23 February 2010

Weekend Getaway: Chico Hot Springs

One of the things I love about my little college is the close sense of comraderie among faculty. For the past several years, a group of us has rented a "cabin" at Chico Hot Springs. Though just two hours away and not physically different from hot springs closer to Butte America, it's enough distance to feel a world away. Here are some folks arriving at the cabin with ridges of the Absaroka Range in the background:

There is no television, but I soon forgot about the Winter Olympics (which I have been watching obsessively-- even curling; well, everything but figure skating). The five couples share meals, and it all seems like an effortless, comfortable, happy commune for a few days. We move easily from the dining room to the common room around the fireplace. A long soak in the hot pool feels especially good after a day of skiing. Usually we ski in the Mammoth area of nearby Yellowstone National Park, but this year we gave the dogs a treat (no dogs on trails in the Park) and explored a trail on the National Forest:

After a few miles up a closed road and another mile up a narrow trail, we were ready to relax over some lunch around a fire in sheltered spot out of the wind:

Further up the trail we came upon a little cabin on a piece of private ground (a valuable "inholding!"):

And decided to ski "just a little further" to a waterfall. This area burned in the Passage Falls Fire (link is to a good film of helicopters fighting the fire) three years ago. We removed skis to follow the steep trail with its many switchbacks:

It's a delightful little waterfall, even while frozen into a wintry state:

The sun was ebbing from the sky by the time everyone got back to the trucks at the trailhead. The supper crew did an exceptional job putting together a great meal in short time, and soon we were on our way to the hot pool. By checkout time the next morning, crisp clear weather moved in and we parted looking forward to our next Chico getaway (standing left to right; Bill Macgregor, Jan Munday, Frank Ackerman, Jeff Schahczenski, Andrea Stierle; kneeling left to right: Pat Munday, Hwe-Chu Tu w/ MollyTheDog, Celia Schahczenski w/ Sheikah, Don Stierle w/ Chooka):

18 February 2010

Olympic Skies

After Butte America's hometown boy, Bryon Wilson, won a bronze medal in the moguls, I've been looking up to Olympian Gods in our blue Montana skies. It's a wonder Wilson and others can ski on that stuff that passes for snow in Vancouver. We are surely spoiled by the fine powder ("cold smoke") here in the Rocky Mountains. And yes, they really are rocky:

The weather has returned to something close to normal, with clear cold (below 0 deg F) nights and sunny warm (c. 30 deg F) days. Here's MollyTheDog, with a white frosty beard on her jet black coat while skiing at first light:

In addition to my biathlon (wow, I like saying that word) play (see previous post), I also had the privilege of helping some kids on a ski outing with the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program:

They're not quite ready for the Olympics, but they sure had fun!

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Olympic Fever: The Moulton Biathlon

It's hard to live in Butte America and not catch Olympic fever. Hometown favorite, freestyle moguls skier Bryon Wilson, took the bronze medal on Sunday. Jason Chappuis, a native son of Missoula (down  river from Butte), won a gold for France in the Nordic combined. And Heather McPhie of nearby Bozeman looked like she was bound for a medal before she crashed & burned in the finals of the women's moguls (No guts, no glory!).

I love the biathlon event, mainly because it combines two of my favorite activities--cross country skiing & shooting a rifle. That, and I like saying the word "biathlon"--it sounds simply lascivious. I can only imagine what a winter triathlon might involve. The mind boggles.

Biathlon. If only the United States could muster a decent team. I decided to try out the sport. It's as much fund as I thought it would be. Now, if I had one of these, it would be much easier (the "technical fix," an Eberlestock 2006--from the company's website):

Instead, I made do with the old Mossberg Model 44 U.S. target rifle my late great Uncle Jim (James Murray Munday) bought just after WWII. With a little padding where the forend sits between my shoulders, some Loktite on the peep sight aperture (I discovered it would come unscrewed as I skied), and a double sling to hold it snug on both shoulders, I was ready to go (hope I didn't scare that other skier leaving the parking lot--"Sorry, Larry!"):

Regulation off-hand biathlon targets are a 4-inch disk set 50 meters away. I settled for a standard "A-17" target--a 1&1/2-inch black circle at 50-feet. Skiing with an 8-pound rifle slung on your back changes your sense of balance, but I also found it helped me focus on smooth technique. I set out four targets on four different loops, firing 5 shots at each on two consecutive days. Not exactly off-hand, I shot using a little help from a ski pole:

Not bad, though this target was after a long, easy downhill run:

This one was much tougher--I was sucking wind after a long, steep uphill climb; it also required shooting into a low, bright morning sun. "Oh, oh--two penalty loops for shots outside the black:"

Don't worry there, mother moose--it's not hunting season:
Whew, what a ski. I think my shadow won this race, but don't worry, I'll get him tomorrow:

The Moulton: Montana's finest classic cross country ski trails, just 5 miles north of Butte/Walkerville.

11 February 2010

Skywatch Friday: Frost, Moose, Spiders, and more

Days have been exceptionally warm -- above freezing -- in Butte America, the great little city in the northern Rockies of Montana. This puts a lot of moisture into the atmosphere (in part from the Berkeley Pit, America's largest toxic lake). As the sun sets and temperatures plunge below zero (deg F), the moisture creates an ice fog that paints a lovely picture on the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides):

The icy fog generally hangs just over Butte and the Silver Bow Creek  valley, only occasionally does it extend up the hill to Walkerville, my little town. And certainly by the time I reach The Moulton (Montana's finest classic cross country ski trails) 5 miles north of town, the skies are blue &  bright (I love the contrast with this beetle killed lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta):

The morning sun brings out a few spiders, their anti-freeze laden "blood" somehow protects them from the cold:

On this woody morning (nice old set of HeadT wooden laminate skis), the Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) people have also been out and about. Those big feet make me smile every time:

Later that day, I told Mrs Rover I saw the Downey Moose. "Really?" she said. "And have they wings like a Downey Woodpecker?" Drole humor, that woman. The Downey family lives along the Moulton road, and most years a "pet" moose hangs around the yard (looks like it's waiting to load into the horse trailer):

Looks likeToyota country in the parking lot. As is common at The Moulton, I know the owner/skier that belongs to each. Small world, this Butte America:

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Documentary Film about America's Largest Superfund Site coming to Butte, Montana

Rainer Komers is a gifted German film maker who tells his story with images and sounds, without resorting to spoken narrative.

Milltown, Montana (2009), a 34-minute documentary film about the Superfund site extending from Butte to Missoula, will be shown at the Montana Tech Library Auditorium at 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 20th. Komers will be on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

Milltown, Montana is a visual essay about a grand landscape that has been mistreated by man. With powerful visual language Komers documents a region that was once the largest mining area in the U.S. but now seems locked into a postindustrial standstill. The film is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival’s “Big Sky” competition category and has already won a festival prize in Europe.

“Rainer Komers is a particular filmmaker who tells stories about particular places in a particular way. He lets you experience the rhythm of the places and feel the specific flow of the time there. He does not tell you what to think, on the contrary - he lets you participate in the creation of the film. His language is not German, English or Russian, his language is cinema.” Miroslav Janek, filmmaker/Prague

Komers will also be showing a second film, Ma’rib: traces of stones (2008; 30 minutes), a documentary about a city in Yemen where the aquifer is being dewatered for modern agriculture and a power station with devastating consequences for the traditional culture and local farmers.”

Clark Fork River Superfund: new website launched

For those who have an interest in the role of public participation in shaping the Record of Decision (i.e. remedy or clean-up) at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites, please see the new website Science, Society & Superfund: A Social History of America's Largest Superfund Site.


This website is part of a set of outcomes for a National Science Foundation-funded study. Though specifically a comparative study of several sites in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin of western Montana -- including Butte, Anaconda, Silver Bow Creek, the Clark Fork River, and Milltown Dam -- the results study is of general interest to anyone that wonders how grassroots citizens' groups can effectively influence Superfund clean-up decisions.

05 February 2010

Skywatch Friday: A Midwinter Tale

You wake up one morning for an early ski and something has changed. Walking down the stairs, you look out the north window. Is there something different in the morning sky refracted through icicles hanging from the roof?:

Yes, something is different: Perhaps there is a clue here. Maybe the slant of the light?:

Ah, maybe. Oh yeah, here it is. The clockwork of Kepler's tilted earth has ratched one notch toward the sun (illustration from Kepler 1619, found on his Wiki page):

 Even the direction of gravity has shifted, it seems:

It is midwinter: the days are getting longer, the sun higher. Make no mistake, there will be 6 (or maybe 16) more weeks of winter in the northern Rockies around Butte, Montana. Still, the seasons change as inexorably as the course of our lives. Let's take a leisurely ski around the ungroomed Buzzy Trail and check in with the non-human people:

The deer mice people (Peromyscus maniculatus) agree. The snow is beginning to settle and firm up, allowing them to travel overland instead of tunneling through  the darkness (faint tracks with swishing tail):

Who is this fellow with tennis rackets for feet? Of course, one of the snowshoe hare people (Lepus americanus), also happy for the firmer snow. It is their time: their white pelage hides them from predators, but even if discovered they easily outdistance the small-footed red fox or coyote people, who sink down into the snow:

The white-tailed jack rabbit people also turn white with the coming of winter, but their smaller feet is better suited to the sagebrush prairie where the wind and sun pack the snow better than in the snowshoe hare's forest habitat:

MollyTheDog loves to pounce at the mouse people as they tunnel beneath the snow. And she becomes drunk with the sweet scent of a snowshoe hare. But nothing delights the heart of a dog like SQUIRREL! A scurrying, scurrilous squirrel. Here, one of the red squirrel people (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus):

A dog can always scent a trail if they can't catch a tail:

And yes, what a fine squirrel midden this is, something to last Tami another 6 (or 16) weeks, I hope:

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