Suffocating in 110 degree heat, my skin itched with the sweat between my thighs and the horse’s hide beneath me. My body lazily swayed into each step the horse took, as fluttering flakes of ash fell from the sky. My horse seemed as fed-up with the heat as me, and soon our horseback riding instructor told us to turn back. The ash was getting too thick, and it wasn’t good for the horses. We rode back to our cabin, one of many available for rent at the camp grounds. The camp offered activities like horseback riding, hiking, crafts, and, normally, rental boats and swimming. But that year, in 2002 when I was 12, Colorado was in the midst of one of the worst drought years in history. The river bed that ran through the camp was completely dry but for the small puddle of water in the center. The state was on fire, especially down south, where we were. In fact, a forest fire raged not far away, threatening the other campsites, and coming closer. Our noses itched with the smoke and we could catch the ash flakes on our tongues, if we wanted to.

So why were we suffering through such heat, so dangerously close to a fire, when we could be hiding up north in the mountains, where traces of snow could still be find on some hiking trails? My family and I were waiting to attend my mom’s cousin’s outdoor wedding. The family owned a beautiful excluded cabin, with a gorgeousl green lawn surrounded by pine trees and aspens. Our cousin, Katie, and her fiancé, Jim, had always wanted to get married there. They certainly hadn’t counted on the fires.

But for the time being, we were safe. When the day of the wedding arrived, we donned our nice clothes and gathered for the celebration. The ceremony started our beautifully. The procession was kicked off by two little girls riding a horse covered in ribbons and flowers. Katie’s dress was spectacular, rivaling the area around us. The bride and groom began their “I-do’s,” when in the middle, before Jim could speak, one of the bridesmaids fainted from the intense heat. Katie gallantly rushed to her side and squatted down in the dirt to help the friend up, dirtying her dress. Once she was recovered, the ceremony concluded without much trouble.

Soon, though, we noticed that a few uninvited guests had crashed the party in the forms of a goat, a pony, and the odd duck or two. Someone’s farm animals had gotten out, and while the pony ran around showing off his excited private parts, the goat found its way into the food truck and started to claim his portion of the meals. We finally rounded them up and returned them before too much damage was done.

But without such amusing interruptions, the wedding started to get boring for me and my siblings. Katie was busy socializing with her many guests, and there wasn’t much to do except wait for cake. The heat was becoming unbearable. My family decided to bail out early, and even managed to snag a slice of cake to pacify my little sister (who was throwing a fit). We returned to the cool of our cabin, threw on pajamas, and I had just started rereading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

Suddenly there was a loud, urgent knock at the door. A police officer stood outside. “You need to evacuate, the fire is coming too close and we need to get everyone out NOW.” He told us we could try to get out of the area, but that traffic might hold us up. Otherwise, we could go down to the riverbed, where, he assured us, we would be safe. We decided to take our chances getting out.

In the car, we drove down the mountain side, toward the city of Durango. Across the river, the forest fire had made its way to the opposite shore. I had never seen a fire up that close, and haven’t since. The whole mountain was an angry red, radiating heat even across the riverbed. It sounded like a roaring, crackling storm. It was terrifying and humbling to be before such power, and to think of the brave people who fought something so uncontrollable.

Despite the traffic, we made it to the hospital in Durango, where a Red Cross station had been set up. We met up with our family, where our sneaky early departure became evident. Everyone else was still in nice clothing, whereas we had been forced to leave in our pajamas. My cousin Katie hadn’t even gotten to cut her cake before the wedding had been evacuated. In another location, the Red Cross had set up emergency bunking with cots. My mom wasn’t interested in sleeping in a cot with a bunch of strangers, and insisted on a hotel. Because of the evacuations, we had to drive over two hours to find a hotel with vacancy. Still, after all the excitement, the soft hotel beds were nice to lie down in, instead of uncomfortable cots.

The next morning, my Canadian grandparents found our hotel, and the three kids—me, my brother, and my sister—all hopped into their car. We were about to start a road trip all the way through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and most of Alberta, finally ending in Edmonton. This had been the plan all along, but on the heels of a fire evacuation, the departure had a new energy and a dangerous feeling. We were still uncertain of the fate of my cousin’s land, where all her wedding tents and food remained.

Later we would learn that the campground we had stayed at burned down. I realized afterwards that I had left a beloved stuffed bear and some bear clothes there, which the fire had claimed. The neighboring campsite, which was a mere 15 minute walk away, had been spared. Many people had chosen to go down to the riverbed as the police officer suggested. It turns out that was a bad idea; the fire jumped the river, and the people in the center got caught in a firestorm. They were evacuated by helicopter and no one was hurt, but they all lost their vehicles. Luckily, the wedding cabin was safe.

Although the fire was dangerous and did a lot of terrible damage (I think it was the 3rd most destructive fire in Colorado, as of last summer), it also made for one of the most exciting travel memories of my life. Still, as the summer goes on and states like Colorado and California enter their fire season, I hope everyone remembers to be safe and help out people in need.

 


Comments

06/24/2013 7:04am

Hi Candace (such a cool name), this is Connor, I talked to you at Best Buy a few days ago, thanks for sharing your blog, you have a good eye for culture and travel reporting. One thing I wonder after checking out your posts is, what specific format are you going for? Do you want the posts to be personal story-driven, centered around photos, educational, focused on being entertaining/humorous, etc.? I noticed that sometimes the text refers directly to the photos (which are really good) and sometimes not so much, so if you decide on one coherent format/style, that might create a clearer, more pleasant experience for the reader. It could be cool to have a sequence of photos that are all part of one story/narrative, with a descriptive caption for each, that way the reader gets both information and visual entertainment. Here's a a link to a photo blog I used to keep if you're interested in looking at photos of different places (http://charismaticcondor.blogspot.com). Also, if you don't know who Bill Bryson is (though I'd guess you already do), check out some of his travel books, he's a master at weaving entertaining anecdotes with useful and interesting information about the places he's visiting. Hope some of that helps, I'd be happy to try and give more feedback on something you're working on, hope you make it to Mesa Verde!

-Connor

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