My son and I spent the afternoon hiking Mt. Lemmon, Tucson’s oldest and most popular recreational area. In the summer when temps are 100+ in the Tucson valley, Mt. Lemmon’s 8,000 foot trails are a cool and breezy respite from the summer.
This was my first trip back to Mt. Lemmon since the Aspen Fire. Started by a carelessly dropped cigarette on June 17, 2003 and pushed to an inferno by high winds and dry conditions, the Aspen Fire raged for 25 days, destroying 85,000 acres and more than 300 homes and businesses.
The fire started along the trail we hiked, in one of Lemmon’s famous Aspen groves. It was hard to see how devastated those trails are, but the aspens are coming back again and I was pleased to see a few areas where old-growth Ponderosa pine survived. In fact, despite evidence of fire damage everywhere, the forest is making a remarkable comeback and our hike was a strenuous and delightful escape from the desert.
I found a flower I’ve never seen before, thriving near a large bed of ferns. This is a Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), part of the buttercup family and found in the moist, high-altitude forests of the west. The bloom has these graceful spurs that extend backward, so I’ve included a profile view to show what they look like. The stalks were about 18″ tall.
The third photo gives some sense of what things look like today. I came away from the hike with black smears on my hands and legs, and you can still see evidence here and there of the red fire retardant dropped by aircraft. The scars are disappearing, but it will take a century or more for the mountain to get back to what it was.
One final note: my son, the recently diagnosed diabetic had no trouble hiking circles around me. I guess he can’t be too bad off.