Archive for September, 2009

Our beautiful state flower

by Star Seastone, Visitor Services Assistant

Columbines come in many colors, but only the lovely lavender and white variety is Colorado’s designated state flower. Aquilegia caerulea is commonly known as the Colorado columbine or the Rocky Mountain columbine. The scientific name of this beautiful bloom was derived in 1753 by the famous biologist Linneaus, and the common name derives from the Latin word for dove.

In 1891, Colorado school children overwhelmingly voted the Rocky Mountain columbine their favorite flower over the second place cactus. In 1899, a women’s club in Cripple Creek went to work to have this favorite blossom adopted as Colorado’s flower.  Senate Bill 261 passed on April 4, 1899, making the designation official.

In 1925, the Colorado General Assembly approved a bill to protect our showy blossom. The law made it the responsibility of each Colorado resident to protect the state flower from needless destruction or waste. The bill established rules about picking and digging the flower and defined penalties for violations of the law.

It is unlawful for any person to pick columbines, gather them or tear them up by the roots when they are growing on any public land. It is also unlawful to pick or gather the flowers on private land without the previous consent of the landowner. Any person who violates any of these provisions may be convicted of a misdemeanor and may consequently be punished by a fine of not less than $5 or more than $50.

You can observe this ornate flower, which is a favorite of hummingbirds as well as school children, all summer long. It is found across the Rocky Mountains from the foothills to the alpine regions. It can grow up to 24″ tall and is commonly found in aspen groves, open forests, meadows, and on mountain slopes. Grow this popular flower in your garden, too. Observe, photograph, or grow them, and always remember to protect them.

Photo by Josef F. Stuefer

Photo by Josef F. Stuefer


Calling all photographers!

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

As we plan for the new Museum (which will break ground in 2010), we’re launching pilot projects to test with our visitors. Our first pilot project is a photography challenge, where we will be experimenting with image display, and how people interact with photos in the Museum.

We need your help!

For our first project, we’re looking for photos of urban wildlife from the northern Colorado area. We’re asking participants to add their photos to our Flickr group, which you can find at Read through the instructions on the group page, then start uploading!

The Museum will begin showing this photo project on Saturday, October 17th. Come check out the photos, add your own stories of urban wildlife in the “Field Notes” section, or exercise your artistic skills by drawing a picture of an urban wildlife encounter (raccoon tails hanging out of a garbage can, anyone?). This pilot project will be running through the end of the year, so participate early and participate often!

Tell her about it

by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections

The newly refurbished “My Community” exhibit at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center highlights what I love best about the local history reflected in the Museum’s collection: that it is both uniquely deep in time frame and broad in scope. The stone objects from our region’s Folsom culture, as well as those from the even earlier Clovis culture, reach back further than any other representations of our history available. Conversely, we add objects from contemporary events and people to this collection every day: local 2008 presidential election materials, objects from burgeoning local businesses, and more. Where else in town do you see over ten thousand years of our region’s history represented?

By saying our collection is broad I mean that the museum’s collection interprets a wide variety of themes. This is because we are simply our community’s museum and not its art museum or archaeological museum; we are not devoted to a particular era, or group, or individual. Anything that happens in our region, or exercises a strong influence on it, has a place in the Museum’s collection, and may end up interpreted in a Museum exhibit.

About eight years ago a desire to have the Museum’s main gallery better reflect this rich collection prompted the development of the original “My Community” exhibit. Museum staff designed this exhibit to bring forward, through artifacts from the collection, portions of our population which possessed a strong individual identity or local history but were under-represented in the rest of the gallery: the Germans from Russia population, the many Native American individuals and groups, and the Hispanic population. This exhibit was also designed to present stories about the development of our community that had not found a place elsewhere, under the designation “Town Builders.”

The resulting exhibit has been a popular addition to our main gallery since its completion. While fragile artifacts have been rotated out of this exhibit, most of the objects included in the original plan have remained on exhibit. This fall I have been involved in revamping the Museum’s “My Community” exhibit; this involved choosing new objects and stories to use to present the exhibit’s original themes.

The research I did while working on this exhibit clarified for me the essential job objects do in broadening and deepening our understanding of our community’s history. One artifact we’re adding to the exhibit is a third place ribbon Victor Bueno won in a 100 yard race at the Chicano Olympics, which were held, according to the printing on the ribbon, in Fort Collins’ Buckingham Park in the summer of 1976. Wanting to find some background information and maybe even some photos to include in the exhibit, I spent two days going through books, online sources, and newspapers — all without finding a single word about any Chicano Olympics. Surely the memory of this event exists beyond this small white ribbon and the printed certificate preserved along with it, but it sure isn’t easy to find. Another community member, Adolfo Gallegos, is represented in the exhibit with the equipment he used to repair shoes and ranching gear out of his Buckingham neighborhood home for over forty years. In my research I’ve been unable to find any other materials documenting this Fort Collins entrepreneur. I’ve been surprised, actually, how often I’ve discovered people or events through the collection that seem almost invisible otherwise.

This brings me to what is most exciting to me about the Museum’s “My Community” exhibit: its function as a conversation; an ongoing conversation our community can have with itself. Though I’ve exhausted my immediate sources, for example, without finding anything more than Victor Bueno’s winning ribbon to document the 1976 Chicano Olympics, there must be members of our community who were there and could share what they remember. If Bueno’s ribbon, or the Ute Bear Dance rasp, or the wool shawl can bring up a subject, my hope is that people will reply, will help complete the story the Museum only caught pieces of. The photo montages behind the objects can work the same way: that adorable little girl sitting on a porch edge with a friend, or a maybe a brother – is she your aunt, your grandma, your wife?

My hope is that you will tell us about her. Or maybe about your dad’s experiences wielding a sugar beet knife just like the one on exhibit, or how you like seeing the noodle maker but it’s not anything like what you used to make noodles for your wedding dinner. Did you have one of those early Water Piks? Have you ever ridden side saddle? Did you do it in an impeccably tailored suit?

I invite you to come to the Museum and see the newly refurbished “My Community” exhibit. And when you do, please, please don’t let it ramble on all by itself. Talk back and help us keep our community conversation lively.

Framed projectile points from the Roy G. Coffin collection

Framed projectile points from the Roy G. Coffin collection

Victor Bueno's Chicano Olympics ribbon

Victor Bueno's Chicano Olympics ribbon

Ute Bear Dance rasp

Ute Bear Dance rasp

1962 model Water Pik

1962 model Water Pik

Sugar beet knife

Sugar beet knife

Side saddle

Side saddle

Science at home: What killed the bees?

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

I’ve been contemplating dead bees. One day last week, I noticed many dead bees: one group was on the sidewalk to the north of the Museum, the other group was on the driveway at my parents’ house in Windsor. In each place, the number of dead bees was between 5 and 7. Is it possible that there is always that many dead bees lying around and I just haven’t ever noticed? Somehow I doubt it. So I got a bee in my bonnet (pun intended, sorry – couldn’t resist) to find out why these two groups died because it seemed too much to be coincidence.

First, I mentioned the dead bees to Katie, who is our resident entomologist, for all intents and purposes. She told me that bees will clean out their hives every now and then, pushing the bodies of dead bees out of the hive. Did two hives have a “fall cleaning”? I considered that, but if hive cleaning was the origin of these two different groups of dead bees (which would be a heck of a coincidence), I’d expect to see the bodies in one location, closer together, under or near a hive, right? Instead, these dead bees were lying over distances of about 10 feet, seemingly too scattered to be tossed from a hive, not to mention, I couldn’t spot a hive near either one of these locations.

Next on my idea list: are these dead bees related to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)? First, my disclaimer: I’ve read a little bit on CCD, but I have no depth of knowledge about it. I do know that adult worker bees disappear from a colony suffering CCD (the cause of which is currently being investigated, but no definitive answer has been identified yet). Since those adult worker bees aren’t dying at the hive, they are dying elsewhere. Could two groups of adult bees, perhaps abandoning their hives as part of CCD, and separated by about 10 miles, each die with the individuals within five to ten feet of one another, all within a day? Again, it’s a coincidence I find hard to accept.

So then I thought about wildfire smoke. On Tuesday, September 1, the same day I saw the dead bees, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a smoke advisory for north-central Colorado, recommending that people limit their outdoor activity. Smoke from the large wildfires in southern California as well as numerous smaller ones in other locations, including here in Colorado, blanketed our community that day, making the sky very hazy and reducing the quality of our air to “moderate.” I wondered, could wildfire smoke kill bees? I thought it unlikely, but I logged onto the Internet to find out.

Online, I found numerous sites about beekeepers’ use of smokers on hives. Smoke prevents bees in a hive from recognizing the alarm pheromones released by guard bees when the hive is opened by a beekeeper. Smoke also causes a feeding response: where there is smoke, there is fire, so bees feed in case they must abandon their hive due to approaching wildfire. Along with this information, however, I learned that smoke, in fact, does not kill bees.

In a fun side note, I found an online newsletter from the Puget Sound Bee Association with an article written by a beekeeper describing the day a wildfire approached his hives, which were behind a blockade set up by the fire department (Smoke and Honey, by Jason Nelson, on page 3). A firefighter let him access his hives with the promise not to use a smoker – he could light no fire of any kind. The beekeeper reported that this wasn’t a problem: there was enough ambient smoke in the air that his bees were calm. And he didn’t mention any dead bees.

So I’m left still wondering, what killed all of those bees, in two places, in one day? If you have an idea, please share!

From the Archive: More Cheeseburgers!

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive

I’m sure all of you went out and grabbed a burger and fries for National Cheeseburger Day that took place on Friday, September 18. If not, be sure to write it in your calendar for next year! To get you in the mood for a burger bash, check out some of the restaurants that used to tempt the fast-food palates of Fort Collins citizens in the past.


“We grind our own beef” at Morrie’s In & Out Drive-In Beefburgers, located at 1611 South College, circa 1955.


The Original Hamburger Stand Restaurant, 616 South College in 1995. Thirty-five cents a burger= quite a deal!


Kentucky Fried Chicken, 1817 South College, 1968.


Eye-spy Challenge! Can you find the McDonald’s Restaurant in this 1968 view of 2501 South College?

Big Dinosaur Started in a Human-Sized Package

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

According to Science magazine, scientists have discovered what they believe to be an early side branch of the evolutionary group that gave rise to T. rex about 60 million years later (apparently those puny arms have been a family trait for quite some time…). Meet Raptorex kriegsteini!

200991711Image courtesy of Science Magazine

Visit Science for the full story.

It’s National Cheeseburger Day!

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator


Louis Ballast, born in 1910, has affected the lives of almost every man, woman, and child in this great nation of ours. Lou was the operator of the Humpty-Dumpty Barrel; a restaurant located in downtown Denver. As such, he was constantly looking for ways to improve his simple meals and attract more customers. In a moment of inspiration he put a slice of cheese on a hamburger. The cheese melted over the freshly grilled meat patty, filling every nook and cranny with delicious, dairy goodness.

And good it was; so good in fact that Louis Ballast applied for a patent on his invention, which he christened ‘The Cheeseburger’ in March 1935. Sure, other places have claimed to be the home of the cheeseburger, and perhaps others had combined cheese with their hamburgers earlier than Louis, but he had the foresight to seek the patent. As with so many things, the term cheeseburger has become somewhat generic, but it all started right here in colorful Colorado.

Sadly, the Humpty-Dumpty Barrel no longer exists, having burned to the ground many years ago. There is an historical marker located at its former site located at 2776 N. Speer Blvd, in Denver, Colorado.

Show some state pride by having a cheeseburger today!

It’s a series of tubes!

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

The Internet turns 40 this year. 1969, the same year that brought us the Apollo moon landing and Sesame Street, also saw two computers at the University of California, Los Angeles, connected for the first time. Leonard Kleinrock and his team of researchers had been charged with the task of developing the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET. The idea was to allow computers to communicate with each other from anywhere on the globe.

Of course, the first step was getting two computers to share information from across the room. On September 2, 1969, Kleinrock’s team, using a length of nondescript grey cable, successfully networked two computers. A short burst of nonsensical data was transmitted from one machine to the other. It was nothing more than a test; but it planted the seed for what would follow.

After a quick gestation, the first actual message was shared between two computers on October 29, 1969. One machine, located at UCLA, was set to exchange a single word with another computer at the Stanford Research Institute. Leonard Kleinrock was only able to type the first two letters of the word “login” before the system crashed; but it was a start. Kleinrock regards those two letters, an L and an O, as “the first breath of life the Internet ever took.”

What was really important about this second test was the use of the network’s packet switching data transfer method that allowed messages to be broken down into smaller packages, which could be reassembled at their destination. The idea of breaking information down into easily managed pieces is still in use today, enabling users to share larger and larger files in shorter amounts of time.

The system continued to grow. By 1970, computers could share information from one side of the United States to the other. The following year, Ray Tomlinson, an engineer at BBN Technologies, would send the first network e-mail, choosing the “@” symbol to connect the user’s name to the host computer for no other reason than he thought it was a neat idea. A global network was created with ARPANET establishing nodes in the United Kingdom and Norway by 1973.

The 70s also saw the advent of the Internet Protocol Suite, the series of rules that computers must use to communicate over the net. Throughout most of the decade, the service was used mainly by universities and the government as a means of exchanging information quickly from one location to another. However, the groundwork had been set for something much bigger. In 1979, private companies, like CompuServe and The Source, offered the first commercial online services to the average consumer. For an initial fee, plus hourly rates, citizens could read online news and financial updates. Perhaps more importantly, those same individuals could connect to each other – chatting with people connected to the same network.

This new feature became so popular, CompuServe soon launched their CB Simulator, the first online chat service in 1980. Named after the Citizen’s Band radio phenomena of the 1970’s, this development saw everyday people interacting and contributing to the online community. Michael A. Banks, author of On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders, states “Lives were changed immediately. People stayed online longer and later, fascinated with the ability to interact with several people at once. The online world and its denizens took on a new aura of reality, and the online experience grew far more entertaining and unpredictable.”

Unpredictable it was. In 1988, the first computer worm, or virus, was unleashed on the net by Robert T. Morris, a graduate student at Cornell. He claimed it was an experiment gone awry. Prosecutors saw things differently. Morris was fined $10,000, plus three years of probation and community service. He would later go on to success, joining a company that was eventually purchased by Yahoo, and becoming a professor of computer science at M.I.T.

Online services continued to grow. America Online was introduced in 1989, reaching over a million users, one third of the online community, within five years. 1990 saw the phrase “World Wide Web” coined by British scientist, Tim Berners-Lee. While many use the terms Internet and Web interchangeably, they are not the same. The Internet hosts the World Wide Web, which Berners-Lee created while working at the CERN research facility in Switzerland.

The 90s would see the Internet and World Wide Web grow in leaps and bounds. Mosaic, the first browser that featured text and pictures became available to consumers in 1994, the same year that Yahoo was founded. 1995 saw online retail operations revolutionized by Jeff Bezos’ Google, named after the mathematical term for a 1 followed by a 100 zeros, was incorporated by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two computer science engineers in 1998.

1999 saw Craig’s List, which started four years earlier in San Francisco, go global. Today, the service can be found in more than 700 cities and in 70 countries. That same year, web logs, or blogs, went mainstream with the advent of Blogger, a user-friendly platform. Blogs have since become an important communication tool used by individuals and institutions to share what’s on their minds. (Hello, there.)

The 21st century continues to move the online experience in new directions, connecting people in new and exciting ways. YouTube, My Space, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter have become a part of many people’s daily lives. Over a million articles have been posted to Wikipedia; and, thanks to the diligence of the online editing community many of them are now accurate.

All together, the Internet has more than one billion regular users – including you. Let us know how the Internet affects your day-to-day life.

Chile Fest this Saturday

Put a little spice in your life this Saturday with the Fort Collins Chile Fest ’09, sponsored by the Northside Aztlan Center staff, the Museo de las Tres Colonias, and the Poudre Landmark Foundation. A great way to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month! From 12-5 at the Museo. See the flyer for all the details.

The Museo is located at 425 10th Street in Fort Collins:

Science at home: Recent snake sightings

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The staff is planning a new exhibit area in the Museum related to northern Colorado wildlife, and so I’ve paid greater attention to the critters around me lately. The other evening as my daughter and I drove home, a red tail hawk flew low over our car, dangling a snake from its talons. Skillful hawk, unfortunate snake, I thought. I mentioned my hawk and snake story to a Museum board member the other day and he told me about an experience his wife had north of town: a portion of a snake, likely carried by a raptor flying overhead, dropped on the hood of her car. Yikes! Thankfully, she had the presence of mind not to freak out (which I would have done, just from the shock of the bang if not the body!) and lose control of the car.

I see many snakes lying on the shoulder of I-25 as I drive to and from work. There’s plenty of ideal snake habitat along there, doubtless full of rodent life. I guess it’s pretty warm on that interstate concrete, too, which is good for basking (assuming the snakes are alive and not road kill). Some of those snakes are pretty big – maybe bull snakes, given their size and coloration? No obvious long stripes running the length of their bodies, the snakes are either banded or plain, but it’s hard to identify them with confidence I as whiz past at 75 mph … guess I need to slow down and really look from now on!

I’m the rare person who’s actually very fond of snakes. I love how their cold blood keeps their bodies cool to the touch. Their large, rectangular belly scales, designed to help them slide gracefully across a variety of terrain, are impossibly smooth. I know this makes me sound crazy, but I’m sure herpetologists around the world would agree with me: there is nothing quite like the calming effect of a cool, smooth snake gently, slowly and carefully wrapping itself around your arms. I imagine the snake enjoys it, too. We must feel like heated tree branches to them.

At another museum I worked at previously, we maintained a large collection of living snakes for educational purposes. As part of the snakes’ conditioning for being touched by visitors, we regularly handled them. One trick we had for calming the snakes and getting them used to the staff members who would wrangle them during programs was to put them inside our shirts while we were working at our desks. They generally stayed very calm and still while there, I imagine just soaking in the warmth. I used to chuckle to myself while walking between our animal care lab and my desk because I passed visitors who had no idea what was literally up my sleeve! (That said, we do not put snakes in our clothes here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center.)

And don’t forget, on the second Saturday of each month, you can meet the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center’s resident snake, Slinky the ball python.

Beautiful Western rattlesnake spotted on the bike trail at Cathy Fromme Prairie, Fort Collins (photo courtesy of Carol Thomas)

Beautiful Western rattlesnake spotted on the bike trail at Cathy Fromme Prairie, Fort Collins (photo courtesy of Carol Thomas)

Western rattlesnake -- urban wildlife to enjoy from a distance!

Western rattlesnake -- urban wildlife to enjoy from a distance! (Photo courtesy of Carol Thomas)

September 2009

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other subscribers

Flickr Photos