Rocky Mountain National Park was hit with two large wildfires this summer. Both the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak wildfires burned large parts of RMNP. Most of the burn areas remain off limits but some small areas such as Upper Beaver Meadows allow limited access to the burn zones. I hiked into Upper Beaver Meadows earlier this week to explore some of the damage and look to capture some of the beauty that can be found even amongst the destruction. The charred husks of the Ponderosa Pine trees made for an interesting subject as the wildfire had turned the normally red trunks to metal husks full of detail. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
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.

Snow falls on a downed tree in the forest along the edge of the meadow in Upper Beaver Meadows. The contrast of charred wood and freshly fallen snow crystals made for a new subject to photograph. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
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.

Only a small portion of red bark remains on this Ponderosa Pine tree in the burn area in Upper Beaver Meadows. The rest of the tree appears frozen in steel. Even amongst all of the damage of the East Troublesome Fire along the meadows edge in Upper Beaver Meadows, concentrating on the small details and beuaty found in those details allowed for some interesting subjects to photograph. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
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.