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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
Seven places where you can walk through a whole new landscape, plus opportunities to help rebuild charred trails.
Picture a hamburger sizzling on a backyard barbeque. It may look too well done, but when you bite into the flame-kissed beauty, you find a tasty, juicy middle beneath the crunchy outside. Bite into it, lick the grease from your lips, and savor what fire has transformed from mundane to magnificent. Now look west to where flames have blackened a few of your favorite trails, but only enough to spice up the scenery. Here's our list of places where you can witness the lessons of fire ecology, and "kick some ash" by lending a hand as volunteers rehabilitate trails.
1. Cerro Grande-Los Alamos-Bandelier Fire, New Mexico
Cause: Controlled burn escape
The 47,000-acre Cerro Grande-Los Alamos-Bandelier fire began the 2000 fire season with a bang and lit a media firestorm. In all, 97 miles of trail were burned, "but the vistas are more open," says Miles Standish of the Espanola District of Santa Fe National Forest. "In 20 years, there'll be more fall color from the aspens."
Hot Hike: "The Guaje (WA- ji) Ridge Trail takes you through every type of burn intensity," says local guidebook author Craig Martin. "The route starts at Arizona Avenue and 45th Street in Los Alamos and follows the Mitchell Trail to the top of Guaje Ridge. The first 1.5 miles are fried, but then you enter mosaic burns, where the fire jumped from place to place. Walk east along the ridge until you pick up a road heading south (right). That eventually intersects the Perimeter Trail around Los Alamos, which was a firebreak that didn't work." Return to Mitchell Trail for a hike of 11 miles.
Kick Some Ash: The entire region needs trail construction, dead tree removal, and erosion control for the foreseeable future. Contact: Gaylyn Meyers, Los Alamos County Volunteer Project Coordinator, (505) 662-8403; email@example.com
2. Pumpkin Fire, Kendrick Mountain Wilderness, Arizona
The 17,050-acre Pumpkin Fire burned about 90 percent of the 7,000-acre wilderness, says John Eavis, recreation and wilderness specialist for the Kaibab National Forest. "Fifteen of 16 trail miles were damaged, but the trails are functional, and in places, aspens are sprouting already."
Hot Hike: Follow the 4-mile Kendrick Mountain Trail on the south side of the mountain through charred ponderosa pines. The 3,400-foot elevation gain makes for a strenuous hike out and back, which is best done as an overnighter or as part of a longer cross-country hike. The fire burned in a mosaic pattern, with 20- to 100-acre intense burns among the less severely impacted areas.
Kick Some Ash: "Our big challenge for the next 10 years will be blowdown. We'll have to cut a lot of trees out of the trails," says Eavis. Contact: Williams Ranger District, Kendrick Mountain Wilderness, (520) 635-5600; www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai.