August 04, 2015

"Where Were You When the Dam Broke?"

Sketch by one of the Pueblo operators in 1921
Click over to Coyote Gulch, the water blog, for a short video and story about the failure of the Castlewood Canyon Dam and the subsequent flood in Denver, eighty years ago yesterday.

As so often happened in such disasters, it was the telephone operators who authorized themselves to make "reverse 911" calls, decades before such systems were invented.

(They still are not perfect. I remember once getting a 4 a.m. telephone call that was just "Ring . . . click." Fortunately, I could see the mountainside on fire from the bedroom window.)

On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. . . . Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property
That was back when you rang for the operator and got someone relatively local who could, at times, make decisions and show initiative.

Now we have 911 call centers — although your mobile telephone call does not necessarily go to the right one. For other telephone needs, you get somebody in India who is reading from a script.

The sketch was drawn by Wilma Cary, one of the Pueblo telephone operators who stayed on the job during the big flood of 1921.

July 29, 2015

Morning Rainbow


A morning rainbow near Hillside in the Wet Mountain Valley, taken in early June.

July 27, 2015

Four-legged Forager

Suillus americanus (Wikimedia Commons).
July rains brought a brief flush of Slippery Jack mushrooms (Suillus americanus) near the house. We don't see them every year; it takes wet weather to bring out the mushrooms in this ponderosa pine-Douglas fir-Gambel oak environment.

 I collected a few on morning dog walks for drying— they turn wormy very quickly, and many that look good are not. The flavor is OK, nothing special, but they are mushrooms and picking them fulfills the Hunting and Gathering Imperative.

But someone was watching.

Twice this morning Fisher the dog darted into the oak brush and started munching. He was after the mushrooms — and he does not care if they are dessicated and/or wormy. (We have to keep him away from screens of drying mushrooms at home.)

So this is another one of those dog-behavior conundrums. Does he like mushrooms naturally, or does he like them because they are People Food and hence higher-status than Dog Food?

M. says that he is a dog out of place (but then she says that a lot). If we had truffles, he could have easily been trained to find them.

Given his love for finding dead stuff in the woods, he could have been an outstanding corpse-searching dog too.

July 11, 2015

The Pinnacle of Outdoor Fashion Style

Osa Johnson checks her rifle on safari.
At the Frontier Partisans blog, Jim Cornelius suggests that the 1900–1930 period represented the pinnacle of outdoor wear, at least from the standpoint of style.
From safari boots to slouch hat — that’s the way a man oughta dress. Functional and classically stylish. You could walk down the street in 1915 or 2015 and the look is never out of style.
He praises the costumes of the 1985 movie Out of Africa (Robert Redford, Meryl Streep), but his heart is with Martin and Osa Johnson.
Now, Finch-Hatton and Karen Blixen are an interesting couple, “Out of Africa” is a fine book and a beautiful movie. But if you’re looking for an adventurous, stylish couple from the first half of the 20th Century, the go-to pair is without a doubt Martin and Osa Johnson. Way more compelling than Finch-Hatton/Blixen (and I always liked Bror Blixen best anyway).
"But where do I find those clothes today?" you ask.

Comes with waistcoat and britches.
Go to the Covent Garden area of London — and bring money. There you will find The Vintage Showroom, a vintage-clothing shop-cum-museum "covering the early mid 20th century and specialising in international work, military and sports clothing, classic English tailoring and country wear."  And also some contemporary clothing that invokes those days.

You can see, for example, this bespoke traveling suit, owned by a noted Egyptologist, perfect for crawling through tombs and temples.

July 10, 2015

Looking for the Gifts of Rain

Old cabins in the rain with broad-tailed hummingbird
On the 4th of July, walking in the Sangres, I found two boletes near the trail — and they were already a little past their prime. Then came more rain— five inches (0.25 Egyptian cubits) since Saturday — and further mushrooming was postponed, until last night, when M. and I thought we had a chance.

We wanted to check an area in the Wet Mountains that seemed promising for early, lower-altitude foraging, but about half a mile along, it started to pour.

We ended up at the old lodge, watching hummingbirds dart under the eaves while we had coffee and cherry pie.

RIGHT: The large mushroom is Agaricus silvicola,  I think, and if so, not edible.

Twenty years from now, whenever someone says "It's been a rainy spring," the retort will be, "This is nothing compared to 2015."

In one nearby town, the precipitation is at 209 percent of the average year-to-date figure. And the summer monsoon season is just beginning.

A double rainbow formed briefly over the lake, while anglers with inadequate rain gear walked past, heading for their cars or cabins.

July 05, 2015

Is a Off-the-Shelf Survival Kit the Best Approach?

I saw this "5-Day Survival Backpack" on sale in the grocery store in Westcliffe, and my first thought was that someone would buy and it and figure they were ready for an overnight in the Sange de Cristo range, if you count a Mylar blanket as "warmth."

Not enough water though.

Reconsidering, I thought it more likely to be the sort of kit you toss behind the seat of your truck for emergency use. The maker promotes as an "emergency survival kit" as well. It lists at $79.99 but is available online for $50–70.

Could you make someething better for less than $50?

July 04, 2015

Only for Weather Nerds

If you live in Wyoming, the Black Hills, Colorado, or western Kansas and Nebraska, the most interesting weather forecast happens online, a service of the Geographical Area Coordinating Centers (now there is a bland and opaque bureaucratic name).

The "Daily Fire Fire Potential Briefing," a short mp4 video, talks a lot about relative humidy and wind but also serves well for forecasting weather in your area or where you plan to be going for outdoor activities.

Admitedly, the narrator sounds like the most boring graduate student teaching assistant that you ever had in college. But the info is solid. (So was the TA's, probably.)

July 03, 2015

John Martin Reservoir is Full Again

Enjoy it while it's this way.
I have never fished John Martin, but I have tried it for waterfowling with mixed success. When it is high like this, you can find some cover and improvise a blind.

But when it is low,  the best areas are surrounded by a wide margin of boot-sucking mud. I wonder how far down the original bottom is under the the silt that has washed in.

News release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

HASTY, Colo. - The wet Colorado spring at John Martin Reservoir has allowed something that hasn’t been seen for quite a while: high water levels.

That means it’s a great time to visit the park. There’s plenty of room for boating in the reservoir that now spans roughly nine miles long and two miles wide. There's also 200-plus campsites and nearly five miles of hiking trails to explore.

Water levels at John Martin Reservoir are nearly seven times higher than levels last year. As of June 23, the reservoir had 276,000 acre feet of water, while last year at a similar time of year the reservoir held only around 30,000 acre feet.

"The reservoir hasn't looked like this in a long time," said Park Manager Dan Kirmer. "If you haven't been to the reservoir before or haven't been in awhile, you definitely need to come check it out."

Boat, picnic and fish at this peaceful oasis known for its wildlife. John Martin Reservoir is also considered a birdwatcher's paradise with almost 400 species documented in Bent County.

Beat the crowds and long lines at boat ramps at other reservoirs across the state and enjoy the open water at John Martin Reservoir. While the dock at the east boat ramp had to be closed, boats can still launch and both the east and west boat ramps remain open.

The reservoir is letting in water at a rate of around 3,900 cubic feet per second and is releasing at a rate of about 820 cfs, so the high water levels will remain for a while.

For more information about John Martin Reservoir State Park call 719-829-1801, or click here.

July 01, 2015

Where Lightning Strikes in Colorado

Click to embiggen
Now you know why Nikola Tesla built a laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899, right in the central red patch.

This map was created at the National Weather Service office in Pueblo, Colo., where its page includes links to more maps for the (48) United States (Florida wins!) and the world.
The maps of Colorado and the United Statea show the number of Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. . . . The lightning flash density maps of the world show total lightning activity, that is, Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning plus In-Cloud (IC) lightning.
All lightning flash density plots for the state of Colorado are calculated with a very high spatial resolution of 0.01 degree latitude by 0.01 degree longitude squares. This corresponds to anapproximate resolutionof 1 km squared for the state of Colorado. Data is from 1994 through 2011, excluding 2000.
 M. and made up our term, the "Pike's Peak Swirl," when thunderstorms would interfere with our old summer job of censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management in areas south and southeast of Pike's Peak. Or as the Coloado Springs Gazette puts it, "Why Is Pike's Peak a Giant Lightning Rod? Blame Denver. "
Moisture from the south tends to circle around Denver and slam back into the Palmer Divide, combining with heat generated by the Pikes Peak massif and its surrounding peaks, said Steve Hodanish, a meteorologist and lightning specialist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

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.