103 degrees. That was the temperature difference between today and June 11, 2013 when the Black Forest fire started. Record heat and high winds fueled the fire for several days resulting in the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Here's a shot I captured the night of June 11:
For several months (and even now, in some areas) Black Forest was inaccessible to the public due to an ongoing investigation. I decided today, when the temperature was -5, to head to Black Forest Regional Park, a park I have hiked and photographed in since 2005 and the spot where, according to most reports, the fire started. Few trees were left unscathed by the flames and many of the trails I've hiked are still closed. I was curious, though, to see how Black Forest had changed in the last 8 months since the fire. Frigid temperatures and fresh deep snow beckoned me to this area again. Having lived in Texas, I am used to excessive heat and humidity. Experiencing similar heat at an elevation 6 times that of Austin is an experience I hope to never repeat. Combine the heat with gusty winds and smoke and you get memories etched in your mind for eternity. Today as I drove out to Black Forest, my car's thermostat read -4. By the time I got back to my car, it read -7. It's hard to fathom that 8 months ago the temperature was roughly 103 degrees WARMER. Many people lately have been saying how whacky the weather has been. Maybe there is some truth to that. Here's one final shot of the Black Forest Fire, taken some weeks after the fire had been contained:
Today was the first time I've ventured into Black Forest since taking the picture above. I vividly remember how the trees, especially the younger ones, had seemed to melt and curl up from the intense heat of the flames. Their fate seemed similar to the people of Pompeii. Even with snow covering everything, the devastation was still widespread. Hiking through this area for the first time since the fire, I realized how vulnerable we all are. As much as we try to protect ourselves, our demise can come at any time. Here's a shot from today as the sun began to set to the west.
Most of my hike was spent following deer tracks. Though I never saw any deer, their crisscrossing paths took me to vistas forever transformed by the fire. Despite the devastating destruction, I was reassured that life continues in spite of the greatest odds.
As the sun made its final descent behind the Front Range, I was bathed in tranquil evening light. Though it did little to warm me physically, my spirit was left hopeful. It will take many years, but Black Forest will be rejuvenated.