December 29, 2015

Bear with Me — There's More

Bear enjoying late-season tomatoes.
More links that I need to clear . . . 

• "The Hermit: New Mexico's First Mountaineer" — it's a story of religion, violence, penitence, and isolation, in other words, New Mexico.

• Some birds do well in cities and suburbs. How can we help them?

• We are told the decades of forest-fire suppression has led to hotter, bigger files. But a CU study suggests that severe fires are not new on Colorado's Front Range.  

Plans to sequence the genome of the oldest dogs found in North America.

Outdoor magazine's best 25 books for well-read explorers. Old Glory, yes!

• Everyone hears about Coronado's expedition in the American southwest,  no one about Francisco Leyva de Bonilla's. Maybe that is because it was such as disaster.

• Saving a big piece of southeastern Colorado's canyon country. And a chunk of the High Plains east of Pueblo.

Why are we still talking about Chris "Supertramp" McCandless?
Twenty-three years after his death, McCandless still has people talking — debating his cause of death, condemning his choices and discussing how perhaps they, too, can leave everything behind and walk into the wild.
A "river of sheep" in northwestern Colorado. Good photos.

December 28, 2015

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

Chef Jess Noy. See squirrel item.
I too often save a link to blog about it but them am too busy to do so. So here they are! All free!

Aspens in western Oregon could be "refugees" from Ice Age floods.

An article on Outdoor Wire wondered if the movie Wild would give a boost to backpacking or if The Hunger Games would increase the sale of archery gear. Well, did they?

• Not sure how this turned out: a Jewish kind-of-guru and a land-use battle in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado.

• What is the best survival knife? I would say that it's the knife you have with you. But, gear heads, read this article.

• When I was in the 6th grade at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colo., my teacher, Miss Carter, became engaged to the son of a carnation-raising family. She took us on a class trip through the commercial greenhouses — there used to be operations like that all over the area. Then, boom! no more. All the cut flowers came from Colombia, thanks to the War on Drugs ("We will pay them to grow roses instead of coca.") Now, "Colorado farmers, florists seek renaissance for local flower scene."

• Cañon City commercial herb and flower grower Tammy Hartung blogs on "Protecting Wildlife in the Garden & Farm Landscape."

• BoingBoing offers "The Best Adventure Stories for Kids from 1965." Is having adventures retro-cool? Elidar was actually one of Alan Garner's weaker books, I thought.

• Counting roadkill is depressing: "Our Highways' Toll on Wildlife." A game warden in Fremont County, Colo., once told me that he figured a deer or elk was killed every night of the year by a motor vehicle. No doubt some of those drivers think that hunting is cruel.

The English discover that squirrels are tasty. Also, redheads rule.

The Salton Sea was an accident, but birds love it. I finally saw it this past March.

• It's cold this week. Are you at risk for "the frozen five"?

The "locavore movement" boosts deer hunting, in case you did not know.

• What southern Colorado needs is a good "guntry club." But I expect that northern Colorado will get (or has gotten) one sooner, since that is where the money is. Still, I can fantasize.

• Are you feeding the birds this winter? Some thoughts on where to put your feeders. And keep them clean.  And if you want birds, you have to tolerate some insects.

• What happens when a professional wedding photographer goes elk hunting.

Don't make these dumb moves when you go to a gun shop.

• I have heard some of these: "Female Hunters Share Tales of Sexism."

How to shoot down a drone. Hint: they are more like pigeons than geese.

• It kind of amazes me that Bishop's Castle is the must-see tourist attraction in the Wet Mountains. But almost everyone who rents our cabin goes there.

• When I worked at the Cañon City Daily Record, part of my job was visiting the local humane society and photographing the adoptable pet of the week. I learned some these things by trial and error, but I wish that I had had this article to read.

December 25, 2015

Maybe I Should Call This "Marginal Galaxy Nature Blog"



Maybe not. I am better at thinking about the migration paths of elk than the migration paths of galaxies. But it is a stunning video. Laniakea means "immeasureable heavens" in Hawaiian. More here.

December 23, 2015

Best of Bigfoot, 2015


"Local" decor in the new Trader Joe's grocery store in Colorado Springs.
Via the Bigfoot Lunch Club blog, Animal Planet's ten best Bigfoot video clips of 2015.

These have a short commercial at the beginning. At least one that I watched was for cosmetics, which means that someone thinks that there are female Bigfoot fans too (I always think of Bigfoot-hunting as a guy thing, for some reason) or else there is a joke in there about putitng lipstick on a sasquatch.

In related news, Bigfoot-hunting figures into the upcoming trial of Eddie Tipton, the "former Multi-State Lottery Association security director who is accused of rigging jackpots in Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma from 2005 to 2011 to enrich himself and his friends."

It was all for science!

In yet other news, a Canadian Native band gets their 75-year-old sasquatch (?) mask back from a museum.

December 18, 2015

Look What Smokey Bear Left in my Stocking!

The Fiddlin' Foresters
Am I opening presents early, when Smokeymas is still a week away? Not really, I found this CD, "In the Long Run" by the Fiddlin' Foresters, at ARC today.

I had no idea that (a) the US Forest Service had an "official old-time string band" and (b) that their website had been presidentially singled out by Barack Obama as an example of government waste. Was that a taxpayer-funded banjo too?

Thank heaven we have saved $10 annually on domain registration fees. The deficit will melt like snow in May if we keep this up.

The album is still available.

I played it on the long drive home from Colorado Springs. They do a tricky thing in the middle, moving from the campfire-singalong jollity of "Smokey the Bear" through another cut and then into "Cold Missouri Waters," which is a song I rarely listen to because it interferes with my vision, and that's not what you want at 65 mph. Jane Leche gets into Joan Baez territory with the vocal track (YouTube).

"Is that about a wildfire?" M. asks.

"Mann Gulch," I manage to say, although my voice sounds funny.

But let's be real. The song is a weeper, but I was not even born yet when the events took place.

I am thinking more of a sunny dining hall at the Wheaton College science station/summer camp in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota. A boy sits off in a corner while his father, the Pactola District ranger, gives some students a quick version of what would be today the S-190 and S-130 "red card" wildfire-training classes, in case they have to fight a fire on or near their 50-acre site.

Sheet music to "Smokey the Bear" sits on the rack of the upright piano in the dining hall, and the ranger is telling the students how you should never run uphill from a fire, how something bad happened in Montana not too many years before.

December 17, 2015

Chile Thoughts on a Cold December Night

Not my stove (via Preservation Archaeology)
Last night I was roasting some poblano chile peppers on the gas stove because I came across a recipe that I wanted to try, from Jacques Pépin of all people — I did not know he was into Mexican food.

That got me musing about a dish that I made years ago when we lived in Cañon City. It was supposed to be a post-Civil War Army recipe from the days of the Indian Wars — real stark, basically beef and red chiles, lots of them. Maybe onions, no beans.

And then I went down the Internet rabbit hole looking for it.

My Army recipe might have been something like this one, from an article in True West:
But the army’s official chili recipe was not published until 1896 in its The Manual for Army Cooks, says John Thorne, chili [sic] [1] scholar and e-zine publisher at outlawcook.com. Labeled “Chile Con Carne,” the recipe calls for round beefsteak, one tablespoonful of hot dripping, two tablespoonfuls of rice, two large, dry red peppers, one cup of boiling water, a half pint of boiling water and salt, onions and flour. The time hadn’t yet come for garlic and tomatoes to be added to the mix.
I don't remember the rice, but years have passed.

Speaking of which, I will always think of jackrabbit chile as "poverty food," remembering those years.

If you want to make chile con carne for 100, here is a more contemporary Army cooks' recipe (PDF), involving canned tomatoes and beans.

Here is a Texas-centric history of chile, including some home-boy bombast from that master politico, Lyndon Johnson. Treat it with the skepticism that you normally bring to writing that includes phrases like, "According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend. . . " [2]

New Mexico has its Official State Question, "Red or green?", but here in the northern fringe of the fictive province (not the state) of New Mexico — south of the Arkansas (Nepeste) River — the question has already been answered for you: "Green."

I know I am somewhere near home when I can ask for a side dish of green chile with my meal, and no one bats an eye — even if it is canned stuff off the Sysco truck, which happens.

Jacques' recipe is simmering in the big iron pot, meanwhile, and there is some venison sausage that might go in later.


1. Father, forgive them, for Texans can play football, but they know not how to spell. Also, the website has changed at bit.

2. Or to anything written on Texas history.

December 12, 2015

Do I Have to Throw Away My Ducks Unlimited Shirts Now?

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, I had fantasies of being an outdoor/nature writer. I published articles, had a newspaper column for a couple of years, and spent a year on the staff of the late and unlamented Colorado Outdoor Journal. And I got to know a lot of writers. I still do some freelancing, but mostly in other areas now —  except this blog (which would qualify me for membership in the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America, if I wanted to go back).

If there is anything writers like to talk about, it is their shabby treatment by editors, publishers  and producers. Everyone has stories of producing work and then being stiffed on payment.

So when I read Steve Bodio's account of Ducks Unlimited not only firing contributing editor E. Donnall Thomas, Jr., better known as Don Thomas — but also scrubbing all of his previous work from the DU website, making him into a "nonperson" as much as they could, I boiled.

Steve quoted Thomas on what happened, and I will borrow that quote:
"In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, "A Rift Runs Through It", about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. . . .To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

... The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization... DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.
As I said, I boiled. I fired off a set of letters to Ducks Unlimited president Paul R. Bonderson, Jr., and to CEO Dale Hall. I delayed writing this blog post for a while to see if I got a response, maybe a form letter from the office intern, whatever. Nada.

I have served on the board of a state-level conservation group, and I know nonprofits often get most of their cash from a few big donors, who outweigh the dues and small gifts of us average members putting in $35 a year for dues and also responding to certain appeals.

But, I wrote to them, it is those thousands of average members, if properly used, who give the organization its political leverage.

And although I have been a member for close to thirty years, I suggested that in the future James Cox Kennedy could cover my dues and gifts.

Charity Navigator, which tracks nonprofits and how they spend their money, gives Ducks Unlimited three stars out of four overall, with a score of 74.49 out of 100 on "financial" and a 96 on "transparency."

According to DU's reports, fundraising and administrative costs take 23.6 percent of all income, with the rest going to programs. That's not bad. It is when over half goes to fundraising and administrative salaries that you want to back off.

Membership dues raised $19.4 million in fiscal year 2014, fundraising (all those banquets) raised $24.6 million, and contributions and grants accounted for $28.35 million.

They won't miss mine.

I am conflicted about this decision, and yes, I even wondered if I should keep wearing the stuff that DU sends as gift-appeal premiums. That's a pretty nice fleece vest, for instance, and I like it, even with the logo on the front.

I thought about how I had defended giving to the Salvation Army to a friend who advised against it because the SA was not, in her opinion, friendly enough to the LGBT population. "Who else does a better job and ticks off all the correct political boxes," I asked rhetorically.

Who else does more for duck research and habitat?

Who else screws over writers so blatantly?

Maybe DU, like many nonprofits before it, has gotten too big, too clubby, too established. Their treatment of Don Thomas is an awfully big straw in the wind, an indicator of their corporate mindset. You wonder what else is going on if they are that sensitive about a perceived insult to one of the insiders.

(UPDATE: Among other coverage of DU's shabby treatment of Don Thomas, here is a brief summary from High Country News.)

December 03, 2015

Louie the Bear has a Fundraiser! Help Louie Eat!

I posted in October about Louie the pizza shop bear and his little buddies. M. and I have been helping out a little — some big bags of puppy chow and some big bags of peanuts — but those go fast. Louie's caretakers at Wet Mountain Wildlife could use some help, so they have started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. But first . . . Louie in the pizza shop!

OK, you saw him, now help him bulk up for hibernation by contributing here!

November 27, 2015

Of Avalances, Machismo, and Derring-Do

Local search-and-rescue groups on Facebook are all cross-posting this Denver Post article: "Ignorance and Early-Season Avalanche Danger."

The author, columnist Steve Lipsher, writes,
Each year, it seems, the reckless streak grows bolder among Colorado skiers and snowboarders, eager to show off their GoPro videos on YouTube and earn bragging rights among their friends.
And each year, on average, six or seven of them will die in avalanches.
He is not sold on the latest gadgets:
[Other backcountry snow enthusiasts] carry specialized equipment designed to help them breathe in a burial or inflate giant airbags instantly to help them stay on top of an avalanche, falsely thinking that replaces good decisions or adequately protects them.
The SAR groups will still have work to do. Humans are hard-wired for risk. I am all for education on avalanche-awareness, but education will never reach them all.

November 18, 2015

Mushrooms: Manipulating Your Mind . . . and the Weather?


Helen Macdonald's latest New York Times column is on mushroom hunting, in which she observes,
Hunting for mushrooms can feel surprisingly like hunting animals, particularly if you’re searching for edible species. Looking for chanterelles, I’ve found myself walking on tiptoe across mossy stumps as if they might hear me coming. It’s a bad idea to walk around and try to spot them directly. They have an uncanny ability to hide from the searching eye. 
And they can change your perception too — and I am not talking about the designated "hallucinogenic" mushrooms either, but the ones we eat for food. 

Beyond that, some researchers suggest that mushrooms can make it rain. Their spores are like cloud-seeding.
“We can watch big water droplets grow as vapor condenses on (the mushroom spore’s) surface,” said senior author Nicholas Money of Miami University’s Biology Department. “Nothing else works like this in nature.”
Read the rest.

November 17, 2015

Waiting for El Niño or Someone Like Him

Other than some rain in October, it has been a dry few weeks here in the southern Colorado foothills. Dry — and sometimes windy enough — to bring back bad fire memories, like the one in NE Custer County near Wetmore on October 23, 2012.

And it is supposed to be an El Niño year, so where is the snow?

Finally something blew in last night. Although areas north of Colorado Springs (the Palmer Divide/Monument Hill), some High Plains counties, and Raton Pass into New Mexico had blizzard conditions, we awoke to about an inch of snow with a lot of a wind.

(There is more snow in the high mountains, and ski areas are opening.)

Because the 1997–98 El Niño announced itself with a three feet of snow on Thanksgiving weekend, I was expecting more.

But contrary to the "worst yet" headlines, this blog post by Bob Tisdale answers the question "Is the Current El Niño Stronger Than the One in 1997/98?" with "No." Lots of charts and graphs that you can read for yourself.

Still, a little more than an inch would be nice. But a dry early winter is not uncommon here — so long as it is followed by the usual March and April snows. The 1997–98 El Niño actually faded in the spring, which was not extraordinarily snowy.


Yes, there is a Psychedelic Era pop-culture reference in the blog title.

November 09, 2015

The Farmer Wave and the Jeep Wave

Call it the Farmer Wave, the Rancher Wave, or the [Blank] wave, you had better learn it hereabouts too. In Iowa, it has an official week, which is just now ending.

And then there is the Jeep Wave. Instead of saying "I trust you," it is saying, "You're more hardcore than I am. And I trust you."

Protocol dictates that (usually) the owner of the newer Jeep wave first, so when driving my 1973 CJ-5 I can just cruise regally along, awaiting my due acknowlegement.
 
It gets at least 50 points on this scale. 

But I keep an eye out for that guy down in town who has the CJ-3B.

October 26, 2015

A Mountain Cabin Mystery, Part 2


M. and I were gone on vacation from September 1–30. Then we came down with terrific colds (thanks, Swiss Air), and the weather was a little showery. She took the dog up back for a walk and came back saying something about a "board" on the Quonset cabin.

I had a look on my next walk up there and yes, a 4 x 8-foot piece of particle board was nailed across the empty hole where the living room window had been removed. Well, that was odd. Did Tim, the new owner of the adjacent property to the south, come up from his house and think he was doing me a favor?

I could have investigated more, but as I said, the head cold was killing my brain power, and I had a lot else to do. That may seem too laid-back, sorry.

But then came something I could not ignore. After my contractor friend said he thought that the dirt road to the cabin was too rough and rocky for his trailer, I decided to improve it. I contacted a neighbor who does "dirt work" locally.

He showed up with his tractor, blade, and rock-ripping teeth, and I went to open the gate for him.  What's this? The gate normally was secured by a chain with two padlocks on it. One was for the rural electric co-op, and the other was mine. Now someone had cut the chain and inserted a third lock!

Hike across the land and poke around a little, that's no big deal. Start cutting your way in, and that is something else.

After he finished his road work, I started making phone calls. How about the former owner of Tim's property? He owns hundreds of acres here and there, has a crew employed fulltime on various projects, and has been known, shall we say, to extend his fences beyond where he should. We had already had one go-round with him about that habit.

I called him, and we had an amiable chat. He was in his "the squire" persona. Oh no, he said, it was not his crew. (When they follow his orders and get him in trouble, he blames their poor language skills. Algunos no hablan inglés.)

I called the real estate agent who has listed property to the north of ours. Did he sell it, and did the new owner think that my road gave them access? Oh no, he said, the property had not been sold, and he knew that any buyer had no right to that road.

I called my contractor friend. Had he changed his mind about the salvage project and come back up there? Oh no, he had not.  (Too bad.) Maybe someone is "homesteading," he suggested.

To make things worse, the local paper ran a "25 Years Ago" item about law-enforcement officials launching an "intense vigil" right hereabouts for a fugitive described as "homicidal." Tracking dogs had followed him into these hills.

That was two years before we arrived. I had heard too about some fugitive hiding in the camping trailer that was there before the Quonset, but I cannot say if it was the same individual or a different one

M. and I paid an armed visit to the cabin. The rear door was locked — and as I wrote in Part 1, I never locked it.

I finally walked over to Tim, the new neighor's, house. No, neither he nor his kids had been inside the cabin. But "three weeks ago" he had heard a truck going up the road, followed by "banging." Maybe that was the nailing of the board.

I went home and called the sheriff's dispatcher. After about three hours, a deputy called me back. I gave him the facts. He clearly did not want to drive to this corner of the county — it was after dark, and he was the only patrol deputy on duty. That was OK, I told him, I just wanted to get something on the record in case I found a meth lab or a dead body or something else nefarious inside.

The next morning, I located the keys, and we went back. I sidled up to the door and unlocked it. Nothing was changed, except for the number of mouse turds. A ladder that I had there seemed to be in a different place.

So these are the facts:

1. Someone had cut the gate and installed their own lock, as if they planned to come back. (I, of course, took bolt cutters and removed that lock.)

2. Someone, maybe the same someone, had boarded up the empty window. You would do that only if you wanted to protect the property or make it more usable later.

3. Someone had locked the door, which makes no sense if you do not have a key to let yourself back in.

4. There were no signs of occupancy. No lights, no food, etc. The dog did not react when he was near the cabin.

Right now, it seems to us that Dick Y., the former owner, fits the frame for these reasons.

1. Because he helped to build the cabin and his family owned the land for 30-plus years, he probably feels a sense of ownership, and it may bother him to see it neglected. (Too bad, Dick, I would have the fire department burn it were it not for the wildfire hazard.)

2. He doesn't like us, why, I never fully understood. Neither does his sister.

3. He knows his way around up there, and he lives only an hour away. He could have retained a key to the house.

So Dick is the prime suspect, but I have absolutely no evidence. The sheriff is not going to get excited over a cut gate unless something else goes with it: burglary, cattle-rustling, poaching, etc. All we can do is be more vigilant.

As we were finishing supper, the telephone rang with a Reverse 911 call to all residents. "There is an armed and dangerous subject in your area. Last seen on foot near highway XXX and County Road XXX. Subject is wearing a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and a khaki hat. Caucasian male, brown hair, tattoo of  'Ezekiel' on his neck. Please do not approach. Do not pick up any hitchhikers. If seen call 719-XXX-XXXX."

That at least ten miles away. Rural life goes on.

A Mountain Cabin Mystery, Part 1

Not what you think of when you hear "mountain cabin"?
In 2011, M. and I dug deep and bought the twenty acres up behind our house when they came on the market. We gained lots of rocks, the little dirt road where we walked the dogs anyway, many pine and juniper trees — including enough beetle-killed pine to keep us in firewood for a while — and "the Quonset."

It's not a true Quonset hut, but that name comes near enough. It is a pre-fab metal structure like you would see sheltering farm implements (tractors, etc.) out on the High Plains, but finished inside with a drop ceiling, walls, and carpeting.

When we came here, the owners, a family from southeastern Colorado, had a old travel trailer parked up there, with a wood-frame extension and a porch built on to it. But in about 1994, the younger generation apparently decided to build Mom and Dad a proper mountain get-away, so they visited their favorite ag-machinery-prefab-building dealer and ordered a 20 x 40-foot model. They brought up a small electric cement mixer and poured their own foundation, erected the galvanized metal roof — all of it.

And then their frequency of visits dropped way off. The cabin just sat there, looking like a big blister on the mountainside. The Y____ family, the owners, were not terribly friendly. Once, when I approached them about chipping in on the maintenance of our shared driveway, part of which led to their road, I got a small contribution, wrapped in a diatribe of a letter about how people were cutting trees on their property (not me), how people were saying nasty things about the metal cabin, etc. etc.

Fast-forward to 2011. We made an offer, two-thirds of what they asked. The agent conveyed it, but then he said they had turned it down. "Oh well," we thought. And two weeks later, he came back and said that Mom had told the kids (now in late middle age) that they should take it, and they did. (Dad was no longer alive.) After a very chilly closing — the kids, Dick and Judy, would not even speak to us — we owned it, down to the expired and bulging canned goods in the kitchen cabinets.

My friend Ray helped with the initial clean-out. Furniture was hauled away, scrap aluminum — the skin of the old trailer —sold to the recycler. The refrigerator went to the volunteer fire department, where it cools our bottled water and Gatorade. Lots of things went to the department's annual yard sale.

The cabin was not up to code: no well or cistern, and no indoor plumbing either, although it did have electric service. Located at the top of a steep dry-weather-only road, it had zero potential as a rental, and we already have a guest house.

One neighbor was interested in taking the metal shell to build a garage, but his eight-day-a-week job as a ranch manager got in the way. Some friends scavenged bits: a door here, a window there, a kitchen counter unit.

Then progress stalled. I pulled some of the carpet, but I kept having too much else to do. A contractor from Pueblo thought he might tear the building down for scrap — the metal roof and studs — but he was not sure he could get his big cargo trailer up the road.

I never locked the place. There was nothing to steal, and if an occasional person hiking around looked inside, I did not care. The terrain and the locked gate kept motorized visitors out — I thought.


October 23, 2015

A Mysterious Antique Box: Book Trailer from Florence, Colorado

No one is making movies in Florence, Colo., that I know of, but a book trailer was shot there for the novel Come Six to Seven by Mac Evenstar.

I am still wrapping my head around the idea of books having "trailers," but this one gives you a good luck at the self-proclaimed "antiques capital of Colorado" — and why not, Denver's South Broadway district ain't what it used to be.

This goes on the "to read" list, thanks to the Florence blog True Story Club.