR?

Opponents of zee artiste Christo's plan to cover miles of the Arkansas River with fabric have one more court date, and then they have run out of legal options.

Rags Over the Arkansas River, the organized opponents, are appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court after losing an earlier appeal:
The Court of Appeals on Feb. 12 rejected ROAR's request to reverse the Colorado State Parks' approval of Christo's plan to suspend fabric across 5.9 miles of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City. The group argued the parks division — now Colorado Parks and Wildlife — failed to follow its own regulations when it approved Over The River in 2011, a week shy of its merger with the Colorado Wildlife Commission, which opposed the installation.

The appeals court agreed that the parks division's decision to approve the project through a cooperative agreement instead of a special activities permit violated procedure, calling the permitting shift "arbitrary and capricious."
Christo has spent a lot on this project, but then he also makes mllions by selling drawings, documents, etc.,  related to his projects.

The motel owners have been salivating for years over this one. I am not sure what the owners of the whitewater rafting companies are saying. Maybe they think that people will line up to pay for the "greenhouse effect" of floating under the panels if the project is built. 

May 24, 2015

On Attracting and Repelling Bears

• Illegal campsites are usually trashy. Yes, that's a stereotype, but stereotypes have to come from somewhere. And when you have trash in the Colorado mountains, you have bears. Hungry bears. Bears that don't want you to get between them and the food.

Man gives bear the angry-hominid treatment in a Swedish forest  (You Tube).

I have been told that Eurasian brown bears, Ursos arctos artos, like North American black bears, are generally shy of people. Is that because they both primarily live in forests? (But some live on steppes, I know.)

Likewise, some argue that grizzly bears, Ursos artocs horribilis, which were originally found on the prairies (although often in riparian corridors) and polar bears have a "take no prisoners" attitude because they have nowhere to seek refugre if, for instance, their cubs are threatened.

Evolution or adaptation to pressure from humans?

Black bear mamas — and I have seen this a couple of times — will send the cubs up a tree and run away themselves. Whether that is for self-preservation or to lure away the perceived threatening agent, I will let someone else decide.

• If you have read this far, you too are fascinated by people's complex relationship with bears. One takeaway from David Rockwell's Giving Voice to Bear — which includes some northern European as well as North American cultural material — is that bear-hunting must be the most ritualized of all hunting.

More than any other animal, Bear is not only quarry but teacher. A great deal of "bear magic" is not just hunting stuff but herbalism. People say that they or their ancestors learned how to cure from watching bears — or from getting the power of bears.

But can bears teach them how to live in the woods?

May 15, 2015

Rainy Weeks Help Eastern Slope Snowpack

Click to embiggen.
I have not been diligent with the rain gauge, but according to the Wet Mountain Weather Facebook page, as of May 5th the foothills town of Beulah had gotten ten inches of precipitation (rain and snow melt) for 2015, which is higher than average.

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.