April 18, 2014

Taking the Hitchhikers to Ludlow

Ludlow Massacre monument (Wikipedia)
It was a summer day in the mid-1970s and I was driving my ten-year-old Ford pickup down Interstate 25, heading back from Denver to my summer construction job in Taos. (I had gotten a couple of days off; there was a lady involved.)

In my denim clothes and straw hat, I was feeling all southern-Colorado-native-ish, being about 20 years old and preoccupied with questions of authenticity and roots, even though — or because — for eight months a year I was also a student at a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. (The old pickup had Oregon plates, even while I carried a New Mexico driver's license.)

Then I saw them: two young guys hitchhiking on the south edge of Pueblo, and I figured to pick them up before some cop got after them for being on the interstate. They were from New Jersey, as I recall, going to Santa Fe — and I could get them closer.

We went down the road, talking about their journey West, etc., and to them I was just this guy from Taos with a faint northern-New Mexico accent (courtesy of the crew I was working with). And I decided that they should see Ludlow as part of their Western experience.

We took the lonely exit, bumped over the railroad tracks and past the United Mine Workers billboard over a little rise to the memorial: the statues, the picnic ground, the plaques.

I did not have to play history guide: the story is there.

And now my memory breaks down.

Did I make up some story to leave them out there on the prairie between Trinidad and Walsenburg?

The quickest way to Taos would have been US 160 west over La Veta Pass, then south. But to get there from Ludlow I would have had to drive back north to Walsenburg first.

And I have a memory of coming down the west side of La Veta Pass, getting panicky because the oil pressure light started flickering— worrying that the oil pump was failing (they rarely do). And driving south through San Luis and Questa, heart in mouth, not wanting to break down, only to learn later that it was merely the sending unit going bad that caused the warning light to flicker.

Or was the whole experience an example of road-hypnosis hallucination? I've had several of those over the years.

To be continued.

April 17, 2014

The Hummingbird's Gamble

On April 11th I mentioned on Facebook that the first broad-tailed hummingbird had arrived, and a friend a few miles north in similar habitat said that she had seen one too.

The bird flew up to the end of the veranda where the feeder hangs during the summer, circled, and left. I had some sugar water ready, got a feeder from the basement, filled it, and hung it up.

He did not come back that day.

It's a tradition that at least one snowstorm follows the males' arrival. I always tell M. that thousands of years of evolution must have prepared them for this possibility, that they settle into "torpor" and wait it out.

Sure enough, on the 13th we had cold rain and graupel turning into snow, with a foot of snow accumulating and temperatures down around 20° F (-7° C).

The sun came out on Monday, but the hummingbird did not. The feeder hangs there — I can see it from my desk —but no hummer has visited it.

Maybe our one early hummingbird kept on flying. Maybe he froze to death. I would like to know, but I never will. Was the early arrival worthwhile just to get a good breeding territory?

April 16, 2014

Why I Would Not Man the Barricades for Cliven Bundy

The stand-off over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay public-lands grazing fees has energized a lot of people who are starting to think that the federal government is oppressive.

Maybe so. You can count on federal law-enforcement to be clumsy and oppressive, and idea of a "First Amendment Zone" is ludicrous. The entire country is a "First Amendment Zone."

But still. This is an ongoing story that the anti-federal zealots have just recently discovered, but I think they picked the wrong poster boy.

Consider the timeline. It goes back for decades.

In my opinion, here we have a patriarchal Mormon who thinks that God gave the land to him to abuse however he chooses. Range management? Heck no! Habitat protection? Heck no! Paying the Animal Unit Month fees? Heck no!

Besides, this particular anti-federal government narrative just won't get traction, as compared to, say, NSA spying on your emails. Two reasons:

1. It involves agriculture, and 97 percent of the people in this country feel no emotional connection to agriculture.

2. It involves Nevada. What is Nevada to most Americans? Las Vegas and Area 51? They probably do not even know that there are ranches in Nevada, aside from those non-agricultural establishments with "ranch" as part of their name.

The Bureau of Land Management should have removed his cattle long ago for non-payment, but they have been politically cowed (pun intended) by people like Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). As a former BLM contractor, I have seen how sensitive to the political winds that agency can be.

UPDATE: "Sorting Fact from Fiction on Chinese Solar in Nevada." Or, "Look at the map, people."

Western Mountain Snowpack April 1, 2014

Click to embiggen

View previous months and years at the National Water and Climate Center.

April 12, 2014

Seven Falls Added to Broadmoor Empire, or rather "Campus"

Seven Falls, a "legacy" tourist attraction in Colorado Springs — that means that it predates the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps —has been purchased by the Broadmoor Hotel.

Although my maternal grandparents arrived in the Springs in the 1920s, and I have been in and out of the city most of my life, I have never visited Seven Falls! Someone once told me that the flow was augmented via a pipe to make the falls look better (is this true?), and that news convinced that it was merely a tourist trap.
"You have this very unique [sic], one-of-a-kind attraction that has stood the test of time," [said Broadmoor Hotel CEO Steve] Bartolin said. "You get to the top of the stairs and there's a fabulous network of trails. It's just beautiful property. It will be a nice enhancement to our campus."
"Campus"? Have they started a University of Golf?

Sunlight and Body Weight Connected?

Get up and out in the sunshine early in the day, and you will be slimmer, says this article.
A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light. A new Northwestern Medicine study reports the timing, intensity and duration of your light exposure during the day is linked to your weight—the first time this has been shown..
And before you start talking about individual exceptions, yes, I am married to a slim person who hates to get up early. For me, early dog walk is partly about getting some sunlight to start my metabolism. (For the dog, it is about expending all the craziness built up during the hours of sleep by running wildly through the woods.)

April 11, 2014

Ringtail: Another Blurry Scout Camera Trophy

12:14 a.m., April 10, 2014
This photo might not look like much, but it is a trophy for me in my sporadic camera-trapping — my first ringtail (Bassariscus astutus). Some people call them "ring-tail cats," but they are not in the cat family, although they are a little cat-like. 

Some years ago a friend was describing a backpacking trip into a wilderness study area in eastern Fremont County, Colo. "I woke up, and there was a skinny raccoon trying to get into my pack!" he said.

That was a ringtail.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division's page for ringtails says "most sightings are ne water," which this location is not, being on a slope covered with oak brush, boulders, and scattered pines, but the locale is good for woodrats, and as CPW's page also states,  "They are slim enough to hunt woodrats in their dens."

My first goal was to get a photo of a mountain lion — and it is time to take a camera back to that spring — but I was not sure how to proceed with ringtails.

Last winter I discovered this "alcove" between a big boulder and a crude dry-stone drift fence that some cowboy(s) worked hard to build decades ago — stone walls are pretty rare in this country. The area is covered with the usual Gambel oak and ponderosa pine. 

Gray foxes pass through there all the time, along with the occasional turkey and skunk. So I think that I will leave a camera there semi-permanently and see if the ringtails come back.

April 10, 2014

"Misinformed" by Realtors

Whoever keeps up the Facebook page for the county road and bridge department just posted this:
Dear local realtors, please feel free to ask if you are unsure if a property is located on a county maintained road, I will happily give you the correct information. I have had 3 of your potential customers in my office today researching property that they were interested in and all had been "misinformed" by the listing agent. Your customers would rather hear it from you than to waste their time looking at properties that are not going to work for them. 719-zzz-zzzz is our phone, 719-xxx-xxxx is our fax or email us at •••@••••••.••• or message me here. Thanks.
You want real estate agents who are both knowledgeable and truthful? What planet do you live on?

Especially when it comes to water, which is only of huge importance in the rural West. I will never forget the agent who pointed out a piece of junk pipe lying in the backyard weeds — of a house we eventually bought, it's true — and said that it was where the irrigation water came out.

No, it was up the hill about fifty yards away, and the lateral (acequita to my New Mexico readers) was in terrible shape.

The agent who handled our purchase of this house had no idea about the well that served it. By that time, however, I was better prepared, and I cold-called some of our prospective neighbors to get the information that I needed before we committed to the purchase.

April 09, 2014

Wolves on the Colorado Ballot?

Gray wolf (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks photo).
Colorado is known for its frequent citizen initiatives to change its constitution, which is why the state constitution is now almost as long as the Boulder telephone book.

In a discussion of the ecological phenomenon of the "trophic cascade" at Colorado College last night, noted conservation biologist Michael Soulé mentioned that plans are afoot to try to pass a new constitutional modification requiring the re-introduction of wolves.

It would certainly pass on the urban Front Range, he predicted sensibly, although on the Western Slope (he lives in Paonia himself), its chances would not be so good.

Evidently there is some serious foundation money lining up behind this initiative. So stock up on popcorn now, because this could be interesting.

Where would these furry ecological saints be re-introduced? He did not say, although I got the impression that Rocky Mountain National Park would be one obvious candidate.

April 01, 2014

Domes Are (Were) the Future

I found this illustration at Ultra Swank, a "retro living" site, and the more I look at it, the less sense it makes, even in a late-1950s Your Friend the Atom sort of way.

Admittedly, its purpose was to sell whisky, not to advance agronomy.

But still, how would "harnessed atomic power" transform anything? Generating electricity to pump water? Irradiating crops?

Whatever the technology, it is clear that "men who plan beyond tomorrow" will still wear "Montana peak" hats.

And you had to have domes, because domes symbolized The Future. That meme was firmly established, which is why, I suspect, that geodesic domes had their moment of popularity as living spaces in the late 1960s—1970s. Despite their numerous disadvantages, building a dome proclaimed that you were planning beyond tomorrow.

March 31, 2014

'Brown Spirits' Are Back!

M. and I stopped at the liquor store on Thursday, and the #2 guy was asking me what kind of whiskey I liked.

Mainly bourbon and rye, I said. (I've been trying to perfect my Sazerac cocktail recipe lately.)

And he scurried off to the back office to photocopy some article from a liquor-trade magazine about different bourbons and their grain mixes, which was kind of him.

He also pointed out that the store's clearance bin contained a lot of tequilas.They were cutting back on tequila and vodka and ordering more whiskeys, he said. (Although they did not have any rye the last time that I looked, which is why I had to buy some in Colorado Springs.)

Then I remembered reading some business-journalist's article a some years ago about how "brown spirits" were a declining market share. Only old people drank bourbon. Tequila and vodka were where it was at.

Now we have these craft distillers popping up. Among others in Colorado are Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey (not bad, I've had it) and, in my bioregion, Deerhammer's "white whiskey," which is to say more of a moonshine recipe, not aged in charred barrels. Makes a decent Old Fashioned though.

So it's all about fashion, but I will enjoy this little whiskey renaissance while I can.

March 30, 2014

Blog Stew Must Have Chile Peppers

¶ Oh no! New Mexico chile production is falling. Pueblo County will just have to take up the slack.

¶ I doubt that Timothy Bal of Belle Mead, N.J., would want to rent our vacation cabin.

How the Humane Society of the United States invests its millions. Note that there is nothing here about helping animals.
Since I work around the corner from HSUS, I know exactly what their headquarters building looks like, and I have some idea of what they know about their core business (direct mail). Suffice it to say that they have screwed that last one up so badly that they are now facing a court-approved RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit – the same one the ASPCA has already paid $9.2 million to settle.
Where does the money go? Into more direct-mail campaigns to raise more money. They call that "celebrating animals, confronting cruelty," but you can call it offshore banking. 

March 29, 2014

Hummingbirds Slo-o-o-o-wed Down

In about three weeks (three weeks!) it will be time for the first hummingbird to arrive, and shortly thereafter, the Hummingbird Wars will start as they chitter and streak from feeder to feeder under the veranda roof.

This video (not mine) slows their voices and motion down ten times.

Some High Plains Bird News


Mountain Plover (Cornell Univ.)
Another news story on the upcoming annual Kaval mountain plover festival. Or how a tiny farming town, fearful of federal regulation, learned to love a (not officially) threatened species.

Meanwhile, to the southeast, the lesser prairie chicken has been placed on the "threatened" list.
The prairie chicken, a type of grouse known for its colorful neck plume and stout build, has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat, mostly because of human activity such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and construction of power lines and wind turbines, Ashe said. The bird, which weighs from 1 ½ to 2 pounds, has also been severely impacted by the region's ongoing drought.
Populations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico are affected. Governors are upset. So when is the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival?

March 28, 2014

First Pasque Flower of Spring

I saw these Pasque flowers blooming on the 26th when I went to check a nearby scout camera.

The amazing part is that they are growing in a finger-deep (or less) layer of leaves and pine needles on top of a huge boulder.