Showing posts with label forests. Show all posts
Showing posts with label forests. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Son of a Son of a (Sagebrush) Sailor

Although I've never felt much of a need to read Sigmund Freud, his "Civilization and its Discontents" was interesting. In it, Freud mentioned that some people had described a powerful "oceanic" feeling; but he had never experienced it.

Perhaps Dr. Freud never had the experience of camping in drab, ugly, and half-dead forests in the summer -- to escape the heat -- and then busting out into the open in September. An oceanic feeling can be very powerful indeed. Better yet, this feeling can be used for a practical purpose: it helps to keep an outdoorsy lifestyle interesting, long after the tourist phase is over.

Recently this oceanic feeling provided a real phantasmagoria for me: breaking out into the sagebrush hills seemed like heading out to sea on a sailboat. Perhaps this was helped by reading Jack London's "South Sea Tales." (  I even listened to some Jimmy Buffett songs for the first time in a long while.

For instance, as you creep out of the forest gloom, and head downhill into the sagebrush sea, you see trees hanging on to the gullies. They never seem to be thriving. They seem so frail, like the sand spits that stick out from the mainland into the sea. 

(Sand spits might only be a foot above the water level. You can't help wondering why they aren't wiped out by waves during the next storm. Despite the frail appearance, sand spits are waxing, not waning. That is, they are being deposited by currents along the shore.)

But what about these treed gullies? Are they waxing or waning? How and Why did they get there? In general trees invade grasslands because of fire suppression by the forest service and BLM. Fire favors grasslands over trees. So can these treed gullies be seen as the advance guard of the invaders?

It might not be an interesting subject to standard tourists, but it is to me, because of this analogy to sand spits in the sea, and my misadventure of nearly drowning (during my first sea kayaking lesson) off the tip of Point Pelee, sticking down into Lake Erie. (The Wikipedia article says it is the longest sand spit in freshwater.)

So things are working: I am finding things to think about when mountain biking, not just to look at. And nature begins to appear as a dynamic process, rather than a static object for syrupy sentimentalism or pseudo-religious veneration.

My favorite laccolith in the distance. But it is a mere runt compared to the Grand Mesa over by Grand Junction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Do You Tow a Van and Trailer BACKWARDS?

I was headed up the mountain for a favorite dispersed campsite of mine, in my van and small cargo trailer. Naturally I was nervous about a certain muddy rutted area, an area that has been touch-and-go in the past. But it was unusually dry there last night, so I plunged in confidently. Over-confidently as it turned out. And you think hubris is an ancient superstition?

1. Don't make it any worse. When you start spinning, you might as well stop. If ground clearance is a problem, you don't want to let air out of your tires.
2. Be patient, be calm; which was more difficult here because there was no cellphone service. Wait for a local person to show up. In fact, they did. But I had to spend a night camping in muddy holes. Actually it was pretty flat, and absolutely quiet. I slept well. Try to see a disaster as an adventure.
3. I was essentially on a one-lane deadend road. No tow truck could get in front of me to pull me forward, the usual way of being pulled out.
4. Can you be pulled backward when you are pulling a trailer? There is nothing strong on the trailer to grab with a hook. You certainly don't want to put the tow rope around the axle or spring hardware. Even if you bolted a towing hook onto the frame rails of the trailer, the stress needed to move the van will be transmitted through the weaker trailer. Not good: the strength of the trailer frame is meant for the trailer only. (The van weighs twice as much as the little trailer.)

The local folks talked me into surrendering gracefully and accepting a ride into Gunnison CO. (Oh what a blessing it is to not be macho, proud, and stubborn when the time comes!) 

There was a good local tow-truck company, but they weren't part of the Coach-Net network. Nevertheless Coach-Net paid the local company cash to come out and get me. Isn't that wonderful? It was much better than sending a tow-truck from a metropolitan area four hours away. Local tow companies are not only closer, but they have experience with the bad spots on the road, in question.

So what did the tow truck driver grab onto, to pull both rigs backwards out of the muddy ruts? He didn't! He pulled me forward. But wait, you say, how can he pull you forward when the tow truck is behind the van + trailer?

This is the first time I saw a winch being used. He extended the winch cable from the tow-truck to the first big tree in front of the van, looped backwards to the van, and hooked up the usual way. Thus the 6 inch diameter aspen tree served as a (stationary pseudo-) pulley.

After three feet of towing, I was out of trouble. Maybe I should go back to carrying a "come-along", that is, a hand-operated winch. I might have been able to do this myself. Still, this is the first time in 18 years of full-time RVing when a winch made a difference. The individuality of "I am stuck" situations is perversely fascinating.

So here is the guy who always complains about overly-thick national forests, who was saved by the fact that there was a tree nearby. My goodness, what if this had happened in the sagebrush or desert? (The tow truck might be able to drive around the stuck vehicle if it just means trampling some grass or sagebrush, but what if a large cactus was blocking the path? Or big ditches on both sides?)

So what is the moral of the story, besides getting Coach-Net towing insurance? (Thank you, John and Susan.) Most of the risk is concentrated on the outbound trip away from the main road. Also, consider the advantage of camping with the front of your rig facing the main road. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Isn't Heating Your Home Free?

The forests in Colorado are no longer merely worrisome. They are well on the way to complete destruction. Here's an example of what I saw near Little Texas #1:

I asked the visitor's center if the Rio Grande national forest was the worst. Surprisingly he said that it was worse elsewhere. Bark beetles.

Believe it or not, there is something good to talk about. I saw pickup trucks going up my road everyday to cut up and haul out a load of firewood. They are my heroes. 

I asked one about the catalytic converters in the chimney of wood stoves. His experience was bad. In fact he removed it. But catalytic heaters, oxygen sensors, and computer-based control of automobile engines are pretty reliable. So why couldn't the same be true of wood stoves. (Please don't complain about the cost. Wood stove customers will squander an extra thousand dollars for a stove that is nostalgic or fashionable, so what is wrong with a few hundred dollars for something that works?)

Why doesn't the forest service increase the amount of firewood cutting by a ratio of 50? Does it allow commercial companies to harvest dead trees and sell firewood? If not, the answer is pseudo-religious ideology (and lawsuits) of the well-funded Big Green lobby.

There are a lot of expensive McMansions in Colorado. Virtually every square foot of private land already has a house sitting on it. The ultimate status symbol is a house that sticks out prominently on a cliff or mountain, and 'borders the national forest', in real estate salesman cant. I saw some of those pretty close to where I was camped.

And what do they see out the prominent and expensive windows in their McMansions? Dead spruce trees, as in the photo above. Perhaps the real estate lobby will start fighting the Big Green lobby. That would be interesting to see. Then again, forests like in the photo are great for the woodpecker lobby.

I wish I knew more about the politics, pseudo-religious ideology, and junk-science of forest management around here. I suppose Big Green sees wood stoves as evil because they spit out carbon dioxide. If somebody pointed out that forest fires put out a little of that...

...the Green true believer would counter with, "Yea but that sort of carbon dioxide is natural and is coming from the Cathedral of Nature."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gotterdammerung on the Upper Rio Grande

How I Remember this Devastated Land

It is always fun to visit a dispersed camping area that you haven't seen in quite a few years. I went back to the higher country, just uphill of where I've been camping the last few days, because the fire has become less dramatic. In fact, I now see it as a make-work project for government-sector employees and crony-capitalists.

Well, that's how the upper Rio Grande valley still looks at the ingress of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado.

And forest fire or not, there are still many wild roses in bloom. I need a break from the smell of smoke, haze, and destruction.

So life goes on.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bleak Part of the Battle Begins

South Fork, CO.  What's it like to be a refugee family trying to kill time in a high school gymnasium, while hiding from the forest fire? It was probably an adventure the first day. But after several days? And the authorities are careful not to give the refugees a specific date when they can return to their homes. 

Sometimes I wonder about the sluice-gate of federal (FEMA) dollars that starts flowing once a crisis reaches a certain threshold, and whether authorities and crony capitalists try to over-extend the crisis just to suck every last dollar out of the ol' cash cow. In that sense, a naive trust of authorities will just turn you into a captive/hostage. That -- and not reckless overconfidence or thrill-seeking -- is probably the real reason why some non-sheeplike people won't evacuate when the authorities order them to.

Seeing the kindly neighbor-woman drop in on me several times -- yesterday she wanted to know if I needed water -- brought several out-of-date and laughable ideas to my atavistic brain. I thought back to how we used to imagine disasters, in the old days, and especially in small towns. 

Do you think people would have just laughed if I had gone down to a refugee center and tried to volunteer for something? There are so many government employees that look almost militarized. They each have a $100,000+ rig to drive. They would probably look down on me as a nuisance; "no, Mister, we can't use you unless you have a Class 4x-Q7 Red Cross rating with a certificate signed more recently than 2.83 years ago."

They might also slap a wristband on me and not allow me to leave.  That would be everybody's dream: indefinite internment in a Nanny State POW camp.

The dreadful truth is that I don't care about this country and society. It isn't mine. Nor do I care how many bubble-financed McMansions burn down. But I do feel sorry about the animals. There are three horses in the pasture below me, and I wonder who is taking care of them.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cecil B. DeMille in the San Juans: Going Pyro-Cumular!

Noon MDT, South Fork CO: In order to burnish my credentials for employment in the responsible mainstream media, I was going to entitle this, "West Fork Wildfire Goes Thermonuclear." 

But that might have caused unnecessary worry. And "pyro-cumular" sounds much more positive and friendly than "thermonuclear."  Besides, I don't really know if this is due to a sudden flare-up (intensification), or whether calm winds are allowing a chimney-column to form. But what happened to the pall of smoke that was blocking this view? Did it blow away suddenly, just before this column developed?

Consider all the history books a history buff can read over the course of a lifetime. The historian loves playing Monday morning quarterback, based on a collection of papers and documents known to the historian, decades after the battle. But what was known to the commanding general at the time of the decision? The fog of war is something I will appreciate more because of this experience.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Smoke, but no Flames for South Fork

Update 2000 MDT: the sheriff came to check on a forest road gate. We had a nice chat. He said the fluctuations of the wind are fooling everybody: it looks like the evacuation is "long term." He confirmed that the flames had come within 2 miles of South Fork yesterday. (And therefore 4 miles from me.) Old Sol looks pretty battered and bloodied:

Update 1245 MDT: Whoa baby! The high wind has chased the intervening and obstructing smoke out of the upper valley of the South Fork of the Rio Grande. And now for the first time I can see where the action is, up by Wolf Creek Pass, the continental divide.

Update 1153 MDT: The wind recently kicked up to 30-40 mph. But it's blowing the smoke to the north. Everything around South Fork is clearing up. I can't believe how quickly the air cleared up over such a large area (many square miles). It looks so good to see the mountains again!
Update 1000 MDT: a recent and useful new article from the Denver Post:

South Fork, CO. I expected a night of fitful sleeping. I stayed dressed in bed, ready for a fast getaway. A local woman had checked in on me late Friday afternoon. She explained that "mandatory" evacuation doesn't mean that people actually have to leave. But if they do leave, the highway back is closed until the mandatory evacuation is lifted.

She was ready to evacuate quickly. She was in phone communication with a network of locals -- the ones who stayed, that is. I should have remembered to give her my cell phone number, but presumably she would come by again if she was in flight. (I'm practically at the base of her driveway.)

Two types of contrails.
The smoke was annoying. A few house lights and pole lights stayed lit last night. I checked about four times. Each time there was something reassuring about those lights. How nice it was to see the Verizon tower on the mountain "in dawn's early light." (Now I know how Francis Scott Key felt when he woke up to see the American flag still flying above the fort.)

Even more reassuring was the absence of visible flames anywhere in the area. I think the worst is over. But that's really up to the wind. The best news link that I've found so far is here:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mandatory Evacuation! (with updates)

Update 1925 MDT: It bothers me that the town of South Fork is visually disappearing because of the smoke. It's only 1.5 miles away. Nor can I see the Verizon tower on the nearby mountain.

But I can't see any flames. Maybe that will have to wait until sunset. Will house lights and street lights be visible tonight?

The town is so quiet, so empty.

Update 1644 MDT: Are they serious? The fire is supposed to only be 2-3 miles west of South Fork, CO), which means 3-4 miles from me! It was 20 miles away this morning. There are so many government emergency workers these days, and so many weather websites and cable news channels. It makes sense that there would be exaggeration. But I don't want to be complacent, either.

Anyway, when I read this latest news it reminded me of the shock of people in Atlanta, in "Gone With the Wind": first they couldn't believe "Yankees in Georgia!" Then they couldn't believe that Atlanta would be taken and burned down.

By the way,  Verizon 3G wireless internet speeds up considerably when a town evacuates.

Update 1500 MDT: my new campsite (just east of South Fork, CO) is safer than the old one, for about four reasons. I can monitor the emergency news. If the internet croaks, I'm leaving immediately for Del Norte and Monte Vista. Those towns have become quite crowded with refugees.

Update 1300 MDT: As far as I can tell, the forest has not been closed on the safe (east) side of the town of South Fork. The best emergency link seems to be this one.

Quoting their communique: 

Eric Norton, Fire Behavior Analyst for the NIMO Team, said “The fire behavior we saw yesterday was so extreme, it was undocumented and unprecedented” The fire more than doubled in size going from 12,001 acres to close to 29,000 acres today.
I am not happy about seeing a dark cloud on both sides of me. Although the forest isn't closed, it seemed prudent to move camp down closer to the highway. I am surrounded by 50 yards of bare dirt (no burnables) in all directions. (It's a snowmobile park.) I can see the town itself. Lots of emergency vehicles are tearing down the highway with their flashers on. I feel sorry for the cows in a nearby pasture. 


10 am, MDT: I got stuff to say, as always. But right now I'm getting ready to skedaddle. Last night half of Texas was streaming downriver on US-160, after Wolf Creek Pass was closed. The town of South Fork CO has emptied out this morning, after it received a mandatory evacuation notice. The state highway up to Creede is closed -- those poor devils.

Maybe it's time to move.
Geesh, I'm starting to feel like that old codger that wouldn't leave the Mt. St. Helens area before she blew.

Modern Mother Nature as a Wrathful Old Testament God

At one time or another, most people have wished that they had more imagination. But recall the old proverb about 'being careful what you wish for.' Too much imagination can actually kill you if it creates panic in the water, and causes you to drown. In other situations it can at least cause you to worry more than you should. 

South Fork, CO. It was the smell that I noticed first. Oh sure, we've all smelled smoke before, but wasn't the forest fire supposed to be over 20 miles to the west -- off in some useless, dreary Wilderness Area that nobody really cares about?

Doesn't a sudden change in odor imply that danger is close? And when the edge of the fire-storm-cloud is sharp, doesn't that imply that the danger is close? Otherwise, it would be smeared out, wouldn't it?

And why did I feel heat against my body, when there was darkness at noon?

It seemed as though the heat was coming from just over the ridge to the west, the direction of the conflagration. Had the extreme winds kicked it up? Why hadn't the town panicked?

I drove around some, for better views. But in fact the most dreadful view was right at camp. There the ridge blocked the view partially; and so the mind fears an infinite Wrath on the west side, the fire side, of the ridge. 

My red-tinted sunglasses were also adding to this exaggeration. This was a new experience for me. I over-reacted on the side of caution: I got the trailer ready to hitch up and move in 30 seconds.

The sharp edge of fire-storm-cloud was actually over 20 miles away, but the obstructing-ridge made it appear to be just on the other side.

The heat that I thought that I felt from the fire was from the sun. Perhaps the longer wavelengths still came through smoke pretty well, and half-a-sun at 8000 feet still feels warm.

Just a bit east of the cloud stood the local Colorado postcard, with perfectly clean air. It had been mercifully passed over.

In the evening the wind died down. There was less to see in the sky. I popped a movie into the DVD machine: Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Imagination Is Needed After a Forest Fire

My work was cut out for me. In order to enjoy all the goodies of the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains of east-central Arizona, it is necessary to overcome a natural revulsion of burned forests. If you haven't seen a burnt forest... might underestimate the strength of your reaction. Human nature recoils from fire damage, be it a house or a forest, unless you're like Civil War general, William T. Sherman. It's a primal and fundamental reaction.

How, then, do you get any pleasure from a mountain bike ride through all this ghastly destruction? In the summer, heat and aridity are always a challenge. I rode up an old ATV trail, climbing, and climbing some more. The air got cooler sooner than it should have, which is another way of saying that there was more breeze than is normal, no doubt due to the denuded state of the burned forest. Refreshing air was no small advantage of an open (albeit devastated) canopy.

It was possible to look between the ugly spars to see sky and mountains. (In a typical overgrown national forest, you can barely see the sky.) It was entertaining to hear the sounds of woodpeckers. They sound so mechanical and artificial. How could such a small bird be responsible for such a sound? 

No shortage of food for Woodpeckers in the burned forests of the Southwest.

Surprisingly enough, the Greens haven't been able to block the logging of all of the dead trees. (They want to make sure that the resource industries remain dead, so that the Greens will have a complete hegemony over public lands.) Still, bugs will harvest more dead trees than chainsaws. You'd think that half the woodpeckers in North America would relocate to this area.

A bright green carpet of aspen was getting well-established, only two years after this fire. Someone whose eye and brain are drawn to violent contrast can find a certain grim satisfaction in a burned forest. And any outdoorsman should enjoy the unpopularity of burnt forests to the tourist hordes.

This experience set a new personal record for getting pleasure through skin rather than eyes.