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Thoughts and Hallucinations

The Earlier Home Page Item about the Las Conchas Fire

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The pictures? Most people looking this page have probably heard of the Las Conchas fire, the monster this summer in the Jemez Mountains on the west side of the plateau that Santa Fe sits on. There was a lot of national press when it licked its fiery lips in the vicinity of Los Alamos. Radioactive stuff? Nah, it's perfectly safe, said the official Lab spokesman, that meaning in the logic of modern life that there was reason to believe we were all soon going to glow in the dark. That fire lit the Western sky at night like a long dancing line of bright orange spirits. Haven't seen anything like it since my brief but meteoric career fighting fires during my Greek island period in the 1980s.

So a couple of months ago, after the fire and then the floods that inevitably follow, we wondered about Bandolier National Monument, our traditional first backpack trip of the season, a spot we send visitors to, one of our favorites in the area. You can't go wrong, a WPA headquarters building, an ancient Pueblo village, a hike that drops you down to the Rio Grande, and our favorite, a hike back into the canyon between walls of compressed volcanic ash--tuff they call it--sculpted like a Gaudi building in Barcelona.

The fire did hit the canyon but spared the headquarters building at its mouth. An intern told us the wind came up and blew the fire through quickly so the canyon burned but wasn't reduced to an ash desert. The floods were another story. Frijoles Creek, the water that washes down into the canyon from its source a few miles above, stripped foliage, funneled torrents towards the Rio Grande and sent boulders taller than we are rolling along like marbles.

So we drove up to hike in "our" canyon once the park was re-opened, duly warned that we would have to scramble--trails washed out, debris everywhere, but it's pretty hard to get lost in a canyon. Many stories to tell about what we saw and how it felt to be there. The pictures give some idea.

The peculiar thing was, we went in to learn something new about nature in a destructive mood. One thing you learn living in a Southwestern desert is that nature has no respect for human utopian fantasies. So much for Bambi and birds singing while perched on the head of a smiling coyote. The "environment" could care less about your human needs, physical or psychological. Nature red in tooth and claw and all that. It's good to remember that the Spaniards were ready to split after the conquest but the priests made them stay because they'd already converted some Indians.

I've grown to like the take it or leave it spirit of nature around here. A fire and a flood were another strong slap in the face of human delusions of control. We wanted to take a closer look.

The pictures give an idea of what we found. Too much to write about on a web page, but unbelievable beauty, destruction and renewal, scrub oak sprouting at the base of shape-shifting trees and a kaibab squirrel checking out the possibilities, but mostly amazement at the power of fire, wind and geological shape.

What bothered us as we hiked back out to the WPA built headquarters and the parking area was, everyone we talked with acted like they were in mourning. Understandable of course. It was a beautiful canyon. But the problem we had with the humans' attitude? It still is. We're looking forward to watching it change when we hike back in again in the Spring.
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