Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Wild Fire

Posted by: Rick

On Monday, August 10th, Lynne and I left the dogs at the cabin and drove up the Laramie River Valley to the Chambers Lake area, where Co Rd 103 (the Laramie River Valley Road) meets US Highway 14. There is a small lake north of Chambers Lake called Lost Lake, and it has long been a favorite place to fish for rainbow trout. We wanted a couple of trout for dinner, and after a couple of hours had what we needed. Even though these are stocked trout, they are not that easy to catch!

Below is a photo of the area. The lake is surrounded by forest and covered with lily pads. 

Three days later a wildfire consumed this area. I'm sure it won't look like this again in our lifetimes. Once it is safe, we'll try to recreate this photo for a before-and-after comparison.

Called the Cameron Peak Fire, it is believed to have been started by human activity. Probably a camper ignoring the fire restrictions that are in place. The whole area is suffering from a 20-year drought as well as significant dead fuel from beetle kill. I'd estimate somewhere around half, maybe more, of the trees are dead. Many have fallen, others are still standing. And, even the live trees are dry and brittle. It is an area ripe for a wild fire, and it has finally happened.

The Cameron Peak Fire is the 4th major fire burning in Colorado. All the fires are competing for resources.

Here is a satellite thermal image of the fire front. The red dots represent hot spots in the past 12 hours, orange are in the period of 1 day, and the yellow is 2 days or more.  Updated versions of this can be found at: https://maps.nwcg.gov/sa/#/%3F/%3F/40.6085/-105.893/10. Not also the small fire on the far east side. This is just outside of Fort Collins and started yesterday.

The fire fighting team is taking a conservative approach to fighting this fire, while promising a full suppression strategy. And, I can't argue with their approach. So far, the fire has not damaged any buildings. Even the local campground was saved, although the forest around it is burned. The terrain is very rough with steep mountains, rocky scree, and of course a tangle of downed trees. It is impossible to fight the fire at its perimeter, so they are building defensive lines all around the fire. They are identifying roads, trails, avalanche chutes, rocky cliffs, and changes in terrain and vegetation that can be used or "improved" to create lines where they can fight the fire on their own terms. Once at timberline, for example, the fire will run out of fuel. Often trails and roads can be widened, removing trees to create a wide defensible area. Other natural land barriers can be connected together with new defensive lines. As of today, they have almost completed a huge circle of defensible space around the fire. Once in place, they can more safely purposely back-burn the forest to remove fuels in a controlled way.

The most northerly defensive line is about 1/4 mile from the cabin (Larimer County Road 80C).

However, to be fair, once the outermost lines are in place, they have started moving in toward the fire looking for additional defensive lines and are working on Deadman Road now, providing more buffer. 

As of today, I am not too worried for the cabin from this fire (but, given the conditions, there could be others.) The winds have been out of the North or Northwest for the past week and that has blown the fire across Highway 14 toward Rocky Mountain National Park and west toward Pingree Park and Crown Point. The fire is also a threat to the vacation/tourist town of Red Feather Lakes, especially if the winds shift to their normal westerly direction (coming from the west).

There are massive manditory evacuation areas along with many road closures. The next photo shows those. The star at the top is the approximate location of the cabin. The gray area is the current footprint of the fire. The red manditory evacuation area furthest east is the new fire near Fort Collins. Updated versions of this can be found at: https://nocoalert.org

Here is another neat source of fire information. It is a collection of daily images taken by NASA, so that you can see the progression of the fire day by day by clicking on the dates at the bottom of the page.

We got a bit of a scare yesterday when we learned of a new fire a few miles to the east of the cabin. But, it was quickly identified and a few helicopter drops of huge buckets of water from Eaton Reservoir and it was doused. 

The latest information about the fire as well as updates to evacuation orders and road closures can be found here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/6964/53611/

We have been to the cabin a couple of times since the fire started. We have to go through Laramie, WY and drop down into Colorado since the road we ususally take, Co Rd 80C, is closed (although I've heard some people have been able to access the area via that road). There are a lot of road closures in the forest for several reasons, One, they don't want anyone to get caught in the fire if it flares up and moves quickly. But, perhaps more importantly to minize traffic allowing the fire fighters and heavy equipment unimpeded access.

Because the prevailing wind direction is north to south, we had a few good, clear days. But, recently the winds have died down (a very good thing), allowing smoke to settle over the whole area. To make things worse, there is also a fire burning near Saratoga, WY and we started getting smoke from that. We cut short our most recent trip to the cabin because the smoke was so bad. However, it is no better here in Windsor. At least here we have the air conditioning and fan to filter the smoke some and keep us cool.

I feel terrible for those that are more threatened than us. I feel terrible for the wildlife trying to escape the fire. I really appreciate the fire fighters, forest service and local sheriff's office for the fantastic work they are doing, especially the frequent and informational public briefings via FaceBook. (Just search for Cameron Peak Fire.)

We have done a lot of wild fire mitigation at the cabin. About 10 years ago, just after the beetle kill was at it worst, we had about 200 trees removed due west of the cabin. This created an open meadow and a defensible space on the side from which a fire is most likely to come. It also created a nice place for deer, elk and moose to occasionally congregate. You can see a view of that meadow in a "pinned" article at the top of this website homepage. Just click on "Home" above.

And, recently we had even more downed, dead trees "removed" from the north side of the meadow. Here is a photo of what it looked like prior to this work:

And, here is a photo (although taken from a different spot) of what it looks like now:

The crew we hired dealt with fallen, dead trees--mostly by chipping them in a huge chipper, but also by cutting the larger ones into logs that are neatlly stacked on the land and available for firewood. You can see the wood chips in the photo above. We will do this kind of work each summer, up to what we can afford, to further minimize the chance of a wild fire starting (from lightning) or moving through the area aggressively.

So, we are stuck at home. Sitting in the air conditioned house. Binging on TV, reading and playing games. It is too miserable to be outside both because of the heat and the smoke.

2020 is sure stacking up to be a sucky year.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

I’ve Been Lazy

Posted by: Rick

I've been lazy the past few weeks and have not kept up with our off-the-grid adventures much. We are still spending most of our time at the cabin. We stay for 7-10 days, then go back "down the mountain" to check on our house, mow, and shop. We haul our trash down, too, and time our visits home around trash pick-up days. We have a small veggie garden with tomatoes, herbs and squash that we tend. It does not appear to be doing well this year for some reason. We also have a dead tree in our yard that needs to be replaced. We bought the replacement and are just waiting on a planting schedule.

While there is a lot to catch up on, the biggest story of the past few weeks was the June 8-9 snow storm. It is not unusual to get June snows at the cabin. Last year it snowed on June 11th. In prior years we've had snow as late as the 24th. But, those are always light snows, just enough to cover the ground and motivate us to build a fire in the wood stove.

This year's June snow was a different thing. We got about 12 inches of heavy, wet snow starting late on June 8th and into the day on the 9th. Since the aspen trees are fully leafed-out, this snow was devastating to them. The hummingbirds didn't care for it much either. The dogs loved it. Here are a few photos from the 9th.

Poor hummingbirds. Their feeder is covered with ice and snow.

The view to the NE on the morning of the 9th.

The dogs don't care. In fact, they love the snow!

This is our driveway. It took a while with a chain saw to cut our way out on the 10th. There is a dog in there somewhere.

This is HIdden Meadows Lane and the road to the properties to the east of us. And, this is just a small example of what the road was like.

Of course, this time of year, the sun came out in the afternoon and the big melt started. We spent quite a bit of time cleaning up around the cabin and still have many trees that are alive, but bent over so bad that we may have to cut them down.

So, finally, here is the news from early this month. I'll try not to be so lazy and post more soon. We have some pretty good game camera photos to share.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Just Another Pandemic Monday

Posted by: Rick

We have been exercising our "extreme social distancing" at the cabin for a few days now. Spring is definitely starting to spring. The birds are getting more plentiful and there is more variety. The aspen trees are just starting to leaf out--we can see the difference each day. Bart's Creek is running pretty good from the snow melt. We still can't drive down Hidden Meadows Lane, but there has been significant melting. I think one could probably drive it in another couple of weeks.

One thing we are seeing is the wildlife. I gathered the memory cards from the three game cameras closest to the cabin. And, while there were some image of a moose and some elk, there has not been much activity. We sit on the porch at sunset each evening listing for the Great Horned Owl, but no hoots heard yet. I'll go gather the memory cards from the three other cameras later today, and post photos of anything really interesting. We have heard some loud crashing noises in the bottom of the valley a couple of times and assume it is a moose or maybe an elk crashing around as they walk along the creek.

Some chores are getting done, too. I've cleaned up the "shop" side of the barn, even vacuuming the floor! The porch swing and also the swing in the yard have had their wood treated. Bird houses have been repaired and moved as necessary.

After we returned from the cabin a few weeks ago, we groomed the dogs. They were so clean and fluffy and smelled so good. They are now a little dirty again. At least Destin has not rubbed in anything foul yet, so they smell okay. They sure love it here--especially when they find a remaining snow bank on our walks.

We take a long walk almost every day, weather and wind permitting. And, we are keeping track of the wildflowers we find on our property. So, here is the latest installment:

We are not really sure what this is. It grows in the disturbed areas of decomposed granite and is very prolific. It looks like something in the pea family. We will continue to work on identification, but if you know what it is, let us know, please!

Of course, this is the common dandelion--a really very pretty flower. Destin's nickname is Dandelion Boy because his identifying ribbon color as a puppy was Dandelion Yellow.

This is some kind of daisy or aster. There are so many varieties that I've not tried to ID it yet.

Finally, a flower genericly called a Snowball. It is the Western Saxifrage variety (there are 6 different varieties). You can tell because of the red stem

Some of the barrel cacti in the area are just strarting to bloom, so we'll get photos of those later.

We think we have a ghost. The other day, one of the rain barrels was knocked over. It has some water in it and so was quite heavy. There had been no big wind. But, there it was on its side spilling water. Then, this morning we heard a weird noise. It was pretty loud and, to me, sounded just like when an avalanche of snow slides off the metal roof. But, there is no snow. We ran outside and inspected the entire outside of the cabin and the grounds around it, but saw nothing that might cause the sound. We've also looked around everywhere inside for something that fell or slid from its normal place, but nothing is obvious. Very, very weird.

Okay, time for my COVID-19 rant of the week. Things are starting to open up some. There have been some businesses that have taken advantage of the minimal loosening of stay-at-home orders, as well as taking advantage of people's frustration with being shut in, and have opened their doors to customers without requiring masks, social distancing or limiting the number of people in the business.

We hear a lot about "rights" from the people to who take advantage of this. And, I get it. We do have rights, but they are not unlimited. And, when an action can harm someone or, even more importantly, lead to the harm of another, our rights have always been restricted. Speed limits on highways, for example. Still, I get it, people are frustrated and want things to go back to normal. They say "it is my life, if I want to take the risk of exposure and get sick, it is my decision." And, they use that logic to justify not wearing masks or observing social distancing. But, what they don't seem to understand is that those practices are not really in place to keep them from getting sick. They are in place to keep them from making others sick. So, I see it as a blatant disregard for other people's lives, especially those in the vulnerabe population. It is selfish behavior. Thinking only of oneself and not of others.

People who do expose themselves by flaunting the orders and recommendations related to masks and social distancing, could get infected and, if so, will likely be symptom free for at least 5 days, maybe longer, and they may even go forward symptom free. But, that is no justification for their behavior since they can then easily infect another person once they become contagious. So, it is not about our rights to make ourselves sick if we choose to do so, it is about how wrong it is to make others sick, maybe deadly so. Downright selfish.

Rant over.

By the way, I've turned commenting back on for this blog site. So, feel free to comment if you choose.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

May Day(s)

Posted by: Rick

It has been a couple of weeks, so let me catch you up. No news from home. Boring...

But, we are now truly "Off the Grid" at the cabin, and loving it. We came up on Thursday, the last day of April. When we got here, we were astonished at how much snow had melted! With about 10 minutes with the snow blower, we had full access to the cabin with the truck.

Here is a photo of the driveway taken one month earlier, on 30 March. I can't even get the snow blower out of the wood shed.

And, here is a shot of the driveway on 30 April. I took a short break to take the photo. The snow was about 20 inches at the deepest point, but I was able to clear it enough to get the truck to the cabin in about 10 minutes.

We have lots to cover to bring you up-to-date, so here we go.

April always teases us with Spring. Sunny days, snow starts to melt, and we can get reasonable access to the land and cabin. But, of course, also fights back with a few Spring snow storms that can dump feet of snow. May is equally as spiteful, bringing a see-saw of weather, from sunny, warm days to cold and snow. But, it is a sure sign of spring when: 1) you can see the ground (check); 2) the creek is running loudly (check); 3) the early wildflowers start to appear (check)!

Here are photos of the earliest four flowers in Spring:

A field of Buttercups.

Buttercups, up close.

Of course, Pasque Flowers, the crocus of the high country.

Phlox. This will come in many colors.

Bluebells.

Another sure sign of Spring are the baby animals. We haven't seen any yet. In fact, the wildlife and even birds have been sparse, so far. We did get a few hummingbirds on 1 May. I hung out a feeder "just in case", and am glad I did. And, we've seen a moose at one of the salt licks. But, not much else.

I did hike to all the game cameras and retrieved the memory cards that had been in them all winter. After sorting through over 3000 photos, I selected 8 to keep. Here is a sampling:

A very healthy-looking coyote, near the cabin.

A buck deer. This is from near the pond.

And, also from near the pond, the back end of our mountain lion.

It has been in the 80s back home, and we've had a couple of nice days here, too. But, it has also been rainy and cool. It might even snow tonight!

Here is a photo of Destin, sitting on Lynne's lap, as we enjoy a fire.

There is little in life more cozy than an open-hearth fire!

In addition to just sitting around, we have accomplished some chores. The cabin got thoroughly dusted and the floors are clean. The indoor windows are all washed.

We've taken the dogs for long walks each day. Destin found something foul to roll in, so a dog bath may be in our plans when it warms up a bit.

We've been eating well too! We had what we call "Trailer Spaghetti" on the first night--we almost always do because it is so easy. We just brown some hamburger, pour in a bottle marinara sauce, boil some spaghetti and serve it all with Parmesan cheese on top. Easy, but comforting and good. We named it "Trailer Spaghetti" because it is also what we almost always cook for dinner on our first night out with the travel trailer. We had Spicy Sausages with Onions on Friday. It is a Lee Drummond recipe that we like. That gave me a chance to fire up the grill for the sausages and onions. Yesterday, we did a slow-cooker recipe that Lynne got from a friend on Facebook. It was a beef roast slow cooked in some Mexican-style herbs and spices and broth. We shredded it and made a double layer of nachos with tortilla chips, shredded barbacoa beef, refried beans and cheese. I pickled some onions, too. No photos of any of that. I guess we were too hungry to think about taking pictures.

I guess that is it for now. Not sure when we will go home, there is no compelling reason to do so except to mow the lawn (and I could have a neighborhood kid do it!) I guess we'll head back when we run out of food, wine or whiskey.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday’s Musings

Posted by: Rick

I feel like we are really living our "off the grid" lifestyle again. Today, we went shopping. It was the first time we've been out of the house in 10 days. Wore our masks.

The truck is fixed. That was what got us out of the house today. Actually, it was ready yesterday, but since we got about 6" of snow, we chose to stay home. I am sure glad we bought that extended warranty that covers us to 120,000 miles or 10 years of ownership! We paid a $100 deductable toward a bill that would have been over $1000. And, the problem was one of the weirdest they've ever seen. The environmental control module was coming on and sucking battery, even when the truck was turned off. This caused a low battery condition that forced the whole dashboard to "reboot" every 20 seconds or so. I sure hope it is fixed for good. We are about breaking even on the extended warranty already. Don't buy a Ford.

We are used to shopping for the long run. And, we have a pantry and freezer that is well stocked. We probably have enough food to last 3 weeks or more. Our problem are the ingredients that are around the edges of a great dish--herbs, a fresh vegetable, butter, a squeeze of lemon, etc. We've decided to not try and anticipate and shop for all these little things any more. We either don't have them or they get old and we throw them away. Instead, we've decided to don our masks and go get what we need to complete a great meal based on what we have on hand already.

Tomorrow, that is cilantro. We need cilantro to complete a salmon dish that we love. Usually, it is a mid-summer dish when we can get fresh corn. But, we found some corn in the market today, and we are going to give it a try. Simple recipe. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Mix corn kernels  and halved cherry tomatoes with some olive oil, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour all this with the salmon on a sheet pan and roast at very high heat until done. Meantime, mix up some honey, lime zest and lime juice. Remove the salmon (only), and brush on the lime/honey glaze. Add some chopped red onion to the roasted corn and tomatoes and stir around. Spoon the veggies over the salmon and serve with chopped cilantro (very important!). Yum. Looking forward to it.

We got a huge slab of salmon at Costco today. We portioned it into 3 pieces and froze two of them. We love salmon dishes. There are so many ways to cook it that are super easy and delicious. Broil it, seasoned with salt and pepper, and top with a compound butter of capers and achovies. Spread the top of it with mayonnaise mixed with some garlic salt and broil until done....

We got some fresh veg, too. Arichockes, asparagus. We have a friend who won't eat vegetables that start with "A". So, we are taking advantage of social distancing to eat those.

We got most of the rest of what we need from Safeway. Except all-purpose flour. And, yeast seems to be short, still. But, we are okay for baking bread and pizza dough. I have a feeling that from this crisis there is going to emerge a whole new generation of bakers. And toilet paper users.

The snow was a pain in the ass. It was heavy and wet. Did my back no good to shovel the driveway. But, the good news is that it will melt within a few days and provide great moisure for the yard and bushes. At least it did not wait until the trees were leaved out and the flowers in bloom. No the coming hail will take care of that, I'm sure.

One of the cameras is out at the cabin. Bummer. We can't really see how much snow we got there, but it looks like maybe a foot or more. Again, it will melt fast and create a fantastic mud season. Maybe we'lll get up there in a week or so. Hope so.

The dogs are good. We are fine. Hope you are all well, too. Give us a shout out via email or phone or text to check in!

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  • YIKES! That’s a lotta snow for June. I wonder if the bent trees will right…

    Posted to: ‘I've Been Lazy’ by Steve on 06/29/2020

  • Steve! Nice to hear from you! I still read you, but I just can’t comment.…

    Posted to: ‘Webcam Photos’ by Lynne on 05/28/2020

  • Coincidentally, I just came across a post on another blog that mentions hawkweed—and in this…

    Posted to: ‘Wildflowers Galore’ by Steve on 05/26/2020

  • Your cat’s ear (or whatever it is) looks almost exactly like our hawkweed, AKA fox-and-cubs,…

    Posted to: ‘Wildflowers Galore’ by Steve on 05/26/2020

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    Posted to: ‘Who Doesn't Give a Hoot’ by Steve on 05/26/2020

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