12-Oct-2017 -- “Fire”. That’s the word that’s been on the minds of residents of northern California this week. Destructive wildfires are currently raging in California’s ‘wine country’, north of San Francisco. Farther east - within the Stanislaus National Forest - lies the Degree Confluence Point of 38 Degrees North, 120 Degrees East. When I first visited this point - in July 2008 - I commented on how dry the vegetation was, and noted that the area appeared especially vulnerable to fire.
Sure enough, 5 years later - in August 2013 - a major forest fire (named the Rim Fire) ravaged the area, burning down countless pine trees. The area remained closed to the public for almost 2 years, finally reopening in mid-2015.
There had been no visits to this point since the fire, so today I decided - while returning to the San Francisco Bay Area from Yosemite National Park - to revisit this point, and see how it had changed.
The changes were remarkable. First, all of the pine trees in the area had burned, and their charred trunks had either fallen to the ground, or were left standing, like bare, leafless ghosts. But most remarkable of all was the change to the undergrowth. Before the fire, the ground was covered with pine needles, and there was very little undergrowth. Getting to the point had been an easy walk. Now, however, with the pine needles (and many of the trees) burned away, thick, brushy undergrowth had grown up everywhere - in just 4 years! These thick (and often thorny) bushes made hiking very difficult, and I regretted not wearing long trousers. A simple 0.3-mile hike had now turned into an ordeal. (Fortunately, however, the point happened to lie within a small clearing, making it easy for me to get ‘all zeros’.)
It will be interesting to see what happens to this point in the years (and decades) to come. At some point, new pine trees will presumably grow up to dominate the vegetation once again, and their pine needles will again cover the ground, turning this into an easy hike once again for some future visitors.
Here is a remote-controlled aerial video (unfortunately, out of focus) of this confluence point.