Upper Alamo forest showing growth of aspen trees. Photo by Dorothy Hoard.
Upper Crossing in Frijoles Canyon showing growth of boxelder maple trees. Photo by Dorothy Hoard.
Visitor Center protected with plastic and sand bags. Photo by Ranger Chris Judson.
South Wall of Frijoles Canyon. Photo by Dorothy Hoard.
Burnt Mesa backburn. Photo by Dorothy Hoard.
Spot fire on Burnt Mesa. Photo by Dorothy Hoard.
Friends of Bandelier Update
After the Fire
It has been a little over one year since the devastating Las Conchas fire burned through almost 160,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains. The 2011 summer monsoon rains seemed to concentrate on the most vulnerable burned areas, with subsequent flooding in the canyons and heavy damage to trails and parts of Bandelier's main visitor area. The 2012 monsoon rains were rather wimpy, except for hard-hit Santa Clara Pueblo, which suffered immense damage. Bandelier had some flooding at the main visitor area, but the stream channel was able to handle it.
Because the fire coincided with the 2011 rains, we witnessed a remarkable regrowth across the mountains, especially in aspen habitat. In many burned places after a year of recovery, only an astute observer would notice there had been a fire. (Many people don't realized that our tree trunks are not normally pitch-black.) Unfortunately though, the fire was so intense in places that some swaths still look like moonscapes a year later.
The floods reduced the already-limited parking area in Frijoles Canyon. To cope with traffic between Memorial Day and November 17, access to the park is by shuttle busses that run from White Rock to Frijoles Canyon. Superintendent Jason Lott says he is getting mixed reviews about the shuttles. Unfortunately, the unhappy comments come from the locals. Bandelier is currently preparing a new transportation plan that will have major impacts for the future of Bandelier.
Fire Recovery and Maintenance
Trails guru Dale Coker (his actual title is Trails Program Manager) is intent on putting Bandelier back together after the 2011 fire and floods. The rangers set up a program they called the Bandelier Conservation Corps (BCC), where they normally hire six local high school students. This year, they contracted with an Armericorps team from Flagstaff, funded by a $50,000 donation through the National Park Foundation. crew. The Americorps crew members were college-age, older than the students of previous years. I'm told their wages were diverted to pay down their student debts. Dale and I thought it was sad that they could not get instant gratification for their hard work, but it must have been Ok with the kids.
Their season is over now and they've gone back to school. Dale is truly delighted and impressed with their work. Here is his list of projects completed this summer of 2012. As you can see, says Dale, this crew stayed busy and got an amazing amount of work done.
- Removed over 2 miles of barbed wire fence (wire and posts) from along both sides of the Dome Road FR289 within Bandelier. Hauled over 4 tons of metal to LA Transfer Station for recycling.
- Removed old broken and burned wooden fences at Cerro Trailhead, Dome Road Parking Area and Alamo Boundary Trailhead and replaced with stained log posts and rails.
- Swept and cleaned historic stone gutters along Entrance Road.
- Filled and placed over 1500 sandbags at Visitor Center for flood protection.
- Removed old rotted wooden fencing at Helispot Road and Lagoon Road (to be replaced with boulders).
- Removed old metal gates at Tsankawi Service Road and Helispot Road and replaced with new ones.
- Assisted Resources Division with dismantling large elk enclosure on Horse Mesa.
- Removed old wooden ladders at Tsankawi (ladders had been replaced last year but were never removed).
- Removed pink gravel from beginning of Tsankawi trail and replaced with brown gravel.
- Installed 45 concrete parking stops in Tsankawi parking area.
- Removed old rotted wooden parking lot rails at Fire Tower Pullout and Scenic Overlook Pullout (to be replaced with boulders).
- Enlarged and improved Alamo Boundary Trail parking area; Installed culvert and dug new drainage ditch.
- Cleaned out and relocated Historic Preservation equipment from two 8'x40' rented storage units so that units could be removed.
- Assisted Vanishing Treasures personnel in building a temporary trail at the Great Kiva in preparation for repair project.
- Assisted Wilderness Ventures group in brushing cross country ski trails.
In addition to the BCC work, Dale's regular crews rerouted the mesa section of the trail to Upper Crossing, the trail up Cerro Grande, the Apache Springs Trail, and in the Y area. Next year Dale hopes to do short reroutes on the Frijoles Rim Trail, Mid Alamo Trail, Boundary Peak Trail, and on Horse Mesa. He can't work on the Frijoles Canyon or Capulin Canyon trails until those upper canyons stabilize following the 2011 fire.
The Friends funded two items to help Dale with trail and cleanup work. From our special fire recovery fund, Dale bought a portable generator ($1,000) to run power tools necessary to rebuild trails like the Upper Crossing switchbacks, which needed work desperately. We also paid for t-shirts for the BCC crew ($980). Dale commented, "They proudly wore the t-shirts the Friends furnished and were highly recognizable as Bandelier employees while they did all their great work."
We get the most supportive comments ever from our membership for the BCC program.
As regards our other 2012 grants, we funded a Student Conservation Corps assistant to do paper research for the Wilderness Management Plan preparation ($5,000). Her work gets rave reviews from staff. We always get more than our money's worth from SCAs. The park service will not fund wilderness management planning efforts; each park with a wilderness must find its own resources. Our SCA's work was a necessary piece of a very long planning effort.
We also paid for refreshments at the VIP party and the award ceremony for the annual pass photo contest. The park service (and allegedly all federal agencies) won't pay for meals or refreshments. The rangers used to use their share of the bookstore royalties for food among other things, but that source has dried up. In his meetings with other agencies, especially the pueblos, Jason feels an obligation to provide refreshments because they always do.
Jason had several additional requests, including funding for printing a park newspaper and supplies for presentations. He has now asked us to cancel them all to conserve our resources for next season. The park service has notified all its units of known budget cuts and threats of deeper cuts depending on Congressional actions on the fiscal cliff following the election.
There seems to be no end to interesting times (of the old Chinese curse type).
Very best wishes and thanks to you all. Dorothy Hoard
The Bandelier Fire
On June 26, in the Jemez Mountains near the Valle Grande, an aspen tree fell across a power line and snapped the wires. The line sparked and started a fire. The Press called it the Los Alamos Fire; we can call it the Bandelier fire. Its true name is Las Conchas ("shells" in Spanish), named for a small peak and picnic area near the ignition site. With high winds and the vegetation tinder dry from drought, the fire covered over 40,000 (forty thousand) acres within 12 hours. Homes in small mountain communities were evacuated quickly and Los Alamos was evacuated for a week.
Our non-local Friends may be wondering how Bandelier fared. Unfortunately--not well. Chief of Interpretation Rod Torrez reports that the fire burned 64 percent of the park, mostly in the upper western forests. Some burned areas are patchy and intermixed with unburned land, others are truly severe. The fire did not reach the Frijoles Canyon Visitor and Administrative Center, but much of Frijoles Canyon upstream from the center was decimated.
Our summer monsoons can produce heavy localized rains. These can cause major flooding, especially where the forest cover has been removed. Unfortunately, in 1935 the CCC put the buildings in the bottom of a deep canyon on the flood plain of Frijoles Creek. In the past, the basement of the Visitor Center has flooded under much less ominous conditions. Damage to our beautifully remodeled Visitor Center would be a real blow. The rangers quickly removed all exhibits and anything else moveable from the buildings. They wrapped the Visitor Center in plastic. Around the buildings, they put up barriers reinforced with sandbags. As a precaution, they removed the bridges to prevent logs and debris from jamming up and damming the stream. (The automobile bridge by the Visitor Center was recently found to be structurally unsound and had to be dealt with anyway.)
No one really knows yet how the backcounty of Bandelier fared. Infrared flyover scans show areas that are hotter than background heat. Using these scans, fire managers make maps of the extent of fires and post them on the internet (www.inciweb.org). The map shows the eastern edge of Bandelier above White Rock Canyon--mostly junipers and rocks-- as unburned and the main pinyon-juniper area of the plateau as moderate. The maps show the San Miguel Mountains as severely burned, which is surprising because the little mountain range burned in the Dome Fire of 1996.
The Las Conchas Fire was pronounced officially out on August 1. At 156,600 acres, it is the largest recorded wildfire in New Mexico history. It burned the eastern third of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, much of Santa Clara Pueblo land--truly sad because the pueblo had recently reinstalled recreational facilities in Santa Clara Canyon that had burned in the 1998 and 2000 fires. Santa Fe National Forest suffered more than half of the burning. Aggressive firefighting by specialized teams spared Los Alamos and the National Lab. Sadly, the fire burned into small communities in the mountains, including the homes on Cochiti Mesa of two Bandelier rangers. For those of you familiar with the Jemez, the small communities of Bland and Pines were almost totally obliterated.
When the Smoke Clears
At Bandelier, the rangers want the public to have as much access to the park as possible. They have opened Tsankawi and areas between Frijoles Canyon and State Road 4, including Juniper Campground, Overlook Trail, and Burnt Mesa. They resumed evening programs at the amphitheater and probably will bring back the trailer as a substitute for the Visitor Center. They expect to allow visitors to visit Tyuonyi ruins in Frijoles Canyon once all possibility of flooding is past. But the Visitor Center will probably remain closed for several years.
The entire burned area in the mountains is closed and will be for a while. We can't see much of the fire damage. When they opened paved State Road 4, we drove up, mostly to try to see into upper Frijoles Canyon. One can see the south canyon wall from a few places along the road. The parts of the canyon that we could see were denuded. This means that the visitor center and administrative facilities in Frijoles Canyon will be at risk for flooding for some years to come.
Along State Road 4, our scenic road into the mountains, the fire was patchy; some patches are severely burned, some areas are green and perky. The fire crews did a lot of back-burning along the road. They burn out all the shrubs and deadfall on the ground, but for the most part, many trees survive. On the Valles Grande grasslands, the burned grasses quickly sprouted new shoots. Within two weeks, the elk and cattle were out in force on the burned meadows, happily grazing away. Since then, we've had some rain; now the grass is so vivid green one can't tell it ever burned.
However, all is not good. After any rain, black ash washes into drainages and streams. It leaves a mucky black residue that coats everything as it flows down to the Rio Grande. The Preserve had to cancel its fishing season and the City of Albuquerque had to stop taking water from the Rio because the black ash clogs their filters. All the little drainages from the hillsides leave a trail of black muck.
It is still horribly dry here. Thus far, the monsoon rains have been meager - probably a blessing with all the denuded slopes and canyon walls, but selective gentle rains are much appreciated.
In Bandelier, we walked out on the Burnt Mesa Trail. The first quarter mile was totally burned except for the larger trees, the result of back-burning to keep the fire away from the lab across the highway. Beyond the back-burn, we were pleasantly surprised. The fire was spotty. It had totally consumed some areas, with trees burned to standing matchsticks. Other areas had ground fires only; tufts of grass were black and old deadfall had completely burned, but brush thickets were just singed. Other stretches did not burn at all. The most amazing thing was seeing bright green grass shoots to six inches tall and lupines sprouting right up through the black ash so soon after the fire.
Funding for fire fighting and initial restoration efforts comes from combined federal agency emergency money. There is still lots of work left when the emergency was over and that money expired. I assured Rod and Superintendent Jason Lott that we will do what we can to help.
Before the fire, we sent out a newsletter with the Friends' list of grants for the 2011 season.
- $2,000 for the Pueblo Farming Project
- $2,000 for an SCA for Interpretation Assistant
- $5,750 for Wilderness Fellow (Support for Wilderness Planning)
- $1,030 for Stabilization of Archaeological Ceramic Bowl
- $3,000 for equipment and items for festivals, fairs, etc.
- $1,000 for Bandelier Conservation Corps (BCC) member from a Delle
Foundation grant (already dispersed).
- $1,000 loan for planning for Bandelier reunion (already dispersed)
I'm told the park expects to go ahead with at least some of these grants.
I asked Dale Coker, trails supervisor, if they managed to use the BCC lads [#6 on our grant list]. Here is his reply: He first discusses the Ponderosa Trail to Upper Crossing in Frijoles Canyon; the crossing was severely burned.
The Ponderosa Trail is still closed at this point. All the water bars were burned out so that's what we've been working on - trying to get some drainage features in place before the rains come. There's talk of opening it before long as far as the rim and establishing an overlook out there so folks can see the devastation. Obsidian Ridge is another place where you really can see the damage. The ridge and both the Alamo and Frijoles sides of it are just fried.
As for the BCC, they worked on the Burro Trail, Tsankawi Trail and the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail prior to the fire. Since then they've been put to use moving all kinds of stuff - furniture, picnic tables, benches, trash cans, residents' belongings, etc. - out of the Headquarters area. We were also the ones who destroyed and removed all seven foot bridges from the Main Lot to Alcove House. We cut brush and timber out of the creek area from the Falls Trailhead to the vehicle bridge and hauled it all out and up to the gravel yard on Highway 4. We moved the theater equipment and lots of other stuff out of the Vistor Center and helped with the sandbagging operation there. We replaced all the burnt out water bars and soil retainers on the Burnt Mesa trail so that it could be opened up. And now we're working on the Ponderosa Trail.
These kids have done an amazing job. They've done everything that has been requested of them and done it well without complaining - even when the labor was physically very demanding. I'll tell you, they wore me out and I think I'm still pretty tough. And they've done it all with very little recognition. I couldn't be more proud of these kids. They'll work this week and then next week they go up to Colorado to work with their sister crew up at Rocky Mountain National Park for a week. When they return, a couple of them will be done as they have to get ready to head off to college. The rest will work here another week or so before finishing up on 8/12. So, in answer to your question, yes, they've been able to do a whole lot this season. Thanks for your support of them. I think it's been a good experience for them and I know it has been for me. Their value to Bandlier has been considerable.
At this time, forest service crews are working hard to try to stabilize the burned areas on federal lands. They are spreading grass seed and mulch in the most severely burned areas around Cochiti and Peralta canyons. They are grading forest roads and replacing culverts. In the canyons, they put up structures to catch logs and boulders from washing downstream. If you use the internet, you can follow their reports on the website www.inciweb.org. Bandelier won't spread grass seed or straw. The rangers found from past fires that these activities introduce exotic species into the park.
Response to this fire by the federal agencies was fast and effective. We, who lived through the 2000 Cerro Grande fire that burned out 300 families in our little community, and watched this Los Conchas fire come roaring over our mountain within six hours of its ignition, are exceedingly grateful.
Best wishes to you all. Don't forget Bandelier as it heals.