Rattlesnake Avoidance Pays Off

Here in Colorado, one niggling impediment to carefree hiking and riding is the prospect of rattlesnake encounters. The possibility of harm and crisis – for horses, humans, and dogs – is enough to motivate several preventative strategies.

There’s not a lot we can do for horses aside from education, preparation, and embracing our ability to keep calm and to keep the horse calm. Check out these helpful articles:

UC Davis report on rattlesnake issues

Wyoming newspaper column on rattlesnakes and horses

Horse blogger’s tips for rattlesnake encounters

Dogs are different and we can help them out a lot more tangibly. Like Frontline and other topical tick deterrents, the rattlesnake vaccine may help. Research is somewhat equivocal but my dogs have all been vaccinated. With it, my 30-pound sprite, Peeko, might survive long enough to get to the vet. The vaccine may also help significantly reduce the vet bill and the bite’s overall impact on the dog.

JJ Belcher works with Kip

JJ Belcher works with Kip

Another preventative measure is a Rattlesnake Avoidance class, something my dogs unwittingly enrolled in last weekend. It involves a shock collar, a big-ass rattlesnake (who goes by the name Brian, is 12 years old, at least five feet long, thick as a Campbell’s soup can, and has had his venom glands surgically removed), and an experienced canine trainer from Arizona. Watch video. Read more about JJ Belcher and Sublime Canine here.

Individually, the trainer led Kip, Peeko, and Monty to the snake. When they got curious, they were hit with a jolt from the collar. Later, Belcher returned with each dog to visit Brian. My dogs had caught on quickly; as soon as they spied the snake, they went in the other direction. When I led each dog to a bag full of snake sheds, they also steered clear.

Lesson of the Day: Stay away from something that looks or smells or moves like Brian. I was pretty confident that the education would stick. Little did I know, we’d put the training to the test almost immediately.

Jessica Kahn trains with her dog, Remington, and JJ Belcher

I was ponying a group of horses and my dogs were tagging along, off leash. We had a mile of gravel road to cover. Halfway, we encountered a rattler in the middle of the road, coiled up and ready to take on all comers. I think I saw a brief flash of curiosity, but then the dogs steered clear. Hooray!

A few days later, we saw another rattlesnake on the same stretch of road. The dogs came close (a few yards), almost by accident, but otherwise did not approach or return to it. Hooray II!

Avoidance training, said JJ Belcher, is not like ordinary obedience. It’s important not to encourage dogs to check out dead rattlers. Contact should be discouraged. For more on that, check out Sublime Canine.

Monty learns that steering clear of rattlers is optimal.


Remember when ‘unplugged’ wasn’t a thing?

Now I see the secret of making the best persons: It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. Walt Whitman

Summertime is my favorite time ‘to grow in the open air.’ Mostly I’ve been camping with my horses on nearby parcel of Bureau of Land Management Land where the area’s steep ridges serve as fences. I can camp without putting up fencing and let the topography and the abutting private fencing do the trick.

It’s quiet. Actually, it’s pretty noisy with bird calls, but little else.

Before cell phones and the Internet, we could get away like this without any thought of being ‘out of pocket’ or ‘unplugging’ or ‘unavailable and out of cell range.’

Now, getting away is either extra cool or extra inconvenient, depending on the person. The electronic leash has wormed its way into our psyches and intellect.

First and foremost, ‘getting away’ (camping, backpacking, horse riding, etc.) is now seen as a deliberate breaking away from connectivity. Actually enjoying the backcountry seems secondary in many people’s minds. It’s like we don’t have the mental tenacity to disconnect when otherwise we could be connected. We need the connectivity to fail us because we’re too feeble-minded to disconnect on our own.

Once that happens, though, we give ourselves permission to relish the surroundings. We give ourselves a hall pass to being present.

Will we enjoy the wilderness less when connectivity reaches us there, too?


Diversity Reconsidered

This opinion piece appeared recently in High Country News. Here is the unedited version:

Diversity is such a funny word.

Most folks think of it in terms of skin color or ethnicity. I picked my college because of this so-called diversity. For a white girl img_3915from a white state (Maine, 95 percent Caucasian), the experience would be enriching, I thought.

Of course, diversity applies to upbringing and income, too. Mancos is mostly white, but it is diverse in purpose: folks here are dedicated to ranching, farming, artistry, outdoor recreational and non-profit work. It is a Colorado Creative District and its ranchers account for millions of dollars in livestock sales.

Regardless of how you use the word, when you talk about diversity, there’s an assumption of commingling, of different people interacting in a holistic and harmonious way. We often consider diverse communities healthier and more commendable than homogenous communities. (Mancos was named one of the Top 20 Small Towns by Smithsonian Magazine.)

But in my experience, diverse pockets of people act more like species in the wilderness. They mostly avoid each other and interact only when they must or when they stand to benefit. That’s the way it was at college and that’s the way it is here. The electoral purple is only purple from outer space.

That’s too bad since reaching beyond our comfortable circles has mostly positive consequences. Researchers at Stanford and Harvard Universities say so. Yet I see plenty of disdain and non-communication between community groups.

Mancos’ motto is Where the West Still Lives and sure enough, cattle drives are regular deals here.

img_3839Recently, I helped friends move 50 head along a few miles of back road. Most cars stopped to let us pass; some even pulled over and took pictures. But one local driver in a new Subaru tried to passed a stopped car and push through the herd. Now side-by-side vehicles blocked the cattle.

The driver, in his ignorance and impatience, had made matters worse.

This scene plays out in scores of small Western towns. And if you swap out the rancher for the lobsterman, you’ll see it along the Maine coast, too. “Recreational boaters have no respect for the guy who works on the water,” said a friend who’s hauled traps for forty years. “No knowledge of tides, of buoys running hard with the current. They’ll row you (rocking the boat by passing at high speed). It’s just plain ignorance.”

Colorado is a fence-out state, so gates and fences are nothing new. But more and more transplants lock their gates. Inevitably, cattle get through their fencing. How now does the cowboy get them out?

“You either have to cut the fence or cut the lock. Things could go smoothly but don’t because of that,” said Wyatt Cox, a local rancher.

You might think differences could be worked out over a cup of coffee. But even coffee gets divisive.

Most ranchers grab their morning cup at the Conoco station or at the P & D, which for decades has served as the town’s grocery store. A quarter mile away, Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters charges the same price but hosts a different clientele. They tote img_0027laptops and smart phones. Some sit for hours at the metal tables, working online.

Matt Lauer, who owns Fahrenheit with his wife, Linda James, chuckles at perceptions of his business and of his clientele, “It’s ‘yuppy,’ ‘new age,’ ‘expensive,’” he said. “There are folks who grew up on Folgers who think this coffee sucks.”

One rancher told me that cowboy hats don’t fit through Fahrenheit’s doorway and that Lauer’s customers “need to get a job.”

You might assume that transplants are better at embracing a town’s diversity. But sandal wearers with messenger bags are just as rutted in their routines as the cowhands dipping Copenhagen.

Diversity is only what you make of it. To benefit from it requires initiative:

  • Consider drinking coffee somewhere else.
  • Diversify your routine.
  • Extend a hand.

Books help. My favorite is The Good Neighbor Guidebook for Colorado, edited by Nancy S. Greif and Erin J. Johnson. The driver stuck in cows would do well to read it: “New neighbors must be prepared to assume responsibility for the impact that their presence can have on working farms and ranches…Living next door to a farm or ranch involves … a commitment to open communication, hard work, and constant learning.”

Great Work, a business practices book by David Sturt, specifically points to the need to reach outside your usual circles. When people do that, “it makes communities interesting, welcoming, vibrant,” Sturt writes, supported by the aforementioned university research. It’s actually a disadvantage to only talk with people “who like us, care about us, and believe in us.”

I mentioned the cattle drive snafu to Sturt. He laughed and offered the driver some advice:

“Get out of your little bubble. Roll down your window. Smell the cattle. Listen to them. Get off autopilot. It takes more effort. And it’s a delight.”


Alpine Houdini Review

“Weather permitting…”

patagonia alpineReal trekkers hardly acknowledge a phrase like this one. It rains. We’re either prepared and comfortable or unprepared and grin through it.

I prefer the former.

During the lovely monsoon season here in Colorado, it might rain every day for a few months. Most afternoons, though, clouds gather, skies darken, and rain threatens heartily before moving on.

On my many miles of hiking and riding in the mountains and canyons of Colorado, I’ve learned to pack lightly and consider the likelihood of rain. I’m too old and smart to suffer proudly through cold and wet. But, gotta say, rain coats were a hassle.

I take:

Water & snacks

Tiny first aid kit

patagoniaCell phone (maybe)



Rain jacket

My new rain jacket weighs as much as my phone. It’s Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini.

The Alpine Houdini (not to be confused with the Houdini, which weighs even less and is more like a wind breaker) is not even six ounces and stuffs easily into its own pocket or a plastic sandwich bag. It has a nifty adjustable hood which Patagonia made with helmet wearers in mind. I found this mid-skull, elastic drawstring feature excellent for adjusting coverage depending on the ferocity of the precipitation: pulled back and snugged for a sprinkle or released and extended for a deluge.

It comes in gorgeous colors, like “Arbor Green” and “Concord Purple.” I’ve been wearing a “Sulphur Yellow,” which is perfect for hunting season. Like most Patagonia women’s items, a medium Alpine Houdini is slimly-styled and true to size. I’m 5’7”, 130 pounds, and the medium left a little room for one or two layers.

It’s a lightweight, but no sissy. Moving through scrub oak and juniper, the Alpine Houdini held up fine. Not a single rip, pull, or tear. I might see more game, too, since it’s fabric (1.5 ounce 20-denier nylon ripstop with a water repellent finish) is close to noiseless.

The only issue I can foresee? Given it’s it humble nature and size, I might forget I packed it.

Species Parade, Episode 15

During the summer, cows move into the community. For a few months, their mooing and bellowing is about all you can hear unless you adjust your ears. The birds and mammals are still here, but they seem to step back, literally and figuratively.

The dogs, horses, and I got to help round up the cows. It was good fun and more than a bit challenging. Only Peeko, the rescued heeler mutt from the streets of Roosevelt, Utah, seemed natural to it. Peeko absolutely rocked.

At least one older coyote perished this summer. I saw its dead body near a culvert. With the cows gone, younger ‘yotes are out in force now. They’re mousing, eating grasshoppers, and learning the ropes of the community. There’s a ban on shooting and hunting in this neighborhood, so they start out nervous around vehicles and people, but become less so as they grow up.


Black Bear (cinnamon)



Mule Deer

Cottontail Rabbit

Brush Mouse

Pocket Gopher

Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel

Rock Squirrel

Prairie Dog





Abert’s Squirrel


Rufous Hummingbird

DSC02050 copyBroad Tailed Hummingbird

Yellow Warbler

Indigo Bunting

Chipping Sparrow

Say’s Phoebe

Downy Woodpecker

Lewis Woodpecker


House Sparrow

Red-Winged Black Bird

Canada Goose


Townsend’s Solitaire

Red Shafted Flicker

Steller’s Jay

DSC02033Black Capped Chickadee

American Crow

Common Raven

Scrub Jay



Great Blue Heron

Dark-Eyed Junco (and its many varieties)

Ringed Turtle Dove

Rock Dove

Mountain Bluebird

Western Bluebird

American Kestrel

Bald Eagle

Turkey Vulture

Red-Tailed Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk


American Robin

Great Horned Owl

Rufous Sided Towhee


Common Poor Will

Check out our facebook pages for more photos.

Trashy Insight

Trash is a window to our world. It can tell you way more than a solicited survey or government census. Read UtahOutsider’s Trail Trash post.

Along Highway 160

Along Highway 160

Our neighborhood regularly picks up trash along Highway 160, an officially designated scenic highway and part of “America’s Most Beautiful Drive.”

What are litterers’ lives like?

I don’t know. But I know what they drink:



Budweiser & Clamato Chelada

Bud Light Lime

Bud Light




Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 12.40.20 PMCoors Light


Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor (Miller Brewing)

Modelo Especial

Icehouse beer, by Miller


Corona Extra

Prost Pils Pale German Style Lager

Fosters 24 ounces

Miller Lite, 24 ounces

Hamm’s Beer, 24 ounces

Non-alcoholic drinks:

Frappuccino by Starbucks

Monster Energy

Monster Energy Java


Nestle water

Sam’s (Walmart) cola

Lipton’s Diet Green Tea Citrus Lemonade

Dairy Pure whole milk

Simply Lemonade

Simply Orange Juice

Exyience Blue Pomegranate energy drink



Planters Whole Cashews

Munchies Flamin’ Hot (I had to look up the ingredients because it was unclear what food it actually was: corn meal, vegetable oil, MSG, artificial flavor, and various chemicals.)

Hostess Mini Donettes, chocolate frosted


Pall Mall




Arizona driver’s license and credit cards belonging to a Pamela K. White.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore receipt for couch

Instructions for kid’s bike assembly

Letter from the Phi Theta Kappa honor society

Credit card solicitation letters

Wal-mart prescription bottle

401K statements showing $10,047 of investments




A rubber ball

Read UtahOutsider’s Trail Trash post.

It Fills. It Spills!

Like sands into an hourglass, the San Juan Mountains snow pack has been flowing into the Dolores River and filling the McPhee Reservoir in southwestern Colorado.

A mural in Dolores

A mural in Dolores

For weeks, the boating community has been watching the granular increases (posted online by the Dolores Water Conservancy District) and waiting with collective breath for the reservoir to reach its 381,000 acre foot capacity or an elevation of 6,924 feet.

It fills. It spills.

For the first time in five years, the DWCD has announced a “spill” or managed release, beginning June 3 and lasting for three days. Rapids from Class I to Class V will return to what some have called one of the most iconic stretches of American river. Read more release information here.

“The way it’s managed now, you really have to drop everything and go,” said Jane Dally, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

Boaters above McPhee. Water won't be so calm on the Lower Dolores this weekend.

Boaters above McPhee. Water won’t be so calm on the Lower Dolores this weekend.

The 30-year old dam, along with seven pumping plants and 80 miles of canal, have pretty much nullified the good times of yore for boaters. Earlier this year, “River of Sorrow” premiered in the town of Dolores. The 45-minute documentary, funded in part with $12,000 from Patagonia, includes footage of the “world-class white water” before the establishment of the reservoir and dam.

McPhee was named after the old sawmill town which harvested Ponderosa Pine until the Great Depression and a series of fires shuttered it in the late 1940’s The Bureau of Reclamation bought out the properties before dam construction. It’s now under water.

There have been 19 spills since then. In 2008, one lasted 80 days. But times are tougher now.

“We have a lot of obligations to a lot of different people,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston, who recalled hardship three years ago. “First there is no boating. Then the next level of pain is a shortage.”

McPhee, the mill town, before fires, the Depression, and being submerged.

McPhee, the mill town, before fires, the Depression, and being submerged.

Vern Harrell, Cortez manager of the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the project, has worked closely with Preston as well as DWCD’s Ken Curtis, the head McPhee engineer.

Harrell said a small spill like the one planned for this weekend is “the dicey-est thing on earth.” Based on inflow and outflow predictions and calculations, their margin of error is bigger than the release itself. Yet, “you make promises, you have to keep them,” said Harrell, referring to the delivery of water to the many stakeholders.

This year, things started looking good around February, said Preston, when snow pack was measured at 150 percent above average.

Stakeholders (including the 7,600 acre Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch

Great Cut Pumping Plant. At right, the Dove Creek Canal. Left, the Lone Pine Lateral

Great Cut Pumping Plant. At right, the Dove Creek Canal. Left, the Lone Pine Lateral

enterprise, fisheries, ranchers, farmers, and boaters) have worked together. The release has been “packaged for good boating days,” said Preston. “Filling and spilling the reservoir is good for everybody. The recreational experience is tied to the health of the environment.”

Dally and fellow DRBA members will survey downriver campsites and work with the BLM to review the presence of invasive as well as native riparian plants. She called the collaborative measures by the DWCD and others “very encouraging.”

You’ll likely see a carnival atmosphere, with bright kayaks and rafts and a celebratory community vibe. Alex Mickel, director of Mild2Wild Rafting, is offering three- and five-day excursions, starting from Bradfield Bridge, the most popular put-in, about eight miles downriver from McPhee.

Some boaters feel good times should return for real and have pushed for the dismantling of the dam, emboldened by the recent New York Times opinion piece, which suggested that the Glen Canyon Dam should come down. But Harrell and Preston dismissed the notion, saying it would demonstrate the height of community irresponsibility.

“I lived here before the reservoir was built,” said Harrell. “It was just sagebrush. Mesa Verde [National Park] would be your only draw.”

So, for three days, anyway, let the good times roll.

Introducing ColoradoOutsider Women

I’ve lived in a lot of places, yet nowhere have I been more impressed and challenged by fellow females than here in southwestern Colorado.

COOThis is not to say that women in Maine, Iowa, Utah, and elsewhere are not impressive. But when it comes to women of humble and outdoors-y athleticism, this area has an overabundance of them. (It should be noted that Colorado has the lowest rate of obesity in the nation. You can read more about the importance of fitness and getting out here.)

I’m learning there are various varieties of fit females:

  • There’s the PataGucci set. Mountain chic, they look ready to go with perfectly-fitting outfits, perfectly-styled hair. They do not have dirt under their perfectly painted nails. Are they really ready to go?


  • There are those with dirt under their nails. They might also wear Patagonia, but they probably bought it at the thrift shop or found it left behind at Purgatory. And they probably wear it for it’s functionality while rock climbing, mountain biking, or trail running.

There are national-caliber athletes and insanely fit grandmothers in the midst. Many women I’ve met would be exceptional athletes anywhere else in the world. Here, they fit in as amazingly unexceptional.

Anne Rapp (L) with Linda Mannix

Anne Rapp (L) with Linda Mannix

Some local women are fit because of what they do for work – like Anne Rapp, owner of Rapp Corral, who manages dozens of horses and leads day rides and pack trips. Like Dominique Edgerly, who skis, rafts, and rides horses for a living.

Some women have more sedentary day jobs, but incorporate athleticism into their days as automatically as they drink coffee. I know librarians who are rock climbers and triathletes.

Somewhere else, girls might be special for clearing trail, fixing fence, cutting down trees, riding, hiking, hauling a trailer. Here, it’s just normal. They look at a river and say things like, “nice run-off” and guess at the cfs (water flow as measured in cubic feet per second).

Beginning soon, ColoradoOutsider will profile women of southwestern Colorado. You’ll read about Regular Janes in the neighborhood. Otherwise known as women who rock!

Fog and a Meeting in Mancos

Attending a Bureau of Land Management meeting is a bit like driving into thick fog. It can be bewildering, even if you have a Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 2.52.28 PMgeneral sense of where you are and why you’re there. It helps if you have a lay of the land and good equipment.

In the case of the recent BLM meeting in Mancos to discuss the Tres Rios Master Leasing Plan with members of the Southwest Resource Advisory Council (SWRAC) Oil & Gas Subgroup, the lay of the land is this:

  • Hundreds of thousands of acres, some abutting Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and my backyard, are up for drilling consideration.
  • The volunteer SWRAC subgroup, with 15 members from industry, agricultural, governmental, and recreational interests, is charged with giving recommendations to the BLM regarding this development.
  • This group, formed a few months ago, is soliciting the LaPlata and Montezuma county public for comments.

The good equipment, like fog headlights, is knowing how the process works, who the players are, and what all the acronyms mean. Read more information here.

Suffice to say, the level of frustration exhibited by subgroup members and the public ran pretty high. One member complained that he “got nothing” useful from the public’s input. Another member questioned whether anyone could trust the process. Yet another said he felt the public meetings brought out only activists.

He’s right if activists are regular town folks who don’t want industry to run roughshod over their roads, air, water, and way IMG_0111of life.

Listening to public comments (each speaker was given a few minutes at the end of the two-hour meeting), it was nice to see ranching, farming, and recreational interests coalesce. The general summation:

We don’t want ANY increased industry in this area. Enough already. Our aquifers will be threatened. Our real estate values will decrease. Our air quality will be compromised.

If you didn’t make the meeting and want to comment, you can send a letter to blm_co_trfo_oilandgas@blm.gov

I tried to keep my emotions out of it and appealed to the subgroup members from an economic angle. Here’s my letter:

Dear Subgroup members:

IMG_2508Thanks very much for your volunteer efforts. I’m one of the many residents of southwestern Colorado who landed here for the area’s unique splendor and outdoor opportunities. As you contemplate recommendations to the BLM, please consider:

Despite whatever revenues might be gained by leasing acreage to oil and gas interests, such leases will have a direct and detrimental impact on the existing economy.

The outdoor recreation industry is a $34.5 billion business in Colorado. According to a 2014 report by the Colorado Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, twenty-five thousand jobs exist here in the southwest region because of outdoor recreation.

The choice to live here has been quantified as a Willingness to Pay (WTP), an economic model developed by researchers at the University of Utah, Weber State University, and Utah State University for the huge, 784-page study looking into the land transfer prospects for Utah.

The researchers calculated significant WTP losses if there were more extraction in previously undeveloped areas. For example, folks pay huge money to hunt trophy elk in pristine wilderness. If industry comes in, stirs up the elk population and wrecks the panoramic photo opportunities, the WTP goes down. Hunters go elsewhere.

IMG_2396Researchers found that folks move to places like Montezuma and LaPlata counties for the natural amenities of public lands and protected landscapes. Those conditions are directly connected to “local economic well-being, including in particular income levels, income growth, and employment growth.”

In other words, people who move here aren’t slackers, living out of their cars, camping on BLM land, and cooking up ramen night after night. They’re smart, go-getters who contribute significantly to the economy:

“[They] tend to be highly educated and employed in skilled and professional occupations [which] can cause such areas to exhibit enhanced levels of “human capital.”

Generations ago, bringing more industry to the area might have made sense. But clearly, the area can move away from an economy reliant on environmentally damaging industries.

Keep it in the ground and it’s a win-win.

Warming Tips for the Outdoors Inclined

  • Car rides with the windows down
  • Tall, ice-filled drinks
  • Swims with your horse

The pleasures of summer seem far, far away.

IMG_2844At my place, pasture walks are slow, laborious efforts of postholing, walking in snow that goes to my thighs and fills my boots. I’d like to say “I Love Winter,” but, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan. It does have merit, though:

Animals tracks tell stories we’d otherwise never read.

Hot pie and cocoa taste better.

It makes me really appreciate the other three seasons.

This year, Father Winter seems to have moved on from last year’s hobby of tormenting New England. (Read more here) Since November, he’s been schooling the Rockies with major snow dumpage. Ski slopes around here have had over 200 inches of snow (two hundred!). Parking lots consistently have two-inch layers of ice. Coyotes, deer and even bunnies are gravitating towards plowed roads and shoveled paths instead of suffering the aforementioned postholing.

dogs and meFor many of us, staying warm is the make-or-break element that determines whether these months are ones of enjoyment or drudgery.

Here are some toasty tips:

Layer up: long underwear tops and bottoms, hats and hoods, thermal insoles in your boots. Wool is a great layer and thanks to Ramblers Way can be worn right next to skin.

Turn on the heat: hand warmers, heated insoles and gloves, even hot beverages help out when and where layers cannot.

Eat well: substitute a protein bar for that donut and skim the sugar and syrup in your coffee. Your body will thank you.

Stay active: embrace shoveling as an aerobic activity and avoid the temptation to hibernate. Higher metabolism = more blood pumping (and that’s a good thing!)

Bath time: You’ll find a good soak will stay with you for hours, heating core to toes. It’s leverage that for a warmer morning or bedtime.

A coyote travels down road

A coyote travels down road

Little cheats: heat clothes in dryer or near a space heater, splurge on an electric blanket to take the chill of your bed before turning in, pick To Go mugs that aren’t so insulated. They can’t double as handwarmers.

At lastly…

Hug a horse. When the wind is howling and the temperature is heading downward like a kid on a playground slide, this method may be the most satisfying one for taking off the chill. Watch our happy video.

The state of affairs at the Mancos Liquor Store mural

The state of affairs at the Mancos Liquor Store mural

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