Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Desert Boy Throws Rocks

When we see water in the desert, it's hard to pass it up. Desert Boy, Henry, and I were heading out for a hike and somehow ended up on a little detour to this lake by the side of the road. During part of the year, it's a reservoir with a dam holding the water back. This time of year, the water level is down so much that the water doesn't even touch the dam, so it's a lake with big beaches full of cockleburs.

Henry, a labrador retriever, absolutely loves the water and didn't hesitate at all getting in the water.

Desert Boy, a fearless toddler, decided to follow Henry. 

Mom said, "No, you already got your other pair of shoes wet this morning and you don't have any more. Stay out of the water." 

What a mean mom.

Desert Boy keeps on heading down the rocky shoreline to the water's edge.

Before he gets to the water, he realizes that these rocks would be really good for throwing.

The best place to throw rocks is into the water. Sometimes the water and mud even splash so he can get wet without getting into the water. He's already figured out how to technically obey his mother but still get what he wants!

One rock is too big and as he pulls his arm back to throw it, he loses his balance and sits down.

He doesn't let that stop him for long, but keeps on throwing more rocks.

Some folks in an inflatable canoe decide to check out the fun. The lake is so shallow Henry can nearly run right out to them. Do you like the mountains in the background? They created a bit of their own weather, and those thunderheads you see building even produced a little rain a few hours later. Desert Boy and Henry had another chance to get wet, so it was a good day.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Desert Destination: Frisco, Utah: Ghost Town and Charcoal Ovens

Every Monday we visit a desert destination.
These are charcoal ovens, used in the late 1800s to produce charcoal to run smelters to process the ore found at nearby mines. These particular ovens are found at Frisco, Utah just off Highway 21. 

Okay, if you're trying to find Frisco on a map, you probably won't have much luck, because absolutely no one lives at Frisco anymore. But during its heydey, almost six thousand people lived here. Before I get into that history, let me tell you a little more about these charcoal ovens.

They have an arched entryway, big enough for a person to enter. They were filled up with about 35 cords of wood: pinyon pine, juniper, sagebrush, and whatever else was close by and available. Then fires were set and over the next few days this wood was reduced to about 1,000 bushels of charcoal, which was small and compact. It took approximately 13 days to go through the entire process of loading the oven, burning the wood, and moving the charcoal.

Each of the charcoal ovens has a window high in the wall opposite the door to improve ventilation. I've tried to find information about how this window might be closed, but I've found very little information about how these charcoal ovens operated. (If you know more, please let me know!)

The shape of the charcoal ovens is a beehive, or parabolic, which helped to concentrate the heat into the middle of the oven. Look closely to the right of the door, and you can see little holes in the rocks. These provided additional ventilation and could be plugged or opened as needed.

Desert Boy enters one of the charcoal ovens, giving you a sense of scale. To the right are some little light spots in the wall--those small ventilation holes. The more intact charcoal ovens are quite dark inside, the rocks stained with dark soot.

Five charcoal ovens were originally built in Frisco in 1877 by the Frisco Mining and Smelting Company. This company decided it would be profitable to invest in the area due to the high-producing silver mines in the San Francisco Mountains, particularly the Horn Silver Mine, discovered in 1875. 

The charcoal ovens are about two miles away from the major hub of mining. As more ore was found, a town sprang up. It included a post office, and in 1880 the Utah Southern Railroad extended into town from Milford, Utah, 15 miles to the east. It became much more profitable to ship the ore out. It also became much easier to get water in; very little water is found close to Frisco.

The town grew and gained a reputation for being the wildest mining town in the San Francisco district. It had over 20 saloons, gambling dens, and brothels lining the rocky streets, and a population of nearly 6,000. Murders became so frequent that city officials decided to hire a lawman from Pioche, Nevada and give him free rein. When he rode into town, he reportedly said he wasn't going to build a jail or make arrests. Criminals had two options: get out of town or get shot. Some didn't believe him, and the first night he apparently shot six outlaws. After that Frisco became a much calmer place.

This mill was built near the mines. Just ten years after the profitable mines were discovered, a momentous event occurred. It was the morning of February 12, 1885, and the day shift was preparing to enter the mine. Several tremors had been felt, and they were told to wait. The night shift came to the surface, and a few minutes later a massive cave-in collapsed most of the mine, including the most profitable areas. Amazingly, no one was killed.

Over $60 million worth of zinc, lead, silver, copper, and gold had been hauled away from Frisco in those 10 years. After the cave-in, mining eventually resumed, but never at the same scale, and slowly the town of Frisco faded away. By 1900 only about 500 people remained, and by the 1920's the town had been abandoned.

Few buildings remain, but this old stone wall hint at the town that once existed. 

A small cemetery is located between the charcoal ovens and the mines. I found it to be one of the most depressing mining cemeteries I have ever visited. Despite the reports of the outlaws and murders in Frisco, I'd estimate that nearly three-quarters of those buried there were infants or children. The cemetery is definitely a reminder that although we might look back at ghost towns with a hint of nostalgia, the life was hard and lacking most comforts that we take for granted today.

Frisco's days may not be totally over. In 2002 a mining company bought the rights for the mines and has begun reworking them. Although the mining areas are closed off, the charcoal ovens and cemetery are still open for visitors.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Chopping Corn

It's that time of year to harvest the corn. We have several pivots of field corn, and it has grown nice and tall, about eight feet tall. 

Corn is one of my all-time favorite vegetables, and it takes some restraint not to reach out and pluck those ears of corn, even though they are field corn. The deer don't show so much restraint--they hide happily in the corn fields and munch away to their heart's content.

When the corn has matured to just the right point and the weather is cooperating, it's time to cut it. What is that right point? According to my dear husband, it's the half milk point. I think that's what he said. If I understood him right, it's when the kernels on the ear have dented in deeply and are hard about half-way down. They are still adding a little starch to the ears, and this is the best time to cut for silage. If you just want to cut the ears (earlage), it's best to wait a little bit longer.

The big chopper is the machine of choice (and Desert Boy's favorite piece of equipment to climb). The chopper cuts six rows of corn at a time. As it drives along, the silage truck drives at the same speed so that the corn goes into the truck.

They start on the outside of the pivot, going in a huge semi-circle. Why not a circle that goes all around the field? Ah, the pivot is in the way, so it's simpler to do two semi-circles than a circle with a major detour. It generally takes three to four days to cut and chop an entire field.

Gradually the rows of cut corn keep expanding.

A silage truck can only hold so much cut corn, so after a few minutes, another silage truck comes in to take its place. The first truck heads off.

Where does it go? Not to worry, Desert Boy, Henry, and I followed it to see.

The truck backed up to this red machine next to a long white bag. It lifted its load, and the silage started coming out.

The red machine, called a bagger, compresses the corn silage into the plastic bag. In this closed environment it ferments slightly, preserving it. Fermentation is an anaerobic process, so the plastic helps keep that oxygen out. Just think fine wine...or not. 

Here's a view from the other side. The white bags are a football field long. The corn silage needs to stay in the bag for at least 30 days before it's used as feed.

Here's the loader getting some of last year's silage. After it gets its scoop... 

...it loads the feed wagon, which then makes a trip through the feed lot and distributes the mixture of corn, alfalfa, and barley silage to the cows.

The end result is some happy cows

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Days Are Getting Shorter

As we get to the end of September, each day we are losing about 2 to 3 minutes of daylight. That doesn't sound like a lot, but over the course of a week, that's about 18 minutes. I used to really dislike the days getting shorter, but now I enjoy the silver lining--my husband comes home earlier! The life of a rancher is often sunrise to sunset, so it's nice to have more time together.

If you'd like to see the sunrise and sunset calendar for your area, click here

Friday, September 26, 2008

Learning to Differentiate White Fir and Douglas-Fir

To find trees in the desert, we often have to go up in the mountains. I grew up in the Midwest, so every once in awhile I get a yearning to see those tall plants that block the view. Yep, I have to admit that after living out in the desert for seven years and absorbing all the wide-open spaces, being surrounded by a lot of trees can make me almost claustrophobic!

One way I can get around that is to pay attention to the trees that are surrounding me. Today we're going to look at two in the Pine Family (Pinaceae) that are very similar--white fir (Abies concolor) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Right off the bat I want to point out a couple things. First, both trees have fir as part of their common name, but Douglas-fir has a hypen; that's because it's not a true fir, it's in a different genus. In addition, pseudo means false.

A couple other things about the names: Douglas-fir is named for David Douglas, a Scottish botanist who first cultivated Douglas-fir. The scientific species name, menziesii, is named for a competing botanist, Archibald Menzies, also from Scotland. I guess this is a case where they found a win-win solution. (If only the politicians could learn a lesson from the naturalists.)

Both white fir and Douglas-fir are medium-sized conifers, living at similar elevations. With just a little close observing, it doesn't take long to tell them apart. White firs have grayer needles (on the left in the photo above), and they are spaced out along the stem. Douglas-fir needles are brighter green in color and look like they have been packed onto the stem.

Looking closer at the needles (it's so fun to have macro and cropping capabilities!), you can see that the white fir needles come straight off the stem at a nearly right angle. The needles themselves often curve slightly.

The Douglas-fir needles bend as they come off the stem. It sort of looks like they started growing in one direction (upwards) and then decided, naw, let's go out to the side, then we don't have to stand up so straight. The Douglas-fir needles are the "bad posture" needles, slumping.

What's the tree in the photo above? Alright, I admit I'm a firm believer that in order to actually remember something, you have to be challenged to make it stick in your memory. (Maybe that's why I'm not a teacher, I would drive everyone nuts!) If you guessed Douglas-fir, you're right! Beware, there is another quiz coming up. Hey, keep reading, it's not like I'm going to give you a grade or anything.

Okay, let's look at the pine cones. Since I'm often looking at the trail when I'm hiking, the pine cones are often the first thing that lets me know what trees are around. White firs have small cones that are rather plain looking. These cones are generally in clusters at the tops of the trees. Douglas-firs have little projections that come out of the pine cones and are slightly larger.

Let's take another look at the Douglas-fir pine cone. These cones are often described as having mouse tails sticking out of the scales. Okay, naturalists say that. Botanists say that the cones have a long tridentine bract that protrudes prominently above each scale. Say that three times with your eyes closed and while balancing on one leg.  Back to the mouse tails--a Native American myth says that it's just not the tail, but also the little hind legs sticking out of the scale, because a forest fire was approaching and the little mice took sanctuary in the pine cones.

Another way to tell these two trees apart is the bark. Take a close look at the photo above and below, and then make a guess as to which is which. The last photo on the post has an extra clue as to which they are. I'll leave it to you to puzzle out in the comments and will chime in later with the correct answer. 

Douglas-fir is an important timber tree and is often used in construction to carry heavy loads and for homebuilt-aircraft. It's also the most common Christmas tree sold in the U.S. White fir isn't as valuable a timber tree due to weaker, knottier wood. It grows readily in shaded areas on a variety of soils, and in our area is much more common than Douglas-fir.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Up on a Horse

The ranch has some beautiful horses, but they're all working horses, meaning that they can be a little feisty and aren't the docile retired animals that you usually find at trail rides. Seeing how that's the only type of horse I had been around before I moved out to the desert and got married, I've had a bit of a learning curve as I try to master riding a horse.

My sister-in-law Tana makes it look easy. She's a true cowgirl, and has no problem taking little Desert Boy for a ride. They both are loving it.

Desert Boy even looks like he knows what he's doing, holding on to the reins and looking around to search for cattle. Tana started riding before she could walk, so perhaps with Desert Boy starting early he will also make it look easy.

This is my nephew Tractor Buddy. When I look at him, I figure that this is what Desert Boy probably will look like in about eight years. 

And now it's my turn. Tana let me take a ride on her horse Jewel, a gentle horse who had just finished herding cattle and was feeling a little lethargic. Perfect for me, the neophyte. I love riding horses, as long as I feel in control. I feel in control when the horse is moving slowly--anything faster than a walk gets my heart pounding!

That dusty ground looks like a soft landing in case I do take a spill. I walk Jewel around in circles, and then...

...the world starts getting topsy-turvy. Oh no!

Just kidding, I wouldn't have actually been able to take a photo while I was falling off. That would take too much coordination. Here I am, just strolling along, pretending that I am a world-class horsewoman. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

blogger templates