One of the many perks of guiding river trips in Idaho in the summers is missing out on New Mexico’s fire season (generally around May when the snow melts till mid-July when the monsoon rains come). This year was a very good year to miss it. I drove up north in a cloud of nasty smoke from Arizona’s massive Wallow Fire, a cloud that accompanied me all the way to Grand Junction. And the many delights of the rivers helped take one’s mind off the heartbreak of the swift and massive burns that kept springing up in our dear southwest in June and July. We all know at this point that occasional burns are vital to the ecosystems, but it’s never a happy event, less of a makeover or refurbishment, more like an invasive medical procedure.
Happily, the monsoons came, if not at their very best. But we’ve been getting rain, and a short hike today for purposes of maintaining my general vigor gave me my first look at the aftermath of the Pacheco Fire, which afflicted about 10,000 acres of the Pecos Wilderness, on the west slopes of Santa Fe Baldy. It looks like it was indeed good and hot down in the Rio Nambe, formerly quite a lush drainage. But the burn scars beside live aspens under monsoon skies are not aesthetically unpleasing, and I believe the aspen groves in the area owe their existence to a big fire about a century ago. My experience in central Idaho, which burns quite often, tells me that it will be interesting to watch the development of the area over the years. Nonetheless, I’m quite glad that Baldy itself and the upper Nambe watershed were spared.