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Grand Lake, Colorado… After the Wildfire

Instead of telling you about local trails this week, I am going to tell you about our trip over the Continental Divide to badly damaged Grand Lake. I have been going to Grand Lake since I was a child. Alan first visited this beautiful location when he was 16 years old. The wildfire of late last year has really changed this area.

Together, we camped at Winding River Resort in August of 2018. We hadn’t yet purchased our home on the eastern slope. Here is a photo that I took in 2018. Notice all of the beetle-killed trees… it is the massive amount of dead trees that fueled this fire.

We had heard from our local friends that the burn scars near Grand Lake were very severe. We steeled ourselves for the worst and headed over the Divide.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much damage evident for most of the trip between Estes Park and Grand Lake. I still cannot fathom how live embers from the western slope were able to seed fires over the Divide. There are no trees on the tundra. There is little fuel of any kind. The distance that live embers had to travel defies the laws of physics.

However, the landscape changed dramatically when we reached the familiar trailheads we rode in 2018. The Green Mountain Trail was a frequent starting point. It is also where I emerged after riding over the Continental Divide in 2014. The main trails over the Continental Divide are currently closed.

I am really unable to describe the degree of devastation. The fire must have been unbelievably hot, as there is nothing left of the forest. We had a similar fire on my mountain twenty years ago. The fire scorched the earth so badly that the landscape never recovered. I fear the same thing will happen in Grand Lake. However, a recent news report stated that the Aspens will begin to regrow within the year. I hope they’re right!

Local news reports are full of stories about how the water supply is being heavily impacted by unobstructed runoff. There will be innumerable consequences for years because of this fire. Look at how little is left…

Alan and I stopped at Winding River Resort to inquire about how they were doing. As stated on their website, they are up and running. The owner said she’d have the manager call me, as I wanted to provide up-to-date information about what services they have as well as what isn’t available currently. I never heard from the manager. However, the owner provided me with a handout that shows what trails are open. She did state that the only trails available are ones that require a trailer ride. No trails are open directly from camp.

The night before this blog posted, a news story described how close we came to having Estes Park go up in flames. It was only because of years of controlled burns and luck that Mother Nature provided snow, that Estes Park was saved. I wanted to post a link to the news story but it wasn’t available yet. Instead, I came across this headline:

800 square miles currently burning in US wildfires

The National Interagency Fire Center said this is the second earliest it reached what it calls preparedness level 4 on the 1-5 scale since 1990.

There are 47 large wildfires that encompass that 800 square mile carnage. Fourteen of them are or were in Arizona. California has had seven. Here is a link that lists all of the wildfires currently burning in Colorado.

My friends in Estes Park went from “everything is fine” to “EVACUATE NOW” in 30 minutes! Additionally, 3 of the 4 roads out of Estes were impassable due to fires burning all around them.

Folks, you need to have a plan. Don’t be left with writing your phone number on a prancing hoof as you, and your horses, are dealing with immediate danger and surging adrenalin. Don’t count on spray painting a legible phone number on your livestock. Firemen fighting a raging fire, who know nothing about horses, are not going to wand your horse for a microchip. If you went from “Okay” to “LEAVE NOW” in 30 minutes, are you realistically going to be doing anything to identify your horses?

Our new tags arrive in less than a month and they have the added benefit of reflective tape to aid visibility in smoke and at night.

Here is a video depiction of Grand Lake in 2018, and Grand Lake in 2021…

The East Troublesome Fire destroyed over 100,000 acres in less than 24 hours. Those in the know predict that we are entering a new era of wildfire catastrophes. Are you ready to run at a moment’s notice? You should be…

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