On Saturday May 6th we set off eagerly on our traditional camping vacation to the Four Corners area, never guessing what fate had in store for us. The day before, a "controlled" burn set by Bandelier National Forest had gone out of control, but as we left Los Alamos not a hint of smoke could be seen, and so we felt no need for concern.
We found a pretty campsite in Canyon Rims Recreation Area and settled in. The dogs explored the area eagerly sniffing every rock and bush. We had no inkling that in just a few days our quiet life would be shattered. There was a bad storm on the Monday which we weathered ,Tuesday was a good day and then Wednesday dawned. We went off to the "Behind the Rocks " area. After a long day hiking and driving we started back to our camping area. The wind had picked up it was blowing extremely hard maybe 60 mile an hour gusts, and Terry had problems keeping the 4 Runner on the road. he made a facetious remark "hope our tent trailer hasn't blown over" and then we rounded the corner on the dirt road where we were camped and this sight met our eyes.
We stood stunned, not knowing what to feel or think, the dogs grew quiet as they realized our apprehension. The wind was still howling, the sand was blowing in our faces. We collected out thoughts and realized that our home away from home, which we had had for 10 years was maybe smashed beyond repair. Terry climbed up, undid the canvas and dropped into the trailer, cut the mesh around one of the windows and started handing out the most important of our possessions. Good sleeping bags, my CD player Emma's pills etc. We drove the 30 miles to Monticello in a daze, found a motel, ordered Pizza for dinner and sat down to watch TV only to learn to our horror that Los Alamos was burning. We found out that the fire had sprung up again after we had left on the Saturday but had not endangered the town until the Sunday night when the western and northern parts were evacuated. The situation seemed under control again but it was not to last. The winds that had totalled our trailer had also caused the fire to suddenly race towards town. We quickly called our son Jeremy in Santa Fe and found that he had our three cats and that the whole of Los Alamos had been evacuated. At that moment we realized that we may not have a home to go to, and all we would have was what we had in the car. The next day we drove to Santa Fe alternately shaking and crying wondering what we would find when we eventually returned home. We stayed a week with Jeremy and Missy in Santa Fe, 4 dogs,5 cats and 4 humans!!!!! We were among the lucky ones, our house was spared, unfortunately many of our friends weren't as lucky.
The following photographs are of Los Alamos burning. They are courtesy of Los Alamos Lab. We hope that you can get some sense of the disaster that befell this tiny town of 18,000 people. However people who live here are very strong and the move towards rebuilding and restoring the area has already started.
A month later planes and helicopters still buzz endlessly over head. The helicopters are dropping buckets of water on spot fires, and the planes are reseeding the mountains before the big rains come in July and August in an effort to prevent mudslides and floods. Thousand of residents worked in the mountains every weekend for four hours at a time, spreading straw and seed in an attempt to stop erosion when the rains came.The mountains which used to embrace Los Alamos with big green "arms" are now black and ugly, it breaks my heart to see the destruction of such a beautiful natural area. The grass will grow and the flowers will bloom, but the landscape will never be the same in my life time.
A week after we returned to Los Alamos another huge fire broke out across the valley in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, however nature was kind and I believe that around 22,000 acres were burned compared with the 48,000 acres here.
We went up to the ski hill today to see if there were signs of life coming back and we were not disappointed. Just four months since the fire raged through these forests, Aspens are already growing and some are as much as a foot high already, the Gambel Oak is also returning . Grasses and flowers stand out in stark contrast to the blackened truncks of the Ponderosa Pines.
Yesterday I drove up the ski hill road. It had snowed and from a distance the mountains looked strange, all white covered with the black slashes of burned trees. Close up this was the view.
The beautiful green forest of ponderosa pines is now stand after stand of blackened timber. As I turned onto the ski hill road a National Forest sign caught my eye. "A Green Forest is a Live Forest" How ironic, the forest is all but dead now, at least that's how it looks, except for the aspen saplings still clinging to their new green leaves.
When the spring comes I'll be back to see what Nature has in store for us.