Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Backyard III - March 2015

 please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

Sunday March 22, 2015

There is a journey we want to take. It will be heartbreaking - hell, it already is. Last fall the massive King Fire started just north of our home. We saw the start from several miles away as we were returning home from a trip. In a couple of hours it was a terrifying beast shrouded with massive, boiling, columns of smoke, Its main path took it north crossing the South Fork of the American, Big Silver, and then, on the third day it rolled into the canyon of the Rubicon River. It exploded. Photos and video of the pyrocumulus clouds made the news around the country.

The Rubicon River was special. The only designated "wild & native" trout stream on the Eldorado National Forest, its rugged canyon held visitors at bay. It was a tough place. You had to want to go there. It was where I learned to fly fish. In the early days, it was the only place I went. I had some of the large trout named. Ward and June (yeah, from Leave It To Beaver) always hung out in a crystal clear pool up at Parsley Bar. I could never fool them, although I came close a couple of times. The upper reaches had  pockets of old growth, magnificent trees. The canyon's bedrock sections held huge plunge pools. Summer evenings the Lady and I would often run down one remote trail, drop 2400 vertical feet into the canyon, swim, and have dinner. We would climb out at dark. It is a place of memories, especially now that it is gone.

From what I've heard from folks who have been there - "It's toast" - it took the full fury. It is matchsticks and seared soil. It is gone.

California is in a fourth year of severe, extreme drought. Roads that are usually snow covered into June are open. Last Sunday we decided to take a drive, pay our respects, cry.

Looking north into the Rubicon River drainage.

I'm told there are 10,000 acre pieces of burned landscape that have not one living conifer remaining. 

We traveled down slope on Wentworth Springs Road to the intersection with Eleven Pines Road, the only road crossing the canyon. We found it closed to public access. We could go no further. Our journey will wait for another day.

Here is an old photo of the Rubicon Canyon.

Along the Wentworth Springs Road, the private timberland is being cleared of all burned trees that have any marketable value.

Many people are surprised there is so much private property inside the National Forest boundary. Take a look at an Eldorado National Forest map and also a map of the Tahoe National Forest. You will see a checkerboard pattern where every other square mile section of land is white - meaning private property. This land ownership dates back to the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860's where, as an incentive to build, the railroads were given every other section of public land out 10 miles on both sides of the corridor. This land, over the years, has changed ownership many times but most now is owned by private timber companies.

We headed east, back upcountry and drove into Wrights Lake. Yes, drove into Wrights Lake. In normal snow years the road does not open until mid June. Wrights Lake sits at 7000 feet on the western edge of Desolation Wilderness. We have spent so much time here it feels like home, a place so filled with memories much like the Rubicon Canyon. In early spring we have seen between 3 and 11 feet of snow here. Not today. We checked out the snow course.

No snow, zero snow for the upcoming end of March survey. The end of February survey also recorded no snow. Most surprising was the smell. Usually in the spring or early summer when the snow goes the ground has a rich moist, wet smell. Not this year. It smells dry. It smells like summer.

It is a shock to see open water. Ice usually does not start to open until late May and June.

Buffleheads are already moving through.

South Silver Creek is a beautiful meandering meadow stream where it enters Wrights Lake.

Although an absolutely beautiful place and many people were delighted to be able to drive in this early - the parking area had several cars, our thoughts went back to past trips in May and June (once in July) where an eight or ten mile ski in was required.

We are left with a deep sense that our world is changing around us, changing in dramatic ways...............

1 comment:

  1. Tragic loss. Even if this drought is just a blip and not a sign of things to come, the forests will never be the same during our lifetimes -- even in the unburned areas, the trees have been unable to fight off the bark beetles for lack of water.