November 30, 2012

Under the Volcano (5): Looking for Camera Trap Spring

Now home from our travels, M. and I hiked up yesterday to where a forest fire burned near our house a month ago.

The little bowl on BLM land that I call "Camera Trap Valley"
I call it "Camera Trap Valley" because it contains the little seasonal spring that attracts quite a variety of wildlife. But on the evening of October 23rd it was effectively "nuked."

On the way over the ridge, Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came trotting down the trail with something in his mouth. It looked like a bear cub's paw, stripped of flesh. "Was the bear a casualty of the fire?" we wondered. So we bribed him with a dog biscuit to surrender it.

Fisher on the fire line
My trail to the spring is based on a series of game trails, augmented by rock cairns to guide me through the brush and a little discreet pruning to make the going easier for upright bipeds. At one spot, the containment line dug by federal firefighters exactly followed "my" trail. That was useful, for a short distance.

At this point, the fire had been moving against the wind, which is why, I think, that it dropped down to the ground instead of crowning from tree to tree. Then it stopped (mostly) at the rim rock.

Unburned strip of forest floor
In the photo above, a strip of the forest floor was mysteriously spared as the fire passed over it. Fisher, barely visible at the top, has found another bone.

A small cairn.
I made little rock cairns to guide myself through the talus and  oak brush. They are no longer necessary.

Dropping down into the valley, I found that another of my markers, a deer pelvis bone hung on a tree branch — near where we found the mysterious teddy bear — was missing. Completely consumed, no doubt.

A completely burned-out pine stump.
We started seeing signs of the fire's power.

That thing that looks like a dinosaur track is actually a completely burned-out ponderosa pine stump. If you poured plaster of Paris into it, you would have a positive image of the root system. It is eerily like the plaster casts of victims at Pompeii.

Meanwhile, a single crow flew overhead, making the "soft bell-toned woh-woh, woh-woh" sound.

We answered, but what was it telling us?

Camera Trap Spring
All my landmarks gone, I found the spring (dry, of course) by the lay of the land. I will come back in April or early May to see if it is flowing.

In the burned forest nearby, Fisher found a more substantial bone to chew. A post-apocalyptic landscape is nothing to a dog.

Turkey track.

There were turkey tracks in the ash and soil. Can't you imagine the third turkey in the group saying, "Guys! There is nothing to eat here! Why are we here? Let's go back, guys."

We walked up through the bowl and returned home by a different route. I cannot think when I have been in an environment so sterilized. Maybe one bird, perhaps a chickadee, flew past us as we walked. Otherwise, M. , Fisher, and I seemed to be the only living beings above ground.

Such silence.


Camera Trap Codger said...

An interesting outing. A recce is always worth the effort after a natural disaster. When this rain lets up I'm going to hike down to the river and watch the logs roll by.

Darrell said...

I wouldn't usually worry about fire this time of year, but dang, it's tinder dry everywhere. The Swan River runs behind a sister's house in Summit County, she told me it's dry. Over 30 years there and they've never seen it dry before... December 1, and I'm still wearing shorts, too.

deb crippen said...

Pretty amazing. We've been wondering what it was like up there. Thanks for sharing this!