Tribute to a public-lands servant

30 09 2022

Connie Clementson, manager of Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores, is retiring after 37 years of public-lands service. For the last 11 years, she has been the head of BLM public lands in Southwest Colorado. We first met her at the 2011 Spring Creek Basin roundup when she was still with the Forest Service and served here as the then-acting district ranger for the Dolores District of San Juan National Forest. We’re glad she was able to finish her three-plus decades of service here in our corner of Colorado.

Our herd manager, Mike Jensen, gets a lot of the well-deserved credit for our recent management accomplishments in Spring Creek Basin, and we know that’s because he has had the support of the top boss – Connie – and her confidence that he was making best decisions for our herd.

Monday, Tif Rodriguez, long-time advocate for Spring Creek Basin mustangs as well as for protecting rights and rights-of-way for horsemen and horse (and other pack stock such as mules) use on public lands, and I went to Tres Rios Field Office, where Joe Manning, assistant field office manager (who also has a lot to do with our confidence-inspiring herd management), had scheduled us into a rare gap in Connie’s last-week schedule. Daniel Chavez, range tech who works with Mike (and Garth Nelson), joined us in Mike’s absence (he was returning from a trip with his daughter).

We presented Connie with a photo of Spring Creek Basin mustangs and a letter from our Disappointment Valley Mustangs group (which includes Pat and Frank Amthor, David and Nancy Holmes, and Kathryn Wilder, in addition to me and Tif) in appreciation for her years of service – specifically here and especially for our mustangs. While we chatted, she reminded us that she said 11 years ago at the roundup that she didn’t ever want to do that again in Spring Creek Basin. And because of her 100 percent support of the PZP fertility-control program in the basin, we haven’t.

In the photo above, from right to left: Joe Manning, Connie Clementson, yours truly, Tif Rodriguez and Daniel Chavez.

We’re so grateful for Connie’s leadership and partnership these many years, and we wish all the best to Connie (and her family) during her well-earned retirement!





Marvelous mustang merit!

27 06 2022

Ginormous congratulations to Kathryn Wilder for the win of “Desert Chrome” in the creative nonfiction category of the Colorado Book Awards!!!

From Torrey House Press:

Kathryn Wilder’s personal story of grief, motherhood, and return to the desert entwines with the story of America’s mustangs as Wilder makes a home on the Colorado Plateau, her property bordering a mustang herd. Desert Chrome illuminates these controversial creatures—their complex history in the Americas, their powerful presence on the landscape, and ways to help both horses and habitats stay wild in the arid West—and celebrates the animal nature in us all.

“Testimony to the healing power of wildness . . . a candid memoir that interweaves a trajectory of loss, pain, and hard-won serenity with a paean to wild horses.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

Give it a read. You won’t be *disappointed*! 🙂





Water catchment 2: Phase 1, day 4

17 06 2022

Yesterday was toasty. I never did see triple digits, but on my way out of the basin, the temp was a solid 99 degrees. We felt the heat, but until I *saw* it, I wasn’t quite feeling it the way I did after my poor brain recognized the numbers. The gnats were, well, the same: bad.

We got right to work finishing up the plumbing bits. Above, Mike is shoveling dirt around the vertical culvert we put in over the valve at the trough. The brown pipes are steel pieces like we used for the roof structure last year; they’re meant to protect the culvert (which will have a lid) from the horses messing with it. Daniel is on the mini excavator, filling the trench that holds the “flexible line” from the tanks.

Meanwhile, Garth was up at the end tank, measuring and cutting out the “mouse holes” in the bottom of the last culvert to accommodate the valve and pipe. We cut and placed the other culverts over the other tank valves the day before.

This is what it looked like before filling (we had shoveled dirt into the hole around each of the culverts to hold them in place before Daniel started filling with the machine). Look at the line-up! Like we had run a plumb line to make them straight. … We didn’t. There was some measuring and a lotta eye-balling. … Mike, Garth and Daniel have the know-how for this kind of thing, for sure. 🙂

Let the filling commence!

While Daniel was filling and Mike was shoveling, Garth installed a nifty little critter ladder in the trough down the hill. How cool is it! The metal tabs are bent over the edge of the trough, then screwed into the lip to hold it in place. Then he sawed off the ends so they don’t pose sharp-edge hazards. At the end of the day, we also installed one of these in last year’s catchment trough – very handy now that we have water in that one!

More filling of the hole around the tanks. …

Looking good, right?

Admiring their job well done!

This phase of our new water-catchment project went pretty quickly, which I’m sure is a relief to us all, given the heat and gnatty hordes (!). This fall, we’ll get to work on the roof structure, complete with gutter, and start catching some rain. … Speaking of rain, we’re on day 55 (today) *without* rain.

That’s the dry news; the good news is that the forecast is looking promising, starting with possible storms later today. … Lightning, we can do WITHOUT. Rain … BRING IT ON!!!!!

Thanks hugely to our awesome BLM team: Mike, Garth and Daniel!





Water catchment 2: Phase 1, day 3

16 06 2022

Partnership is the name of the game with our wonderful BLM guys: Mike Jensen, Garth Nelson and Daniel Chavez. We got a lot done on the water-catchment project yesterday, and there are a lot of pix; let’s get to it!

The above was the first tank to go in the hole dug the day before by Garth. Daniel was back with us, which was a good thing; we needed lotsa muscle.

Pretty soon, things were looking like this at the site.

Then the guys got right to work installing the valves to each tank. (What the heck is Mike doing, you ask? Did I mention yesterday that the gnats were out? Yours truly wore my handy-dandy head net, and I helpfully provided some bug spray for all three delicious-to-gnats BLM’ers (reapplyment was necessary frequently). Garth and Daniel made the extraordinary scientific discovery that plumbing primer and glue is most excellent gnat bait.)

Some extra tweaking and digging out and fine-tuning of the space was necessary (which gives you readers another fine view!). To repeat from yesterday, this catchment features five 2,500-gallon tanks, compared with the four 3,500-gallon tanks in last year’s project. They’re a couple of feet shorter (so the hole doesn’t have to be quite as deep (and we bury them to help keep the water inside from freezing during the winter)), and the walls/plastic is a bit thicker, so they’re a bit more sturdy.

Once again, as with last year’s project, we used lengths of culvert to protect the valves at the base of each tank. The hole will be filled in around the tanks tomorrow, and with these culverts – set vertically – we’ll still be able to access each valve. While Mike and I cut out holes at the base of each for the valves and pipe that links each of the tanks, Garth and Daniel …

… got busy gluing all the valves to the pipe that will link them each and thus allow water to run down the hill to the trough.

Here’s a view of the culverts in place over the valves for each tank.

Then the guys moved right into digging the trench from the end tank down the hill to the trough spot. Garth is carrying the 100-foot length of “flexible line” (that’s a technical term meaning I don’t have a clue what it’s actually called) that will run from the tanks to the trough.

This pic, just because I like seeing all three of our guys in their element: doing what they do for the mustangs of Spring Creek Basin. 🙂

Overall view of the project site: Daniel has dug the length of the trench, and he was leveling out the spot for the trough. At farthest right, you can see the end of the flexible line sticking up from the trench. That will tie into another couple of sections of PVC pipe, from horizontal through an “elbow” to a vertical piece to come up into the trough from the bottom (see the little white bit at the right side of the overturned trough?).

Checking the level of the trough, which is acting like a giant reflector to put light on Daniel’s and Mike’s faces under their ball caps (as a photographer, I appreciated that very much!).

We got the trough set and piped/connected, and here, Daniel is covering the line and part of the trench while Mike stands by to do some shovel work. Today, we’ll set another length of culvert over the valve just barely visible and attach that flexible line to the tanks above.

We got a lot done yesterday!

Today will see the end of this phase of work, and then we’ll wait out the very hot months and build the roof structure over the tanks this fall. We’re tough, but the forecast calls for a high temp of 98 degrees. Yesterday, the forecast was for a high of 88, and it was 94 when I drove out of the basin. Following that mathematical formula, we could exceed 100 degrees today? Yeah – it’s a good idea to wait to work on welding steel pipes and steel purlins and a metal roof. 🙂

In relative-news updates: The water trough at last year’s new catchment has been turned on, and we’re waiting for the ponies to find it. They haven’t yet, but at least a few bands are in the rough vicinity.





Water catchment 2: Phase 1, day 2

15 06 2022

We had a huge relief from the smoke yesterday, and the gale-force winds dropped to merely breezes … which gave the gnats license to descend. (Note Mike’s hand at his neck, below his ear. Gnats are no joke, folks, and they are out. I highly recommend head nets.)

Daniel had to help his wife with their sick baby, so Garth brought out two more water tanks, and Mike and I delivered two more that Garth had brought a week ago to a site nearby for easier transport (the flatbed carries two at a time). They’ll bring the fifth today. This year, the catchment will be built with five 2,500-gallon tanks, compared with the four 3,500-gallon tanks we used last year. These are a bit thicker-walled, and they’re shorter (8 feet tall compared with 10 feet tall), meaning the hole for them doesn’t have to be as deep.

In the pic above, Garth is checking for uniform depth across the bottom of the hole with a laser level so the tanks will have a level base. As before, the tanks, with a roof to be built over their tops, are on high ground, and water will run downhill with gravity to the trough, to be maintained with a float.

Note Mike, still brushing at gnats. 🙂 This time, Garth dug one big hole to accommodate both the tanks and the plumbing (instead of doing one hole for the tanks and then a parallel trench for the pipe to connect the pipes from each tank, as they did for the first catchment of this design, last year). Again, the tanks will be buried about half deep to prevent the water inside from freezing during the winter months.

This catchment is in the far northwestern corner of Spring Creek Basin, which boasts a tremendous and far-reaching view.

Digging and leveling and digging and leveling were the big missions of the day.

For the fine work of filling here and digging there, Mike wielded the shovel while Garth manned the mini excavator.

For those of you wondering just how Garth was going to get that machine out of that hole, there’s a little bit of a ramp that he left under the digger (bucket?). 🙂 Here, he was extending it a bit after we measured the length of the hole to ensure it would hold the five tanks. Two tanks are on the ground behind him, and before we left for the day, we unloaded the two from the flatbed.

More to come!





Welcoming committee

7 05 2022

This wonderful sight greeted me the other day as I drove into Spring Creek Basin and gave me a face-stretching grin right from the beginning.

I tie the look-at-me flagging to this sign every autumn right before third rifle season in an attempt to remind the hordes that off-road travel is verboten in the basin (throughout Disappointment Valley, as numerous signs warn). But the flagging is relevant year-round, also, particularly, in the spring when people emerge from winter hibernation and flock to the backcountry (for recreation as well as to hunt “sheds” – antlers shed by mule deer and elk – that can go for big bucks).

Neither the flagging nor the signs are a complete deterrent (as some folks “helpfully” remind me, people need to be able to read …), and every fall and spring (particularly), I find tracks of vehicles that have gone off the road and up and down broad arroyos.

Contaminates in the waterways, destruction of vulnerable seeps, crushing of vegetation that may take years – if ever – to recover. Those are just some of the reasons we want people to stick to the established roads and OFF the rest of the sensitive areas.

Most people are good visitors, I’m happy to say. There are always those who don’t care or believe they can go wherever they want to go because they’re in a vehicle that *can* take them there and/or are too lazy to get off/out of their buggies and walk 30 yards (or so) to look over a ridge or examine our water catchments. But the majority are respectful, and for that, I’m grateful.





‘A resource with a beating heart’

2 05 2022

We had such a great time with the mustangs and visitors Saturday at Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum!

A little background: Last year was the 50th anniversary of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. CANM had a wonderful special exhibit all year that celebrated mustangs – especially our Colorado herds in Spring Creek Basin, Little Book Cliffs, Sand Wash Basin and Piceance-East Douglas. To help promote that, we were invited to a very special one-day event last fall, to introduce a couple of our local adopters of Spring Creek Basin mustangs, have advocate and author Kathryn Wilder read from her memoir, Desert Chrome (published in May), and take limited numbers of visitors (still under Covid protocols) through the exhibit inside the museum.

It was such a success, Amala Posey-Monk, supervisory park ranger with CANM, asked if we’d like to make it an annual event. How fast could we say YES?!

So Kat returned and read again from Desert Chrome, which is being sold in the new bookstore area in the visitor center and museum (which looks fantastic, by the way; drop by and see (among the museum’s other wonderful exhibits about the cultural history of our area) the particular wall full of ways to appreciate our very dark skies). She also signed copies of her book for folks who were there to visit the mustangs.

Tif Rodriguez brought her gentle giant, Whisper, and Keith Bean brought his teddy bear, Skipper, who are so calm and willing to meet lots of admiring strangers! We had one little incident before the event started when the wind caught the little popup tent, but as Keith said, most domestic horses would have catapulted into any of the nearby states if they’d been there. Skipper and Whisper were very startled, but they hardly left the plaza. 🙂 Tif and Keith answered questions and talked about numerous topics related to mustangs and adoptions, and Skipper and Whisper greeted everyone from seniors to the littlest visitors.

Our excellent herd manager, Mike Jensen, kicked off the day with an introduction to BLM wild horse management, particularly in Spring Creek Basin, and also answered lots of questions from visitors. As he said, mustangs are the only resources BLM manages that have beating hearts. 🙂

Mike talks about mustangs at the beginning of the event.

Keith says that seeing Skipper without something to eat in his mouth is unusual. Tif’s mom (not pictured), Lyn Rowley, brought snacks for both people and horses, which were particularly appreciated by Skipper. 🙂

Amala and her 4.5-year-old daughter, Geneva (who came with husband/father and baby sister), also got to meet the mustangs.

Skipper may have liked his treats from little hands best of all. See the very end of the carrot? 🙂 (Lyn pictured in the background.)

And a couple of pairs of little hands are even better!

I know. I should have prepared ya’ll for the overload of cuteness. 🙂

Skipper and Whisper spend a lot of time on the trail together every year with Tif and Keith as they do miles and hours of trail work on public lands (both BLM and Forest Service). Little Skipper is the guy in charge, apparently … and he also evidently loves his big friend!

Thanks to one of our visitors for taking these pix of me, Mike, Whisper, Tif, Skipper and Keith. Unfortunately, we missed getting Kat corralled for this group pic; Mike was trying to get home to his family for Saturday activities, and Kat was signing books inside the museum.

And I’ve been so long out of the journalism game (and my computer-driven slideshow while she was reading was giving me fits), I completely spaced taking any pix of her reading from Desert Chrome in the museum’s wonderful theater. She read excerpts about her first meeting with Maka, the big bay mustang from Divide Basin, Wyoming, that she adopted from Cañon City, then bringing him home. People asked some great questions. A couple of visitors had bought Kat’s book a day or two earlier, then came back to hear her read and get their books signed! This is a pic of her reading last year:

If you haven’t read it yet, find it at your local bookstore or order from Torrey House Press!

To close out this post, a little humor from wiseacre Whisper:

There’s always one. 😀

Our deepest appreciation and gratitude to everyone from CANM who made this event possible (Amala, Anna and Nick, at least), to Mike, to Kat, to Lyn, to Tif and Whisper, and Keith and Skipper, and to all the visitors to came, whether drawn by interest in the gems of cultural history found in this part of the Colorado Plateau or particularly by the opportunity to meet two amazing Spring Creek Basin mustangs!





Mustangs for the win!

1 05 2022

Our event at Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum yesterday with mustangs Whisper and Skipper, their adopters Tif Rodriguez and Keith Bean, author Kathryn Wilder and Spring Creek Basin herd manager Mike Jensen was wonderful!

Spring Creek Basin herd manager Mike Jensen, center, talks to visitors after being introduced by CANM employee and mustang supporter Amala Posey-Monk – smiling. 🙂 Tif Rodriguez and her big grey boy, Whisper, and Keith Bean and his little bay boy, Skipper, attended the event to allow visitors to greet mustangs and ask questions about everything from mustang hoof health to adoption! We had a special visitor from the Land of Enchantment: Barb Kiipper, director of Jicarilla Mustang Heritage Alliance in New Mexico. She works with the U.S. Forest Service to gentle and train mustangs from the Jicarilla District of the Carson National Forest for adoption. Barb is at far left.

Awesome mustangs with awesome mustang folks. 🙂

It was a beautiful spring day with friends, mustangs and visitors. We particularly relish opportunities like this to talk about our mustangs and what great horses they are. Thanks to all who made this day possible! I’ll have some more pix tomorrow.

**********

P.S. Happy May Day birthday to my brother, Jeff! 🙂





Come meet the mustangs!

29 04 2022

Reminder: If you’re local and want to meet a Spring Creek Basin mustang, come to Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum – 27501 Highway 184 above Dolores – between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, April 30.

Big grey Whisper and little bay Skipper, along with their adopters, Tif Rodriguez and Keith Bean, will be very glad to meet you! Tif and Keith will talk about their adoption/mustang experiences and answer anything you want to know about potentially adopting your very own mustang. 🙂

In addition, Kat Wilder will read from her memoir, Desert Chrome, published last year. Books will be available for sale and signing.

We’ll be in the plaza outside the museum between the above hours – you won’t be able to miss the mustangs and their admirers!

From last year: Skipper, Keith Bean, Alice Billings, moi, Lyn Rowley, Amala Posey-Monk, Kat Wilder, Karen Keene Day, Tif Rodriguez & Whisper.




Mustangs at the Dolores Public Library

10 04 2022

The display of photos featuring Spring Creek Basin’s mustangs at the Dolores Public Library in Dolores, Colorado, looks fabulous! The big canvas-wrapped images are on loan from BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office (which is located just above the town of Dolores); they were part of last year’s special exhibit at Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. I’m so pleased that the library will display them through the month of April!

Special thanks to Emily Mason, director of adult programming for the library, who secured the loan of the photos and did such a wonderful job with hanging them and with designing the fliers to announce their exhibit at the library; Tracy Murphy with Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum, who facilitated the packaging and delivery; and Connie Clementson, manager of Tres Rios Field Office, who agreed to this special partnership!

**Update**

The 11×14-inch prints on the right are the images in the silent auction to benefit the library.