The forest will recover, but it will take years.
Reflections on what we have lost
The fields around Bob Wright Canyon are dotted with green and black. The black being the burned stubs of sage and rabbit brush, while the green, already appearing in small whiffs above the ground below the black edifices created by the Seeley Fire earlier this month. The grass is already coming up.
Nutrient rich soil provides growth while monsoon rains provide some moisture.
But the long term progress of this part of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, and the Bureau of Land Management land below that in some places is burned to a crisp, is a different story. It will take a long time for this area to rejuvenate to its original color and stature, which for many in the area will be beyond their lifetime.
Much has been said about the devastation in Huntington Canyon where the fire began, and it is undoubtedly horrible. But these small canyons in west central Carbon County that can be accessed through Consumers Road or by Pinnacle Peak, are just as big a loss for many Carbonites. Many grew up hunting, camping and recreating there. A place close to home with few people, because no one wanted to see such places as Bob Wright, Second Water, First Water, Los Angeles and Mud Water Canyons, largely because they didn't know about the beauty that rested there, uncluttered by trailers and campers even during the highest point of the recreation season.
Not all are devastated, and not all the destruction from the fire touched every spot. But there is enough to make the place feel eerie, touched by a giant dragon that breathed on the place and then moved on.
From a lush point of view Bob Wright was probably the most green and alpine. It had a good stream of water almost all year and Benches Road leading up to the mouth of the canyon was a wonderland in the fall with colors galore.
Benches toward the east, is now full of burned out areas and many trees that look normal except all their leaves have turned brown, like they would in November. There were no warm fall days and cool nights bringing the shades of the leaves from a bright green to a yellow, then red and into the brown that exists now. This transformation happened in a few hours as hot fires nearby cooked the leaves and the trees themselves.
Bob Wright proper looks untouched toward the bottom of the canyon. The stream still runs through it, although now the water that caresses the banks is black instead of clear. This was one of the major streams that fed the flood of Gordon Creek a couple of weeks ago. It's hard to tell the damage to the lower area because a sign from the Forest Service posts an order of closure to everyone due to safety concerns. But high up from a ledge on Benches Road one can see the green only extends for a ways and then it looks yellow and as the slope increases black, with scarecrows of trees populating the upward thrust of the mountain.
As one rounds the corner on Benches Road headed toward Second Water Canyon, the devastation is much greater. Large stands of burnt out trees are like funeral pyres stacked by one another. Looking up the slope black sticks denote the mountain where large pines once stood.
Farther on the devastation hits and misses, but once into this world of black soot and ashes it is apparent it will a long time before anyone really can love a lot of this place again.
Fire is a natural occurrence, good for the forest. It had to happen sometime, and now it has. But these little canyons mean a lot to people around the area, and their loss, even their partial loss, is like losing an old fried to the grim reaper.
The people who fought the fire did a great job keeping it away from a lot of prime areas. It must have been tough with embers flying and the wind blowing. The fiery touches of those embers can be seen a long way from where the larger blaze lived. Some burned areas created by them occurred as far away as the edge of the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area. From observation it looks relatively untouched. Still the fire came so close to it and to being driven over the cliffs and desert that surround the populated areas of the county.
In places one can see where hand crews worked feverishly to control the blaze. Retardant and water dropped by aircraft is now long gone, but looking, one just knows that at some places viewed the fire crews and their machines took a stand and won. It was an epic battle between man and that which a bolt of lightening set off a couple of mountain passes away.
So Carbon County will move on, long on memories of the area, but a little short on what made it so special. Yet life will spring back, and the day will come when riding horses, hiking and just relaxing in those beautiful canyons will once again be the experience it was.