Bobcat Fire Burn Scar Update: 358 Days Post-Fire
(Disclaimer: I am not a bonanist; I'm a pastoralist. So although I'm doing my best to document what's happening in our burn scar, I might get some things wrong. I welcome corrections!)
Approaching Narnia from the east.
Yesterday I took a hike up to a relatively high elevation part of the ranch that before the fire I called "Narnia." I discovered it just before the fire arrived, on a hike that I shouldn't have taken, because the air quality was already dangerous. But I was anxious. I wanted to get out. And Reno was bored.
I discovered Narnia by following a tiny entrance into the otherwise thick chaparral made by the dry stream bed of a steep canyon opening onto a trail. Its narrow rocky path in was an irresistible invitation. I hiked up the canyon for about 15 minutes, bowing under branches of prickly oak leaves, until the canyon became too narrow and the rocks too large. Before turning around I wanted to get a view to see where I was, so I scrambled up the steep east wall of the canyon, and found myself in a place unlike any other on the ranch.
View toward Narnia from my house as the Bobcat Fire approached on September 16, 2020. In this view, Narnia is hidden in the forest to the left of the sun, about a 20 minute hike from the house. Everything in this view burned in the fire.
When I righted myself at the top of the canyon rim, I was looking east onto an open and flat meadow, dotted with tall piñons but otherwise free of trees and shrubs. The wildfire-filtered light caught a thick carpet of dry rice grass that covered the whole clearing, making a golden glow. To the right of the clearing was a gentle slope up toward Piñon Ridge, covered in more scraggly Piñons. To the east and north of the clearing there was an 8 foot tall screen of Tucker Oaks and Mountain Mahogany where the dense chaparral restarted. In the trees above, what sounded like hundreds of birds protested my presence.
The view from our evacuation camp 6 miles to the north, behind Largo Vista Ranch, as Narnia burned along with most of the ranch on September 19, 2020.
I can't believe I didn't take any photos. I always take photos when I hike on the ranch. But somehow it felt wrong to capture such a magical, secret place with my phone. And I thought it would be the first of many trips to Narnia. I sat in the clearing, listened the the birds, and imagined coming back for a picnic. But less than a week later, Narnia went up in flames.
The resprouting scrub oaks just below Narnia see a lot of foraging pressure but are responding to it well.
I visited Narnia in the weeks immediately following the fire. It was no longer necessary to hike up the canyon as the fire had cleared the mature chaparral on all sides. I walked straight to it from the house. The flat area is still hidden from view as you approach from below by nature of the topography, but I knew where it was. I stood on the flat and looked around, but all of the magic was gone. Narnia looked exactly like every other place on the ranch: blackened soil punctuated by shiny black piñon snags. After this heartbreaking visit, I put Narnia out of my mind and didn't go back.
Previously unknown flannelbush stand on the way up to Narnia. Some silk tassel and Tucker Oaks also in this area.
Over the summer, on a hillside near Narnia and visible from the house, a patch of especially dense silvery green foliage kept demanding my attention. I tried having a look through my binoculars, but I couldn't make out what was growing there. For weeks it was too hot to make the hike. But yesterday afternoon I couldn't take it anymore and had to know, so Reno and I headed up the hillside toward Narnia.
On the way up, before reaching the green patch, I discovered a stand of flannelbush. Not just seedlings, but resprouting mature shrubs. This stand had been completely invisible before the fire due to the density and height of the chaparral in this area, which somehow had even hidden its yellow blooms from view. This is much closer to the area where I am finding flannelbush seedlings, so this stand is much more likely to be the source of those seeds than the ancient flannelbush trees I reported on previously.
This short joint beavertail cactus isn't looking great but that didn't stop a flannelbush seed from taking advantage of its protection to germinate.
When I arrived at the green patch on the gentle sloping hillside just east of Narnia, I didn't find anything particularly remarkable in terms of plant variety. Mostly mallow, flanelbush, poodle dog bush, and tobacco. What differentiates this patch is the exceptional size and density of the seedlings. There are many other gently sloping north-facing hillsides at the same elevation throughout the ranch but none enjoy this much foliage. What makes this spot special is a mystery for now.
Mallow, flannelbush, poodle dog bush and tobacco just east of Narnia.
At the crest of this hillside is Narnia. As I entered the clearing this time, it didn't look noticeably different than during my previous post-fire visit. The ground was still mostly bare. Since there weren't any shrubs here, there are no resprouting skeletons. There is no evidence that grasses had come back this spring. The only visible change was one large piñon snag that had been hollowed out by fire and had come down.
But somehow it felt different. I could imagine the chaparral filling in around its borders where oaks, flannelbush and silk tassel are resprouting, eventually blocking the view of the road and wrapping Narnia in its protective arms. I could see jays in the snags dropping to the black soil to plant new pine nuts. I could imagine the grasses regrowing, creating a golden field decorated with black pine trunks, a new version of Narnia that will emerge over the next several decades. And I appreciated the open views of the mountain range to the west, the desert floor to the north, and Mountain High to the east. In this burned out landscape I was able to feel the magic again. But what had changed? It wasn't the view, so it must be me.
One of Narnia's piñon pines seems to have been hollowed out by fire traveling under the bark and has since cracked off near the base. When I saw this I wondered how long this tree was smoldering. I'm guessing a month or so. Most of Narnia is to the left of this photo, but you get the idea: mostly just black soil and pine snags.
Below are a few other, unrelated things I noticed on my hike yesterday, including some plants I could use help identifying.
This resprouting canyon oak appears to have been foraged, but by deer rather than the goats. The goats don't travel to this area, and deer tend to nibble off individual leaves while the goats will bite off the tip of the sprouts.
Some mallows are blooming, others dried out and died before they had a chance.
A very tiny but densely packed buckwheat in need of ID.
This is my favorite wild buckwheat. It's larger and more spindly than the one above, and much more common, although not as common as California Buckwheat. This beauty is also in need of ID.
I saw this flowering shrub for the first time on yesterday's hike. Perhaps something in the Asteraceae family? It smells like vinegar!
You can see more of my observations along with those of others in this part of the Bobcat Fire burn scar by searching zip code 93563 at https://www.inaturalist.org.