Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to Behave When Visiting the Mountains

I'm writing this from a place of anger this evening, because of an event earlier in the day.  This list of mountain etiquette has come from this event and others. You know, we enjoy people coming to the mountains.  We appreciate your tourist dollars. Here's how you can prevent yourselves from becoming a hated stereotype of a mountain tourist.  Honestly, if you just follow these few things, you will find we are friendly and welcoming people up here. IF you do not. we're not.

1. Don't Act Like We're Stupid

I've lived in a mountain town since 1980 (with a several year stint in the Midwest) And  it was awfully amusing to us in the summer as teenagers, when we wore raggedy clothes and hid our shoes and sat on the steps of the Little Bear in Evergreen when the tourist bus came up from the city, pretending to be "them poor mountain waifs" as one woman called us.  The really amusing part? One of my cohorts in this venture had some of the richest parents in the area.  We'd laugh and then go back up to the arcade, having fully amused ourselves.

Well, I'm an adult now.  I lived in a mountain college town from 1984 to 1995. It's also a tourist town, popular in the summers, during hunting season, and especially winter, because a ski area is half an hour from town; you MUST pass through this town to get to the ski area.  It's a college town.  In the most educated county in the state of Colorado. Damn near every adult has a bachelor's degree, many have masters or higher. Even the ranchers have degrees.  And yet, people from out of town treated us as if we were the stupidest things on earth - all based on the fact that we lived there.  We CHOSE to live there. But we were stupid, because we lived in a mountain town.

The area I live in now - still a mountain town - is rife with published authors of all sorts; children's authors, fiction books, history books, even heavily researched scientific tomes on wind energy.  Newspaper men and women abound, both those who write for paper papers, and those who write for online news sources, including myself.   College degrees are pretty thick on the ground here.

We're not stupid. We have a clue. We purposefully chose not to live in the city, but thanks for telling us how we are "stuck" here.

2. This Is NOT Your Backyard

Seriously.  In fact, I have a feeling you would treat your back yard better.  The number of people I see on the highway tossing trash - or even worse, lit cigarette butts- out the window is sickening.  Do people not watch the news? Are they not aware of the number of fires this state has had this summer so far? We're not even to the end of July.  Your car has an ashtray - use it. Use a soda can. And when you stop for gas, throw your trash out in the gas station wastecans. Cause as stupid as we are, our gas stations DO have trash cans.

Several years ago now, husband and I were out for drive in the surrounding area, and we went through one of the state camp sites.  There, in a fire ring, was a fire still smoldering.  NO sign of anyone camping there.  Luckily, it was near the creek, we had a bowl in the back we used to give the dogs water, so we dipped several bowls full of water out of the creek, stirred it, dipped more water, and kept it up til that fire was all the way out.

You wouldn't go away and leave your back yard grill on, don't leave a fire burning in a campground or park, please.

And don't leave your trash about - the mountains are not a landfill.

3. Come Prepared.

While some clothing stores in the mountain towns would hate for me to tell you this, I will anyway. COME PREPARED. What do I mean?  Yeah, it's 95 in Denver, you're hot, so shorts and a tank top are a good thing.  But it's cooler up here, and after dark, it can often get downright cold up here. In fact, just last week, it SNOWED on some of the higher peaks. About five years ago, we went to Como for the fireworks, and we needed winter jackets and blankets.  High altitude - it's colder.

So come prepared.  Put a change of clothes in the car for colder weather. Jeans, sweatshirt, hoodie, socks, shoes. Please, bring extra shoes - appropriate shoes.  Stop trying to hike in flip flops, or even high heels. (Oh yes, I've seen this.) Sneakers are a great invention - I wear them a lot myself.  Bring them.

But if you don't come prepared, then don't whine and complain at us like we made the weather just to thwart you.  You'll note we'e dressed for the conditions of the day or evening.  And we're sorry if you're cold, but not our faults, and surely not our problem. Do not try to make it our problem.

4. Respect the Towns and Neighborhoods

This comes with codicils of Find Out the Local Laws, Don't Feed the Bedamned Wildlife, and Stay Off Private Property.

These are the ones sticking in my craw today.  I live in the longest county in the state; the laws that apply at the far end of the county down in the city apply to this end of the county as well, like leash laws.  However, we're in the unincorporated part of the county, so we also have our own set of rules.  So, if you are a visitor to our neighborhoods and towns - say you're renting a house for the summer, or are visiting family and friends, you still need to keep your dog on a leash when walking down our roads.

Why, you ask? But aren't we out in the country? Yes, you are. And in the country, lots of people have livestock.  I have chickens that free range, my neighbors do as well. Another neighbor has horses, and in the surrounding few miles from where I live, you will find chickens, horses, cows, goats, llamas, sheep, even a peacock. I don't think anyone near here has pigs, but it is totally possible.  If you let your dog run loose, a non country dog that does not know these animals, and that will succumb to his or her innate predatory nature, peoples chickens get killed, livestock and horses get run into barb wire fences and seriously injured - I've seen this happen.  This is thousands of dollars of potential damage I'm talking here. Keep your dog in check.

Conversely, in this part of the county - and the next county over - MY dogs can run freely on MY property as much as they or I like. And there is not a damn thing you can do about it as long as MY dog stays on MY land. DO NOT come walking through my neighborhood and scream at me and my dogs because they are loose and in my yard. DON'T tell me how you are going to call the cops on us, especially after I tell you that my dogs are allowed to be on my property, even if they are barking their fool heads off. And sure as hell do NOT brandish a rock at me or my dog; if you'd been just a couple miles up the road, you WOULD get shot for that kind of behavior. Oh, and NEVER threaten my dog that's clearly on a lead - If you're not on my land, then that dog can't get close to you.  If you are that afraid of dogs, don't have one.  And in the future, find somewhere else to walk - this is NOT the only road.

Yes, this one is a pet peeve of mine.It happens too often - to me, once a year is too often.

 As is cutting through my property without permission. Local kids who live here get away with that, because they KNOW whose property its cool to cut through, where the livestock is, where the dogs are, etc. They do not randomly go through someone's property.  Just because it looks like a forest or mountain meadow does NOT make it a state park.  Doing this can get you hurt - and who ends up being liable? The property owner - all because you were cocksure that you could go anywhere. WHY don't you do this?  Some livestock are NOT friendly - hell, a lot are not. You are in their territory, and they will protect it. And this time of year, they will also protect their young.  A land owner tends to know what he has on his land  - there are mines with sinkholes, there are wild animals, there may be traps - people can trap food on their own land up here in most places. There are a miriad ways for you to get hurt.  Sure, you could still easily get hurt in a state park, but then the liability is on you.  NOT us.

As for the wildlife - well, you hurt them, and in return, you can get hurt.  Around here, we have the cute fluffy bunnies, and the cute deer, and the elk who are not so cute.  You think a cow is serious about protecting her baby? NEVER cross an elk protecting her young. Or a bull elk in rut in the fall - you are seriously asking for trouble.  But that's minor.  You feed the animals, they lose the ability to forage for themselves. And when you stop feeding them, the get sick and die.  Rather simple.  BUT, that also brings the predators right down around us -and we have enough close enough already, thank you.  You end up putting our livestock, our pets, even our kids and ourselves at risk by feeding the wildlife.  No worries, they can and do find enough to eat by themselves, thank you.

We also have the NON cute wildlife - foxes, a local pack of coyotes, lynx, bobcats, mountain lions and bears.  And as pretty as you might find those animals to be, they are dangerous. Don't leave your food or trash outside - that attracts them. And if they come to the house you are guesting in, they are likely to come to my house just down the road as well.  The coyotes are close enough, living just up the hill from here, about a mile away.  They don't need to be drawn down even closer.

And I just remembered this one; easily forgotten this time of year with the heat, but respect private property and DON'T CUT DOWN OUR TREES!!  Our yards are not sanctioned Christmas tree or firewood areas - are you truly that lazy you cannot get the map from the Forest Service? It's ONLINE!!

You may think what I just wrote is mean, and you're entitled to your opinion.  But look at it from my point of view, which reflects the point of view of a LOT of my neighbors here and in small mountain towns across the state.  This is our HOME. We live here year round, no matter the season.  We choose to be here, even driving up to two hours one way to work out of Denver or Grand Junction or Colorado Springs or one of the ski areas just so we can live up here. We do not come through your suburban neighborhoods and throw our trash in your yard, or wander through it, cutting down your bushes and trees. We don't scream at your dog for existing.  We don't speak to you in condescending tones about how quaint it is to live in Westminster or Highlands Ranch or LoDo.

Please stop doing these things to us.

Thanks for reading my rant - we'll be back to your regularly scheduled every day stuff tomorrow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Squirrel Adventures: Car Edition

I have a van.  Over the past couple years, it has not been working properly.  So driving it has not always been an option.

Last spring - spring of 2012- there was a radiator leak, so we let it sit for a while.  When we opened the hood to replace it, the entire engine compartment was stuffed full of pinecones.  Everywhere. Tightly, and with skill.

The culprit?  The squirrel of doom.

She's a cute little thing, who spent last spring and summer yelling at the chickens for being in her yard.

Here she is, getting her yell on.

And she loves pincones. She spent a good part of the fall and winter sitting on the railing, chewing up pinecones. We had a pile of pincone bits in various places along the railing for the deck; if you cleaned them off, she took it as a challenge and went and refilled that spot.

But sometime mid winter, she disappeared.  We figured she'd finally gone to hibernate, or have babies (we'd seen her chasing about with about with a boy squirrel for a couple weeks in the summer.)  No more chattering screams at us.  In fact, we missed her this spring and summer. Until today.

After fixing the radiator, the car had other issues, and since I often drive several hours away for work, we decided not to risk it.  So my car sat from July of last year until July of this year, when we were able to get it fixed, thanks to my dad's assistance.

Of course, once again, there were pinecones under the hood. We cleaned most of them out; the repair shop washed out the rest.

And then we opened up the car to start actually using it. And in the third row of seats, we found more pinecones.  Stuffed under the seat, stuffed in the seat, under an empty box. We were baffled - how did she get in the car?  So I cleaned most of them out, took the car to vacuum it.  I figured this was done.

Until today.

I went out to fold down all the seats in the van so we could go out and get the plywood for the new chicken coop.  In vans like mine, there is a platform for the middle seats that opens up to a compartment the individual seats fold into.  Inside the compartment, we found this:

The other seat was folded in, and also had pinecones packed in around it.  So I opened the other side.

The underside of the seat has been torn up.  Luckily, the seat was otherwise intact. Here's the view looking through the storage space.

They were packed in so tight, I had to break them apart to get them out!  Here's the pile of pinecones after they were all cleaned out.

A little while later, one of the adolescent chickens started to run across the yard at high speed after something - it was our squirrel!  She'd come down to get one of the pinecones we'd so kindly unearthed for her!  Something has happened to her though - she tried to yell at the chicken, but her voice is very quiet and rather harsh.  Clearly, she got lucky.

Now, if we could only figure out HOW she got into the van to store all those pinecones!

So now, my van is in full working order and pinecone free, ready for my first day back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Recipes I Don't Follow Very Well: Chicken Soup

Recipes are good.  Recipes help me get started with something new, provide a starting point.  But with the exception of a very few - like for jellies and some baked goods - I don't follow them.

I'm especially bad at following them when it comes to soups, stews, and meals I tend to make in bulk so there are lunches and leftovers.  Today, I mentioned I was making all kinds of soups and some chicken enchiladas - basically to get ahead for work season, when I'm often too tired to make a meal, and in the case of the potato soup, to use up the wrinkly potatoes before they go bad.

I really hate wrinkly potatoes.  I know they're still good inside, but... *shudder*.

So I said I would give up my recipes for the foods yesterday and today - such as they are.  I encourage people to use these as a starting place, and adapt them to their own tastes, much as I do.

Chicken Soup

I'm going to sound like an old recipe book, but it's what I do...

First, you take a whole chicken. I don't even bother pulling the "gut" parts out of the chicken unless they are in one of those stupid papery bags you cannot tear open easily - bah.

Take the whole chicken,  put it in a large stock pot, fill the pot with water and put it on the stove to boil.  After it boils, turn it down to a simmer - usually 3 or 4 on your stove dial - and walk away.  Seriously.  Let that hen cook and cook and cook.  If I mean for the soup to be eaten the same day, I'll only let it cook 2-3 hours.  But ideally, it needs to be cooked until its falling apart.  I've even been known to cook the chicken as much as 15-20 hours over three days, putting it in the fridge overnight.

As I was making it last night, I thought that you could cook the chicken in the crockpot with lots of fluids on the slowest setting you have.  Mine has a 10 hour setting, and when you take the chicken out, it falls right apart.  IMO, that's the goal.

So, after you cook the chicken until it is fully cooked, take it out of the pot and put it in a dish to cool.  If it is to the falling apart stage, take a slotted spoon and scoop all the rest out.

When the chicken is cool, start tearing it apart. Literally.  Pull the skin off and put it aside for your dogs or cats or chickens - they love that stuff.  I leave it out because I'm rather squicky about skin in my soup.   I tear the chicken apart by hand, into bite sized pieces, the pieces going back into the pot.  I prefer this method because I can get into all the small spaces and get the most meat off the bird as possible.  You can't do that by cutting it off with a knife.

If so inclined, give the chicken carcass to your chickens, if you have them, after the bones are completely cool.  The chickens love it, it gives them extra protein.  But do NOT give it to your dogs or cats - the bones break easily and have sharp edges, causing you a seriously expensive trip to the vet and your pet a great deal of pain and suffering.

OK - back to the soup.  You have a lovely pot of broth, you've thrown in the torn off meat.

Now, add a  medium sized chopped up onion.

Turn the pot back on again to medium heat.

Add spices - what I usually add is Thyme, Marjoram and Rosemary.  Sometimes I add an Italian Seasonings mix.  Depends on the flavor I want.    I basically stand over the pot and shake some in til it looks right to me.

I also tend to add some Tone's soup base - chicken, of course.  The same measuring method as above.

Cook it for another hour until you can smell the spices cooking in.

Add some chopped up carrots. Cook until the carrots are soft but not mushy.

And this is basically my recipe.  Sometimes I add a big bag of frozen mixed veggies.  Other times, I only add corn.  Sometimes, no corn either -but always carrots.  Don't ask me why.

Sometimes, I also cook up noodles and serve it with noodles - or rice. Anything from large egg noodles to these little thin noodles I found at the Mexican mart at the flea market.

I've even put sour cream into a pot of chicken soup, making it a creamy soup. It was pretty good!

NEVER freeze the noodles in the soup.They turn to mush when you thaw and reheat the soup.  Nasty.  You CAN freeze cooked noodles - cook them to al dente status, and put them fully drained into a zippie bag and into the freezer. Use within a couple of months, or they get freezer burn and are unhappy to eat.

Also, taste it along the way - only you know exactly how you want it to be, and tasting is the ONLY way to get it here.  If the liquid gets low, add more water. If it is not savory enough, add more spices a bit at a time, letting it cook for several minutes and then tasting it again.

The best soup is the one you take the time with.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ghost Towns, Dirt Roads and Abandoned Mines - Part Two

Our next leg of the trip took us into Central City. And actually, our driving about the back roads took us right through the middle of Central City four different times.  By time three, husband was saying "I missed Main Street, so glad we could go on it again!"

Yep - four times.  But some great pictures along the way.  So once again, PICTURES!

This mine used to be open to the public to come pay a fee and try their hand at mining.  Since we knew it was getting late, I did not stop to take pictures of the original sign and hotel - also still there.  Next trip.

A working mine above Central City.

There's actually a post card in the collection taken from this POV of Central City. Will be fun to compare pictures.

Ore car.

More of Central City - the pretty side. None of the casinos and garbage of the new buildings.  Just the town.

Nice to see this sign repainted.

Town from a different hill - check out that mine and tank!

Just a mile away is another ghost town - Nevadaville.  Several buildings still intact, but nothing like it was 30 years ago.

I took pictures of these mines the first time in the summer of 1983, when I worked as the photographer/darkroom person for a long defunct newspaper, The Front Range Journal, out of Idaho Springs.  We did a large supplement on Central City - back when it was a thriving tourist town. (Yes, some will argue that it is again, but when I drive through and see all the empty storefronts in town, and the casinos even seem mostly empty, I don't call that thriving.)  The top mine buildings have not changed in years, and the lower picture shows it mainly intact - the pulley tower is missing now. 

Another place I'd not seen in 30 years.  While it still looks good from this angle, as you go around the curve it becomes apparent that no one has lived there in quite some time. and that the wall is pulling away from the house on the sun porch.

One of several  "open" mines you can see from the road.  No, I'm not telling you where they are - sorry!

For those who remember Central City before the casinos moved in, you will remember this building as being outside of town. Now, it is surrounded by a rather large, multi story condo complex, looking much like the ski towns.  This building was very much intact 30 years ago.  You can see the mine entrance in the back, behind fencing.  In the front of the building, you can see the old boiler.

This building is across the street from the last one.

One of the things about literally driving around and around Central City is that you will drive past the cemeteries more than once.  There are nine cemeteries in and near Central City; some are merged so they seem like only one.  So, of course, we went past the cemeteries a few times. This picture was earlier in the evening:

And then, at sunset, two of the others:

But it still wasn't dark, so we took yet another road, and several miles later, we found another town.  This town is on none of the maps I have - this will be added to the library list to look up.  And while it looked much darker, my camera proved up again, adjusting itself to take excellent pictures.  In actuality, it was almost 9 pm by this point.

It was a rather small town; I counted only 8-9 buildings total - most were clearly houses. One may have been school, and this building below and the one next to it look to have been the general store and implement building, though much more likely to be selling building and mining equipment - this is definitely not a farming ton.

See what I mean about how my camera proved up? This is an unretouched photo!

The road looking up into the unnamed town.

Art first look, it looked like a rail stop, until you look across the street at this platform base - but then, it could still be a railroad depot - it is narrow enough.

But wait, what's in the building foundations? Another mine entrance.  And down a short drive on the side of the road under the platform base - another foundation, and some 20-30 foot long iron pipes laying on the ground.  All right near the creek.

By this point, it is finally dark. dark enough that I have to use headlights, and we pass by Central City once more on our way out and back over to home.

Many miles driven, but not so far from home after all.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ghost Towns, Dirt Roads, and Abandoned Mines

On Tuesday, my husband and I were in Idaho Springs for a late afternoon appointment and decided to take a ride on a route that I'd not been on in almost 30 years.  So you know what that means - pictures!

Not too far up the road, the first of the mines appears. The mountain in the middle is where we are going, and down the other side - all the way to the top.

Mine, over mine, over mine.

Rainstorm on the distant hills.

The old mine, and out of the picture is the new workings of the same mine.  I respect the privacy - some miners get upset about pictures.

This used to be a home and working mine - I don't know when they left the building, but it is clear it has been quite some time.

Quite some time.

The house and mine building are still rather intact, but the garage has seen better days...

The original mine tracks that com from inside the mine and out to the road or loading area.  The house and deck of the house were clearly  built over a part of the rail.

The rail continues inside the building.

Sleeping quarters at the top of the mine, usually used by someone on guard duty.

Looking down into the mine building.  I did not go past this doorway, cause sometimes, I'm a chicken.  The stairs seemed firm, but no telling what was on the next level.  Looking through this doorway, it became clear that several people have used it to dump all manner of things.  The mine entrance was not readily visible, but it was on a much lower level than I was on.

You can see the rail continue across the next level, and a section out the door to let the carts dump the tailings.

Perhaps someday we'll go look in there more closely, but a guy who drove past us twice, once in each direction, convinced us it was pretty much time to move on. 

The left side of the mine building.

The right side of the mine building - you can just see the dumping platform on the back.

Standing on the deck of the house, this is a mine across the valley.  I decided to see just how far my camera would zoom in.

Not too bad.

Actually, pretty darn good!

Russel Gulch - once a thriving town, even just 30 years ago, now, sadly, mainly a ghost town.  That is the old school in the distance.

Looking down the old business district.

One thriving business.

Others, not so much.

IOOF building is still in excellent condition.

The school and some mining equipment.

I do not remember what this building used to be - I'm going to have to look it up - it burned, apparently.  But not all of it.  Looks like someone is living in the far end.

Now, we actually drove through here twice.  The first round, we went to the next town over - a rather thriving community - and then drove back, since I was looking for the cemetery.  When I was younger, it was my favorite cemetery. However, we didn't find it this trip.  We did, however, find  some other interesting things. But first, more pictures of Russel Gulch, from a different direction than we first came in on.

Back side of the non thriving business.

One thing the town does have is a frisbee golf course - appropriately named.

The school from the upper road - it looks like someone is fixing it up, which makes me very happy.

Interesting property with several cabins on it.

First time I've seen indian paintbrush flowers in several years.

And then, up on the far hill,  we saw this.

Truly baffled,  tried the close up picture.

Looks like a grain barn, but that's not something we'd have up on the mountain.  Likely something to do with mining - and yet another thing to look up.

We found the road going up to it, but seeing as it was already around 7:30pm, we left it for another day.  Thank goodness for long summer days.

Never did find the cemetery - left that for another day as well.

And I'll continue our trip in the next blog post!