By Daniel Montero
The black, in firefighter speak, is the charred earth where the fire has already passed. Every year sees the creation of new black in Nevada, and this year’s busy wildfire season has been no exception. For firefighters, the black means safety, a place the fire will never catch you as it cannot chase its own tail. For others it means destruction, emptiness, finality. The starkness of the desert is even greater in the black, and the reminder of the frailty of existence. Getting out exploring the desert like we do, we have walked on the black many times, but this year we have had three unique experiences in the black that I will share in a trilogy of posts.
Early this spring, before the fire season even started, we had our first experience of the black. We went out to camp in the Desatoya Mountains east of Middlegate at the mouth of Big Den Creek. We were able to arrive much earlier than the rest of our group and so we left the car and started to hike generally toward Desatoya Peak. From the camp spot we could see the evidence of recent fire, but it wasn’t until we climbed higher that it’s enormity revealed itself. Climbing we stayed north and generally west of the black, but on the way down we descended straight into it. It was early enough on a wet spring—and the fire must have been late—because there was no growth at all. Big snowdrifts remained on the steep slopes and the contrast between early spring, white snow, and usually summertime black was especially striking in the high basin of Big Den Creek. Along the creek itself what had been a large grove of aspens were only skeletons breaking the line of sky and mountain. In the early spring it is common to walk among unbudded trees, but this was different, the starkness harder somehow, less buffered by the promise of life.
This blog is dedicated to stories and ideas from our explorations. We hope you enjoy!
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.