Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Moose Walk

Posted by: Lynne

We went for a walk the other day to collect the game camera cards and change them out. As we were walking past the part of the trail through the forest that gives a glimpse of the bog, Rick happened to glance over and said in a hushed voice, moose, a cow. I looked over and sure enough there she was, at nearly noon laying down and taking a nap. You can see her through the branches in the above photo. She wasn't too disturbed by us, but she did rise to her feet.

And, look whose head popped up when she did — baby girl moose! Silly me, I should have realized it was mamma and baby as they like to hang out around our area. Now we really had to cautious. It made me a little nervous being on foot. Thank goodness we didn't have the dogs with us like we usually do, but Destin had just had a bath and Bella was still not ready for a long walk even though she is well on the way to recovery from her nasty bout with kennel cough. 

It was difficult to get a good shot of them through all the branches because the camera wanted to focus on the branches instead of them.

We debated about whether or not to make the circle trip to retrieve the rest of the camera cards since our route would take us right past them again, only a little closer on the other side of the bog. We decided to chance it. As we grew closer to the bog we walked as quietly as we could. When we saw them, mamma saw us too. She lifted her big head and pointed her nose right at us, nostrils flaring while she took her measure of us. Baby Girl Moose meanwhile had run into the denser willows to hide. I was basically holding my breath, but mamma was not concerned with us much and went back to stripping willow leaves.

To take these photos I just had my normal lens on (18-135mm) so we were pretty darned close. I'm sure she was keeping an eye on us even though she appeared to be pretty nonplussed, but as long as we kept going and did nothing threatening she was just going to carry on eating.

I am may be anthropomorphizing here, but we think she knows our scent since she frequents our cabin and the whole area surrounding it. In a sense, she knows us. Maybe she has even gained a bit of trust in us. Not that we trust her all that much ...

She's a very big moose. Even bigger when you are standing near her!

Since that day she's been around the cabin quite a bit. The same night that we had seen them on the walk we let the dogs out for their final duties around 8:15, and we did not see her and baby girl standing by the salt lick. But Destin did and he started barking and doing his jumping-on-hind-legs jig at the edge of the fence. She just stood there and looked at him. (Thank goodness for the fence.) I went out to get him and chased him around the yard some before he decided to go in. The moose did not budge.

Last night around the same time I got up to close the curtains and looked out into the meadow. There they were again. Mamma at one mineral lick and Baby Girl at the other.  We watched them for a while from the porch and could even hear them licking and smacking. Once it got dark Rick went out with the flashlight and could not see them so we let the dogs out. Turns out, they were both there in the aspen forest and Destin started to bark. They just stood there and Destin said oh what the heck, and stopped barking. No big deal. Just the moose again. It would be great if he got used to them being around and didn't bark at them. 

Now that we know she's here a lot of the time we need to take extra precautions when we go for walks. (Destin always wears a bear bell when we have him off-lead.)

Note: By the way we know it's a baby girl moose because all female moose have a white anal patch just under the tail.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thermal Runaway

Posted by: Rick

You may remember from earlier posts, that we have a small shed across the driveway from the cabin where we keep our winter provisions. It has a chest freezer for meat. A second propane refrigerator for overflow from the one inside. And, this summer we installed a propane dryer for drying clothes. I worked, last summer, to get the shed insulated and critter proof, with plenty of shelves for storage. This article talks about the provisioning step.

The shed worked well throughout the winter. The heat from the propane refrigerator and full insulation helped keep it warm. Yes, there were a few times when it got very cold outside that we had a few items freeze. So, this winter, only "dry" goods and other items that can be frozen will be stored there. It would be nice to have some source of heat just for those cold days. After all, the freezer and refrigerator tend not to run when the ambient temperature is that cold, so generate no heat to warm the shed.

We have the opposite problem in summer. Even with all the insulation, the inside of the shed gets warm. Sometimes very warm. That causes the refrigerator and freezer to run more. And, the more they run, the warmer the inside of the shed becomes. And, the warmer it becomes the more they run! Thermal runaway results! We don't use the fridge for much in the summer, so I could just turn it off. But, we do use it for beer and wine.

To fix this issue (somewhat), I purchased a solar powered attic fan. It consists of a 70 watt solar panel that powers a 12 volt fan mounted in a 12" diameter housing. I replaced one of the passive vents in the shed with the fan. When the sun is shining (and likely warming the inside of the shed), the fan comes on. The fan speed varies with the intensity of the sun. The fan then pulls air through the shed, blowing the warm air outside and pulling cooler, ambient air inside.

70 watt solar panel that powers the fan.

The fan from the inside of the shed.

The fan vent cover from the outside along with the wires from the solar panel.

I haven't permanently mounted the solar panel yet. It just sits horizontal to the ground on the stack of snow tracks for the Polaris Ranger. It gets sun from first thing in the morning until late afternoon. The fan makes some noise, but I'm pretty happy with the situation. I can just unplug it for winter.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fire Season

Posted by: Rick

Mid-Summer is wildfire season up here (as it is in most of the West). A small forest fire, called the Keystone Fire, has been burning near Albany, WY--about 30 miles away--for the past month. We occasionally get some smoke from that fire, but it has not spread much and is about 50% contained.

First signs of the "Pole Cat" fire.

It has been hot and dry with no measurable rain for a while, so the conditions for a wildfire are optimal. And, with idiots firing off fireworks for the 4th of July (you know who you are), campers with open fires in the woods, and occasional dry lightning, the opportunity for ignition are high.

Lynne and I had been in town yesterday morning doing some shopping to get us through another week. After we got home, about 1:40 in the afternoon, I got a call from our "neighbor" David. (I put "neighbor" in quotes because we all live on large parcels of land and our nearest neighbor is still quite a long way away). He told me that Bruce from the Chimney Rock Ranch had called to say he saw smoke rising out of a draw in Sand Creek Park somewhere east and to the south of the Running Water Ranch.

David was going to drive toward the Running Water Ranch using Bridge Road. He wondered if we'd jump in our truck and go around another way, up CR80C to FR87C and then back into Sand Creek Park from the east, watching for smoke and thus the location of a possible fire. Lynne, Destin and I jumped in the truck and took off.

When we got to the boundary of Sand Creek Park on Running Water Ranch Road, we could smell, but not see, smoke. When we finally got to the ranch location (it is no longer a working ranch but a seasonal residence of the restored ranch buildings), we turned around and could see smoke coming up from a draw directly to the east of us. Sure enough, there was a small wildfire somewhere over there.

It was now 2:28 and I called 911. I got an operator in Wyoming and once we established that the fire was probably in Colorado, they transferred me to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office where I described the situation and the approximate location of the fire. They said they'd dispatch appropriate resources.

David and Debra had joined us at the Running Water Ranch, and they took off up Laramie Overlook road while Lynne and I backtracked to FR87C, also known as Boulder Ridge Road, where we drove north for a while and then came back into Sand Creek Park on Laramie Overlook road from the opposite direction. And, sure enough, at one point we could see the smoke and even flames at the base of the smoke. I called David to report, but he and a few others were already on the scene. He gave me exact directions to the fire. I called 911 again and was routed to the Sheriff's Office where I described the exact location of the fire--turn off Laramie Overlook onto Pole Cat and climb the hill. Park where there were other vehicles and hike down the hill some. The first photo above is the scene from where our trucks were parked.

Already on the scene.

When I got to the fire, there were several people already there: Bruce, the rancher who originally spotted the smoke had driven toward it, then hiked in with a shovel. Melissa, who has a cabin nearby and was alerted to the fire by David and Debra. She had some shovels and an axe that she brought to the fire. And, David and Debra were there. All were already working the perimeter of the fire with shovels to keep it contained.

The beginnings of a wildfire.

I was surprised at how hot the fire was. There were large stumps of dead Ponderosa pine that were slowly burning. They gave off tremendous heat. And, the fire was at the core of these large stumps. So, it appears the fire had been burning for quite a while. Lightning had clearly hit the large pine that you can see at the right side of the above photo. You could see the "zipper" line where the lightning had wrapped around the tree and hit the ground. Likely, that started the dry pine needles at the base of the tree on fire and it spread to the dead stumps and surrounding grasses. Luckily, the ground was damp and there was no wind, so the fire stayed contained to a relatively small area (although it kept trying to escape while we were there).

The "girls" keeping the fire contained.

Oscar, another "neighbor" from way over on Bull Mountain drove toward the fire and on the way picked up one of our fire wagons. We have three stationed around Sand Creek Park. They are trailers with several hundred gallons of water onboard as well as a gas powered pump, a couple of strings of hose, some tools like shovels and rakes, as well as a way to pump more water into the tank if needed. Oscar showed up with the fire wagon at 3:26 and we got right to work. 

The fire wagon.

We need to do some maintenance of these wagons, I guess. We could not immediately get the storage compartment that held the hose open. And, a valve to turn on the water was stuck. But, with some brute force we got those fixed. The engine started right up and soon we had water flowing to the fire. One string of hose was enough that along with the water pressure, Debra was able to douse most of the active area of the fire.

David looks on as his wife takes charge of the water.

The scenery is beautiful, but the idea of a wild fire is scary.

I'm not sure how much water the fire wagon holds, maybe a couple of hundred gallons? It did not take long to exhaust the amount of water on board. But, the water did put down the flames and allowed us to work and turn the ground with shovels to further suppress the fire.

No that is not a sea monster, but a burned stump.

By about 3:50, we'd done what we could with water. And, the active fire was suppressed. But, the scene was till smoldering and the stumps were still hot with coals. The fire was not "out" yet by any means, but it was also unlikely to go anywhere as long as we kept working the perimeter with shovels and rakes.

No more flames, and well under control by about 3:45. Good thing, too. We were out of water.

At 3:53, the first responder arrived. A volunteer from the Livermore (Colorado) fire department arrived in a truck. He had come up CR80C to FR87C to Laramie Overlook then into Sand Creek Park where he could see the fire. He whooped his siren to let us know he was close by. He still had to find Pole Cat and get up the hill to us. As he drove in, at each turn that got closer to the fire he'd drop some flags out the window of his truck. These flags would then be indicators to those that followed where to turn to locate the fire.

He called in over an open frequency monitored by all the fire departments in the area as well as the Sheriff's office. He gave the exact location of the fire along with the status. The "locals" had established a perimeter and had the fire in control. This first responder did not carry any water, but was able to get to the scene fast, do an assessment, and rally any additional help needed.

But, before the Livermore FD could get to the site with a water truck, the Tie Siding (Wyoming) volunteer fire department showed up. They had come up Boulder Ridge Road (FR87C) from the Wyoming side and the followed the flags to the site. They had a crew of two. And water!

The Tie Siding Volunteer Fire Crew shows up at 3:53. Just less than 1-1/2 hours after the first 911 call.

Here comes more water. And, foam is mixed with the water to halve its viscosity. That effectively doubles the amount of water while helping to lower evaporation and further suppress the fire.

The crew of two, a man and a woman, began further dousing the fire with water and foam. All the while, the woman was using a shovel to turn the dirt and ash over. They were working the moisure into the ground. 

It started to get cloudy, and we could hear the rumble of thunder in the background. What a beautiful view into Wyoming from the fire site.

The fire likely started when lightning hit the tree in the background. Since the tree is alive and "wet" it did not catch. But, the dry pine needles and pine cones at its base did. They must have smoldered overnight. 

The Livermore FD water truck had arrived in the area about the same time that the Tie Siding crew showed up. But, rather than climb the hill on Pole Cat, they stayed on the other side of the canyon. If more water was needed, they could provide it. So, both fire departments played a role. Also, around 4:00 another "neighbor", Ron, showed up with a second fire wagon and some young stong nephews who could help turn the soil and finally suppress the fire.

Strong, young backs, (well maybe not the dude in white), turn the soil and further suppress the fire.

At this point, about 4:15, Lynne and I left. There was nothing more we could do on the site and poor Destin had been sitting in the truck for a couple of hours. He was ready to get home to a big drink of water and his dinner.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Jack and Jill Came Up the Hill

Posted by: Rick

We recently had a visitor for a week. More than anything else, she wanted to see some moose. But, we seemed to be in a moose drought. 

My mother had visited a few weeks earlier and we had a Moose-a-paloosa. We saw four moose on three different occasions. After that, nothing.

Jack and Jill

On the last day of the visit, we took a "game drive" in the truck and drove to all the likely spots where we might see a moose. We did see a herd of 25 to 30 elk, but no moose. 

As we were driving along the road toward home past a spot where you can peer into our meadow, I saw a moose! It was there in the meadow at the cabin. We did not need to leave to go see a moose, it came to us. We drove into the driveway and quietly entered the cabin. We then saw there were two moose! A boy and a girl. Yearlings. Probably the twins that we saw with their mother last year. We were able to go into our newly fenced yard and observe them as they made their way to the salt lick, where they stood for a long time completely undisturbed by our presence. After a while they made their way down into the bottom of the valley. (Photo of them is above.)

We decided to name them Jack and Jill.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Miracles do Happen

Posted by: Rick

If you've followed this blog for long you've seen posts like this one or this one about FedEx's inability to figure out how to deliver packages to us. That makes this photo priceless:

FedEx Freight delivered two palettes of sand (for sand blasting the cabin, more on that later) directly to our driveway on Tuesday! I guess the driver got pretty lost and one of the crew working on the cabin had to go find him.

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    Posted to: ‘Off-the-Grid is Now Off-the-Air’ by Alica Humphryson on 03/06/2018

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