Reflections on the High Park Fire, Part II: Green Trees Among the Ashes (A tour of Poudre Canyon)

July 1: Colo. Highway 14, Milepost 99 — The northwestern edge of the High Park Fire burn area, about three miles east of Pingree Park Road.  © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

The High Park Fire burned mostly south of Poudre Canyon, but about a fifth of the homes it burned were north of the canyon. Highway 14, the Poudre Canyon Highway, was closed for nearly three weeks until the fire was nearly fully contained. The highway opened on Saturday, June 30. Jacob and I took at weekend trip to Leadville, and decided to return via Kremmling, North Park and Poudre Canyon on July 1.

Many, many homes were lost in the High Park Fire, but firefighters did a damn good job protecting most of the structures in Poudre Canyon. Aside from that, most striking was the fire’s seeming randomness — its inability to incinerate everything in its path. Though many slopes are completely burned and utterly moonscaped, many slopes weren’t. There’s plenty of green amid the burn area, though the loss and the intensity with which the fire burned is, in many places, utterly devastating.

The images here might give the impression that the damage and the burn weren’t terribly widespread. They were. With the exception of the Glacier View area, Poudre Canyon roughly forms the northern reach of the fire. The bulk of the devastation is to the south.

Driving down-canyon from Cameron Pass, the first evidence of the High Park Fire can’t be seen until around Milepost 99 (Cam Pass is at about Milepost 65), about three miles east of Pingree Park Road (Milepost 96). From there, you’re in the fire zone almost all the way to U.S. 287 at Ted’s Place (Milepost 121).

Excuse my windshield photography here. Pulling over in Poudre Canyon isn’t always possible, and big flashing signs at either end of the canyon notify drivers that authorities really don’t want anyone stopping to take pictures. We did anyway, though. As it should be.

July 1: Looking up Poudre Canyon (to the west) at the Narrows. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

July 1: Looking down canyon at the Narrows. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

The High Park Fire’s burn across from the Narrows in Poudre Canyon. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Hwy. 14 in Poudre Canyon at the Narrows. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

The north side of Poudre Canyon at the Narrows. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Poudre Canyon a few miles west of Stove Prairie Road. Fire ran up (or down) the hills in long lines, but didn’t burn the entire hillside. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

The National Guard roadblock at Stove Prairie Road. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Scorched hills at Milepost 106. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Poudre Canyon, about a tenth of a mile east of the Highway 14 tunnel. The Poudre River is just to the left of the road. There’s not much water in it. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Mishawaka, unscathed. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Poudre Park, sandwiched between both the Hewlett Fire, which burned in May, and the High Park Fire. Many houses in the side gulches south of Poudre Park were lost, but those in center of the village escaped unburned, with the help of firefighters, of course. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

This is near Picnic Rock, approaching the canyon mouth just northwest of Fort Collins. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

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