Coyote n. A small wolf (Canis latrans) native to western North America.



The Old Coyote's alter ego is:

Anthony A. (Swen) Swenson

Mild-mannered archaeologist by day..

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007- - -  
Hunt Not-a-Pigs?
Thanks! I'd love to. We met more than one interesting critter on the trail yesterday. We also caught up with the proprietors of Brazos Archery Outfitters on a steep bit of the trail. We stopped to huff and puff with them for a bit and had a nice chat about bow hunting opportunities in Texas. Being all private lands, guides and outfitters are pretty much a necessity and I've heard some horror stories about how expensive it is.

These guys can provide that fancy hunt with everything down to "the mint on your pillow" for a not-too-outrageous price, but they've also got some less expensive self-guided hunting opportunities that sound just right for me, since I'd rather hunt alone when I'm trying to sneak up on something with a bow. After chatting them up for a few minutes they even offered me a spot on a "friends only" javelina hunt this March and now I'm really kicking myself for not bringing a bow. I don't know if we'll still be here in mid-March but we may well be, with the winter getting increasingly nasty up home. Time to start hitting the pawn shops!

I suppose I could also make a quick call home and have a friend send me bows and tackle, but I left it all in such disarray (and disrepair!) that I'm not sure I could describe what I want and where to find it all. Bows, arrows (to match each specific bow), arm guards, bow gloves, extra bow strings, bow and arrow repair tools, camie clothing, etc., etc., and more. Yes, there's a reason I don't lug that stuff around when I don't think I'll need it. In the future I should put together a kit with a bow and just enough stuff to hunt for a couple days and make a point of taking it along wherever I go, just in case.

Update: I should note that we met Johnny Johnson and his son. Johnny's partner, John Shelley, wasn't there. I like the fact that they make a point on their website that the properties they lease are "low fenced" so you know you won't be shooting an animal in a pen. They've also taken an impressive number of Pope & Young record deer in the last few years and they've got feral hogs for cheap. You'd almost think the things were a nuissance (they are).

They hunt over bait, which is not allowed in Wyoming, but that just means you've got to spend less time figuring out where the critters feed naturally, understandable when you're catering to folks who aren't familiar with the country and have a limited area to hunt. They provide stands and ground blinds, probably the most successful way to hunt with a bow, and I've spent a lot of time sleeping in a blind. I can't do a blind for long, I find it too boring -- but then that's why they advertise that their stands have safety harnesses, when you fall asleep you won't fall out of the tree and break your neck -- so I'm not entirely alone in that regard. All in all, it sounds like they've got a nice setup. Johnny did mention that he hasn't given up his day job though..

@5:19 AM

I've been studying up on mechanical watches, how they work, and most particularly who makes good ones, ever since I bought my little Monster. I've always found mechanical gadgets of any kind fascinating and never had much hesitation about tearing them apart to see how they work. However, watches and clocks have always intimidated me. This horror of the horological is entirely irrational on my part, as my great-granddad was a watchmaker back in the days when that meant making your own little gears & springs, my granddad inherited his tools and fixed many a ticker in his time, and my uncle carried on the tradition until his recent death. Perhaps the pile of little parts they always had lying about suggested to me that they weren't always successful in reassembling their victims? Whatever.

At any rate, my recent researches led me to find this book on Practical Watch Repairing. It sounds very interesting, but one of the reviews tripped my phobia when it said "It makes you want to take apart a watch right away." Yikes! No, no, NO! I want to know more about them and how they work, but I'm not so sure I want to go there. On the other hand, I do have a box-full of disfunctional dimestore wrist and pocket watches.. I might work up the courage to start my own pile of parts yet.

@4:46 AM

Studyin' the studies
I came across three more wolf-related articles this morning in the Casper Star. (I think these must have been published a couple days ago, but instead of putting a date of publication on their articles they use a date function, so they always display today's date.)

First, we have a couple of interesting studies. One asks "What do we know about wolves and big game?":

According to a 2003 and 2004 study in Yellowstone National Park by the U.S. Geological Survey, park officials and the University of Minnesota, wolves accounted for about 15 percent of newborn elk calf deaths, while grizzlies and black bears caused about 60 percent.


"We've seen a steady decline in those cow/calf ratios through the time period since 1996, when wolves showed up. It's just been a gradual decline,"
[John Emmerich, deputy director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department] said last week at a legislative committee meeting. "Obviously with those lower recruitment rates, it's certainly going affect our ability to sustain historic levels of harvest in those herds."
The USGS is doing wolf studies? I'd have thought they'd employ more geologists and not so many wildlife biologists. Whatever. Right above that article we have another that cites some interesting statistics:

Quoting Game and Fish figures, [Bud Betts, an outfitter in Dubois], said late-season hunts on cow elk have declined from 2,500 tags in 2000 to 250 last year. And cow-calf ratios dropped from 39.5/100 in 1996 to 18/100 in 2005. He attributed that to predation and some other factors, but said elk are "pretty darn hardy" when it comes to drought.
Hmm.. so we have one study that says wolves accounted for about 15 percent of newborn elk calf deaths, while grizzlies and black bears caused about 60 percent. There's been no explosion of bear populations the last ten years that I know of. Yet, another study supposedly says cow-calf ratios dropped from 39.5/100 in 1996 to 18/100 in 2005, while ruling out drought as a significant factor. I'm not quite sure how to reconcile those numbers. We only have sketchy details, so it's possible they were studying different populations. One is studying newborn calf deaths and the other cow/calf ratios, not quite the same thing. Also could be somebody's blowing smoke, or perhaps geologists should stick to studying rocks. Or..

All can say at this point is it's most annoying that the Casper Star's reporters keep uncritically throwing out numbers that seem to change on a daily basis, without questioning or explaining why none of the numbers seem to jibe, and some don't seem to make much sense. When two people give me different figures on the same phenomenon I tend to ask why, not just say 'otay' and write them down. I also prefer to go back to primary sources when citing statistics, rather than relying on what someone tells me some study says. But if the *Gasper Star did that they wouldn't be the Gasper Star, they'd be actual, you know, investigative journalists.

Finally, we have a third delightful little article:
CHEYENNE -- Several powerful Wyoming legislators are sponsoring a bill that would ask the state attorney general to watch for opportunities to sue the federal government over any failure to follow the federal Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.

The bill comes as Gov. Dave Freudenthal's administration continues to negotiate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the federal agency's proposed wolf-management plan for the state.
In the grand scheme of things "powerful Wyoming legislator" would seem to be a bit of an oxymoron. They're pretty much legends in their own minds. Be that as it may, I find the "watch for opportunities to sue" wording interesting. Make trouble for the feds at any opportunity? Sweet.

*My spell checker keeps trying to change "Casper" to "Gasper", which is sometimes oddly appropriate. "Exasperating" would probably be the better term to describe their practice of rewriting press releases and publishing them as news items. Their recent series on the woes of the Wyoming Highway Department is a good example. Nowhere in that series does it say 'this is from a WYDOT press release' but if you read the articles it becomes pretty darn obvious that someone at WYDOT has them by the ear, filling their heads with the nonsense that our highways are in bad shape. Can't blame WYDOT, the state has, or thought they were going to get, a big pot of extra money. WYDOT wants the lion's share of it. Maybe they do need it, but it's hard to judge, and hard to judge the wolf issue, when the Pravda on the Platte behaves as the willing propaganda organ of whoever has their ear at the moment.

@2:46 AM

Tuesday, January 30, 2007- - -  
Too Cool!
We saw this sign a few days back, posted at the Blue Creek trailhead, just above the old Homer Wilson line camp. At the time I thought it was pretty silly. Why would a mountain lion hang out way out there when all the cub scouts are on the trails around the Chisos Basin? Little did I know how right I was.

This morning we set out to walk the loop from the Chisos Basin visitor's center up the Laguna Meadows Trail to the Colima Trail, and then back by way of the Pinnacles Trail. One of the longer hikes in the park at about 9.5 miles round-trip. And did I mention that it's just a bit steep in spots? It took us 6-1/2 hours to do the 9.5 miles (oof!). But then we had just a bit of excitement along the way.

About a mile into the hike this morning I heard a rustling in the brush just off the trail and a low yelping noise. At first I thought it was a coyote pup. We stopped to listen and see if we could see it, and saw that it was headed back down the slope toward the trail. Looked like it would hit the trail just behind us. A few moments later a small mountain lion came out on the trail about 30 feet from us. It saw us and started toward us, but after a couple steps it stopped and stared at us, thought "uhuh" and turned away, sauntering down the trail back toward the visitor's center.

It wasn't very big, probably about 40-50#, at most, and pretty skinny, but it had it's adult coloration (no spots) and looked healthy. I'm figuring it was less than a year old. We reported the sighting back at the Chisos Basin park headquarters and the wildlife guy quizzed us about whether it was reddish colored or more tan/gray. We agreed that it was definitely tan/gray. Turns out that a lion in poor shape starts turning a reddish tinge, so it's nice to know that our little kitty was healthy. We also learned that with about 300,000 visitors a year here at Big Bend NP, they only have about 60-70 lion sightings a year. No mention of how many cub scouts turn up missing every year, but about half their visitorship must consist of the noisy little varmints, so they can spare a few.

@6:16 PM

It's a triple-header!
Yes, three articles on wolves in today's Casper Star. The headline article tells us that the US Fish & Wildlife Service has indeed formally proposed delisting wolves. No surprise, nor are we surprised that Wyoming's wolves may be kept on the endangered list if we don't buy in on the USFWS's wolf non-management plan.

In a second article Wyoming Governor Freudenthal underscores why the USFWS plan is unacceptable and raises an "interesting question":
"Really, the future is in the Interior Department*s hands. If they can give us help on the ability to provide protection for elk and moose -- the wildlife -- I think there's a real interest in the Legislature in getting something done," Gov. Dave Freudenthal said in an e-mail Monday.

Several sticking points have slowed efforts.

"I remain concerned about the amount of private land that would be included in the proposed trophy game area, as well as the definition and number of wolves that would compose a breeding pair," Freudenthal said in a statement Monday. "The ultimate question, though, is whether or not Wyoming will be given the flexibility to manage wolves that are causing an unacceptable impact on our elk and moose populations."

The governor also said he said "delighted by the potential for progress in Montana and Idaho, although it seems to be of limited value for wildlife."

"I am also pleased that Fish and Wildlife believes the populations in Idaho, Montana and Yellowstone National Park are sufficient for delisting without the other Wyoming packs," he said. "This raises the interesting question of whether any packs outside Yellowstone in Wyoming are even necessary."
Call and raise. 'You want wolves treated as a big game species everywhere in the state of Wyoming outside the parks? How about we just eradicate every pack that sets foot outside Yellowstone/Grand Teton?' This "interesting question" ought to have the USFWS folks apoplectic. Got to love that.

Finally, the Wyoming House's Travel Committee has "... approved a bill that would enable the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to use aerial hunting methods and grant permits for private landowners to kill wolves threatening their property." Some find the bill inadequate:
"The one thing that the bill is lacking is the ability to protect the wildlife that the sportsmen of this state place a high value on," said Bob Wharf, representative of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

Some told the House Committee they opposed the bill and wished the measure went even further.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said he was glad the measure included language that would allow private landowners to kill wolves who were harming their private property.

"But we wish it also allowed language that would permit property owners to kill wolves to protect their livestock wherever its allowed to graze, even if the livestock's owner does not own that property," Magagna said.
Yes, a management plan that doesn't include provisions for protecting wildlife where they are over-pressed isn't much use. We don't want ten packs of wolves working the elk feedground outside Jackson even if it would give the tourists something dramatic to watch.

Also, land ownership and livestock grazing in Wyoming are artifacts of homestead era land law. Under the munificent Desert Land Act each homesteader could claim 640 acres. Back in DC I'm sure one square mile sounded like a lot of land, but when it takes 80 acres to graze one cow, it's not exactly a vast tract. Understandably, most with any sense homesteaded along creeks to control the available water and then leased the federally owned dry uplands for additional grazing. Thus, a wolf management plan that allows ranchers to protect their livestock only on the lands they own isn't much use.

This last article also notes that Wyoming's lawsuit, contesting the 2004 rejection of our original wolf management plan, is now pending in federal court. On with the show.

Oh, and if that's not enough endangered species news, Wyoming is also filing a lawsuit to force the USFWS to make a decision on the delisting of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. I bet the USFWS thinks we're a bunch of stubborn yahoos, huh?

Of course the USFWS has missed their own self-imposed deadlines for making this decision twice. Why? "Chuck Davis, endangered species litigation representative for the Fish and Wildlife Service, on Monday blamed the delay on complicated science involved in the decision, and the far-reaching impact it could have on the application of the Endangered Species Act." Gee, would that be the same complicated science they want us to employ in wolf management?

@4:22 AM

Monday, January 29, 2007- - -  
Catch 22
Another interesting article in today's Casper Star:
Representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service have said a state needs to prove wolves are having a detrimental effect on big game in order to receive allowances to kill wolves.

Mitch King, regional director for Fish and Wildlife, said it's not impossible to prove, but does require sound science and peer reviews.

"You can't sort of offhand say, 'I didn't kill an elk this year, and therefore wolves are killing them,'" he said. There need to be population numbers for big game, objectives, knowledge of where wolf packs are, and public input. Proposals must also include analysis of other factors affecting big game herds, such as habitat loss, and methods to address those other problems as well.
Sounds like paralysis through analysis. No one seems to know how many wolves there are, or where they are. In this article Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank says there are 26 packs and about 400 wolves in Wyoming. Just last week the Wyoming Game & Fish said there were 30 packs, with the population growing at about 20 percent per year. We also know from last week's article that "... Wyoming would be responsible under the federal proposal for maintaining 10 breeding pairs totaling at least 100 wolves in the state." But now we're told that just knowing we've got some two to three times as many wolves as were originally proposed isn't sufficient, we have to figure out how many of these elusive, fast-moving and fast-breeding critters there are before we can do anything to control the population. I'll assume that everyone must agree on this figure as well, and let's not forget the public input and peer review. In other words, we're being set up to fail.

I've often wondered whether Governor Freudenthal was doing the right thing to sue these silly buggers, but I'm becoming convinced that's the only thing we can do to resolve this issue. Down here in Terlingua I've several times seen little Texas flag bumber stickers that say "US out of Texas!" I can certainly sympathize with that sentiment.

@4:44 AM

Meanwhile, back at the ranch
Cheyenne -- Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday endorsed a bill that would specify Wyoming won't recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Senate President John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said Friday he expects debate on the marriage bill will be lively. "It will be controversial, that's a controversial bill," he said.
I'm not surprised that they'd write and pass such a bill, I'm just surprised that it would be controversial. The times certainly are changing.

@4:25 AM

Sunday, January 28, 2007- - -  
On top of the Chisos
From the top of the Lost Mine Trail, we're looking back down to the west. Casa Grande Mountain is on the left and The Window is the notch waaay back down there, just above center frame.

We had no idea how high we'd climbed until we got to the top. The trail head is at the foot of Casa Grande Mountain, right about on the tree line at center frame. The view was worth the hike!

@5:42 AM

Postcard Shot!
Balanced Rock in the Grapevine Hills is one of the most popular postcards of the Big Bend. The weather has finally cleared up and we had to go see it.

@5:30 AM

The last legal frontier
Via Protein Wisdom we learn the shocking news that No laws in Canada regulate toboggan safety. Sandra Yeung Racco, a city councillor in Vaughan (suburban Toronto) says it may be time to make helmets mandatory for tobogganers, after the winter activity resulted in the deaths of two Canadian children this month.

@4:25 AM

Saturday, January 27, 2007- - -  
More wolves
Two articles on wolves in today's Casper Star, but neither tells us much of anything new. Wolves eat elk and feds slink toward the door.

@4:04 AM

Friday, January 26, 2007- - -  
Here's one from a friend who shall remain anonymous. Sounds like someone's getting tired of their govmint job:
One day a BLM archaeologist was out doing a field check on one of those evil private contractors. [That would be you, Swen. -- Ed.] While he was trudging through the sagebrush wiping sweat from his eyes he found an old teapot the evil contractor had overlooked and pounced on it with a gleeful chuckle. Picking it up, he rubbed a bit of dirt off and, voila!, the proverbial genie appeared and offered him three wishes (you all knew it wasn't a teapot, didn't you?).

"Well", said our archaeologist, "it's so hot and I'm so thirsty that there's nothing I'd like better than a six-pack of ice cold beer!" And poof! A bucket with six iced Coronas appeared.

"My!" Said our archaeologist, "I don't believe it! I'll have to be more careful with my next two wishes. For my next wish I'd like a gorgeous summer temp who adores me and hangs on my every word to share this beer with me." And poof! A leggy blond with a great tan and very short cut-offs appeared, clasping his arm and staring up at him with a rapt smile.

"Wow!" said our archaeologist. "One more wish, eh? Okay, I don't want to ever have to work another day in my life!" And poof! With a start our BLM archaeologist woke up at his desk back in the office.

@6:21 AM

Tucker Fagan to retire from the WBC
Hopefully our state government will take this opportunity to put someone with business experience in charge of the Wyoming Business Council, because we apparently can't close the organization down and we certainly don't need another "CEO" who says "... his greatest accomplishment as head of that agency was "survival.""
Helping Shoshoni, Pine Haven, Upton and Thayne and their businesses "is not sexy," Fagan said.
Hmm.. I don't know what the WBC did in Pine Haven, Upton, and Thayne, but their help in Shoshoni was subsidizing a mushroom factory that closed down after only a year of operation. Seems they couldn't make it without the help of [cough] undocumented [cough] alien laborers. It's really too bad they couldn't make it, their mushrooms were wonderfully fresh and only about two-thirds the price of the mushrooms they strip mine out in California. I've wondered whether they might have made it if they had charged a price closer to the market average but, bottom line, the state pumped a lot of money into a facility that's currently sitting empty. I wouldn't cite that as a big success.

And then there's this:
"The first two or three years I worked here it was kind of an amazing place. It seemed like anything we tried or did there was suspicion." Fagan said in a telephone interview.


For the last two to three years, 67 percent of the council's budget has focused on infrastructure throughout the state, he said.
Yes, a lot of people, including myself, thought that the early WBC's 'one size fits all' business development plan -- 'business parks and calling centers!' -- was tone deaf and unrealistic. Why build business parks when there are commercial retail and industrial facilities sitting empty, as there were in Worland? And calling centers? It didn't take me half an hour of internet surfing to learn that calling centers have a very high employee turn-over. Thus, you need an area with a large population and plenty of under-employed but relatively skilled workers.

You might be able to make a go of a calling center in Laramie, employing university students, or in Cheyenne, employing the spouses of Air Force personnel. In Washakie County, with a total population of about 10,000? Not a chance. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought this was silly, because Washakie County's voters roundly rejected the proposal in a special election. I didn't see business parks and calling centers sprouting elsewhere either and, yes, I was suspicious. Again I did a little web surfing and learned that the WBC's "Certified Economic Development Professionals" were certified as a result of a four-week training course. I'm sure they meant well, but I wouldn't put someone with four weeks' training in charge of millions of dollars of development money.

Again, I don't appear to have been the only one suspicious of the WBC's proposals. So.. the WBC changed tactics and began doling out two-thirds of their budget to local governments for infrastructure improvements, as noted above. This went over with local governments much better. Who's going to turn down a big chunk of state money with few strings attached? Whether creating a Community Center in Worland and improving the water and sewer system in Ten Sleep will have any effect on business development remains to be seen. At the least it seems a rather indirect way to promote business development. The move did help the WBC dodge the sunset clause that had been placed in the bill that created their organization, insuring their survival.

Some have suggested that doling out the bucks accomplished their survival essentially by buying the support of local governments and state legislators. Perhaps that's true, but how the WBC spends their budget has never been my biggest gripe with them. Since their inception the price they've established for playing their game has been raising funds locally by increasing sales taxes. In Washakie County the one cent tax they promoted takes a bit less that a million dollars a year out of general circulation and gives it to local government. More money for government means less money in circulation to support local businesses. While the local governments do spend some of that money with local businesses, they also spend a lot of it to employ more bureaucrats and create more bureaucracy. I just don't see how that can possibly be considered a net benefit to business and business development.

Here's hoping the next director of the WBC will have enough knowledge of business to understand that you don't promote business by raising taxes.

@4:41 AM

"Californians determined to shiver in the dark"
Would have been a good headline for this article telling us that "The California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 to adopt the "greenhouse gas emissions performance standard," which will prohibit utilities and other energy providers from entering long-term contracts with sources that emit more carbon dioxide than a modern natural gas plant." That's good news for Wyoming, "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas", but bad news for California's consumers who'll be footing the bill.

@4:25 AM

Thursday, January 25, 2007- - -  
How brave are you?
This doesn't look like a job for the faint of heart: Replacing the crystal on a Seiko watch (Model 6105) in words and pictures. They make it look easy.

The instructions were posted by Bill Yao, who designs and markets Mark II Watches, including his newest offering, the Stingray 60, a retro design that's about the coolest-looking watch I've seen lately. I'd never heard of Mark II Watches until I stumbled on the Seiko and Citizen Watch Forum, which has many good things to say about his products and services. I was particularly interested because Mark II Watches offers replacement saphire crystals for a variety of Seiko watches.

Not that the crystal on my new toy is getting scratched up. In fact, it doesn't have a scratch on it, despite the fact that the stainless steel band is becoming covered in fine scratches. All the volcanic rock we've been tramping around in is very abrasive, yet the "hardlex" mineral crystal is standing up very well. Still, I have managed to scratch and break crystals in the past and when that happens it's nice to know that a replacement saphire crystal is available, if a bit pricey. I wouldn't attempt replacing the crystal unless it was in pretty tough shape, but at that point I'll probably go with the DIY option, if only because parts, labor, and shipping would probably add up to the cost of a new watch.

I'm well pleased with my little Monster. Yes, it's a bit bulky and heavy, but I've quickly gotten used to that. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with the band, first removing two links to make it fit rather snuggly, and then replacing the links when I discovered that this restricted my freedom of movement. It flops around on my wrist more than I'd like, but again I've gotten used to it. I tend to take it off if I'm working with tools or typing, but other than that I've been wearing it 24/7.

It beats heck out of a pocket watch when I'm driving and is just generally more convenient. I'd thought the rotating bezel would be pretty much useless as I never time myself when I'm decompressing (I usually just set a two beer limit). However, I've found it very handy for timing when I'm cooking! In many ways it works better than a kitchen timer, as I can set it when I start the main course, and then figure the proper elapsed time at which to start the side dishes so everything comes out at the same time. As I'm counting up from zero I can add or subtract a little as I see how things are progressing, something that's not so handy with a count-down timer. For instance, now I can put my wife's steak on the grill, cook it until it's just a bit past rare, look to see how long that took, and then proceed to ruin her steak, subtracting the few minutes it took to get it done right, so I know when to put mine on, just before hers is completely ruined. (I've warned her that it's probably illegal to do this to a piece of meat in Texas. If not, it should be.)

For a long while now we've operated by that corollary to Murphy's Law that says 'find something you really like and the producer will be sure to discontinue the item, so buy a lifetime supply'. That's not always possible of course, but considering how long I've gone (near 20 years) without a decent wristwatch, I'm very tempted to buy a lifetime supply. That's one reason I've been studying the watch forums (fora?) and catalogs.

For one, I'm not sure what the "shelf life" of a mechanical watch is. I'm assuming that they'll last near indefinitely if they're not running, but I also suspect that their lubricants and seals will eventually dry out and/or gum up. Most of the info I've read says the watch should be serviced every year, or every three, or every five, or some such, while some like Mark II suggest servicing the watch if it starts keeping noticably poor time, or ceases to function.

Considering the cost of shipping, labor, and parts, I think I'll go with Mark II's advice, although I'd consider retiring the watch rather than servicing it unless I start buying watches considerably more expensive than I have, to date. Besides, a watch will probably last longer without service than it would with thumb-fingered service, and I have no way to evaluate a jeweler except to send him a watch and see what I get back. If I send in a broken or malfunctioning watch and get one back that works, for significantly less than the cost of a new one, I'm satisfied. If I send in a perfectly functioning watch and get back a perfectly functioning watch I'll never know if they even opened it up or if their service did it any good, so I don't know whether to be satisfied or not. If I send in a broken watch and get back a broken watch, for significantly less than the cost of a new one, I'm not out much but I'm not satisfied. But if I send in a perfectly functioning watch I'm always taking the chance of getting back a broken or malfunctioning watch and being really dissatisfied. Given that decision matrix, wearing them until they break or die and then retiring them seems to be the road toward least aggravation and greatest satisfaction. Or as Odd Ball said, "I don't fix 'em, I just ride 'em". That's why I like them built like a tank.

So, what next? I think I'll think about it and continue shopping and reading. At present, I'm tempted by the Seiko Superior line. I'm not sure if the 23-jewel 7s36 movement has any advantage over the Monster's 21-jewel 7s26, but you get a saphire crystal for not a lot more than the cost of the Monster with hardened glass. They're both about the same size (huge), and the model I like retains the timing bezel of the Monster (actually, I prefer the cleaner looks of those that dispense with the rotating bezel, but I'll go with function over looks any day). On the down side, the Superior line dispenses with the screw-down crown and is only water resistant to 100 meters. As I don't intend to take up scuba diving I suspect that's pretty much a moot point, but worth considering, I suppose.

Then again, if we have a really good year, that Stingray would be very nice..

@9:17 AM

Cellulosic ethanol?
An interesting article in today's DenverPost. They make the point that most ethanol is made from corn and that this limits the supply because there isn't enough acreage to grow corn for ethanol as well as for human food and livestock feed. Thus, a number of start-up companies are exploring making ethanol from cellulose-based products such as "... wood chips, wheat straw, waste paper and specialty crops such as switch grass." Resources that are touted as being in virtually unlimited supply. Considering that a significant portion of all the trash that goes into our landfills is newspaper, disposable diapers, cardboard, and other paper materials, they may well be right.

Unfortunately, the DP doesn't ask the big question: Is it possible to make ethanol from cellulose? In the past, when you started with cellulose you got wood alcohol, methanol, rather than ethanol. If I recall correctly, methanol contains considerably fewer BTUs per gallon and is much less desirable as a motor fuel. With a bit of bioengineering it might be possible, but I'm skeptical. If it were possible, wouldn't Budweiser be making beer from used diapers now?

@5:18 AM

Full employment for dog walkers?
Just what we need. Over in Amsterdam they've invented a new beer.. for dogs. Now we'll never keep 'em off the couch.

@4:08 AM

Wednesday, January 24, 2007- - -  
"Don't believe everything you think"
Good advice.

@6:52 AM

State of the Union
Suppose there's any truth to the rumor that Nanny Pelosi was giving a speech in Morse code last night?

Update: The InstaPundit on Bush: "Domestically? He'll be the best Democratic President since Bill Clinton." Sadly true.

@6:24 AM

Everyone has an opinion..
When it comes to wolf recovery and management. Today's Casper Star gives an overview of opinion from a wide variety of sources. It's clear there's no plan that will please everyone.

@4:42 AM

Tuesday, January 23, 2007- - -  
"The highways of America are built chiefly of politics ..."
-- Carl G. Fisher

A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

-- Ambrose Bierce

"Highway funding hits roadblocks"
-- Casper Star Tribune
The Pravda on the Platte is at it again. Starting back last December 10th, the Casper Star began a week-long series of infomercials on Wyoming's highways. Two days later I was getting the distinct impression that the series were only slightly, and uncritically, rewritten from Highway Department press releases, with each article using the same buzz words and repeating the same phrases, and all telling us what terrible shape our highways are in. Fortunately, some in our state legislature aren't so easily gulled and weren't buying WYDOT's song of woe.

Well, the Highway Department hasn't given up, nor have their shameless shills at the Casper Star. The lede of today's article reads "Wyoming's ailing highway system grabbed lots of attention during the 2006 election season, and voters showed their support for more highway spending in a recent statewide poll." Ailing? That's certainly a matter of opinion and somewhat less than a fact, at least in my not so humble opinion. Note that this article is supposed to be straight up news, not an opinion piece, but manages to stray into OpEd territory in its first sentence. Read down to the end of the article and you get this: "A recent Casper Star-Tribune poll showed that 21 percent of Wyoming voters rank highways their top priority for increased spending the legislative session. [sic] K-12 education rank first with 31 percent. [sic again] It must really hurt that after an entire week of Pravda only 21 percent of their audience bought their line, while 31 pecent went for education funding, a topic they'd studiously avoided discussing.

@5:03 AM

Monday, January 22, 2007- - -  
"Colorado also has an abundance of wind.."
A good deal of which is being generated in their Governor's office and at the capitol building. Note the bit in this article about how they've pledged to make "... Colorado a leader in renewable energy and doubling the state's use of solar power, wind energy, ethanol and biodiesel." A fine goal, but twice next-to-nothing isn't much but rhetoric.

Ultimately, it's about money (what a surprise):
[Governor] Ritter said that by drawing on the expertise at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and other federal facilities and universities, Colorado could become a magnet for the industry, attracting manufacturers as well as more wind farms.
Earlier in the article:
The road to realizing that dream could be bumpy. Utilities and some Republican lawmakers object to using mandates to develop alternative energy, saying the market -- not the government -- should be the impetus. And Democratic legislative leaders acknowledge there's not much state money available for tax breaks and other financial incentives.
Unfortunately for their energy production and distribution industry, and for consumers, when they have no carrots it's unlikely they'll spare the stick. They're on a mission to save the earth, don't you know?

@6:46 AM

If you sell snow..
You're an easy mark for anyone who wants to make a buck by scaring your pants off with tales of global warming. I saw this either at the Weather Channel or on ABC News on TV last night:
PARK CITY, UTAH -- So this week, when the results of a $60,000 climatology study were released, more than 1,000 residents of this town of 8,500 crowded into an auditorium to hear the news.

"Temperatures are projected to rise 6 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century," announced Mark Williams, a University of Colorado scientist who specializes in temperature and precipitation modeling.

"For the high emission scenario, there's just no snow on Park City's mountains," said fellow scientist Brian Lazar, who explained that "high emission" meant that the world would continue to accelerate its use of carbon based fuels that create greenhouse emissions.
A $60,000 climatological study? Seems pretty cheap to me, perhaps they're planning on making it up in volume? Six to 15 degrees is also pretty much off the chart even for the more dire predictions, but perhaps you get what you pay for, hmm? Bear in mind what James Spann just had to say about global warming as a cash cow.

As for the proposed solutions, it's the usual silliness: "Installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, turning off lights and unplugging electronic devices when not in use, driving with cruise control*, enrolling in paperless billing and buying energy generated by windmills are a few steps ..." There's nothing wrong with advocating energy conservation. If nothing else it saves on the ol' utility bill. But thinking this can save the planet is pretty silly, unless you have a plan for talking 1.3 billion Chinese into getting on board.

On the television program I saw they also talked about requiring greener home construction, while we saw a clip of a McMansion going up, presumably in Park City, where they have more than a few such. This was just the icing on the cake for me. Here's a bunch of folks whose economy is driven by the ultra rich coming to town and not just spending a bit of their wealth, but throwing up 10,000 square foot vacation homes that they live in for three weeks but heat all year (Update: real estate is a $2 billion a year business in Park City, according to the article). While they encourage this boost to their economy, they want the rest of us to compensate by squinting under some flickering blue florescent light in our high-density urban hovels. Energy conservation for thee but not for me. Do we need to wonder what the folks of Park City would say if someone proposed putting up some wind turbines on their skyline? No, I think not. And they need their SUVs to get around in all that snow!

*Update: Incidentally, driving with cruise control is a great idea if you live in Kansas. Throwing on the cruise in the mountains so your vehicle uses maximum power to climb every hill and then coasts down the other side? Not so much.

@5:43 AM

Things that make you go Hmmm..
It seems that Enbridge, Inc., of Alberta is planning a pair of new oil pipelines. That wouldn't be so unusual except for the source, tar sands, and one of the destinations, Texas. Texas? Isn't shipping oil to Texas like shipping coal to Newcastle?

Come to think of it, I don't see the hustle and bustle out in the Permian Basin of west Texas that we're experiencing in the natural gas fields of Wyoming. Don't know what that means, but those fields have been around for a long time and it's possible the wells are making giant sucking sounds. It would make sense to ship crude to Texas only if they have excess refining capacity.

There is a lot of oil shale and tar sands (pretty much the same thing) in the Rocky Mountain west:
The Green River shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are estimated to contain 1.5 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil. And while not all of it can be recovered, half that amount is nearly triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.
Maturing technologies for extraction of this resource can't be anything but good news for the price of gasoline and the US economy. Not to mention helping wean us from Middle Eastern oil. With increasing demand from China and the emerging third world this won't be particularly bad news to the Saudis and Iranians, but it ought to at least reduce their influence here.

Of course, good news for the economy and national security could be bad news for the environment. Then again, potential bad news for the environment is usually good news for my business, and for the professional bunny huggers. Ill winds and all that.

@4:36 AM

Global warming at the Weather Channel
I've been a bit appalled by some of the global warming hype at the Weather Channel of late, and I see I'm not alone. Here's what a weather man, James Spann, has to say:
*Billions of dollars of grant money is flowing into the pockets of those on the man-made global warming bandwagon. No man-made global warming, the money dries up. This is big money, make no mistake about it. Always follow the money trail and it tells a story. Even the lady at “The Weather Channel” probably gets paid good money for a prime time show on climate change. No man-made global warming, no show, and no salary. Nothing wrong with making money at all, but when money becomes the motivation for a scientific conclusion, then we have a problem. For many, global warming is a big cash grab.

*The climate of this planet has been changing since God put the planet here. It will always change, and the warming in the last 10 years is not much difference than the warming we saw in the 1930s and other decades. And, lets not forget we are at the end of the ice age in which ice covered most of North America and Northern Europe.
Hmm.. Sounds like something I said just last Friday.

Update: I'd also point out that geologists have documented at least three major interglacial warming periods during the ice ages. There's no reason to assume that the current warming period signals the end of the ice age and not just a brief reprieve.

HT: The National Review via the InstaPundit

Another Update: Wednesday morning FoxNews had a pair on talking about the lady at the Weather Channel and her suggestion that those who disagree with human-caused global warming should lose their credentials. Had to love the pro-human-warming guy. He started out by making a statement to the effect that 'most scientists agree that global warming is real and is caused by human activity releasing CO2'. He did this while exhibiting the classic body language 'turn your head and look out of the corner of your eye' liar's posture. Not a very impressive performance for a talking head.

Unfortunately, no one responded by pointing out that science is not a democratic process. After all, at one time most scientists agreed that the sun orbited the earth and those who didn't agree were excommunicated. There's a whole lot we don't understand about the earth's climate engine, shutting down the debate would be foolish in the extreme.

@4:01 AM

Gov: Federal wolf stance won't fly in Wyo
Sounds like Governor Freudenthal is still starin' down the feds:

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Dave Freudenthal says Wyoming can't agree to a pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal for managing wolves in the state unless the federal agency gives the state a better way to stop wolves from savaging elk herds over the next several years.


If the state accepts the federal proposal, there likely would be a period of several years between the time the federal government takes formal action to remove wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act and the time when litigation over that action is completed in the courts.


"If they retain the view that, no matter what we do, they're not going to let us manage wolves for wildlife until after all the litigation around delisting is done, it's just not going to happen," Freudenthal said. "Because essentially, that's kind of a death knell for some of the elk herds. Essentially that could be 2011 or 2012 by the time you get through with all that."


[Mitch] King, [regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver] said Wyoming would be responsible under the federal proposal for maintaining 10 breeding pairs totaling at least 100 wolves in the state. The state game department has said that as of last year there were about 30 wolf packs in the state, with the population growing at about 20 percent a year.

[Sigh] The numbers are still changing. The highest count I'd heard before today was 26 packs, now we're told that the Wyoming Game & Fish thinks there are about 30, with the population growing at an alarming rate.

I've been howling about wolves ever since I started this blog and there's just too much to summarize, so I've started putting together a list of my posts. Checking and following all those links again will refresh my memory of this ever shifting and complex story, and bring anyone else who's interested up to date. Stay tuned..

@3:53 AM

Friday, January 19, 2007- - -  
Things that make you say MmmoKaaaay..
Terlingua got its start as a cinnibar mining town. Heat cinnibar to about 360F and condense the vapors you drive off and you get mercury. So.. I've quizzed a couple of the locals who assure me that cinnibar is not water-soluable, not to worry. And then I found this*. Good thing I don't drink water..

Update: Until I came back to check links I didn't notice that this one leads to a website in Kaimu, Hawaii. Could be the water, or perhaps I was too busy shielding my eyes.

*Probably work-safe, unless you work for Mitt Romney.

@7:09 PM

Five minutes 'til Doomsday!
An interesting poll and article in today's DenverPost. It seems that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved their ever-eminent doomsday up two minutes, to 11:55 pm. In response the DP asks:
Scientists who maintain the "Doomsday Clock" moved the hands two minutes closer to midnight, factoring in global warming for the first time. How do you feel about global warming?
The response so far:
It's a serious threat -- 707 Votes, or 43.96%

Somewhat concerned -- 158 Votes, or 9.825%

Temperature fluctuations are normal and concerns are fueled by irresponsible science and hype -- 716 Votes, or 44.52%

Not sure -- 27 Votes, or 1.679%
Very Interesting. As a gimmick to illustrate our eminent demise, the Doomsday Clock is brilliant. Of course, no one knows just how eminent nuclear war is at any given time, so there's always been a large element of hype involved. Likewise, we don't know nearly enough about the mechanisms that drive the earth's climate to predict the weather more than a few days out, much less guess what the climate will be like in 50 years. So yes, there's a huge dollop of hype involved in global warming as well.

Yet, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the threat of nuclear war or climate change just because a bunch of cuckoos keep telling us that the sky will begin falling any minute now. We know that the earth's climate is constantly changing. The geological record is replete with ice ages and millenium-long droughts, climatic extremes far beyond anything meteorologists have recorded in modern time. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the earth's climate has entered a period of stasis.

So yes, we should be somewhat concerned. It is hard to imagine how the current human population could survive either an ice age or a lengthy drought. It's also hard to imagine that driving more fuel-efficient cars or putting on a sweater would help much the next time the sun decides to give a little hiccup and crank the world's thermostat up or down. Those are profoundly unserious solutions to what is, in the long term*, a very serious problem.

The DP poll illustrates a part of the problem: The issue of global warming has become polarized, with a large portion of the population believing that doom is upon us if we don't all start riding bicycles immediately, while an equally large part of the population dismisses global warming proponents as Chicken Littles. Neither group is right.

Tweeking our energy sources and consumption to make some minute change in our output of CO2 won't help much when the sun's output inevitably changes. Even making drastic changes won't help then, and it's easy to see the Luddite agenda of many who propose such measures. On the other hand, dismissing climate change out of hand because of the Luddite agenda of some global warming proponents is equally foolish.

Ultimately, perhaps Hawking is right and the only way to insure the survival of humanity is to start space colonization. That, however, is cold comfort to the many billions who would be left behind. There is more than one way to make sure our eggs are riding in many baskets though. Developing as many alternative energy sources as possible, and developing more efficient ways to use energy, developing more efficient and more productive agricultural methods, developing cheaper and (much) more energy efficient housing, are all good goals. All of these things and many more would help in the event of drastic climate change. They'll also help reduce global tensions as the third world emerges.

Running in circles, squacking and flapping, demanding that we sacrifice our economy on some Luddite altar won't help. Burying our heads in the sand won't help either. Recognizing that we're in for a spell of bad weather and figuring out how to cope, both on a personal and a global scale, just might.

*Hopefully it's a long term problem and we have time to wise up and seek solutions. We don't know that the sun won't go suddenly dim tomorrow. If it does we're all pretty well screwed.

@6:42 AM

Thursday, January 18, 2007- - -  
USFWS Wolf Management Plan:
1) Cut; and 2) Run

The latest:

Federal wildlife officials will not eliminate excess wolf packs in Wyoming after formal delisting is proposed later this month.


A chief concern from the state is how to handle the excess packs between federal approval of a Wyoming wolf management plan and actual removal of federal protection for the animals. Wyoming is currently home to about 23 wolf packs outside Yellowstone National Park, 16 more than required under federal wolf recovery guidelines.

“I do not think the service will be actively managing to limit wolves ... nor would we be managing to remove wolves causing only wildlife problems,” Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Mitch King wrote in the letter.

Instead, Wyoming would likely receive the same latitude to manage wolves as Montana and Idaho, whose wolf management plans have already been approved by the federal government.

King also indicated that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have authority to provide funding for state management of wolves after delisting. State officials estimate it will cost about $2.4 million to manage the state’s wolf and grizzly programs during the year after delisting, and $2 million for each year after that.

Federal officials are willing to help seek federal reimbursement for those dollars from Congress, King wrote.
On one hand, it's tempting to let the USFWS make a graceful exit as soon as possible, which certainly seems to be their hearts' desire. On the other, once they're out the door I suspect they'll lose interest in wolves pretty quickly and we'll be stuck with the problem they've created. Two million a year isn't a lot of money, until you consider where the Wyoming Game & Fish plans to raise the funds. Yes, that would be from increased license fees*. Why should the sportsmen of Wyoming bear the cost of the USFWS's foolishness, when we're already seeing fewer game animals thanks to the wolves (and drought, and disease)?

If this were a game of poker, I'd say our opponent was looking nervous and it was time to call and raise: Want out of the wolf management business? Fine. The State of Wyoming will let the USFWS off the hook, but they don't get to put any conditions on our management of wolves once the varmints leave the national parks. Second, the USFWS created the problem, they're still responsible for paying for the problem. $2 million per year is a pittance, so pay up. Cash in advance would be fine and don't forget inflation. Finally, let's agree that, in exchange for accepting responsibility for a problem we didn't create, the USFWS will agree never again to get involved in introducing or managing "endangered species" in Wyoming. No jumping mice breeding and reintroduction programs, no cloned mammoths. The Wyoming Game & Fish will manage all wildlife in Wyoming. Period.

Don't like the hand you're holding? Don't forget you dealt the mess. And yes, time is on our side. What's the big hurry? Just keep grinnin' & starin' Davy!

*I doubt that a 20% increase in the minimal license fees paid by residents will price anyone out of their favorite sports (an elk license costs less than a tank of gas). It may put a pinch on out-of-state hunters though, as their big game licenses already cost several hundred dollars each.

@4:57 AM

Wednesday, January 17, 2007- - -  
Ice Station Terlingua!
This is what it looked like at 10 this morning, about as much accumulation as we ever got. We shouldn't complain, it sounds like we got off easy compared to many areas in the path of this weather.

We're also lucky, personally, to have an all-weather domicile. We gather that quite a lot of folks down this way don't have any way to adequately heat their homes in weather like this. We've lived comfortably in the tin tipi in temps down to -16F, a lot colder than it's gotten here, where 28F is the lowest I've seen on our thermometer.

But just in case you thought I'd run out of whine, we did lose our internet connection today. I've had a good signal on our wifi connection but no connection all day, so I assume that the problem is with the fiber optic line out of town. Heh, and the post office is still closed. People have been embellishing the "closed due to weather" sign with some choice comments. "The rest of us still have to work!" being one of the more polite.

Update: Funny, I hadn't heard that Al Gore was coming to Texas. As the InstaPundit notes, spells of weather like this don't prove or disprove global warming. I'll note though that the usual drumbeat of doom has been a bit muted of late.

@7:39 PM

Tuesday, January 16, 2007- - -  
It's Teotwawki!*
The preacher man says it’s the end of time
And the Mississippi River she’s a goin’ dry
The interest is up and the Stock Market's down
And you only get mugged
If you go down town

I live back in the woods, you see
A woman and the kids, and the dogs and me
I got a shotgun, rifle, and a 4-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive

-- Hank Williams, Jr.
Okay, we're not terribly worried about surviving a skiff of snow in south Texas (yes, see below!). We went up to the High Sierra Bar and Grill last night for live music and free tacos. I was expecting Country and Western, performed by some local yokel backed up by a rhythm machine, but we got everything from the Beatles to Willie Nelson, with some excellent blues and even a little reggae. An outstanding performance by the very talented local algebra teacher. He was backed up on the blues numbers by a friend who blew a fine harp, and he did have a rhythm machine, but a very high tech outfit**. I hope I get to meet him 'cause I'd love to quiz him about his equipment. It was a long way beyond the old 'chic-a-boom' machines.

He might be the local teacher, period. Can't be that many of 'em in this small town. Of all the songs he performed last night this one got the biggest applause. Not surprising I suppose. If you live by choice in Terlingua, Texas, (or Worland, Wyoming!) this probably speaks to your general attitude toward life and how to live it:
I had a good friend in New York City
He never called me by my name, just hillbilly
My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
And his taught him to be a businessman
He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
And I’d send him some homemade wine

But he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife
For 43 dollars my friend lost his life ...
At any rate, a good time was had by all. Our musician donated all his tips to the local Boys & Girls Club too, bless his heart. Although he admitted ulterior motives: It gives the kids someplace besides his house to hang out. He reminds me of one of my old teachers, a former rodeo cowboy who taught me in 5th through 8th grade (two room country school, his wife taught 1st - 4th), took us out shooting and fishing, let us come down to the basement "teacherage" to watch the World Series and other 'educational' television, and generally provided an education somewhat beyond the required curriculum.

Update: Our local musician/math teacher is Ted Arbogast and his harmonica-honkin' sidekick is Don Sharlow. A couple of Shiner bocks chased by a couple more had turned my memory to mush and I intended to ask who they were for this update. It turned out to be easier than I'd thought to find out. There's a website devoted to music and musicians in Terlingua. Of course. How silly of me not to think of that.

Another update: Did I mention that we were very, very impressed with the music? My wife asked if he/they (I assume they're the "Ted & Don" listed on the Terlingua music site) have a CD out. With the odd humility sometimes exhibited by the truly gifted, Arbogast said he hadn't made a recording because he hadn't written any of the songs he performed, but we were welcome to bring a tape machine and record him if we wanted.

That's really too bad, because I've paid big bucks to see big name musicians, who weren't nearly as good as these guys, play other people's songs. I've bought plenty of CDs by big names that I'd gladly trade for a disc of these guys too.

It's particularly unfortunate because there's even a recording studio here: Studio Butte (Ow! That's really bad, guys). I should explain that, like Wyoming, they use unusual pronunciations of place names to sort the locals from the tourists. Study Butte, suburb of Terlingua, is pronounced "stew-dy butte".

*The End Of The World As We Know It

**I think it was one of these, or something very similar. It did a lot besides playing back his music in a loop when he got up to dance! It looks like it would be a lot of fun, but before I get carried away with such fancy stuff, I need a pre-amp and amplifier. Yeah, right. Another local musician came in to see the performance last night carrying his mandolin under his arm. I thought my wife was going to jump up and run from the room. I think's she's ODing on mandolin "music" (My plot to make her crazy is working! Bwwaahahaha!).

@6:18 AM

Egad! The Weather Channel was right!
One of the locals told us that an old timer here claims to have seen snow in Terlingua four times in his life, the last time being a month or so ago. Well, at 7 am it's 28 degrees out there and beginning to snow. Nothing sticking on the ground yet, but we shall see.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky to experience something so unusual.. The rainbow cacti have thick fur coats and they're probably glad for the moisture, so we shouldn't complain.

Update: At 8 am it's 29 degrees, still snowing, and starting to stick. I wonder if it's ever snowed enough to build a snowperson in Terlingua? That would be a good excuse to give the kids a break from algebra.

Back again: By 11 am the temperature was up to 30 and the precip had changed to sleet/rain. Now, going on 1 pm, it's still 30 and still sleeting/raining, but so far there's not enough accumulation to give more than a barely visible skiff of the white stuff in grassy spots.

We hiked over to the post office around 11 am to mail off the report I finished up on Sunday, to find the place closed due to the weather!(?) If they'd closed the post office in North Dakota every time it snowed we wouldn't have gotten any mail about nine months out of the year (I exaggerate, but not much). On the other hand, if this really is only the fifth time in memory that it's snowed here, and the streets are a bit icy, this qualifies as more unusual weather for here than the recent snows in Colorado do for them. I imagine it's all relative, and if you've never driven on icy roads it probably is wise to stay home.

Hmm.. and while I've been writing this update it's started to snow with a vengeance again and the ground is mostly white. Hey! Maybe the kids got to stay home from school. There's hope for that snowman yet.

@6:00 AM

Luna's Jacal
According to the interpretive sign:

"Here at the edge of Alamo Creek, Gilberto Luna raised a large family in this small house called a jacal (hah-KAHL). Built from rock, earth, and plant fiber, the dwelling was well-adapted to desert conditions: notice the dramatic temperature difference as you step inside. Luna irrigated the land he farmed with floodwater diverted from the nearby creek."
Luna's jacal differs little from the dwellings constructed for thousands of years in the desert west. Such structures were often "semi-subterranian" -- having a living floor excavated from one to several feet into the ground -- they were "earth-sheltered". Some had low rock walls or an earthen berm, while others, more deeply excavated, dispensed with above-ground walls entirely. The roof was a simple superstructure of poles, covered with some combination of brush, hides, and earth. They ranged in shape from rectangular to oval or round. The smallest were sometimes no more than 2-3 meters in diameter, but some were as much as 30 meters across. While you can no longer enter Luna's jacal (probably for safety reasons, the roof is beginning to fall in) I can vouch for the fact that such houses are well insulated; cool in the summer and easily warmed in the winter.

Here in the interior you can see some of the details of the jacal's construction. Again according to the interpretive sign:

"Jacal construction is sometimes called "wattle and daub." To weatherproof the structure, Luna applied plaster to latticework walls of cane grass and ocatillo."
I can't see anything I'd call true wattle and daub here. The walls are stone masonry and the roof is constructed by laying a thick layer of ocatillo parallel to the center beam (visible in the far upper right of this second photo) and then covering that with mud plaster (see the roof in the first photo, above). The structure lacks the plaster-covered latticework of true wattle and daub. Still, I've no doubt that wattle and daub construction was employed to create very similar structures.

Smaller dwellings sometimes dispensed with vertical support posts while, as the structure became larger, posts were employed in a variety of patterns to support the roof. An earthen roof is heavy and the largest structures employed huge tree trunks to support the weight. When excavating one of these structures, we pay particular attention to the pattern of "post molds" -- circular holes or depressions in the floor marking the locations of the support posts -- that are a key clue to the form of the superstructure. The dwelling floor is often plastered and is usually very compacted, being finely laminated in vertical cross-section. Unless the superstructure burned, in which case it will be visible in vertical cross-section as a layer of small, charred sticks, the dwelling floor is usually the most distinctive feature of such structures when we find them, as we often do, in pipeline trenches.

In this case, dirt and debris blown and washed in since the jacal was abandoned, and perhaps the churning effect of the lugged boot soles of recent visitors, have given the floor a loose appearance that it probably didn't have when it was occupied.

Again according to the interpretive sign:
"Gilberto Luna built this jacal and lived here until 1947, when he died at the age of 108. Luna was well-known and respected among the residents of the Big Bend."
108! And it is unlikely that he had much benefit of modern medicine. But then it's also unlikely that he had much fat in his diet, consumed much alcohol, or spent much time on the couch watching TV. (Or sitting in front of a computer blogging..)

Infant mortality rates were often high, from the rigors of birth and childhood diseases. Childbirth also took its toll on women. Mishaps that we would consider minor -- cuts and scrapes and broken bones -- could prove crippling or fatal absent medical attention (but they did have an understanding of the medicinal plants and minerals available to them, and knew how to set and splint bones).

Life expectancy at birth was often quite low under such primative conditions, on the order of 40 years or so. Some folks misinterpret this statistic to suggest that people died of old age at 40, but that is not the case. If you survived birth, childhood and your teenage years -- teenagers were reckless then too -- and survived giving birth if you were a woman, it was not at all unusual to live to a ripe old age.

@4:10 AM

Monday, January 15, 2007- - -  
Sometimes a photo caption is worth 1000 words..
Check out the caption on the photo of Mitt Romney that heads this Boston Globe article. Yes, the "display of shotguns" are actually air rifles (I suppose BBs are a form of shot [snort]) and the Globe loses one more increment of credibility on the gun issue. Not that they had much left to lose.

HT: InstaPundit

@6:45 AM

Sunday, January 14, 2007- - -  
The obligatory scenic shot
Here we're looking northwest from the west rim of the Chisos Mountains, on the Oak Spring Trail. Click on this one to get the enlarged view! The ground fog in the distance was a great effect.

I've learned that if I take enough photos I'm bound to get a good one now and then, and I took a couple good ones yesterday. Had to do paperwork today (self-employed, can't leave the damned boss at home), so I'm hoarding a couple more for tomorrow.

@4:04 PM

Not quite road kill
I spotted this little varmint marching across the highway on our way home yesterday. Fortunately, I didn't run him over, although by the time I saw him it was too late to maneuver. I was surprised at how big he was, almost as large as my outstretched hand.

@3:55 PM

We hiked the Window Trail yesterday, and ran across half-a-dozen javalinas on our way back up the canyon. This one is a half-grown juvenile who's lost the red coloration of babies and displays the white stripe that gives them the name 'collared pecary'. He and his litter mate closely tailed their (presumed) mother. Another four or five adults rooted in the brush and wandered about. Amazingly mobile little critters, it was impossible to figure out how many of them there actually were.

@3:42 PM

Saturday, January 13, 2007- - -  
One good photo a day..
That's all I ask.

Some days it's harder to produce than others. Woke up yesterday to the sound of rain on a tin roof. Fortunately I resisted the inspiration to stay home and write a song suitable for the banjo. We loaded up and drove over to Big Bend thinking we'd kill some time at the gift shops and exhibits until it cleared off, but a couple hours later it was still drizzling. Tough to take photos or do much of anything outside.

We could see blue sky off to the west though, so we decided to take a drive over to Big Bend Ranch State Park, west along the Rio Grande. On the way we found Lajita, which barely merits a dot on the highway map, but has attracted the big bux developers, who've thrown up a couple of posh resort motels and a row of up-scale gifte shoppes. It's all very new and most of the shops are still empty, but it carries an air of hopeful anticipation. McMansions are sprouting on the surrounding hills and they've got a humongous equestrian center.

I'd been very surprised that there wasn't a Jackson Hole equivalent outside the gates of Big Bend to attract the tourists and provide a place for the zillionaires to spend their money on vacation homes. Terlingua is trying, but it's apparent there's not lot of money being invested (or made) there. Housing runs toward ramshackle do-it-yourselfers and older single-wides, with a couple of small, non-chain motels and a handful of RV parks that have seen better days. It just seemed odd that someone wasn't trying to establish some more up-scale development to capitalize on the park. Well, it looks like they're doing just that in Lajita. It's not our kind of place, but I knew there had to be a place like that someplace. I hope they can get it going and make this area more of a tourist destination, because it is indeed gorgeous country.

We thought the national park was spectacularly rugged until we saw Big Bend Ranch State Park. A spectacular spot we'll have to explore. They even have a mini-caldera, The Solitario, much like the Yellowstone Caldera, but smaller and better defined. Further investigation is required!

@5:17 AM

Lower than low
The banner over at the DenverPost gives a snapshot of the day's weather. Right now it gives the temperatures as High 19°F | Low 5°F | Now -2°F. Seems their predicted low was a little bit off. And we are heartily glad not to be there.

@4:58 AM

Friday, January 12, 2007- - -  
Strap them kids in*
Give 'em a little bit of vodka in a cherry coke
We're going to Colorado for the Democratic Convention for the first time in years


And they'll be comin' up from Kansas
and from west Arkansas
It'll be one great big old party like you never saw

*With apologies to James McMurtry

@6:09 AM

More cool stuff
This is the store at the old Hot Springs Spa, near Rio Grande Village, in the far southeast corner of Big Bend National Park. A beautiful piece of historic architecture.

We're told that the place was in business until it was sold to become part of the park in the early 1940's, after which the previous owners operated it as a park concession for several years before it went out of use.

It would be interesting to visit the archives of the local papers and see what these folks thought of selling a place they'd obviously put so much work into. In all the literature about the park and all the information about the old ranchs that sold out to the Park Service, it's never mentioned that these folks weren't given a choice about selling. If I'd owned this place I wouldn't be very happy to sell, no matter how much I was offered. It's a magical spot.

@5:41 AM

The surplus is shrinking!
The surplus is shrinking!!

In today's Casper Star we're told that "Estimates released Wednesday project that the state [of Wyoming] will have about $542 million in surplus revenue. That comes in addition to the $7.5 billion two-year budget that lawmakers approved last year." That's down from the $800 million surplus projected last month, and way down from the $915 million surplus that was projected only six weeks ago when the Highway Department was demanding $500 million of the surplus cash.

The big argument all along has been whether to save any of the surplus. The legislature has earmarked $200 million of the surplus to go into the state's Permanent Mineral Trust fund but the Governor wants to divert $180 million of that to the Highway Department.

So here's the part of today's article that caught my eye: "Freudenthal said the state must resist the call from citizens who say Wyoming should plow all its energy revenues into permanent savings." To put it very charitably, that's an enormous heap of.. hyperbole. *

The state derives the majority of its funds from mineral revenues. If they did put all those mineral revenues into a trust they'd have only a fraction of the $7.5 billion they've budgeted for this biennium and none of the projected surplus. They'd have reason to cry poor. But so far as I know, no one has ever suggested saving all of our mineral revenues. The legislature wanted to save $200 million of the $915 million projected surplus, in addition to the $700 million already targeted for the Trust Fund in the $7.5 billion biennial budget. Ten percent is a long way from all of our mineral revenues.

Of course, at the rate the projected surplus is shrinking $200 million may be all they get. Perhaps the Gov knows something we don't? But if the surplus shrinks that fast, who's to say it won't shrink into negative numbers and put a pinch on the original $7.5 billion budget? If that happens they'll be glad someone had the foresight to save some money instead of pissing it all away.

*To be fair, the Casper Star is not noted for the accuracy of it's reporting, even in direct quotes, which this is not. As a case in point, note that today's article says the budget surplus projection was reduced to $812 million way back in October, which contradicts everything they've published in the last couple of months. Facts are such fluid things, doncha know?

@5:03 AM

Thursday, January 11, 2007- - -  
More great scenery!
Looking northwest toward the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend. The place is one big cactus garden.

@6:13 PM

Things that make you go Hmmmm..
How could I not take a picture of this little fellow?

@6:08 PM

Painfully scenic!
Looking south from Sotol Vista in Big Bend. Volcanic rhyolites form the steep slopes here.

Our hike to the Chimneys yesterday was a great success, and we were more than well prepared. The trail was well-marked and could easily be hiked without a map, at least from the east trailhead to the chimneys. The guidebook notes that the trail becomes much more faint from the Chimneys to the west, but we returned to the east trailhead.

There are big black clouds rolling in today, so we'll do some short hikes around Rio Grande Village in the far southeast corner of the park. We don't particularly want to be caught out in the rain two or three miles from the truck.

@6:32 AM

Wednesday, January 10, 2007- - -  
Give 'em another big Red Star!
An article in today's Casper Star is headlined "Sheriff's office releases more information about possible homicide". The lede tells us:
"Michael Henry LaBrie was found on a dirt road near Powder River on Dec. 29, Sgt. Mark Sellers of the Natrona County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. He had been shot multiple times, Sellers said, and his body was found frozen."
Yep, sounds like a "possible homicide" alright. The language of the article is carefully neutral to the point of being almost silly, but then I suppose they're forced to be extremely careful when discussing possible crimes. If they're not careful someone may well take offense and sue their butts off.

Too bad they're not so carefully neutral elsewhere, such as in the article I recently commented on that tells us "Dollars will drive the 2007 legislative session and will force legislators to prioritize spending on roads, other infrastructure, health care, child care, local government aid and the community colleges." 'Forced to prioritize' makes it sound like there's a budget shortfall and our state government is feeling a pinch of poverty when, in fact, they have projected about $800 million in surplus revenues. The legislature and various state government entities are fighting over who gets to spend how much of the windfall.

Only someone who worships really, Really Big Government could paint that as a budget crisis. As illustrated, they can do straight-up reporting, but they often don't and it's not at all hard to see their agenda when they don't. That's why they're so lovingly known as the Red Star Tribune.

Update: Incidentally, the backward "R" in my little award is pronounced "ya" and isn't an 'r' at all, so I'm taking a bit of artistic license.

@5:18 AM

Today's hike
We'll be doing the Chimneys trail to see the petroglyphs. We're using a trail guide my wife found in a discount book catalog, Hiking Big Bend National Park by Laurence Parent. It's got 47 trails in Big Bend and Big Bend Ranch State Park, with a verbal description of each trail and the sights to be seen. A great way to find out about unknown country. The maps leave a good deal to be desired, but we picked up the All Topo maps package for Texas, so we're all set.

I notice that there's a second edition of Hiking.. out now that appears to have the same 47 trails but promises "GPS-compatable trail maps". I'm not sure what they mean by that, but I assume it's something like the All Topo map excerpt I've posted here, which depicts the 1000 meter UTM lines, or it might possibly show latitude and longitude. I've gone one better and used OziExplorer to enter the actual trail as a track file in our iFinders, but you could navigate easily enough with a GPS using just the UTM or lat/long grid.

I should warn that a GPS is no substitute for map-reading skills(!!). That thunderstorm on the far horizon can play hell with a GPS. Batteries go dead (take extras!). They don't work well in deep timber or narrow canyons. And a certain amount of practice is required, as well as an understanding of the various datum systems and how your GPS employs them. The maps of Big Bend are based on the North American Datum of 1927, so I've set that datum in Ozi and in our GPSs. Use the wrong datum, or mix your datums and you could be several hundred meters off.

Our iFinders are differentially corrected using the Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and have an advertised accuracy of + 2 meters, horizontally (usually less than 1 meter in practice). That's very darn accurate. Accurate enough to demonstrate that the topographic maps are often not very accurate in their details! On a recent fieldwork project we discovered that the stream cutting through our project area was often off by 100 meters or more. Man-made objects like structures and section corner brass caps were accurately depicted, but many of the finer topographic details were only roughly sketched in. I suppose the guy who drew the map, essentially by hand back in 1958, never thought anybody would be checking that closely.

As you may have guessed, I'm a gadget fiend and the GPS is a great gadget. I am glad though that I learned to read a map back in the dark ages before we had such things. I've worked with young punks who are "GPS surveyors" -- professional land surveyors -- who have never learned to read a topographic map because they don't generally need to use a map to find their way around. Unfortunately, this also leads them to lay out routes that run smack over the top of things like Kit Mountain (labeled 'Big' in the lower center of the map above). Each of those brown "contour lines" is 40 feet of elevation (it varies but each fifth line is marked). When the contour lines get close together it means its steep, in this case very steep. A GPS won't tell you that, so it's not much use in planning a route.

A GPS will tell you where you are, but it can't tell you not to go there. It's a tool, but not nearly the only tool, nor indispensable. The only indispensable tool for hiking the back country resides between your ears. There's a lot of country out there and not a lot of people. Get lost, get hurt or snakebit, run out of water or food, walk in farther than you have the strength to walk out, or suffer any of many other mishaps and you too could become coyote food. Tell someone where you're going (that would be you in our case). Donate a few bucks to the local Search & Rescue. They'll bust their butts to find you but they need equipment, gas for their pickups, 4-wheelers, and airplanes, radios, and a whole bunch of other stuff that costs money. Most of all, keep your wits about you.

We'll be back..

@3:25 AM

Darkest Texas has wifi?
Is nothing sacred? Yes, the RV park has wifi, through their attached motel, so I will be able to post photos of the spectacular scenery down here around Big Bend National Park. And I can keep in touch with my dad.

On the other hand, they've never heard of Verizon out this way. Nether my EVDO card nor our cell phones will work. That's just about a perfect balance of telecommunications as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and did I mention that the scenery is spectacular? The weather is gorgeous too, at almost 70 degrees yesterday. All the locals are running around in parkas, which tells me I don't want to be here in July though. If you at all enjoy hiking, mountain biking, nature photography, or warm weather in January, this is a place not to be missed.

@3:09 AM

Tuesday, January 09, 2007- - -  
The long goodbye..
Off to the store to pick up a few slabs 'o meat for the grill and a set of new rubber tips for our hiking staffs, then we're off for Terlingua, where we'll stop traveling and start vacationing!

@6:31 AM

100+ mph winds!
Nice to see that the weather in Wyoming is getting back to normal.

@6:15 AM

Monday, January 08, 2007- - -  
Get with the program!
It's the Consumer Electronics Show. Shouldn't these guys be playing electric fiddles (violins, whatever)? I've been eyeing some of those space-age-looking electric fiddles and I'll just have to have one eventually. They're tuned like a mandolin, or rather, the mandolin was designed to be tuned like a violin, so at least one hand should know what it's doing..

@5:46 PM

I'm not gone yet!
Yes, I've got a wifi connection in Alpine, TX! Painfully slow, but slow is better than nothing.

I'm also happy to report that the chicken-fried steak with green chili gravy at the Edelweiss is still the best chicken-fried steak on earth. And perhaps one of the biggest (oh, bloat). Darn good microbrew too.

@5:27 PM

"Newcomers should observe and listen."
And 'don't even ask about wolves'. Good advice on how to get along in Wyoming from our Humanities Council. I suppose it's a nice way to paraphrase our popular bumper sticker:
"You're in Wyoming now. Frankly, we don't give a damn how you did it back home."

@4:43 AM

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