It has been an unbelievable time this past week here in Colorado Springs with the Waldo Canyon Fire destroying many homes on the west side of the city. So far 347 homes have been lost, but considering the size of the fire I am amazed not more homes have been destroyed which is a tribute to the firefighters and other authorities battling this wildfire. There has also so far tragically been one death with 10 more people unaccounted for.
The past 24 hours has been cloudy with some decent rainfall in Colorado Springs that has helped fight the fire enough to where it was just announced on the news that some evacuated neighborhoods can return home. This is great news and hopefully the authorities can get this wildfire under control soon so everyone can return home. What I found most interesting from watching the news was that the authorities are saying that they have found no evidence that this was caused by arson. Everyone I have talked to locally thinks this was arson because the fire started on a bright sunny day. Unless it was a wayward campfire it seems to me that arson is the likely cause.
Anyway since this is a hiking and travel blog I figured I would look at the impact the Waldo Canyon fire is having on local hiking and tourist sites. The most obvious impact is that the very popular Waldo Canyon Trail which is where the fire is believed to have began is no more. The 6.2 mile trail was popular for local runners in the morning and for walkers during the day. The trail provided great views of Manitou Springs and this below picture gives an indication of how close this historic city is to the wildfire:
The city is very fortunate that arguablely its most historic area has so far been saved from this massive fire. It would have been a tragedy to see not only people’s homes burn down but also to lose the historic architecture that can be found in Manitou. The trail also provides some of the best views in the region of Pikes Peak:
Sadly these views are no more as the entire hill sides have been burned into a blackened color. The below picture gives an idea of how the lower slopes of the Rampart Range around the trail are a mixture of bushes and thickly forested slopes:
Fortunately I think this lack of heavy trees on the lower slopes of this section of the Rampart Range is what may have saved the Garden of the Gods from being quickly overrun by the fire. Below is a picture of the slopes of the Rampart Range that descend down to the Garden of the Gods:
From what I have been able to see from town it looks like the upper parts of the above picture have burned but not the lower parts. The Garden of the Gods is easily the most popular outdoor destination in the city and a major tourist attraction. Much like with Manitou Springs, losing the Garden of the Gods would have been a massive blow to the city in addition to what has already happened. However, just down the road from the Garden of the Gods another popular tourist attraction in the city, the Flying-W-Ranch has been destroyed. The ranch was popular for the food, concerts, and Old West shows they regularly put on. Here is one of my pictures of the Flying-W-Ranch before the fire:
Fortunately despite the ranch being burned to the ground they were able to save all their horses and cattle.
From the maps of the fire I have seen another popular hike up Stanley Canyon has so far survived the wildfire:
The Stanley Canyon Trail begins near the end of Academy Drive on the above map on the US Air Force Academy. The trail ends at the beautiful Stanley Reservoir which is surrounded by a thick forest of trees:
The major lake in the area the Rampart Reservoir is already burning so I hope at least the firefighters are able to save this small lake. If the fire did reach here the US Air Force Academy would be in danger. This below picture shows how trees from the Rampart Range descend down into the Academy:
Fortunately the fire has not skipped over Highway 24. If it did then all of the trails on the lower slopes of Pikes Peak to include the famed Barr Trail to the summit would have been at risk. Here is a picture I took from the slopes of Pikes Peak two weeks before the fire that gives an estimate of the amount of land so far destroyed:
The fire extends from Rampart Reservoir seen on the left edge of the red line all the way towards Manitiou Springs on the red lines right end. Highway 24 runs through the Ute Pass Canyon at the bottom of the red line. If the fire jumped Highway 24 it would then burn right up to the summit of Pikes Peak. As tragic as this fire has been thanks to the firefighters and other authorities it could have been much worse. It looks like three of the city’s major tourist attractions, Manitou Springs, the Garden of the Gods, and the US Air Force Academy have been saved. The Cave of the Winds and the Cliff Dwellings near Manitou Springs have so far been saved as well. Additionally even worse damage to the slopes of Pikes Peak not to mention the communities around it have been prevented.
So for anyone thinking about not visiting Colorado Springs this summer due to this fire I would recommend against this. Authorities expect to have the fire fully contained within the next two weeks which will greatly reduce the smoke we are experiencing here. All the parks and other attractions effected by this fire should be open by then. So plans for spending the 4th of the July weekend in the city may be effected, but by mid-July people should be freely able to move around the city again. So for people who really want to help the city recover from this fire you can do so by visiting the city later this summer to help make up for the economic impact this fire has had on the city this past week. Colorado Springs was a great city to visit before this fire and will continue to be a great city to visit in a couple of weeks after this fire is fully contained.