Helping people connect with Nature

Spring Emerges Wet and Snowy

After what was likely the driest fall and winter the park has ever experienced, the new spring season has so far brought some very healthy doses of moisture.

With the spring equinox just a couple days past, a rather balmy March 23 brought with it over 3/4″ of moisture – most in the form of rain. A series of rainy and/or wet snowy storms culminated in the April 3-4 storm that  dropped just over 2 feet of snow heavily laden with lots of water. Between March 23 and April 4, a whopping 5.55″ of moisture fell on the parched soils of the Mountain Park.

For comparison, over the six and three quarter months between Sept 1, 2016 and Mar 22, 2017, the park saw a total of only 2.95″ of moisture in the form of modest snow and some rain showers. 

The season’s snow total is up to 59.0″ – exactly 50% of the average 118″ – still very low, but improving. The park is a whole lot wetter than it was a couple weeks ago, with an increased water supply and decreased fire danger. I hope that this wet pattern continues. I do think that the park’s spring wildflower display is going to be a whole lot better than it was looking to be a couple of weeks ago.  ~ Ranger Dave

 

 

The Halfway Point of Beulah’s Snow Season

The last day of January just became the first day of February. January added 14.2″ to December’s 6.5″ of snow, bringing the season total to 20.7″ (Nov and Oct brought no measurable snow). Our snow season roughly runs Oct 15 – May 15, so we are 50% through the season. If half the park’s average 118″ fell in the first half of winter, then those 20.7″ put us at 35% of an average snow year. The latter half of the winter is usually somewhat snowier than the first half; so, factoring that in, the 35% figure is probably a bit low. Even so, we are still having an extremely dry winter. Unless the weather pattern changes, we may be in for a record dry winter.

A Winter Wish for Pueblo Mountain Park

The last blog, which I posted a few weeks ago, asked the question: When will it snow? It took some more waiting, as November came and went without any measurable snow. The answer to that question finally came on Dec 7, when I measured 1.2” of snow, with another 1.3” of new snow the next day. That is the latest first snow of the season as far as I have found in looking at weather records for the last several decades. Dec 17 and 18 brought another 4”, bringing the season snow total to 6.5” to date.

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The seasonal average for the park over the past several decades is around 118” of snow. So, we are off to a very dry start of the snow season, after a very dry fall. I do know that things can turn around pretty quick as far as snow totals go. A couple of good-sized storms, lined up just right (like a well-placed Albuquerque Low) can drop lots of white stuff on the Wet Mountains and bring those numbers up pretty quickly.

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So, my winter solstice wish this year for the place that I live and work is for several strong, slow-moving Albuquerque Lows to slide across northern New Mexico and upslope lots of deep snow packing a whole lot of moisture.  Once that happens, break out the cross-country skis or snowshoes and experience winter in Pueblo Mountain Park. If you are not into these winter-sports, then put on a few layers, bring a camera, a thermos of hot cocoa, your journal, or a good book and spend some quality time in the winter wonderland that the Mountain Park can be. Come on snow!

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When will it Snow?

Thanksgiving is a week from tomorrow and we have yet to see our first snow here in the park. Looking back at precipitation data through 1975 (40 years worth of data), I can find one November, 1981, when it did not snow, and one, 2012, when we received only a trace. November ’81 was followed by a December that brought 26″ of snow and a winter that wound up about 15″ below average snowfall. December 2012 saw 16.3″ of snow and that winter’s total was also around 15″ below average (which is around 118″).

One difference – we did not see two major wildfires come within a half mile and four miles of the park in October of 2012, or 1981. In fact, major wildfires happening in the Western US (or the Southeast US this year), which have become a regular part of the news the last few years, were not unheard of in 1981, but they were certainly not a common concern every year like they have become lately.

As I type these words on this mid-November afternoon, it is 71F and rather windy outside. The forecast says there is a 20% chance of rain – totaling less than a tenth of an inch – tomorrow and snow tomorrow night. Will November 2016 be snowless? Time will tell!

Here is a photo of what the woods look like in snow taken last winter – it sure looks nice, doesn’t it?

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A Stingy Autumn Sky

A few weeks ago I wondered if October would bring the season’s first snow. It is now November 1, and not only did Halloween come and go without any snow, but nary a drop of rain fell as well. The last measurable rain – 0.07″ – fell on September 30. Since September 1, I’ve measured a stingy total of 0.62″. All this dryness resulted in two October wildfires that threatened the park. The Beulah Hill Fire, which started on a crazy windy October 3, burned over 5000 acres and got within around a half mile of the park as the crow flies. Two weeks later, the Junkins Fire started on another windy day and made it to around 4 miles of the park. The latter, which burned around 18,000 acres, is still not fully contained, and will likely not be fully out until the skies deliver some decent snowfall.

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As I type these words on the morning of November 1, a fair autumn sky and another warm day seem to offer little hope of bringing any snow, or rain. I just checked the NOAA website, and they are projecting a 30% chance of rain showers in a few days. That would be nice!

It is still a pleasant day to be outside, with no more smoke from the fires, no wind,  and a few colorful cottonwood and oak leaves hanging on here and there under a lovely autumn sky. But it would be an even nicer day if the clouds would darken and thicken and start dropping something wet. I think I’m going to put on my rain-dancing shoes! Or, better yet, my snow-dancing shoes! Care to join me?

October 17, 1934

My plan was to head up to Lookout Point yesterday, October 17. But the strong wind, the nearby Junkins Fire, and being on pre-evacuation status kept me from getting there. Why visit Lookout Point on October 17? Because I wanted to be there on the 82nd anniversary of the date carved into a small cement slab found in the granite of that lovely place. It was put there by the workers who installed the pipe railing that surrounds Lookout Point.lp2

So I hiked up there today, one day later, and took these photos (note the smoke from the Junkins fire on the horizon in the 2nd photo). A bit of the lettering has worn away, but I can still make it out: A.F.M. Pueblo, Colo. Oct. 17, 1934. It was during the Great Depression when much of the infrastructure was built in what was then a 14-year-old Pueblo Mountain Park. The early 30s brought the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to the park to construct roads, bridges, trails and other structures. Later in the 30s, crews from the Workers Progress Administration took up where the CCC left off.

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I’ve tried to find out what A.F.M. stands for. Originally I figured it stood for American Federation of Masons, or something similar. I figured the park work crews arranged for some masons from Pueblo to install the railing. But I could find nothing that corroborated that. Was it someone’s initials? (If anyone can shed some light on this, please let me know – I’d appreciate it.)

For eighty-two years (and one day), Lookout Point has been offering hikers, scout groups, campers, students, and many others grand views of Pueblo Mountain Park and Devil’s Canyon. How fortunate we all have been to benefit from the good work of the CCC and the WPA – and, the AFM.

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Will it Snow This October in Beulah?

            When I think back on Trick-or-treating in Beulah with my kids back in the 80s, it was pretty much a given that there would be some snowy/slippery places to watch out for. Usually by Halloween, Beulah would have seen its first snow. As October 2016 is well into its second week, and the temps are predicted to be in the 70s for the next few days, I am wondering – will it snow in October this year?

            So, I dug up the precipitation data that I have for Beulah that I have been keeping for the last several years, along with data that others have kept for the park, to see what the last several Octobers have looked like. Looking back at the last twenty-five Octobers, sixteen of them saw snow, while nine didn’t. For the sixteen years that did see snow, it has ranged from around an inch or two (2012, 2008, 1994) to 30.3” in 2009. Other relatively significant snowy Octobers were 1996 (16.5”), 1993 (17”) and 1991 (22”).

aster in snow

Based on this data, there is about a 2 in 3 chance that it will snow in October. The last two years have seen no snow in October here in the park. Does that mean we are due for a snow or two this October?

 

Midsummer in Pueblo Mountain Park!

The weeks of summer are certainly slipping by, and the park’s current display of wildflowers only confirm that the summer is indeed aging. Gone are the blossoms of spring beauties, low penstemon, and mountain bladdepod. They have been replaced by hairy golden aster, Kansas gayflower, nodding onion, and stiff goldenrod. nodding onion hairy golden aster

It has been a relatively dry summer so far. June and July both saw less than 2″ of rain, and August is off to a slow start. To be more specific, June’s 1.90″ was followed by 1.82″ in July, and August, as of this morning of the 8th, I’ve measure only 0.27″.  The flow of tropical moisture from points south, known as the monsoon, has been pretty stingy in delivering those summer rains.

The moisture has apparently been enough for several wildflowers to find their way to blossom, as there is a fair amount of wildflower color out there. stiff goldenrodkansas gayfeather

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now in week two of August, the land continues its march towards fall. Hopefully the clouds will deliver a bit more rain (but in doses that the land can handle, please – we had enough flooding a few summers ago to last us awhile) before the turning leaves start adding their earthy colors to the landscape.

sky aug 7

Volunteer Trail Stewards Needed!

The trails of Pueblo Mountain Park see a whole lot of footsteps from so many people – Earth Studies students learning about the park’s trees and ecosystems, MPEC’s guided hikers and many other hikers, folks looking to access the National Forest trails west of the park, birders looking for an elusive three-toed woodpecker and plant lovers wanting to enjoy the scarlet-red blossoms of a claret-cup cactus.  Yes, the parks six miles of trails are used and loved by many!

volunteers needed

Considering all of this use, the park’s trails are always in need of some TLC. With that in mind, MPEC is initiating a once per month Volunteer Trail Stewards day so these trails can receive some of that needed TLC.

Please consider becoming a Mountain Park Environmental Center Trail Steward and help improve and maintain the trails of Pueblo Mountain Park.  MPEC maintenance staff will be coordinating the trail projects. Individuals 12 years of age and up are welcome to participate in these trails projects that will keep Pueblo Mountain Park’s trails safe and enjoyable for all who wish to connect with Nature.

trail building VOC 09

Trail Days will be the second Saturday of each month (July 9, August 13, September 10, and October 8).  We will meet in the Horseshoe Lodge parking lot on each of these Saturdays at 8 am and will conclude trail work at noon.  Participants should bring water (at least 2 liters), snacks, hiking boots, work gloves, and sunscreen.  Additionally, a sun hat is highly encouraged, along with rain gear.

For more information, please contact Steve at 719-485-4444, or by email Steve@hikeandlearn.org. You can register by clicking HERE!

Forest Stewardship Project Update: Summer 2016

If you were standing in the forest that is now Pueblo Mountain Park 200 years ago, chances are you’d be in a place that had recently burned. Historically, ponderosa pine forests experienced a cool ground fire, usually started by lightning, every 5-10 years. It was a “cool” fire because it pretty much stayed on the ground burning grasses, forbs and shrubs, including most young ponderosa pines. The thick bark of the mature ponderosa pines could handle the scorching, and the lack of lower branches prevented the fire from working its way up into the canopy. Fire was the tool that Nature used to keep ponderosa pine forests open with relatively few trees and lots of grasses.

IMG_3381When settlers arrived in the West, they brought with them a European approach to managing forests, which lacked an understanding of the important role that fire played in many forest types. Anytime lightning would ignite a fire, every effort was made to to put it out. Over time, this approach led to ponderosa forests becoming wildly overgrown, and the combination of more shade from more trees and, often times, livestock grazing, the grasses that would carry a fire across the forest floor disappeared. In their place grew more and more trees and shrubs, which meant more and more fuel for catastrophic fires that burn up through the forest canopy and everything else in their path. Pueblo Mountain Park was a good example of such a forest.

IMG_3376Over the past 15 years, many efforts have been made to return the park’s forests to a more natural condition – less trees, less understory that could bring a ground fire into the canopy, and more grasses. Much progress has been made, as a good portion of the eastern third of the park now more closely resembles what a healthy ponderosa forest should look like.

If you’ve been wondering what the recent tree cutting is all about, it is our next step in reducing the park’s vulnerability to a catastrophic fire. All of the current tree cutting is taking place directly along the park roads. A road, lacking fuel, is a fire break that could effectively stop a fire moving along the forest floor. Our current efforts are meant to bring the potential of breaking the path of a fire into the upper part of the forest by opening up a gap in the tree canopy. If a fire were moving through the crowns of the trees, the gap we are currently enhancing stands a better chance of stopping it. It also gives firefighters a good place to “take a stand” in the case of a fire moving through the park.

IMG_3371As an added benefit, the removal of these trees will increase the amount of snow that reaches the park roads, which we close off in the winter, making for better snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And, the wood we get from the trees will be burned in the Horseshoe Lodge’s biomass boilers to heat the lodge, saving the burning of thousands of gallons of fossil fuels.

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So, please excuse the temporary mess – we will soon be removing the remaining branches as we’ve arranged to have use of the City of Pueblo’s huge chipper in July. When this project is done, we all will have a safer, healthier and better Pueblo Mountain Park.