Rim Fire: Yosemite Panoramas 9.10.13

The Rim Fire from the South Rim by John P. DeGrazio

Rim Fire from the South Rim of Yosemite Valley

By John P. DeGrazio

Dewey Point is one of the most unheralded places to gaze at El Capitan and many other Yosemite Valley landmarks. I had an opportunity to return to one of my favorite spots in Yosemite to view the Rim Fire which has already burned over 250,000 acres of the Sierra Nevada. I wrote an article about the environmental and economic impacts of this fire, and it was published today in the Calaveras Enterprise. The article states many obvious facts about the fire, but it does not represent the emotional impact it has made on so many residents and visitors to Yosemite and its surrounding region.

Driving through Groveland and Buck Meadows this past Saturday morning was an event I will not soon forget. Sure, I read about the devastation I was about to see. I live on the North side of the fire in East Sonora where my house was about 3 miles from the Rim Fire’s encroachment near Tuolumne City. But we had that huge fire break of the line created by the firefighters and Highway 108. I always saw the fire and breathed every bit of its smoke, but I never really saw it. Driving through Highway 120 in the pre dawn hour on Saturday was my surreal first hand encounter with this beast.

Of course, I have been aware of the statistical damage caused by the fire as I receive every update imaginable, but like my philosophy on Yosemite tours, you have to go out and touch it to get the full experience. I did not physically touch any of the still-smoldering trees I encountered, but seeing them all around me helped me recognize how unlucky and lucky we were. I noticed a friend’s untouched house and rafting company headquarters on a hillside that had been scorched, and couldn’t help to fight back emotions thinking what could have happened to his home, my home, and the entire communities of Big Oak Flat, Groveland, Tuolumne City, Twain Harte, East Sonora, and Soulsbyville.

I felt numb as I continued my drive. Lifeless trees appeared as ghosts, still standing but certain to topple in even a slight breeze. The thick smoke was choking at times, and the 45 minute drive through the fire zone seemed to last an eternity. I finally reached the fresh air of Yosemite that served as an elixir for my body and spirit. After all, it had been an entire week since I fled on a smoky Saturday afternoon during a dramatic wind shift that blew smoke throughout the park.

That day seemed like ancient history as we completed an exhilarating hike to Dewey and Crocker Points which yielded this wonderful panoramic view. On my drive home, I stopped at Rim of the World in the Tuolumne River Canyon to see the place of origin for the fire. The Stanislaus National Forest personnel were friendly and full of information to share about the fire. I saw the section of fire just outside my doorstep and continued to think about how fortunate we were to avoid further damage.

Looking forward, I will be grateful for our first wave of storms that will finally put an end to this Rim Fire. I also anticipate an exceptional wildflower season next spring. I know we will plan to explore the wildflowers with photo and nature workshops and encourage all of our viewers to join. I also strongly advise anyone planning a visit to Yosemite to enter or exit the national park via the Highway 120 West/Big Oak Flat Road route. You will have your own eye opening experience to witness the destruction of fire but also the power of nature in rebirth. Please also stop in the local communities of Buck Meadows, Groveland, or Big Oak Flat for the night. Or even for a quick bite to eat. I can promise you one thing if you stop at an inn, hotel, restaurant, or shop. You will witness the power of resilience as you help a community rebound from this devastating event.

Photographing with a camera phone was once frowned upon as a lazy way out of making an image. With advancing technology, these phones are becoming more integral in everyday “outdoor” life. I am currently using the iPhone 5 with an 8 megapixel camera, and will share the world of Yosemite through my phone.

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