Wildlife Management 101: Home Work

On getting along with grizzlies and other wildlife

Grizzly_Bear_sow_and_cub_in_Shoshone_National_Forest_editedYesterday, the Federal government acted to remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Although we do love to watch for grizzlies on Togwotee Pass from the safety of our cars, the thought of grizzly population control is not anathema to some of us who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, love to hike in the woods, and don’t want to carry a weapon that probably wouldn’t stop a grizzly anyway.

There are some places I just won’t hike at all, ceding them to hypothetical bears. I go for places with long sight-lines. I always take bear spray. I sing, I talk, I try not to hike alone. I don’t crash off into the woods. I look for bear sign. One reason I love to snowshoe is that I don’t even have to think about bears.

Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people come out this way; we know that. What I didn’t understand before is that living side by side with wildlife entails a certain degree of compromise and, now and again, sadness.

ElkInScope

Although I once worried about grizzlies trying to crash through our back door, I’ve never actually seen one nearby  (although I know others have). Where we live, we are more likely to spot moose through binoculars or elk through the telescope.

A few months ago, we heard and then saw a lone wolf near the aspen grove. Yesterday we were startled to see a scruffy coyote loping behind the garage. We watched him trot along the trail beside the buck and rail fence, until he spotted a ground squirrel and raced off to grab some lunch.

The dog and I have been compromising about where to hike for months–and not just for fear of bears. We still can’t walk into our go-to small patch of woods. The latest moose is gone; she seems to have lost her calf when it ventured into the rushing floodwaters. But now a doe is over there with twin fawns, making it eminently clear that she does not want us around just now.

RobinShe leaped about and ran back and forth past us. Don’t mess with a mother doe: She’ll kick you with hard, pointy hooves. We went home by another route.

Most of the wildlife we watch close-up are birds. “Our” robin demands no compromise. Nested, as always, right above where I store my garden tools, she watches me warily whenever I pull out the trowel. But she doesn’t even budge.

The beautiful hummingbirds hover outside the dining room window in early June and stare directly in at us, as if to demand their own dinner.
HummingbirdFeeder
So we boil up the syrupy water, get out the ladder, and hang their feeder. Our reward is to watch these tiny creatures ever-so-briefly at rest, as they sip from the little wells in the base.

A few years ago we had the delight of watching some bluebirds slowly build a nest in the crook of our gable, just outside the bedroom window, and then swoop back and forth for weeks to feed the hatchlings. We could hear the young birds chirping as we woke up in the morning, bringing to mind all the thoughts you’d expect from an empty-nester.

One weekend late in summer, we left to camp at Turpin Meadows, and returned on Sunday to the scene of a terrorist attack. Just outside the back door were the bloodied corpses of five fledgling bluebirds, already cold. This struck us like a personal tragedy, after all the effort and care we had witnessed to raise these young ones to independence. A neighbor suggested that a magpie must have attacked as they left the nest.

It nearly broke my heart to watch the beautiful mother swoop down to her dead fledglings with something in her mouth. We plugged that hole in the gable so birds could never use it again.

BirdFeederMeanwhile, this bird house sat unused on a post in our back yard for the past decade. We’ve never been in Dubois year-round before, and never took time to make it nest-worthy.

Inspired by the birth of the Dubois bluebird project, we decided to follow instructions for cleaning out a birdhouse. We opened it up, cleared out the old filthy nest mess, cleaned it with bleach, rinsed it well, left it for several days to air out, and closed it up again. Before leaving for a month in Arizona, we watched the bluebirds house-hunting all over the property.

When we returned, I was delighted to see birds hovering about the nest and going into the hole. Then someone informed us that they couldn’t be bluebirds; more likely sparrows. Bluebirds don’t like houses with a perch.

Bluebird_drivewayBut bluebirds were still flitting around, so they must have nested somewhere. We couldn’t ignore the pair that were obviously keeping surveillance on our driveway. Every time we came out the front door we’d see them, perching on the zip line or, often, just sitting in the bare gravel looking warily in the general direction of the front porch. (You can just barely make out the gray female inside the black circle in this blurry shot from my cellphone.)

Two days ago, after parking the SUV when returning from a hike, I stepped out of the car to a flurry of wings. Looking back from the porch, I saw the female dive under the car. I slid beneath the car to take a look, and she swept out past me. I’ve seen her go under there several times since then.

We took the pickup to Arizona, and left the SUV in the driveway. We think they’ve chosen to nest in a space above the spare tire, which hangs horizontally beside the two rear tires. How many rides have those eggs taken since we returned, and did they survive?

We’re told it takes about a month for bluebird eggs to hatch, mature, and fledge. Then the birds abandon the nest.

Oh, well. We have other vehicles to drive.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Nature Brings the Mountains Down

Melting snow hurries past, any way it can.

WindRiverFlooding“Hydrogeology in action,” said my neighbor Anna, with her usual wry wit, as she pointed out the high-water mark where the river was lapping up onto her lawn.

Well put.

Last winter’s record snowfall has been coming down the mountain this week, bringing plenty of the mountain down with it. The Wind River and its tributaries, which are normally crystal clear, are muddy and brown. The banks have disappeared. The water is level with the land.

For neighbors with riverside property, this is no mere curiosity. My friend Mary left home 3 days ago, and has been  sleeping on someone else’s cot.

Her worry wasn’t just that her lawn is now a lake. Like many of us, she had heard about uprooted trees coming downstream, possibly with catastrophic consequences. She didn’t want to wind up like old Doc Welty. He drowned in the worst of nightmares during great flood of 1919, when his cabin was dislodged overnight as Horse Creek swelled and rose.

Living well above the river, I (and my dog) find the flood only a minor inconvenience. Favorite hiking spots are denied to us.

RiverwalkinFlood

In the Town Park, the dog’s beloved Riverwalk is awash in both directions on the south side of the footbridge. So we’re limited to the more public north end of the Park, where he’s not free to run and roam. And I won’t even let him dash down and paddle in the river as usual, lest he be swept away.

The back half of the beautiful Wind River Access site west of Stony Point, where we like to wander around in the pine duff under a forest of conifers next to the river, is now inaccessible (unless I want to get my feet wet). A charming stream has wandered across the peninsula, turning that area into an island.

But the flood has granted unexpected pleasures. I turn off the dirt road at Sheridan Creek and the dog and I follow a game trail off into the woods. Father along under the trees, in a low spot we have always crossed on foot, a whole new lake has materialized — crystalline blue, complete with several floating ducks.

Waterfall

Here’s a little waterfall I’ve never seen before because it hasn’t existed, at least not for the past decade or so. Now it’s trickling merrily down a slope toward the highway, in a spot I pass every day on my morning bike ride.

You know how you can learn about something in school, and read about it later on, and be able to explain it to someone else, but somehow never really get it? For some reason, at the sight of that little waterfall, with the memory of a record snowfall, the light finally dawned.

Ah, yes! The melting snow has to get down the mountains any way it can. Here it happens to be digging this little ditch a little deeper. I think of the Grand Canyon, which I saw only last month. Same concept. (Duh.)

Some afternoons, as usual, a crazy wind blows up and gusts a lot of dust around. Downwind comes a fraction of the badlands, being carved by that invisible sculptor. It also roils the already swollen river, and more of the banks fall away.

OxbowsWhere the land is flat, the onrush of water carves new islands in the oxbows and creates little swamps. The river is changing course.

Every day, we’ve been watching the distance between the surface and the under-side of a particularly low bridge. Yesterday there were barely two inches of clearance. This afternoon there was about a four-inch gap.

News sources predicted the flood would be at its worst last night, and I haven’t heard any reports of fresh disaster. Presumably life will return to normal again, until the next time Nature decides to bring up something else to keep us busy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

A Refuge From “Grinding Realities”

Not the most comfortable place to make a living, but an exceptionally fine place to make a life.

FirepotPrescott, Arizona. It’s our annual spring get-away, an opportunity to do things we couldn’t do in Dubois.

We try out new hikes in different places. We purchase the items on our long-saved list for big box stores.

We have terrific meals in specialty restaurants that probably couldn’t survive year-round in our tiny, remote village in the wilderness.

We see different views. The vistas back home are spectacular indeed, but there’s nothing anywhere to match the  Grand Canyon–and it’s a mere day trip from here.

GrandCanyon6

It’s lovely here, and we enjoy Prescott a great deal. It’s cosmopolitan. It’s a college town. We meet many long-term residents who love this more crowded and developed town as much as we love Dubois.

They also tell us how the population has exploded in the past few decades, and how many of the lovely houses are rentals or second homes. (Could this be a vision of Dubois in the distant future? Would that be good or bad?)

This getaway is also a chance to consult with medical specialists of a kind that are few and far between back home, so I take the opportunity to chase down the source of a small matter that has bothered me for some time.

My vitals taken, as I wait in the consulting room, I leaf through the stack of random old editions of People and WebMD. Deep in the pile, I’m startled to find a copy of Wyoming Wildlife from April 2011. It contains a long essay about the bargain geology bestowed upon Wyoming: Scant population, in trade for the survival of native wildlife that was gradually exterminated elsewhere, as settlers moved west.

“Even today, it’s not the most comfortable place to make a living,” wrote the author, Chris Masson, “but it is an exceptionally fine place to make a life.”

WyomingWildlifeToo true, I think, and ponder our good fortune in having settled there. Reading on, I find myself reminded why we treasure the same isolation that sometimes motivates us to leave briefly, for an escape to denser places.

“At the heart of that life is the land,” Masson wrote. “It provides resources that have faded away in most other parts of the country: herds of pronghorn, deer, and elk, bighorn in the high country, cutthroats in the creek, transparent water and air, and unobstructed view of the far horizon. Most of it all, it gives us a refuge from the grinding realities of checkbooks and emails, a place we can to savor the silence.”

Every animal he mentioned, every pleasure of that high and unspoiled country, is a description of our valley. Of course, he didn’t describe everything.

Last evening, coming home from the theater in Prescott, I looked up at the sky and was a bit dismayed to see a display of stars whose number it would actually be possible to count. Not what I’ve become used to seeing at night!

I leaf back to the front of the magazine to read the photo credits, and am in for another pleasant surprise. Cover image: Michael J. Kenney, Dubois, Wyoming. My friend and neighbor, the head of the phone company, who has given us our splendid Internet service.

Every once in a while I have delightful little moments of grace, like this one. Well put, Chris Masson, whoever you are. Thanks for the reminder.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois Gets Lucky, and Gets Fresh

Quiz: What’s warm and green where it’s high and dry?

greenhouse1It could go without saying that Wyoming is not the garden state. We’re high and dry, which is a fabulous climate for people to enjoy in the late spring and summer, but not so much for garden vegetables.

So it was truly big news last week when Mary Ellen Honsaker told me that the Community Garden had been offered the use of a large greenhouse near the center of town.

FarmersMarketHaulHooray! The Community Garden supplies the Farmers Market, which funds the Food Bank. Now the Farmers Market, which opens in June, will be able to offer produce that is larger, more abundant, and presumably also more fresh.

Normally, setting aside the local gardeners who sometimes offer part of their harvest and whatever Mary Ellen brings in by car from other farmers’ markets in Jackson, Lander, or Riverton, the main source for the Farmers Market has been the Dubois Community Garden’s outdoor garden. Located beside St. Thomas church, it’s vulnerable to those enemies of gardeners everywhere: deer and frost.

greenhouse6Proudly, on a gray day in late April, Mary Ellen showed me around the greenhouse, which was warm and already showing many signs of green. Use of the greenhouse is the generous gift of Debbie Phillips, who acquired it with the house she and her husband bought when they moved to Dubois last year.

Debbie put in those scallions a while ago, but the tomatoes at upper left belong to the Farmer’s Market. The Community Garden is free to use the other beds, and will maintain Debbie’s plants in exchange, whenever she is out of town.

The Community Garden’s broccoli plants are barely big enough to see. But much to Mary Ellen’s delight (and mine), we found that the tomato plants are already blossoming.broccoli_tomatoes

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Time Travel: Jolted Back to Dubois, 1911

Two PDFs in my Inbox are a trip to the Old West

As a mother, I can’t help wondering how Mr. and Mrs. Leslie of Madison, Wisconsin, felt in 1911, when their 20-year-old daughter Elsie decided to take a job teaching school in a small village in northwest Wyoming. My own grandmother did much the same in 1919 when she moved from Michigan to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She took along my beloved Aunt Luella, who got her teaching certificate in Laramie and took her first job at a sod-roofed schoolhouse on a ranch somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming.

Thus my own real experience connects weirdly to a history of Dubois that seems, from this week’s new perspective, rather fantastic.

Dubois1913The journey to Dubois in 1911 “must have seemed like a trip to the end of the world,” wrote the late Dubois artist Mary Back, in her 1955 brief biography of Elsie. The new schoolteacher traveled by train to Lander, then by a one-horse buckboard stagecoach to Fort Washakie, changed to another buckboard stage that took her (and the mail) to a ranch on the Wind River where she spent the night.

The next morning, she took a third stagecoach “clear to Dubois.” The driver was a man named Jim Locke. In that alien landscape, Jim must have been quite a spectacle himself: his face “long and tanned to a high color from the wind and hard weather…. a hooked nose and small blue eyes which sparkle like fire and bore like an auger,” as described by Frederick Studebaker Fish, in his account of a 1913 hunting trip near Dubois. (The guide for that trip was Elsie’s soon-to-be husband, Floyd Stalnaker.)

Jim had “a reputation of being a cranky old fool when sober, but rather genial when well seasoned with whisky,” Fish wrote, adding that “his gaze is startling until one becomes accustomed to it.” You wonder whether Jim was sober or seasoned when Elsie met him.

At the time Elsie arrived, Dubois was “a little straggling string of log houses” (as Mary Back put it), with about 60 inhabitants, two stores including Welty’s (still in operation), a hotel, a bank, and St. Thomas Church (still very active). Elsie took up rooms with the Weltys and, schooled with a certificate in home economics from the Stout Institute in Menominee, Wisconsin, began teaching nine pupils.

Weltys CaveShe was a school teacher without a school: Classes were held in the saloon dance hall, up against the cave across from Welty’s Store. The cave was used for wine storage and as a jail. (The cave entrance is near the center of this photo, with the saloon at far left, which is also still in operation.) Elsie had to clear away the classroom any time the saloon held a dance.

“No one, either students or parents, seemed to think school was very important,” Back wrote. “There was often something else to be done, rounding up cattle, hunting or fishing, helping mother.” There were two other schools nearby, she said, one of them taught by a former Dubois student despite “irregular attendance at Dubois [and] lack of educational credits.”

Elsie taught for less than a year, and never taught again. She met rancher and hunting guide Floyd Stalnaker, married him in December, and in due course had their first child. Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History says she brought her sister to Dubois to take over the class. (Again, I wonder how her parents felt, and think of my own Aunt Luella, who was also lured out west by her older sister, also a schoolteacher.)

Although she quickly became a ranch wife and busy mother, Elsie kept up a strong interest in the Dubois school, serving on the school board for many years. In 1939, when she joined the board, the students ate lunch in the Legion Hall, Back wrote, where there was no water, no sewer, and no stove. The children were kept warm with a wood-burning heater, and a wood-burning cookstove was put in for the lunches. “Wood had to be split and carried in, water had to be carried in buckets, dish-water carried out in buckets.”

Before that, Bernice Welty had been making lunches at home, carrying them in baskets to the school along with the dishes, serving the 25 children at their desks, and then carrying the dirty dishes home again.

TheStoneHotelI’ve been reading this week about Elsie and Floyd’s world, thanks to two unexpected gifts that dropped into my Inbox from their great-granddaughter, Gabby Cook. She was kind enough to scan and send me Mary Back’s typewritten biography, as well as the century-old account of a hunting trip that Floyd guided, as told in great detail by Fish.

Thus, in the middle of a busy, mundane week, I was thrust suddenly and vividly back into Dubois of a century ago, a place so like the old Westerns that it gave me the dizzying feeling of being in reality and unreality at once.

Fish describes a visit to that saloon next to the cave during his first evening in Dubois:

“The place was crowded with cow punchers and hangers-on. Everyone seemed to be having a good time for the liquid was flowing fast…One old man kept cussing at the proprietor much to the enjoyment of his drunken friends who were anxious for a fight. It did not take long to start the fracas. Slim, the proprietor, finally lost his temper and came around from behind the bar to throw the offender out. … As soon as they were parted a few hot words were exchanged and then it was decided that the drinks were on the house.”

A dance was on for later that evening, but Fish and friends decided to leave before it started. The next morning, they learned that they had missed “a terrible shooting that almost took place … over the affections of a fair lady.”

The hunters went out shortly after their elk, and for one night stayed at the Stalnaker ranch.

“Floyd has a comfortable and cosy home,” Fish wrote, “a very pretty and exceedingly nice wife and a six month old son.”

“After our delicious meal,” he went on, “Mrs. Stalnaker played the piano. Hers is the third to be bought in this vicinity so it is a very great treasure.” Later that evening, two visitors came by, one of them “a rather odd looking person who put on the appearance of being very important and business-like. He immediately called Mr. Stalnaker into another room and spent several hours in earnest and serious conversation. I afterwards learned that he … spends most of his leisure moments bothering his neighbors with trivial matters of little or no importance.”

StalnakerRanchThe hunting party had to sleep outdoors next to the shed, because the Stalnakers took in lodgers and the rooms were all occupied. (Mary Allison wrote that Elsie was a great housekeeper who often ironed her lodgers’ clothing, if they were bachelors.)

“It was a beautiful cold, starlight night,” Fish wrote, “so sleeping out was much more appealing than in a stuffy room.” This was October. Fish had changed his tune by the next morning, after a bad night during which his friend stole all the blankets.

But that didn’t sour his enthusiasm for the Wind River Valley. An heir to the Studebaker fortune, he was one of those who fell in love with Dubois during a visit, and later returned to live here. He became one of the biggest ranchers in the area.

DuboisMap_StalnakerFloyd worked for many years as a guide and ranch manager. Elsie and Floyd survived the great flood of 1919 despite great losses, briefly became mail carriers (Elsie also drove the Jeep), and then purchased the drug store, which they operated until after World War 2. Their son, Dean, was Gabby’s grandfather. Floyd was working as a carpenter in Riverton when he died of a heart attack in 1948. Elsie died in 1965, ten years after Mary Back wrote her biography.

Many of the town streets in Dubois bear the names of old families. I will probably never again pass the street that leads to the Headwaters and the Visitor Center without smiling inwardly, as I think of the Stalnakers whose name it bears, and all their adventures.

(Thanks so much again for the emails, Gabby! They were a trip.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Alone and Connected, At Home on the Mountain

A coder and an attorney find peace and quiet.

Riverwalk_Snow2I met “Jack” in the park on Saturday evening because our dogs wanted to play together. Otherwise I’m sure he would have left me alone.

Jack is clearly into privacy. That’s fine in Dubois. We understand that some people prefer solitude and a certain degree of anonymity. We’re good with you whoever you are, as long as you have a decent character.

I can’t give him a cowboy name like Dustin or Cody. He’s clearly not a cowboy type. He’s young, but he doesn’t walk with a swagger and a smile. He and “Lynn” weren’t on their way to the Dubois Outfitters’ annual benefit pig roast and auction in the nearby Headwaters Center, as I was. That wouldn’t be their kind of scene.

At first I thought Jack and Lynn were visitors, because I’ve never seen them before. But they’ve been here for three years, hanging out in a house up in the hills near town.

They’d stopped in the park to give “Rusty” a romp after waiting in the car while they bought groceries. Normally they just hike in the public land right outside their door, but it’s been really muddy there after the recent snowmelt, so (like me) they’ve been using the paved Riverwalk in the park lately.

Both dogs were on the leash, but jumping around and eager to play. So we walked over the bridge to the large empty patch of sage and sand, at the back side of the Riverwalk, where they could be free.

“What brought you to Dubois?” I asked.

“We wanted a house in Wyoming,” Jack said simply.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

They’re from Los Angeles, but wanted to get away from the noise and the density. First they moved to Laramie, but they found Laramie also too crowded and noisy. Somehow, they discovered Dubois. (I didn’t ask how.)

Modem“It’s really nice in Dubois,” Lynn volunteered.

Even in tax-free, low-cost Wyoming, I figure, the only way that two people that young could afford to live for three years in a house in the woods would be on a trust fund, or telecommuting.

“So what do you do?” I persisted.

(I cringed; that’s a New York City question, but enthusiasm got the best of me. I’d like to think I’m not naturally nosy, just a bit too friendly with strangers in Dubois. In any case, Jack seemed willing to be tolerant as long as I behaved myself, so I think he will fit in well here.)

Jack told me he makes his income doing computer coding. Lynn is an attorney, still working for clients back in LA.

She also volunteered shyly that she’s expecting her first child in a few months. I couldn’t have guessed. Her shirt was loose. I asked if she had family nearby. “Chicago,” she said. We had a little polite girl-talk about babies, and then I asked them how it was going, this Internet life in the backwoods.

“Fine,” Jack said. He told me that DTE installed high-speed Internet service at 10 megabytes per second (Mbps) almost immediately after they moved into their new mountainside home, and he praised their customer service.

Mike Kenney at DTE has told me that they can provide 10 Mbps service to anyone who wants is, and if it isn’t easy, they’ll find a way.

BrandlHouseViewThere are several dozen people working remotely around Dubois, according to DTE, but of course DTE won’t share their identities. I already knew about a few; now I’ve stumbled on two more.

If you just want to be alone while you’re connected, we’re good with that too.

The dog and I hope I we run into Jack and Lynn again, but we’ll leave them to themselves.

(Lynn: I’m sure you know how to take care of yourself. But if you need something as that baby comes closer, please send an email. We’re here for you.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Getaway #2: The Place That’s Too Much

Hikes through a brand spanking-new ghost town.

FlamingoesReturning after our brief escape from the land of snow and ice, I’m struck by the contrast  between two places we visited.

We began in the no-man’s land of southeast Arizona, where we found too little. At the end, we spent time in a place that offers too much.

“If you build it,” my friend said with a laugh, “they may not come.” We were strolling idly through a failed real-estate project on the shore of Lake Las Vegas, just north of the big city.

This was a would-be resort, built to resemble one of the charming villages you’d see in the mountains of Italy. A hotel and a few restaurants and galleries were open, but most of the shop windows were blank. The large casino at the entrance closed quite a while ago.

As we crossed Arizona and New Mexico, we saw real ghost towns with weathered wood and blank windows, and many small mountain villages well on their way to becoming ghost towns. But I never before walked through a brand spanking-new ghost town. These stones weren’t yet weathered.

Everyone knows what the nearby city of Las Vegas has to offer: Neon lights, blinking slot machines, shopping malls, stage shows–plenty of manufactured excitement. I amused myself principally, as usual, by going on hikes. They gave me plenty to ponder.

GolfcourseWe stayed with friends in their short-term rental, part of another new  development of hopes unrealized. Those condos are being rented because they have not sold. Walking the dog, I wondered how many blinds were drawn for shade and how many to disguise vacancy.

We wandered every day across a long golf course laid out with dips and swells and sand traps, bordering several different neighborhoods. The golf course didn’t seem to be in use, having no holes, and the green grew ever more brown the farther we walked from the club.

You don’t water an unused green when water is in short supply.

One day my friend took me hiking across the aquatic version of a ghost town. It was a desert valley of the kind I often walk back home, covered with mesquite and creosote rather than sagebrush.

We passed lots of trash on that flat valley bottom: old bottles, rusted cans, worn-out tires. “That’s probably very old,” she said, as I pointed out a beer bottle half-buried in sand. “We’re walking across what used to be a lake bottom, you know.” It used to be part of Lake Mead, the body of water created in 1935 when the Hoover Dam trapped the Colorado River.

Some of the valleys near Dubois were once at the bottom of a large ocean estuary, but that was many thousands of years ago, back when the continents had different shapes. This land went dry in my own lifetime.

“See that line of white?” she said, pointing to a striped feature scores of feet above our head. “That’s calcium, left behind from the surface of the lake.”

Mead1The edge of an RV park that used to be waterfront is now hundreds of yards from the shoreline of Lake Mead. The Alfred Merritt Smith Water Treatment Facility, opened in 1971 to improve the lake water, is now located nearly a mile from the water’s edge.

The lake captures and manages the flow of the river, providing water for farms and cities downstream, as well as electric power. The water levels have declined steadily since 1998, reaching a record low last May.

A report released by the US Bureau of Reclamation in January predicts that shortages in Lake Mead will trigger cuts in water deliveries to Nevada and  Arizona next year. Lake Mead draws its water from snow melting in the mountains, and this is anticipated to continue declining due to climate change.

Mead2The brilliant blue water line of Lake Mead is also bordered by a white stripe, so that it looks from a distance like a fancy swimming pool. What they call the “bathtub rim” clearly marks how much the lake has fallen. Above the bathtub rim, and on the edges of that island in the left of the picture, the landscape is striped in hues of brown and gray.

We also see striped slopes in our badlands, and I’ve often heard geologists describe what they mean. But not until my hikes around Las Vegas did I actually get it.

The “bathtub rim” exists for the same reason the blue bowl of water I leave out to boost humidity in my house goes chalky white inside: The water leaves behind calcium and other minerals as it evaporates (or, in Lake Mead, reduces in volume).

Thinking about the vanishing lake naturally brought to mind our record snowfall this year above Dubois. In a few weeks, I know, a torrent of muddy brown water will begin rushing down-mountain and under our bridges.

It will all settle somewhere down-valley, along the banks of the river, which is ever so slowly continuing to cut its gouge in the surface of the land. This is adding another stripe in the pattern of Nature’s geologic markers, for others to ponder in the future. Now I get it.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Save