Monday, November 11, 2013

Carbonate Creek after the Silver Fire- Gila National Forest

A couple of weeks ago, after checking out the thrift stores and antique shops, and then having a delicious lunch at Bella Luca in T or C, we decided to head  up to Carbonate Creek for a little Fall color.We have visited here many, many times,both for day hiking and  camping. In fact we have visited the streams( Carbonate, Mineral, Sawpit, and North Percha) along FR157S so many times, we simply refer to the area as "the Creeks." We had last checked out Carbonate Creek back in August, while looking at the damage done by the Silver Fire. We had only walked a short ways up the new improved road( thanks to firefighting operations) when rain, which began turning the roads rapidly to mud, got us out of there in a hurry. The fire had left the Carbonate/Mineral Creek valley mostly unscathed, at least the part of it we could see along the road. Now as we walked further up the road we could see that area has been severely altered.
     First, beyond the first stream crossing there is very little left of the road and trail. It has either been washed away or become a deeply gouged side channel of the stream. So what used to be an easy,pleasant walk along an old forest road has become a boulder and gravel trudge. I wasn't wearing my boots, and normally they wouldn't really have been necessary, and ruined a a pair of shoes during our walk. Flooding must have been pretty extreme. Most likely the heavy September rains on the Black Range effected the changes we were seeing. Secondly the extent of the burning along the drainage was worse that we could see back in August. It wasn't totally horrible like other areas we'd seen, but much more of the north side of the canyon had burned than we could tell when we first looked up the valley from a high point along FR157S. The fire had crossed the stream in a few places as well. We finally made it to the clearing at the Rainbow House, an old cabin, where we could see  the  severe burn damage on the upper slopes along the ridgeline of the Black Range.  Might have to start calling it the " blackened Range."  No doubt, that without any living vegetation to absorb it, the rain falling on these hillsides was quickly funneled into the torrent that changed Carbonate Creek   from a quiet mountain brook into a flood of black mud that  I estimate to have six feet deep in places, and 50 feet wide in others.
      The clearing is still a beautiful place, though now much harder to get to. There were colorful oaks and walnut trees. The grass was high. This is also the place where the beautiful big tooth maple trees begin cropping up. A few were there. Others had been consumed by the flames. I worried and wondered about the stunning grove of large maples further upstream,that I had the happy experience of visiting during their peak fall color a few years back. Were they still there? Although we wanted to see.There wasn't time. The new, trail-less rock hop of a hike had taken much longer than we could have anticipated. I know the area will regenerate and continue to change, but this was a sad day for me. Even though I want to know if those trees are still there, I don't know if I'll want to come back.
     Back at our old camping spot , which being on the high side of the creek escaped the flood's ravages,  everything  still looked  the same, I looked over the ledge  where there's a little chute and a deep pool carved into the green rock by the flowing water. A favorite spot. I even did a water color of it once. It was entirely filled with gravel.

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