Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mountain Bluebird - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Mountain Bluebird" Colored Pencil

One of the first songbirds to return to our alpine meadows each spring, the mountain bluebird is a fleck of dazzling color in the drab March landscape. Watching from a tree stump at the edge of an open woodland, sharp black eyes scour the short grasses for insects and spiders. This sit-and-wait technique is called drop-hunting. Once it pinpoints a meal, the bluebird drops to the ground and captures its prey with its bill. Unlike eastern and western bluebirds that require a perch, mountain bluebirds have developed the ability to hover in mid-air while hunting for food. This allows them to live in areas with sparse trees or shrubs.

Bluebird populations have declined drastically during the last century for several reasons such as urban sprawl, removal of dead trees, vinyl and metal fencing, and the introduction of aggressive European starlings and house sparrows into the U.S. The biggest challenge facing bluebirds is finding a suitable nesting environment. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, which means they are unable to create their own cavities for residency. They prefer to move into abandoned woodpecker nests but the loss of habitat has created intense competition for these prime dwelling spaces.

Bluebirds are most vocal at dawn when the first morning light permeates our high elevation. Their prodigious singing is legendary. During the excitement of spring, some males have been clocked at 1,000 songs per hour. Their joyful calls are a big reason why bluebirds are considered symbols of happiness and optimism. Despite the ongoing struggle to find a safe place to raise their young, the future for mountain bluebirds appears bright but their success depends on our continued support.

Recently, mountain bluebirds have made an incredible comeback. Their numbers have increased mostly because of the generous efforts of landowners in the western states to provide the birds with nest boxes. The simple wooden structures that have become so popluar in parks and backyards. Mountain bluebirds may become attached to one of these artificial birdhouses, especially if they have successfully raised hatchlings. They might even return to the same box year after year. There really is no place like home.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Steve Canyon - A Forgotten American Hero

Steve Canyon is an American Hero

Born in New York, quarried in Indiana, and erected in Colorado, there is a forgotten monument to honor a chiseled war veteran who captured the imagination of our country 63 years ago. On the corner of Miner Street and Colorado Boulevard, one of the greatest action heroes of all-time stands guard over the sleepy mountain town of Idaho Springs. Steve Canyon was an unflappable adventurer with a kind heart who was the star character of a long running comic strip created, written and illustrated by Milton Caniff. The daily adventure series ran from January 13, 1947 until June 4, 1988. With its fast-paced story-lines and superb artwork, the strip was extremely popular.

Idaho Springs is nestled in a steep canyon along the banks of Clear Creek. Founded during the gold rush, the cheerful, little town used to celebrate its gold-mining history with an annual festival. When the Depression and World War II dampened the nation's mood, the event was discontinued. After the war, the Junior Chamber of Commerce searched for ways to reenergize the struggling community. They resolved to begin a new tradition that would be called "Gold Rush Days" to commemorate their glorious past.

The legend began when one of the city leaders came up with a bizarre promotional scheme to rename a local landmark after the dashing former Air Force Captain. On June 25, 1947 Squirrel Gulch was officially renamed Steve Canyon. New York based artist Milton Caniff, who had absolutely nothing to do with the idea, was flown in as the guest of honor for the fervent dedication. "It's terrific," the handsome, hefty, blue-eyed cartoonist said after savoring the enthusiastic welcome. "It's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me – and to Steve."

Often referred to as "The Rembrandt of the Comic Strip", Milton Caniff is described as a sincerely nice man who loved to draw. He was known for his incredible work ethic as he drew rain or shine, seven days a week for 54 years. Caniff earned a worldwide reputation for his adventure comic strip Terry and the Pirates. After a twelve year run Caniff quit in 1946, disgusted by the fact that the rights for the strip he had created, written and drawn were entirely owned by the Chicago Tribune newspaper syndicate. With sole creative control, Caniff promptly developed Steven Canyon and debuted his new strip to 168 newspapers less than a year later.

Originally a veteran running his own air transport business, Steve Canyon returned to the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and stayed in the military for the remainder of the strip's run. The cast included colorful characters like General Philerie, Reed Kimberley and a loyal wingman in eccentric millionaire adventurer Happy Easter. The initial romantic interest was provided by Copper Calhoon but Canyon eventually married Calhoon's private secretary, Summer Olson. Other intriguing characters such as Madame Lynx, exiled ruler Princess Snowflower, Pipper the Piper, Miss Mizzou and Charlie Vanilla were based on friends and celebrities of that time.

A world away in Idaho Springs, inspired by the overwhelming success of the renaming, the community somehow convinced the federal government to commission the Indiana Limestone Company to carve an eight-foot statue of the comic strip icon. It was shipped to Colorado by the U.S. Air Force Reserve and formally dedicated on July 8, 1950. Milton Caniff returned for the distinguished ceremony. A portion of the plaque is inscribed with these words, "The United States Treasury salutes Steve Canyon and through him, all American cartoon characters who serve the Nation..."

The mayor of Idaho Springs optimistically declared, "This statue of Steve Canyon is going to put Idaho Springs on the map of the world, believe me."

It was so important back then but today the significance of the Steve Canyon memorial has vanished. A few local old-timers may remember the heroic Steve but most residents and tourists probably have no idea who he was. Those who do know of him probably wonder what the hell a Steve Canyon monument is doing in Idaho Springs, Colorado. For me, the historic gold-mining town and the patriotic statue are a perfect match - symbols of the fleeting nature of life. Gutsy Idaho Springs and its faithful gray guardian are lucky to have grown old together.

The dashing Air Force Captain

An unflappable adventurer with a kind heart

Idaho Springs is a historic gold mining town

Squirrel Gulch is now called Steve Canyon

The daily adventure strip ran for 41 years

Milton Caniff with actress Carol Ohmart, the model for Copper Calhoun

Milton and family preparing to depart New York for Denver

Steve Canyon Day arrives on June 25, 1947


Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Dinosaur Highway Through Morrison, Colorado

Allosaur skull
Down near the entrance into Bear Creek Canyon a prominent landmark rises above historic Morrison, Colorado. Locals call it The Hogback but Paleontologists have named it Dinosaur Ridge because it's one of the most fossil rich locations on Earth. In 1877, some of the best known dinosaurs from the late Jurassic period were discovered there, including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus and Stegosaurus. Later, in 1937, when Alameda Parkway was being constructed to provide access to Red Rocks Park, workers found hundreds of preserved, dinosaur footprints on the east side of the mountain. Scientists believe migrating Iguanadon and carnivorous theropods made the impressions about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.

We were unable to examine the dig sites due to poor weather but we did unearth a wonderful, little place just south of downtown Morrison. The Morrison Natural History Museum is a tiny facility that houses some tremendous exhibits. Most of the artifacts are displayed out in the open and, remarkably, the staff encourages touching of the fossils and casts. It's very exciting for curious children to explore such an inviting, educational environment. Our son, Lukas, was allowed to handle a friendly bull snake and at the Paleontology Lab he was astonished to be given permission to put on goggles and assist in the preparation of real-life, dinosaur fossils.

Fossils from the Morrison Formation teach us that during the Jurassic, the environment here was so hot and dry that grasses and flowering plants did not exist. Conifers were the dominant flora along with ginko, cycads and tree ferns. It appears that a wide variety of the largest animals to ever walk the earth dominated the area. Long-necked sauropods like the Apatosaurus, Barosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus and Diplodocus gorged themselves on tree leaves. Mysteriously, these homogeneous giants somehow managed to co-exist within the same ecological niche. Experts believe the separate species must have implemented very different feeding strategies in order for them all to be so successful.

Fast-forward 50 million years and Morrison was an ocean beach that supported more familiar creatures like insects, frogs, salamanders, lizards, crayfish, turtles and even crocodiles. Towards the end of the Cretaceous, the seas retreated and the Rocky Mountains began to rise. Iconic dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus ruled the Colorado landscape, which was covered by broadleaf trees and palms. Their reign was short-lived, though, because the catastrophic K-T asteroid devastated the region, obliterating all the large animals and most of the plants. We're planning to return this summer to further investigate the outdoor excavations and learn more about our foothills' ancient history.

A tiny museum with tremendous exhibits

T-Rex was first discovered in Golden, Colorado

The Stegosaurus holotype resides in Morrison, Colorado

Iconic Triceratops was first discovered near Denver

Cretaceous Colorado

Stegosaurus is the Colorado state dinosaur

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

Reflections

I spent the month of April consumed by the A to Z Challenge. After thirty days of photo processing, researching, writing and commenting, I'm tired. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and I learned so much from the experience. I also met a lot of talented, creative people and have become truly inspired by several of the sites I discovered. I want to thank some of the participants who supported me the most:

Courtney Turner
Maui Jungalow A blog about rural and upcountry Maui, not the tourist bureau's version. Bugs, geckos, roads, gardening, housing and current issues.

Rinelle Grey
Otherworldly Romances Different worlds, different rules, different lives, but love remains the same. Author of sci-fi and fantasy romances.

John Wiswell
The Bathroom Monologues Something you don't see every day. Updated daily. Author of things inspiring, funny or disturbing. Sometimes all three.

Barbara Chicaderock
CHICADEROCK From a tiny village in Galicia, NW Spain. Hunts stories. Loves rocks, words and dew drops on cabbage leaves.

Jean Yates
Snap out of it Jean! There's beading to be done! Writer / Jewelry Designer / Private Jewelry Investigator.

Susan Scott
Garden of Eden Blog Author of 'In Praise of Lilith, Eve & the Serpent in the Garden of Eden & Other Stories'.

My theme was animal photography and one of the most difficult parts of the challenge was finding pictures that coincided with letters of the alphabet. Somehow, I managed to scrape together enough images to meet the criteria. They weren't necessarily my 26 favorite photos and some were definitely better than others but I chose what I had to in order to make the plan work.

I'm hoping to get back to the drawing board, literally, and resume our investigations of the Evergreen area. Attempting to post once a week should seem easier compared to that every day stuff. Below are some of my favorite images that didn't make the A to Z cut. Well, have to run. We're looking into reports of dinosaur tracks being discovered near the town of Morrison, Colorado.

Mule Deer

Red Fox

Rocky Mountain Goat

Hippopotamus

Elk

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

Great White Egret