Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mesa Verde and the Monsoons

It's midsummer, and that means "monsoon" rains in the southern rockies. They are welcome for the rain they bring to keep the flowers and grasses growing, but they also are needed for keeping the heat down. The anasazi stylized the thunderhead clouds that is represented in many of their pottery and kiva paintings, so it's keeping the faith in the four-corners to appreciate them... even when it cancels your hiking plans.

Most of the storms are isolated and fast moving, just enough to make you run for cover and dampen the ground, but every now and then the mountains seem to grab hold of the clouds and not let go. In mid July, we had a storm at Mesa Verde where they recorded 1,850 ground strikes in a few hours. The bolts started a dozen small fires, and the sharp lookouts had spotted most of them. The following day the fire crews worked at full tilt, sending crews out to each blaze and using a helicopter to assist in finding new fires. Low winds and high humidity made it easy to snuff them out.

Despite the bad weather, we have been getting stuff done. We completed some surveys of the Schmoll's milkvetch (Astragalus schmolliae) along a portion of Chapin mesa, hiking past a ruined watchtower and cliff dwellings. We released a few more batches of Trichosirocalus horridus to feast upon the musk thistle. Long term monitoring plots of the burn areas are also being established; so far we've completed 25 of 100 that need to be done for sampling.

The weather also gave us enough breaks to go climb Wilson Peak and hike along Hope Lake. The wildflowers are going full bore in the alpine areas, where most of the snow is now gone. Elephant's Head, Castilleja rhexifolia, Monk's Hood, Delphinium, Bistort, Columbines, and many others are all blooming. Pikas scamper along the rock slides, harvesting grasses and drying them in little cute haystacks before storing them in their burrows for the long winter. Snow still persists along the north faces and other areas protected from the sun, but it is melting fast.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Goodbye George

This is George T. Mouser; cat, companion, and fuzz factory.

born: circa 1993
died: July 23, 2011

George was as friendly of a cat as you could ever hope to meet. I found him in an animal shelter in Texas 18 years ago, and he'd been purring ever since. If you ever found a cloud sailing overhead with a touch of grey, that was probably motes of his cat fur that have been circumnavigating the globe for the past decade.

There's so many memories he gave us, like the time he came home pink (still a mystery), the time he summoned satan to scare away an opossum, the time he bawled like an evinrude outboard gettin bogged down in the mud (and was so mournful I had to stop the car to tell him he was a good boy), the time I patrolled my neighborhood until 3:30am to bring him in before a huge storm to find him up on a roof, and that he never once tried to hurt anybody -- including the many vets that poked & prodded him painfully, and being the best nap kitty in the world.

George began slowing down past Sunday evening. By Tuesday evening, it was clear he needed to see a vet. He was in Complete Renal Failure, and despite several days in the hospital, there wasn't anything that could be done to help him. He rallied a few times and tried so very hard to eat and drink for us, but since he could barely walk, losing energy, and in discomfort, we agreed it was time to let him rest.

We found a nice place to bury him in the mountains, close to heaven in a shaded grove with wildflowers blooming all around. If you ever find yourself in a field so beautiful and find a ring of small stones, say "hi" to George and tell him we can't wait to see him again.

We miss you George, rest in peace.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Into the Big Blue

The Seeps & Springs monitoring has completed. We were able to combine the activity with some rare plant survey work as well. As always, it's a fun assignment, since we need to find routes into the back-country canyons that are seldom visited. We were able to locate a rare orchid, Epipactus gigantea, aka Giant Helleborine. Some of the routes through the canyons were challenging, but adventurous, we passed by many ancient ruin sites along canyon walls and hunted through thickets of Rhus toxicodendron (poison ivy) as tall as us.

For the holiday weekend, we met with family for a campout at Silver Jack reservoir. My orchid radar must've still been tuned, for we hadn't been there for more than 30 minutes before we found a nice patch of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy-slipper orchid) blooming in the woods next to melting patches of old snow drifts. I had been to this area a few years ago (thanks, bro!) to climb Courthouse and explore the area. This trip the goal was to dabble into the wilderness to see what the proverbial bear could see.

We hiked along the East Fork of the Cimmaron river for 6-7 miles before turning back. The snow melt along all the ridges provided us with a grand total of 27 waterfalls seen along the hike. Only 3 of them appeared large enough to last all summer. To celebrate the end of the trip, we had planned to soak in the Ouray Hot Springs, but the pool was beyond crowded. After a huge meal and a marzipan mouse, we left happy.

And now for my 4th of July Soapbox edition: Local geographers really need some imagination! If I had a nickel for every Bear Creek, Clear Lake, Lookout Mountain, Turkey Gulch, etc... I'd have enough to pay a therpist for all the angst these repetitive names cause me. Each county here has a Bear Creek Trail, so that's 4 Bear Creek Trails within a few hours drive... Sunlight Mountain, Storm King Peak... you'd think those would be slightly more original, but there's multiples within the Colorado Rockies. Equally mind-numbing is naming a natural feature after a person. Lame! So I propose geographers comb through this lousy nomenclature and put at least 5 seconds of thought before giving a major landmark a name.

Which is a nice segue into my next rant. Botanists, get your taxomy stable for once! Not only are the names churning constantly, but even the family definitions are fluid. I know there's good reasons behind some of the churn, but some of it is just stubborness and following rules for the sake of rules. Easy for me to complain about, but common names sometimes seem more useful (although some are miseleading, redundant, and worthless too). Still, it's strange to express disdain for regional common names when the scientific names are regional and temporal.

Finally, I'd like to wish STS-135 a wonderful flight as Atlantis and the space shuttle fleet flies for one last time into the Big Blue.