Return to the site of the Las Conchas fire

Return to the site of the Las Conchas fire

Yesterday Nancy drove our old Ford Ranger up into the Jemez, to revisit the
burnt up trees I had photographed one year after the 2011 Las Conchas fire destroyed 244 square miles in the Jemez mountains, a part of the Santa Fe National Forest. The trees I pictures and wrote about in Burn Zone, which is sold on this site.

I think one reason climate change is such a nightmare for the media to discuss is that science is central to its discussion. It takes a century for a pinon forest to return to what it was before a fire. The Jemez are mostly pine trees, not pinons and ceder, and within the pine forest are Ponderosa Pines which grow straight as an arrow, have diameters of over three feet and tower far up into the sky. They make beautiful burnt corpses. The smaller pines, are a lot less interesting, alive or dead, where they look like match sticks blown down by a hurricane.

Weeds grow seven years after a forest burns

Seven years after the disaster aspens have returned, and being October they have flamed out into their famous yellows and orange, banners of color scattered here and there in landscape of black and charred death. Green grass covers much of the ground. A person way down in a valley has rebuilt his cabin which must have been burnt down to the foundation. The lovely little cabin is surrounded on all sides, above and below by dead pine trees. In an irony of destruction the Jemez, struggling to come back to life, is very beautiful. Among the dead aspens weeds had arrived, orange and pink   in the October day.

What hadn’t returned were the pines, the trees that represent 90% of the forest. A few began to grow at the edge of the road. And along Highway 4, the heroic workers of the Forestry Department, have begun to plant them, each precious tree, protected from deer and elk, by a small plastic fence. I doubt .01% of the forest has been replanted.

Trip, the Australian Shepard star of Wanderer finds an Elk’s skull

As Nancy wrestled the old Ford Ranger down a road of rock ledges, a man came walking up the road towards us. A Native American, he stopped by the open truck window to talk. The man was from Santa Domingo, looking for elk. I asked if he knew Lila Bird, an old friend, who had received a PHD from the UNM in the seventies.
“She is my sister” he said.
“You mean your real sister, or your Auntie, or soul brother, or what?”
“No, she really is my sister. I am Ray Bird.” He said laughing.
“Tell Lila to come visit us.” I said. “A lot of aspens are coming back. But I don’t see any pines. “

“And those Aspens have to die before the pines return.”
“I don’t think the forest will return in our life time” I said.
“This forest won’t return in the lifetime of our grandchildren.” said Mr. Bird.

Nancy mentioned that the tail pipe of the truck was making a noise, probably from shaking loose on the rock ledges of the road. She drove the truck on towards Los Alamos, then took a by road towards Bandelier. That’s where the muffler fell off. We dragged it along the pavement for a hundred yards, then pulled over to wait for help. Just like our Planet, Mother Earth.

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