Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Monday, October 22, 2018

Webcam Photos

Posted by: Rick

Here is a webcam photo, updated every 5 minutes or so, that shows the current weather conditions the cabin:

Looking west toward Bull Mountain: 

Looking SE

This photo is looking east toward the solar panels.

Looking East

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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Encounters of the Bear Kind

Posted by: Lynne

(I am still trying to play catch-up on  my older blog posts!)

We have bears up here but we rarely see them. Other people have reported sightings, and we've caught them on our game cameras that are down by the pond but seeing one around the cabin? No, only once that I can remember and that was years and years ago.

A couple of weeks ago we were driving into town when I spotted a black animal on a hillside. It moved and I said to Rick, that's a bear! It was just a small black bear and when he saw our vehicle he started to run. And let me tell you, that bear could run! 

He ended up running straight down the middle of the road in front of us before he veered off in sage and kept right on running. It was an unusual sight for sure.

The very next morning I got up and opened the curtains, checking out the meadow before I let the dogs out. To my great surprise I saw a bear with two cubs in our yard. I think I casually said to Rick, oh there's a bear in our yard! I guess I was kind of casual about it because it was a very common sight in New Jersey where we lived to see bears in the yard. She looke pretty comfy with the bird feeder pulled to the ground and was munching happily away on bird seed.

One cub was sticking pretty close to mamma, while the other little cub was a bit more brave. I don't think this is the first time this crew has visited since one other time when we were gone for a few days we came home to having the bird feeding station askew (instead of on the ground like this time) and the bird waterer base was unscrewed from the top and on the other side of the fence. As you can see in the pics below, junior is having a great time batting that very same waterer around! Maybe it's really a bear toy?

He was just having a great time using our fence as a balance beam.

I think I'll just walk along here for a little ways ....

Maybe I"ll just kind of sit here for awhile ...

We watched all the silly antics for awhile, just because watching cubs play is so darned cute. They are such little kids! And so smart as well. But, enough was enough and we don't want them feeling comfortable hanging out in our fenced yard, so Rick got the rifle out and went outside to fire it off over their heads to scare them away. I laughed myself silly at the little cub's reaction to Rick coming out of the house.

Whoa, mom ... what the heck is that big white thing?

Time to leave!

And over the fence they went. Well, almost all of them anyway. The littlest cub could not figure out how to get over the fence and was pitifully mewling for mamma, who was by then all the way to the edge of the Ewok Forest, running back and forth next to the fence line. Mamma looked as if she was thinking about coming back for it and I was also just about to go out and open the gate for the poor little thing when it finally figured it out and climbed over and went lickety-split to mamma.

You were adorable bear family but we'd rather you didn't come back for a repeat visit anytime soon!

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.

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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

  • I’m glad your owl is still around! We hear one every once in a while,…

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

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