Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Uraling in the aftermath of the High Park Fire

Today, I met with fellow Uralista Tim on the NW outskirts of Fort Collins, CO; at the junction of US287 and CO14.  The idea was to look over the aftermath of the big forest fire which had occurred earlier in the summer, and which had made the national news along with the fires down by Colorado Springs.

Here's a sight that caught my eye as I was passing by Buckley Air Force Base a little after 7:00AM:

I was a bit late in arriving for the 9:00AM rendezvous, it's a bit of a ride from my home to the start of the Cache La Poudre Scenic Byway, which is Colorado Highway 14.  After exchanging pleasantries, we geared back up and we set off with me in the lead westbound on C014.

Tim's Patrol
photo courtesy of Tim L

The road follows the Cache La Poudre River, and high rocky canyon walls meet one's eyes as one twists and turns through what used to be thickly forested hillsides.  The burned out areas were already visible from the start of the ride and from time to time we could still smell smoke in the air; though the fires had been put out weeks ago.

The river formed the northern fire barrier to the High Park Fire, to the south, we would see burned patches of forest right next to still green patches of trees.  We figure those green patches were where the fire fighting aircraft had managed to drop fire suppressant slurry?

Tim and I spent a lot of time craning our necks, observing how close the fires must have reached towards the houses by the side of the highway, which surprisingly were seemingly unburned.  We figured that since the houses were by the road, fire trucks were able to protect them as the fires neared and finally retreated.

 Note the browned pine trees in the far hillside, I first thought it was
pine beetle damage but that's the look of trees where the undergrowth
burned apparently.

 Note the now bare hillsides, mud slides are now the danger 
once the weather gets wetter.

 photo courtesy of Tim L

There were spots were the browned trees came right down to 
the side of the highway.
photo courtesy of Tim L.

Pretty soon we came upon the tunnel through the mountainside that is a feature of this scenic byway:

We motored onwards from the above tunnel and shortly afterwards were turning South onto Stove Prairie Road and deeper into the area where the fires had burned out of control for several days.  Again though, houses along the road appeared untouched, though as you'll see, the fire came pretty close to them.

We passed by and then turned back towards a wooded driveway where we'd spotted a short fence line made up of snow skis!

 The Skis Fence

photo courtesy of Tim L

Just a little farther along on Stove Prairie Road, we came upon a large ranch with several buildings.  The evidence of how close the fires came to this ranch is quite plain:

Close Call

Tim and I both commented how wild it would have been to have been riding on this road, with huge forest fires burning on both sides of the road....

We rode further South on Stove Prairie Road which opens up to a valley with large ranches on both sides.  We came up to the turn for Rist Canyon at the top of a small hill where Tim had spotted a couple of Harley Davidson riders taking a break.

Turning East now, we began a slow descent through Rist Canyon, very pretty ride with some nicely twisty sections and some tight descending turns to get one's attention.  Among the burned trees areas, there's also heavy Pine Beetle infestation as well, kind of sad but perhaps it'll be in the long run a good thing to kill off the beetles.

We also happened to ride by some demo being put together by the local firefighting outfits, featuring two Huey Helicopters lifting what appeared to be cargo on pallets.  Watch closely when you spot the big white party tent on the left side of the road.

The news had made it seemed like both sides of the Prairie Stove Road valley had been in the middle of the fires, I didn't see much evidence of burning from the road side.  The majority of the damage seems to have been to the west of the valley we rode through, which is good for the folks who live in  this valley.

The High Park fire burns in the foothills over Rist Canyon in Roosevelt National Forest near Bellvue, Colo., on June 10, the day the fire made its largest run and 10 years to the day after the Hayman fire had its most destructive run.  Source. 

At the end of Rist Canyon Road, we came to the small town of Bellvue which was threatened but apparently was saved from the High Park fires.  We had us a cold caffeinated drink as the day had turned out to be quite warm.  

 The two main buildings at the junction of Rist Canyon Road and County Rd 23

Coffee break location.

Tim and I turned our rigs south on County Road 23, now heading towards Horsetooth Reservoir.  I was in the lead and spotted what appeared to be an open road over the dam which forms the reservoir.  I turned onto the road on top of the dam, Tim right behind me, and made a quick stop in the middle for pictures.  Luckily, no police were nearby as it is apparently frowned upon, in these post 9-11 days, to park one's vehicle on dams.

Looking towards the North on the dam road

Getting back on County Road 23, we made several stops to take pictures and enjoyed the great views of the water and surrounding hillsides as we cruised southwards towards Loveland.

 Views along Horsetooth Reservoir

photo courtesy of Tim L

The day turned warmer and warmer as we rode along.  Tim led the way once we cleared the Horsetooth Reservoir area and we took back roads, moving closer and closer to the foothills as we moved south towards Longmont where he lives.

We said our goodbys at the junction of 75th Street and CO66, Tim continuing South and me turned East towards the I-25 Super Slab.  CO66 took me to its junction with US85, along which I rode on frontage roads where I could until I got eventually to CO52 which I took towards Hudson and its junction with I-76.  Again taking frontage roads, I cruised south, in the heat, alongside I-76 till I reached 120th Street south of Brighton, CO. (I should have stayed on US85, oh well). 

120th got me eventually to Tower Road and from there it was familiar roads southbound to my home neighborhood.  Roughly 282 Kilometers covered today, in about 7 hrs of saddle time.  A nice sedate ride to close out the long weekend.  Thanks Tim for riding with me today!


BeemerGirl said...

I love the ski fence. I'm wondering if I could make that work out here, in Hotlanta. :)

The fire amazes me. I hope the benefit does come to the trees and renewing the ground...and getting rid of the beetle infestation. My mother almost bought a house in San Diego fire areas that had a sprinkler system built into the house, that could be turned on and sprinklers would wet the unsure and surrounding landscape to help keep some fires at bay. I'm happy that one barn and house survived. It is beautiful.

Bellevue survival too is nice.

redlegsrides said...

Beemergirl, the high park fire was quite the mess, we just rode around the periphery.....thanks for commenting