Hiking with my friend/web guru/mountain photographer Jack Brauer, Jack asks “what do you think it is that makes aspens so brilliant in fall?” Jack has studied aspens as much as anyone I know, so I figured his query was rhetorical. But we launched into a discussion about leaves, mountain light, and complimentary colors that lasted about a half mile, everything leading to the same place – translucence holds light while letting it pass through, giving aspens a luminescence unlike anything else in our part of the natural world. Autumn is an ephemeral miracle. While we’re still gobbling up the last of Palisade peaches, aspen trees are changing to gold, orange, and deep red. Some aspen colonies (aspens are a colonial species sprouting from the same source) are withering with fungus, their leaves dropping early by our human calendar, adding a smell of pungent loam to forest walks. Songbirds are gone and we await the arrival of winter raptors and diving ducks. I look up each day, hoping for a glimpse of sandhill cranes headed south on a migration course, riding thermals to their southern home at Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico. It’s a remarkable time of year alright; so predictable, yet each day holds a promise to awaken our senses, all of them. Continue reading “Autumn Coming On”
Greater Sage-grouse Strut, Sublette County, Wyoming
By now, nearly every one if us has heard something about Greater Sage-grouse and the pending listing decision for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The listing decision is scheduled for September 30 and while we’ve been waiting to find out what the US Fish and Wildlife Service will do, some in Congress have been seeking ways to undermine the process. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado has added a rider to the Senate Appropriations Bill that would essentially stall any meaningful conservation actions on behalf of Greater Sage-grouse for six years. If that were to happen, we would lose all of the progress, the goodwill, the great collaboration that’s been steadily increasing in the buildup to a listing decision. The Endangered Species Act is under attack, that’s been going on for years. The Sage-grouse decision is bigger than anything we’ve seen before, with eleven states and 165 million acres of Sage-grouse habitat staked out as Priority Areas For Conservation (PAC). If you’ve read this blog before, or followed the Sage Spirit project, you know that grouse are imperiled because of habitat fragmentation, loss, and the collapse of an ecosystem that impacts 350 species. Failure to take serious actions on behalf of Greater Sage-grouse is an ecosystem failure. There is only one sagebrush sea. What can we do? Write a letter, a real letter to your senators and tell them that Greater Sage-grouse are in trouble and don’t belong in an appropriations bill. Let science determine the next steps. Make sure to tell your senator what the American West means to you – the personal aspect is so important. Audubon has made it easy for you with a letter that you can e-sign, but it’s even better if you use some of the language and add your personal connection. I’ve sent letters to Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet (CO) and it feels great. Thanks for writing, the Audubon letter follows: Continue reading “Using Our Voice, For Greater Sage-grouse”
After a wonderful evening of presenting Sage Spirit to an enthusiastic Braided River – Mountaineers audience, we set out for the North Cascades, winding up our trip on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands off Washington’s northwest coast. More than half of the glaciers in the Lower 48 are in the North Cascades and North Cascades glaciers are retreating subjects of intense study. The Cascades aren’t as tall as the Rockies, but the vertical uplift from the Pacific Ocean is dizzying – Mount Baker rises over 10,000 feet and accumulates a deep snowpack from Pacific flows in winter (except last winter, when it barely snowed at all). And you feel all of that vertical in your legs. The trek to Sahale Glacier camp was a 4,000 foot ascent from deep Douglas fir/western cedar forest to the land of rock and ice. Unfortunately, we saw little of the Sahale area, as a pretty rough storm pinned us in our tent for 18 hours or so. Happy to see the earth quenched for the first time this parched summer, we descended and sought solitude in the Mount Baker Wilderness, then the San Juan Islands just off the coast. There’s so much here! Want to read a great book about the North Cascades? Check out The North Cascades – Finding Beauty and Renewal In The Wild Nearby by Braided River. The images that follow are but a quick glimpse, just enough to whet our appetite for a more in depth study. Continue reading “North Cascades – Turf and Surf”
Smoky Sunrise, Summer of 2012 in North Park, Colorado
With the west at Fire Preparedness Level 5, 65 major fires currently burning on 7.5 million acres, fought by 27,000 firefighters, 3 of whom perished in the last week, it seems like a good time to talk about who’s battling these annual catastrophic summer blazes. Everyone. The Federal government coordinates, and battles western fires alongside state, tribal, and local agencies. In these drier, hotter, more drought stricken times, fire is inextricably linked to water and climate change, particularly on vulnerable western lands covered with millions of acres of invasive, highly flammable cheatgrass. The image attached here was made on a memorable August morning, the day after several large fires blew up in Idaho, but I didn’t know it at the time. The smoke was so thick, acrid, and lung-choking that I thought there must be a major fire in the nearby Zirkel Range. But, as we’re seeing right now, smoke, particulates, and all the nasty haze float on the jet stream and will visit you wherever you live in the west. The states rights folks who “want to take the country back” don’t seem to understand that their state, any state doesn’t have the resources to fight these ever expanding annual fire events that last for weeks or months before first snows clear the air – termination dust used to mean the end of the season. I’m grateful to Secretary Jewell for the hard work of our Department of Interior to battle fire at its highest, most dangerous level. States rights? They’re not up to the task.
Sunrise on Mount Shuksan (9131′) From Hannegan Peak (6187′) in North Cascades National Park, Washington
We’re heading to see our friends at Braided River and to present Sage Spirit as part of the BeWild Series. We’re looking forward to the talk, seeing friends and meeting new folks ~ then taking a break in the North Cascades!
The Sage Spirit book has been released and is officially available from Braided River, daveshowalter.com, and at retail and online stores. When I started working with Braided River, Helen Cherullo described what we were about to do as “a process.” Helen knows because she and her staff have created ten books since she visualized Braided River as an imprint of Mountaineers Books. Braided River came about after Senator Barbara Boxer held up Sunhankar Banarshee’s book Seasons Of Life And Land on the Senate floor while making a passionate plea to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. From that moment, Helen visualized two conservation photography books per year that would serve as a foundation for an advocacy campaign, a brand for important conservation issues. I’m proud to be a Braided River photographer and author and proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. The process of creating this book has taken over a year of intensive work with the amazingly talented Braided River staff, a stretch that I now view more as an education than work. With our partners Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, we aim to build a solid campaign with media, presentations, exhibits, and whatever else it takes to change the conversation and change direction in the Sagebrush Sea of the American West. Words can’t express my heartfelt thanks to Helen and wonderful folks at Braided River for working so hard to bring this story to life. Now, as Helen has reminded me, the real work begins.
The pass ahead is a window to a new world, one of the great gifts of exploring on foot. We ascended 1,500′ to a low point on the flank of Meadow Mountain, where Capitol Peak shone in afternoon light while clouds swirled ominously around the basin. Runoff from both sides of the pass feed the Crystal River, a tributary of the mighty Colorado. Snowfall from the spring monsoon is finally melting off, opening the mountains for a few short months of exploration, before the cycle of seasons starts anew. The brilliant green tundra and blooming wildflowers are almost an illusion, a fleeting moment of alpine rhythm.
Spotlight on Capitol Peak (14,130′) as a storm builds in the Elk Mountains. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Colorado
“The best way to protect the sage grouse or the prairie chickens is to sell it to someone.” “Is there a shortage of cows in our country? No, because someone owns cows.”
Senator and presidential (R) candidate Rand Paul speaking in Elko, Nevada
Greater Sage-grouse need habitat, sagebrush habitat, large unbroken expanses of good habitat with grasses, forbs, insects; a landscape free of disturbance. They are hard-wired to the sagebrush ecosystem and simply can’t survive without sage. Captive breeding programs haven’t been very successful – and relocating has mixed results – Sage-grouse and 350 other western species still need sagebrush habitat. The only way ranchers can “raise” sage-grouse is by protecting their habitat and we have a government program for those ranchers. It’s called the Sage Grouse Initiative and it’s a very successful government program. This noble bird of the American West has been here for 25 million years and we have a plan to recover the species. Deal with it.
Longs Peak (14,255′) and Mount Meeker (13,911′) catch morning light from Estes Cone, casting a long shadow on Longs’ flank. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Alarm and coffee pot spring to life at 1:30 a.m., an uncivil time of day by any measure. Grumbling and light-headedness aside, backpacks are tossed in the car for a drive amongst folks just trying to get home. It’s exhilarating to reach the trailhead a few hours before dawn, before birds wake, and set out to follow a cone of light through a black forest. Our destination is Estes Cone, an 11,002′ bump on the Estes Park skyline with a commanding view of Longs and Meeker. A nearly full moon barely penetrated the dense forest as we trekked on good trail that split from Longs’ standard climbing route. The finishing ascent rose 1,000 feet to lichen-covered stone just above the forest canopy, revealing Longs’ eastern face. Rising above a low cloud bank, the sun graced Longs and Meeker in warm light, showing features of the main climbing route, The Trough still clogged with deep snow, guarding the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. First climbed by John Wesley Powell’s group in an 1868 expedition, Longs is a sentinel in stone that can be viewed from many angles and worthy of a photographic study – and an alpine start or two.