We were last up on Mt. Lemmon in the spring of 2020. We hiked down to Lemmon pools and explored on through the Wilderness of Rocks. It was early in the Covid lockdown and we got surprised by around 35 other hikers on a trail that rarely saw anyone else. We just had to grin and bare it, having brought no clothing along with us.
The next day, a bolt of lightning hit the mountain range and burned with little control for over a month. Every day, we watched heart broken, looking up to the flames above, from Tucson below, tasting and smelling the smoke. The Forest Service maps reported that a huge area, something like 120,000 acres went up in smoke. Our favorite spots were hit, one by one.
We finally got the gut fortitude to return and assess the damage, as it applies to us on August 27th of 2021. We found there, that the historic extra wet monsoon rains have left the entire region is in hews of green. Trails are getting overgrown. After a year and a half long drought, it is stunning.
We expect much of our forests to be gone, but from the look of things, the desolate aftermath of a forest fire has been replaced by a mass of bush, grass and shrubs. We have heard reports of abundant flowing water!
The hiking trailheads along the road have been closed to hiking, due to the extra year of drought that led to the fire’s fuel.
We begin the 21 mile drive up the Catalina Highway, from 2500 ft. to 9200ft.The saguaro studded lower hills are great, as if nothing had ever happened. I remark that maybe nothing did happen here.
As we rise in elevation, there is the next level of ecosystems, more of a grassland, that does burn periodically. It has become used to a more natural relationship to fire and with all of the rain, it appears healthy.
My expectation is that areas near the roads will be shot, but just over hills and in some cases on just one side of the road, it will be as the Forest Service reported…burnt.
Any western fire that I have seen before and after, delivers a meandering unpredictable pattern, which leaves patches untouched and others devastated. In time the adjacent escapees will re-vegetate the destruction. That is in time, lots of time.
Every mile along this winding road continues to lack damage. We stop at a few lookouts to see what is left of valleys that we had seen flames in, from down in Tucson. There are a few spots where we see a patch of green pine is now dead orange. We find only two of our favorite trails, which had been posted as closed due to fire damage, still closed.
Our fears born from misleading reports were for naught. The Forest Service, it seems, reports any fire damage, minor fire damage, or burnt up. Many areas that have tall pines can take the burn at their base and of the brush and then established trees remain intact. Much of the Catalina’s are rugged and rocky. This retards the fire’s progressions.
We make our way up some Forest Service roads that have signs warning of falling rocks and damage, but no evidence of fire is found. The reports of damage were greatly exaggerated. I can’t express the relief, the surprise that we feel, as the truth unfolds.
The fires of the early parts of this century took a reported 117,000 acres. Most of this burnt once again, last year, but this is natural here to have periodic fires. They were more destructive partly because of fire suppression measures in the past.
As we have gotten out to continue our inspections at pull offs and vista points, we have been wrapping up and unwrapping our bodies all of the way up the mountain.
We stop at our secret spot. The reports told us that the other side of the road was burned, but our spot was saved. I was concerned that our path might have been discovered because of the limited number of trails left and extra hiker traffic needs.
We make our way off the road and strip. The trail shows little signs of use. The heavy rains have the path getting overgrown. I’m delighted to follow it down the small canyon in 75F degree weather, after weeks of living in the valley in over 100F. The trail is disappearing more and more.
The little stretch of creek from the spring is singing. When we come to the intersection with a popular and signed trail, I grab several fallen young trees and sticks, spreading them around to make the trail look less like a trail. These also make obstructions. Hopefully, vegetation will grow back to the way that I found it, a couple of decades before.
A Naked Lunch in Public:
We have realized a cause for celebration, as we park at one of the highest spots in the mountains, up near the observatory. This vista looks down at the Lemmon trail. Although much of the slopes down to it are often orange dead pine needles, the bottom of the valley is green. Most of the trek down there should be intact and filled with water. It looks like we can schedule a new backpacking trip into the Wilderness of Rocks.
We take a trail toward a meadow, encountering several people, but hunger is catching up to us. Causes for celebration turn into a picnic.
We find a parking spot, which has several cars. I want to use the vista to check for damage below. The wet road shows that a stray downpour has come through here. We can see that it is now wandering off eastward and away.
After more of the encouraging news, I cross the road and inspect a patch of trees that most people are not interested in. People follow a trail like fish in a channel.
I hear and then see, a couple with their baby amongst the grand tree trunks of red pines. They may, or may not stay. I see that there is a spot in shade, just off to the left.
I find the grassy clearing a pleasant spot to lay out the mat and have lunch. There is brush and several large trees surrounding it.
Reporting back to DF, we carry our load from the car, set up and begin a lunch. My preliminary observations are proven to be sound, as I pick dolmas out of a tin can. Behind me, there is forest. To my right it is not far from the road, but there is a low briar patch and trees blocking the view.
To my left, we are exposed, but only if someone continues along the short trail and I will see them well before they can see my state of dress.
In front of me, toward the parking lot, there is brush and near to me are several large tree trunks.
On the side of the road between me and the parking lot, there is a slight rise, which creates and angle of vision which will secure me, until someone actually shows intent to use the trail leading to my exposure.
I’m enjoying my meal in a kilt. All I have to do is pull the Velcro apart and push it aside leaving me sitting nude on it. I can cover up in a moment.
There is a grocery sack sitting open within my reach. For need of any quicker covering, I can just slide it in front of my body in a second.
As we have lunch, a group of three, a couple and a lone photographer wander through. It appears that they just want to see what is here. I can either pull a flap of my kilt back over my leg facing them, or move the paper sack. It works perfectly and comfortably. I am nude in a public setting and nobody knows it.
We lie back to watch the clouds floating by, through the trees above. Just a little drapery makes us secure.
We bask in the sun and abundance, We now have our favorite and most convenient hikes back. It is almost as if the fire didn’t happen!
Resting from driving down the twisting mountain road, we stop off to view the Seven Cataracts. There are several swimmin’ holes and waterfalls.
The recent rains have brought these waterfalls to life. We can hear them across the deep sharp sided canyon. The fire hasn’t touched them. I have wanted to visit them for decades now, but places with easier access, or bad timing to enjoy the water, have kept me away. Whenever they are filled and fresh, it is because of a time when there is more danger from storms. Maybe, someday, I’ll climb over there for some sun and a skinny dip.
I spend time, nearly daily, at the forum FreeRangeNaturism.com, if you care to discuss free range naturism.
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