Red Mountain, Red Smoke

Keeping with the wildfire theme, here’s one from last evening’s sunset on top of Big Red Mountain, Siskiyou Crest, Jackson County, Oregon.

The mountain happens to be the spine of a botanical interest area that Goddess and I adopted a few months back.  We’re responsible to monitoring the area for any damage to the ecosystem, as well as keeping an eye out for any new or invasive species.  We’re asked to visit the area several times a year and report any findings so that nothing goes unnoticed for too long.

The area is worth a blog post of its own, which it will have to be.

It does not break my heart to have to go up there and monitor the area.  Just a short 20 mile drive from the house and I’m completely alone.  Very few people visit the summit and while I can see some activity on the roads and trails below, I rarely can hear them, so I’m effectively alone up there.  It’s quite nice.

To our south, in northern California, a wildfire complex called Happy Camp has pushed over 45,000 acres, adding over 12,000 acres on Thursday alone.  Goddess and I were able to see that explosive growth from our house, even though there are a few mountain ranges and quite a few miles (~45 miles) between us and the fire.  The smoke was visible above the closest mountains, but with no real development.  Then about an hour before sunset, it appeared as if a thunderstorm was growing over the fire.  But it was pyrocumulus, a billowing cloud that develops due to intense heating on the ground.  I mentioned to Goddess that its appearance was a bad sign for the firefighters.  We found out today how true that was, as the local weather office passed this info:

 

Happy Camp Complex (image courtesy of US National Weather Service, Medford, Oregon)

I had already planned on visiting the botanical area on Friday, but that looked iffy, as the smoke drifted in and out of the area that I needed to be.  Luckily, the smoke stayed clear the whole time I was there, with the plume passing just to my south and east.

All I needed was sunset.

Red Mountain, Red Smoke

Well worth the effort, although the whole exercise seemed a bit frivolous considering the hundreds of families who may lose their homes in the coming days.

Sprague Forest

A bit over a month ago, in mid-July, the fire season out east kicked off after a round of thunderstorms moved through.

Goddess and I spent a day driving out there and looking around, hoping for some good photo opportunities, especially as another round of thunderstorms moved in.

Instead, we spent a bit of time looking at the damage, including quite a few lost homes and decided to head to greener pastures.

It was quite depressing, especially seeing homes that burnt to the ground despite the owner’s work on good defensible space.  But that is the risk whenever folks build in the forest, no matter how prepared they are.

But it can leave behind a bit of beauty.

Sprague Forest

Threatening Range

It has been a stormy, rough week around here.

Not the weather, but life.

But like any other storm, it will clear up, bringing fresh new colors.

Threatening Range

Good Night Sweet Prince

SMK Skynyrd (aka Skinny)

8/19/2004 – 8/19/2014

Skinny, 8/18/2014

The Man

A couple of shots from a few weeks ago when we escaped the heat and headed to the coast.

This trip was Skinny’s first experience with the ocean.  He loved the wide beach and sand for running, but wasn’t too sure about the moving water.

Mind you, he loves lying in a stream and letting the water rush over him.  But that’s a constant movement.  Much different than standing on sand and having the water rush up around your legs.

Or nose, in this case.

Enjoying a rest on the sand.

He was quite content to lie where he was, a good 40 yards or so from the water, which was also several feet below him, as the rushing waves had built up a nice sandbar at the edge.

But there’s always a good set of waves that haven’t followed the rules, which is why you should never turn your back on the ocean.

Or keep your eyes closed too much.

Getting closer.

A few seconds later and the water was around his feet, forcing him to bound out of the way of the evil 1/2″ deep water.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get that shot.  I was laughing too hard.

A perfectly good nap ruined.

——————————–

And why the title?  In some circles, he’s known as “Skinny Man”.  That name predates his adopting us, so it sticks.

Vanishing Point

Long time followers know I love lines. They are usually man-made, but it’s nice to see good ol’ Mother Nature provide some once in a while.

Although these aren’t perfectly straight, they all lead to that vanishing point.

Hidden Lake Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, Klamath National Forest, California

Luckily I got this view the day before the fires started.  Otherwise the sky wouldn’t have had the clarity that it did.

The Start

Entering frame left is smoke from the Leef Fire, started by lightning from the storms that moved north and are visible in the distance.

We were much too close to the lightning strike that started that fire.

But once we got back to camp, we had a front row view of the attack, with ground crews moving in, smoke jumpers dropping in, and myriad aircraft monitoring and dropping water and retardant.

It was a bit fun.

The Start

In the following days, thousands of acres of forest would go up in flames as thunderstorms continued.  Almost two weeks later, many of those fires are still burning.

And for those that know the area, if you look real close at the horizon just right of frame center, you’ll see the faint outline of Mount McLoughlin.  Before the rain and smoke, Pilot Rock was also visible.  So I’d joke that I could see home from where we were working.

Lunchtime and Fires

A couple of snaps from a long day working on and hiking trail.  Longer than anyone expected, as the 7.5′ maps didn’t show quite a bit of trail detail (e.g., switchbacks) that we needed to know.

Once the fires started, the trail we were sent to work on, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), was closed to the public so that firefighters could move freely on it.  Not to mention, parts of the trail passed close to the rapidly growing fires.  Since that trail was closed, we shifted gears and tackled a few local trails that had been sorely neglected for quite a few years.

The first was the Long Gulch Trail.  Quite a bit of clearing brush and rebuilding trail that morning, but we were lucky enough to make it to Long Gulch Lake for lunch.  A few folks jumped into the water while most of us just enjoyed the scenery.  Those that swam regretted it later as the chafing set in on a long loop hike back to camp.

Long Gulch Lake

This is the view of the lake a couple of hours later as we worked the trail up to the ridge line.

Here is a map that some folks built of their three day hike of the same loop that we worked and covered in 10 hours.  But to be fair, we only worked the uphill portion of the Long Gulch Trail, then moved quickly through the rest of the loop to get back down into the valley.

Long Gulch Lakes Loop

We moved quickly through the hike portion once we reached the top of the Long Gulch Trail.  We received word from the Forest Service that we were not to dilly dally, as the Coffee Fire was just a few miles away and blowing up in the dry, hot, windy afternoon conditions.  We could see a bit of the smoke plume from the top of the summit, but had a chance to really get a look at it less than 1/2 mile later as we hiked under the south side of the ridge line.

Coffee Fire

The picture makes it look quite a bit further than it really was.

As we dropped down the switchbacks towards Trail Gulch Lake, we had a front row view of the helicopters dropping down over the lake and scooping up water to drop on the surrounding fires.  That made for a complete experience.

Over a week later, the Coffee Fire is still going, having burnt over 6,000 acres, but is 60% contained this morning.  However, our entire area is in a Red Flag Warning for the next 48 hours as another round of thunderstorms, with little rain, spread over the forests.

It’s just that time of year out west.

PCT Sunrise

A perfect response to my last post, Magenta Sunset.

PCT Sunrise

This sunrise was nine days later and about sixty miles as the crow flies, although driving time is a few hours.

This was the view from my tent.  I didn’t even need to lift my head to see it, instead I would roll on my side and unzip the screening for a clear view.  It was a view that I could quickly get used to.

Too bad I didn’t have the chance.

I spent nine days with a work crew on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The crew consisted of volunteers with the PCTA, as well as young AmeriCorps volunteers working through the American Conservation Experience (ACE).  We were responsible with rehabilitating a stretch of the PCT north of Carter Meadows Summit, which sits on the boundary between the Klamath National Forest to the north and the Trinity Alps Wilderness to the south.  That was the plan.

But plans change.

On the afternoon of our first day of work, thunderstorms popped up.  Quickly we got wet, but then the hail started and a very close lightning strike (within 1/4 mile)  really got the crew on edge.  But not as much as the smell of smoke just a few minutes later.  Within 30 minutes we were hiking off the trail, stepping aside to let the first ground firefighting crew get by.  We spent the rest of the afternoon back at camp watching the activity as smoke jumpers dropped into the very steep terrain, then watched water drops continue until dark.

Little did we know at the time, but we were at the epicenter of the beginning of the 2014 northern California fire season.  Within days, over 20,000 acres in the surrounding forests were on fire.

This view was the next morning, as the fire smoldered to our northwest.  The little bit of smoke in the air really enhanced the dawn.

I was lucky enough to get one more morning of this view at dawn, but then we were asked to vacate our camp to make room for a forward firefighting camp.  After that we were safely down in the valley, but missing the sunrises and sunsets.  And instead of working on the PCT, we spent the rest of our time working on local trails heading up into the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  That turned out to be a good thing, as those trails were very neglected and sorely needed the attention.

Magenta Sunset

As I mentioned in the last post, we had been on the road for a good part of the day, putting many, many miles under our wheels while looking for photo opportunities.

An unplanned stop at one vantage gave me ideas for another view, hopefully capturing a sunset that “set the sky on fire”, as one of the gentlemen I talked to lakeside told me how it appeared.

Isn’t it funny how, no matter the activity or view, “you should have been here yesterday” is a common refrain?

As I sped through the forest, then down steep, winding, wet mountain roads, I kept an eye on the clock, fearing that we were going to miss getting to the point I had in mind before sunset.  The route I chose was an all or nothing proposition.

Luckily, Goddess was patient with me as I kept the car close to the limit that Skinny, who was in the back seat, would tolerate as we quickly descended into our valley.

That boy sure is a trooper.

Sliding into a spot on the side of a narrow gravel road, I got the tripod set up, the frame composed and took my first evaluation shot two minutes after sunset.

Perfect for what I had in mind.

Although the sunlight on the clouds never did cooperate.  Especially not for a “sky on fire” view.  After a long day, it was disappointing.

I did not even think I had any keepers from that part of the day, at least nothing that really turned me on to share here.

But I posted this out there in some social media circles and was quite surprised by the response.  And I’ll admit, it has grown on me.

I think I like it.

Magenta Sunset

Goddess likes it, which is important.  I think she liked it more since she was actually able to watch a sunset from one of the places I’d head off to while she was in class.  After that, she’d see the pictures, but never had a chance to enjoy the view in person.

I think she’s sold.

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