January 14, 2019

Back When the VW Bug Was an Off-road Vehicle

In 1956, if you owned a Type I Volkswagen Bug in South Dakota, you had yourself an off-road vehicle.

Here is Dad's VW with evidence of a successful antelope hunt on the roof rack and his friend Harry Linde (owner of a sawmill near Keystone, S. D.) posing with their rifles.

There were also stories about chasing jackrabbits in that car . . .

But don't go chasing across the prairie/steppe in an old VW Bug today: get a replica Kübelwagen T-82.

January 13, 2019

Where Are the Dogs of Yesteryear?

Ubi sunt?
"Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" asked the medieval French poet François Villon. Usually that is Englished as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

And where are the dogs of yesteyear?

M. with Jack the Chesapeake Bay retriever and Shelby the collie-Lab mix, also known as the Bandit Queen. North Taylor Creek, Sangre de Cristo Range, early winter, 2002(?).

January 11, 2019

You Can Tell That The Firewood Article Was Not Written in the West — #4 Gives It Away

An article about how to stack firewood, and it's fine, but number 4 made me laugh.

Think forest fire and keeping fuel away from the house, not termites.

Actually, I hardly have a woodpile right now, and that is nothing to brag about. The early snows caught me off-guard, and I have been the Grasshopper, not the Ant, ever since. I go out on nice days and cut some rounds from this big, beetle-killed pine trunk near the house, wheelbarrow them home, and then split them.

Next summer, I need to be more the Ant.

There are, in fact, more ways to stack firewood, and you can find them by skimming back issues of Mother Earth News or, I am told, by visiting Norway.

January 09, 2019

Smoke-Phase Turkeys in Southern Colorado

Two smoke-phase wild turkeys were part of a small flock.
Two days ago I bumped in a small flock of Merriam's wild turkeys in a residential area of eastern Custer County. Mixed in with the normally colored birds were two light ones — not true albinos, but definitely whiter than normal.

It turns out that these turkeys are called "smoke phase" or sometimes "smokey gray." You might wonder if their wild parents mated with a domestic bird, but not so, says this Minnesota outdoor writer.
"The partially white or smoke-phase turkeys occur naturally," said Tom Glines, Minnesota's senior regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "The white or gray feathers are black-tipped and the birds are beautiful."

There has been some concern that landowners have released pen-raised turkeys into the wild -- a practice that is illegal without a permit -- and that some of those captive turkeys have bred with the wild turkeys, resulting in the smoke-phase turkeys.

There is no hard science to back up those concerns.
 No, they do not turn color in the winter. They were a new sight for me though.

January 04, 2019

Graves in the Woods (2)


Two little graves in the San Isabel National Forest
Unlike the graves mentioned in "Graves in the Woods (1)," these are not human graves, I think — unless they were infant twins — which would be extremely weird.

More likely they were for two pet animals, small dogs or cats. We found them near a Forest Service road when we first moved here in 1992, and they looked pretty much the same back then. The Mason Gulch Fire of 2005 missed them by a few yards.

I wonder if whoever  buried them there ever comes back for a visit.

December 31, 2018

Graves in the Woods (1)


Moormans River, near Free Union, Virginia

M. and I rolled in Sunday the 30th after a long train trip to Virginia to see (most) of her East Coast relatives.

Cabin chimney above
the Moormans River
We like to travel by train, which leaves you with a lot of episodic memories, like being awakened somewhere in the Ohio River valley by the bright lights of a coal-fired power plant shining in the window, or further up the drainage, watchcing the Kenawha and New rivers running brown and out of their banks with water from this winter's storms.

We walked from her brother's house down to the Moormans River, which was high enough for boating, had anyone so desired. I know that it often drops to a trickle, and he did tell a story of abandoning a kayak trip one summer for lack of water.

This chimney and foundation, laid up with local stone, are on the trail to the river. The brother, who has lived there more than twenty years, said that he only recently had spotted some grave sites near the cabin. Two are parallel sunken graves, the others less sunken but still marked with small headstones and footstones.

Those markers are small slabs of the native stone. They bear no inscriptions. Either there were once wooden markers that decayed, or there were none. Perhaps people just remembered: "That grave was Ma's, and little Bessie is buried next to her."Now no one remembers.

Two sunken graves. Others are nearby.
We all went hiking too in Shenandoah National Park, on a little piece of the Appalachian Trail, and that was an afternoon that I cherished.

I support public lands as much as anyone, but here too there are hidden presences — a overgrown old road, a pasture gate lost in regrown forest. People were evicted to make the park.

Although the lands earmarked for the new park were covered with homes and farms, there was little public outcry when inhabitants of the nearly 5,000 individual land tracts were expelled, their lands presented to the federal government. After all, the Blue Ridge dwellers were not only different from the mainstream of American society, but, according to one contemporary journalist, their existence in the dark hollows represented "about the limit of destitution at which human life could be sustained." Park promoters and government officials publicized the fact that "these people will be moved to more civilized regions of agriculture and industry." The creation of the national park propelled these backward mountaineers into a world they had previously eschewed.

When archaeologists found a toy ray gun in the rubble of Corbin Hollow, they knew these were not people "cut off from the current of American life." 

From the first day of the survey in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley hollows on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge, formerly home to three communities with eighteenth-century roots, it was obvious that some observations about the region were flawed. Automobiles, Coke bottles, Bakelite toys, cologne, hair tonic, and hot-sauce bottles, even a half-torn 1931 cellulose card calendar featuring the artwork of Maxfield Parrish, all shattered the accepted image of backward hillbillies eking out an existence that was "completely cut off from the current of American life." (Archaeology magazine, "Shenandoah's Secret History," Jan.–Feb. 2000).
More graves there too, I am sure, if you know where to look.

December 16, 2018

Never Underestimate a Bolo Tie, and Other Gift Suggestions

It's time for Southern Rockies Nature Blog's seasonal gift guide.

• Booze and smoked meats are always good

• I like books. Maybe you know someone who would too. Two that caught my eye:

Lines on a Map: Unparalleled Adventures in Modern Exploration

Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture

Or how about a bolo tie? I got my first one as a college student — it's the one on the right with the green "stone," which is probably plastic, but I did not have much money then.

Like tattoos, every bolo tells a story — but you can take it off at the end of the day.

"Never Underestimate the Bolo Tie," writes someone with deep New Mexico roots.

For most of my life, I associated this unique type of neckwear with old men, New Mexican politicians, and the 1980s. Even though as an Okie the bolo tie isn’t foreign to my state, I never thought I’d personally sport one.

That all changed at my grandfather’s funeral.

When we laid him to rest, each of his grandsons who served as pallbearers sported one of Grandpa’s old bolo ties.

I picked one from his collection that stuck out to me. It’s a silver keystone with an oval piece of turquoise inlaid in it. Simple, but distinguished.

I was wearing a pair of dark jeans, cowboy boots, white shirt, and brown sport coat. It’s a getup my grandpa would have worn. Rugged, yet refined.

I put the bolo tie on and gave myself a look in the mirror. I was expecting to feel awkward and self-conscious wearing it, but to my pleasant surprise, I thought it actually looked quite sharp on me.

December 12, 2018

An Unexpected Slot Canyon, Trail Art, and a Threat


It's better in the winter — this is early December
I was over in Fremont County, south of Cañon City, in an area where I used to wander some twenty years ago. Back then, a hike meant following deer trails, arroyos, or an occasional two-track road.

Now there is a trail network. That's a good thing, mostly.

Stumps + rusty iron = trail art
Winter is the time to be out in this country. The sun is bright, there is only a little ice in the shady spots, and the "piñon gnats" of summer — those little bugs that fly into your eyes, nose, and ears — are absent. So are rattlesnakes.

Layers of shale.
 I found this little slot canyon that I had not known about.
Tint the photo pink and say that you were in Utah.
Other people knew about it though, as their old graffiti attested.
1901 ??
I learned that some people believe there are dinosaur tracks in the canyon. I have seen tracks in places like the famous trackway out in the Purgatory Canyon. To me, the various dimples in the rocks looked more the result of erosion.
I don't think these are tracks from a prehistoric beach.
But there is always something. These trails are on BLM land, and a Canadian mining firm, Zephyr Minerals Ltd., wants to core drill part of the area and maybe mine it — or sell it to some outfit that would. So instead of year-around recreational area, there would be a big hole in the ground, maybe a cyanide-leaching pad or some crap like that.

There is a potential for polluting Grape Creek, which brings down the DeWeese-Dye Ditch & Reservoir Company's water from the Wet Mountain Valley to serve hundred of shareholders large and small on the south edge of Cañon City.

So another battle to be fought.

November 27, 2018

Is Lip Balm Bad for You?

Lip balm distributed by Colorado Parks & Willife.
A friend was visiting Denver from northern England earlier this month. I urged her to bring sunglasses — just tell your European friends that Denver is slightly south of Naples, and they will understand — and also lip balm.

Was I wrong about the lip balm?

Living in an arid climate, I think of chapped lips as normal. I rarely put anything on them except sometimes in the winter.

Now, in the ever-changing world of health advice, some people are saying lip balm makes things worse.
Lip balms provide only temporary comfort, and some types can make scaly lips even drier.

That's because, in part, when the thin film of moisture from the lip balm evaporates, it dehydrates your lips even more. "It starts a vicious cycle," Dr. Leah Jacob, an assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University, told Live Science.
I grew up with Chapstick commercials featuring the dashing competitive and freestyle skier Suzy Chaffee (born in Vermont but who attended the University of Denver), whose nickname was "Suzy Chapstick" because she was that brand's spokesmodel in the 1970s. (She later endorsed only "all-natural" products.) So this is hard news to take.

Susy Chaffee at Squaw Valley
Additionally, lips don't have any hair follicles or oil glands of their own. Instead, the oil from glands around our lips provide moisture. Licking your lips or applying a thin gloss, balm or anything out of a tube to supplement that moisture may sound like a good idea, but it can be the worst thing you do for them because it can lead to further dehydration, Jacob said.

Some lip balms contain ingredients that can be irritating or drying. Menthol, salicylic acid, cinnamic aldehyde and peppermint flavors are all culprits, Jacob said. "A lot of people don't have any problems with these ingredients, but people with sensitive skin or allergies may be more sensitive to these on their lips, as well," she said.
But can she do a "Suzy contortion spin," as shown?

November 23, 2018

"The Kind of Men Who Carry Pocketknives"


 A good article from Appalachian Magazine:
"Though less than forty years have passed, I am often astonished to see just how drastic the world has changed from the time I was a small boy.  Some of these changes have been for the better, but others – just to put it bluntly – I’m not so sure about.

"Yes, technology, vehicles, and even our day to day lives are a far cry from how the world was only a generation ago, but when I survey the changing landscape of America, the greatest change I see is found in the people themselves."
Read the whole thing.

November 22, 2018

Seen a Wolf? There (Isn't Yet) an App for That, But You Can Report It

I received a news release a few days ago about a wolf that had escaped from a "sanctuary" near Divide, Colorado, in the mountains west of Colorado Springs.
The missing Mexican wolf.
On Sunday, November 11, 2018, a yearling Mexican wolf escaped an enclosure at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (CWWC). The CWWC is a member in good standing of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and became a member of the AZA’s Mexican wolf captive breeding program in 2008. In response, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the following statement . . .
This young wolf was born in a facility in 2017, and is not considered a threat to human health or public safety. Subsequent to the reintroduction of Mexican wolves to the wild, wolf-human interactions have occurred but there have been no wolf attacks on humans.  However, like all wildlife, the animal may become defensive if cornered or threatened. Members of the public are encouraged to scare the animal if the wolf is seen at close proximity. The wolf is not externally marked (no radio collar, ear tag, etc.), but is distinguishable due to blindness in one eye (one eye almost completely black.
I have not heard if it was located or not—I have been away for six days and pretty much ignoring news and social media during that time.

But what I did learn tangentially is that you think you have seen any wolf anywhere in Colorado, you can report it to Colorado Parks and Wildlife on this website.

Unless, of course, you think that such things should go unreported.

November 15, 2018

The Mountain Lion Who Hated Everyone (with Reason)

"When I am bigger, I will eat you." Mountain lion (cougar) kitten reclines on a donated
fur coat at Wet Mountain Wildlife rehabilitation center.
Yesterday's wildlife-transport gig has already been turned into a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release. I will just cut and paste parts of the release here and add some commentary.
WALSENBURG, Colo. – After removing a mountain lion kitten from a private home, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reminding the public it is illegal to possess wild animals and dangerous to the animals’ health.

Although sick from being fed bratwurst, the kitten appeared to be in good health otherwise, said Travis Sauder, CPW district wildlife manager, after he retrieved the kitten and sent it to the nonprofit Wet Mountain Woldlife Rehabilitation.
The "sent it," that's us. Our job is to save him about an hour and a half of driving time so that he can return to his other duties — and so that he no longer had to share his pickup truck with the smell.
But the incident could have turned out much differently since the kitten, estimated by wildlife biologists to be under six months of age, was fed human food when it probably was not yet weaned from its mother’s milk and may have only eaten regurgitated solids from its mother.

"If you find wildlife you believe to be orphaned, leave the area immediately and call CPW,” Sauder said. “By leaving the area, mom will feel safe to come back and retrieve her young.

“Many animals intentionally leave their young behind when startled, relying on the built-in camouflage of the youngsters’ spotted fur to keep them safe. The mother will then return to retrieve its young once the area is safe.”

The people in possession of the kitten published photos Monday on social media showing it in a cage. They claimed they found it in a snowbank after a snowplow passed by. They also claimed they released it back to the wild after allowing it to “thaw out.” In fact, Sauder collected the kitten from their home in Walsenburg on Tuesday.
Newly arrived at its enclosure,
the kitten peers from its vomit-flecked carrier.

The people who had grabbed up the kitten somewhere near La Veta gave it bratwurst, which it violently vomited.

What Sauder handed us was a pet carrier flecked with vomitus, containing a very unhappy little mountain lion (slightly larger than a typical house cat) who looked like something found in a gutter.

Periodically it let loose with a ROWWARRR! that sounded just like a big lion, only more treble. Who could blame it?  It had been kidnapped, fed indigestible food, confined by people, and it was filthy. Like all cats, it hates to be filthy.
Sauder said this kitten was kept far too long by humans to return to where it was found.

“It had been almost 30 hours since it was picked up Monday and its mom would not be in the area any longer,” he said. “This is why it's vital to leave baby wildlife where you find them and call us immediately."
As of today, when the photo at the top was taken, the kitten had eaten some elk meat (Dream big, little lion!), groomed itself, and settled in on an old fur coat for a bed. The rehabbers collect such coats, believing that animals, particularly predators, are more comfortable sleeping on fur.

Right now it is an enclosure used for small cats, which as multiple platform levels and a tree trunk to climb, but the plan is to move it to a larger one, since it will have to stay all winter. Some of the deer who hang around the rehabilitation center — former orphan fawns, for the most part — peered in at it. I wonder when it will realize that they are its prey.

November 08, 2018

A "Wolfy" Aspen Tree

"Wolfy" aspen tree, Wet Mountains, Colorado
A "wolf tree" has nothing to do with Canis lupus. It is a tree that has grown larger and broader than normal for its kind.

A New England definition:
These trees are large individuals that have a large diameter trunk and a widely spreading crown. There is also a good chance that a wolf tree will have some or even extensive damage. This may be a large limb that has broken away from one side of the tree or the top being blown out, usually from a lightning strike.

Wolf trees are the result of having grown in an open area. In many cases these trees were once in or at the edge of an open field. Wolf trees were initially left when forest was cleared to create a pasture or they got their start in an existing pasture and somehow managed to remain despite their cleared surroundings. Since a wolf tree once grew free of competition with other trees they were able to grow wide, broad crowns.
A Michigan definition:
If you have ever seen a tree in the forest that seems out of place because it is much larger than the trees surrounding it, you may have seen a wolf tree. A wolf tree is defined as a tall forest tree with large girth and great, spreading branches. Wolf trees are usually surrounded by smaller trees, signifying that the tree was once the only tree in the area and that the smaller trees have grown up years after the wolf tree was established. 
The Rocky Mountain definition that I learned as a kid was closer to the first — a tree, typically a conifer, that grew alone, broad and bushy because it did not have to grow up and up in search of sunlight.

Dad, a forester, scorned them because they did not produce as many board feet of useful timber as they would have when growing in a denser stand.

On the other hand, once retired, he turned landscape painter and depicted a few wolf trees.

Range conservationists also will use the term: "The grass in that pasture is old and wolfy. It needs to be burned."

November 03, 2018

Red-Jacketed Rangers Give Up Their Lee-Enfields; Somber Danes Keep Theirs


A Canadian Ranger shoots his Lee-Enfield rifle in .303 British.
I like shooting old wooden-stocked bolt-action military rifles, so I was a little sad to learn recently that the Canadian Rangers were giving up their Lee-Enfield rifles, based on the model adopted by the British army in 1895.

The Canadian Rangers are military reservists who establish a government presence in the Far North ("sovereignty patrols"), perform search and rescue, and so on. Why the bolt-action rifles? Mainly for hunting and for aggressive bears. As reported by the National Post, the Lee-Enfield worked well for decades:

Canadian Rangers with Lee-Enfield rifles
at a shooting match in Ottawa (National Post).
Since 1947 the Lee-Enfield has remained the main service weapon of the Canadian Rangers, a part-time force mainly devoted to Arctic patrols. [In August 2018]  the Canadian Rangers began replacement of their Lee-Enfields with the specially commissioned Colt Canada C19.
Unlike many other antique items in the Canadian military, the Lee-Enfield didn’t hang on for so long out of apathy or tight budgets. Rather, it’s because it’s still one of the best guns to carry above the tree line. . . . .

The Lee-Enfield is on
the Rangers' insignia.
Its wood stock makes it uniquely resistant to cracking or splitting in extreme cold. The rifle is also bolt-action, meaning that every shot must be manually pushed into place by the shooter. This makes for slower firing, but it also leaves the Lee-Enfield with as few moving parts as possible.

“The more complicated a rifle gets … the more prone you are to problems with parts breaking or jamming in a harsh environment,” said Eric Fernberg, an arms collection specialist at the Canadian War Museum.

“It might seem old-fashioned … (but) the retention of the Lee-Enfield by the Canadian Rangers was a wise choice for their role and environment.”
The Rangers' new C19 in .308 Winchester.
The new rifle, still bolt-action, is lighter and more accurate, says the government.

Canadian Rangers march with their Lee-Enfield rifles.
As the photos show, the Rangers are mostly Indians and Inuit people.
The Canadian Rangers provide a limited military presence in Canada's remote areas and receive 12 days or so per year of formal training (often more days of training are offered but attendance is not mandatory), albeit they are considered to be somewhat always on duty, observing and reporting as part of their daily lives. Canadian Rangers are paid when formally on duty according to the rank they hold within their patrol and when present on operations or during training events. They are paid in accordance with the standard rates of pay for Class-A (part-time) or Class-B (full-time) Reserve forces, except when they are called out for search and rescue missions or domestic operations (such as fighting floods and wildfires), when they are paid as Class-C Reserves and receive the full Regular Force pay and benefits ("Canadian Rangers," Wikipedia.)
When I was introduced to mountaineering as a teenager, I received two conflicting pieces of advice about colored outerwear.

One was to wear bright colors because they cheered you up, particularly if the sky was grey and the wind was blowing. I took that counsel to heart during my five years in western Oregon, where my burnt-orange cotton anorak was my go-to jacket. I had a bright red down-filled jacket too, but it was better back in Colorado, out of the Northwestern drizzle.

The opposite advice came from famed mountaineer Paul Pedzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School. I never met him, but I read somewhere that he told his students to wear subdued colors above timberline as a courtesy to other mountaineers. Let other climbers sit on a summit and enjoy the view without having to look at dots of orange, bright blue, or red on the next ridge over — that was the gist of it.

While the Canadian Rangers have their new rifle, another elite group of Arctic patrollers, the Sirius Dog Sled  Patrol, part of the Danish navy, is sticking with a related Enfield — in their case, the Model 1917 American Enfield, as carried by many "doughboys" in World War One.

And while the Rangers favor their British red, the Danes seem to be in Pedtzoldt's somber-colors camp.

You can see them in this recruiting video (in Danish with English subtitles):