Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Friday, August 07, 2020

Gone Fishin’

Posted by: Rick

I recently volunteered, through Trout Unlimited, to help with some research being done by a CSU Masters Student and funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The task was to electrofish for brook trout in two streams close to the cabin--Sheep Creek and George Creek, collect data on their size, and then take a small clipping from a fin to use for genetic analysis. There were four of us on this expedition including Dr. Kurt Fausch a retired professor at CSU from whom I learned a lot about fishes, fisheries, native versus non-native species, reclamation, and more. He is the author of a book For the Love of Rivers, which you can learn more about at the website: fortheloveofrivers.com. He is passionate about what streams and rivers bring to the human experience beyond the obvious--water. The others were masters student, Audrey as well as an undergraduate, Matt.

Brook trout are not native to Colorado, yet they are the most populous species in our streams. They were likely imported from the east in the late 19th century. Because of their spawning cycle (fall, not spring) and aggressive feeding, they have replaced native species such as a variety of cutthroat trout in most Colorado waters. There are a variety of research and reclamation projects going on to bring the cutthroat back. Around here, the native species is the greenback cutthroat.

I can't say I fully understand Audrey's research. But, I know she is heavily involved in a project to reintroduce native cutthroat trout into some headwaters in the Long Draw area. In order to understand how the introduced trout will move throughout the area, breed and migrate, she is doing genetic diversity studies on the existing brook trout. To have something to compare with, she needs genetic information from brook trout in other areas and George Creek and Sheep Creek were two of the chosen sites.

We drove into George Creek by taking S County Road 169 where after a few miles, we took a 4WD road to ACME Creek road. It was a pretty rough road and I was proud of our Ford Expedition's performance in 4WD over the rocks and washout. We even drove through the burned out area from a wildfire a few weeks ago. We did not take the obvious ACME Creek Road because of a need to do a river crossing at Sheep Creek which has a lot of water right now. We eventually arrived at George Creek and prepared for the electrofishing.

The sign here is an old sign from a previous attempt to introduce greenback cutthroat. The road continues on to Cornelius Creek.

Over the past several years, brook trout have been removed from George Creek in preparation for stocking with the native and threatened greenback cutthroat. This attempt has been unsuccessful based on our electrofishing experience. We managed to catch well over 100 brook trout along a few hundred meter span of the river. Don't get too excited if you are a fisherperson. None of them were "keepers". In fact, the majority were less than a year old (about 50 mm in lengh), the rest were one year old and perhaps a few that were 2 years old or older. The fish hatch in spring and then grow in the summer, and they will grow at a roughly uniform rate. As a cold-blooded animal, they halt growth in the winter. So, we could tell age from the length of the fish. The biggest one was perhaps 6" long, probably 3 years old. In fact, I learned that there are bones in a fish that get a new layer each day, so sectioning those bones and counting the "rings" can tell the age in days! We did not do that. Instead, Matt carefully measured the length of each fish while I recorded the length on paper. He also took a genetic sample from any fish one year old or older and Audrey carefully collected and tagged each sample in a separate envelope.

Matt and Audrey processing the fish we caught.

One of the bigger trout from George Creek.

Electrofishing sounds a bit scary. (And, it was when there was some lightning later in the day.) But, it is largely harmless to the fish. You wear a backpack that has a battery in it along with controls to set up the electic shock parameters (wave shape, frequency and voltage). There is an anode probe and a cathode "tail" that come from the backpack. You walk along the stream with the tail dragging in the water, and press a trigger on the anode probe to create an electrical path through the water. This shocks any nearby fish for a few seconds. The goal is to catch the stunned fish in a net and move it to a bucket of water quickly. The fish recover within a few seconds. After catching a bucket of fish, we'd stop for a while to process them.

George Creek is quite small so it was mostly a 2-person project with someone to carry the bucket (me).

We wore waders, which insulated us from the shock. But, I'm told it can be quite an experience to accidently touch or fall into the water while using the electrofishing machine. So, we had a protocol to yell out "OFF" if I fell while trailing behind with the bucket. 

I had a net too. And, I snagged a few of the fish. But, the more experienced people did the bulk of the "catching" work.

After we were done at George Creek we had lunch and then moved on to Sheep Creek. And, we decided to take the ACME Creek road back to County Road 80C and brave the water crossing. The road was actually in pretty good shape since they likely graded it and cut trees on the way to help with gaining access during the fire. The water in Sheep Creek was pretty fast and pretty deep since they are letting a lot of water out of Eaton Reservoir (for the city of Greeley). But, the Expedition plowed right through without any problems. 

At Sheep Creek, we used two electrofishing machines, Kurt took one and Matt the other. They each had nets and Audrey was netting also. I, again, was the bucket boy. I did not want to wade in the fast water and risk dumping the bucket of caught fish. That would not have been good at all. So, I walked along the bank. When they'd net a fish they would hand the net to me and I'd hand them an empty net. I'd then carefully dump the fish into my bucket and we'd move on. It was hard work, at least for those in the water. It rained some, along with lightning. Not a good idea to be standing in water electrofishing with lightning around, so we'd take advantage of those times to process the fish we'd caught so far.

Kurt, Matt and Audrey working a nice deep hole.

Kurt and Audrey in some fast water.

Matt was quite persistent in making sure we got every fish, even if it meant getting into a tangle of downed trees.

Audrey's goal was 40 brook trout from Sheep Creek. We got 41, along with a couple of nice brown trout (8" long or so), a sucker of some kind, and a fourth species that I don't recall. There is a lot of fish diversity in Sheep Creek. I've even caught a rainbow trout a few times.

In all, a long and tiring day, but very interesting and rewarding. I'm glad to say that as far as I know, we only lost one fish out of the roughly 200 caught. And, the results of the survey and genetic testing will help in the eventual restoration of native species to Colorado waters.

One final note. We observed COVID-19 safety protocols throughout the day by wearing masks. Yes, we were outdoors, but also in close proximity to each other. So, my only regret of the day is that I don't really know what any of those folks look like!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Snow Guards and Other Winter Topics

Posted by: Rick

The “front” of our cabin faces north(ish). I quote the word “front” because our use of “front” and “back” when describing the cabin is highly ambiguous. By the plans we used to build it, the front is where we have the screened-in porch and a set of steps leading down to the yard. And, the back is on the opposite side, of course. However, the driveway is at the back, along with the outbuildings and the door we use to go in/out about 90% of the time. So, that entrance is often called the front. And, the front is called the back. But, sometimes we call the back the front. So, it can be very confusing.

We’ve always used the front landing for a wine fridge 

Anyway, in the past we did not use the front steps to access the yard. It became impossible to use after the first snow or two because snow would avalanche off the metal roof and pile up on the stairs and landing at the top of the stairs. Since this side of the cabin faces north, we got very little melting, so the snow would continue to pile up all winter. Sometimes, one could even climb it up to the roof. The snow pile on the landing was used more for storage of wine (we just pushed the bottles into the wall of snow), than access to the yard.

Now that we have a fenced in yard area, it is really nice to be able to let the dogs out/in via the front door. So, we really needed fix the snow avalanche problem.

Lynne, illustrating the height of the front snow bank

Because several feet of heavy, wet snow would sit on the landing and steps for many months at a time, the railings and steps had begun to rot. They were actually dangerous to use. So, we had a contractor (actually, the guy who was the general contractor for the cabin build), replace the steps and railings. (The steps are done, but the railings are custom built and not yet installed as I write this.) And, we had him put snow guards on the roof to keep the snow from avalanching. 

Snow guards are small attachments to a metal roof that stick up a couple of inches and hold the snow on the roof instead of allowing it to slide.

We also had him put some on the back of the cabin above the new deck to keep the snow there from also sliding down and covering the deck. 

So far, they seem to be working great. We did not put snow guards where the solar panels are since I want the snow to slide away from them. I actually have to get on a ladder and use a snow rake to pull the snow off the roof below the panels.

Here, there are no snow guards. Note the snow overhanging the gutters. I climb the ladder to scrape snow off the roof and solar panels here.

Here, there are snow guards on the roof. Notice how disciplined the snow is.

We may not have really gotten any avalanching like previous years anyway.

We had gutters installed on the front and back, and the gutters were acting a bit like a snow guard in that the snow did not tend to slide off in huge chunks. Instead the gutters held it back. But, it would cover the gutter and start to hang off over the eve, and then form icicles as well as drip into ice pools on the ground or the steps or the deck. Very dangerous. And, not good for the gutters.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Timberrrrrrrr!

Posted by: Rick

We had a couple of 100+ year-old beetle-killed pine trees close to the cabin that we cut down recently. I guess the correct term is "felled". I don't think they'd have damaged the cabin or fence when the fell naturally, but they could easily have taken out dozens of still living trees and caused a lot of damage.

The trees are just to the left and right of the center of this photo, taken from our front porch.

Here is an "after" photo for comparison.

We hired a lumber jack (of all trades) to cut the trees. My saw looked like a toy next to the saw required to bring these trees down. One now lays pointing north along the side of the ridge, the other pointing south. He felled them in exactly the positions we wanted to allow for game to still come up from the valley and to minimize collateral damage. You can see videos of both trees below.

Jay (the lumberjack) would cut a notch at the bottom of the tree to direct the tree to fall in a certain direction (although with old dead trees with some rotting, this can be a challenge), then a cut from the opposite side to create a hinge arond which the tree falls. It took a lot of skill to be as precise and he was. His son, James, would also push on the tree with a long pole to direct it. All this was done in pretty high winds that were not blowing in a helpful direction.

While here, we also had Jay cut up the large tree that had fallen across our hiking trail last year. Here are before and after shots of that:

We'll get some great firewood out of that tree! And, we may use some of it to create an entry sign at the driveway. Maybe. Someday.

This first video is of the tree that was felled to the south. The video is a bit long because there were some problems getting the tree cut. Despite the use of a huge saw and wedges, the saw blade got bound in the tree and a second saw was called into action;

 

The next video is of the tree that was felled to the north. It went a bit smoother:

It is nice to have these trees down. The view from the porch is a bit nicer. And, we also now have a better view of the bottom of the valley where moose and elk often hang out. The beetle-kill epidemic from several years ago has certain changed the whole ecosystem around the cabin.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Barn is Finally Stained and Painted

Posted by: Rick

A little over a year ago, we had a preconstructed barn delivered to the cabin site. You can read about that adventure here. You can see from the photos in that old post that the barn was unstained and unpainted.

When we had the cabin restained this summer, we had the barn stained at the same time.

The barn. Stained but not painted, yet.

I'm happy to say that we have finally got the trim painted and now the barn is looking good!

The trim is now painted!

Another summer project complete.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Before and After (and In-Between)

Posted by: Rick

Picture of the cabin exterior "before". Note the dark stain and how it covers the chinking?

About a month ago we started the process of doing some rennovations on the cabin. A few years ago we hired someone to apply a coat of stain to the exterior of the cabin. We were in New Jersey at the time, so he did the work unsupervised. Our hearts dropped when we first saw it. He had used a very dark non-transparent stain and applied it in a way that it covered the chinking. The beauty of a rustic log cabin was lost to this big brown blob.

The "back" of the cabin. Note the hail damage to some of the lower logs. We were able to get our insurance company to pay for part of the restoration because of the damage.

In addition to rejuvinating the cabin exterior, we also wanted to enlarge the entry deck on the "back" of the cabin and add a fenced-in area for the dogs.

Now when I say "back" of the cabin, that is somewhat ambiguous and others call it the "front". It is the side of the cabin where we have parking and access to the outbuildings, but it is also technically (according to the cabin plans) the back. The front--to me--is the north-facing side with the screened-in porch. Anyway, this ambiguity causes lots of communications problems.

A few years ago, our entry gate blew down. It was two large posts with a cross-piece at the top. The posts rotted at the bottom and the wind blew it over. So, while doing the fencing, we also wanted to create a new and appealing entry.

Here are the "after" photos. Read on for the "in-between" story:

The cabin restored to its original beauty.

Note the new larger deck as well as a fenced-in yard where the dogs can play unsupervised.

The cabin restoration was about a three week process. The crew arrived on May 12th and worked through the 17th. During that time they were able to sand-blast the exterior of the cabin, getting rid of the old stain and then sand the logs down in preparation for three new coats of stain.

You can see the contrast between the old and the new in this photo.

However, the weather forecast was for a huge snowstorm. And, while the crew is accustomed to working in harsh conditions, there would be no way for them to shuttle to town and back each day. And, we could not host a crew of five workers for several days. So, on Wednesday the 17th, they took off for their own homes (most live in the mountains of central Colorado). 

And, sure enough we got snow.

In total, we got about 3 feet of snow over two days.

The crew returned on Tuesday the 23rd and started back to work. There was still some snow on the ground, but they were able to work around that.

Ready for new stain and chinking.

On the same day the crew came back to work on the cabin, another crew showed up to build the deck, put up the fencing and gates, and also build a new entry feature for the driveway. While the snow had melted rapidly over the weekend, there was still some snow that had to be moved in order to do the entry and fencing. Luckily, the crew had a skid steer with a bucket as well as augers to make easy work of that.

A 24" auger was used to drill a huge hole for the two vertical posts at the entry.

Up go the entry gate posts.

An early morning shot of the fenced in yard. It is kind of hard to see in this light, but we'll post additional photos soon.

Since we had a crew of pro stainers on site, we had them stain the barn, too. Now we just need to paint the trim. It will be the same dark green color as trim elsewhere around the cabin.

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“Turn your midlife crisis to your own advantage by making it a time for renewal of your body and mind, rather than stand by helplessly and watch them decline.” – Jane E. Brody

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