Friday, July 29, 2011

DOME Cycle Lab Update -- Impacts of the Las Conchas Fire on the Los Alamos Biking Community

1st plume of smoke seen in Los Alamos. 

On Sunday, June 26, 2011, the Las Conchas wildfire began near the Las Conchas climbing area in the Jemez Mountains.  Within 48 hours the wildfire became the largest in New Mexico history, ballooning even larger than the previous record-holder, the Cerro Grande Fire, in only a day. 

The forest conditions at the time of the fire were ripe for disaster.  There had been minimal snowfall during the winter, and no spring rains to speak of.  June was an erratic combination of unusually blustery winds combined with scorching heat, and a few days of unusually cold and windy conditions.  The National Forest Service had initiated Stage III fire restrictions on June 24th, but unfortunately, wind caused an aspen to fall on a power line, and the fire went chaotically out of control within minutes. Considered to be human-caused, because humans built the power line, this tragic fire seems an unfortunate act of fate.

The plume in the early evening of June 26th.
By early evening, it was evident that this fire was wreaking havoc in the mountains where many Los Alamos locals  love to recreate.  The gusto of the DOME Free-Ride Alliance to get out and ride the trails prior to the forest closures didn't portend the disaster that was to come.  Our motivation to ride the majestic and beautiful trails near Cochiti Mesa came only from a disappointment to not be able to ride them during the forest closure and before the monsoons opened the trails back up.  Little did we know that the trails would be severely impacted and altered for the rest of our lifetime.

  The amazing smoke column as seen from Arizona Ave. @ 7:13pm 6/26/2011
To add even more tragedy to the loss of the beauty, the impact to wildlife, and the impacts to the land, the fire destroyed the homes of the Cochiti Mesa residents, including that of a DOME Free-Ride Alliance rider.

The view from this destroyed home had been idyllic...endless views of trees and the green of the forest floor.  (Ignore the incorrect date stamp.) But the view had turned to the uncomfortably familiar sight of burnt trees and ashen forest floor.

View of the Jemez  from El Rancho on June28th.
As heartbreaking as these large wildfires are, life continues onward. The initial priorities include erosion mitigation, clearing downed logs, rehabilitating the trails that are initially repairable, and rerouting those that have endured more damage. Slowly and in time, regrowth happens, and small changes become larger and more noticeable. Those of us living in these times will never see these portions of our forest look the way it once did, but the experience of Cerro Grande shows us the progression that occurs over time--or at least 11 years.

The  Pajarito Ski Area, considered the green forested haven after the Cerro Grande Fire, also took some direct hits from the Las Conchas Fire, but amazingly, a significant portion  of the mountain is still okay.  Neal Pederson, who has long spearheaded the development of the biking and free-ride trails at Pajarito, recently surveyed the trail damage on the mountain.
Top of Chupacabra. Photo by Neal Pederson

 View of Chupacabra.  Photo by Neal Pederson.

The rotton log ride on Mother's Milk. Photo by Neal Pederson.

Aspen for Trouble. Photo by Neal Pederson.

Half Aspen, in the Aspens.  Photo by Neal Pederson.

Bottom of Half Aspen.  Photo by Neal Pederson.

Many of the bike trails have been affected by the fire.  Some impact is minor and some is severe.  Neal is organizing trail work parties for the restoration of the Pajarito bike trails and is hoping to have a large work party on Saturday August 6.  Anyone interested in helping out can contact Neal through the Tuff Riders mail list, and we will try to post some work party updates on this blog.

Other important mountain bike trails that were impacted by the fire include the Canada Bonito Trail that head up to Pipeline and to Guaje Canyon.  Guaje Canyon trails and the Guaje Ridge Trails were hit hard up at the top, in the previously unburned areas.

Portions of the Jemez part of the Santa Fe National Forest will re-open on Saturday July 30th. As we can get out and conduct more surveys of the trail damage, we will provide updates and photos.

In the mean time, if you need bike service or repair, don't hesitate to make an appointment!  Stay tuned for some further announcements of August Cycle Lab specials, as well as Open Lab days where you can come in and use our equipment to tune-up your bike. 

As always, the DOME is here to keep your ride in pristine condition.