Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
After it got to 110°F (43°C) yesterday afternoon at Willow Beach, and after a very warm night’s lack of rest in the tent, when we got up early this morning the temperature had fallen all the way back down to 95°F (35°C) … whoopee. I went down to the river and dunked my shirt and put it back on. Within about half an hour, it was dry again.
Before getting on the road, we took a tour of the National Fisheries Service fish hatchery at Willow Beach. Only about half of their ponds are full. The reason turns out to be the usual—government bureaucracy. They were hatching trout, but the trout need a constant supply of fresh river water, and the pipe broke … last year. They said it should be fixed any day now, but meanwhile the trout races sit empty.
We had a most interesting discussion with a charming young man named Geo who is the fish biologist there. He explained that they are raising a fish called the Razorback Sucker, which was once one of the main fishes in the lower Colorado River. Unlike the trout, they are raised in recirculated water, so the busted trout pipe hasn’t affected them.
The hatchery folks have an ingenious method for ridding the recirculated water of the ammonia from the fish feces. It’s a big bag filled with a whole lot of small plastic pieces about the size of corks. There are two kinds of bacteria that live on the plastic substrate. One bacteria converts the ammonia to a less harmful form, and the other converts it to a harmless form. That keeps the ammonia from ever harming the fish.
Geo had a most interesting point of view about the efforts to restore the Razorback Sucker. I asked if it was mostly threatened by imported fish, like say the introduced striped bass. He said no, the main problem was that the building of the Hoover Dam had totally changed the temperature, turbidity, and annual cycle of the lower Colorado River. As a result, he said he had little hope that the fish could be successfully maintained, unless there were a never-ending, continuous, labor-intensive and expensive annual re-introduction of hatchery fish.
He said that if we wanted to preserve the species without horrendous expense, we should dig a few miles of a side canal somewhere along the river. There, we could regulate the water flow, temperature, and turbidity to simulate the original conditions in which the fish originally evolved. Then the fish could live there happily as they had for millions of years. From his perspective, we weren’t re-introducing them into their former environment. Instead, we were trying to newly introduce them into an environment that they were never designed for, and from his perspective that was guaranteed to fail. Made sense to me.
From Willow Beach we rolled south to Kingman. After lunch at the Roadrunner Cafe, we visited a small museum across the street. The self-guided museum tour started with the “Hall of Presidents” containing paintings of all the Presidents, and I was surprised to find that they included all of the First Ladies as well.
As a machinist and a mechanic and an aficionado of early machinery, I liked the small steam engine which was built by some farmer around 1915. It’s on wheels but not powered wheels. The body of the steam engine is about waist-high except for the smokestack, and it put out 2.5 horsepower (1.8 kilowatts). The farmer used it around his farm to power the washing machine and small tools. Note the flyball governor at the top right. Note also that the governor is NOT called the “flyball feedback”. Why? Because as I get into endless trouble for saying, a governor is not simple feedback. It is a device that uses feedback to maintain a variable (in this case engine speed) within narrow bounds.
They also had one piece from a lost people, the Anasazi, who unlike the modern “climate refugee” wannabes might actually have been victims of climate change. They lived in the desert and apparently died out hundreds of years ago during a prolonged (as in decade after decade after decade) drought in the southwest. Stop climate change now and forever I say, pin that sucker down, weld it in place, and don’t let it ever change again.
After lunch, we got on the old Route 66. It’s a charming highway, two lane most of the way. At one time it was the main east-west road in the US, but it has since been superseded by the newer freeway.
In the museum there had been an old Burma-Shave sign, and the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I were talking about the demise of these signs, which were common in our childhood. Burma-Shave was a brand of shaving cream. The Burma-Shave signs were put up as a string of 4-6 signs spread out along the road one after the other, with the group making up a poem, and the final sign giving just the name. A couple I remember from my childhood were:
Means go slow.
The bull you hit
Is some cow’s beau.
… and …
Treat him right.
But if he’d shave,
And strangely, there were about five groups of obviously new Burma-Shave signs along Route 66, no doubt placed by some Route 66 Historical Society or other. A lovely reminder of long-gone times.
In any case, you can tell when you are in the southwest when your GPS looks like this for mile after mile.
In the afternoon we experienced the usual tropical treat of cooling thunderstorms. These are one of the emergent climate phenomena that, given the right conditions, materialize wherever and whenever the surface gets too hot. Thunderstorms reflect lots of sunlight, both from the sides and from the anvil, and they also remove prodigious amounts of heat from the surface by moving warm air far aloft.
In the afternoon we passed through the Hualapai Indian Reservation, which was most impressive. I’ve been on a lot of reservations in my travels, and for better or for worse, they reflect the life and strength of the tribe. This one had nice, well kept houses with tidy yards, a large cultural center, clean and obviously cared-for schools, and most unusually, a 30-bed Juvenile Detention center where they work both with their own kids and those of other tribes who have started down a wrong path. Their focus is not on punishment, but on the reintegration of the offender into the mores, values, and customs of the tribe.
It turns out that the Hualapai are a most uncommon group of Indians. When the melanin-deficient invaders first appeared in the southwest, the Hualapai both fought with them and worked with them. But then the gringos started taking away the Hualapai land, little by little … and the Hualapai took a most unusual course in response. In 1941, they decided to fight fire with fire.
They hired lawyers, brought suit against the offenders (including the Santa Fe railroad), and fought the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor in the first significant victory ever for Indian land rights in the US. It was a huge decision that applied to the Indian lands all over the US, and is still current law and cited today. So … big props to the Hualapai, both for their initial victory for all Indian lands, and for their current situation. Yes, I’m sure that they have all the modern ills of the reservation, drugs and alcohol and domestic violence and such, just like the rest of our society. But they are taking good care of the land that they fought so hard and so cleverly to retain, and they are obviously caring for their people as well. I can only say, Hualapai leaders and people, well done then and well done now.
Somewhere in the afternoon, I saw my favorite emergent climate phenomena. Like all the others, it arises where there is a hot spot and moves lots of heat away from the surface. But this one is kind of the forgotten stepchild of climate phenomena, the lowly dust devil.
As I mentioned above, emergent climate phenomena generally form where the surface temperature in hottest. In the picture above, behind the house there is a patch of bare ground. Since in that bare area the surface is not insulated by the grass and bushes, the ground gets hotter than the surroundings … and before you know it, there are not one but two dust devils (a small one is forming up between the power poles on the right) busy sucking the heat from the surface and moving it aloft.
I have no idea of the total amount of heat removed from the surface worldwide by dust devils. But given the number that I’ve seen, it must be large. And how much of this specifically targeted cooling effect is included in the global climate models?
Well … none. It’s far below grid-scale, and so it is just ignored by the modelers …
Not much else to say. We’re in Seligman Arizona now, just got back from walking a mile and a half to town, watching Thursday night football and storying with John, the barkeep at the Black Cat Bar, then walking back to the KOA where we’re spending the night. Tomorrow, it’s on to the Grand Canyon. After that, who knows?
My best to everyone, I wish you all a life replete with unexpected turns and curious incidents,