Monthly Archives: June 2012
6pm at Casa Gardiner. 97 degrees, 5% humidity and I think of being head to toe in Nomex, 10″ heavy leather fire boots, humpin’ a 15- pound chainsaw and line gear up the gnarly side of Menefee…hats off to the firefighters out there because it.is.so.goddam.hot. Heat stroke has to be a serious concern.
The situation is bleak. No rain since April and nothing but chances of dry lightning in the high country for the foreseeable future. It’s not hard to imagine why the Anasazi packed up their shit and headed somewhere else if they faced 10 straight years of this nonsense.
Fort Collins got it started with the High Park fire (now at 82,000 acres), Pagosa followed suit with the Little Sand (20,000), and now we have our very own neighborhood scorcher, the Weber Fire. The Rocky Mountain region just hit the 200,000 milestone and it’s only June. Colorado is a tinderbox and the burning is just going to get worse. I’m here to cheer everyone up.
As of this evening (Sunday) the fire is within a 1/4 mile of Highway 160 but ‘in an easily defensible spot’. Knowing the neighborhood but not having seen the fire up close it would seem they could keep the beast south of the highway but all it takes is one gust of wind to blow something hot across and it’s back to the races.
Much to the credit of the fire crews, luck, and the proactive partnerships with the Forest Service for thinning done in Elk Springs Subdivision, no structures have been lost yet, which is amazing when you see a towering column and know there are houses in the way. Same with the Weber Canyon structures. Again, solid work firefighters.
We were north for the weekend, in Ridgway and Montrose
house-hunting laying in the Uncompahgre River (life support on a 95 degree day) trying to guess what the fire was doing based on the fact that from Ridgway we couldn’t see the mountains in Ouray. The smoke was thick and the column seemed to be following us. At one point it bent over the sun and the temperature immediately cooled by 10 degrees (the banner picture).
We spent the night in the Ridgway State Park and just gawked in disbelief as 200 little campfires were allowed to burn in the campground, surrounded by nothing but a foot of concrete and then a sea of long-cured grass and flammable tents. Nothing like a pack of mouth-breathers, a bottle of lighter fluid and a burn ban to make a weekend exciting. Todd left the keys in the ignition so we could get the hell out of there in a hurry. Craziness. Similarly, the fireworks booths are doing what I am sure is a brisk business in Montrose – with the pyrotechnic holiday season just a week away I shudder to think of the coming weeks for my Forest Service peeps.
Time will tell how this year pans out. I noticed that there is a glimmer of hope building to the south, the red/blue bulges of moisture starting to line up in Mexico. If we could get a hint of monsoonal moisture without all of the lightning precursors I think we’d all count ourselves very lucky.
Fire is nature’s way of keeping the balance. Humans have complicated the simple nature of that reality. But it is what it is now and all I can hope during a season like this is that people with vulnerable homes proactively take steps to protect their property and by association protect all of our friends and family out there trying to keep the beast from burning up all of your stuff. In the meantime, firefighters, I wish you good RH recovery, cooler temps and a kick-ass caterer in camp.
While brilliant blue skies are nothing to complain about, those of us that have been under nothing but take great pleasure in a change of scenery. Till a big grey one bearing much-needed rain comes over, this lovely bit of sky art will do quite nicely.
If I can impart any wisdom at all to those of you out there dragging children around the earth let this be the one bit you remember:
When visiting Silverton, Colorado and getting yourself an icy cold mocha latte at the fabulous Avalanche Coffee House to chemically bolster your afternoon spirits (because it isn’t quite happy hour), do not let your cherub-faced monster-in-disguise commandeer that drink for any length of time. You will end up with this on your hands:
and you will still have that on your hands at 11 pm, ricocheting off of the interior of your (insert camping dwelling of choice).
Hey, guess what? After having done some expert field studies the past two weekends at high elevations where moose and elk are supposed to be frolicking in lush greenness, I have a highly scientific report to make: If Colorado doesn’t get a shitload of rain soon, the first thunderstorm that rolls through is going to burn the whole state down. So don’t delay visiting if you want to see the pretty trees. Anyone remember 2002? Rodeo-Chedeski, Missionary Ridge, Valley, Hayman? Mother Nature is throwing a bitchin’ 10-year anniversary party with 120,000 acres burned already. The governor has gone so far as to implement a state-wide fire ban.
While there is currently no nuclear plume out the window (never mind, I am told there is now a mushroom cloud care of the Little Sand fire) here in the SW corner of the state, the only thing missing is an ignition.
With the humidity bottoming out consistently around 5% and dry hot winds blowing, it is shocking that no one has accidentally lit the place up. The last time it rained at our house was April 26th; we got a whoppin’ .02″ which followed .07″ April 19th. The last ‘significant’ rainfall we got was April 15th when we got .23″. April was a big month…we were the happy recipients of a third of an inch altogether. 2.79″ on the year. Prime up your sump pumps, people.
Those of us that were living here in 2002 are having flashbacks because it looked just like it does outside today, except that I had two fewer children, was working fire 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and somehow was still way less tired. My brother came to visit in 2002, the hottest, driest June in decades and it was miserable – it never got below 90 degrees during the day and even Telluride was unbearable because it was 85 there and none of the shops had air conditioning. He and his friend had flown into Phoenix and rented a convertible because they were cheaper even than the Ford Fiestas on the lot. About 10 seconds into the 110-degree Phoenix heat they quickly realized why. He has been reluctant to repeat the trip ever since.
So, anxious to put the desiccation problem out of sight, out of mind, we headed up to Silverton and the South Mineral campground for the weekend. We decided Friday morning on this plan and then maniacally starting throwing crap into the back of the pickup. It reminded me why I love backpacking; every time we car camp it looks like we’re never coming back home.
For all the STUFF we managed to bring, in our haste to get out the door we forgot to pack the camera, two pillows and two sleeping bags. For a family that owns 8 sleeping bags that was mildly humorous. Kind of. Luckily the tenement on wheels had two big thick comforters in it so no one froze to death. I don’t want to talk about the camera part.
We spent Friday evening in Silverton, Addy chugging a double shot of espresso, me hating the gun fight thing (you’d think I had some serious PTSD issues…I about shit my pants every time they shot their guns which was approximately 1,000 times). Ugh. Get me out of there. We saw the train off, filled the kids full of ice cream (because who doesn’t love the science experiment of ice cream and espresso in a 3 year old?) and then went to visit the cool mining and historical museum. There was something quite satisfying about putting the children in the old jail that is there. They’ve only called once; I choose to believe it’s because they’re settling in nicely and not because that was their one and only phone call.
We hiked up the Ice Lake Basin trail on Saturday, soaking up the cloud cover that threatened to mist the area. Alas, though it snowed on us a bit, little if anything made it all the way to the ground. The wildflowers appear to be peaking about a month early and are pretty thin. The ground at 11,500′ is NOT supposed to crunch when you walk on it. Just sayin’.
We didn’t make it all the way to the upper lake this time but this is what it looks like: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
In the evening I talked the family into bouncing down the Rico-Silverton trailhead road to an old mine so that I could bang on some rocks. I know nothing about rock-hounding, had no idea what I was looking for or what I was doing. Todd loves my ignorance-driven projects. But after a while I started seeing rocks that were different from the rest, whacked them with the butt end of my axe and lo and behold, found some fun stuff, crystals and gold and silver flakes. Maisy got into the act and seemed to like slugging rocks as much as I did. Hey, what kid doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?
Our house went on the market this week and with that came the reality of the maddening effort it will take to leave the house every day looking like no one actually lives in it. And hey, a 3 and an 8 year old can fully absorb the situation and will pitch in in an effort to keep me from going insane, right? Someone please just shoot me now.
It was a week where our kittens had a coming of age ceremony whereby we were each presented with our own maimed but very much alive field mouse, a week of juggling two kids casting about in the black hole between when school ends and summer programs begin, a week where I planted 20 of what are likely going to be someone else’s tomatoes and a week that was so stressful that a friend took one look at me and very seriously offered up her Xanax. Stress and I are unfamiliar bedfellows; I wear it poorly.
However, with this totally crap week in the rear-view mirror and a perfect Colorado day on tap (although we’re starting to redefine perfect around here with the need for rain becoming quite pronounced), oh, and having to be out of my house between 9:30 and 11am so that it could be shown, I figured what better way to waste away a Saturday than to take the girls and go on a nice relaxing picnic.
Yeahhh…picnics…the only problem is that parks are not my scene. Pushing my kid on a swing is fun for about 8 seconds. In 92 degree heat maybe 2 seconds. Sue me. Instead we stuffed the pack full of junk food and down jackets, vacuumed the rug AGAIN and ran screaming out the door with 5 minutes to spare. We threw the neglected dog in the truck and pointed it east towards Sharkstooth Pass, another one of those benign local favorites that gets you big giggles for your buck if you can find your way to the trailhead.
The most entertaining part of the day was negotiating the blind curves on the forest road heading up to Sharkstooth. Each one came factory-installed with mouth-breathing, helmet-less idiots doing 50mph on the wrong side of the road on their ATVs. Listen, I’m driving a Tundra. I’m probably not going to FEEL you under my tires if your normally cat-like reflexes are dulled by your day-after Schlitz headache and the grace of the divine timing intervention that has kept you alive to this point fails. I’ll just think it’s another bumpy washboard moment and continue on to my picnic. And yet still you test that fate, large, soft-headed person coming around every corner through blinding, choking dust on your little machine. Luckily for you, today was your day. On two occasions I did the math and with 3-4 seconds of head-start, if I had not let Addy buckle her own belt and been on that road 3 seconds earlier, I would probably be cleaning your teeth out of my radiator and be up to my eyeballs in aggravating paperwork right now.
Having avoided vehicular homicide as something to cross off of my bucket list, we finally got to the last turn to the trailhead, a punishing mile and a half of ‘road’ that you really only want to attack with a high clearance vehicle or a rental car. Once upon a time I took my Matrix up there when it still had new car sticker residue on the window. And it made it just fine, thank you. I only lost one plastic piece but the nice person behind me stopped and picked it up and handed it to me at the trailhead. Hey, I had to test the mettle of the thing. Todd considers it a defining moment of what he was going to have to deal with till death do us part.
It’s a measly 2 miles from the trailhead to the pass. Getting to the trailhead is far more trying than the hike. Even with a 3 year old. The girls were in a good mood other than having to walk up a hill instead of being pushed on a swing. Maisy hikes like an adult. Her legs are already longer than mine (not a huge feat, so are the legs of most 8 year olds). Addy hikes like a 3 year old. She likes to really examine things. She likes to wax poetic about the efforts of going uphill. They both REALLY wanted to know where the lunch spot was going to be and if we were getting closer. The answer is always yes, we’re getting closer. It’s noncommittal.
27 animal, fairy and dinosaur stories and a social marmot later we came to the pass where the wind was blowing at about 30mph. We ducked into the lee side, covered ourselves in down and kicked back to enjoy the view. A nice couple came to the top a bit later and marveled that there was a 3 year old there. The girls and I just looked at each other and laughed. Please, sister. This ain’t nothin’. This is a walk to a picnic, not a hike. She asked Addy ‘How did you get up here young lady?’ Addy smiled and looked at me. I told the nice lady that a helicopter had dropped us off and would be back to pick us up momentarily. Right on cue a helicopter (that we hadn’t seen yet in the day) came roaring up from the south. I just smiled, pointed and said ‘see, there they are now’. I think they walked away believing we were using a helicopter to get around the San Juans.
We lingered longer than usual with, luxuriously, nothing to rush off to and soaked up the sun as the kids licked every molecule of food out of the baggies. For some reason they continued to choose to not spend the time efficiently trying to kill each other. We grudgingly ducked back into the wind and started down after about an hour of being lazy. Gravity is the friend of all children hikers and I gleefully hiked full-stride to keep up. The only price to pay was making train noises all the way down the hill (as demanded by Addy). Being last I had to invent the noise that a caboose makes. Use your imagination.
That’s all she wrote. No burned limbs, no screeching hissy fits, just a beautiful day in the mountains. Todd’s foot is about healed up enough where we might get out for a backpacking trip next weekend and create more Scarred for Life family memories.