Monday, April 05, 2010

Snow Day in the Angeles National Forest, Eight Months After the Fires


That's the first thought that goes through your head as you enter the Angeles National Forest. Miles upon miles of burnt trees and desolate landscape, all caused by the Station Fire -- the worst fire in Los Angeles County history.

The foundation is all that's left of this burned-out home.

We finally made the trek up to the Angeles National Forest on Saturday, in order to play in the still-abundant mountain snow. We normally head up there in January or February, but the Angeles Crest Highway (the 2, which starts in La Canada Flintridge), has been closed due to threats of mudslides and debris on the road.

April seems awfully late to find snow up in our local mountains -- but a quick check on the Mt. Waterman website showed that plenty of the white stuff was still around. What's more, the Newcomb's Ranch restaurant deep in the forest was finally open again on the weekend.

With Blogger Kid excited about the snow -- and Blogger Baby 2.0 having never seen snow -- the timing was right to finally make it up there. On Saturday, we piled the car with makeshift sleds (a.k.a., storage container tops), gloves, jackets and snacks.

The Angeles Crest Highway remains closed in the burn areas, which is why we had to add a bit more to our usual drive time by taking the Big Tujunga Canyon Road (which starts in Sunland) to the Angeles Forest Highway -- which then connects with the open portion of the Angeles Crest.

It doesn't take long to see the fire's aftermath. The Station Fire, which burned for over a month, starting Aug. 26, 2009 -- charred 160,577 acres (251 square miles), led to two firemen's deaths, and destroyed 89 homes.

Eight months later, there are signs of life in portions of the burnt areas. The winter rains have allowed for some green weeds to poke through. (Nice now, but eventually that stuff will turn dry and be dangerous fuel for new fires.)

And we saw plenty of construction workers, still helping rebuild. New railings and signs have already been erected, but camp sites and picnic areas remain closed in the burn areas. Actually, it's illegal to even park in the burn areas, as the National Forest Service asks people to let the forest heal with minimal intrusion.

We kept driving up and seeing mile after mile of what Evan called "the sad trees."

A group of Corvette owners were dining at Newcomb's Ranch when we arrived.

But finally, as we hit about 5,000 feet elevation, we started seeing green again. And thankfully, as we got to Newcomb's Ranch, the trees -- and the restaurant -- were indeed still there.

We kept driving up to 6,000 feet elevation, where the snow is still on the ground in the spring, and then to 7,000 feet, where Mt. Waterman is located.

A half a mile down from Mt. Waterman (which had a healthy-sized crowd, some of whom were there to ski, and others were there for a weekend chili cookoff) is where we parked and spent a fun afternoon playing in the snow.

That's one of the many things I love about Southern California. We're just 45 minutes away from snow -- which means, depending on the traffic on the 10, we could potentially get to the snow faster than we can get to the ocean from our home. That's pretty cool -- there are people in cold climates that can't get to snow as fast as we can.

With such an amazing resource in our backyard, I'm always surprised at how few people drive up into the mountains. Now, I'm a bit grateful: If more Angelenos drove up here, the forest couldn't handle it.

But with still so little awareness of this amazing natural resource so close to our homes, there's also so little outrage over what happened last year.

Where's the outrage? The Station Fire destroyed one-fourth -- ONE-FOURTH! -- of the Angeles National Forest. And it probably won't recover during our lifetime. Perhaps our kids -- or our kids' kids -- will once again enjoy the forest as we once did pre-fire. Whoever did this needs to be held accountable.

Thankfully some folks are helping the healing process along. In January, the Angeles National Forest signed an agreement with the non-profit TreePeople to plant over 22,000 seedlings during the 2011 and 2012 planting season.

The snow will still be there for a bit longer -- take advantage of it while you can.

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