Tom Ross: Do you believe in talking geraniums?

2002 fire creates color bonanza at Trappers Lake

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I nearly fell over with excitement when the clump of wild geraniums spoke my name out loud.

"Come in, Tom," the wildflowers said in a tinny, but somehow familiar voice. I paused for a moment, unable to reply. After all, how often does one have a conversation with the shrubbery?

"Come in, Tom. Have you reached the lake?"

"I can hear you!" I shouted back to the geraniums. Then, bending over, I plucked my Motorola Talkabout from the middle of the patch of flowers.

For a guy who has a history of permanently misplacing his possessions, retrieving a personal electronic device, once thought lost for all times, is a triumphant moment.

I had been using the little handheld radio to keep in touch with a fishing companion Saturday night at Trappers Lake in the White River National Forest. My buddy was calling me so often, I'd grown weary of pulling it out of a pocket in my fishing vest. Instead, I laid it carefully on top of my backpack. When the wind finally blew us off the lake and we called it a night, I failed to notice that the Talkabout slipped into the geraniums when I picked up the backpack.

On Sunday morning, we hiked through a maze of skeletal burned evergreen trees to the approximate spot where we had been fishing. the rocky shoreline was covered in dense vegetation.

Still, assuming the batteries in the lost radio had survived the night, we knew locating it should be easy enough. I just needed a companion to "call my name" until I could track it down in one of the dense patches of wildflowers where the flames raged three summers ago. It's difficult to believe that already, three seasons have passed since the Big Fish Fire of 2002 scorched the forest surrounding Trappers lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. At its peak, the smoke column, resembling a nuclear blast, could be seen from U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Craig. The smoke rose so high into the air that it generated its own weather systems. The fire began with a lightning strike July 18, and initially, forest managers allowed it to burn in the Big Fish Drainage. the fire was deemed desirable because it was consuming some of the fuels that had piled up on the forest floor ever since a spruce beetle outbreak in the 1940s. However, drought conditions and high winds spread the flames out of control into the Skinny Fish Basin on the north side of the White River. The flames climbed Himes Peak, then swept down onto Trappers lake Lodge and burned nine buildings, including the historic lodge. Views of Trappers lake with the Amphitheater behind it have been changed for the duration of your and my lifetimes.

However, something exciting is about to happen in the charred forests surrounding Trappers Lake. The standing dead trees were charcoal black in the first winter after the fire, producing an almost abstract landscape for cross-country skiers.

This summer, the trees laying on the forest floor remain black, but the standing trees have begun shedding their blackened bark. They resemble skeletal bones in some areas of the forest.

The real metamorphosis is under way on the forest floor. The wild geraniums are pink, but the dominant color on July 10 was the brilliant yellow of Arnica blossoms. Entire mountainsides have taken on a yellowish cast. As beautiful as the forest was during the weekend, yellow is about to become an accent color.

Thousands of acres of magenta colored fireweed are poised to blossom, probably in the next two weeks.

The last time I witnessed fireweed this dense it was on the slopes leading to Washington's Mount St. Helens in the wake of the volcanic eruption. When the fireweed blossoms at Trappers Lake this month, it will be like an ocean of pink, dotted with yellow. Virtually no fireweed was in bloom this weekend, but the first blossoms will be visible July 16 and 17. If I had to make a prediction, I would say the real color show will be visible on the weekend of Juy 23 and 24 and again July 30 and 31.

If you haven't been back to Trappers lake since the Big Fish Fire, this month is a good time to rediscover the area. The views from Dunckley and Ripple Creek passes remain spectacular.

The rebuilt lodge is closed and listed for sale, and the store is closed.

But the campgrounds were spared by the flames. Fees are $15 a night.

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