No Shadows Here

Groundhog Day is upon us once again and at the crack of dawn my alarm clock inspired me to venture outside to see how we’ll do this winter.  Shadow or no shadow?

Before I get to my prediction, it’s important to note that as a western prognosticator I tend to fall in the “shadow” of the east coast forecasters.  As always, my nemesis is Punxsutawney Phil, and as it generally turns out, we don’t normally see eye to eye.  For one, I’m a bit taller than he is.

This morning USA Today headlined their front page with “Groundhog Day 2018: Punxsutawney Phil predicts 6 more weeks of winter”.  But if you dig into the article, you will notice a startling revelation:

The Pennsylvania groundhog isn’t the only weather-predicting rodent in this quirky American tradition, but he is the most famous. And according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, his opinion is the only one that matters.

 He’s not always right. But he’s always popular.

That’s right, you heard it from Joel Shannon in the USA Today.  Phil is a fraud.  Joel goes on to say, “even so, there’s some good news: Phil is usually wrong.”

A random guess, a flip of a coin, would only yield results that are 50% accurate, but Weather Underground’s meteorologist Tim Roche, in a Live Science article, indicates that over the last four decades Phil has been right only 36% of the time.  That’s right, you’ll get better results from flipping a coin than from listening to Phil.

So with that said, on February 2, 2018, the cross-quarter day Imbolc, I ventured out of my burrow to practice the age old marmot forecasting methods.  I stood in a clearing and waited for the sun to rise and even though it became light (and my toes got cold in the snow), clouds obscured the sun and there was no shadow.  I happily declare that we are on the verge of an early spring!

Groundhog Day 2018 - no shadows here!

Groundhog Day 2018 – no shadows here!

Groundhog Day 2017

It’s Groundhog Day again and once more it’s time to use the traditional methods to predict weather.  I ventured out into the cold this morning to get a feel for what the next six weeks will have in store for us.  Being in the Mountain Time zone my environmental queues come a couple of hours later than for my counterparts on the east coast.  Long before the sun comes up, I have the opportunity to see how other marmots are forecasting and when the sun comes up in Colorado, there’s already a major disagreement about how long winter will last.  All it tells me is that the marmot community is fragmented and not organized.  And that forecasts are at best regional.

Groundhog Day 2017

It sure looks like there’s no shadow this morning.

So how do things look for Colorado?  It was overcast and murky and sleeting and flurrying off and on.  Needles to say, no shadows.  Relying on folk traditions, I will lean towards an early spring.  And because this is a La Niña year, I have a little science to support this prediction.  La Niña tends to push the Jetstream north and creates heavier precipitation along the northern Pacific and Mountain states, leaving the southwest dryer and warmer.  It’s not good for agriculture or skiing or whitewater sports or forest fires, but that’s how things work.  And that’s two votes for an early spring in the west.

As is the norm, Punxsutawney Phil and I don’t often agree with our predictions.  This year Phil called for six more weeks of winter.  It looks like he’s put on a few extra pounds, so he’s probably good to continue hibernating.  I’m digging through my closet to get ready for spring activities.  Spring is coming!

Winter Storms

As I sit here in a snow drift, in the middle of a blizzard, I have to wonder why the only thing in the news is a bunch of old guys in Iowa.  The commentator did mention that they generate a lot of hot air, but I don’t believe this to be a weather related event.

Groundhog Day

Hazardous winter weather. Helmet required.

Punxsutawney Phil already clocked in his prediction as East Coast sunrise comes in earlier than the one in the Rockies and watching his live feed, I noticed the distinct lack of snow on the ground in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  In stark contrast, Colorado is a solid 24 hours into a blizzard and that will continue for a good chunk of today.

Needless to say, as I stood in the blowing snow, I saw no shadow to indicate a delayed winter.  Six weeks until spring sounds reasonable to me.  Of course don’t forget that this is a strong El Niño year, so even if we have an early warm spring, it will be a wet and stormy one.

One final note to Punxsutawney Phil’s spokesman, please do not ask spectators to take their jackets off in 22 degree weather.  They will all get pneumonia and that just won’t play good on the national news.

Here’s to an early spring – the spring equinox – just like every other year.  Happy winter, everyone.  I’m heading back to my burrow.

Groundhog Day 2015

Each February 2 I embark on my annual tradition of getting up early and taking a peek out. I try to get that peek while it’s still dark out. It’s got nothing to do with avoiding my shadow. It’s all about psyching myself up for what lies outside. It’s winter out there!

To date I prognosticated seven times and four of the seven times saw fresh snow on the ground. Now I know that my business is winter and I’m looking to make a weather prediction, but consider this – a good prognosticator needs to take some measurements, try a few different spots to see if all the numbers match up. And it’s not getting any warmer out all this time, mind you. And then at the end of the hard scientific measurements you still need to get the traditional shot where you either see your shadow or you don’t. So you’re still standing with your naked toes in cold snow, waiting for the photographer to get the right light and the right angle and the right mood. And all this time your toes are sinking deeper and deeper into the snow and getting colder and colder. And then you see the flash and hear, “Let’s take a couple more to make sure we got it!”

And we do this in the winter, not in blazing hot August. Ever. There’s a lot of psyching up required to get the job done. And a lot of hot herbal teas.

Of course this 2015 is once again a snowy Groundhog Day. That makes three years snow-free and five years with fresh snow on the ground. One would guess the trend predicts how the season will go. In fact, Punxsutawney Phil already went on record with six more weeks of winter. His sunrise is two hours ahead of mine, so he hogs a lot attention by being first to the podium.

Dunkirk Dave and Staten Island Chuck have made their calls already, too. These New York groundhogs are calling for an early spring.

2015 Winter Prediction

While the snow may be deep, Stormy feels that spring is near.

Now that the sun is coming up in the Rockies, it’s my turn to make a call on the weather. The toes are pretty cold standing in yesterday’s snow and the infinitely long field of white snow sure makes it look like winter will never end, especially since we got 9” of the stuff yesterday, but looking up, I see a low cloud base and while it’s light out, the sun is most definitely behind clouds. No shadow today.

I’m going on record, siding with Dave and Chuck. I’m looking for an early spring and warmer weather to come. And believe you me, that’s hard to say when there’s ice stuck between your toes, but I am a marmot. I know this stuff.

History of the Aurora Fox Theater

I can’t talk about all the things happening at the Aurora Fox Theater without talking about the rich history of the theater itself.

The Aurora Fox Theater opened on October 30, 1946 with a showing of “Claudia and David”, staring Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young. The Fox Theater, as it was then called, was owned by Fox Intermountain Theaters and was an unusual theater at the time. It had a stepped stadium seating area in the rear, which is something that we now take for granted in theaters. The building was a modified quonset hut used by the Lowry Army Air Corps Base during World War II. (The U.S. Air Force separated from the U.S. Army on September 18, 1947.) During these years the theater had a seating capacity of 650 persons.

Fox Theater Fire

Fox Theater Fire, 1983

The Fox was a landmark theater along Colfax in east Aurora for almost four decades, but in 1983 the movie theater experienced a fire. The fire itself did little damage, but damage from smoke and water were significant and the theater had to close. It had to be fully remodeled before it could reopen and was redesigned as a stage theater rather than a movie theater. The new design incorporated the 245 seat Aurora Fox Theater, a smaller black box Aurora Fox Studio Theater and the Aurora Fox Children’s Theater. Together the three theaters are collectively referred to as the Aurora Fox Arts Center and are owned and operated by the City of Aurora Cultural Services Division. The complex reopened in 1985, complete with attached rehearsal and scenery shop facilities. Its first stage show was the western melodrama “Bad Day at Gopher’s Breath”.

The Aurora Fox Arts Center is home to the Aurora Fox Theater Company which presents eight plays every year. The Fox also hosts visiting theater companies, sponsors educational programs and is available to be rented out for private events.

The Aurora Fox Theater is a cultural destination for the shows it puts on, the distinct architecture of the building and the historical district in which it is located, the original Town of Fletcher, where Aurora was born.

Stormy at the Aurora Fox Theater

Stormy at the Aurora Fox Theater, by Patricia Wells

Aurora Fox Theater by night

Aurora Fox Theater by night

Spamalot

I’ll be honest. I never liked Monty Python. I always viewed their humor as drug-induced slapstick entertainment and never being a big fan of slapstick or self-deprecating comedy, I’ve simply avoided it. I realize that the comedy community holds Monty Python in high regard, arguing that they did for humor what The Beatles did for music. But it just wasn’t there for me.

When asked by the City of Aurora and the Aurora Fox Theater to help with the promotion of the play, I was somewhat leery. It wasn’t my thing and I acknowledged it, but being asked to help was quite an honor and so I agreed to help with the Quest for the Holy Grail geocaching contest. I do love geocaching, after all!

The first step in the process was to watch the 1975 cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While it had a few funny moments, it was full of humor that I did not relate to in any way. Many scenes were drawn out to the point of being painful. Transitions lacked consistency and the movie’s progression often appeared as a series of random clips. It was a variety show with some common elements. The movie’s conclusion was abrupt, confusing and unfulfilling. Was the whole story about a drug induced hallucination? What happened? Needless to say, I was completely under whelmed.

Spamalot

Spamalot

Fast forward to April 18, when I attended the awarding of the grand prize in the Quest for the Holy Grail at the Aurora Fox presentation of Spamalot. I knew that the play was based on the movie and I honestly expected to see the movie on stage, so coming in I had set the bar very low and it turned out that the play was a pleasant surprise. It was based on the movie, but it was not the movie. There were parts that I simply did not understand, but the story was much tighter, the acting was much better. There was more music and more action and the ending was one that I could understand and relate to. Spamalot was a spoof of the Arthurian legend and it was very well done.

It should be noted that in 2005 the play won the Tony Award for best musical, best actress and best director and also the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical, lyrics and costume design. The play received the Theater World Award for acting and in 2006 it won the Grammy for best musical. That’s quite a pedigree!

I’m still not a fan of Monty Python. I have no plans of embracing their works, but at the same time, I’ve seen plays that rated far worse than Spamalot and while it’s not a classic must see in my mind, it was a show that I had a good time attending. I’d strongly recommend this show to anyone with an evening to kill in Aurora, especially if you do enjoy Monty Python and their particular brand of humor. For me this show was an evening well spent!

Spamalot is playing at the Aurora Fox through May 4.

The Grand Prize

Tonight was the big night! I visited the Aurora Fox Theater to see Spamalot and witness the awarding of the grand prize to the winner of the Quest for the Holy Grail! 

Meet the Winner!

Contest winner Nate and the cast of Spamalot.

Meet Nate. He’s 9. He never geocached before. He just started a month ago when the first Quest for the Holy Grail cache was placed. He completed the first three caches and on Thursday, April 10, he was sitting with his mother in their car at 5:30 AM, waiting for the last clue to be announced. What some people do to win a contest! 

Believe it or not, never having done this before, Nate crushed the competition! He solved the puzzle and got to be the guest of honor at tonight’s performance. He helped King Arthur and the knights find the Holy Grail, got a gift basket, a $500 award and a can of spam, all to a standing ovation from a packed house. Go get ’em, kid! And congratulations! It was well deserved!

 

Stormy at the Fox

Aurora Fox Marketing Director Patricia Wells takes a picture of Stormy in front of the theater.

Aurora Fox Theater

The Aurora Fox Theater by night. Great lighting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Winner

Stormy and Nate, on the Spamalot stage, posing for Patricia Wells, with Nate holding his $500 check.

 

Hand and Foot

A few weeks ago a friend taught me a new game. The name of the game was ‘Hand & Foot’, also sometimes referred to as ‘Hand & Butt’. The reason for the second name is due to the fact that people will usually sit on the second set of cards instead of placing them under the foot. The game can be played individually or as teams, if an even number of players are available. This game still took a few hours to play. This is not a game to play if you are in a hurry or want something quick. I’m not sure I’ve ever had an Uno game take this long. But, it was fun.

If you are familiar with Canasta, it is my understanding that this game is very similar. Since I had so much fun, I thought I’d write up the instructions for those who want to have the rules and those who have not learned the game yet.

Requirements: Two more decks of playing cards than players in the game. Decks include all cards from 2 to A and the Jokers.
Goal: Highest score at the end wins.

Four hands are played. Each player/team must have the minimum number of points in their hand before they can lay down (meld). If playing teams, only one team member has to acquire the points to meld and the other team member can play off their cards.

Points required for each meld to start:

  •         Round 1: 50 points
  •         Round 2: 90 points
  •         Round 3: 120 points
  •         Round 4: 150 points

Point values of cards:

  •         4-7 5 points
  •         8-K 10 points
  •         A, 2 20 points
  •         Joker 50 points
  •         Red 3 -300 points
  •         Black 3 -5 points

Other important point values:

  •         Red Book (Clean – no wild cards used) 500 points each
  •         Black Book (Dirty – 1 or 2 wild cards used) 300 points each

Play:

  • Each player draws two sets of ten cards. Keep cards in two separate piles and face down. One set of ten is called the hand, the other is called the foot/butt. Select one set of ten cards and pass it.
  •                 Round 1: Pass to the person on your right
  •                 Round 2: Pass to the person on your left
  •                 Round 3: Pass to your partner if you are doing teams, otherwise, this is your foot/butt
  •                 Round 4: This is your foot/butt
  • High card draw can be used to determine who goes first. Play then proceeds in a clockwise direction.
  • Player draws two cards from one of the excess piles. Player creates sets (three 4s or three 8s or five Js, etc) of cards in order to play. A minimum of three cards are required to make a set. 2s, 3s and Jokers can not be a set.
  • A full set is called a book. Seven cards are required to complete a book. There must be more cards of the value than wild cards at any one time and no more than two wild cards in a book. Only one book of a particular value may be open at one time for a player (or team). Once the book has been closed, then another one of that value can be created for that player/team.
  • The player’s turns lasts until he can no longer continue to put down cards. The player then discards one card. If player runs out of cards before discarding (remember, you can not discard a card that you can play), the player’s turn has not ended.
  • All cards in the hand must be played before the player can play the foot/butt. If during the course of the play the player runs out of cards in his hand, he can pick up the foot cards and continue play. If the player discards the last of his hand cards, then he will use the foot cards on his next turn.
  • In order to ‘go out’, the player/team must have at least one clean book and one dirty book, although more than one of each is allowed.
  • A discard is always required. However, a player cannot discard a card that he can play. Therefore, if a player plays his last card and cannot discard, then he is not out. Yet.
  • If the player has both necessary books, then the other players get one last round to play.
  • If the player/team does not have the necessary books, then play continues normally.
  • If a player discards his last card and he (team) has the necessary books, then play stops immediately and the scoring for the round begins.
  • 2s and Jokers are wild. They can not be used to make a set. Nor can they be discarded. 3s can not be used to make a set, but can be discarded.

Scoring:
Point values are as stated above. For cards not played from the hand and foot/butt, the point values are subtracted from your total:
Suggestions:

  1. Count red (clean) books and multiply by score  point value
  2. Count black (dirty) books and multiply by score  point value
  3. Add up points played. Usually group by 100 for ease of counting (group Jokers, As and 2s, 8s through Ks, 4s through 7s and then count)  point value
  4. Subtract points in your (and your partner’s) hand and foot/butt that were not played. Again group by 100s for ease of counting (or 1000s if there is a number of red 3s)  -point value
  5. Total 1-4. This is your score for one round. The scores from all four rounds are totaled at the end for a final score.
  6. Player or team with the highest score wins.

All About Marmots

The yellow-bellied marmot is the largest member of the ground squirrel family.  They are common in the western North America, primarily in mountainous areas.  Marmots engage in a daily cycle of foraging, sunning, grooming and sleeping.

Yellow-bellied marmots live in mountainous or rocky areas in the steppes, alpine meadows and forests at elevations from 6,500 to 13,500 feet.  They prefer to construct their burrows with multiple entrances in well-drained soil near rock piles or rock walls to keep out predators.  When not foraging, marmots spend their time in or near their burrows, often stretching out on their protective rock outcroppings to enjoy the sun.  Yellow-bellied marmots are primarily diurnal terrestrial animals with heavy set bodies and brown fur with yellow coloration on neck, hips and belly.  They have beaver-like features with a light stripe across bridge of nose and squirrel-like bushy tails.  They have a thumb stump with a nail.

Marmots grow to the size of household cats with a body length of two feet and a tail as long as 10 inches.  Males can weigh in at 12 pounds with females being somewhat lighter than that.  Marmot lifespan is 5 to 10 years in the wild and 10 to 15 years in captivity.  Yellow-bellied marmots live in colonies with males maintaining harems of several females.  Other members of the harem will include yearlings and newborn.  A colony may contain a number of harems.

Marmots love flowering stalks, but their staple diet consists of plants and grasses.  They will also eat fruit, grains, clovers, alfalfa, legumes and insects.  Marmots can become skilled at begging food from people, who they often recognize as a food source, and fatten up on bread products such as cookies and crackers.  Marmots hibernate through winter months.  They tend to grow fat in late summer and early fall before starting hibernation.  Their thick fur makes them look even larger than they are.  Hibernation dens can be as deep as five yards under ground where the marmot will stay during the winter.  They may lose as much as half their weight during hibernation.

Marmots will mate soon after emerging from hibernation. Females only have one litter per year, averaging 3 to 8 young of which half are expected to survive their first year.  The young are born in grass-lined nests in May or June.  The gestation period for a marmot is about four weeks and the young are weaned for an additional four weeks.  Marmot females in a harem are amicable toward each other and tend to raise their offspring jointly.  The young will stay with the mother for the duration of the summer and may hibernate with her.  Sexual maturity in marmots is reached after two years.

Predators of the yellow-bellied marmot include wolves, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, mountain lions, bears, eagles, hawks, owls, weasels and martens.  Marmots use a system of alarm calls to alert colony members to the presence of a predator.  Marmots will chuck, whistle and trill when alarmed by predators.


MARMOT TYPES

Old World Marmots: Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) Black-capped marmot (Marmota camtschatica) Bobac marmot (Marmota bobac) Golden marmot (Marmota aurea) Gray marmot (Marmota baibacina) Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana) Long-tailed marmot (Marmota caudata) Menzbier’s marmot (Marmota menzbieri) Mongolian marmot (Marmota sibirica)

New World Marmots: Alaska marmot (Marmota broweri) Hoary marmot (Marmota caligata) Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) Woodchuck (Marmota monax)


If you were a marmot, you’d have a squirrel sitting to your right and a prairie dog sitting to your left.  We are not beavers.
-Stormy
 

 

A rock shelter makes a great home for a marmot.

A rock shelter makes a great home for a marmot.

When content, marmots will lay out in the sun, catching some rays and watching the world go by.

When content, marmots will lay out in the sun, catching some rays and watching the world go by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marmots use steep sheltered areas as a means of protection from both the weather and predators.

Marmots use steep sheltered areas as a means of protection from both the weather and predators.

You can't beat the view from where marmots live.

You can’t beat the view from where marmots live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is a popular summer resort town in north central Colorado, located in the southern end of Larimer County, at an elevation of 7,522 feet above sea level.  The population of 5,400 people (2000 census) hosts in excess of four million tourists every year as visitors flood in to explore the natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains.

Estes Park is named after Joel Estes, a prospector who settled in what he called the Estes Valley in 1859.  Estes Park is the home of The Stanley Hotel which was built in the early 1900s by Freelan and Francis Stanley, founders of the Stanley Steamer Company.  This hotel was Stephen King’s inspiration for the fictional Overlook Hotel in The Shining and also appeared in Dumb and Dumber as Hotel Danbury.

Estes Park sits on the eastern boarder of the Rocky Mountain National Park and is connected to Grand Lake, on the park’s western boarder by the 50 mile long Trail Ridge Road, a part of U.S. Highway 34.  Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuously paved highway in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet just east of Milner Pass, where it crosses the Continental Divide.  The highest mountain in the 415 square mile Rocky Mountain National Park is Long’s Peak, reaching an elevation of 14,259 feet.