Rocky Mountain National Park experienced two of its most devastating wildfires congruently this summer. The Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome wildfire were the two largest wildfires to hit Rocky Mountain National Park in years. The last large fire was the Fern Creek Fire in 2012, followed by the Ouzel Fire in 1978.
Many places in Rocky Mountain National Park have gone hundreds of years without being touched by wildfire and combine that with drought, beetle kill and low humidity and common high wind speeds it was only a matter of time before additional parts of RMNP were affected by wildfires.
While the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak fires burned nearly 30,000 acres within the park, the actual impact of these fires wont be known for years. With the exception of part of a portion of the East Troublesome Fire burning through the Kawuneeche Valley and up the North Inlet and over into Spruce Canyon and the Fern Lake area, many of the more popular areas of Rocky Mountain Nation Park remained untouched.
Access to the burn areas is off limits at this time. The plan is for the NPS to get back into burn areas when the snow melts and clear downed timbers and rebuild the trail system where its been damaged so that visitors may return to these areas. The park service is optimistic that much of this can be done throughout this summer though it remains to be seen at this point when one will be able to safely visit areas where the Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome fires burned.
One small area that was just recently reopened to access is Upper Beaver Meadows. While much of the area just west of Beaver Meadows remains closed, one can now hike into Upper Beaver Meadows along the closed road or trails and wander through a very small portion of the burn area.
I headed back into the area early this week to not only get out on the trail for a bit, but to get a better glimpse of some of the damage as well as to try and find some subjects to photograph that would convey the damage and destruction of the wildfire but also to document what is an important part of the natural cycle that forests experience.
The sub alpine area of Upper Beaver Meadows consists of sub alpine stands of Ponderosa Pines, some spruce and aspen trees. Many who follow my blog know the striking red trunks of the Ponderosa Pine is one of my favorite subjects to photograph in the park. Wandering through burned out husks of beautiful Ponderosa’s was unnerving but it was also proved to be therapeutic as well. While the damage is striking, the trees and forest will return healthier than before for generations long after I’m gone.
the charred husks which looked like molten steel was enjoyable as well. I’ve spent time photographing in the Fern Creek burn area scar after the fires, and once you get past the destruction and loss, there are interesting patterns, shapes and colors to photograph that where not present prior to the fires.
Would I prefer that neither of the two fires that rolled over RMNP this summer hadn’t occurred?. Of course I would. The untold damages, damages to houses, personal property, wildlife and forest will most likely never be replaced. Documenting the damage and trying to find beauty in some of the natural destruction that took place is as much a part of the process of observing a place as is watching the transition from summer to fall. It’s not my most favorite subject to photograph currently in the park, but walking the burn zone gives photographers some new subjects to incorporate into their portfolios as well as something we hopefully don’t have to repeat for a long time.