July 07, 2019

Feds Sue Historic Durango Train over 416 Forest Fire

Helitanker over the 416 Fire (Inciweb).
The federal government has filed suit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co., a major southwestern Colorado tourist attraction, for startling the 416 Fire in June 2018, reports the Durango Herald.
“The United States alleges that the fire was ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on a coal-burning steam engine locomotive owned and operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
The lawsuit seeks $25 million to repay firefighting costs.
About 9:45 a.m. June 1, 2018, a resident in the Meadowridge subdivision saw a “wisp of smoke” near a bend in the tracks as the D&SNG passed by, igniting intense speculation that the train was the cause of the 416 Fire.

The neighborhood of about eight homes a few hundred feet from the tracks had grown used to seeing the D&SNG start fires, and residents even had their own water truck to help put out small fires ignited by small cinders emitted from the steam locomotives’ smokestacks.

But their efforts were in vain that day. Even when the railroad’s own water tanker arrived about five minutes later, the fire had advanced too far.
The D&S steam engines do have screens on their funnels, 19th-century technology that stops at least some hot cinders. But the old=time trains did start fires. I remember once looking at Colorado 67 in Teller County from across a valley— it follows an old railroad grade in places — and there are all these patches of aspen above (but not below) the highway. They sure look like places where small fires started along the line and then burned out on their own.

The thing is, not only is the train a big tourist attraction, but at least some residents really like it. One of the homeowners first on the scene to fight the fire also said,
[Cres Fleming] also loves the train. He called himself a “foamer” and “railroad nut,” who has done a lot of volunteer work for the train and played Santa Claus for a number of years on the Polar Express. He and Chione both said they live where they do because of the train.
That, and if you are in downtown Durango during a temperature inversion when the train is leaving the station, you can experience 19th-century street-level atmosphere conditions, otherwise known as "Why the Victorians wore black."

July 03, 2019

Reviewing Colorado Parks and Wildlife's New Apps

I was going to review two new free smartphone apps from Colorado Parks and Wildlife today, but I will be reviewing only one, because I am having problems with the other.

First up is CoTrex, "Colorado's Trail Explorer." Subtitle: "We're mapping Colorado's trails."

They have a way go on that. Based on my trial, it works well in state parks. But standing on my front porch, I am within two miles of three or four marked US Forest Service trailheads, and none of them shows up on CoTrex. Yet every trail up at Lake Pueblo State Park is visible.

Colorado's state parks are popular, and it is good to get people out walking around. When I tested CoTrex at Trinidad State Park — which has good connectivity, since it is just outside the town of Trinidad — the app was more convenient in some ways than a paper brochure, but it did not give me the historical/ecological information that the park's trail brochures contained.

Cotrex lets you save routes (if you create an account—more on that below) and even set up a sort of "friends" network and other social mediumistic stuff, if you're into all that.  You may complete “challenges” to earn badges.

You can also download your trail map for when you lose your data signal. (If you come to my neck of the San Isabel National Forest, even digital-trunked radios don't work well, not to mention cell phones.) But at that point, no device screen will show you as much as a paper topo map, unless you keep a MacBook Air in your day pack. Me, I like my iPhone SE because it fits in a shirt pocket, even inside its Otterbox fumble-finger protection case. But it is a way-too-small screen for map-viewing.

Pluses: Easy to use. If you have a data signal and GPS enabled, you can see your position on the trail and reassure your anxious hiking partner that you are not lost and that an important trail junction is just head. And it's free.

Minuses: Shows only a fraction of "Colorado’s unique trail experiences" at this time. The app designers invite uses to add them (otherwise known as do their work for them), which could lead to all kinds of confusion over trailheads, private property, seasonal trail-closures, etc. But the makers do promise to grow their database. Like any app, it encourages you to stare down at a screen when you should be looking around and orienting yourself.

I expect that CoTrex will help newbie hikers who are using urban and state parks systems primarily.

I also planned to review an app called CPW Fishing.

It is supposed to help you "visualize your trip and track your catches with CPW Fishing, the official fishing app of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. CPW Fishing can help you discover new fishing locations, learn new skills, stay on top of the latest regulations and journal your fishing experiences.​"

I downloaded it, created an account (see below), received a verification code in my email, typed in the code, hit "Go" — and it stalled. After looking at an "Authorizing . . . " screen for five minutes, with no way to restart the process, I just removed the app. (I emailed the "support" address, but no response yet.)

Still, it's out there, and maybe I can get it work later. Tell me your experience if you use it.

There is also a "Match a Hatch" app that I mean to try as well. My little iPhone should display invertebrates well enough.

CoTrex was created by a software firm called Natural Atlas, whereas CPW Fishing was created by Crestone Digital. Apparently they do not talk to each other — they are competitors, after all. Worse, no one at CPW is forcing them to talk to each other and to agree to make accounts interchangeable.

Right now, I have four CWP accounts:

1. For buying hunting and fishing licenses
2. For volunteer work
3. For CoTrex
4. (in theory) for CPW Fishing.

Wouldn't it be nice to have One Password to Rule Them?

June 29, 2019

Bigfoot Likes Blog Stew!!

That suppressor says we are not in the USA.
OK, readers, I have more saved links than I can turn into blog posts. So here they are, short form.

You will need a big spoon.

• I mentioned Laura Krantz's Bigfoot-related podcast, Wild Thing, which I really admired.  Here is an interview with her, "Bigfoot hunters aren’t crazy, just curious, says ‘Wild Thing’ podcaster Laura Krantz." No, she is not a True Believer, but that is what makes her work interesting.

• Related: A forty-year-old "Bigfoot hair sample" finally emerges from the FBI.

• If you use Instagram, here is a listicle: "10 Amazing Female Hunters You Should be following on Instagram." They are Scandanavian. But the secret to being an Instagram "influencer" is to show women alone in scenic/exotic places, which really makes some people become unhinged.

Good advice for "spring cleaning" your first-aid kits. Yeah, I need to do that, especially for the one that sits in the Jeep getting heated up in the summer.

There is gun culture and there is hunting culture, "rather similar, but also rather different. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the two, there would be a lot of overlap, but there would also be a lot of areas where they don’t meet. For example, a hunter may completely eschew firearms for political reasons, but retain the use of a bow or crossbow. Meanwhile, plenty of people own guns for personal defense but have never traveled into the woods to take any game."

So a self-described "stereotype of a Northeastern liberal" with "a New Yorker’s visceral aversion to firearms" connects with a "Yale-trained stage actor and bartender," who also mentors novice deer hunters. They set out into the woods, and here is what happens. (First he needs to get Joy Williams, Ernest Hemingway and a bunch of other voices out of his head!)

June 28, 2019

Hunters, Gatherers, and Pedal Power

Photo: Terry Milne, Porter Creek Secondary School
If you thought that yesterday's post on experimental archaeology and cutting up deer with stone tools was too easy, then send your high-school kid to Porter Creek Secondary School, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.

They like to ride fat-tire bikes. They use them to hunt buffalo. On snow and ice.
Students and teachers from Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse — Yukon’s largest city, with 25,000 of the territory’s 35,000 people — killed a 1,500-pound bison during a hunt on a field trip in March, and feasted on its meat with classmates and parents earlier this month. Three teachers and three government guides led eighth and 10th grade students on a four-day trip into the wilderness filled with camping, hiking, ice fishing and bison-stalking.
Do these kids make the young wranglers of Deep Springs College look like Cheetos-munching gamers? (You decide.) Can I travel back in time to the days when I lived on a bicycle?
Then as night fell, they switched on their headlamps and field dressed the animal, bringing the tenderloin back to camp for a midnight snack.

During the recent community feast, dishes included the animal’s heart and tongue, along with more traditional cuts of meat.

“It was amazing,” [teacher Alexandra] Morrison said. “The northern lights were out. The wolves were howling in the distance. It was the most wonderful, respectful experience.”
Their hunt reminds me just a little of Stephen Stirling's "After the Change" novels — the first one, in which bicycles become important, was Dies the Fire

June 27, 2019

This Is the Anthropology Class You Wish You Could Have Taken

Prof. Schindler shoots a stone-tipped arrow.
(Photo: Washington College)
Anthropology professor Bill Schinldler starts with students like these:

The skills prehistoric peoples depended on seem exotic to today’s college students, who Schindler says arrive on campus each year with less and less of the sort of practical experience that he emphasizes in his class. He tells of the time he asked some students to crack eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. He returned to the kitchen 10 minutes later to find that not a single egg had been cracked. “I asked them if the problem was that nobody had ever told them how to separate the yolk from the whites, and received blank stares in return,” he recalled. “After a minute of silence, one of them said, ‘I’ve never cracked an egg.’ I was floored—how do you even make it to 19 without cracking an egg?

But by the time he has had them for a while:

On the last day of the course, Schindler and his class feasted on stew made from the deer they had butchered, out of bowls they had fired from local river clay. As they ate, some of the students gave presentations about their efforts to do as early humans had done. These attempts had not all been successful: Stone axes fell off the handles they were hafted to, wood in a charcoal kiln turned mostly to ash instead of charcoal. “It wasn’t a failure at all,” Schindler reassured the distressed charcoal maker, “because now you know what you would do differently.” 

Read the whole thing — "Professor Caveman: Why Bill Schindler is teaching college students to live like early humans."

June 26, 2019

Give a Man a Pile of Rocks . . .


. . . and he will spend a while trying to stack them into a balanced cairn.

I say "man" because the boot tracks down here were pretty large, just in case you are questioning my gender assumptions.

There used to be a road under this slide, but then came a forest fire, followed by flash-flooding.  I used to know the area well. Now it's all changed. Time for re-exploring.

Yes, the ridge in the background was burned pretty thoroughly. Gambel oak is coming up in profusion, so the deer, bears, and turkeys will benefit from acorns.

June 17, 2019

How Can You Be Neutral in the Chile Wars?

To be loyal to my bioregion, I have should have this license plate, but . . .

In August 2018 the state of Colorado announced an addition to its growing collection of specialty license plates — the Pueblo chile plate.
After months of working to get the famous pepper to appear on a Colorado specialty license plate, Pueblo farmers, the Visit Pueblo Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pueblo Chile Growers Association and Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce celebrated its availability at the steps of the Pueblo County Courthouse Monday morning.

The new plates went on sale for $50 early Monday [August 6, 2018].

“This is a great thing for the Pueblo Chile. People in Colorado want to be a part of it,” said Dalton Milberger, president of Pueblo Chile Growers Association and of Milberger Farms in Pueblo County. . . . Former Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, who helped Esgar kick off the idea for the license plates, said the plate represents another part of brand layering to increase Pueblo Chile’s market share competing with the rivals from New Mexico.
The Empire, however, had made a preemptive strike. New Mexico's 2017 chile pepper license plate was already winning awards in 2018.

Gov. Susana Martinez said she was proud to accept the award.
“Chile plays a significant role in our state’s culture and is one of our greatest treasures," she said. "This license plate lets the world know that New Mexico is — without a doubt — the Chile Capital of the World.”

In a bid to become the Princess Leia of the Pueblo Chile Rebel Alliance, Colorado State Representative Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) announced in February 2019 that she had gotten a tattoo of a Pueblo chile pepper with the words "Death Before Hatch."

She also sponsored the license plate bill. (Photo: Pueblo Chieftain.)

I would put the Pueblo chile plates on my Jeep, but I admit to some fear. I am in New Mexico two or three or four times a year. Would I face road rage from Hatch Empire loyalists? Would pickup truckloads of Hatch Stormtroopers blast me with their pepper cannons? Should I risk it? Maybe I should stick with the generic "greenie" plate.

Meanwhile, our Mirasol peppers are getting hotter. Last year (2018), dry weather kicked up the hotness of Pueblo chiles, this expert says:
Dr. Mike Bartolo with Colorado State University's Arkansas Valley Research Center looks specifically at local crops around the area, especially chili peppers. 
“I don’t know if we have any scientific evidence to validate that peppers are getting hotter," said Dr. Bartolo. "But certainly with hot dry conditions we experienced earlier in the summer, it wouldn’t be too surprising if that was the case. Especially if they were water stressed."
Not everyone in Pueblo is in agreement on whether the new crop's heat has increased. Pueblo chile pepper growers, like Kasey Hund with DiTomaso farms, says the pepper's level of spiciness is noticeable.
The power of the Pueblo Alliance continues to grow. And there is a long-range plan at work here — I blogged about it in 2007: "Chile Peppers and Pueblo's Identity."

How Your Dog Controls You with "That Look"

That Look. It is the one that makes you say, "Oh, poor puppy! Would you like part of my sandwich?"

It's evolution at work, say some scientists.
A paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dogs’ faces are structured for complex expression in a way that wolves’ aren’t, thanks to a special pair of muscles framing their eyes. These muscles are responsible for that “adopt me” look that dogs can pull by raising their inner eyebrows. It’s the first biological evidence scientists have found that domesticated dogs might have evolved a specialized ability used expressly to communicate better with humans.

June 16, 2019

Nuestra Señora de Cannabidiol


Buy CBD products with spiritual benefits. Ledoux Street, Taos, New Mexico.

June 15, 2019

They Are Sandbagging La Veta


Along Main Street in the little resort town of La Veta, where sandbags are piled (sometimes) in front of the shops, in case the Cucharas River floods due to run-off from the area burned a year ago in the Spring Fire, west of town.

June 14, 2019

The Poppies of Taos

One strong visual memory from the two summers that I spent working in the Taos, New Mexico, area during my undergrad years — away from Portland's drizzle -- was orange Oriental poppies against adobe walls. It is always rewarding to come back in June and see them again.

These are at the museum named for Taos artist Ernest Blumenchein (appropriate name, right?), but you can see them all over town.

June 11, 2019

Our First Trip to Trinidad Lake State Park

Part of Carpios Ridge Campground from an overlook.
As I turned into the Carpios Ridge Campground at Trinidad Lake State Park, pulling the little pop-up trailer, I saw this tall building with a bright red-orange metal roof.

"That must be the visitor center," I said to M. But I was so wrong. It was the "camper services" building — toilets, plus coin-operated showers, laundry room, and vending machines. The actual visitor center was more modest.

By happenstance, the first weekend of June found us holding reservations for the dogs at the boarding kennel, but our original planned destination was impossible. What to do? A lot of the high country was still snowy and/or in the middle of the Big Melt, so we looked lower down.

A view from our campsite. The forest here is mostly piñon-juniper.
Trinidad Lake SP was not too far away, and thanks to our volunteer work, we had a brand-new hang tag for the Jeep that would give us free park admission — we still had to pay for the campsites. I went online to check, and there were two left, so I grabbed one. (All these campsites are by reservation only.)

The Purgatory River was dammed to create the lake in 1979, making it slightly younger than Pueblo Reservoir.  The lake's level fluctuates, but it is around 800 acres.

Creating the lake drowned some former "coal camps," but you can see visit Cokedale at the park's west end, with its long row of former coke ovens aging under the Colorado sun — when they were working, that little valley must have filled with choking smoke.

One morning I went down to fish before breakfast, and I admit to being skunked—I saw a couple of fish, but they rejected my lures. Some anglers in boats were not doing well either, but I saw one hooked by a fisherman on the shore.

Muddy water flowing into the lake.
When I don't know a lake, my default strategy is to fish the inlet. We went up there later, but the muddy water of "the Purg" was flowing in big-time out of the Culebra Range. So I switched to hiking and geocaching — CPW staff have placed some excellent caches, as well as those left by other geocachers.

The riparian zone meets the P-J in Long's Canyon.
The best hike is Long's Canyon, about a three-mile round trip, because it is away from roads and follows a creek and riparian area that offers the best birding and wildlife-viewing opportunities. There are even some permanent blinds.

It also includes a geological feature, the KT (KPg) Boundary, as described in "An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park."

If all this is not enough, you are only about five miles from the Corazon de Trinidad National Historic Area.

June 10, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (4)

"Stinky" in November 2018.
 Last November, as described in a post called "The Mountain Lion Who Hated Everyone (With Reason)," I talked about the vomit-covered kitten that we picked up from a Huerfano County game warden and brought up to the local wildlife-rehabilitation center.

(Here is CPW's news release about her.)

I called her "Stinky," for lack of a better name. She soon gained a cage-mate, another kitten from down the Arkansas River in Otero County, whose even more antisocial demeanor — a good thing, really — earned him the nickname of "Hissy."  He would hide inside a hollow log in the enclosure, peer out, and hiss in the most hostile manner that he could.
"Stinky" six months later. She is crossing
the hollow log but would not fit inside it.


This was Stinky at the end of May, when she and Hissy were deemed sufficiently grown to be released into their original territories. They weighed 50–60 pounds, Hissy being a bit larger.

So I thought back to the case of Travis Kauffman, who got his fifteen minutes of fame last February when he "fought off" and killed a mountain lion west of Fort Collins.

A subsequent necropsy put the little lion's weight at 24 pounds (9 kg.) So it weighed maybe half or less what Stinky weighed upon release. 

Kauffman stomped a kitten, albeit a big one.

I and everyone else who wrote about that thought that he had been attacked, his running triggering a predatory reflex.

But the rehabber had a different view. She pointed out that Kauffman's injuries were on his front, whereas a mountain lion normally attacks from the rear or side. She thought he was probably bent over the kitten snapping photos with a smartphone when it literally got in his face.

The kitten was big enough to scratch him up, but not big enough to take him down.

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

June 06, 2019

Wildflowers in a Scrambled Spring

Penstemon virens, low penstemon — I think.
This spring has been unusually cool and wet. The "wet" means that all of Colorado is now officially out of drought. I kept thinking locally that the soil moisture was still not what it could be—I was not seeing the spring melt trickles in the little draws—but the last May snowstorm produced some, so hurray for that.

The early wildflowers (spring beauties, pasqueflower) were nothing much, but these penstemons came on strong. M. and I were in south central Texas in April when the bluebonnets (which are lupines) were blossoming—the slope behind the house is almost like that.
Clematis hirsutissima, hairy clematis or sugarbowl.

These hairy clematis (I say Clem-atis, you say Cle-mat-is) usually bloom by late May; this year there are just getting going now. Ditto the wallflowers, not pictured.
Rocky Mountain locoweed, Oxytropis sericea. They are blooming in full force too. On the other hand, the apple trees in the neighborhood had a very few blossoms. It was chilly for so long.

Four-nerved daisy or "Perky Sue"


Perky Sue? Isn't that an old rock 'n' roll song? No, that was "Peggy Sue," as first performed by Buddy Holly — video here. (Supposedly its name commemorates this  Texas lady.)
 
Its botanical name is Tetraneuris Ivesiana.  Photographed at Trinidad Lake State Park on the first of June.

June 02, 2019

An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park

Right here is when (most of) the dinosaurs died.


Things you learn. Not being a paleontologist or a geologist, I did not know that that the K-Pg boundary — Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary — is visible at a southern Colorado state park. (It used to be the K-T boundary [Creataceous-Tertiary], but the kool kidz have changed the name, and if you don't keep up, you're just so 1990s.)

In a  recent New Yorker article, "The Day the Dinosaurs Died," Doug Preston writes,
Today, the layer of debris, ash, and soot deposited by the asteroid strike is preserved in the Earth’s sediment as a stripe of black about the thickness of a notebook. This is called the KT boundary, because it marks the dividing line between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period. (The Tertiary has been redefined as the Paleogene, but the term “KT” persists.) Mysteries abound above and below the KT layer. In the late Cretaceous, widespread volcanoes spewed vast quantities of gas and dust into the atmosphere, and the air contained far higher levels of carbon dioxide than the air that we breathe now. The climate was tropical, and the planet was perhaps entirely free of ice. 
You stand there, and you look at it, and you think, "Right there. Death and chaos like we cannot imagine."
His X-Acto knife unearthed the edge of a fossilized fin. Another paddlefish came to light; it later proved to be nearly six feet long. DePalma probed the sediment around it, to gauge its position and how best to extract it. As more of it was exposed, we could clearly see that the fish’s two-foot-long snout had broken when it was forced—probably by the flood’s surge—against the branches of a submerged araucaria tree. He noted that every fish he’d found in the site had died with its mouth open, which may indicate that the fish had been gasping as they suffocated in the sediment-laden water.

Here is another view of the layer from sciencebuzz.org.
This site is on the Long's Canyon Trail at Trinidad Lake State Park. It is just a quarter mile or so from the trailhead.