Fire In Yosemite

After a few days of seeing the webcam display a photograph of Half Dome obscured by dusky smoke, I decided to check out the fire for myself. I headed up to Ostrander Lake, the open trail closest to the fire’s proximity. Smoke clouded my drive through Yosemite Valley at 8:00 am, but I soon escaped the haze near the Wawona Tunnel. As I rose out of the valley, all evidence of the fire had vanished—except for the views in my rearview mirror.

I had a delightful hike. The clear air (yes!—not even a whiff of smoke even though I could see the bold plumes from the fire), the gorgeous array of wildflowers, and the dearth of other hikers made for a perfect outing.

My eastern viewpoint at Horizon Ridge revealed a landscape shrouded in gray. I stood in day looking into a land of evening. Smoke from the fire had covered everything in a haze to the east of Horizon Ridge and the line between clear and haze was very distinct. Red and Grey Peaks, and Mt. Clark, were obscured but Merced Peak remained visible. Mount Starr King peeked out of the gloom, and I could just make out the contours of Half Dome.

Given the fire, Ostrander seemed a very appropriate hike. The forests along this trail have experienced two recent fires, in 1987 and 1994. The blackened skeletons of trees stood as testimonials to the fires, yet they were surrounded by an explosive growth of green revegetation. I certainly picked (unconsciously) the optimum time for wildflower viewing in this area. Fireweed proved true to its name and bloomed its lovely purple flowers in a few locations. The delicate Mariposa lilies were in abundance, along with the orange hues of the paintbrush. At one of the creek beds, I found a gathering of what looked like black-eyed susans. When I headed off-trail up a forested ridge, I discovered a faded snow plant hiding behind a tree.

Here’s an unlikely scenario: Alone at Ostrander Lake on a Sunday in July. After I snapped a photograph for two hikers, they departed down the trail and left me with only the company of the lake. I dove in the waters, which felt abnormally warm, and then sat on the rocks and ate lunch. As I dined, a helicopter made several trips to the lake to scoop up water. The helicopter flew so close that I felt rain from the fire bomb fall on me!