Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

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.

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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What’s for Dinner? Puffball Parmesan!

Posted by: Lynne

Yes, you heard right. The other night for dinner we picked a couple of the puffball mushrooms that grow at this time of year at the top of our driveway. And yes, these are the same mushroom that if you let them go they become those powdery things that are so much fun to step on and watch the brown spores explode all over the place. BUT, if you catch them when they are still young and firm they are completey and wonderfully edible. No joke! 

One of our mushroom books had a recipe for Puffball Parmesan which sounded really good to us, so we went for it. We've never eaten puffballs before so it was kind of an experiment. And hey, we didn't even have a frozen pizza standing by just in case it was inedible.

The recipe called for making a tomato sauce with green peppers, onions, garlic, whole canned tomatoes and tomato paste. 

We cut up the puffballs into "eggplant" like thick slices, then they got dipped in egg and coated with grated parmesan and bread crumbs (and savory, salt & pepper). Into the frying pan they went until golden brown. Then in they went to the casserole dish in a single layer, sliced mozzarella, and the tomato sauce was poured over them. More parm on the top.

And here is how it looked coming out of the oven.

And on the plate before it went into my mouth and got eaten completely up.

I have to say it was so DELICIOUS! Very meaty and eggplant like but with a delicate flavor like I imagine tofu to taste (although I've never had it). You would never have known you were eating a mushroom. The sauce was wonderful and I think we'll use it on other italian meals. Although our mushroom book said that sometimes they can cause indigestion we had no issues whatsoever. I have more issues after eating fast food! It's too bad they only appear at this time of year and not on a regular basis. They grow really fast so you have to catch them before they get too big. We'll be having them again next year for sure. Care to join us for dinner?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 2016 Retrospective

Posted by: Rick

Looking back, August was a month of progress with a hint of change. We made progress toward our winter preparations and full-time living. 

The propane generator was delivered (although it still needs to be connected to a yet-to-be-delivered propane tank, and wired into the house).

I've been working on insulating the shed, and I put up shelves so it can be a place to store supplies such as canned food, dog and cat food, extra dry ingredients like flour, rice, beans, etc. I got some UHT milk and cream out there already. And, we bought a Sam's Club membership (the closest is in Cheyenne, Wyoming) and we'll stock up before winter.

We will have a propane fridge out there along with the freezer. We bought the freezer a week or so ago.

You may question the wisdom of an electric freezer in an off-the-grid cabin. But, my logic goes something like this: once the freezer is cold and filled with frozen goods, it probably won't run much. The hotter the ambient temperature, the more it will run. But, the hottest ambient temperatures are in the summer when we also have the most sun to provide power. In winter, the shed will likely be quite cool (even after insulating it), and the freezer won't run as much. We'll see. Turns out, propane appliances are very expensive while the electric versions are much more affordable. Experimenting with an electric alternative may save us a lot of money.

Storage in the barn is in good shape too. I've installed some shelves (with more hand-built shelves to come) along with some clothes wardrobes. We now have a place to put seasonal clothing.

I've decided I have way too many clothes. So, some additional organizing and pruning needs to be done. I wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a long-sleeved shirt pretty much every day. I try to wear old worn out and stained jeans when doing "dirty" chores, then change into a nice pair for just hanging out around the cabin. A t-shirt is sufficient when it is sunny and especially if I'm doing any work. A long-sleeved shirt may be needed if the sun gets to be to much on my delicate skin, or if it gets a bit chilly. I'm sure I look like a hillbilly when I go into town because I don't dress "special" for that trip.

Turns out, now that we have a washing machine, I could probably live with 4 pair of jeans, 4 to 6 t-shirts, and similar number of long-sleeved shirts and a week's worth of underwear. I also need one or two pair of nice slacks, a couple of dressy shirts and a sports jacket--not sure why, but I think I need these things. What I don't need is the two or three wardrobe boxes of Hawaiian shirts, dress pants, short-sleeved shirts, and other sundry clothing that I will likely never wear.

We will need to switch out summer shirts for flannel in winter. And, find a place to put sweaters and coats.

The wildlife is both leaving and coming. The hummingbirds are about gone. They come around Mother's Day and are gone around Labor Day. Where we used to have maybe 50, we now have 3 or 4. It is sad to see them go. (See the hummingbird video below!) But, the shorter days and cooler weather mean other animals are on the move. Wildlife that seems to go away for summer is back. We are seeing more moose and deer, even a few elk already. Coyotes howl and bark at night. The Great Horned Owls make their variety of calls almost every evening. We are seeing lots of hawks and eagles on our drive into town and back (along with many antelope). Hunting seasons start soon and somehow the animals know the schedule, so they will disappear again soon for a while. Did you see the game camera shot of the mountain lion from a few weeks ago? 

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