Friday, June 21, 2013

On a Clear Day

Sheep Mountain near the old Galloping Goose Trestle

Today, June 21st, is the first official day of summer.  From our house near Dolores, we can use the distant Abajo mountains as our celestial calendar.  Last night's sunset from my observation post in the hot tub, the sun set above the northernmost peaks, the Twin Peaks.  One of my first tasks on the job this year was to scrub the cover for the USGS regional air-dust camera, which looks out over the Carrizo mountains in Arizona.  It's not the best view, but you may be able to catch a portion of our sunset skies from it.
Bear Creek Falls

Summer in the mountains also means wildfire season, and southwest Colorado continues to extend the decades long drought.  The Dark Canyon Wilderness we visited just a few weeks ago has a fire burning we could see from our porch 60 miles away.  The beetle killed fir forest on the west slopes of Wolf Creek pass is doing much worse this past week.  The afternoon smoke plume from 80 miles away looks like an H-bomb was dropped on Pagosa Springs.  That fire has tripled in size each day this week.  With luck, the monsoon rains will start soon and help snuff some of these out.

semper vigilantissimi
A new skill to add to my resume is I'm now trained to serve as a Fire Lookout.  I may fill in for our expert lookout at Park Point Tower, and perhaps  volunteer to work at the Benchmark Watchtower on days of severe weather.  In the past, Benchmark was staffed during the summer  months, but now it is vacant.  Having 2 watch towers cover a region is really important to obtain a cross-azimuth on a sighting, which is used to triangulate the position much more accurately.  Each year, a few more lookout towers are decommissioned.   Most are historic structures with antique equipment (the navy glass at MEVE served in WWII).  Attempts to preserve the old towers in the San Juans has led to novel ways to secure funding for them; you can rent them out as a weekend getaway, such as Jersey Jim Tower!

Another new experience, but much more solemn, was working on a Search and Rescue team at Mesa Verde.  Lost hikers are very uncommon at Mesa Verde, so this was the first time most of us had been involved on a SAR assignment.  We used canine teams, helicopters, and lots and lots of man-power sweeping the canyons where he was last known to be, but after a week still had not found him.
Wasatch Trail

For some weekend R&R, we hiked along Bear Creek (no, the other Bear Creek) from Telluride.  There were still patches of snow by the falls, and especially up along the Wasatch trail.  I wanted to see what the upper falls looked like, so I bushwhacked down an avalanche chute to finally get a good view.  Sadly, even this remote area could become the next victim of sprawl... I didn't realize it during my peaceful hike, but the Wasatch trail is under assault by a greedy tycoon that makes his riches through aggressive and dubious hostage tactics (multiple avalanche chutes imply you'd be a moron to build or stay there).  Further up the trail are some beautiful cascades.  After hiking across a snow field and a rickety, old bridge over troubled waters, I arrived at an old gold mill site now occupied by yellow-bellied marmots.  There were many funky-rusted contraptions on the ground, so I've nicknamed it Steampunk Mine.

Nellie Mine (aka Steampunk), Wasatch Trail

I'd like to close with this quote from the late Dr. Derek Main's dissertation on the Arlington Archosaur Site:

“Come my friends, 
tis not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows, 
for my purpose holds to sail 
off the bathes of all the western stars, until I die. 
To pursue knowledge like a sinking star. 
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. “

---- Alfred Lord Tennyson