Being Thankful

Estes Park experienced its first scare when the Cameron Peak Fire, seen creating an eerie red glow in the sky above the historic Stanley Hotel, marched just a couple of miles from the town's northern border.
Estes Park experienced its first scare when the Cameron Peak Fire, seen creating an eerie red glow in the sky above the historic Stanley Hotel, marched just a couple of miles from the town’s northern border.

Story and photos by Dawn Wilson, NANPA President

As I write this, I am evacuated in the desert of Utah from my home in Estes Park, Colorado. Several wildfires are burning near this gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park—the Cameron Peak Fire to the north, which became Colorado’s largest wildfire in history at more than 200,000 acres, and the East Troublesome Fire to the west near Grand Lake, Colorado. Both fires are burning within Rocky Mountain National Park, including much of the Kawuneechee Valley on the west side, a portion in the northern wilderness, and more than 4,300 acres on the east side in the popular Bear Lake corridor and Moraine Park regions.

Much of the areas burnt in the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires are prime moose habitat, including the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park, where this moose is seen grazing on willows in an area consumed by one of the fires. 
Much of the areas burnt in the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires are prime moose habitat, including the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park, where this moose is seen grazing on willows in an area consumed by one of the fires. 

Wildfire evacuations

We evacuated in our RV, and because we lived on the road for 15 months back in 2015 and 2016, we are super comfortable with this lifestyle, even if it wasn’t by our choice this time.

But many people aren’t prepared for that style of living, nor were they given time to prepare for an evacuation. Residents of Grand Lake were given minutes notice in the middle of the night when that fire blew up more than 100,000 acres in one night. Residents of Estes Park were a little luckier with a few hours notice.

And all of that makes me very thankful for that RV, my outdoor experiences, the firefighters and their willingness to fight for others, and my patience for what Mother Nature can hand us. It doesn’t make it easier, but you can’t change the situation so you face it head on with a positive attitude and the hope that things will turn out better in the near future.

Healing after a fire

The forest will return. If anything, it should return healthier than it is now in Colorado, with its heavy loss of trees due to a pine beetle infestation. Homes can be rebuilt. And in many cases, communities become stronger.

Less than a week later, the East Troublesome Fire near Grand Lake, Colorado, grew 100,000 acres in one night and crossed the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. The smoke from that fire created an eerie orange glow and Estes Park went under mandatory evacuation by noon the next day. The elk, however, seemed unphased as people quickly evacuated town. 
Less than a week later, the East Troublesome Fire near Grand Lake, Colorado, grew 100,000 acres in one night and crossed the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. The smoke from that fire created an eerie orange glow and Estes Park went under mandatory evacuation by noon the next day. The elk, however, seemed unphased as people quickly evacuated town. 

I am also thankful for my experience and interest in photographing and writing about the outdoor world because documenting the various stages of this natural change—from the photos I have of the regions prior to the fire that may never exist again in my lifetime to the days of witnessing a fire within just a couple of miles of my home to the rebirth that is bound to come—will be an important story to tell about changes in our natural world.

So in this month dedicated to thanks—Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away—I feel more thankful than ever. I am thankful to be a professional nature photographer and writer. Thankful to have my health in this unprecedented year of health concerns. Thankful to have loving friends and family that truly stepped up to make sure I was okay during these fires. And thankful for the opportunity to help NANPA navigate this challenging year.

Those blowing embers from the East Troublesome Fire established into a spot fire on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park that burned through portions of the Bierstadt Moraine, Mill Creek Basin and into Moraine Park. Hopefully this scene will be seen again soon in Moraine Park.
Those blowing embers from the East Troublesome Fire established into a spot fire on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park that burned through portions of the Bierstadt Moraine, Mill Creek Basin and into Moraine Park. Hopefully this scene will be seen again soon in Moraine Park.

Gratitude

What are you thankful for? What will you be doing during this month of thanks? How do you show your thanks to others? 

Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe and keep getting outdoors to enjoy nature’s beauty.

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“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s stay positive. We are in this together.