Category Archives: Stories

Kodel’s Canyon

Geologic Time Scale

Growing up in Fruita, Colorado on Colorado’s Western Slope I had rich opportunities for exploration.  The area is amazingly diverse, offering the 10,000 foot elevation Grand Mesa to the east, the stark Bookcliffs to the north, and the spectacular red rock canyons of the Colorado National Monument just south of town.  All this surrounds the Grand Valley where I grew up. These areas and others were within short driving distance, with the Monument in bicycle range just across the Colorado River.

My friends and I used to take our .22s across the river and assault hundreds of rocks.  Our wandering took us across the National Monument boundary into Kodel’s Canyon.  Nobody went there in those days so we didn’t worry about having illegal guns in the park.  The canyon was smaller than the others, but we had the place to ourselves.  The approach is a deeply eroded plain of Dakota Sandstone from the river to the canyon.  The Cretaceous Dakota grades off to the Mancos Shale of the Grand Valley floor.

Kodel’s Canyon

That Mancos Shale is usually called Stinking Desert by many.  It is somewhat infertile unless well drained, and results in mostly barren gray flats.  Lots of barren gray flats from central Utah to Delta, Colorado.  With water and good drainage to carry the salt away, it can be farmland.  We would leave home on the valley floor and climb into the red rock Kodel’s Canyon.  At the mouth of the Canyon is the Kodel’s Canyon fault, where the Uncompahgre Uplift shoved all those Older Jurassic red rocks above the Cretaceous Valley.

Looking at the Grand Valley from Colorado National Monument

The bottom of the canyon is smooth rounded granite and schist geologists call basement rocks.  They are seldom found exposed on the Colorado Plateau, covered by thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks.  The time gap between those old basement rocks and the sedimentary rocks sitting on them is over a billion years.  It’s called the Great Unconformity, where all the rocks deposited during that billion years were eroded away.  This gap is found in many places worldwide, but there are also many places where the rocks missing in our canyon were deposited and remain to be seen and enjoy.  Think the Flatirons, Red Rocks, and the Garden of the Gods, all Cambrian.  Those rocks sit on Precambrian Gneiss and Schist 1.7 billion years old.

Those old rounded black rocks are great for climbing and we did it.  Today it’s called bouldering.  We didn’t have climbing ropes, so we used our .22s as climbing aids.  Dangerous?  Yes. Fun? You bet.

Among the guys I grew up with, only one had any injury running around across the river.  Jerry had a seriously sprained ankle.  The two guys with him helped him down to the road and help.  He exploited the ankle to excess.  At Boy Scouts we always played Capture the Flag after the meeting.  Jerry would hobble down to get the flag defying anyone to stop him.  I walked over and pushed him down.  I don’t think he ever forgave me.

Driving Around in Cars

We live in a car culture.  The economy is based on the auto an oil and gas industries.  Most of us think of cars as a gateway to personal freedom.  We devote much of our resources, monetary and mental, to the automobile. Our culture is so strong in its emphasis on cars that we  have succumbed.

Carol’s car was getting old and the new safety equipment with all the sensors and warnings seems more important as we age.  She has a Mazda crossover SUV.  I got a Subaru Crosstrek, good for light backcountry driving.

My old ride was a fine 2009 Toyota pickup, great in the boonies but I am giving serious four wheeling up.  Too much risk at my age because I tend to go alone to tough places and turn off into tougher places.  My regular driving has changed as well.  Every few years I have a momentary lapse and some sheet metal gets bent.  This time I pulled out in front of an oncoming car.  $4000 damage to my truck, probably about the same to the other car.

Now there is technology in cars to help prevent some of those events.  I need as many external sensors as I can get, as my built in sensors have never been all that good and are getting a bit worse as I age.  That safety stuff is a bit expensive, but cheaper than an accident.

I am attempting to let go of as much artificial desire as possible and a new car doesn’t fit with the goal.  Well, whatever.  “We’re living in a plastic land.”  I could do most of my running around on my bicycle(s), and did for a while, but got away from riding.  I am not sure I will start again.  So I am going to support the Japanese auto industry and support our auto broker.

Instead of letting desire go I am feeding a craving.  Will I ever be able to let go before age and infirmity force me to?  Stay tuned.

Plate Tectonics

Western Colorado’s Grand Valley

As a Western Colorado Native, having lots of geology looking down on me sparked my interest in the field.  I have to know, so knowing how the Bookcliffs, Grand Mesa, and the Colorado National Monument got there stirred my curiosity.  Plate Tectonics is responsible for that stuff poking up all over the place.

Back in the Permian when I took geology at Mesa College, the orthodox explanation for mountain building was something called isostasy.  Push down in one place, and something will pop up nearby.  New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta is sinking under the weight of all that mud coming down the river.  New England is rising a little because that heavy glacial ice sheet melted.  Geologist tried to make isostasy work in places like California with little success.

The early twentieth century saw some new thinking.  Alfred Wegener proposed that continents move around on our sphere.  He was laughed at when he gave papers on the idea.  Yes, Africa and South America look like they once fit together, but how can an entire continent move?  That is a lot of mass to be sliding around.

In the nineteen sixties new thinking started to change attitudes.  Why are there identical fossils on the African and South American coasts?  The real game changer came when oceanic exploration found the mid-oceanic ridges with young basalt near the ridges and steadily getting older farther away.  The only explanation was a spreading seafloor.  Things are on the move.

After college I subscribed to Scientific American magazine.  It seemed like a new article appeared every month explaining how physical features are the result of magma (molten or hot and plastic rock) on the move.  There are seven big (North America, Asia) plates and a number of smaller ones being affected by the rock coming from that spreading seafloor.

Subduction

As the oceanic sea floor impacts the boundary of a continent, something has to give.  The more dense seafloor basalt tends to dive under the continent.  They can form trenches almost seven miles deep next to a subduction zone where the plate dives under the lighter rock of a continent.  The subducting rock is wet, and changes chemically forming lighter rock that often belches up as volcanos.  Earthquakes occur as the plates bump against one another, dip, or slide.

The island arcs off Asia are the current example.  Java, the Philippines, Japan, New Guinea are all volcanic islands getting ready to smash into Asia.  India already has, creating the Himalayas at the suture.  Lots of shaking there, too.

Around 1.75 billion years an island arc docked (yes, geologists use that word) on the Wyoming Craton.  The craton has some rocks as old as six billion (abbreviated as 6 ga) years old.  Many of the rocks are around 3 ga.  The oldest Colorado rocks are around 1.75 ga.  Just outside Morrison, Colorado is the Great Unconformity.  The red rocks are about 60 ma (million years).  The dark gneiss and schist just barely up Bear Creek canyon are those 1.75 ga guys.  Lots went on between those dates, but there it is all eroded away.

Snowy Range, formed by Colorado smashing into Wyoming

The Snowy Range in Wyoming is a result of the join-up.  The coastal ranges in California that like to shake and burn and belch fire and rock formed from the collision of the Pacific and North American plates.  As you are probably aware, L.A. is headed for Anchorage.  Don’t worry it’s going to take a while.

The Rocky Mountains are kind of a strange story.  Usually mountain building occurs at plate boundaries, like the Andes and the Cascades.  What is known as the Laramide Orogeny that created the Rockies happened about 800 miles inland.  The idea is that for some reason about 80 ma the pacific plate scooted under the lighter continental rocks before diving. The Rockies came up a bunch, the Colorado Plateau, my homeland, not so much.

The Rockies are now sitting still but the plateau is moving clockwise, pulled by the pacific plate sliding north against and under the north american plate at the continental boundary, as things should happen.  The Basin and Range province, Nevada mostly, is being pulled apart.  For some reason the Colorado Plateau wants to stay in one piece while western Utah, Arizona, and Nevada are coming apart.

All this motion is happening at about the rate your fingernails are growing.  It doesn’t seem like much, but after a few million years we are talking big moves.  Stay tuned.

My favorite book on these topics is Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee.  It is a big book composed of sections covering the territories along I-80.  Great reading.

Bad Water Part Two

Ft. Collins CO City Park Lake

Let’s continue with stories about what happens when pathogenic organisms get into a potable water supply.  Usually the causes of disease outbreaks are caused by no treatment or failure of the treatment process.  This one, however, is because of a cross connection.

Cross connections are when a treated water system is contaminated by water coming into it downstream of the treatment plant.  Garden hoses are a good example.  If the sprinkler head is in a puddle while in use and a negative pressure occurs, contaminated water can be sucked  Into the piping system.  Opening a fire hydrant in the area is a common cause.  Flow in the water main increases and the venturi effect can pull water from the garden hose into the main.  In big buildings, bad plumbing can let boiler or air conditioning into the building plumbing system.

Fort Collins, Colorado had a major cross connection event before I went to water-wastewater school there.  The lab people at the wastewater plant got a phone call one weekend.  The caller said several people in her neighborhood around City Park had gotten sick in recent days.  They went right out and sampled in several places.  Sure enough, the drinking water had coliform bacteria, a sure indicator of fecal contamination.   Much fire hydrant flushing ensued and a boil order went into effect.  All the testing indicated the water was still bad around City Park.  It occurred to someone to check with the Parks Department.  The park was irrigated with water from City Park Lake.  There were times when irrigation demand exceeded flow onto the lake and city water was used to supplement the ditch water.  This is from memory.  No online references.

There are backflow preventers to keep the systems separate.  You have seen those big brass devices in parks in your area.  Another method is an air gap.  City water drops out of a pipe above a tank where the water is collected and pumped out.  The air gap keeps things safe.  Well, the old tank had rusted out and someone just put in a piece of pipe. Lake water into city water.  There are lots of wild geese in Fort Collins using that lake.  Fecal-oral.

If you have been to New York, you have seen all those old water tanks on the top of buildings.  City water is pumped into the tank then the water is contaminated by sediment accumulated on the bottom of the tank or a hole allows birds and animals to enter the tank.

The worst example of a tank getting contaminated occurred many years ago in a water district south of Colorado Springs.  The maintenance people entered the hatch in the top of a several million gallon storage tank and discovered a dead body floating there.  No diseases had been reported, verifying the old water adage “The solution to pollution is dilution.”  I did a Web search on this event.  For some reason, there is not a word online.

Years later, the city of Alamosa, Colorado found coliform bacteria in the city water.  A boil order went into place and the search began.  The local water department was overwhelmed and Denver Water sent a team to help.  Much searching led to discovering the bad stuff was coming from a big storage tank that had seen no maintenance in years.  Usually storage tanks are regularly taken out of service and cleaned.  With Denver Water it is an annual practice.  That Alamosa tank had a lot of sludge on the bottom and a hole just under the roof where birds were entering.  Again, fecal-oral.

My experience along this line was when I was working at the Greeley, Colorado wastewater plant in the spring of 1979.  The Cache La Poudre had a huge spring runoff.  The flood washed out a pipeline in the plant that moved raw wastewater across the river.  The city’s untreated sewage went into the river for several days until an emergency pipeline was built.  The solution to pollution was in effect because flow in the river was at record levels.

Early in the twentieth century, many cities built primary wastewater plants to provide some treatment.  The wastewater went into big settling tanks where a lot of the solids were removed and the remainder went to the river.   Greeley did that.  There was an old pump that handled the sludge that went into service in 1926.  Secondary treatment came in, but during World War II, many systems shut the secondary systems down to conserve electric power.  Partly treated sewage in the river all over the country.  When the Poudre flooded, we had to wear hip boots around the plant.  The door to that old pump station was sandbagged to keep the river out.  The whole thing got rebuilt just as I left Greeley for Manitou Springs and away from wastewater plants.

Raw Sewage Into Stream

Growing up in Fruita, Colorado in the 1950’s,  my friends and I roamed all over the town.  Just southwest of town we were exploring a natural wash and discovered the sewage outfall for the town of  Fruita, population 1800.  Raw sewage went into the wash and to the Colorado River a mile downstream.  Gross.  There were lots of what we called in the wastewater trade “white trout” hanging from the bushes.  Some years later, the town built a sewage lagoon to treat the wastewater.

Well, I  think I have given you enough horror stories

 

Bad Water Part One

Giardia Lamblia Cysts

I spent thirty years in the water business, both water and wastewater.  During that time I learned about or saw many examples of what can go wrong.  There are the big ones such as Flint, Michigan where process and raw water changes sent corrosive water into a system with lots of lead pipes.  In Milwaukee, 1993, runoff from manure-laden agricultural land contaminated Lake Michigan water, the source for Milwaukee’s treatment plant.  Lots of people got sick from cryptosporidium,  a single cell organism resistant to chlorine.  The water was within standards, but that didn’t matter to the 400,000 people affected.  The big ones are the headline makers but there are many other outbreaks, usually in small water systems.

First, I must point out that water treatment starting around the start of the twentieth century is the single greatest public health advance in history.  Chlorination along with a good sedimentation and filtration process are the weapons.  We can be grateful we almost always have clean, safe water coming out of the tap in most of the developed world.  This is not so in much of sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, and now Puerto Rico.

In 1854, the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London was traced to a single well which was contaminated by a nearby cesspit.  Taking the handle off the pump ended the outbreak.  This was the first scientific validation of the germ theory of disease.  The main theory at the time was that disease was borne by miasma, bad air.  Later, chlorine was introduced as the main barrier to waterborne disease,  along with filtration.

Things mostly went well.  Government regulation insured drinking water would be treated.  Here in Colorado, however, there is a confounding variable.  Our pure mountain water can transmit Beaver Fever.  The technical term is Giardiasis, caused by a single called organism called Giardia Lamblia.  These little critters, like Cryptosporidium, have a cell wall tough enough to resist chlorine in the concentration which reliably kills  bacteria and viruses.

Like most waterborne diseases, transmission is fecal-oral.  People drink water containing feces from warm-blooded animals.  The reliable way to eliminate the pathogens is a well operated complete treatment process which removes the cysts.  Ultraviolet light also kills them.  Denver, for example, has never had a Giardia outbreak, even while treating more than 400 million gallons per day in summer.

There are pitfalls, especially in small water systems.  Plant operators are required to have certification from the state health department, but many rural operators have a weak science background and passed the written tests by studying test questions collected by pervious test takers.  The head of the water department may be the mayor’s brother in law or a good old boy who does what they have always done and may cheat on the lab tests and paperwork.

A good example was in 1979 in Estes Park, Colorado.  People started getting sick, often tourists who had returned home before becoming ill.  Giardiasis is a nasty disease.  Cramps, raging diarrhea, and a violent headache.  After a few days, the symptoms subside, only to return a couple of weeks later.  The cause? The old guy running the plant saw the water from Rocky Mountain National Park  was so clear in late summer he turned off the chemical feed used to trap Giardia cysts so the filters can remove them. The cysts went right through the filter.

I had a partner I worked with in the Greeley wastewater plant who got Giardia.  She was a bit doctor resistant and didn’t go in until after the third bout.  There is a medicine called Flagyl that cures the disease in a few days.  She had gotten so weak her immune system didn’t recover fully for a year.  She came down with every little disease that came along for that year.  The county health department tested all the staff.  I was positive for amoebic dysentery, but symptom free.  We worked around big open tanks with mechanical aerators flinging the water in the air to bring up the dissolved oxygen level enough to grow the beneficial organisms that ate the bad ones.  We breathed that aerosol.  I didn’t occur to anyone to use masks around the tanks.

There is the reason for wastewater treatment.  The process removes or kills most of the bad guys before the water goes into the river.  Thus, people using the water downstream don’t have as much of a mess to clean up.  Think about Mississippi River water in New Orleans.  Safe drinking water can come from the river if treated.

For many years, many systems relied solely on chlorine to insure safe drinking water. New York City  still does.  Seattle used to do chlorination only, but now treats the water (one of the plants using ultraviolet disinfection.).  I was one of the first persons hired by the City of Manitou Springs, Colorado to operate their new treatment plant.  Prior to building the plant, All they did was chlorinate.  The water was from the north side of Pikes Peak and of high quality except after summer thunderstorms.  Then, people got sand and pine needles out of the tap.  Risky, and the health department demanded a treatment plant.

Stay tuned, more to come.

Terremoto

I was sitting in a building in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport waiting for my luggage when the building shook.  A soccer game was on the TV, and the guys just looked up and grinned at one another.  It wasn’t much of an earthquake, but Costa Rica has had some big ones.  It’s a mountainous country, and in 1991 a big one closed the road and railroad from San Jose to the Caribbean coast for weeks.

Typically, earthquakes happen where tectonic plates collide.  In Costa Rica it is the Cocos Plate diving (subducting) under the Caribbean Plate.  The  Cocos is headed east, the Caribbean is moving west.  The combined motion makes for some real fireworks.  The boundary is marked by a string of Volcanos.  The only active volcano I have visited is Irazu, northeast of San Jose.  It is a big tourist attraction and showered ash on President Kennedy in March of 1963.  I developed more of an appreciation of a volcano’s power when I looked into the crater.

Volcanos and earthquakes release energy on a scale that overwhelms the human imagination.  The nation of Japan moved about eight feet east feet during the 2011 earthquake which caused the tsunami responsible for inundating the east coast of the island.  Sea level rose about ten feet.  Now that, folks, is one hell of a shove.

Economic loss was in the neighborhood of $235 billion, the costliest natural disaster ever.  The magnitude was 9.1, about as big as they get.  Remember the scale is logarithmic, with the amplitude increasing by a factor of ten when moving from number to another.  Thus a magnitude increase from four to to nine is 500 times more intense.  The energy release is not on the order of ten times, but closer to thirty times.  You do the math.  It is enough energy to change the rotational speed and tilt of the earth.

The southern end of our old friend the San Andreas fault is overdue for a major slip.  The northern portion is less likely as several good sized quakes have released much of the stored energy.    Estimates of the magnitude of a big one on the southern segment are in the range of 8.0.   Not as bad as the Japan shake, but enough to more than $200 billion, with major loss of life.  That Los Angeles Basin is full of people and stuff.  A big quake would trap most of the people there with no power or water.  Can you imagine no superhero movies for many months?

Christmas brought me several good books, including one on earthquakes and one on wildfire.  Brace yourself for disaster stories.  What is clear to me from my studies on wildfire and earthquakes is that there is risk to living on this planet.  Humanity only serves to magnify the rise.   We want our surroundings to be fairly steady state.  Not so, the driving force is change.  Whether natural phenomena or human caused. It will all change and then we die.  The key is to make life worthwhile, accepting the inevitability of change.  In the meantime, try to avoid Southern California if you can.

Weird Wyoming

Along with having the entire atmosphere pass through the state in any 24 hour period, Wyoming has some other attributes beside the wind.  I like Wyoming for its diversity and the fact it doesn’t have too many people.  The diversity also extends to the geology. Prairie in the east, Devil’s Tower and the beautiful country around there to some of the most spectacular alpine country anywhere, even if the mountains are lower than ours in Colorado.  Oh, and Yellowstone, our first National Park.

Wyoming Geology

I especially like the deserts, like the Great Divide Basin, aka the Red Desert, a depression rimmed by the Continental Divide.   Yellowstone is the largest and most dangerous volcano in the country.  There is coal, iron ore, oil and gas, uranium, and trona, to name a few.  Those resources are a double edged sword, leading to a boom and bust economy.  Ranching just soldiers along,  but it is a hard way to make a living.

A good portion of the economy comes from Greens (Coloradans, known for their green license plates).  It’s the topography that draws me.  Rivers flowing north, through mountain ranges, fed by hot springs.  A range of hills known as the gas hills, where methane comes out of the ground.  Mountain ranges running north and south as God intended, but the Snowy Range runs east-west and is the boundary between the ancient island arcs known as Colorado and the much more ancient Wyoming Craton.

The Wyoming Craton has some of the oldest rocks in North America, sharing the antiquity with the Canadian Shield.  Ages vary but are around 2.6 to 2.8 billion years old.  The oldest rocks in Colorado are around 1.7 billion years old and arrived as an island arc smashing into Wyoming, much as Indonesia and the Philippines are headed to Asia.

Wyoming has had a lot of activity down deep, shoving mountains up and sliding them around.  That pushing and shoving means areas where oil and gas get concentrated in the bends and corners, thus all the oil patch work there.  There is a lot of coal. The Union Pacific got its coal right near the tracks, and there is a tremendous amount of coal in the Powder River basin.  Coal is out of favor now, so Gillette is hurting, people leaving.

The reason Wyoming got famous is for two reasons, unruly Indians and the livestock business.  There was a lot of Indian fighting in the middle of the nineteenth century, what with the Oregon Trail crossing the region.  When the Indians were whipped, all that empty country became home to cattle and sheep.  The livestock people still hold most of the political power – they also have oil and gas leases, so they aren’t very environment friendly.  Lots of cowboy legends came out of the place.

My favorite things are the rivers running through mountain ranges.  The textbook example are the Wind and Bighorn rivers.  They got their names because early explorers didn’t realize they are the same stream bisected by the Hot Springs Mountains.  The Bighorn flows south through Thermopolis and its hot springs and roses into a beautiful narrow canyon.  The Wind River flows out of the canyon.  The river was there, the mountains came up, and the river (rivers?) stayed in the same place, cutting the canyon as the uplift occurred.

Do I need to say the Wind River is aptly named?  Years ago in Colorado Springs I met a bicyclist doing a ride across the country.  He came across Wyoming.  He looked at me and in awe said,  “The Wind”.  He rode into the wind all across the state.  Another time I was driving from Laramie to Fort Collins after dark. It was Christmas time and the ground blizzard was in full song. I saw a VW bus along the road near Tie Siding. In conditions like that, you stop.  The occupant was from Australia and said “I’ve never encountered weather like this.”  It was around zero with 50 mph wind.  The VW had quit, probably a frozen gas line, and his wife got a ride into town to get help.  Shock and awe.  I just laughed and saw he was OK.  You know about the Wyoming Wind Gauge.  It’s a length of heavy chain hanging from a post.

Jackalope,, Wyoming State Animal

There is usually a Jackalope colony nearby.

There are three books I recommend:

Rising From the Plains, John McPhee; Roadside Guide to Wyoming Geology; and Wyoming Geologic Highway Map

Addiction

I am an addict. At various times they have been tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, food, the internet, and sex, to name a few.  Currently they are food and the internet via the iPad.  Addiction runs in the family.  My mother and her brother were alcoholics.  I have managed to leave some behind, namely tobacco and pot.

I started smoking in 1960 at the University of Colorado when the tobacco companies were giving cigarettes away in order to get people hooked.  I quit smoking in 1965, three packs a day of Camel straights.  I quit pot in 1982 when I noticed I was having trouble remembering what I did yesterday.

Sex.  What adolescent male isn’t a sex addict to some degree?  I just kept it up too long.

I have left alcohol behind several times, but after a period I would start drinking again.  I controlled the drinking for a while then slowly ramp up until I scared myself and quit again, only to repeat the cycle.  I have been sober for almost two years, and I think I have left booze behind.  I realized alcohol was going to kill me if I kept it up.  I think of George Thorogood  singing “When I drink alone, I want to be by myself.”  Scotch or bourbon, vodka when money was tight.

I started when I was fifteen, drinking 3.2% Coors.  Those were the binge years.  I remember four of us in a line outside a Grand Junction beer joint vomiting in unison.  One time we drank some beer after a field trip and went to football practice.  We would hold our breath when the coach came into the huddle.  In the army my buddies and I drank steadily.  Fridays in the enlisted men’s club beer was a nickel and mixed drinks were a dime.  That’s when I developed a taste for scotch.  The well bourbon was Ten High, which isn’t fit for cleaning floors.  See? I have discerning taste in choosing my poison.

I think I realized the danger of booze for me when I saw “Leaving Las Vegas.”  Nic Cage’s character had sold everything and was in Vegas deliberately drinking himself to death.  I saw myself.  It took years, however, to give the stuff up.

Food.  Chocolate and ice cream.  Ice cream craving came from my father.  He had a big bowl every evening.  Chocolate? Who doesn’t like chocolate?  In grade school, a friend and I came across a box of Hershey bars that fell off a delivery truck.  We snuck around and ate the entire box in one afternoon.  A few years ago, it was the ice cream sandwich summer.  I would buy a box of them, eat four or so, and ditch the rest.  It was cheaper than buying singles.  I gained fifteen pounds.

I have a gastric condition resulting from a lifetime of acid reflux.  Chocolate tends to cause reflux.  Alcohol, of course is the worst, especially straight whisky.  I am a lot better after quitting drinking and drastically reducing the chocolate intake.  Now I just pick Ice cream flavors that don’t have any chocolate.

The iPad.  Currently it is Words With Friends, Facebook, and You Tube.  I hate boxing, so of course I watched a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts.  I then went to car crashes.  There are lots of dash cams in Russia, and they are terrible drivers.  I like to watch Jeeps get mangled in the Utah red rock country.  Currently it is firefighting.  Urban fires, wild land fires, even car fires.  I was a volunteer firefighter for a while.  There is nothing more exciting than going into a burning building with a fire hose.  No better way to waste time than watching it on line.

Quite a list, isn’t it?  I have taken up Buddhism, and a major tenet is that craving is a root of suffering.  I guess suffering has been a big part of my life for a long time.

Trying to Make Sense of It

 

 

Our nation is changing, and it is not an easy process.  The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”.  Well what about the other half of the population?  Historically, most cultures are warrior cultures, with men at war.  Soldiers need leaders, and the men leading in the war tend to rule the culture.  The role of women is to pleasure the men, do the work, and have babies.  If the women can’t do all the work, it is up to slaves, usually captured as spoils of war.

That was the system used in most of our nation’s history.  Subservient women and slaves.  Half a million men died ending slavery, but the racist legacy lives on.   But times change.  Labor shortages during wars and birth control allowed women to leave the home and go to work for wages.

These changes seem to threaten the majority of men.  The traditional method for retaining dominance over others is muscle.  White men had the power, guns, clubs, and rope to keep the freed slaves in their place.  To attempt to retain dominance over women they used the same tools along with sex to keep their power.

Women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and recognizing what is right are profoundly changing the power structure.  Donald Trump represents the backlash to change.  “Make America Great Again”.  Great America and Fox News with men and big money in control.  He got elected, duping millions of people with lies and fear.  The nation has deep divisions.

Recently women started exposing how they were exploited by male predators in positions of power.  The predators are gone, going, or in hiding.  Race-based power is also under attack.  A racist pedophile just lost the election in Alabama, mainly due to the votes of African Americans.  This vote will also affect the balance of power in Congress.

Trump won, yes, but he can’t stop the process of change in a society transformed.  There will be strife.  Many men will literally go to war attempting to recover their lost dominance.  They will lose because the forces of progress have the law and numbers on their side.

A side effect of the power shift in America is the continuing decline of American dominance in world politics.  The progressive movement will weaken the big stick employed since WWII to dominate the third world.  Whether China and Russia will swing their sticks to retain patriarchal dominance is the big danger.  They will face increasing internal pressure, however, to curb their international ambitions.   The people of the third world have their own ambitions, and will tend to resist outside influence.  Let’s hope they succeed.

Wildfire Revisited

Ventura Fire

Things are hot in Southern California.  Earlier, it was hot in Santa Rosa and the Napa Valley.  When there is a high pressure system over the Great Basin and a low develops off the California Coast, the pressure gradient gives rise to hot downslope winds blowing from east to west.  The Santa Ana.  Wildfires proliferate in the mountainous chaparral country.  As the population continues to grow, the urban areas extend into the brush country.

That Great Basin high is also a fire maker for Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Here in Colorado, low pressure systems move down the Plains and the pressure gradient creates winds similar to California’s Santa Ana.  As with most natural phenomena, it is not if, but when.

It’s gonna burn, folks.

The brush country is that way because frequent wildfires prevent any significant tree growth.  When the brush burns, it tends to return in just a few years.  With trees, not so much.

Rawah Burn. Over 100 Years, Trees Have Not Returned

I remember backpacking through a 100 year old burn in the Rawah Wilderness here in Colorado.  The trees had not returned, and the topsoil was eroded away on the hilltops.  Fires in Colorado’s chaparral country such as west of Glenwood Springs burn and in five or ten years the brush is back, ready to burn again.

I have seen this happen in my lifetime.  The  ridges south of the Colorado River and west of Glenwood have burned at least twice.  Lightning causes some of the fires, but once a fire spread from the town dump.  The tragic 1994 fire that killed fourteen firefighters was north of the river and just west of Glenwood.  The fuel load was greater because the area had not burned for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

Storm King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go back to the Storm King fire area, you will see the brush returning.  It’s not ready to burn yet, but given some time and a few wet years, it will be ready to go again.  The town of Glenwood has built up right to the brush on both sides of the river.

Brush Returning

Back to California, the towns have grown up to the brush and those wanting a view are living in the brushy areas.  The canyons are more heavily wooded and full of houses.  All the coastal mountains from San Diego north are in the chaparral zone.  All the urbanization is also in those areas.  Quick commute? Live just below the hills in a canyon.  Nice view, build your house on the ridge.

Those examples of the urban-woodland interface are not unique to Western Colorado and California.  The Colorado Front Range is another example.  Fires have burned from west of Fort Collins to south of Colorado Springs.

Waldo Canyon Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Waldo Canyon fire burned into town on Colorado Springs’ west side and into Manitou Springs.  The Black Forest Fire was in a different climate zone with Ponderosa Pine , but with lots of brush.  That area is wetter, but is also subject to drought and wildfire, just less often.

Arizona and Utah have similar country, and fire killed 19 firefighters in mixed brush and timber just outside Prescott.  I am waiting for a big fire just west of Denver.  It’s only going to get worse.  People are moving into the brush country in increasing numbers,  if you move to Colorado or California from Chicago, you want the mountain experience.  The jobs are in the cities, and the closest mountain areas are brush country.  Four Mile Canyon outside Boulder and Ojai, California are examples of what fire does to development in the chaparral.

Young people looking for an exciting career should look into wildland firefighting.  It is a growth industry.  Oh, I haven’t even mentioned climate change.  It will increase job opportunities.

« Older Entries