On Memorial Day weekend of 2011, the Wallow wildfire broke out in the Bear Wallow Wilderness in eastern Arizona. It became the largest wildfire in recent Arizona history and was not contained until late June, 2011. It burned a total of 538,049 acres and was human-caused.
This summer it seems I have lived with the Wallow fire aftermath more than I ever have. I was even making fun of myself for shooting endless photos of dead, burned trees. I am, however, fascinated by the recovery of the area affected by the Wallow fire. I think it’s because the science of natural environmental recovery is amazing to me; think if I lived in the area of Mount St. Helens! I have actually been there, and continue to monitor it via the “volcano-cam” they have set up on Johnston Ridge. Here is the website, if you are interested:
Today I thought I would present some photos from my many trips to the Alpine/Hannagan Meadow area that show what is going on up there in the forest. If you recall, a year ago, in July, 2011, we rode from mile marker 252 to 231, which is roughly Alpine to Hannagan Meadow, and back. We went in on the first weekend Hwy. 191 was reopened to traffic after the fire. Here is what we found:
Dead, blackened trees, the ground covered in ash. I remember lying down in the ash to take a photograph and feeling that it was still warm. This is at around 9,000 feet, so it was not just due to the hot summer air.
A few months later, we found the grasses and lower vegetation returning. Not only returning, but thriving, as is evident by the healthy fluorescent green color:
I returned to the same place last June (2012), and found this:
This is approximately the same shot, taken a year earlier:
I hardly recognized it, I rode past it twice before I realized I was in the right place. Nevertheless, I shot many photographs, as this photo, taken by Hal Korff, shows:
This is a common sight; we found it on many of the forest roads on which we rode our dirt bikes on this last trip:
Logging, as well as clearing, is taking place very actively. On many of our rides, we had to stop and wait for the machines to move a little bit, or stop what they were doing so we could pass safely. I am glad to see that the large amounts of wood are not being wasted and will be used for different purposes. I have seen it in nearby lumber yards being cut up for boards, and also at a nearby log home builder’s yard. Many people in the area also have wood stoves as a source of heat, if not the only source of heat, for their homes. We saw many of them out in different areas with their pickup trucks, gathering some of the wood that has been cut down. This is great, it might as well benefit the people who live there, people who lived with the fear of the fire when it was going on.
This photo of a photo shows Hannagan Meadow Lodge as the fire raged behind it:
The quality isn’t as good as if I had take the photo myself, but the original photo is, to me, the scariest thing I have seen in a long time. We visited Hannagan Meadow Lodge when we were up there, and talked to the people there. The fire crews actually set up on the property, that was their base camp as they fought the fire, which was obviously very close. They built fire breaks and made sure the lodge and its surrounding property survived unscathed. HML is an icon, well known even in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Almost everyone, when I tell them I have been up in the Wallow fire area, wants to know if HML survived, and are relieved when I tell them it did. Here is what it looks like now:
And at twiight:
Hannagan Meadow is still an area of indescribable beauty, a magical, dreamlike place.
This area is directly behind the lodge, around a mile away, and shows how close the fire was, but it also shows how lush it looks this summer with all the wildflowers:
Another place many people wonder about is the Blue area. This is Blue Vista Viewpoint, looking to the west:
View toward the east:
Toward the west is the Bear Wallow Wilderness, ground zero of the Wallow fire. That is where the fire started due to a careless human action. Up on Blue Vista Viewpoint, you can see for miles and miles, it is a patchwork of burned dead trees with few areas of green. Keep in mind that the burned areas go all the way to Alpine to the north, and a little beyond, which is 22 miles away, and then east from there to Luna, New Mexico. If you ride Hwy. 191, it’s mile after mile after mile of devastation.
This is a typical view from any of the surrounding forest roads:
Every day, a new chapter of this wildfire and resultant recovery of the area is being written; the whole story is in the beginning stages right now. It will not be finished in my lifetime but I will continue to be fascinated by it and want to chronicle it as long as I am able.