01 July 2002
After a pleasant rest at the worst Hilton ever, I used the hotel's PC with 10 free hours of AOL to collect a little more up-to-date data on the wildfires, after they figured out how to get it to connect--I could have done something to help, but I figured why could I possibly want to do tech support for them on my vacation. If only I had set up a dial-up account for my laptop before hand.

Using a county map purchased at a gas station and satellite imagery from the US Forest Service web site I tracked down the burn zone of the Hayman fire. At this point Hayman was over 90% contained. Most smoke or open flame was burning in the interior of the national forest on a remote mountain side. I talked with a fire crew I met along a road which nearly bounded the burn, they told the remaining fire was going to be monitored but not actively fought. The one fire fighter that did most of the talking thought it was "pretty cool" that I drove from Michigan to see the fires, but I could definitely hear the hesitation in his voice. I can readily admit that this is weird. I smiled and continued on.

Civilians were allowed to drive along the road but they were not allowed to stop. The National Forest was closed and the rest of the land was private. Of course they didn't want people wandering into the forest while fires still burned and I think there was also worry about looting. With all the signs clearly stating these facts, I was a little worried about stopping and hiking in a little bit. I did see several fire crews and two county sheriffs, one while I was stopped, but no hassle was given and I headed into the burned forest.

In the approximately 2 miles I hiked the fire had burned hot. All the ground cover was gone, leaving only charred sand. Many trees had been burned down 6 to 10 inches under ground, and the one power transmission line I found had been either burned down or well-melted. Not too far off in either direction, though, trees still stood with yellowed needles, they had faired much better. The sand was granite based, giving things a reddish color--for a while I pretended that I was on Mars, a very hot and dry Mars.

I took a lot of pictures this day, you can find them all here.

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With my quest for fire extinguished I decided against driving to South-Western Colorado to the Durango fire. This left me with some extra time before I needed to return east. I originally considered driving west to the Dinosaur National Monument but not-too-many miles on the road made it clear that winding through the mountains to the other side of Colorado was going to take too long. After some lunch I changed directions and headed towards Rocky Mountain National Forest, thanks Bill B.

I had no idea this place would be so beautiful. I drove in from the south and followed the road around to Estes Park. I started in a green valley--I really missed seeing green as most of Colorado is brown and desert like after a third year of drought--and drove up above 14,000 feet. The forests were great, but I really liked the alpine area. Unfortunately it is such an effort to actually do anything up there. I walked to the top of the mountain at the Alpine Visitor Center. It was about a 300 foot vertical climb but it frustrated me. "Walk slow, walk slow", I repeated to myself.

Half a day there was not enough and I stayed the night in Estes Park with the intention of returning the next day.

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