The Sequoia Complex Fire made its way through a lot of the Golden Trout Wilderness during the summer and fall of 2020. One of those areas near Trout Meadow is a private property inholding called “Cow Camp.” The owners were allowed to return to see what survived and what did not. One individual recorded their observations along the way. Here is what Paul shared.
Cow Camp Now
I spent Sunday night with Bradley and Emily at their home in Springville. We three left for the mountains on Monday morning. The road is only open to residents. Since Bradley and Emily own private property (Cow Camp), they were allowed access and had a letter to prove it. The amount of stuff that was burned was unbelievable. However, the road had been cleared. We did see traffic– Edison and other work trucks. When we turned to go to Lewis trail head, we could see that some parts were burned to a crisp, other parts weren’t. It was amazing how much scenery we could see. It sounds odd, but with the bushes gone you could see the lay of the land better than you ever would have seen it. Terrible thought, but you could. And going in, some places were burned, some were not. The (Golden Trout) pack station had some buildings and corrals burned, some not. I didn’t take the time to really look.
Lewis trail head survived. We tacked up and left for camp. Bradley and Emily followed me in. The trail was in surprisingly good shape. Note: it was amazing how far they got in with a caterpillar or other firefighting truck or equipment with tread. It went in further than you can believe. After that we had a few obstacles. A few walk-arounds, nothing too hairy, but you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t have to. We passed through a burned area, then a not burned area, then a burned area, then a not burned area. Some places were still smoking. The bridge was not touched at all. A lot of stuff around it was burned, but the bridge – not touched.Coming up the hill as you climb, before you level off at the top, one bad tree was down. Not burned, just fell. Had to do some trail clearing just to get by. Bradley and Emily are about 15 – 20 minutes behind me. (Note: I cleared the tree on my way out.)
There’s a place on the trail where you can catch a glimpse of the camp. I don’t always remember where this place is, so I wasn’t worried when I didn’t see tents. Then I went around the corner, up to the gate. I fully believed it was gonna be there. When I got to the gate, I could see that it wasn’t going to be there. It had all burned down, to the ground. So I went up to get a closer look at it.Oh, by the way, there were two pack animals in the meadow, a horse and a mule. They had been there since before the fire started (August 19), maybe way before. They were sure glad to see me.
The camp? Burned, flattened, crispy. Surprisingly, the loading dock survived. It has maybe a hundred little burns, but it survived. At that point I rode back to the gate to meet Bradley and Emily & tell them what I saw. They rode into camp. I rode up to the Forest Service cabin, so we’d have a place to stay. I knew that there would be sleeping bags, cots and other stuff we’d need to stay alive.We could unload our stock, but the catch pen and meadow fence did not survive the fire, so we had to lead our stock back to Bradley’s, because the meadow fence at Cow Camp did not burn. Then we had to walk the mile to back to the Forest Service cabin.
The cabin did not burn, but the outhouses are no more. There are no more outhouses in Trout Meadow.
It was eerie to be in a burned forest. I should say burning. The fire is 75% contained, but it is not OUT. We saw smoke everyday and in the evening we could now and then see a tree burst into flame. None close enough to be a concern, but spooky! Seeing that explained how wind coming up could restart a blaze. We did go and check, but there wasn’t anything we could do.The propane needs to be put back in line. The tanks blew up. The hot plate and refrigerator depend on propane. But it doesn’t look like it will be too much trouble to fix.
We were asked to look out for cattle. We did see cattle. Over twenty head. Just outside the Cow Camp meadow.
We did a lot of sifting. We dragged the metal roofs off the used to be buildings. They use barrels for storage. The barrels were still tightly closed, but the locks were melted. Everything inside the barrels was incinerated or cremated. Unbelievable! The tent cabins? Like they never existed. My cot – the legs were metal, so they survived. The lower water control center- with a solar powered pump was burned. The solar panel was burned. The pump was burned. The fence around the pump was burned. The whole little area was burned to a crisp. The cold box was still there! There was still beer in the cold box! Outhouse? – gone! Nothing, nothing, nothing left everything gone, burned to a crisp. Work shed gone cook shed (Cocina) gone. The (300 gallon) water tank survived. We have a water tank! The water heater for the shower survived! The shower survived! The shower curtains did not! You’ll have to stand naked out in the open to shower, but it survived.So now, what survives for the future. There is a 40-acre fenced meadow with a good fence and good gates. There are flat spots to pitch a tent. There is water for stock and drinking. So, it’s a primo spot for camping. It will need cleaning up. But if you have a tent and a sleeping bag, just like when we actually packed, you can camp.
With a few volunteers, we can probably rebuild the water system in a few days. The sink survived, the kitchen water heater survived. That means hot and cold running water. Okay, no building, but hot and cold running water! For dishes and a shower!The electricity would be another project. It would be easy to reinstall.
The flat spots would have to be cleared (of ashes). We’d need a hitch rail. However, the loading dock does not need to be replaced.
Rebuilding will not be too hard. The sawmill needs to be replaced, first. There will be plenty of dead trees to mill in spring. I’ve been working there for fifteen years. Fifteen years of fixing it up, improving it. There were already three buildings and an outhouse. Now we have to kinda start over. But really, it is a deluxe camping spot. It has a fenced meadow, water, flat spots to pitch a tent.
It will be work. But, rebuilding with a plan should take less time. I am willing to listen to ideas.The cabin up the hill needs work, too. It would need the meadow fence and catch pen repaired and the outhouse rebuilt before it could be used. The Forestry needs to okay repairs, but the outhouse is important. This is a Forestry building. It has to have a bathroom. So, planning needs to start right away.
Maybe we can talk about work projects. Maybe at Rendezvous (Back Country Horsemen of California Rendezvous). I’ve been rambling on, it’s what I do. But Cow Camp has been very nice. I really want to see it restored.Anyone ready? Remember, fenced meadow, running water, water for stock, flat spots for tents.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us all Paul! I am sure others will enjoy seeing that area through your eyes since it will be awhile before others venture into the area. Thanks again!