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The Jura Mountains

While Switzerland is famous for its Alps, which cover the southern half of the country, it also harbors a second mountain range, the Juras, which stretch along its northwestern border with France.  More than 200 miles in length, the Jura Mountain Range arcs from the Rhone Valley, at Geneva, to the Rhine Valley, at Basel.

The Jura Mountains have a core and outcrops of marine Jurassic limestone, deposited in the Paratethys Sea when dinosaurs roamed the planet; these sedimentary rocks were uplifted during the Pliocene Period of the Cenozoic Era (some 5-2 million years ago) as pressure from the ongoing Alps Orogeny rippled the landscape to their north.  While Jura means forested or mountains in regional native languages, it is also the basis for the word Jurassic, a name chosen by geologists for the middle period of the Mesozoic Era.  The Jura mountains are indeed forested except for alpine grasslands on the higher summits and sheer rock cliffs on some of the mountain flanks; the highest…

Golf and the Environment

Many of us like to play or watch golf due to the pristine landscapes in which the courses are set.  But this sport, more than any other, has a significant impact on our natural environment.

For instance, this week's PGA Tour Event is being held at the Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, Texas; named for the forest from which it was cut, not a single tree remains on the course.  Others have been established in the deserts of the Southwest, where sunshine and mild temperatures are almost guaranteed but rainfall is spotty at best; tremendous amounts of water, most of it pulled from the Colorado River, is used to irrigate those unnatural landscapes.  Even in the relatively wet climates of our planet, golf courses require regular mowing (just imagine the amount of fossil fuel burned each year) and massive doses of herbicides and pesticides to maintain those immaculate fairways and greens.

So, while watching those exciting matches on TV or when indulging in the sport yourself, don'…

Colorado & Switzerland

Since I will be visiting Switzerland in the near future, I have begun to study its geography and noticed some significant similarities to Colorado.  Of course, they are both mountainous regions (the Rockies in Colorado and the Alps and Jura Mountains in Switzerland) and that topography gives birth to major river systems.

Here in Colorado, the mountain corridor stretches north to south through the central part of the State and also curves westward in Southwestern Colorado.  East of the Continental Divide the terrain is drained by the North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande Rivers while the massive Colorado River Watershed drains the Western Slope.  The North and South Platte Rivers merge to become the Platte River in Nebraska (a major tributary of the Missouri), the Arkansas eventually enters the Lower Mississippi River and the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico.  The Colorado almost reaches the Sea of Cortez.

The Alps stretch across southern Switzerland while the …

MacGillivray's Warbler

On my stroll through South Platte Park this morning, I was fortunate to encounter a MacGillivray's warbler.  Not easily observed, this migrant favors riparian thickets on its way from Mexico and Central America to breeding grounds in the Western Mountains and Pacific Northwest.  Indeed, I found this morning's visitor in shrubs along the South Platte River and would have missed him altogether if I hadn't noticed movement of the foliage.

MacGillivray's warblers also nest in streamside thickets or dense understory, favoring new growth woodlands; here in Colorado, they are best found between elevations of 8500 and 10,000 feet during the summer months.  Like most warblers, they are insectivores, gleaning prey from the vegetation or directly from the ground.

Once considered to be a subspecies of the mourning warbler, which breeds in Canada and migrates through the central and eastern U.S., the birds are now classified as distinct species.  Regardless of his classification, …

The Guessing Game Begins

From mid May through most of the summer, thunderstorms often build above the Front Range peaks by late morning.  Steered by upper level winds, they move eastward across the urban corridor and then onto the High Plains where they may grow into monster supercells; June is the peak month for tornadic thunderstorms across the Plains of Eastern Colorado.

For those of us in Metro Denver and other Front Range cities, the path of these storms is fodder for a daily guessing game.  During years when the landscape is parched, we hope that one will move over our property, dropping heavy rain.  On the other hand, these storms often produce damaging hail and, if the seasonal moisture is up to par, we hope that they will angle to our north or south.

Today's storms began to build by mid morning and the largest of the group moved across downtown Denver (no word yet on any damage); here in Littleton, we received only a brief shower.  While second or even third rounds may occur, the first line of s…

Flashback Post V

We humans love and appreciate our mothers for a wide variety of reasons.  But there is one reason to express our gratitude that many are not aware of, a fact discussed on Mother's Day back in May, 2007.

See: Mom's Mitochondria

Invasion of Violet-Green Swallows

On this cool, cloudy morning along the Colorado Front Range, large flocks of violet-green swallows swirled above the South Platte, strafing the river and adjacent ponds for insects.  Just as many perched on nearby power lines, resting in the chilly drizzle.

Having wintered in Mexico or Central America, these aerialists usually arrive in late April or May, resting and feeding on the Piedmont before heading into the foothills and mountains.  There they will nest in tree cavities or rock crevices and feast on a variety of flying insects.  Throughout the summer, they are often observed in foothill canyons, feeding with white-throated swifts.

Damp, chilly conditions force swallows to congregate along and above rivers or lakes, where their prey hovers over the relatively warm water.  I encountered about 850 violet-green swallows along a 1.5 mile stretch of the river this morning, joined by much smaller numbers of cliff, barn, tree and rough-winged swallows which arrived earlier and have al…

Diplomacy Works, Even for Tyrants

President Trump and his Administration are basking in the release of three American prisoners by North Korea and in the prospect of an upcoming summit with the North Korean dictator.  While many of us who despise Trump applaud this shift toward diplomacy, we remain unconvinced that the President's war mongering and public ridicule of Kim Jong-un had anything to do with this breakthrough.  On the other hand, more intense sanctions, joined by China, clearly had an impact.

Both Trump and Kim Jong-un are power-hungry narcissists who feed on attention and punish those who refuse to proclaim their loyalty.  Fortunately, here in the U.S., the Legislative and Judicial Branches keep Trump in check; otherwise, we would quickly witness the rise of King Trump and the decimation of both human rights and freedom of the press.

On a more positive note, the current scenario reinforces the fact that diplomacy can work, even when dealing with a ruthless regime; though the results remain uncertain, …

A Nostalgic Sound

On my visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, the refuge seemed a bit subdued; while thunderstorms rumbled to its south, the floodplain preserve received but a few passing showers.  Beneath the low, gray overcast, the birds carried on with their morning routines but were relatively quiet, especially for early May.  A significant exception was the calling of northern bobwhites, apparently proclaiming their territorial rights.

During my pre-teen years, when I lived in the northeastern suburbs of Cincinnati, my friends and I spent much of our time exploring the nearby fields and woodlands (see Wonderland).  On those excursions, I became very familiar with the call of the bobwhite and we would occasionally flush those eastern quail as we tramped across abandoned farmlands.

Now, almost 60 years later, that sound is not nearly as common in the Central and Eastern U.S. since agriculture and suburban "development" have destroyed much of the quail habitat.  Nevertheles…

The Real Chaplain Scandal

The ongoing chaplain controversy in the U.S. House of Representatives seems to be the product of both political and religious objections to the Catholic priest who has recently held that position.  Some say his firing was in response to his criticism of the Republican Tax Cut while others report that evangelical Congress Members want a chaplain who is more accepting of their beliefs.

In my opinion, the real scandal lies with the appointment of a House Chaplain to begin with, funded by American taxpayers and plying his trade on Government property.  The same goes for those Prayer Breakfasts that our Presidents and Congress Members attend; I assume we also fund those mystical events.

Legislators certainly have the right to attend the church, synagogue or mosque of their choice and can seek the advice of shamans if they like; they can even arrange for their piety to be photographed in order to impress or appease their constituents.  But this mysticism should not occur on Government prop…