August 23, 2013
Stories this photo appears in:
It’s summer, the time of year I find myself seeking out the cool shade of higher elevations by visiting Routt and White River National Forests. When I approach a forest boundary, the wooden yellow and brown signs make me nostalgic for quaking aspens, mountain wildflowers, afternoon thunderstorms, campfire s'mores, brown and green uniforms topped by funny old fashioned hats and, of course, the Forest Service’s iconic animal mascots.
Around 150 million years ago a great flood washed through what is now the Lower Yampa and Green River Valleys. Dozens of Jurassic creatures were pulled into a vortex of water and mud — their lives were lost but their bones were preserved. Thousands of years, layer upon layer of bones were buried in over 26 layers of mud and rock. All traces of the prehistoric beasts were lost.
In 2000, I left the Yampa Valley and headed for the southern hemisphere to begin seven years of graduate school. Three flights and two days later, I arrived in Melbourne, Australia. When I stepped off the plane that first day in a foreign land I was met with the familiar sights of signs for American fast food and big-box stores. I was puzzled by the number of large barrels at the sides of buildings and cisterns on the skyline. These were unusual sights for me and likely would be for most Coloradans.
I did something crazy last weekend. I built a deck. Beyond the weirdness of completing a major outdoor living project in the middle of February, I was struck by the number of choices I had to make. Wood or composite? Two steps or three? Covered or uncovered? As I sit on my new deck mulling this week’s column, it occurs to me that my process for building a deck is a telling analogy for the energy choices we are faced with today.
The drive to survive is one we share with all living things. Why do some groups thrive when nearby groups of the same species, under similar conditions struggle? From monkeys and birds to wolves and ants, the natural world is full of examples that show how collaboration can boost survival.
November through January is called, in many countries, the “silly season.” When I see homemade fringed and bedazzled candy cane sweaters, reindeer horn bedecked vehicles and eggnog drinking parties, I have to admit that this is a season filled with silliness. The frivolity seems to appear in the strangest of places as our President pardons gobblers and our politicians rush to pass bills like last minute gift givers rush to complete shopping on Christmas Eve.
People have been subsisting on grouse for as long as people have roamed this land. One of the West’s most iconic species, the sage grouse is known for its stately courtship dance. Their numbers were once so prolific that explorers described flocks that would “darken the skies.”
Endangered animals, endangered fish, endangered plants and endangered rivers — one of these things is not like the others yet with the naming by American Rivers of the White and the Upper Colorado Rivers as endangered, all of these things now exist in Northwest Colorado.
My grandfather Cecil Nelson was a tall, cantankerous man who, after he retired from a career in rout sales, went back to work full-time at the area hardware stores. He loved to tease and torture his grandchildren with classical country music. You know, the type that has the scratchy sounds of vinyl, the twang of a banjo and the hum of a good harmony. Songs like the “Wichita Lineman.” With two new high-power, super-sized transmission lines proposed to carve out virgin ground across our county, I find I have linemen on my mind.
The other day, I passed the guy with the “Tree Huggers Suck” sticker on the windshield of his beat-up pickup. The first time I saw this truck was after a long contentious day when a professional conservationist feels like a lone voice in a wilderness study area and I was further discouraged. This time I just grinned as I know I’m not alone.
Through the peaks and canyons of far Northwest Colorado run two rivers, the Green and the Yampa, carving gashes as deep as 2,500 feet into the red sandstone. The untamed rivers with Class III to V rapids captured the interest of explorers like John Wesley Powell, who led the first recorded scientific expedition in 1869, and intrepid reporters from The Denver Post who wrote about their attempt to run the rivers in 1928. The photos and stories of these daring adventures enticed thrill-seekers to journey to what is now Dinosaur National Monument to ride the rivers solely for recreation. According to many, this was the beginning of the whitewater rafting industry in Colorado.