Wallow fire area in autumn, day 2


I woke up this morning after not moving a muscle all night in a cozy room, warm, the temperature outside in the high 20s F. A thick layer of frost covered the vehicles parked outside. After a wonderful breakfast and re-connecting with the people that felt like our family last summer, I walked over to a stand of trees, pines interspersed with aspens, jade and gold. I shot some photographs, and then when I went closer and got to the shaded area, saw that there was still heavy frost. It was glittering in the sun as it slowly melted. I shot more photos. In the same meadow, I picked my way through small mounds of grass and dirt, found a salt lick left for the deer by some considerate person, then I got a couple more distance shots.

Soon Hal and I geared up and got on the dirt bikes. We didn’t have a set plan, except for shooting (with the camera) a few things that we really wanted to get. That would actually happen later in the day, though. It was going to be a beautiful, clear, cold, sunny day, but the light was too harsh to shoot mid-day.

First, we rode down forest service road 25. We were constantly on that road last summer, but this time there were golden Aspens to shoot along the way. We found a little side road that we hadn’t been down, and took it. It was a sweet, deep tree-lined road, and as we followed the road as it turned east, it was almost like a tunnel with colorful Aspens at the end.  The forest is very dark already, the shadows from the tall trees are long and slanted. The light is low in the shade, making it difficult to see while wearing dark sunglasses. This is how it is where there are four seasons, and soon there will be snow in this area.

We then rode back to Hwy. 191, and accessed another forest road that went to the KP Cienega campground. I have been wanting to explore this road since last summer because it is in an intense fire-devastated area, being up on a ridge. There was much logging and work being done there all the time we’d been there before, and to finally find it empty of workers was the perfect invitation for us.

The forest service road immediately plunged down away from Hwy. 191, and we descended into a series of switchbacks. We seemed to drop into darkness as well because there were pockets of lush, untouched foliage forming a dense canopy overhead. As the road flattened out, we found ourselves out from under the trees in a low sunny meadow glowing with burnished long grasses. Close to the campground, there was a little pond, smooth, cold and pure, which I am sure many elk use as a drinking pool. Then we found the campground, which was only a few small, but beautiful, sites to use for camping. There were no facilities except for a bathroom, but the setting was enough to make it desirable. However, no one was there, and we headed back out after we looped through it.

There were so many “tree shots” that I wanted to take, so I gave in and got out the little point and shoot Canon. Both Canon cameras were with me, but since I knew the light wasn’t optimal for photography and I wanted photos, I used the A1000IS. It’s a great little camera for a point and shoot, and I got several photos. I really wanted a photo of one poor tree that was absolutely charred. Little of it was left, and I wondered how it was still standing. As we were shooting, a forest service truck, which we’d passed earlier, came up from the campground behind us. We had a great conversation with the two forest service guys, asking them questions and getting information about the fire recovery. I also found out that where I’d suspected the Wallow fire started was exactly where it had. One of the men said that ground zero, where the fire started, wasn’t burned too badly, but right after that is when the wind, which was raging that day, took it and pushed it into the raging inferno it became. I remember that day well because I was fighting the wind riding my F650GS on FR300 up on the Mogollon Rim.

After the encounter with the forest service guys, Hal and I went back to the lodge for a while. We wanted to wait until later in the day when the sunlight was less intense, so we relaxed and had coffee on the porch for a while. Lots of motorcycles passed by, a huge group of H-D riders stopped, but they only used the bathrooms and then rode on.

Soon it was 4:30, and Hal and I went out on the little dirt bikes again to shoot the last series of photos. I wanted the crown of the hill near Blue Vista Viewpoint because the pines were all devastated, but there were golden Aspens interspersed with the burned trees. It wasn’t quite as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I got a few shots nonetheless. Then we went north to a hillside that I’ve been shooting off and on for a couple of months.

At first I couldn’t find it, and when I did, I realized why. It had changed a lot. Weather had caused many trees to fall and deteriorate, and the big uprooted tree, the one I was afraid would roll down the hill right over me the last time I was out there shooting, seemed to be gone! I am not sure how or why, but it just wasn’t there. It was the main thing I always looked for to let me know I was in the right spot. Once I found the area, though, I shot many photos. It might have even been the best shoot yet because there were so many amazing things to look at and shoot – bark peeling off, trees that had fallen, ash that had turned into a slimy river when it rained, parts of charred trees that were hollow, but were held up by a spindly piece that was the only thing left to a section.

For me it was a holy, barren place of ash and char, things that were once living and now were dead, a graveyard of charred tree skeletons that were left behind in a display of despair for all to view. Regeneration and cycle of life notwithstanding, I again felt as if I were on sacred ground. I walked lightly and with reverence through the ash, trying to disturb as little as possible.

The evening was darkening down, and it was moving toward deep blue dusk. My hands were getting cold and it was time to get back on the bikes and get back to the lodge. When we returned, we found that it was 47° F, and quickly getting colder.

My day has been too short, it was over in the blink of an eye. Tomorrow we return home already. Where did the time go? At least it seemed we hit the “color” window exactly right. We were so lucky, and I wish we could go back after the snow falls. It would be great to go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling (do they still call it that?) and shoot some trees, living and dead, in the snow.

Hmmmm. … I feel another trip idea taking shape …

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